From Circe to Clinton: why powerful women are cast as witches

A misogynist insult in Washington and Westminster, a force for good in Hollywood for centuries, witches have represented dread of assertive girls. But why does the stereotype persist?

During the 2016 US presidential election, American social media was inundated with images of Hillary Clinton wearing a black hat and riding a broom, or else cackling with green scalp. Her opponents named her The Wicked Witch of the Left, claimed they had sources witnessing that she reeked of sulphur, and took particular delight in depictions of her being melted. Given that the last witch trial in the US was more than 100 hundred years ago, what are we to construct of this?

In the late 19 th century, the suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage asserted something revolutionary. The persecution of witches, she told, had nothing to do with opposing evil or resisting the demon. It was simply entrenched social misogyny, the goal of which was to repress the intellect of women. A witch, she said, wasn’t wicked. She didn’t fly on a broomstick naked in the dark, or consort with demons. She was, instead, likely to be a woman” of superior knowledge “. As a thought experimentation, she suggested that for “witches” we should read instead “women”. Their histories, she intimated, operate hand in hand.

Obviously, she was on to something. When we say witch, we almost exclusively entail woman. Sure, men have also been accused of sorcery, but the objective is by far the minority. Further, the words used to describe men with magical powers- warlock, magus, sorcerer, wizard- don’t carry the same stigma.

A better parallel to “witch” is the word “whore”. Both are time-honoured tools for policing females, meant to dishonor them into socially prescribed behaviour. A harlot transgresses norms of female sexuality; a witch transgresses norms of female power. Witches are often called unnatural because of their ability to threaten men. With her spells, a witch can transform you into a swine, or defeat you in combat. She can curse you, blight your crops, dismis you, refuse you, correct you. Penalise witches achieves two things: it ends the threat and stimulates others afraid to follow in the unruly woman’s footsteps.

Yet, despite all the attempts to stamp out witches, they are as strongly with us as ever, from Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch in the Avengers movies, to the recent film The Love Witch , to the television series American Horror Story , to non-fiction books such as Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692 . The stereotypical image of the witch- green skin, pointed hat, warts, black cat- has become entrenched, but beneath that surface lies a dazzling variety; a rich diversity of women who have frightened, possessed and inspired us over the centuries.

Bones
Bones of contention … montages of Hillary Clinton as a witch have inundated social media

Let’s start with the classic: the evil, aged crone. This image took firm root in the Christian era, when witches were women who consorted with the demon; but old and ugly witches predated Jesus. Roman literature portrayed witches as pathetic creatures with false teeth and grey hair, who dug in the ground by moonlight, tore animals with their teeth and used the organs of boys they starved to death for their spells. They had two main pastimes: making love potions, and casting curses. The poet Ovid blamed a disappointing sexual performance on a witch using a kind of Roman voodoo doll to take away his effectivenes.( Sure Ovid, that was my first supposed, too .)

The most famous of this kind is necessary Shakespeare’s weird sisters from Macbeth . They are repulsive” midnight hags”, with skinny lips, chapped fingers and beards. Their spells- eye of newt and toe of frog- are as disgusting as their appearances and curse anyone who traverses them. The classic fairytale witch, like the one in the story of Hansel and Gretel who eats infants, also fits into this category, as does the Slavic Baba Yaga, and the Wicked Witch of the West from L Frank Baum’s Oz series, made famous by actor Margaret Hamilton. The role was originally offered to the glamorous Gale Sondergaard, but she turned it down because she didn’t want to appear ugly.

Spellbound
Spellbound … Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, who was accused of sorcery. Photograph: Allstar/ 20 th Century Fox

And ugliness, of course, is key. The haggish outsides of these witches are meant to match their evil insides, and testify to their unnaturalness, since women are supposed to be as neat, attractive and young as possible. But the association with age also contains a kernel of truth: many of the women accused of sorcery were so-called ” wise females”, older figures, often poor widows, who scratched out a living in the community with their experience as midwives, herbalists and hedge-doctors. Their solitary, vulnerable status and unusual knowledge made them perfect targets for people’s fury and fear when crops failed or newborns died.

Foreign girls were also vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, and the association between immigrants and sorcery goes back at the least to Greek mythology. The witch Medea was the princess of Colchis, on the eastern edge of the Black Sea, which to the notoriously xenophobic ancient Greeks was alien and suspect. When Jason and his Argonauts came to claim the Golden Fleece from her parent, Medea fell in love with Jason and aided him with her spells, so that he and the Argonauts were able to seize the fleece and escape. In gratitude, Jason married Medea, but back home in his kingdom she was shunned, her sorcery and foreignness merging into a single undesirable trait. The notion seemed to have been: no wonder she’s a murderous sorceress, she’s from the east.

This type of nativism also pops up in Shakespeare’s The Tempest . Sycorax, the witch mother of Caliban, is from Algiers, and though she never appears in the play, she is a harrowing, hideous figure, a” blue-eyed hag “, who is hunched over with” age and envy “. She was cast out from Algiers( the implication is that she was too wicked even for them ), and came to the island, where she “litter[ed]” her deformed son, practised her magic and worshipped her pagan-sounding deity, Setebos. Towards the end of the 17 th century, the slave Tituba, who may have been South American, was is the responsibility of leading the innocent( white) daughters of Salem into evil. Her experience as an outsider among the witch-hysterical Puritan is brilliantly imagined in Maryse Conde’s novel, I Tituba, Black Witch of Salem .

Fears of sorcery grounded in racism persist even today. The Roma, longtime outcasts in Europe, have frequently been accused of evil magical. And African-influenced voodoo is routinely used by Hollywood as a horror movie plot point.

But it wasn’t just vulnerable women who described accusations of witchcraft. It was also women with serious political power. Joan of Arc led the French to victory against the English and was renowned in France for her purity, cleverness and religion in her “voices”. When the English leadership couldn’t beat her, they undermined her, crediting her success to demonic means, since, of course, a young lady could never perform such wonders on her own. When she was captured, they tried her for sorcery, quoting as partial proof of her unnaturalness the tremendous courage she presented in combat, and her they are able to outwit her examiners in debate.

Magic
Magic circle … the new Wrinkle in Time film features Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit. Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima/ Disney/ Kobal/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Cleopatra and Anne Boleyn were likewise accused of witchcraft, with rumors that Anne even bore physical marks of her compact with the devil, such as a third teat, moles and a sixth thumb on her right hand. Such accusations were a clever and effective style for a woman’s political adversaries to smear her since, as countless other women accused of witchcraft learned, it is impossible to offer definitive proof that one is not a witch. Perhaps what is most shocking about this catch-2 2 is the way in which it continues to be played out today. Aside from Hillary Clinton, who has been called a witch since she was first lady, there was also the case of Julia Gillard, first female prime minister of Australia, who met with tauntings of” ditch the witch” from protesters. Nancy Pelosi, the minority speaker of the US House of Representatives, has faced similar witch-related insults, and lately Theresa May was filmed laughing loudly, and her so-called ” witch’s cackle” speedily ran viral. The misogyny of all this is obvious. Debating and defeating these leaders politically isn’t enough- as women who demonstrate ambition, they are abominations who must be deemed evil and cast out.

From
From JW Waterhouse’s portrait of Circe Invidiosa. Photograph: Alamy

The tradition of the sexy witch, who lures men with her beauty, is beloved by modern-day adult costume-makers, but goes all the way back to the first witch in western literature: the divine sorceress Circe. She first appears in Homer’s Odyssey , after Odysseus and his crew have washed up on her island, exhausted and grieving for the loss of their comrades. They run searching for inhabitants and find a palatial house with tame lions and wolves lolling around in the garden. A glistening goddess comes to the door, and invites them in. She devotes them food and wine which she has narcotic with spell-herbs, then lifts her wand and turns them into pigs.

Circe’s story brings together many classic witchy motifs: a ability with herbs and potions, a magic wand, control over animals. But what is most notable is her moral ambiguity- though she begins the episode as a figure of menace, after she and Odysseus become fans, she transforms his humen back and offers vital resources and advice to Odysseus for his journey home. Not all seductive witches indicate a similar ambiguity( CS Lewis’s White Witch surely does not ), but Morgan le Fay, Morticia Addams and Melisandre from Game of Thrones all fall into this category.

