My Prayer

An early start after a rare good night’s sleep, and I’m feeling game enough to pound that pavement to the shops for another load of groceries that I know is going to take more out of me than it probably puts back in. The streets are dead quiet. They should be – it’s only after 5.30 in the morning. The darkness hides my black-clad form partially, the rest of the job achieved by the many overhanging trees and street-side shrubs that form an efficient archway for pedestrians, like an entryway to a suburban church.

It’s been nearly three months now in my new place, and I wish I could say that my life is taking off. I wish, even more, that I could say that it has taken off. But shortly after moving in, I began to develop a weakness and a stiffness that I can only put down to a combination of bad furniture and overabundance of paint fumes and other VOCs, things which may not cause a problem for most people but which can be a real pain in the lower back for those of us suffering from chronic inflammatory response syndrome, or CIRS, brought on by living in sick houses – houses riddled with toxic mould.

It’s been over a year now that I’ve been out of my mould-infested abode and I’m still suffering. My gut is still distended; my bowels are still disrupted; my muscles are still stiff and weak; and my teeth and bones still feel like brittle chalk. I’ve been putting up with these symptoms for about seven years. I even wrote a book. But today, trudging to the shops, it kind of reached a bit of a breaking point.

Thing is, everything looked so beautiful. The air was cool and invigorating. I hadn’t been out of the house for days thanks to a lower back flare-up, and now I realised just how much I had missed seeing everything out there: the lovely homes, the hedges, the whispering trees, the cobbled lanes, the flowers, the cheery neon signs … and the funky warehouse buildings hosting dance studios and gyms.

One of those gyms opens early. Walking past it, I look in and see people about their workouts, the warm lighting pouring out onto the street. They all look so strong and fit. I walk past, as I usually do, trying to remember the items on my mental shopping list.

At the register, I wish I had more to say to the lovely lady with the pretty amber teardrop earrings serving me. But I’m not in the best mood, as I’m contemplating the three full bags of groceries I’ve got to carry home as she rings them up. I cross the road without waiting for the green man and make for the street that will take me home, not wanting to dally. There are a few people about, some out for their morning walk, jumpers tied around their waists, others looking like they’re hunting for a new spot where they can put down all their worldly possessions without being bothered by cops. The morning is dull under a sleepy, grey sky.

As I walk home, I pass a lovely doorway to a trendy home, one of the ones that has a cool palm tree out the front. It is compact but perfect. As I walk along, I don’t know where it comes from, but a little prayer starts speaking from inside me. I ask God to bless the inhabitants of this cute home. Then I recall Jesus’s words: ‘He who has will be given even more, and he will have an over-abundance.’

Is that how it works? When you’re blessed, do you receive more blessings from those who admire the blessing you already have, and then even more from yet others, until you’re super-abundantly blessed?

The voice inside me won’t quit. It prays on. Now I find myself asking the most ridiculous thing. I am asking God to give me superhuman strength, so that I can not only carry home my groceries, but I can do lots more, without breaking a sweat. I am panting and sticky inside my track top, and the handles of the grocery bags are doing their knuckle-cutting thing, and they’re not even plastic but those cloth ones. The voice inside me is earnest. It is trying to get God’s attention.

Please give me superhuman strength. Make me so strong the world will know it must come from you. I can’t do this on my own. You said anything I pray in your name, Jesus, you will do for me. So please give me superhuman strength. Let it inspire the world. Let it ignite the faith of Christians. And for all those who have no faith, let it make them seriously consider their future. I ask this in your precious name, Jesus.

I look back in at the gym, which is now in full swing, people leaping onto blocks and effortlessly manipulating body parts and equipment.


For the rest of the walk home, I feel like I have a powerful wind at my back. The ground slips away beneath me at twice the speed. I decide to switch grocery hands every 50 steps and find it helps enormously to keep my stiff knuckles pain-free. Once home, I put away my groceries without any back pain. I even come up with a funny joke to text my dad, who’s been ill lately.

Praise the Lord. He has given me not only sufficient strength for myself but enough to spare so that I can encourage others.

On my own strength, I am nothing. I am less than a decrepit old woman who can’t even turn over in bed without groaning in pain.

With Jesus, I am everything I want to be, and more. With Jesus, I feel no pain, only power. With Jesus, I am a walking miracle.

Praise the Lord.


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The Pretty Girl

This is a quick one, just to announce the arrival of my new book, The Pretty Girl: a short. It is a story inspired by real life events from my own school days. An article about the book appears here:

Basically, the story is about a group of sophomore friends who become kind of infatuated by a new girl at their school. Why? Because she’s pretty. For most people, that’s enough. But for Emerson, the girl who the story is told through, it sparks a months-long exploration into the apparent appeal of “the pretty girl”. Inevitably, a moment of truth appears in the story, where Emerson and the Pretty Girl cross paths…

The Pretty Girl is a story I have wanted to write for decades, ever since the events which inspired the creation of the book. It was during a re-watching of the movie I Feel Pretty starring Amy Schumer (I just love those energetic gym scenes!) that I realised “the pretty girl” would never leave me alone unless I got her out of my head and onto the page once and for all. I have Lockdown 2020 to thank for this; not being able to attend my local gym left me craving the uplifting nature of group workouts. Amy’s movie filled that hole like chocolate cake at a birthday party.

The book is about 50 pages long and is a standalone story. My main reason for writing it was to hopefully open a dialogue with readers around the topic of female beauty and others’ perceptions of it. I know many women have had similar experiences to mine, as well as others who have definite ideas and wish to share them. To this end, I have provided my email address within and invite reader feedback.

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No Virgins Allowed

Let me ask you a question. What is the value of an irreplaceable relic that’s thousands of years old? Say, the pyramids in Egypt or the Parthenon? To many, things like that are almost on a level with God. To others, they’re just stones. But to really work out their value, we’d have to know what lengths the world as a collective unit would go to in order to protect them. For example, suppose a band of terrorists kidnapped a prominent person and demanded one of these holy relics as a ransom. A bunch of stones for a human life. An irreplaceable icon for the life of someone you’ve never met. What would you say then?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. That would never happen. What a stupid question. The thing is, though, that this hypothetical situation is really only an extreme form of a kind of decision people make every day, namely, that of choosing whether to put souls above objects and vice versa. The answer could vary depending on how important either the soul or the object is considered to be. Now, you might not mind handing over a couple of Parthenon marbles to save the life of a famous person everybody loves. But what if the price was the whole Parthenon in exchange for the life of an ordinary person?

Surely it isn’t insane to pose such hypothetical questions when we consider that the Mona Lisa has more secure accommodation than most people on the planet do.

I was thinking about this as I was looking over old holiday snaps. Flashback to 1999: By some atypical twist of good fortune, my dad and I managed to find ourselves in the centre of Athens right before the Millennium New Year’s Eve celebration (it went totally off, by the way). A couple of days before the big event, Dad suggested we go and see the Parthenon. Both of us had never seen it up close despite the fact that my dad had lived in Athens for six years at one stage. (I don’t know what this phenomenon is, but they should give it a name. I lived in Phillip Island for about six years and I’ve yet to see a penguin).

Of course, I was all enthusiasm for the idea. It was definitely better than spending the day at street level and choking on car fumes. So off we went.

Unfortunately, no-one had told us that the Parthenon would be off-limits to visitors for the couple of days leading up to Millennium Night because of firework preparations. So when we got to the first entry point, we were sadly turned away. I was ready to go home and take another smog-induced nap when my dad pulled me aside.

“I bet there’s another way in there,” he said, his eyes aglitter. “Let’s go around and see if we can’t climb in somehow.”

So around we went to look for the mythical secret passage. What we found was a series of increasingly more difficult obstacle courses I’ve come to term The Parthenon Gauntlet. Our obstacles included rocky slopes, wire fences, bushes and brambles (I might be imagining this one – it felt like a brambly experience), and, let’s not forget, good old sheer cliff faces.

Dad is half-goat and so he cleared those fences with aplomb. Me? Eh. Don’t forget it was winter and I wasn’t exactly dressed for anything other than window shopping. Yet with each fence we vaulted, the ground fell further and further away and the Parthenon got closer and closer. In spite of myself, I began to get excited. What if we made it in? What a story we’d have to tell!

“Two Australians Break Into Parthenon – Nothing Taken”

“Aussies Rock Up to Parthenon Their Way”

“It’s Up and Over for Parthenon Visitors from Down Under”

After 10 minutes of huffing, puffing, sweating and scraping, suddenly, we were within sight of the majestic building (ugh – “building” is so not the word to be using here). I thought, “By God … he’s done it! The old man has come through. He’s got us in!”

When I was a little girl, my dad once drove our whole family down a sheer cliff face. The angle on that thing must have been about 60 or 70 degrees, at least. That’s what it felt like, anyway. I remember we had to go down inch by inch. The purpose of this delightful exercise was to secure a top fishing spot. I can’t remember if we caught any fish that day. But I do remember going home because we had to leave exactly the same way we came. And yet, every inch of the way, even listening to my mother’s little gasps of fear, I never once doubted my dad could do it. I don’t know if it was because of my young age, the fact that my dad was my hero, or just a psychic sense of knowing. But I felt no fear.

This time, I was truly surprised. I hadn’t expected we’d ever succeed in our little covert gauntlet exercise. Again I was awed at my dad’s ability to overcome insurmountable challenges. We prepared to entrez vous with glee, when, suddenly, we spot another checkpoint – one final gate barring our way. This one was different to all the others. This one could not be gotten around. To try to would mean to meet one’s demise over the edge of a cliff. There were no shrubs to grab hold of and no fences to climb. We were stuck.

Dad refused to give up, however, after coming so far. So up we marched to the guard at the gate and he began sweet-talking the guy like there was no tomorrow. Well, he used every trick in the book. He told the guy how far we’d come, that we were only here for a couple of days and that it was a shame for his child not to get to see a part of her father’s history. I was surprised he didn’t mention my Greek school grades, but whatever. The point is he tried.

Sadly, the guard told us, though he sympathised, he could not let us in. Safety came first and if he bent the rules for us, he’d have to bend them for everyone else. So (damn I hate you, psychic sense) down we went again … back down … down and down … past all the gates we had deftly avoided on our trek up, because we weren’t going to go back the same way we came this time, no way, no how…

And then a funny thing happened. As we walked back down through the gates, we received the strangest looks from the men guarding them. Nobody said anything to us and nobody stopped us. I could swear some even bowed their heads slightly, as if we were royalty. It was only after we’d left the area that it hit us what the guards must have been thinking. None of them had seen us enter that day; so when they saw us coming out, they must have thought we either worked at the site or were privileged visitors.

We laughed and laughed.

The Parthenon – which means “virgin” in Greek – ironically, had not blessed our virgin visit that day. But it had given us something so much more memorable: a story that would be told to countless relatives and friends in the years that followed and would become the source of much laughter and delight.

