Posted in Books, LGBT, Reviews, Women's literature

Book Review: The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

It’s always the women and children who pay such a high price when “great men” decide to play the game of thrones. Or so the great GRRM once wrote.

I’ve been immersed in all things Greek mythology lately, and I feel like its all been leading up to where it would always inevitably culminate: the epic Trojan War. Poems, novels, music and movies have been written about the ten-year siege of Troy, and of the notorious Helen, also known as the face that launched a thousand ships.

This book is unique in that it tells the story from the perspective of the women who were sold into slavery at the Greek camps when their cities fell to the mighty Achilles and his legendary army of Myrmidons. It focuses on one woman in particular: Briseis, former queen and now slave to Achilles, the man who burned her city and killed her husband and brothers in the process.

So, these reviews always seem to go on longer than I intend them to. I’ve yet to develop the skill of editing my own work, and I probably never will. But I will try to focus on two main themes for this review, for the sake of being “brief”.

The Spoils of War

I’ve always had a weird fascination for reading about war times, not because I’m particularly interested in weaponry and warfare, but because I’m fascinated by its effect on the people who are left behind. I don’t care much about how the war was won, because for me there’s no such thing. When a country goes to war with another country because diplomacy has failed them in every way, everyone loses.

It always breaks my heart to read about the very human stories behind every major war. And its always the same thing, over and over again, throughout the pages of history: the lost promise of youth, children growing up way before their time, young men who never lived long enough to fulfil the dreams their parents had for them.

Its the story of women who have lost fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; women who were never given the opportunity to fight the battles when they were every bit as invested in the outcome. I think if any government leader should ever take it into their head to go to war over something, they should take a good hard look at the women in their family, and to think about all that they would suffer, and decide whether its worth it.

This is the great thing about this book, because it really highlights all of that, and also how the women of the Trojan War were stripped away from their sense of self, from their identities and individualities, from everything that makes them a person, and were instead relegated into the role of objects.

It brings into stark relief all the humiliations and degradations that these women suffered in the hands of so-called heroes: Achilles, Ajax, Agamemnon (although I’ve always thought of him as sort of a prick), Nestor, and even Odysseus. This is an important book to read, and an important point to make, during these times of change when women everywhere are fighting for equality in every arena. Its a call to arms, a message that we will no longer allow this to happen. And for all of that, I salute you, Pat Barker. 

Love is Love is Love

To end this review on a more positive note, I’d like to revisit the story of Achilles and Patroclus. Despite numerous research into the matter, historians are still unable to agree on whether these two were lovers or just really really really close friends. After reading about them in Madeline Miller’s fabulous book, The Song of Achilles, and again here, I am of the opinion that at the end of the day, it makes no bloody difference.

Whether it was the love between brothers, friends or lovers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is the kind of love that is strong enough to transcend labels, powerful enough to turn the tide of the Trojan War and so powerful that, in my heart, I am sure that it even defied death.

The Greeks, for all their brutal ways, had no hang-ups whatsoever when it comes to sexuality. Hercules had both male and female lovers, it did not make him any less of a legend in their eyes. I love reading about these stories, and I particularly love revisiting the story of Achilles and Patroclus, because it gives me hope.

It gives me hope that if a love like that can exist, there is a future for all of us to look forward to, one in which wars cease to be a possibility, and a world where you can just be free to love who you love, regardless of class, race, age or gender. And that is the kind of ideology that IS worth fighting for.

 

Briseis came to a conclusion towards the end of the book that, for all that she tried to defy and escape him, she was ultimately just another spoke in the wheel, just another supporting character to Achilles’ story. But that doesn’t mean that she does not get to try to write her own story and her own future.

Ultimately, this is what this book is about. We are all free to make our own choices, chart our own destinies and write our own stories. You don’t need to be a hero. You just need to be a person with hopes, dreams and, more importantly, the capacity to love…because long after all the songs have been written about battles and triumphs, its the human tale of love that will endure.

Fabulous book! 4 out of 5 stars. 

Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, Politics, Reviews, women, Women's literature

Book Review: Becoming – Michelle Obama

Its hard to condense in a few short paragraphs how profoundly good this book is.