This brings us to our last form: the good witch. Before we get to the famous examples, let’s start with the unknown ones- the countless women of history who employed their knowledge of herbs, mending and midwifery to serve their communities as de facto doctors and chemists. In times when reliable medical treatment was scarce and expensive, they offered the first, and often merely, help a suffering person would receive. Matilda Joslyn Gage, in her treatise Woman, Church and State , hailed this local herb-woman as” the profoundest thinker, the most advanced scientist” of her age. Gage’s name is largely unknown now, but her work lives vibrantly on: she was the mother-in-law of Baum, and directly influenced his creation of Glinda, one of the most iconic good witches in popular culture. Glinda is a sparkly, memorable presence in the 1939 movie, and plays a meaty role in the books, protecting the good people of Oz with passion and wisdom. We may likewise watch Gage’s spirit in Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked , which reimagines the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, as a heroic, misunderstood character.

Of course no discussion of good witches can be complete without the superlative Hermione Granger. Throughout JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Hermione’s intellect, kindness, sense of justice and determination build her a role model for young girls- and boys- everywhere. And she’s only one of dozens of fascinating witches Rowling created, who operate the gamut from good( Minerva McGonagall) to cruelly wicked( Bellatrix Lestrange ).

Rupert
Rupert Grint, left, and Daniel Radcliffe with Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban( 2004 ). Photograph: Allstar/ Warner Bros

Which brings us back to the multiplicity and diversity of witches. The truth is that witches cannot really be contained by forms; they leap over boundaries, bursting out of categories as fast we build them. They are constantly changing as we change, reflecting our notions about females back to ourselves.

If this is so, then there is much to feeling encouraged by. The image of the very best witch is ascendant in popular culture( aside from Hermione, as exemplified by the Scarlet Witch, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer , and the new A Wrinkle in Time movie, prominently featuring Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit ). Women have attained powerful strides towards equality, and we are seeing an unprecedented awareness of sexual harassment, assault and the stillness of women. More of these secret abuses are coming to light every day, and more of the perpetrators are being removed from power.

Despite this progress, there is also sobering news. In the past several decades, United Nations officials have reported an increase in women killed for witchcraft across the globe. In India the problem is particularly well-documented, with older girls being targeted as scapegoats or as a pretext for confiscating their lands and goods. In Saudi Arabia, women have been convicted of sorcery in the courts, and in Ghana they have been exiled to so-called ” witch camps”, an injustice movingly dealt with in award-winning cinema, I Am Not a Witch . And in the United States, a Gallup poll found that 21% of people believed in witches( and not the Hermione Granger kind ).

We stand therefore at a crossroads- which is fitting, since crossroads are sacred to Hecate, Greek goddess of witchcraft. Will we continue to fear and penalize women with power? To call them evil? Or perhaps we are capable of at last celebrate female strength, recognising that witches- and women- are not going away *

* Circe by Madeline Miller is published by Bloomsbury( PS16. 99 ). To b uy it for PS12. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

From Circe to Clinton: why powerful girls are cast as witches

A misogynist insult in Washington and Westminster, a force for good in Hollywood for centuries, witches have represented fear of assertive females. But why does the stereotype persist?

During the 2016 US presidential election, American social media was flooded with images of Hillary Clinton wearing a black hat and riding a broom, or else cackling with green scalp. Her foes named her The Wicked Witch of the Left, claimed they had sources witnessing that she reeked of sulphur, and took particular delight in depictions of her being melted. Dedicated that the last witch trial in the US was more than 100 hundred years ago, what are we to induce of this?

In the late 19 th century, the suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage asserted something revolutionary. The persecution of witches, she said, had nothing to do with fighting evil or defying the demon. It was simply entrenched social misogyny, the goal of which was to repress the intellect of women. A witch, she said, wasn’t wicked. She didn’t fly on a broomstick naked in the dark, or consort with demons. She was, instead, likely to be a woman” of superior knowledge “. As a thought experiment, she suggested that for “witches” we should read instead “women”. Their histories, she intimated, operate hand in hand.

Obviously, she was on to something. When we say witch, we almost exclusively mean female. Sure, humen have also been accused of sorcery, but the objective is by far the minority. Further, the words used to describe men with magical powers- warlock, magus, sorcerer, wizard- don’t carry the same stigma.

A better parallel to “witch” is the word “whore”. Both are time-honoured tools for policing females, meant to dishonor them into socially prescribed behaviour. A harlot transgresses norms of female sexuality; a witch transgresses norms of female power. Witches are often called unnatural because of their ability to threaten men. With her spells, a witch can transform you into a pig, or defeat you in battle. She can curse you, blight your harvests, dismis you, refuse you, correct you. Penalise witches accomplishes two things: it ends security threats and builds others afraid to follow in the unruly woman’s footsteps.

Yet, despite all the attempts to stamp out witches, they are as strongly with us as ever, from Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch in the Avengers movies, to the recent movie The Love Witch , to the television series American Horror Story , to non-fiction volumes such as Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692 . The stereotypical image of the witch- green skin, pointed hat, warts, black cat- has become entrenched, but beneath that surface lies a dazzling assortment; a rich diversity of women who have frightened, possessed and inspired us over the centuries.

Bones
Bones of contention … montages of Hillary Clinton as a witch have inundated social media

Let’s start with the classic: the evil, aged crone. This image took firm root in the Christian era, when witches were women who consorted with the devil; but old and ugly witches predated Jesus. Roman literature portrayed witches as pathetic beings with false teeth and grey hair, who dug in the ground by moonlight, tore animals with their teeth and used the organs of boys they starved to death for their spells. They had two main pastimes: making love potions, and casting curses. The poet Ovid blamed a disappointing sex performance on a witch employing a sort of Roman voodoo doll to take away his potency.( Sure Ovid, that was my first guessed, too .)

The most well known of this kind must be Shakespeare’s weird sisters from Macbeth . They are repulsive” midnight hags”, with skinny lips, chapped thumbs and beards. Their spells- eye of newt and toe of frog- are as disgusting as their appearances and curse anyone who crosses them. The classic fairytale witch, like the one in the story of Hansel and Gretel who fees infants, also fits into this category, as does the Slavic Baba Yaga, and the Wicked Witch of the West from L Frank Baum’s Oz series, built famous by performer Margaret Hamilton. The role was originally offered to the glamorous Gale Sondergaard, but she turned it down because she didn’t want to appear ugly.

Spellbound
Spellbound … Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, who was accused of witchcraft. Photograph: Allstar/ 20 th Century Fox

And ugliness, of course, is key. The haggish outsides of these witches are meant to match their evil insides, and testify to their unnaturalness, since women are supposed to be as neat, attractive and young as is practicable. But the association with age also contains a kernel of truth: many of the women accused of witchcraft were so-called ” wise girls”, older figures, often poor widows, who scratched out a living in the community with their experience as midwives, herbalists and hedge-doctors. Their solitary, vulnerable status and unusual knowledge built them perfect targets for people’s rage and dread when crops failed or newborns died.

Foreign females were also vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, and business associations between immigrants and sorcery goes back at least to Greek mythology. The witch Medea was the princess of Colchis, on the eastern edge of the Black Sea, which to the notoriously xenophobic ancient Greeks was alien and suspect. When Jason and his Argonauts came to claim the Golden Fleece from her parent, Medea fell in love with Jason and aided him with her spells, so that he and the Argonauts were able to seize the fleece and escape. In gratitude, Jason wedded Medea, but back home in his kingdom she was shunned, her witchcraft and foreignness merging into a single undesirable trait. The notion seems to have been: no wonder she’s a murderous sorceress, she’s from the east.