And, just over four years later, my dad’s wish would finally be fulfilled when he took my mother up to the Parthenon on a holiday and they got to see the marbles up close. Watching them on the video posing among the ancient stones, my mother kissing them tearfully, I heard her pose a question to my dad:

“I don’t suppose they’ll ever rebuild it again, will they?”

Dad, lost in thought, responded, “Oh, I suppose they will.”

Sure enough, a few years later, we learned the rebuilding process was underway. There was some controversy around the decision. Many people thought the stones should be left as they are. Others thought it would be a shame not to try and rebuild the structure, almost as if it symbolises Greece’s own state of being. They thought it might help re-ignite the nation’s morale in a time of such economic distress.

While wondering how many years such a project will take and considering that many people will be born and die without ever having seen the Parthenon not filled with scaffolding, I discussed this issue with my dad one night. A concern we had was the frequency of earthquakes in the region and how this might impact the rebuilding and conservation process.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” I told my dad, “if, after they rebuilt it, a big earthquake hit, and all the newly built parts fell down while all the ancient-built parts remained standing?”

I was joking, of course, but my dad said that would not surprise him at all. The ancients, he said, had a far superior knowledge about these things than what we have today. Thinking about the Pyramids, I had to agree with him. I mean, here are these structures out in the desert and nobody can tell us exactly how they were built or even why they were built the shape that they are. Why triangles? Not even scientists seem to be able to answer this question. There is conjecture that it has to do with something spiritual or mystical.

Personally, I laugh at such things. To me the answer is obvious. At the risk of sounding like both an idiot and a smart-ass, I would say that if I were a Pharaoh and wanted something built that would commemorate my life and reign, something that would last, something that wouldn’t lose its shape amid the wandering winds of the desert, I too would choose a giant triangle made of stone. Why? Because everything that is built in the desert winds up looking like a triangle anyway! It’s called erosion, my windswept friends. You put the Parthenon in the Egyptian desert and see how long those perfect corners and precise carvings last.

There is a great lesson in this. A lesson about learning to work with what you’ve got instead of trying to change the weather. About respecting the winds of time and planning ahead. And about trusting in what you know and what you want even if it seems foolish to other people. I’m sure there must have been more than a few raised eyebrows at the time the first Pyramid was built, with many questioning why such a simple structure when other nations like Babylon were building such elaborate ones. But Pharaoh knew what he wanted: eternal glory that would never erode away! Bring in the architects!

In the same way, many of us face problems where the answer that would seem to fit perfectly for us appears ludicrous to other people.

Do we have the courage to see it through?


(This one is for you, Dad).

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Living With a Narcissist

Let me tell you what it’s like living with a narcissist. They are often the most popular people among their social group, and for good reason. The narcissist is a master emotional manipulator. He knows how to make people feel good in order to get what he wants. Once he’s got it, however, no matter how lovely the person he’s getting it from is, the narc is off looking for his next source of narcissistic inspiration … exploitation … supply.

Most narcs are so good at manipulating people that their victims – those poor souls who, out of the goodness of their hearts, have fallen prey to the narc’s abuse out of a pure desire to please them – are often not believed by those around them. In fact, some victims are even painted as the bad guy, with the narc convincing their most trusted confidantes (even people they’ve known for decades!) that the victim is, in fact, the abuser, the narcissistic one, the one in need of therapy or intervention. This is called triangulation. The narcissist is effectively recruiting others to do their job of manipulating for them. As a typical winning team, they then gang up on the victim or victims (usually objects of envy to the narc for whatever reason, real or imagined) and by means of isolation, casting doubt on their character or judgement and good old-fashioned gaslighting, slowly break him or her down, the way a snake’s stomach acid breaks down an insect – an insect that was unlucky enough to be caught and eaten.

I have lived with two spectacular narcissistic individuals for decades now. It must be said that their narcissistic abuse did not manifest clearly until after certain people left our lives, namely, those who were honest to a fault and consistently called the narcs out on their manipulative or deceitful behaviour. An honest and outspoken person is a great barrier to a narcissist because they tell it like it is, and the narc knows they don’t make exceptions. They are the best weapon, it must be said, against narcissism in all its forms because they treat everyone the same. And when you treat everyone the same, you are respected.

Do people hate you? Of course they do! But at the end of the day, they have to admit your supremacy over bullshit. You don’t tolerate lies. This makes the narcissist tremble in his boots. He skirts around you, avoids you, peeks at you with surreptitious eyes. Doesn’t try his usual shit on – not with you.

Such a person is, in my opinion, a hero.

My hero was my grandmother.

She was not only completely allergic to bullshit in all its forms and unafraid of putting people in their place; she was also kind, fair and – darn it, darn it, darn it – my best friend in the whole world.

When my grandmother died, I became like an orphan. I was lost, confused and intrigued by death for the first time in my life. When someone so close to you goes to a mysterious place you cannot, you yearn to follow them. Failing that, you thirst to learn as much about the place they went as possible on this side of the black curtain.

Ah, if only losing my grandmother was the only tragedy to have ever befallen me! I had no idea how bad – how unimaginably bad – things would get with her gone.

When my gran exited life, truth went with her.

Bullshit moved in … to stay.

My home became a war zone. In my initial days of being a Christian (beautiful and fresh as they were), it was often three against one. My mother and father took my brother’s lead in bashing me every which way they could. If it wasn’t complaints about my going to a non-Orthodox church and taking communion in the form of “orange juice” (my mother’s words, not mine), it was my befriending a Christian lady and sharing my inner life in Christ with her.

But who am I kidding? This was not my family’s fault. The narcissism, the abuse, the manipulation … all was sent by Satan for the express purpose of making me turn back from the path I had embarked on… And failing that, to make my life here on earth a misery. I had inherited eternal life. Therefore, I must be punished. I would spend glorious days with Jesus in heaven. Therefore, my earthly life must be as hellish as possible.

But this post is about narcissists. I can say in all honesty I have never met a narcissistic abuser like my brother in my whole entire life. Living with him, from the time we were children, has been an exercise in exasperated forgiveness. I remember being a toddler and seeing my father spanking him for some infraction. His pitiful cries would rouse me to cast myself between the spanker and spankee. “Daddy, no! Don’t spank my brother! Spank me instead!” I would cry, knowing it was futile to protest. These were, after all, the old days of corporal punishment. As my parents delighted in telling us, “Spanking came out of heaven.” (How I hated that phrase!)

However, when it came my turn to be spanked, cry as I may, no reciprocal calls for compassion came from my brother. Gleefully, he would take his stance beside my father and urge him to beat me harder. “Spank her more, Dad!” he would yell. “That’s the way!” I came to believe I deserved to be spanked since my own brother could not muster even a smidgen of sympathy or empathy for me, as I often did for him. “You don’t have a good personality,” I would so often hear from my mother. “Your brother and I can get along. I can’t speak to you.” Such hurtful words would usually issue forth after failed attempts at making nice while sharing culinary activities. For some reason, my mere presence in the kitchen seemed to trigger my mother. I would later learn it was because I reminded her so strongly of my grandmother, her mother-in-law, who had lived with us until almost her death. My mother harbours very painful memories of my grandmother. As I said, truth tellers don’t beat around the bush. They let people have it, good or bad, right between the eyes.

My mother, a soft soul, would often be crushed by my grandmother’s comments. Thoughts like, “You married my son like an ugly old bird captures the best flower” would not be too outlandishly insensitive for my grandmother to happily share with my poor mum. A daughter-in-law does not forget these things. Any person does not forget such things. Such things take root and fester and grow. They poison the soul. They turn a pleasant person into an emotional wreck … then an emotional manipulator … and finally into a full-blown manipulative narcissist – someone who is no longer capable of discerning the truth from lies because, quite frankly, they don’t care. Truth wounded them deeply. They now have no more time for it. Emotions rule the day.

Thinking about all this, I honestly cannot blame my brother for turning out the way he did. It was a cry for help, a way to make sense of the emotional whirlpool he was raised in. Trying to figure out my mother’s moods made him emotionally volatile in an effort to cope. The problem came when he began turning his weapons on me – the youngest of the family and the least respected in every way.

I constantly feel like I’m walking on egg shells around my brother. I never know when he will blow his top. It could be over the simplest thing – a sock placed in the wrong drawer or an ice cube tray left to air out. It’s really absurd when you think about it. There is no rhyme or reason to the explosive tantrums exhibited by narcs. They don’t seem to care who wins an argument as long as the argument keeps going and they can keep bashing you and making you feel drained and pathetic. These people have no logic in their minds yet they will argue till they’re blue in the face that logic is all they care about. They can shoot the head off their Siamese twin to make a point if they have to. Seriously, don’t make them angry.

Why am I sharing all this?

Because tonight, sadly, I did the thing I had always wanted to do but had never allowed myself to – I blocked my brother on Facebook. It hurt to do it – but a weed is a weed, lush and green though it is.

I once went no contact with my brother for three whole months while living under the same roof. It was the three most peaceful months I can remember as an adult. Now, I am considering going that route again – purely for the reason that I cannot talk to him anymore. I mean, I don’t know how to talk to him. There is no reason in our conversations. There is no love. There is only this exhausting sense of competition, of someone constantly wanting to put me in my place and show me I’m not that special – in fact, I’m nothing, really. I sometimes wish I were a ghost. Maybe then he’d like me. I don’t know. All I know is he needs help.

But where can the narcissist get help? When someone has isolated their loved ones from wise, thinking, no-bullshit people, people with hearts and souls, when they have drawn into their circle only those who are enraptured by them and under their spell, those who make perfect triangulation buddies … where can one turn? Those who could help, who could see things as they really are have all left, not having time for this crap. Those who are left are either too ignorant to see the truth, or they too are narcissists – and like attracts like.

This is a topic too little discussed in our culture. It often only makes the headlines as an afterthought in the aftermath of some horrible domestic violence incident, usually the murder of a woman by a man she trusted.

You want to know how many times I wish my brother was just a friend or boyfriend? Then it would be easy to leave him behind. To move on with my life and be free. But he is family. And if I were to cut him off forever, I would be scorned and judged by those who think they know what my family is all about but actually have no bloody idea.

I will close by sending out a little warning and a prayer. If you believe you are dealing with a narcissist or an emotional abuser, please, my friend, if you can, run.

Don’t be ashamed. You are saving your life and sanity. There is courage in daring to be a fleeing victim. There is courage in putting a stop to these phrases:

“He’s right – I am so dumb!”

“But I can’t get on without him.”

“Nobody would want me, silly and shy as I am.”

“Maybe I should just end it all, then I’ll finally have peace.”

There is great courage, my dear, in daring to believe you are stronger and smarter and kinder than you imagined. Narcs mess with our heads. Their first port of call is our creative mind. If they can restrict our imagination, they can stop us from achieving our potential and therefore showing them up, dull and insipid as they often are.