I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for a while now trying to process what I just read and the things I have learned. I have thought of little else since finishing Becoming at 1am this morning, and more than 12 hours later I’m still at a loss as to how to start reviewing it.

I can’t pinpoint the exact time I became a Michelle Obama fan. Maybe it was when I saw her on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden belting out Beyonce hits like nobody’s business.

Maybe it was when I saw a photo of her opening up the White House to kids and hula-hooping with them on the South Lawn.

I was definitely a fan when I heard her speak during a commencement rite in one of the high schools in America whose name I have now forgotten, encouraging young people, and young women especially, to pursue their dreams despite the odds stacked against them.

She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the latter. She’s not just paying lip service when she talks to the marginalised and the disenfranchised about overcoming adversity, she’s talking from experience. Because their story is her story.

Most people would think that Becoming is the story of how a young black girl who grew up in the South Side of Chicago eventually made it into the White House, the sort of modern-day rags-to-riches Cinderella story that people love to read about.

Well, Michelle Robinson Obama is no Disney Princess. She would not be caught dead feeding birds and baking pies simply waiting for her prince to come. She’s just as likely to slay the dragon herself than she is to ever wait for a man to come and save her.

Hers was not an easy life. Her parents had to work hard to provide for their family, her mother sewed her clothes and she shared a room with her brother growing up because their entire apartment was smaller than her walk-in closet in the White House.

She grew up in a less tolerant America, where racism was widespread and people still held strong beliefs and prejudices against people of colour.

She talks about what it was like to grow up in that kind of environment, to know that you have to work twice as hard as anyone in order to be given the same recognition, all because of the colour of your skin.

Instead of falling victim to the narrative that seemed to be set out for her, though, she chose to rise above it, excelling in her studies, getting into Princeton and, later, Harvard.

She would also work at one of the top firms in Chicago where she’d meet the man who would eventually become her husband, and the leader of the free world.

Despite the gravitas of her story, and despite the weight and importance of the role she once held, Michelle Obama managed to come across as incredibly down to earth.

The book is written in such an engaging way that I didn’t realise I was nearing the end until she was talking about soaking in the last few moments of her life as First Lady.

At that point, she honestly felt less like the icon that she is and more of a friend.

For someone who’s been one half of the world’s most high-profile couple for the better part of the last decade, she is refreshingly candid and relatable.

She doesn’t gloss over her faults, like her tendency to go apoplectic with rage whenever she gets into an argument with her husband, or her need to put things in some kind of ordered lists that she can later tick off as being done.

She doesn’t deny that she has moments of self-doubt, days when she felt like she wasn’t good enough. She talked about how much it hurt when something she says is misconstrued or disproportionately blown up by the pundits and the media.

She was very open about the personal struggles she went through with her marriage, her  aversion to politics and her moments of resentment over the fact that she has to share her husband, and the father of her children, with the rest of America.

Through it all, she remained relentlessly optimistic and hopeful. Rather than dwelling on the things she can’t change, she chose to focus on the things that she could, finding things she was passionate about and pursuing them with gusto.

Time and time again she would butt heads with her own staff and opposing parties just to implement something she thinks would be good for a lot of people. And while there’s a lot of politics involved in that, I’m happy to say that politics did not play a major role in this book.

Instead, the struggle for equality was the central theme in this memoir, both for women and for people of colour.

I know it might sound trite or corny, but this book really resonated with me as it hammers home what it means to be a woman, of a different race, trying to make it in a city that is predominantly white.

When I first came to the UK, I met people who would always comment, with a tone of surprise, on how fluent my English was. I had a colleague who was shocked that I was interested in Caravaggio paintings and Bernini sculptures. One of the surgeons I used to work with expressed surprise that I’ve read Dickens.

They have this preconceived notions of Filipinos as people who receive limited education, who speak broken English, who are not interested in culture beyond our adobos and karaokes, and who form pockets of communities wherever they go because they don’t want to socialise with people who are not Asians.

I wasn’t conscious of doing it at the time, but I set out to shatter all of that just to prove that I come from a country that, for all its faults, are full of hardworking and intelligent people that are just as capable as any Westerner in any job or any role.