This type of nativism also pops up in Shakespeare’s The Tempest . Sycorax, the witch mom of Caliban, is from Algiers, and though she never appears in the play, she is a harrowing, hideous figure, a” blue-eyed hag “, who is hunched over with” age and jealousy “. She was cast out from Algiers( the implication is that she was too wicked even for them ), and came to the island, where she “litter[ed]” her deformed son, practised her magic and worshipped her pagan-sounding divinity, Setebos. Towards the end of the 17 th century, the slave Tituba, who may have been South American, was is the responsibility of resulting the innocent( white) daughters of Salem into evil. Her experience as an foreigner among the witch-hysterical Puritan is brilliantly imagined in Maryse Conde’s novel, I Tituba, Black Witch of Salem .

Fears of sorcery grounded in racism persist even today. The Roma, longtime outcasts in Europe, have frequently been accused of evil sorcery. And African-influenced voodoo is routinely used by Hollywood as a horror movie plot point.

But it wasn’t just vulnerable women who depicted accusations of witchcraft. It was also women with serious political power. Joan of Arc resulted the French to victory against the English and was renowned in France for her purity, cleverness and faith in her “voices”. When the English leadership couldn’t beat her, they undermined her, crediting her success to demonic entails, since, of course, a young lady could never perform such wonders on her own. When she was captured, they tried her for witchcraft, citing as partial proof of her unnaturalness the tremendous fearlessnes she presented in combat, and her they are able to outwit her examiners in debate.

Magic
Magic circle … the new Wrinkle in Time film features Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit. Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima/ Disney/ Kobal/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Cleopatra and Anne Boleyn were likewise accused of witchcraft, with rumors that Anne even bore physical marks of her compact with the demon, such as a third teat, moles and a sixth thumb on her right hand. Such accusations were a clever and effective route for a woman’s political enemies to smear her since, as countless other women accused of witchcraft learned, it is impossible to offer definitive proof that one is not a witch. Perhaps what is most shocking about this catch-2 2 is the way in which it continues to be played out today. Aside from Hillary Clinton, who has been called a witch since she was first lady, there was also the case of Julia Gillard, first female premier of Australia, who met with tauntings of” ditch the witch” from protesters. Nancy Pelosi, the minority speaker of the US House of Representatives, has faced similar witch-related insults, and lately Theresa May was filmed giggling aloud, and her so-called ” witch’s cackle” promptly ran viral. The misogyny of all this is obvious. Debating and defeating these leaders politically isn’t enough- as women who show aspiration, they are abominations who must be deemed evil and cast out.

From
From JW Waterhouse’s portrait of Circe Invidiosa. Photo: Alamy

The tradition of the sexy witch, who lures men with her beauty, is beloved by modern-day adult costume-makers, but goes all the route back to the first witch in western literature: the divine sorceress Circe. She first appears in Homer’s Odyssey , after Odysseus and his crew have washed up on her island, exhausted and grieving for the loss of their comrades. They run searching for inhabitants and find a palatial home with tamed lions and wolves lolling around in the garden. A shining goddess comes to the door, and invites them in. She gives them food and wine which she has drugged with spell-herbs, then lifts her wand and turns them into pigs.

Circe’s story brings together many classic witchy motifs: a skill with herbs and potions, a sorcery wand, control over animals. But what is most notable is her moral ambiguity- though she begins the episode as a figure of menace, after she and Odysseus become fans, she transforms his men back and offers vital resources and advice to Odysseus for his journey home. Not all seductive witches demonstrate a similar ambiguity( CS Lewis’s White Witch surely does not ), but Morgan le Fay, Morticia Addams and Melisandre from Game of Thrones all fall into this category.

This brings us to our last type: the very best witch. Before we get to the famous examples, let’s start with the unknown ones- the countless women of history who used their knowledge of herbs, healing and midwifery to serve their communities as de facto doctors and chemists. In hours when dependable medical treatment was scarce and costly, they offered the first, and often only, help a suffering person would be given. Matilda Joslyn Gage, in her treatise Woman, Church and State , hailed this local herb-woman as” the profoundest intellectual, the most advanced scientist” of her age. Gage’s name is largely unknown now, but her work lives vibrantly on: she was the mother-in-law of Baum, and directly influenced his creation of Glinda, one of the most iconic good witches in popular culture. Glinda is a sparkly, memorable presence in the 1939 movie, and plays a meaty role in the books, protecting the good people of Oz with passion and wisdom. We may likewise watch Gage’s spirit in Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked , which reimagines the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, as a heroic, misunderstand character.

Of course no discussion of good witches can be complete without the superlative Hermione Granger. Throughout JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Hermione’s intellect, kindness, sense of justice and determination make her a role model for young girls- and boys- everywhere. And she’s only one of dozens of fascinating witches Rowling created, who run the gamut from good( Minerva McGonagall) to cruelly wicked( Bellatrix Lestrange ).

Rupert
Rupert Grint, left, and Daniel Radcliffe with Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban( 2004 ). Photograph: Allstar/ Warner Bros

Which brings us back to the multiplicity and diversity of witches. The truth is that witches cannot really be contained by types; they leap over borders, exploding out of categories as fast we build them. They are constantly changing as we change, reflecting our ideas about women back to ourselves.

If this is so, then there is much to feel encouraged by. The image of the good witch is ascendant in popular culture( aside from Hermione, as exemplified by the Scarlet Witch, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer , and the new A Wrinkle in Time movie, prominently featuring Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit ). Women have constructed powerful steps towards equality, and we are seeing an unprecedented awareness of sexual harassment, assault and the silencing of women. More of these secret abuses are coming to light every day, and more of the perpetrators are being removed from power.

Despite this progress, there is also sobering news. In the past several decades, United Nation officials have reported an increase in females killed for witchcraft across the globe. In India the problem is particularly well-documented, with older girls being targeted as scapegoats or as a pretext for confiscating their lands and goods. In Saudi Arabia, women have been convicted of sorcery in the courts, and in Ghana they have been exiled to so-called ” witch camps”, an injustice movingly addressed in the award-winning cinema, I Am Not a Witch . And in the United States, a Gallup poll found that 21% of people believed in witches( and not the Hermione Granger kind ).

We stand therefore at a crossroads- which is fitting, since crossroads are sacred to Hecate, Greek goddess of witchcraft. Will we continue to fear and penalize women with power? To call them evil? Or perhaps we can at last celebrate female strength, recognising that witches- and women- are not going away *

* Circe by Madeline Miller is published by Bloomsbury( PS16. 99 ). To b uy it for PS12. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton review- no twinge of repentance

The presidential candidate blames everyone but herself for her shock defeat to Trump in this hubristic memoir

In common with everyone who is likely to read this review, I mourned when Hillary Clinton lost the election last November. Now there is an extra reason for unhappines: with time on her hands, the woman who was so qualified to be an able, diligent, clear-headed chairwoman has hurriedly written- or presided over the the time of writing of- an unreflective book that in its combining of number-crunching wonkery and strenuously pious uplift reveals more than she might have intended about why she lost. Her bewilderment is easy to understand, but couldn’t she have waited before monetising failing and relaunching her brand with a nationwide book tour?

Bill Clinton’s mantra was ” I feel your pain”, a phrase he uttered not at the site of a inundation or a earthquake but in a Manhattan nightclub, where he was heckled by an Aids activist. Hillary’s equivalent is not an offer of empathy but a demand for sympathy: she wants us to feel her ache- the numbing shock of election night, the distres of having to face a hostile mob at Trump’s inauguration and listen to him rant about social bloodbath in a speech that George W Bush described as” some weird shit “.

Public figures like to claim that they’re selflessly serving us- the little people, their voters and customers- and Clinton presents this therapeutic exercising as if she had our emotional health in intellect rather than her own.” Perhaps it’ll help you too ,” she says when describing how she mended her sadnes with Chardonnay, alternate nostril breathing, and a daily devotional text emailed by her clergyman( whose anthology of these missives has just been pulped, since some of his feelgood smarminess was plagiarised ). Then she glimpses herself in the mirror and adds:” I doubt that many people reading this will ever lose a general elections .” All commiseration dries up: it’s as self-regarding a statement as Trump’s” I’m the president and you’re not”, or his smugness when he’s devoted two scoops of ice-cream while guests get only one.