Narcs hate those who are better than them. They can’t stand someone else being the centre of attention. They abhor their weaknesses being shown to them. They haven’t grown up. They cannot deal with the reality of life. They need mummy or daddy love all the time, and if they can’t get it from actual parents, they will seek it out in their other relationships, often with disastrous results.

So never be tempted to believe what a narc says about you. You know what they say: “Narcs are always talking about themselves.” If they call you lazy, it’s because they are lazy. If they say you can’t cook, it’s because they’re not confident in the kitchen. And so on. Ignore it. Treat it as white noise. And get the hell out of there before it’s too late. A narc can only have hope of treatment if everyone else pisses off and leaves them alone with only themselves for company.

I pray with all my heart for all narcs to come to love themselves and others with the pure love of our Father in heaven. But failing that, I pray that all narc victims find the strength to transcend their painful situations and end up survivors – with great stories to tell!

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I’ve just watched the French film, Girl, a drama about a young ballet dancer that has left me half-exhilarated, half-devastated. Lara starts life as a young boy who dreams of becoming a ballerina. Unfortunately for her, the road to that dream is one fraught with one difficulty after another.

First on Lara’s agenda each day is to take her hormone pills. Next comes the taping of the genitals and squeezing into the leotard before a day of gruelling ballet classes leaves her with bleeding feet, anxiety about stripping down in the girls’ showers and a penile infection that seriously threatens her chances of ever undergoing her dream operation – complete castration.

As if this isn’t enough, Lara also has to contend with boyfriend issues, bullies demanding that she “show hers” because “you saw our pussies, and you are a girl, right? You are one of us, aren’t you?” as well as problems with her high-strung father who throws tantrums because she won’t share her emotional world with him. You can practically see these pressures pounding inside her skull as she sits quietly in the doctor’s office enduring yet one more disappointing prognosis on her coveted transformation.

In one scene, Lara sits in the audience watching a performance on stage, her face a perfect stoical mask concealing all her burning desires. It is at this point that I found myself wanting to step through my TV screen, go up to this girl, take her aside and have a little chat with her. The feeling was visceral – I was gripping the sides of my chair with this longing. And what would I say?

“Listen, my dear, and listen well. You are heading for the heights. A day will come when little girls who dream of being ballerinas will stuff tissues down their leotards so they can be more like you. They won’t do this to make fun of you … any more than little kids today are making fun of Harry Potter by drawing lightning bolts on their foreheads. No – they will do it because they want to be part of something great.

“YOU are great. You have everything: grace, elegance, talent, passion, determination, humility, character, a kick-ass work ethic, courage and gentleness. The only thing you lack is a belief in your own greatness. If you had that, you wouldn’t seek to change yourself to suit the world’s tastes. Who the hell knows what the world’s tastes are anyway? Who knew that a bearded woman would win Eurovision until it happened? Who knew that Coco Chanel clothing would sweep the world until her first model donned that first pantsuit?

“In the same way, YOU will be great too, my dear. You have to learn to say, ‘Fuck you,’ to the world sometimes, to imbibe a little bit of that spirit of your French ancestors during the days of the Revolution – that impulse that screams, ‘Who CARES what you influential people think?!? WE are not listening to you anymore! WE cannot HEAR you! And WE are more important because WE have been suffering for TOO DAMN LONG!'”

I would have got through to her and she would not have gone and done what she does at the end of the film – a horror.

I feel the same sense of sadness and dismay when I read the comments of young girls online – girls caught in the grip of eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia – girls who cut themselves – girls who hate themselves and can’t accept themselves for who they are. I cry, and I want to tell them, “I was once where you are, with older women telling ME not to worry, that it would all be all right, but I didn’t listen, couldn’t listen. I preferred to believe these women were stupid rather than believe I was beautiful.”

There has got to be a Satan in this world. Otherwise, how in hell’s name could the world manage, in less than five decades, to take the most coveted sector of God’s creation – the girl – and convince her that she is the ugliest thing in existence?

Think about it. When watching films like Fiddler on the Roof, which group in society that is sung about are we most drawn to, inexplicably?

“And who does Mama teach… to mend and tend and fix… preparing her to marry whoever Papa picks…”


Everyone loves listening to a fairytale … but we all perk up a little bit when the beautiful young princess enters the stage.


Because she is full of promise. What will the hero do to win her? Will he prove worthy? What will she look like on her wedding day? What will she be like as that all-important social glue of the community, something that is woman’s speciality? How many children will she have? Will they be as wonderful as her? What kind of loving grandmother will she be? How awesome will her food be?

There are so many promises harboured in that extra X chromosome. It has inspired man to create art for millennia. Woman was created so God could show off to Adam and at the same time show Adam his weakness. In seeking to capture the mystery of this creation, man attains greatness – through painting, through music, through sculpture, through literature, through science and through political excellence. Cherchez la femme. Find the woman and you find the answer to every question in existence.

So why does woman, the object of all this attention, get up every morning, stand before her mirror and wish she could take a blade to her flesh, cutting off what she deems superfluous to society’s requirements, similar to our tortured protagonist? Why has life kept from her the mystery to her greatness, her joy and her excellence? Why has some evil force blinded her to the fact that for centuries countless of her ancestors were hunched over watery stews, empty flour sacks and bony livestock, their hands clenched together, praying futile prayers for relief and sustenance, and wishing with all their emaciated being that one day, one day…

“May my descendants have more than I have. Lord, may my descendants, one day, have so much abundance in their lives that they are never skinny again! May their lives be so easy that they have to WORK to lose weight! May the image of hunger and deprivation be so far from their minds as to render fasting an ENJOYABLE pastime!!! AMEN!!!!!”

And now – now that our ancestral prayers have been answered, and the doors of abundance have been thrown open to us, and everything our forefathers DREAMED of having – MORE than they ever dreamed of having – is laid at our feet, ready to be enjoyed by us – why, why, WHY has some evil presence seen fit to riddle us with guilt, shame and self-loathing simply for doing what any normal person would do in the circumstances and enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed?

“You’re fat.”

“Your legs are hairy.”

“You have a teeny-weeny.”

When my grandmother was a girl, she KNEW she was hot. And I don’t mean she walked around shaking her ass at fellas or batting her eyes for freebies. I mean, she walked like she bloody well deserved to be a part of this world. She bent over to smell the flowers without thinking somebody was going to walk past and think her a loser. She gave birth and maintained her curves for as long as possible, to give the baby a nice cushioned surface to sleep on. She spoke her mind without wondering whether others would find her too uppity or unladylike. And she was loved ceaselessly by a man until the day she died.

What happened to true feminine confidence? The kind that resides inside, the kind that speaks through gentle eyes, the kind our lovely Lara possesses in spades as she goes about dressing with care, cooking sumptuous meals for her loved ones and putting her little brother to bed, tucking him in, curling up next to him like a protective fairy or angel?

It doesn’t matter if you were born with a vagina or a teeny-weeny; when you feel that feminine voice begin to sing inside your heart, you heed its call. Lara knew she was meant to be a girl. Many of us who were born biologically female do not. We go through life confused and disappointed, letting those we respect more than ourselves decide how much we deserve to be loved and cherished.

What we should be doing is looking to God to decide our worth. I will give one final example and then sign off. Let us look at she who was considered the most desirable woman on the planet: Helen of Troy.

Ah, Helen of Troy. The greatest beauty of all. Even her initials spell HOT. Who was she? Answer: the Daughter of Zeus. How was she raised? Answer: BELIEVING IT. What did she do when things didn’t go her way? Answer: She TRUSTED in Zeus to deliver her. Why? Answer: Because she BELIEVED she was HIS CHILD.

Someone kidnapped and violated you?

Hmph… What more can they do? Zeus will have his vengeance in the end.

You’re far away from home?

Hmph… You’re the child of God. All the world belongs to you.

Half the chicks in town want you dead?

Hmph… You feel sorry for them. They’re not divine like you. Be nice to them.

In the end, it’s what a person believes that dictates their life. It’s what you believe about yourself that determines what the world will believe about you.

“Mummy! Mummy! There’s a bulge in that ballerina’s leotard!”

“I know, dear. Isn’t she simply wonderful?”

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The Orphan Brat

This is not a post about general brats. We all know about them. The selfish, whiny, unusually loud beings who pervade our entire retail environment. No, this blog post is about that other breed of brats, the ones who, thanks to an early cruel twist of fate, have thrown themselves down the path of social rebellion out of a perverse desire to make others feel as miserable as they are. Often it’s covert social rebellion. This usually takes the form of screwing people over, talking about them behind their backs, expecting the world to cater to them and just being a cut below a quality person.

Introducing the orphan brat, folks. No, I’m not talking about the cool orphans here, like Oliver Twist or Harry Potter. People like that are gems. The definition of a gem is someone who is nice and kind and helpful. Someone who walks the message: ‘Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you’ rather than the message: ‘Do unto others as you feel life has done unto you’. The orphan brat hits that second message hard. They wake up in the morning, look out their window and think, “Look at that world out there full of people with their mothers and fathers, all happy. I’d better get a move on if I’m going to be on time to completely mess it up.”

It may be hard to recognise the orphan brat at first. They often don’t walk around screaming, “I’m an orphan! Die, world, die!” In fact, they often come off as nice, responsible people, even inspirational. It takes a keen eye and a lot of patience to see them for what they really are. Nice – until they sense someone else in the world has got it better than them. Then things change. The orphan looks to the skies, channels their orphan power and kaboom! Next thing you know, you’ve been screwed over – and the universe, which you thought was on your side, gives you the cold shoulder.

The reason the orphan brat can pretty much get away with murder is that the universe is, actually, usually on their side. Their orphan status doesn’t just garner them sympathy from people; spiritual forces also jump in to help them at any and every time they need it. This is fine as long as the orphan in question is humble and gracious (and I have known a few humble and gracious orphans in my time). But what if they’re not? If they take the attitude of: sit back, enjoy the goodies, and complain why there aren’t more? God help anyone who is around this second type of orphan. God help them if they hit on some good luck and the orphan brat is there to witness it. Because up until a certain age – say, mid-fifties – you can expect the orphan brat to always get his way. Why?

Most of us will have lost or be starting to lose our parents or guardians in our fifties. This is therefore the age at which the universe looks down at the orphan brat and thinks, “Hmm, not so special anymore.” They now have company – that is, all their friends and loved ones will also be losing or have lost their parents. The universe now has competing sets of orphans to look after, and the orphan brat will find themselves having to share their unique orphan universe’s special treatment podium with increasing numbers of other people, many of whom will be smarter, kinder, more capable and more humble than they are. In a similar way to a supermodel getting old and dumpy, the orphan brat now has to step into the real world and live a real person’s life – not the bubble life they’ve been living up until now.