In the end, all anybody really needs is for someone to take notice and to give them the opportunity to prove they can do it.

I have never really felt like a victim of racial discrimination, and that’s because I’ve never allowed myself to be.

In the end, the colour of my skin is not the central plot of my story. The central plot is my hopes, dreams, aspirations and the many things that I still want to achieve, that I believe I can achieve.

Its very affirming to know that someone of Michelle Obama’s calibre has gone through the same thing, has been on the same journey.

To say that it is exactly the kind of book we need to be reading right now is an understatement. For women especially, it sends a message of hope and empowerment that is sorely lacking from the increasingly gratuitous and pretentious era of social media.

This book will hopefully encourage everyone to use whatever platform they have, whether its a small instagram following or a larger political stage, to tell their story for the purpose of inspiring others as this book has really inspired me.

Her story is our story. Her becoming is a message to all of us, but especially for young women, that we too can become.

Posted in bloggers, family, Parenting, women

Blabbaholic and Baby

For the first time in my life I finally had a productive Valentine’s Day this year; not in the romantic sense unfortunately but at least its the first year since hitting puberty that I’ve not been sat at home moaning about the state of my love life.

No, this year I agreed to babysit one of my closest friend’s beautiful baby boy so that she can take her mum to Cirque de Soleil. Let me tell you, I was terrified as hell. When she asked if anyone was available, I agreed without hesitation AND without giving full thought to what I was actually agreeing to do.

Now its not like babies hate me. I’m not as bad as others who make babies cry if they so much as stand within 3 feet of them. I get on well with babies and I’m a nurse for crying out loud, I’ve spent numerous shifts earlier in my career in the neonatal and paeds unit (not voluntarily, always because I had no choice but hey, I did it). Its just that no one has ever shown so much faith and trust in my ability to care for another individual before.

Fortunately, my friend Cat also agreed to be my partner in crime for the night so I at least had back-up. And it turned out alright – he was the most behaved baby boy in the world – but I have to say I now have so much more respect for mothers the world over and my own mum. These people should be sainted, given awards, lauded, recognised for their silent contribution to humanity for more than just that one day a year.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of the few things I learned while babysitting.

Babies are heavy.

I don’t know why I’m just realising this now when part of our responsibilities as nurses in the delivery room is to weigh the cute tiny humans. They weigh something like 8-10 lbs when they’re born and they become exponentially heavier as the months pass. And when they cry, carrying and rocking them is just about the only thing that will calm them down – apart from feeding them of course. I truly felt like I had a workout the day after.

I can change diapers like a champ.

This totally surprised me. I was amazed at myself. I changed the baby’s nappies for a grand total time of 5 minutes and I only had to take a second to figure out which way was up. And really, I don’t know how or why but babies just don’t smell. Even when they should. Babies have world-class pheromones.

I can feed myself but apparently not babies

I had a moment of panic an hour into babysitting duties. My friend was running late and I had to take care of Caleb on my own for the first hour or so. I was feeling so smug because I got him to sleep and I was just sitting there chilling and watching The Night We Met on Netflix (predictable but fun, no need for brain cells – perfect for babysitting night lol). And then inevitably the baby becomes hungry and I had to feed him with the expressed breastmilk his mum so helpfully prepared before she left.

And he wouldn’t suck.

I couldn’t believe it. I must be the only person in the world who can’t feed a baby. I tried everything, every position I knew, but he just wouldn’t take the milk. He was crying and I wanted to cry because I was feeling like such an idiot. I knew instinctively that he was hungry but I didn’t know how to get him to take the milk. Thankfully, my friend Cat arrived just in time. I buzzed her in and handed the baby over in record time and she had him drinking in minutes. Clap, clap, clap, CLAP.

It takes a village.

On the heels of the feeding incident I now realise how difficult it must be to do that on your own, raising kids I mean. We only babysat for three hours but Cat and I knew that we couldn’t have done it without the other. Forget about the fact that we needed to take turns carrying and feeding the baby so that the other can have dinner or a bit of a rest, I think that goes without saying. But no, I think its just the comfort that comes with knowing that there’s another person in the room, another pair of eyes, someone else to help you make the important decisions; it’s a big comfort to simply know you’re not alone.