This is a classic tale of hubris( nowadays called ” entitlement “). Clinton packaged herself as America personified, wearing successive pantsuits- styled by Ralph Lauren- in red, white and blue for her three debates with Trump, and on election night she intended to declare victory on a stage shaped like a cut-out US map. Her garment bag that evening included the purple suit she planned to wear” on my first trip-up to Washington as president elect “; she had already bought the house next door in suburban New York as overspill accommodation for her travelling troupe of White House aides. Not since Agamemnon swaggered on to the red carpet in the tragedy by Aeschylus has anyone so vaingloriously asked for a comeuppance.

All this triumphalism is recalled with no twinge of compunction. Instead, others are blamed- James Comey for creating the alarm about her emails, Bernie Sanders for splitting the progressive vote, the “odious” Julian Assange for WikiLeaking, and those best buddies Putin and Trump for the Darth Vader-like” dark energy” they conjured up. Everyone who opposed her accuses of doing so out of misogyny: is Assange’s dumping of scurrilous information about the Democratic party genuinely explained by the fact that he” was charged with rape in Sweden “? Despite these accusations, her postmortem on her campaign’s” data analytic platform” and” word-of-mouth favourability metric” discloses why the masses didn’t warm to her. She erroneously assumed that American politics is about policy, whereas Trump considered that it is now an extension of showbiz.

Instead of recuperating, Clinton has opted for a re-enactment of a remote past. Her book grows fat on rosy reminiscences about her childhood baseball games, her first date with Bill, and Chelsea’s breech birth, with victory laps to celebrate her achievements as a “lady lawyer” in Arkansas, a” hometown senator’ in New York( where “shes never” actually lived when she ran for office ), and a secretary of state who travelled” almost a million miles “. She has reason to be proud, but does any of that help explain what happened on 8 November? When the reckoning arrives, she diverges into fantasies about alternative solutions future. She gives details of the legislation she would now be advancing, and even prints( or, as she sets it, “shares”) the oration she” never got a chance to deliver that night”, which ends by announced today that” America is the greatest country in the world” and promising that” we will construct America even greater”- lines that might have dribbled from the mouth of Trump.

It’s all very well to repeat” I love America”, as she ritualistically does: mustn’t she also dislike at the least half of it for rejecting her? Here her immense self-possession comes to her assist. She recollects Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered the worshippers in a church in Charleston, being told by relatives of his victims” I forgive you “. Then she asks herself what she feels about Trump voters, the so-called ” deplorables “. She answers: “It’s complicated”, but the preceding anecdote speaks for her. She forgives them: like the ragtag of crucifiers, they knew not what they did.

A brief, embarrassed including references to earlier periods is inadvertently telling: Bill and Hillary were guests at Trump’s wedding to Melania( and, as the titanically petty bridegroom still recollects, they didn’t bring a present ).” We weren’t friends ,” says Hillary defensively. Then why run? It turns out Bill was ” speaking in the area that weekend”, so they ran for a laugh; Hillary calculates that Trump wanted them for their “star power”. The comment reflects as badly on the Clintons as it does on Trump: they remind me of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who subsidised their residence at the Waldorf Astoria by charging a fee for attendance at Manhattan cocktail parties.

There is one wrenchingly perceptive insight about Trump, who seems, she says, as if he” didn’t even want to be president at all”- unlike Clinton, who wanted it almost more than life itself. Yes, he now relives the election as obsessively as she does, and with similar qualms. He thought it would be the award handed out in the season finale of The Apprentice ; it didn’t occur to him that four years- if we’re unlucky- of tedious office work lay ahead. Maddened by the false stance he procures himself in, the captive of a reality that is not at all like reality Tv, he’s therefore concentrating on finding a way to get himself fired. Despite Clinton’s appeal for sympathy, it’s Trump that her book built “i m feeling” momentarily sorry for.

* What Happened byHillary Rodham Clinton is published by Simon and Schuster( PS20 ). To order a copy for PS17 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of PS1. 99

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The Obama years: novelists assess his legacy

Expectations were sky high when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. As his word draws to a close, has he disappointed or delivered? Novelists in America appraise him

Tobias Wolff: The coolness of his style has led to a lack of kudo for what he has achieved

Tobias Wolff is best known for his memoir This Boys Life , which won the Los Angeles Times book award for biography. His 1984 novella, The Barracks Thief , won the Pen/ Faulkner award for fiction. He was the director of creative writing at Stanford from 2000 to 2002 and received a National Medal of Arts from the president in 2015.

Our nominees for chairman campaign as if theyre running for king, and not only any king no quaint, hospital-touring emblem of national unity , no mere figurehead answerable to a constitution and a popular assembly. Congress? Whats that? If elected, our American nominee will, like an absolute monarch, resolve the thorniest problems of state simply by exerting his( or her !) will. Is the domestic economy on fire, and about to spread to our neighbours? He will fix it, because he knows how. Students drowning in debt? Hell induce college free! Islamic jihadists taking over cities in Syria and Iraq? Hell carpet bomb them until we find out if sand[ and innocent civilians] can glow.

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Tobias Wolff: Despite my years, I believed in Obama believed not only that he entailed what he told, but that he could get it done. Photo: Murdo MacLeod for the Observer

Do suspected terrorists know more than theyre telling? Hell have them tortured till they sing like Pavarotti, and kill their families into the bargain, and the army will only have to suck it up and do what he tells, even if they say they wont, and have the law to back them up. Law? Whats that? Shell ban assault weapons; hell make sure you can take them to church.

The promise of immediate and radical change is a campaign fiction presented with such bald-faced effrontery that we barely question it any more, unless its coming from the other side. Indeed, the performance cant be sustained unless we support it with our credulity, like a tentful of rubes gaping at the tricks of a carnival magician, even offering ourselves up as subjects.

The wishful thinking that is the source of this credulity is, of course, a prelude to disappointment if our nominee actually gets elected. Take the case of nominee Barack Obama. He was going to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and close Guantnamo. He would save our failing economy, mend our contravene healthcare system, and legislate sensible gun control legislation. He would overhaul our immigration system, address climate change with meaningful policies, and change the bilious tone of our political discourse. We werent a nation of red states and blue states, he reminded us: we were the United States. Despite my years, I believed believed not only that he entailed what he said, but that he could get it done.

My wife and I gathered several friends on a November night in 2008, and watched with elation and skepticism as this young, literary, ironical human with a Kenyan father was elected to the presidency. Some of us had tears in our eyes. I was one. But as day went on those tears began to burn. He wasnt get it done, or so it seemed to me. Guantnamo was still in business. The planet maintained heating up, and the wars dragged on, though increasingly waged by special forces. As before, just about anybody was free to walk into a gun store and come out armed, and each year some 30,000 Americans continued to pay for that liberty with their lives.

And the tone of political life had become even more toxic than before the election. During President Obamas first State of the Union address, a congressman from South Carolina screamed: You lie ! and became a Republican hero, even as the leaders of that party dedicated themselves to obstructing President Obamas legislative initiatives and judicial appointments, effectively incapacitating the government in order, as the senate majority leader shamelessly admitted, to make Obama a one-term chairwoman. The birthers continued to question his legitimacy, and, further, to imply that he was a secret Muslim and advocate of Isis. He was Hitler. He was Lenin.

Obamacare
Obamacare supporters react to the US Supreme Court decision to uphold President Obamas health care law, 28 June, 2012, Washington, DC. Photo: Mark Wilson/ Getty Images

None of this of this was Obamas fault. Indeed, he reacted to the unrelenting creek of slander and congressional malfeasance with unflappable calm and an air of faintly amused detachment. And for that I did blame him. The coolness I had admired during his campaign became an irritant. In fact, it drove me sort of crazy. Why didnt he fight back? Show some rage at what was truly outrageous, the obstruction, the name-calling, the attacks on Michelle Obama for promoting schools to serve healthy food, even for occasionally wearing gowns that proved her arms? Call these liars and bullies out, damn it! Politics is mud wrestling, did he not understand that? And if he genuinely didnt feeling anger, then why not take some acting lessons, and fake it?