I’m certainly not saying orphans don’t have it hard. Far from it. Some of my closest loved ones were orphaned from a very young age, and they’ve done it damn tough. But here’s the thing: they did not turn into orphan brats. They turned into wonderful people. This is what puzzles me when I look at the orphan brat and compare them to the wonderful orphans I know. Why do they not also turn out wonderful? Hasn’t life given them the opportunity to develop a great character, compassion and love for others?

Instead, what I see when I look at the orphan brat is someone who is bent on dishing out as much misery as they possibly can. A non-orphan doing the things an orphan brat consistently gets away with on a daily basis would be shunned, ridiculed and probably even imprisoned. The orphan brat, however, knows nothing will happen to them because – well, because they’re an orphan. They’ve suffered, right? Other people have parents, and they don’t. Hence they should ALWAYS get their way. Right? Even if others have to suffer. Right? Even if they put a curse on someone and it results in that person’s death. Right?

Well, thankfully, the universe doesn’t let this kind of behaviour go on forever. The orphan brat’s days of using, abusing and screwing over every unfortunate soul who crosses their path and revelling in their power to do so are mercifully numbered. For the day inevitably comes, usually, as I said, in the fifties or sixties (if they live that long – not all orphans are lucky, brats or not), when the orphan brat, riding high on the universe’s wave of seemingly endless favour, doing what they do best with all the attitude that comes with never having been disciplined or controlled, comes to a sudden, grinding, sometimes humiliating halt. Suddenly their favour has run out. The wave has crashed into the shore, and there’s nowhere else to go. As the universe retreats above them, they now have no option but to come back down to earth and live with the rest of the mere mortals they learnt to step on, degrade and despise in the midst of their self-hating orphan brat path.

I’ve been around orphan brats who told me flat out, “I don’t care about other people’s kids. I only give a shit about my own.” I heard one wishing death on a loved one simply because of a small misunderstanding. And on it goes. You’ll have the OBs who shaft people and then gloat with faux humility to the very person they just shafted about how things always work out for them, “…somehow.” Meanwhile, the poor soul they trod on has no option but to walk away and get over it. Because nobody, no matter how great and present their parents are, can take on the freaking universe against an orphan. I don’t care if your parents raised you to be Superman. You have no chance against the orphan brat, even if he’s the master criminal of the world. Even if he wants to destroy you and take everything you have. He will get his way. The only choice you have is to get out of his way and take your shit with you. Then wait it out until your own folks are gone. That should even things up a bit. Then come back swinging.

Why do I care about orphans all of a sudden? Because I have witnessed evils nobody in this world should ever have to witness. I have heard things that would make great bedtime stories if kids didn’t need therapy after hearing them. The prayer of an orphan can heal the world. But if it’s an orphan brat you’re dealing with, you may as well prepare for Armageddon. We lock murderers up and sometimes throw away the key. We have not yet come to grips with the idea that the orphan brat is also a very efficient killer. They leave no fingerprints. They don’t need a hoodie because they never even need to be at the crime scene. They just need to be pissed off and believe the universe cares. Then watch out. Better to be an orphan yourself than to be at the mercy of one you have wronged, even unintentionally.

You could be out with your children one sunny day and oops! Their ball flies into the lap of that nice, young lady who’s eating her sandwich on the park bench. She smiles, hands it back, laughs at the vivacity of the young… Then, one not-so-fine day, you get a notice in the mail that informs you balls are no longer allowed in the section of the park your children so love to play in. It might even be less concrete: for the next month, every time you take your kids out to their favourite park, it rains, or there’s a scary dog, or some weird guy with binoculars is creeping about. You had your fun; now the orphan brat gets to have theirs. Ha ha.

Lest any orphan brats reading this begin to puff up with pride before sauntering out and promptly shmanoozling the next unwitting being who stupidly gets in their way, consider: the last orphan brat I came across sending out negative vibes … well, let’s just say things didn’t go so well for her in the end. For years it was as if she had a free pass to screw people over without consequences (except for having no friends). Then one day, it was all over. Irrevocably over. A mountain of misfortune hit her out of nowhere. It was as if the universe had been saving it all up and then unleashed it all at once. The saddest part was she was no longer at an age where she could pick herself back up. She also had nobody to help her because, well, nobody liked her. She’s now alone, lonely, friendless and utterly miserable.

Being an orphan, like being a supermodel, may get you into all the cool places and heap a lot of freebies into your lap which you didn’t work for. I have no argument about that. We all like free stuff. All I’m saying is once you’re through that door that only admits the special people, be nice to the ones who opened it for you. Be gracious to the ones who were left outside. And be humble in general because your accidental good fortune will only last so far. After your forties, fifties and especially sixties, the good things that come your way are entirely a result of what you yourself have spent your whole life sending out. If you decide to send out good things, then like JK Rowling or Susan Boyle, despite having been deprived of a parent (or both of them), your life will get exponentially better as time goes on. The good you’ve been doing will catch up with you and support you through your own trials and losses. If, however, you decide to use the universe as your spiritual rubbish chute, making it responsible for all that’s going wrong in your life, even though it’s always supported you in the absence of your parent/s, then you will one day find yourself neck-deep in the very stuff you generously dished out to it. Like chucking a soiled nappy out of a speeding car window, that stuff will just fly on back and hit your windscreen, slimy side-down, and stick.

We all, if we’re lucky enough to live that long, will have to endure the loss of a parent at one time or another. For some of us, that moment will hit early, making us always wonder what it would have been like otherwise. For others, that moment will hover at some imperceptible point in the distance, making us always wonder when it will finally pounce and blow the candle of our happiness out. And for yet others (who perhaps have Jewish mothers like moi), that moment will be lived hypothetically many, many times over in parental guilt trips before it actually happens.

The concept of the good orphan vs bad orphan may never have been dwelt on before thanks to literature painting all orphans as angelic cherubs worthy of our constant compassion and sympathy. But we no longer live in a world of woodcutters saving little girls out of the stomachs of wolves, nor in an age where princes saved damsels in distress and were happy to be sent off with a kiss on the hand at the end of a busy day of slaying dragons. We live in a cutthroat world whose citizens take every advantage they can get. This is a world where the orphan, especially the orphan brat, can actually thrive.

Think about it: he has no parents, so he is free to travel and roam, make bad choices and take risks, and never has to hear a word of criticism from anybody. If anyone tries a bit of constructive criticism to help him out, he can simply make them feel bad: “I don’t have parents like you do,” or “You’re not my father, so f*** you.” Or he simply won’t ask for advice, making others feel foolish for trying to contribute. He thinks because God took away his mother or father, that means nobody cares about him. (He couldn’t be more wrong). The media feasts on this insecurity of the orphan brat. It feeds his brain steady imagery of sole survivors, “chosen ones” and hermit-like loners venturing out alone against the world and, often, against their friends and loved ones (usually spouses). It creates a warrior, but it also fashions a distrustful and often mean person.

This person will be the first one to dare to counter your apprehensions about taking risks with comments like: “What if you didn’t have your parents? What if you were all alone? You’d do it then, wouldn’t you? What are you afraid of?”

Of course, there is always a place for questions like this in life. We must all be willing to battle our fears and apprehensions. The problem is that when an orphan brat makes a comment like this to someone whose parents are still living, it’s often not helpful for one main reason: their parents are still alive. Their path is different. They do not live like an orphan and throw caution to the wind and take off somewhere leaving their loved ones behind because, at the end of the day, that is not responsible. And I’ll bet the orphan brat, if they, too, still had their folks with them, would do exactly the same as the non-orphan brat. What is wrong with spending your days making your loved ones happy? Is there not a noble kind of courage in looking after your parents in their old age and striving to make them happy? Why don’t we ever see movies with people who decide no, they won’t go searching for adventure but will find joy in bringing happiness to the ones they’re lucky to still have in their lives … before they lose them?

This world has a lot to answer for in pushing people to separate themselves from their families and go off in search “of themselves”. It seems to be more prevalent in the New World. Australians used to kick their kids out at 18, maybe even 16; now, the kids are coming back and roosting with mum and dad into their forties and beyond thanks to an impenetrable housing market and skyrocketing costs of living. Meanwhile, in Italy, business is moving along as always, factories are still manufacturing nice clothes and enviable footwear, and guess what? Mr and Ms Older Junior are still living with mum and dad and loving every minute of it! Nor are they human furniture; they help out around the house and provide their parents with company so that the latter don’t succumb to dementia earlier, as we’re increasingly seeing in Westernised countries.

The orphan myth started out in such a family-oriented culture as Italy’s, probably because when most people have a loving home to go to and little else in the way of material possessions, the only ones who miss out actually are the orphans. But in a materialistic world where hardly anybody gets to spend much time with their families and material things of worth are still as expensive as ever, it seems that those who miss out are anyone but the orphans. We live in a world that rewards people who have no family. It rewards individualism, leaving the family business and striking out alone, being confident even when being dead-set wrong, and not taking anybody else’s opinion into account but your own. And even if you stuff up royally, it’s okay, because you were out doing what you wanted. You rock! Your failures will probably go viral and you’ll be the next self-made social media idiotillionaire.

In light of all this, it’s easy to see why the number of orphan brats is rising. This is their era, after all. At no time in history has the idea of family posed more of a threat to the people who seek to control mass opinion than today. Perhaps a lot of them are orphan brats themselves. If they are, I can only warn them thus: remember the dirty nappy…

(Written by someone who lost one of her mothers as a teen.)

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The Thing About Hufflepuff

I’ve had this thing about Hufflepuff house ever since I read the first Harry Potter book. Out of all the four houses, this one house is the only one whose members are described as “a lot of duffers” and also the only house whose common room we unfortunately never get to see. We enter the cheer-filled, hearty world of Gryffindor, of course, and venture into the glorious halls of learning which constitute Ravenclaw’s domain. We even take a detour or two into the creepy underwater realm of Slytherin. But Hufflepuff’s quarters are seemingly off-limits to the visitor at Hogwarts.

Over the years, I’ve often wondered why this is. JK Rowling has made a point of describing the hardest-working house’s common room to us; we even have quite lovely artistic depictions of it online to inspire our imaginations (though I can’t say it’s easy to imagine Cedric Diggory or Tonks hanging out in a place decorated by hanging baskets of plants, but whatever). The house, however, continues to be a mystery to me, for one main reason:

I know what people who work hard are capable of. I know what those who “are unafraid of toil” can achieve. And as such, I can imagine what their habitations would look like. And the Hufflepuff Common Room of Google Images fame … is not it.

Just for a bit of fun, here is what I would represent Hufflepuff’s domain to be like:

Entry would be through a door that most of the other houses’ members could not penetrate, not just for reasons of the method’s absolute secrecy (Hufflepuffs are the best secret-keepers, I hope you know), but also because of its understatedness; it don’t look like no glamorous portal into an awesome place, to put it simply. So most people just walk right past it. And that’s just the way Hufflepuffs like it. Buzz off. (That last part is a clue, of sorts. More on it, later!)