I now understand why couples with babies will think carefully about where they want to settle; some will probably move closer to home because you really need that support system. If I’m ever blessed with a child, I’ll also be adopting my mum who is a champ at all things babies. I now have so much more respect for single mothers – they truly are unsung heroes. Kudos to you guys.

Babies will make you realise your capacity to care for another individual

I don’t know if it was just because it was V-day and I was feeling more maudlin than usual, but caring for Caleb that night genuinely made me feel like there was nothing I wouldn’t do for this baby. And whenever he smiled because I was putting Aveeno cream on his cute little face, I felt like I hung the moon on the sky. I guess that’s why I always think that having a baby is a big decision and you have to be sure you’re ready and you’re at the right state of mind for it. Because having one means losing your right (and desire) to only think about yourself. There’s lots of challenges, lots of sacrifices, but the rewards must be amazing.

Anyway, it was an awesome night. Thanks Katie for trusting me with your beautiful baby boy. As I said, I’m available for babysitting duties anytime. And I promise to get better at the feeding thing.

Now I’m going to call my mum and tell her how much I love her.

Posted in dating, Feminism, relationships

Of Retinal Detachments (Maybe!) and Late Night Realisations 

It was the middle of the night and I was caught in a rather strange dream about two of my workmates when my sister suddenly barged into my room, frightened, because she had a sudden blurring of vision on one eye. Being a nurse aaaaand somewhat of a hypochondriac my brain automatically goes to the worst case scenario. Some people would probably think its nothing, but I immediately think retinal detachment, macular degeneration and oh God, let’s go to the A and E.

It made me think about the other times that my sister would come barging into my room with one form of complaint or another, whether its the fact that we’ve suddenly lost the wifi or something more serious like when the time she had severe abdominal pain (and we really HAD to go to the A and E because her pain tolerance is minimal to the point of nonexistence). She comes in expecting me to be the mature adult when I really have no idea what I’m doing half the time. Its funny because really, between the two of us my sister would probably be considered more mature but when it comes to acting quickly in a crisis, I’m your girl. 

My brain doesn’t believe in wasting time. It will automatically go into problem solving mode and switch from ‘Houston we have a problem‘ to ‘okay, what can we do?’. That’s not to say I’m fearless; in fact, I’m probably scared shitless the whole time. But the way I deal with fear is to eliminate the source as quickly as possible and most of the time fear comes with the unknown. So no matter how bad it might be, I would always search for answers and the root cause of the problem so I can go about looking for solutions. I’ve never really thought about it, but I suppose this is one of my greatest strengths.

Its also incredibly exhausting.

And when Arlene came into my room that night, I found myself wishing there was someone else with me to support me for a change, someone I can rely on and count on, even if its just someone who will call an Uber whil I deal with my sister. I am usually the first person to bolster someone who’s feeling lonely and afraid because they’re single. I am probably the poster child for single adulthood because I can say with all honesty that I’ve never felt like there was something missing in my life just because I don’t have a boyfriend/partner/husband. It would certainly be nice, but its not something I would force or rush into just for the sake of it. Its too important a life decision to treat impulsively.

But that feeling of wanting someone as a partner came over me suddenly that night, I have to say. Not to use as a crutch, but like I said, it would be nice to have a shoulder to lean on, a hand to hold as I face life’s many inevitable problems. Its the kind of feeling that probably means my online dating presence will be much more rampant in the coming days.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I’m generally a very strong person, it would be nice not to have to be strong all the time, to trust someone enough to let go of the reins and to be able to cede control of my life to another person for a few moments, trusting that they’ll act in my best interests and that when I’ve recharged they’ll hand it over to me, and I will be all the better for it. To me, that’s what being in a relationship means and if that’s what’s waiting for me at the end of all this dating palaver, I will gladly go on Tinder and whatever other online dating app there is. 

I talk to the universe and God less and less about my love life because I think they have other more important things to worry about but just in case they’re in the middle of a break and have 3 seconda to spare, this is me asking nicely for them to give a girl a break, enough is enough, maybe its my turn to win the relationship lottery huh? Its been a long time coming.