Well, I was wrong. As Barack Obama prepares to leave office, I think about what he managed to do in the face of implacable resistance. No, he didnt close Guantnamo; the Republican congress wouldnt let him , nor would they let him bring sanity to our handgun laws, or to our immigration policies. But as most economists concur, his fiscal initiatives, narrowly approved, did save us from a profound recession, perhaps even a depression. His successful automobile industry bailout, ferociously contested at the time, saved countless tasks at almost no expense to the taxpayer. If Obama couldnt altogether extricate us from the wars he inherited, he has refrained from miring us in new wars, despite being constantly urged to do so by congressmen and senators who otherwise refuse to expend taxation dollars on, say, education, or roads, or environmental safeguards.

Finally, 20 million Americans who did not have health insurance when Barack Obama took office have it now; and in spite of dire Republican predictions, and umpteen votes for repeal, it has actually lowered the healthcare cost inflation rate. No one in this country, however poor, or sick, need be without insurance. This achievement eluded Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, among others.

So why has Obama not been celebrated for what hes done? Why did so many of us so often feel a sense of impatience, even frustration? I believe it comes down to immaturity in us , not him. At least part of the reason for our failure to recognise and kudo what hes accomplished has to do with his style that coolness. He doesnt brag, or gloat. He doesnt call attention to himself, or extol his deeds in the thoroughfares, or ridicule those who oppose him. But we wanted him to. We wanted hot. We wanted fury, slashing rhetoric, mock. We wanted him to call liars liars, idiots imbeciles. We wanted him to bully the bullies. We wanted him to wage war, and crow over his fallen foes. And because we did not get the melodrama we demanded, we lost the plot.

But now we have a candidate who will give us all the sound and frenzy we could ask for, or imagine. Lets see how we like it. Me, Im already nostalgic for Obama.

Akhil Sharma Now I am much less tolerant of white stupidity

Akhil
Akhil Sharma: I understood the tenderness on the faces as hope. Photo: Tim Knox
Akhil Sharma is the author of the 2015 Folio prize-winning novel
Family Life as well as An Obedient Father , for which he won the 2001 Hemingway Foundation/ PEN awarding. Born in India, he moved to the US as a child and he is currently an assistant professor of creative writing at Rutgers University-Newark. His short story Cosmopolitan was turned into a 2003 film of the same name .

At the Times Square subway stop there is an electronics good store with TVs in the windows. For perhaps the first two years of the Obama presidency, one of the TVs was constantly depicting Obama swearing the oath of office. Always there was a small knot of black people standing before the window, looking at the TV tenderly.

I am Indian and I have experienced some racism in America but I did not experience Obamas inauguration or presidency as some great promise coming true.

When I insured the knot of black people watching the inauguration, what I felt was embarrassment. I understood the tenderness on the faces as hope. That things would change. To me, it seemed obvious that things would not change. That racism and fear of others getting ahead is so deeply rooted in the white American subconsciou that there was bound to be a backlash. To me, the tenderness seemed like people believing a lie they urgently wanted to believe.

In eight years a person can change quite a bit and, to me now, that tenderness I ensure is not hope but joy. There can be elation in the moment and one can be joyful without believing that things will necessarily get much better. To me now, those black people standing before the window were smarter than I was in that they chose to enjoy their happiness.

One other route that I have experienced the Obama presidency is that I have begun to be intolerant of certain types of stupidity from white people. My role is no longer to help them become comfy with racial the questions or to help them ensure another point of view. My response to white folly now is to tell people to grow up. I have an acquaintance who was Obamas boss when Obama had just gotten out of college. My acquaintance, a white man, was deep irritated that Obama had become president and that he himself had not. I can certainly claim to my share of irrationality but when I heard this, it seemed to me a new level of bizarreness. Before the Obama presidency, if I had heard something so stupid I would have just chuckled. Now I asked the man if he would have thought this if Obama had been white?

Attica Locke: His healthcare reforms were humongous

Attica
Attica Locke: When Obama was elected I was stunned in my spirit. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/ Getty Images
Attica Locke was bear in Texas. Her first fiction,
Black Water Rising , was nominated for a 2010 Edgar award, an NAACP Image award, and a Los Angeles Times book prize. Her second, The Cutting Season , was a national bestseller and win of the Ernest Gaines award for literature. She is an academy member for the Folio prize UK, as well as being on the board of directors for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles .

When Obama was elected, what I felt was bigger than pleasure though Im not sure I have a word for what it was. I remember watching the results on TV and saying over and over: Is this actually happening? Is this real? I merely couldnt take it in. I was stunned in my soul.

A few months later, I went to stay on a plantation in southern Louisiana, doing research for my second volume. I was sleeping in a little cabin right by the field where slaves used to cut sugar cane. One night a storm was coming and you could hear the foliages rustling against one another, and it sounded to me like voices. I remember talking to whatever spirits were out there and telling them: Your labour was not in vain. Everything you lived for was not in vain. And I felt a deep sense of hope hope beyond what was written on an electoral poster.

Has that hope been fulfilled? Not exactly. Dont get me wrong, there was never a part of me that thought we were going to get a post-racial society. Im not interested in living in a post-racial society. But I had a hope that we were about to move past the worst of our racial history. Right now, America is at a crossroads. The Obama presidency can move us forward, or we can backslide into racial intolerance and violence for good. One of the effects of Obama being elected is that there is a level of racism in America that can no longer be ignored. If a man like Barack Obama, so well-educated, so graceful, so intelligent, so charming, can be so vilified and denigrated on a daily basis in some parts of the country and in Congress( to the point that he can hardly do his job ), you can no longer as a normal American ignore the profound problem of race in this country.

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Barack and Michelle Obama: Were just beginning to see what this man and his wife together are going to do for the country. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/ AP

There are a lot of well-meaning white folks who for years could not assure the breadth of racism in America, so I feel that one of the gifts of Obamas presidency a perverse gift is the fact it allowed a sickness to bubble up to the surface, like a boil on the scalp. You cant treat what you cant ensure. And now that we see it, maybe theres a chance to treat this racial sickness for good.

As for my feelings about Obama, the man himself, I think hes done a lot of positive things. He got dumped with an economy in freefall in 2009 but hes managed to turn it around. And his healthcare reforms were humongous, as big to me as stuff that Lyndon Johnson did back in the 60 s, like creating Medicare. Of course hes done things that I do not agree with. I have a problem with the failure to close Guantnamo, I have a problem with drone ten-strikes around the world. But youre never going to like everything that any president does. What Im not going to do is hold Obama to a higher standard, where he has to be a magical negro who is perfect. Hes allowed to stimulate missteps.

I think were just beginning to see what this man and his wife together are going to do for the country. Hes done what he can within the office of the presidency, but now I think he could be like Jimmy Carter, who has done some unbelievable run since leaving office. Were just seeing the beginning of Obamas power as a human being. As say to Killian Fox

Hari Kunzru: His rhetorical ability soothed the terror induced by his blackness

Hari
Hari Kunzru: His clearest legacy is symbolic.
Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Observer
British novelist Hari Kunzru left London for New York eight years ago. He was the recipient of the Betty Trask prize( 2002) and the Somerset Maugham award( 2003) for his debut fiction,
The Impressionist . His 2011 fiction, Gods Without Men , led to the coining of the genre translit: fictions that cross history and geography without being historical nor changing psychic place( New York Times ).

The clearest legacy of the Obama presidency is symbolic. Its hard for non-Americans( and, indeed , non-whites) to understand the clairvoyant blow dealt to the nativist right by the ascending of a black human to the White House. That part of the Republican base that abandoned the Democrats after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and which has been so irresponsibly indulged by the party of Lincoln, took the news like medieval villagers witnessing an eclipse. Weve now spends eight years watching Republican congressmen scurrying hither and thither brandishing pitchforks, outraged at the latest whiff of terrorist fist-bumpery.

The obstructionist opposition to Obama arrived tricked out in 18 th-century Founders drag, bewigged and buckle-shoed. Ostensibly they were angry that the framers of the constitution were being traduced by a stoner Kenyan community organiser, yet beneath the surface, their grievances often turned out to be rooted in the eroding of the racial deference that has been expected in this country since the days when Jefferson and Washington toured their slave quarterss.