Once you, being a Hufflepuff, enter the Common Room, your eyes would be greeted by what could best be described as a scene worthy of the whole damn world. Gold would be everywhere. Jewels, too. Marble tastefully used in small but effective amounts to set off parts of shelves or floors or furniture. Rubies, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, pearls and other precious stones would be used just as tastefully to pretty up furniture, drinking and eating utensils, walls and floors. Precious stones would be set into the floors in beautiful and intricate mosaics, and in the walls, parts of which would be wooden, part rock and part some other material that some fantastic explorer of a Hufflepuff would have discovered and learnt to source at great effort and cost, and which only other Hufflepuffs know about, of course.

In the very centre of the common room, running right down from ceiling to floor and showcasing the house’s love of hard work and the results it brings in good time, there is a grand and sturdy oak tree, its ancient trunk so wide that it takes over 10 adults standing fingertip to fingertip to embrace it. The trunk and boughs are hung with heartwarming lamps of gold, their light providing ambience and visibility for students sitting and reading or studying underneath. To that end, there is a great circular seat running all the way around the root of the tree (a great place for reading, waiting, meeting and socialising) and even closer to the trunk, in the hollows created by the spaces between the protruding roots, there are large soft cushions for sitting on, should one wish to read while leaning against the trunk – which is so old and sturdy, little shelves have been successfully cut into the wood to house books (which are changed every week) without affecting the plant’s health.

The Hufflepuff Common Room, like the Ravenclaw Common Room, has its own extensive library. But where Ravenclaws are of a more philosophical bent, reading for knowledge’s own sake, Hufflepuffs love to delve into How-To books: arts, crafts, mechanical, languages, anything that encourages the undertaking of an endeavour that will yield results only after a hefty period of years. There are still philosophical books, of course, but their main object, like all the books Hufflepuffs like to read, is to teach someone the skills they will need for some future profession or trade. As such, Hufflepuffs who read astrology books eventually become astrologers, while those who devour romance stories eventually become romance novel writers or romantic film producers. Hufflepuffs like to while away time like anyone else; but inevitably, what ends up happening is their fun pastimes become part or all of their careers. They never discover something they like without eventually finding a way to also work at it, or to make it work for them.

In that vein, Hufflepuff is the only house that has permission from Dumbledore himself to carry on ventures of an entrepreneurial capacity. The common room is at ground level with a wide opening that opens into a type of indoor-outdoor common area – kind of a half-secluded patio – and there students set up booths and displays and stands with all manner of products, from the useful to the quirky, which are sold or exchanged during the day. So of course, Hufflepuff house has its own stockmarket, and some of the students do very well in it.

Those students who have less of a mercantile nature and more of a physical inclination tend to spend their days in the common room’s gym (located one level down to keep noise levels low) where everything from boxing to gymnastics to wizard karate are practised. Hufflepuff house has no less than five dance troupes, each one with a different cultural flavour (yes, there is burlesque), which regularly put on performances in the common room’s dance studio and sometimes take part in dance battles.

Along with the gymnasium, there is also: a sound studio; a private kitchen (some recipes used by Hogwarts cooks have come straight out of the culinary experimentations of eager Hufflepuffs); a private nursery and potions lab (again, eager Hufflepuffs); a subterranean rainbow pool (glows a different colour of the rainbow on a different day and all colours of the rainbow on days of celebration, such as when Hufflepuff wins the house cup, and is completely designed, dug out and filled by Hufflepuff students); a tailor shop; a beauty salon; an underground Quidditch pitch (when students got tired of always missing out on the main Quidditch pitch for practice, some of them got together and just dug out their own; it’s hard to ventilate, though, so practice games are often short, otherwise Hufflepuff would kick much more ass in Quidditch); a student-run cafe, theatre and gallery (which houses art whose value exceeds the hundreds of millions of pounds); and an owl-training room (Hufflepuffs possess some of the fastest owl messengers at Hogwarts), among others.

In addition to all this, there are small cubicle-like recesses where Hufflepuffs can go to be alone or study in peace, if they’re not in a mood for socialising. Despite the vast amount of activity in the common room, there is never an excess of noise or disturbance because the room has been set up so cleverly that the structure and acoustics facilitate whatever activities are being engaged in.

I won’t lie; when you walk into my vision of a Hufflepuff Common Room, you are struck dumb for a few moments. There is wealth beyond your wildest dreams, yet it is treated with a sort of matter-of-factness; Hufflepuffs are not fazed by wealth because they value work so highly. They are also sensible of the envy that others of a less industrious nature would subject them to, should the sheer quantity of their assets ever become known, and so every Hufflepuff is not only sworn to secrecy regarding the contents of their common room and the particulars of their activities within, but Hufflepuff house in general delights in flying miles ‘under the radar’, as it were, when it comes to their fellow Hogwarts houses. Every time another house pokes fun at Hufflepuff, the members of this quietly illustrious house simply nod and crack an almost apologetic grin, usually mumbling something along the lines of: “You’re right; we are kind of duffers, aren’t we?” They do this so that nobody, not even the professors themselves, will be any the wiser of just what is really going on behind those tightly closed doors of the Hufflepuff House Common Room.

To have a Hufflepuff as a loyal friend says only one thing about you: You are freaking awesome. That’s because these guys never form any alliance, attachment, relationship or friendship with anyone or anything without first doing their homework. Are you a history buff? Fall in love with a Hufflepuff and they will become an expert on history, reading everything they can get their hands on, and even teaching you a few things for good measure. Or are you a Slytherin? They will fill the gaps in your family tree for you as they try to figure out exactly where you hail from and if you’re a safe enough bet. Any decision made by the members of this house is well-thought-out and intelligent. They can’t grasp facts from the ether like Ravenclaws, fly by the seat of their pants like Gryffindors, or willfully proceed along the wrong path out of stubbornness, like a lot of Slytherins do; their method is to search out the answers by sheer footwork, sweat and grit because that’s what – for lack of a better phrase – gets them off.

And now, just because I am a stirrer and no blog entry would be complete without using my stirring gifts, I will now express my final thoughts on Hufflepuff house, in complete deference to JK Rowling and all fans of Harry Potter and Hogwarts. I say ‘in complete deference’ because my thoughts on what the house mascot for Hufflepuff should be differ from old JK’s. Though I’m sure badgers are lovely creatures, I had my heart set on something much more international. Something like, say…

a bee.

(This is where my ‘buzzing’ clue from before comes in). I mean, can you honestly imagine a better mascot for this house, whose colours resemble those of a bee and whose highest ethic is WORK … than a bee? I know, I know – it’s not a bee. But like I said, let me have some fun. This blog post is my show, after all.

My reasons for wanting the bee are as follows:

  1. Like a beehive, Hufflepuff Common Room looks kind of plain from the outside and for a good reason: to keep nosy buggers OUT. Try to enter when you are not one of the gang and you will not soon forget what ensues.
  2. Like bees, Hufflepuffs are quite uninspiring as individuals. It’s when they all get together that shit starts to happen. Voldemort learnt this lesson the hard way, unfortunately, when almost every Hufflepuff banded together as one to fight him. Team work rules the day for this house, as it does for any bee hive anywhere, ever. These guys’ badassery is only fully appreciated when you get them together. So please don’t, because they will beat you every time. That’s a promise.
  3. Bees don’t sleep. They don’t quit. Their living quarters are really ALIVE, buzzing with activity. Hufflepuffs are the same. Enter their common room (as a Hufflepuff or an honoured guest) and you’ll think you’ve walked right onto a freaking trading floor. Forget taking snaps; just hold up your phone and hit ‘record’ or you’ll miss most of it. Hufflepuff bedrooms are kind of dull and sparse compared with their living quarters. That’s because they only actually go to bed to SLEEP. No lounging around on a cold Sunday morning with a good book and cocoa for these guys. (Try the library, though – you might find a book club or two engaged in deep discussion about some 8000-page novel in between working on Hogwarts assignments).
  4. If Hufflepuff’s mascot were a bee, small as this creature is, that would mean that the Hogwarts houses encompass all 4 of the main animal kingdoms: mammals (Gryffindor lion), reptiles (Slytherin snake), birds (Ravenclaw eagle) and insects (Hufflepuff bee). So global, so … balanced.
  5. The badger can only be found in certain countries, while the lion, snake and eagle are almost instantly recognisable. Bees too, are highly recognisable because they are found pretty much everywhere. And whilst most people – like myself, sadly – need to be informed of what exactly are the badger’s qualities and attributes, nobody is ever in question of the attributes of bees, thanks to most of us having been stung at least once by one in our lifetimes, and, of course, partaking in some of the sweet bounty that these hardworking beings proffer to the world. Not to mention, if bees decided to take a year off, we’d all be screwed. (They pollinate pretty much all the food on the entire planet). I’ve always thought Hufflepuff house secretly kept things running at Hogwarts while Harry was off hunting Horcruxes and Dumbledore was emptying his aching head into the Pensieve, of an evening. It’s like that moment when Harry discovers that his food doesn’t just magically appear on the table before him, but somebody downstairs (house elves, yeah!) cooks it … in an actual kitchen … and sends it up steaming hot at the appropriate time. I always thought one day we’d make similar discoveries about Hufflepuff house’s activities around the castle. Maybe we still will. There’s a lot of logistics that go into running that place, after all. Somebody’s got to be willing to do the boring work while the heroes do their stuff. I live in hope.
  6. This is not a big consideration, but considering Hufflepuff’s common room is at about ground level and, as JK Rowling puts it, is quite a sunny, warm place, it puts one in mind of a typical bee hive, with its preferred position not too high above the ground and in plenty of sunshine.
  7. Finally, both bees and eagles have the power of flight, while lions and snakes do not. It’s another nice symmetry about the four houses, don’t you think?

So those are my reasons for wishing the bee was Hufflepuff’s mascot. This is just me letting my imagination have some fun, so don’t think anything of it (and if you are JK Rowling, don’t sue me). But if you agree, or you like my ideas, please write and let me know; maybe we can form a Hufflepuff Appreciation Club or something equally trendy. ;-P

Finally, let me say that although I am disappointed JK didn’t take us on a whirlwind tour through the Hufflepuff Common Room in the Harry Potter books, on giving it more thought, I’m actually glad. For one thing, it wouldn’t have allowed me to exercise my imaginative muscles in this blog entry; for another, I fear – like any writer knows – that to do so would have meant completely derailing the plot of the story. You see, I came up with a whole long-winded blog entry on what I think Hufflepuff’s common room would be like in a mere hour or two of careless typing. Can you imagine what descriptions we would be privy to if Rowling herself had sat down to give us a proper run-down of the place? Any writer knows that when you put pen to paper and engage your imagination, anything can happen. You become less of a vessel of ideas than a channel through which another higher entity brings forth its own ideas, using your mind to hatch them. A writer writes things they never expected to write or even know. Things that come from way beyond them. Things that change the world.

I’m absolutely sure that, insightful and profound as she is, Joanne Rowling would have started describing Hufflepuff house and found herself unable to stop. Then days, weeks later, she would have realised that she needed at least three more Harry Potter books to deal with all the extra information, ideas and flashes of brilliance that were issuing forth from her frantic pen. The woman has a husband and three kids – give her a break. So Hufflepuff Common Room will have to remain a close secret in Hogwarts circles and its members remain the most underestimated of Hogwarts students. That’s the way it has always been with people and phenomena of true influence, and that’s the way it will stay.


Dedicated to the memories of my Uncle John, my cousin Dina and my cousin Stamati, close members of the same awesome family, who all passed away earlier this year. I miss you guys more than I can ever say, feel or express. <3<3<3

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The Mighty River Word

I have to be honest; I never would have become a Christian – that is, embarked on a journey to consciously follow Christ for the rest of my life – if I hadn’t read the bible. A dear aunt of mine gave me one as a gift one year. I remember feeling a sense of anticlimax as I opened the wrapping paper to reveal the simple hard-cover book with a cross on the front, but I was also not surprised; my aunt was extremely religious. What else would she buy me?

We’d always had bibles floating around the house. I would grab one whenever the feeling came over me for something spiritual and read for a few hours. I also had a tiny little Gideon’s bible that I got at school, which had all the gospels, and bible study was a mainstay at Greek school on Saturdays. Religious instruction was also taught at regular school. I wasn’t without a Christian education.

But as I held, for the first time in my life, a copy of my very own bible, all brand-new, with the pages unturned by any other hands, a whopper of a challenge took form in my mind: What if I could read this bible the whole way through? From the very first page to the very last?

I was not a great reader, but I did enjoy reading. I usually read books of 150-300 pages, not having the patience to delve into anything longer. The bible, with its – oh, pages and pages … not to mention its often obscure themes and highly specialised historical perspectives … was the ultimate reading challenge. As far as I was concerned, reading it all the way through was a feat not unlike reading one’s way through the entire World Book Encyclopaedia, from A to Z.

I thanked my aunt for the present and that night I began to read the first chapter of Genesis. The next night, I read the next chapter. Then the next, and so on. I quickly got through Genesis and Exodus, having read most of them in previous years, usually after watching The Ten Commandments or some other religious movie on TV and becoming curious to know if things really happened the way the director presented them on screen.

As I progressed through the Old Testament, the reading got harder. Not because I was having difficulty understanding what was being said, but because of the sheer boredom of ploughing my way through some of the material, namely lists of names and numbers that didn’t mean much to me at the time. At times, it was a bit like reading one’s way through a phone book. (Although I must say, it was a great insomnia cure – not that an overworked uni student needed it).

But I persisted because it was so exciting to see the progress I was making. When I closed the bible at the end of a reading, I loved looking at the edge of the pages: I could see where I had read up to because the corners of the unread pages were smooth. It was so great seeing that smoothness growing shorter with every passing week and wondering when I would reach the last page.

It was about one third of the way through the book when strange things started happening.

I began having some amazing dreams. Sometimes I would dream of flying; other times I saw myself being rescued by a fair, handsome young man who I would feel an inexplicable parental love for, as if he was my son as well as my rescuer. Once, I awoke from a dream where I was flying through space and I heard the most amazing, joyous sound resounding around me … like a voice from heaven. I woke up and realised it was my alarm going off. I had never before felt so happy hearing an alarm clock – usually I wanted to smash the darn thing!

Along with the dreams, there were other strange things that took place. One day, I was coming out of a Chemistry lab with two other students and we were chatting away while we removed our coats. As I stood with them, an extraordinary feeling came over me. Not like an emotion, but an awareness. I felt like we were being watched … loved … by an incredible presence, a fatherly presence, from above. I looked at my two colleagues and thought I was seeing two dear siblings, like we were three little beloved children of the same parent, instead of virtual strangers who had only known each other a few days. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’d ever had.

It wasn’t long after this experience that my grandmother passed away. That’s when I really began digging into my spiritual reading. I read other books as well as the bible: books about death and the afterlife. I was looking for something that would reassure me but also become a model of spirituality that I could follow. I got into other religious literature, like Buddhism, and I studied the most excellent parts of humanism and political science. I was slowly constructing a faith for myself out of the best parts of what human experience had to offer.

Finally, just when my model was complete and I sat congratulating myself on having found the best system of both spiritual and social thought and behaviour … God entered my life.

One night, lying in bed in a bit of a depression, I felt Jesus standing outside the door of my heart, tapping softly. That’s when I knew that there was a deep problem that social and intellectual learning could not fix. There was a deep need that could not be quenched; like a hungry vampire, it always sought blood to satisfy its uncontrollable hunger. I had spent over 19 years ignoring and trying to hide this need, acting like a ‘good Christian’ – a moral person. But all the time, I knew that the need was there: hungry, howling, selfish, sneaky. It was the voice of a reality bent on destruction, and it didn’t care if that destruction was my own or someone else’s.

Society recognises this voice. It is the voice of self-harm, addiction, eating disorders, domestic violence and corporate greed. It’s a voice that can’t be quieted by politicians or charities. It’s a voice that is in each of us and must be battled individually, one person at a time.

Lying in bed that night, I remember feeling very out of my depth. In asking me to open the door of my heart, Jesus was essentially asking me to place the whole responsibility for fighting that destructive voice entirely in His hands. Asking me to turn my back on it. Asking me to trust someone other than myself to protect my heart. Asking me to give up the one thing I had become so proud of: my perfected model of human spirituality.

So how did I respond, you ask?

I said no.

Well, wouldn’t you, if you’d worked so hard on something?

I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t. But … please come back again, another time.”

Those who have read my previous blog entries will know what happened after that little request so I won’t go off on a tangent in this entry. But know that when you ask God for something and you’re genuine, He responds in kind. =)

But to get back to the topic of the bible, my little practice of reading it every night ultimately led to a situation where the spiritual idol I had set up for myself was irrevocably smashed to pieces in a second. From that moment on, I began a journey so different from the ones I had hitherto taken that I am still drawing lessons from it today. To say it is an eye-opening journey would not do it justice. It is the only journey worthy of being called a journey. It has all the makings of a journey: an unaware beginning living like a peace-loving Hobbit; a sudden awakening to the reality of a whole other world outside one’s comfy home; a split-second decision to follow a most inscrutable, wizard-like character out of this comfort and into dangerous territory; a fierce battle that brings out talents one never thought one possessed; and a brilliant victory at the end. A true journey transforms a person. A true journey makes one aware of the importance of serving something greater than oneself. A true journey shows you who your real friends and enemies are. A true journey frees you and gives you something to live for. A true journey takes you through hell to bring you to heaven.

I recall here the quote – I forgot who said it – that nobody has ever read the bible from cover to cover without becoming a believer. In my case, at least, that is true. If this is the purpose of the greatest best-seller in history – to make a person a believer, to bring them to repentance – then it succeeded. You would think then, that, having achieved its purpose, it would leave you alone. Not so fast.

It begins hounding you, drawing you even more hungrily. Like a personal trainer, it doesn’t let you have days at a time off, but comes calling bright and early, kicks you out of bed and pushes you out the door. It’s in your face, all day, every day. And if you take a holiday from it, it only jumps on you with more energy when you get back.

I was only halfway through the bible when I was born again, but now I found myself re-reading past chapters and reading ahead to future ones. I got through the whole New Testament before I’d finished the Old. I went back and forth, picking out verses that I found relevant, watched the lovely, pristine corners of the unread pages become messy as I used and abused them. I was relentless. The Word of God had become my new addiction. I couldn’t help it; I wanted to read one chapter at a time, go from cover to cover like a methodical robot, but it was impossible. Verses now jumped out and attacked me; sentences seemed highlighted by some majestic heavenly marker, shimmering with truth and life as they never had before. Many times, I leaped about joyfully with sudden realisations; many more times, I was reduced to tears by profound revelations. It was like being in a lolly shop full of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans except, instead of flavours, the beans gave you immortal insights about life and people that nothing in society had prepared you for, because the language needed to understand the insights is not taught by society.

Indeed, reading the bible once one has become a believer is like discovering a new food source that far exceeds any other food source a person has ever sampled, in every way. It’s like this food source has always been there and you’ve always known about it, but never been able to access it or never seen the need. And, on discovering what an awesome food source it is, you begin to eat greedily.

This is where it gets interesting. After you’ve been eating for a while, the food source begins moving on you. It moves a few paces back and you have to take a few steps to be able to reach it. In doing so, you have to move from your comfortable place. It hides on you, and you have to search for a while to find it. Sometimes it hides inside other food sources that are now unpleasant to you, and you have to sample some of them first in order to get to the good stuff. Sometimes, it makes as if to fly away, making you jump as you try to grab it before the wind does. And sometimes, just sometimes, it lodges itself in the dirtiest, grubbiest, most slimy little ditch you could imagine, and just sits there among the worms and slugs, daring you to come in after it.

In battling every day to get your new food, to satisfy your new addiction, you can often feel faint, exhausted, angry, irritable, negative or bored. You can begin to wonder what you are doing. Why did you even become enamoured of this food in the first place? It’s brought nothing but cuts, scrapes, bruises and sores to your body. It’s made you leave the nice places you were familiar with and mingle with people you never would have mingled with. It’s brought you more trouble than you would have tolerated in your previous life. But it’s also brought you strength such as you’ve never known. It’s lifted you above life’s ground cover to the treetops. It’s made life taste more delicious because its aroma lingers in your nostrils after you eat it, colouring every situation you subsequently encounter.

That’s why you keep at it. And then, one day, while forcing yourself to follow the food to a still more precarious, inconvenient or distasteful place, you happen to glance back … and you see how far you have come. Plains, mountains, ditches, hills, streams and fences lie behind you. That’s when you realise that all this time, while being fed, you were also being led.

Your Shepherd stands before you, holding out your food. Each time you accept His offer and partake, He succeeds in leading you on to another place. You want more food, so you keep following, braying away for more food. You never stop to think about where you’re being led and why. Your mind is on the food, and the stones, and the ditches, and the cold, and the heat, and the water, and the mud, and the distance. Sometimes, things become too much, and you steer off to the side, looking for food of your own, refusing to jump yet another boulder. Then you get into trouble. Each time that happens, the Shepherd comes back to rescue you. One taste of the food He offers and you are chastising yourself and resolving to only eat His food from now on … until the next time you stray.

What if you could stop being a sheep for a moment and see inside the mind of your Shepherd? What would you find?