The presence of a black first family in the White House, the nations lifestyle fishbowl, is just as symbolically powerful as the sight of a black husband and parent shouldering the responsibilities of the presidency. In their immaculate media presentation, the Obamas have communicated themselves to the readers of the kind of magazines found in supermarket checkouts as a family whose dignity and essential decency are well sheathed in the necessary American armour of glamour. Whoever wins the presidency in November, the first spouse will command a fraction of the respect that Michelle Obama enjoys. The sight of the two Obama daughters, young black girls growing up with limitless aspirations in a loving home, begs a replies from a country where the number one cause of death for black females aged 15 -3 4 is homicide by a current or former partner.

Many of the young people driving the Black Lives Matter motion went of age during the Obama presidency, their political consciousness formed by the 2008 election. For them, Obama turned out to be more hope than change, and his failure to speak in a full-throated route in their subsistence has felt like a betrayal, but once the thick rind of symbolism has been peeled, the president has always been a cautious centrist Democrat with an instinct for consensus , not a human likely to align himself with the politics of black power.

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The drone war is considered in many parts of the world the administrations signal moral catastrophe: a US Air Force MQ-1B Predator drone at a secret air base in the Persian Gulf: Photo: John Moore/ Getty Images

In policy words, the Obama legacy is mixed. The passing of the Affordable Care Act has curbed some of the more egregious iniquities of the dysfunctional US healthcare system, but hundreds of thousands of Americans still go bankrupt every year because of medical bills. Eight years after the financial crisis, the president has succeeded in keeping the wheels on American capitalism, but once the dust determined, it became clear that the accident accelerated the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the very rich, an injustice he has done nothing to address.

Middle Eastern policy has been rudderless. There were, to be honest , no good options available after the squalid catastrophe of the Bush wars, but Obamas vacillation about participation helped produce the chaos in Libya and the vacuum in Syria so ruthlessly exploited by Isis and the Russians. He let red lines to be crossed without sanction. The droning war, considered in many parts of the world as the administrations signal moral tragedy, has carried on with little serious domestic opponent. The failure to close Guantnamo is, in the strategy of things, the least of these failures. Merely day will tell whether the vaunted Iran bargain produces a harvest of peace and stability.

And yet Obama will be missed. Sometimes, out of his extensive rhetorical tool kit, the president pulls a weird folksy tone, a subliminal suggestion of Merle Haggard, designed , no doubt, to soothe the terror induced by his blackness. Desperate as it is to go on a psychic vacation in the magical kingdom of the post-racial, America will discover that it was lucky to have had a figure capable of such virtuosic code-switching, a man who demonstrated that it was possible to communicate across the lines.

Jayne Anne Phillips: Merely by being who he is he has made an enormous impact

Author
Jayne Anne Phillips: Obama has been a stealth chairperson.

Guggenheim fellow Jayne Anne Phillips won the 1980 Sue Kaufman prize for first fiction when she was only 26, for her debut volume of narratives, Black Tickets. Twenty-one years later, her novel MotherKind won the Massachusetts Book award. She is the holder of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships.

Obama has been a transformational chairwoman, and this may not become solely clear until he leaves office. People forget that when he presumed the presidency in 2009, he was handed a fiscal disaster in the making and his response to it really saved the country, and maybe the world, from financial breakdown. But hes done so much more. In the two years in which he had a Democratic Congress, he passed the Affordable Care Act and oversaw a $36 bn dollar expansion in Pell Grants, which very much affects students at Rutgers University-Newark, where I direct the MFA programme.

Obama has been a stealth president. Hes had to be: six years of his presidency have been completely obstructed by the Republican. But hes managed to change energy policy, improve medical care and academic criteria, he changed dont ask, dont tell in the military and influenced awareness of LGBTQ issues both legally and in popular culture. He went to Cuba, he went to Hiroshima. He has worked hard to fight climate change. Solar energy production has increased 30 -fold since he became chairperson. Jobs in the solar industry have grown exponentially, and hes resulting the effort to phase out damaging hydrofluorocarbons being implemented in air conditioning. His presidency has accomplished so much of which citizens are not aware. He has embraced executive actions, unwilling to accept the stasis Congress embodies.

Then theres the whole leadership lawsuit. He cant aim racism and sexism in America, but merely by being who he is, hes made an enormous impact. I think he is truly a visionary who is uniquely qualified to serve. Hes a biracial African American human who grew up in a white household. He came from a background of statute and community organising. Hes an absolutely wonderful orator: funny, elegant and humane.

Same-sex
Same-sex wedding advocates in front of the supreme court in Washington, DC. Photo: Jewel Samad/ AFP/ Getty Images

I suppose its clear that Im a big Obama fan and that this election year has been a psychedelic nightmare. Its like going from the sublime to if Trump is actually elected the ridiculously dangerous. Its a very strange time in this country and we can only hope that Trump will continue to implode. Hillary Clinton is exceptionally qualified and I believe shed be a good chairman; American sexism plays a huge its participation in her supposed unlikability. She might not be as inspiring as Obama, shes not cool or chic, but she is such a policy wonk, so prepared and careful. And constant. Her priorities infants, households, justice are the same after 30 years. Yet she is suspected because she has breached the establishment. Im simply praying shell wins. If Trump wins, therell be a lot of people in America trying to marry Canadians.

Obama has been a inspiring and provocative leader. The fact that this is more or less the consensus around the world genuinely matters, because it means hes not vulnerable to the sniping and griping, to the ridiculous run low , no, go lower tone that Trump has set in this election. I dont guess anything will change the fact that Obamas presidency marks an honourable few years in American history. He is Trumps polar opposite. What a country this is, to nurture and succour two such opposite cultural/ political beings. The best and the worst have moved further and further apart; we are a completely divided nation. Those paradise moments the very surprising 2008 Obama election, the crowds, the alliances, the decency, charm and intelligence of it all exist alongside all that we are today suffer. Its a world that only a 24 -hour news cycle could love. What will Trump do or say next? Like everything Trump touches, its all about him. But I digress.

Desperation and chaos are confusing. How dark will it get? Regardless, Obama is not going away. The America that elected him twice is not going away either. Like Elvis, that America has left the building. Hopefully it will reappear on election day.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Ssshhh! How the cult of quiet can change your life

Silent retreats, silent eateries and even silent dating events are on the rise. Now a new film aims to quietly spread the word

Once the preserve of monastic retreats and hardcore meditators, simply being quiet is growing in appeal. Whole businesses have sprung up to meet a rising demand for quiet hour, from silent weekend getaways to silent dining, silent read parties and even silent dating. This month watches the release of documentary In Pursuit of Silence, a meditative film about our relationship with noise, promoted with a delicate two-minute trailer in which not a word is uttered.

Silence can, as the movie attests, mean different things to different people. It can be a space for quiet reflection or a nation fraught with discomfort. There is a certain intimacy inherent in being silent with other people we usually do so merely with those closest to us. So there is something almost radical about the recent trend for enjoying stillnes with strangers.

Mariel Symeonidou started a regular silent reading party in Dundee simply under a year ago, in a moment of uncharacteristic extroversion. Readers bring their books and meet in a bar, where they read together in silence for an hour or sometimes two, then put the books away to chat and have a drink.

Meditating
Meditating in Australia. Photo: Fairfax Media/ Fairfax Media via Getty Images

The concept began in the dimly lighted, retro-furnished cafe and bars of Seattle. Devised as a literary hangout for those who dont like spoken-word nights or discussion groups, the premise was simple: show up, just shut up and read. The trend has spread to New York and since found a home in the UK, in London and Edinburgh as well as Dundee.

When the read starts, everything runs quiet, says Symeonidou. Its a little bit surreal, especially in what is usually a bustling bar. However, there is something special about sharing that silence with others. It offers an opportunity for escapism; everyone is so busy with work and with technology being ever present. An event like this gives people the opportunity to escape these things for a while.

While the readings are now tranquil and relaxed, Mariel confesses initial iterations were a little awkward. This discomfort is precisely where the radical power of stillnes lies, tells Matthew Adams, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Brighton. Silence is often something we experience as uncomfortable, as a rupture in the social fabric, an awkwardness we want to cover over with our voices.

Adams has a long-term interest in the social, cultural and psychological implication of stillnes, and particularly in shared silence and electing to share silence. Collective silence is about connecting with others in a way that gets underneath social conventions. It tackles us with what it feels like to be in the physical presence of other human beings without any games, strategies, reading or misreading of intentions. It is a temporary suspension of our reliance on talk.

The absence of chatter can have social advantages. Londons silent speed-dating event organisers Shhh! say that we are instinctively better at communicating and choosing the right partners when we have the chance to put aside words and consider one another as we really are.

Shhh! hosts regular speed-dating conferences and singles events, featuring non-verbal flirting games and eye-gazing; neatly side-stepping all the what-are-you-watching-on-Netflix topics. Claimed to be a favourite with creative professionals in their 20 s and 30 s, Shhh! boasts a busy its own programme of events until the end of the year. The conferences begin with games to break the ice, including jumping around in front of a potential mate and attaining paleolithic noises. Then goes a somewhat standard speed-dating set-up; attendees are paired off for a limited window of day, communicating merely with gestures, before engaging in 60 seconds of uninterrupted eye contact. After the event you are dutifully furnished with the contact details of interested parties and if youre lucky enough to land a second date, you can maintain the established embargo on chit-chat, whisking them off for a silent dinner date or a mute trip to the pictures.

Honi Ryan is an artist based in Berlin who began hosting silent dinners back in 2006. An otherwise ordinary dinner party setup, albeit with a ritzy vegan menu( regular dishes include baked almond soy mushrooms and Lebanese beans ), the rules of the dinner are: no talking , no employing your voice , no reading or writing, to continue efforts to make as little noise as is practicable, do not interact with technology, and bide for at least two hours.

Ryan describes the silent dinners as social statues engaging with the changing nature of communication and the space between people. So far she has taken her silent dining project to Mexico, the US, Australia, Lebanon and China. The global reach is fundamental to the project, as is the inclusive and international menu. Its evident that the age-old connections we make over food do not depend on the words around it. Silence creates the space for the people and places involved to fill with whatever is needed; it strips away our rehearsed social behaviours.

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In Pursuit of Silence the art of seeing stillness within yourself. Photograph: PR Company Handout

Perhaps the most well-known silent social is the silent retreat. Recently featured in an episode of BBC comedy Fleabag, silent retreats vary in tone and intent, and are more popular than you might imagine. The retreats often have a religious or spiritual component, with Buddhist, Christian and Catholic retreats constructing up the majority. They can last anywhere between a couple of days to a few weeks, set in places that are usually fittingly pastoral, in old farm buildings or country piles.

Silent retreat regular Peter Cadney first discovered the power of stillnes on a 10 -day vipassana silent meditation course, in 2013. The technique emphasises developing a connection with stillnes and accessing the stillness within yourself.

There had been a number of events in my life that I hadnt been able to deal with very well; things like relationship breakups and the death of a close friend. Id spent years working at a computer and was feeling the effects of muscle tension, nervousnes and stress. I felt drawn to finding somewhere quiet to sit in order to discovery peace within myself.

Cadney tells silent meditation has helped to improve both his mental and physical health. When I first sat down in silence, it felt very peaceful. I started noticing just how many guess were coming and going in my mind, it was as if there had been no space for silence.

Cadney has since given up his office job and now runs as a holistic therapist. As soon as I sat down in that meditation hall I thought: this is where I am supposed to be.

Swiss Artist Salome Voegelin also detected a purpose in silence. However, rather than determining stillnes soothing or nulling somehow, it instead opened her intellect to the revolutionary potential of hearing. She describes stillnes , not as the is a lack of audio, but as the beginning of listening, though she has some reservations about the egotistical propensities of the current trend for silent getaways.

While these events are contemplative and respectful, I wonder how much of the silent listening is expended preoccupying about ones own silence rather than hearing others and the environment, she says.

Voeglins book, Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art posits stillnes and noise not as opposites but as different objectives of the same spectrum. “Were not receiving” true silence. Its a state that allows me to hear my breathing in tandem with yours, the rumbling of my belly, the gurgling of the radiator. It provides a time out. Its when we start to listen to each other.

Silence assumes a new meaning in an era in which we are consuming information and engaging in dialogue with one another endlessly, without ever opening our mouths. While we may watch The Pursuit of Silence and enjoy the absence of audio, how many of us will be seduced to check in with our emails, tweet our thoughts on the film? While we might find pleasure in those rare and cherished moments of peace and quiet, when it comes to stillnes and stillness, can we muster up the self-restraint at all?

In Pursuit of Silence is on release now .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

From Circe to Clinton: why powerful girls are cast as witches

A misogynist insult in Washington and Westminster, a force for good in Hollywood for centuries, witches have personified dread of assertive females. But why does the stereotype persist?

During the 2016 US presidential election, American social media was flooded with images of Hillary Clinton wearing a black hat and riding a broom, or else cackling with green scalp. Her foes named her The Wicked Witch of the Left, claimed they had sources testifying that she smelled of sulphur, and took particular delight in depictions of her being melted. Given that the last witch trial in the US was more than 100 hundred years ago, what are we to build of this?

In the late 19 th century, the suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage asserted something revolutionary. The persecution of witches, she said, had nothing to do with fighting evil or resisting the devil. It was simply entrenched social misogyny, the goal of which was to repress the intellect of women. A witch, she told, wasn’t wicked. She didn’t fly on a broomstick naked in the dark, or consort with demons. She was, instead, likely to be a woman” of superior knowledge “. As a thought experiment, she suggested that for “witches” we should read instead “women”. Their histories, she intimated, operate hand in hand.

Obviously, she was on to something. When we say witch, we almost exclusively mean girl. Sure, men have also been accused of witchcraft, but they are by far the minority. Further, the words used to describe humen with magical powers- warlock, magus, sorcerer, wizard- don’t carry the same stigma.

A better parallel to “witch” is the word “whore”. Both are time-honoured tools for policing females, “ve been meaning to” disgrace them into socially prescribed behaviour. A harlot contravenes norms of female sexuality; a witch contravenes norms of female power. Witches are often called unnatural because of their ability to threaten men. With her spells, a witch can transform you into a swine, or defeat you in battle. She can curse you, blight your harvests, dismis you, reject you, correct you. Penalizing witches accomplishes two things: it objective the threat and builds others afraid to follow in the unruly woman’s footsteps.

Yet, despite all the attempts to stamp out witches, they are as strongly with us as ever, from Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch in the Avengers movies, to the recent film The Love Witch , to the television series American Horror Story , to non-fiction books such as Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692 . The stereotypical image of the witch- green scalp, pointed hat, warts, black cat- has become entrenched, but beneath that surface lies a dazzling variety; a rich diversity of women who have frightened, possessed and inspired us over the centuries.

Bones
Bones of contention … montages of Hillary Clinton as a witch have inundated social media

Let’s start with the classic: the evil, aged crone. This image took firm root in the Christian era, when witches were women who consorted with the devil; but old and ugly witches predated Jesus. Roman literature portrayed witches as pathetic creatures with false teeth and grey hair, who dug in the ground by moonlight, tore animals with their teeth and used the organs of boys they starved to death for their spells. They had two main pastimes: making love potions, and casting curses. The poet Ovid blamed a disappointing sex performance on a witch employing a sort of Roman voodoo doll to take away his effectivenes.( Sure Ovid, that was my first supposed, too .)

The most famous of this type must be Shakespeare’s weird sisters from Macbeth . They are repulsive” midnight hags”, with skinny lips, chapped fingers and beards. Their spells- eye of newt and toe of frog- are as disgusting as their appearances and curse anyone who crosses them. The classic fairytale witch, like the one in the histories of Hansel and Gretel who fees infants, also fits into this category, as does the Slavic Baba Yaga, and the Wicked Witch of the West from L Frank Baum’s Oz series, induced famous by actor Margaret Hamilton. The role was originally offered to the glamorous Gale Sondergaard, but she turned it down because she didn’t want to appear ugly.