You would find a person bent on leading you to the best pasture there is. =)

But the road to get to that awesome place is, unfortunately, riddled with inconveniences and dangers. It’s easy to distrust the journey when your hooves are bloodied with effort. And I guess, in the end, it comes down to trust. Can you trust your Shepherd? Will He lead you to a good place? Or will He let you down? Will He feed you up only to slaughter you? Or will He destroy anything that tries to harm you?

Does He love you?

The best way to answer that question is to figure out the limits of what your Shepherd would do for you, should the need arise. If He would risk His life to protect you; give His life as a ransom for yours; even sacrifice His only child to save your life … then He loves you. Then, you know you can trust Him.

If you could appreciate this love, see it as part of a bigger picture, what would you be willing to do, in light of it? Would you be willing to continue the journey? Eat the glorious food? Keep moving from place to place like a vagabond? Be seen as the outsider? The weird one? The one who is witch-hunted, despised or shunned?

You can only answer that question once you have hungered for and then eaten the food, yourself.

Like any good food, though, it can take some getting used to at first. After all, any food that you like straight away is bound to be bad for you. But a food that will do you good often tastes quite bland or even bitter at first. If you keep eating it every day, it becomes more palatable. You develop a taste for it. Eventually, you begin craving it. Cravings are good if the food being craved does you good. The evidence of this is an improved state of health.

Spiritual food is the same. When one first begins sampling spiritual food, or the Word of God, it tastes bitter and bland. Most of it is inscrutably mysterious, like a nut with a tough shell you can’t break. It’s easier to leave it alone. But in the same way as definite knowledge of what’s inside the nut can motivate you to crack it open, knowledge of God’s Spirit motivates you to crack open the meaning of His words. The more you eat them, the stronger your spirit becomes, and the more resourceful you get at cracking open even tougher meanings, to reveal even more strengthening food. Like a growing person, you have graduated from drinking milk to eating solid food that needs cooking and preparing to be of benefit. You have become a spiritual adult. You don’t look for simple meanings anymore, but are happy to thresh the grain of truth to separate the wheat from the chaff. Someone insults you, and you are able to take the truth out of their insult, digest it, improve your spiritual health from it, and discard the useless ego chaff that came with it. Or life throws you into a situation where you have absolutely no help from anyone, and you learn to nourish yourself at the everlasting banks of the mighty river Word, which is always in flow, providing crystal clear water for your soul.

So … did I eventually finish reading this 66-book tome known as the bible?


I’ll let you know when I get to the last page. =)


This post is dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Gina. Thank you, auntie. ❤


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The Christian Path

Just in case anyone out there was thinking of taking the Christian path and was wondering what it’s like…

Imagine you’re walking along and you come to the foot of a mountain. It’s the biggest mountain you’ve ever seen, even in your dreams. There’s an old gate leading to a narrow, rocky path that’s overgrown in many places by tangles of weeds and vines. The path leads up the mountain. It’s dark, it’s foreboding and there are weird noises coming from within.

You decide to brave this path and begin to walk it. Instantly, things get darker and the path starts slanting sharply upward. You begin to walk with difficulty. Your feet slip on the muddy ground. You find rocks to step on but they give way under you. You grab hold of overhanging branches but they snap off in your hands. Many times you end up falling flat on your face until eventually, you’re covered in mud from head to toe.

You hear people laughing at you and realise you’ve been dragging your family and friends behind you all this time. They are tied by ropes to your middle and resisting your forward movement all the way, pulling as hard as they can to get you to stop walking. Every so often one of them gives their rope a jerk and you go sprawling backward.

Not giving up, you continue on, every step feeling like a small death. You come to a pool and decide to wash off the mud that now covers every inch of you. But the water in the pool is poisonous and leaves you with scars and blisters. You hear more laughter and look up to find a car full of young people jeering at you. They are making their way down the mountain. You realise they must live at the top, where you’re headed. But they don’t realise their good fortune in having been born and raised there; they’re getting off on the thrill of zooming their way downhill as fast as they can go. For a moment, you feel envious and a little bitter, as you don’t even have a car to make your journey uphill a little easier.

You finally find a place where the ground seems to flatten out. Off to the side, there is a little clearing where some people are gathered around a camp fire. To your delight, you discover they are just like you: they too, are making their way up the mountain path and, like you, are covered in mud and blisters. One or two are tied to family members, as you are. You sit to rest with these good people and experience the greatest joy and relief you’ve had since you embarked on this path. You make plans to go the rest of the way with them and feel encouraged on your journey.

But your family and friends don’t like your new company and begin hurling abuse at you, demanding you break away and come back down the mountain with them. You stand your ground and are beaten with fists, sticks and rocks. Finally, the ropes binding you to your family are severed as most of your kin leaves you behind and retreats back down the path you’ve just struggled so hard to come up.

Your heart aches for your lost loved ones even as your spirit is uplifted by the new friends you’ve met. You make them your family, to replace the one you’ve lost … but you know you’ll never be the same again. For there will always be a part of your heart that is sad, from now on.

Your new buddies like the same things you do, sing the same songs, wish for the same things, and for the most part you are happy with them and the journey doesn’t seem so bad. You begin to share everything together, even your deepest, darkest secrets.

Then, one of your friends, someone you had learnt to trust, turns on you without warning. They ridicule and humiliate you, convince the rest of the group that you don’t belong. Most of the group turn against you and the ones who don’t are afraid to approach you, though they continue to wish you well from afar.

Now you are all alone, with no family or friends, and the path becomes more difficult than ever. You find yourself crawling more than walking and the thought comes to you repeatedly that you must have taken a wrong turn – even though there are no turns on this road – so difficult and impossible is the way.

A few times you find places where there is water and food and even a bit of a view of the landscape below through the trees. You are tempted to stop and dwell there for a bit but each time you make the decision to do so, wild animals chase you away or a violent storm hits and destroys the cute little shack you’d built for yourself.

So you have no option but to continue upward. Finally, you come to a place where the road is blocked and there is no way around. You collapse, exhausted and depleted of every good thing, not even feeling like yourself anymore. You wonder if your loved ones were right and you have, indeed, made a mistake. If you have, in fact, gone mad.

If you have not lived through any of this, you have not truly walked the Christian path. It is not a pretty, cobbled lane with flowers in window boxes and sing-songs with plenty of cake and ice-cream. About 99% of it is an uphill climb of mammoth, delusion-destroying difficulty. It is a path designed specifically with one purpose in mind: to weed out the insincere. The one who trusts in his own ability, upbringing and connections. The one who wants to do it his way or no way. The unseasoned soul.

The Christian path is the most difficult path anyone could ever choose to travel. It heaps responsibility on your shoulders without promising any honour. It gives you the pain of the workout without the opportunity to witness the muscle you gain. It expects you to act like a king while everyone around you labels you a peasant, a slave and a fool, and then expects you to lay down your life for them anyway. It demands lemonade when it hasn’t even told you where to get the lemons.

It’s an impossible path.

Human strength cannot get you there. That’s because the path has been so designed that the ones who actually make it to the top of the mountain can do so only by a miracle. They are like birds that get chucked out of their nests by their parents and have to learn to fly on the way down, before they even realise they have wings.

Why is the path set up like this? Why is it a way that can only be got through miraculously?


So that the one who finally crosses the finish line will attribute this feat not to themselves but to the Creator of miracles. The glory is not claimed by the one who got stuck at the road block but by the One who gave them the wings to fly over it. Not by the one who was hungry but by the One who gave them food when they needed it. Who allowed them some company to ease their loneliness. And even a nice view to boost their spirits when they were depressed and despondent, losing their momentum.

Yes, even the One who sent those wild animals and storms to chase them away from any perceived rest, so they would not give up the uphill walk until they had truly reached the end and found themselves at the real finish line – a place that would make all they had been through worthwhile because it would give rest to the deepest part of themselves, a part that no other pleasure in this world can sufficiently reach.

If you’re thinking this seems a little unfair, just consider that at any moment while you’re reading these words, a blood vessel in your brain could burst and kill you instantly. Or a car could veer off the street and plough into the room you’re sitting in, with the same result (a phenomenon that’s occurring more often these days). Things you have no control over could end your life, even as you’re making plans for your future with great precision and forethought. Even the fact that you’re alive to read these words right now is a miracle. You could have been suffocated at birth or been aborted from your mother’s body like so many unmourned infants are, every day.

So what do you really have control over?

Even when exercising free will, there is no guarantee things will go as you want them to. You could struggle every day with no results and finally die unfulfilled and unappreciated. Nothing is certain, even given the best omens.

So now I ask: Is it such a crazy, way-out thought that a person who ventures onto the Christian path, braves all its difficulties, humiliations and dangers, and finally makes it across the finish line finds it fit to credit his or her accomplishment to the Creator of the feet that took them every step of the way? Or the lungs that took in every gasping breath? Or the air that those lungs breathed?

Make up your own mind. Personally, I would rather walk a miracle-needing path and cross the finish line giving credit to the Miracle Maker, than walk an easy path that leads nowhere special, where I am one of many at the finish line and where nobody can hear my self-congratulations because they’re all too busy congratulating themselves and fighting over who had the most difficult time getting there.

And that brings me to the most important question of all: Why would anyone want to walk this path? If the Christian path is so hard, why even venture onto it at all?


Because nobody can open that old gate and step onto that path unless they’ve first fallen in love. Only then will they have the courage to face everything that’s waiting to be faced.

Are they strong? Smart? Resilient? Resourceful? Imposing? Impressive? Heroic?

No more than anybody else.

The only criterion that befits them to take the journey and conquer the mountain is love.

In the same way as when someone falls in love with somebody, and they don’t care if that person is rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, dumb or smart, living near or far away, interested in the same things or into totally weird crap, from a lovely family or spawned from a pit of demonic vipers… If they love that person, they make a decision to adapt and overcome anything that comes their way.

So if you feel in your heart that you may be that person … that you have, in fact, fallen in love with Jesus and want no day to pass where you must be apart from Him… If you find yourself coming to His defence when people talk ill of Him and eschewing activities you would previously have embraced, in the effort to be more pleasing to Him…

…then allow me to inform you that you are one of those few who are called to open that gate and walk the path that leads on from it into dangers uncertain and joys unimaginable.

Don’t be afraid. Yeah, I said there would be difficulties but I didn’t mention the exhilarating joys. And there will be many of those! Your eyes will pop and you will feel things you didn’t even feel in your youth or childhood. You will feel connected to things you didn’t even know existed. Time will cease to have any meaning for you and eternity will be opened to you. You will grow new mental and spiritual limbs and do things you were never taught to do, and those things will end up inspiring even the very people you once looked up to.

But most importantly, you will have a relationship with the most awesome Being in history, a partner in crime to end all partners in crime. He will watch your back and be there for you when everyone else abandons you. He will be there to share your little joys and deepest fears. And during your victorious moments, when all the world is applauding you, He will be winking at you as you both remember every little moment that led you there, both pleasant and painful. You might be deceived at times and shun Him but He will never shun you. He is loyalty incarnate. He can always be counted on. He will make you a better person through inspiration as you try to copy Him, and in doing so your actions will feed the world’s hungry soul.

That’s a lot of promise for a narrow, rocky path overgrown with weeds and tangles of vines, half-hidden in the shadows behind an old, rickety gate that millions of travellers pass by every day without so much as a glance back.

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“This boy has the devil in him!”

I was watching a program on TV one night about autism. So there’s this scene where a family are sitting around a table having dinner and their autistic son – who is the focus of their attention, being the subject of the report – is sitting next to his mother, who is smiling fondly at him as she relates what life is like living with this condition. The rest of the family join in the conversation, casting equally fond glances at their ‘quirky’ family member, who has his hands over his ears while he’s eating.

Now anyone looking at this scene would find the son’s action quite puzzling. The family are not loud people; they’re not table-thumping Italians or plate-breaking Greeks, like some of my own kin … so what’s with the ear-holding?

As I watched, I noticed that the boy was trying to keep his ears blocked while taking bites of food, a less than successful endeavour. His mother thinks this is adorable and turns to smile at him while chewing her own food. He doesn’t respond but keeps his ears blocked and finally gets up from the table without excusing himself. The family say nothing about it; they’re used to their special child’s unusual ways and as long as he isn’t breaking anything or injuring anyone, they’ll leave him be.

Even if they can’t understand him. Even if they don’t know or care to know why he does the things he does.

But let’s stop for a minute here. Let’s look a bit closer at what’s happening in this scene. Let’s try to understand.

The little boy is blocking his ears even while he’s trying to eat his food. It’s fair to assume this is not some little game he’s playing to get attention. He is uncomfortable. Why? It’s obvious, isn’t it? His brain is wired up so his senses are more acute than the average person’s. Everything, from the dripping of a tap to the sounds of dinner knives scraping on plates and people chewing their food, could be a source of incredible discomfort and even psychological pain to him.

I once heard a person on the autism spectrum say that hearing someone chewing gum felt like listening to a jack hammer. She couldn’t tolerate it even for a moment; her reaction was visceral and intense, like a person in fight or flight mode. Wherever she’d be, no matter how socially unacceptable it was, she’d have to leave immediately upon hearing that sound.

Thinking of this and watching the little boy on the TV leaning away from his mother and the rest of his family, who were all happily chewing away as noisily as they cared to, I suddenly saw the situation from his perspective.

He was in pain.

Of course he was. Just like every other autistic child who acts out, throws frightening tantrums, has complete meltdowns and makes his or her parents wish they could swap kids with someone else for just one day, so they could have some rest.

Rest from the horrible confusion of the situation. Rest from the crazy, heartless, rude and monstrous demon that is possessing their child. Rest from the feeling of complete and utter powerlessness they feel every time their little one goes full Mr Hyde without warning.

All these children, whose parents are longing for some rest, are in pain. Of course they are. Nobody does anything for no reason. When a toddler doesn’t get a toy, they throw a tantrum to try to get mummy or daddy to buy it for them. If mummy or daddy sticks to their guns and says no, the toddler learns tantrums don’t work for getting what one wants and stops throwing them in future. No child continues to be disruptive without just cause. Children are less psychologically tainted than adults and it makes them more cluey. Oblivious to egotistic concerns, they look for the straight line solution. And if they can’t find it, they take measures to prevent pain while they continue searching for it.

So, with all that explained, allow me to re-introduce you to our little boy with autism. There he is, trying to eat his dinner in peace, and all around him are people who seem hell-bent on taking every scrap of enjoyment he could experience out of his meal, with their loud chewing and utensil scraping. He glances furtively up at them and notices that they, unlike him, don’t seem bothered by the sounds. This confuses him. What kind of people can be happy eating and laughing with the sound of jack hammers rattling in their ears?

What kind of mother can smile down at you while herself making that nerve-rattling sound with her own chewing?

Doesn’t she – don’t they all – notice you with your hands desperately clenched over your ears in pain?

What kind of family can behave so callously towards their own family member?

Answer: Crazy, heartless, rude and monstrous people.

Let there be no mistake, this is what Junior is thinking. This disturbing reality is staring him in the face as he turns away and abandons the table and his half-eaten dinner without acknowledging his family. He cannot wait to leave. He retreats back into his own safe little world where everything makes sense, and his folks all laugh it off for the camera, hardly having noticed what the hell has just taken place.

I am writing this blog post to try to shed some light on the thinking processes of the autistic individual. Not that I’m an expert, by any stretch. But having worked as a teacher around many kids on the autism spectrum and having an intense interest in people and their different behaviours, as well as a fascination for the human mind and how it works, I have come to some conclusions about the autism question which may be helpful for people who are just flummoxed by the problem.

The main conclusion is this: Autism is more a product of our changing society than a genetic mutation.

What does this mean?

Think about it: Back in the village days (don’t hate that I keep referring to the village – it’s my happy place, okay?), there was plenty of the stuff autistic people liked and much less of what they didn’t.

Stuff autistic people like (village counterpart in brackets): repetitive jobs (ploughing, sowing, reaping, milling etc), peace and quiet, animals (farm life), nature, support from extended family (cousins in the playground looking out for them), a not-too-stringent personal hygiene ritual (bathing once a week, wearing hand-me-downs except on church day, leaving beards to grow etc), and a predictable routine (every fruit in its season, harvest time the same every year).

Stuff autistic people don’t like: noise and confusion (cities), having to try and decipher the facial expression/body language of people they don’t know (strangers – cities – different cultures – globalisation), unpredictable work schedules (city living), having to try and get along with a whole bunch of strange kids their own age (a product of schools, which are man-made), having to sit still and listen to one person for hours on end (again, school – an unnatural institution established during the Industrial Revolution and designed to keep kids out of the factories while their parents worked), unnaturally-stringent personal hygiene rituals (grooming, clothing, bathing – higher standards required for city workers who are closed in buildings void of fresh air and aren’t around farm animals which camouflage the scent of human body odour), negotiating or compromising (whereas these skills were only required by less than 1% of people in the Agrarian Age – merchants – today over 99% of people working in cities need these skills because most Agrarian Age and even Industrial Age jobs are automated and most of us make a living by being ‘little merchants’ – selling ourselves and our services even while simply looking for a job… i.e. today, there is a lack of social interest in getting people into work – no Uncle Bob to put you in his workshop or Aunt Maisy to teach you how to weave – everyone is a stranger so why should an employer pick you over someone else? Again, a product of cities), and having to make small talk (this is a big one, and it should be – think it over: in a country village or even town, you see the same people every day and I can guarantee that you will not bother to even kiss hello when visiting someone’s house because you know you’ll see them again later that day and again the next day and so on… In a city, the first person you meet when you walk out your front door will probably be a stranger. Small talk is necessary to bridge the gap between ‘I don’t know who the hell you are,’ and ‘Come to lunch next Sunday’. But it is a skill that has gone from being rarely used to needed every single day. So excuse our poor autistic ‘genes’ if they’re struggling to keep up with the pace things are changing at; they are trying).

My point in listing all of these things is to make you aware of the fact that a person on the autism spectrum is perfectly capable of carrying out responsibilities, getting stuff done and making a mark. But the world has changed so much, so fast, that it’s placed too much stress on them and, under such conditions, their greatest efforts are inadequate. Think of it like altitude training: It takes a lot more effort to run a mile at a high altitude than it does at sea level. The air is thinner, there is less oxygen and the muscles tire quicker. You KNOW you can do more but you can’t. Why? Simple, you’re not getting as much of the stuff you need! Air! It’s the same with autistic people. They’re not getting enough of the stuff they need: peace, routine, social cohesion. If they had these things, I suppose there would be no limit to what they could achieve. An autistic person needs to be accepted by those around them. If they don’t feel like talking, they want people to understand and not push them or think them rude. “Oh, that’s just Frank. He never talks. Don’t take it personal; that’s how he’s always been. He’s really a decent guy.” Wouldn’t it be nice if every person on some psychiatrically-determined ‘spectrum’ could be introduced like that? In such a human way?

I could write a book about how changing society is affecting the HUMAN SPECTRUM. That is, we are all normal; it’s just that as things change, certain types of people stick out. For example, as more and more people work out of the sun, those with darker skin will develop vitamin D deficiency sooner. As more carcinogens enter our environment, those with weaker organs/systems will succumb first. Any characteristic that doesn’t serve a society will be weeded out by natural selection and any that confers an advantage will thrive. In other words, your autistic uncle who did very well working a repetitive job in a factory and managed to raise 4 kids and provide a home for his family should thank his lucky stars because not many autistic people today will be able to brag of such socio-economic success, what with most factory jobs having moved off-shore and furious competition for the handful of repetitive jobs that are still left. Most autistic kids today will have to live with their parents until well into middle age, unless drastic changes are made by governments to assist them.

It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? Think of little Junior, at the dinner table. Think of your own child or a child you know. You can see their potential. You can see their frustration. You want to help with everything in you. But the issue is that, as the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Perhaps we don’t think often enough about the truth of those words.

So what is the solution? Firstly, we need more people to become aware of the problem and to frame it in a positive light, an honest light. Autism is not about the person, it’s about the society. Therefore, since society was the instigator of all this, society must be the one to change. You can’t expect the autistic child to change. Forget it. Their DNA is a lot older than our modern haven of capitalist-driven consumerism. Cities may be built of steel and stone but the genetic thread that drives human life reigns supreme. It is unbreakable. It can split countries in two and raze cities to the ground, and it has done so. If we learn how to use it for and not against us, it can and will save us. We only need to be humble enough to learn, instead of criticise.

I hope I don’t come across as some sort of city-hater in this post. I am anything but. I feel incredibly lucky to be living in the modern world with all of its conveniences and comforts. One of which is the opportunity to find solutions for problems through multi-ethnic collaboration and multinational co-operation. What an exciting thought, eh? We are entering uncharted waters. The issues of creating autism-friendly workplaces, of understanding how to manage autism in society, and even of understanding what autism actually is, are our special project today. Just as Thomas Edison’s job was to find a way to light homes by electricity, and he succeeded (of course he did, he had an autistic brain!), our job is to find a way to shed light on various human conditions like autism by harnessing our knowledge – present and future – of the human mind. (I have a lot to say about the human brain but this post is long enough already. Just be prepared for some juicy blog entries in future that will make you take your grey matter a lot more seriously than you’re probably doing currently, holding that third drink you know you shouldn’t have. Tut tut, you!) Where the journey to understand the human mind will take us, I don’t think any of us can begin to imagine.

Here’s to the next fascinating decade’s discoveries – may they be many and enlightening. (‘Cos we so need them to be).


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