Spellbound
Spellbound … Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, who was accused of witchcraft. Photograph: Allstar/ 20 th Century Fox

And ugliness, of course, is key. The haggish outsides of these witches are meant to match their evil insides, and testify to their unnaturalness, since women are supposed to be as neat, attractive and young as possible. But the association with age also contains a kernel of truth: many of the women accused of sorcery were so-called ” wise girls”, older figures, often poor widows, who scratched out a living in the community with their experience as midwives, herbalists and hedge-doctors. Their solitary, vulnerable status and unusual knowledge built them perfect targets for people’s rage and dread when crops failed or babies died.

Foreign females were also vulnerable to accusations of sorcery, and the association between immigrants and sorcery goes back at the least to Greek mythology. The witch Medea was the princess of Colchis, on the eastern edge of the Black Sea, which to the notoriously xenophobic ancient Greeks was alien and suspect. When Jason and his Argonauts came to claim the Golden Fleece from her father, Medea fell in love with Jason and aided him with her spells, so that he and the Argonauts were able to confiscate the fleece and escape. In gratitude, Jason wedded Medea, but back home in his kingdom she was shunned, her sorcery and foreignness merging into a single undesirable trait. The idea seems to have been: no wonder she’s a murderous sorceress, she’s from the east.

This type of nativism also pops up in Shakespeare’s The Tempest . Sycorax, the witch mother of Caliban, is from Algiers, and though she never appears in the play, she is a harrowing, hideous figure, a” blue-eyed hag “, who is hunched over with” age and bitternes “. She was cast out from Algiers( the implication is that she was too wicked even for them ), and came to the island, where she “litter[ed]” her deformed son, practised her magic and worshipped her pagan-sounding divinity, Setebos. Towards the end of the 17 th century, the slave Tituba, who may have been South American, was blamed for resulting the innocent( white) daughters of Salem into evil. Her experience as an foreigner among the witch-hysterical Puritan is brilliantly imagined in Maryse Conde’s novel, I Tituba, Black Witch of Salem .

Fears of sorcery grounded in racism persist even today. The Roma, longtime outcasts in Europe, have frequently been accused of evil magic. And African-influenced voodoo is routinely used by Hollywood as a horror movie plot point.

But it wasn’t just vulnerable women who drew accusations of witchcraft. It was also women with serious political power. Joan of Arc resulted the French to victory against the English and was renowned in France for her purity, cleverness and religion in her “voices”. When the English leadership couldn’t beat her, they undermined her, crediting her success to demonic means, since, of course, a young woman could never perform such wonders on her own. When she was captured, they tried her for sorcery, quoting as partial proof of her unnaturalness the tremendous fortitude she depicted in combat, and her they are able to outwit her examiners in debate.

Magic
Magic circle … the new Wrinkle in Time film features Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit. Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/ Disney/ Kobal/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Cleopatra and Anne Boleyn were likewise accused of witchcraft, with gossips that Anne even physical marks of her compact with the devil, such as a third teat, moles and a sixth finger on her helping hand. Such accusations were a clever and effective route for a woman’s political adversaries to smear her since, as countless other women accused of sorcery learned, it is impossible to offer definitive proof that one is not a witch. Perhaps what is most shocking about this catch-2 2 is the way in which it continues to be played out today. Aside from Hillary Clinton, who has been called a witch since she was first lady, there was also the case of Julia Gillard, first female premier of Australia, who met with tauntings of” ditch the witch” from protesters. Nancy Pelosi, the minority speaker of the US House of Representatives, has faced similar witch-related insults, and recently Theresa May was filmed giggling aloud, and her so-called ” witch’s cackle” speedily went viral. The misogyny of all this is obvious. Debating and defeating these leaders politically isn’t enough- as women who indicate aspiration, they are abominations who must be deemed evil and cast out.

From
From JW Waterhouse’s portrait of Circe Invidiosa. Photograph: Alamy

The tradition of the sexy witch, who lures men with her beauty, is beloved by modern-day adult costume-makers, but goes all the route back to the first witch in western literature: the divine sorceress Circe. She first appears in Homer’s Odyssey , after Odysseus and his crew have washed up on her island, exhausted and mourning for the loss of their comrades. They run searching for dwellers and find a palatial house with tamed lions and wolves lolling around in the garden. A glistening goddess comes to the door, and invites them in. She gives them food and wine which she has drugged with spell-herbs, then lifts her wand and turns them into pigs.

Circe’s story brings together many classic witchy motifs: a ability with herbs and potions, a magic wand, control over animals. But what is most notable is her moral ambiguity- though she begins the episode as a figure of menace, after she and Odysseus become lovers, she transforms his humen back and offers vital resources and advice to Odysseus for his journey home. Not all seductive witches depict a similar ambiguity( CS Lewis’s White Witch surely does not ), but Morgan le Fay, Morticia Addams and Melisandre from Game of Thrones all fall into this category.

This brings us to our last type: the very best witch. Before we get to the famous examples, let’s start with the unknown ones- the countless women of history who used their knowledge of herbs, healing and midwifery to serve their communities as de facto doctors and chemists. In hours when reliable medical treatment was scarce and costly, they offered the first, and often merely, help a suffering person would be given. Matilda Joslyn Gage, in her treatise Woman, Church and State , hailed this local herb-woman as” the profoundest intellectual, the most advanced scientist” of her age. Gage’s name is largely unknown now, but her run lives vibrantly on: she was the mother-in-law of Baum, and immediately influenced his creation of Glinda, one of the most iconic good witches in popular culture. Glinda is a sparkly, memorable presence in the 1939 movie, and plays a meaty role in the books, protecting the good people of Oz with passion and wisdom. We may likewise insure Gage’s spirit in Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked , which reimagines the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, as a heroic, misunderstand character.

Of course no discussion of good witches can be complete without the superlative Hermione Granger. Throughout JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Hermione’s intellect, kindness, sense of justice and determination attain her a role model for young girls- and boys- everywhere. And she’s only one of dozens of fascinating witches Rowling made, who run the gamut from good( Minerva McGonagall) to cruelly wicked( Bellatrix Lestrange ).

Rupert
Rupert Grint, left, and Daniel Radcliffe with Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban( 2004 ). Photograph: Allstar/ Warner Bros

Which brings us back to the multiplicity and diversity of witches. The truth is that witches cannot really be contained by types; they leap over borders, bursting out of categories as fast we stimulate them. They are constantly changing as we change, reflecting our ideas about girls back to ourselves.

If this is so, then there is much to feeling encouraged by. The image of the very best witch is ascendant in popular culture( aside from Hermione, as exemplified by the Scarlet Witch, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer , and the new A Wrinkle in Time movie, prominently featuring Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit ). Women have attained powerful steps towards equality, and we are seeing an unprecedented awareness of sexual harassment, assault and the silencing of women. More of these secret abuses are coming to light every day, and more of the perpetrators are being removed from power.

Despite this progress, there is also sobering news. In the last decade, United Nation officials have reported a rise in females killed for sorcery across the globe. In India the problem is particularly well-documented, with older females being targeted as scapegoats or as a pretext for confiscating their lands and goods. In Saudi Arabia, females have been convicted of sorcery in the courts, and in Ghana they have been exiled to so-called ” witch camps”, an injustice movingly dealt with in award-winning movie, I Am Not a Witch . And in the United States, a Gallup poll found that 21% of people believed in witches( and not the Hermione Granger kind ).

We stand therefore at a crossroads- which is fitting, since crossroads are sacred to Hecate, Greek goddess of witchcraft. Will we continue to fear and penalize women with power? To call them evil? Or perhaps we can at last celebrate female strength, recognising that witches- and women- are not going away *

* Circe by Madeline Miller is published by Bloomsbury( PS16. 99 ). To b uy it for PS12. 99 go to guardianbookshop.com .

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The Book of Hygge review- can the Danes actually teach us how to live?

This book, by Louisa Thomsen Brits, is one of many titles on hygge and the Danish route of living. But hygge has a dark side what if the price of cosiness isnt worth paying?

Hygge voices from the outside like a meme to allow hipsters to grow old: a Danish mode of being, it has no single, literal translation, which is only to be expected, as it is the source of the Danes singular happiness and could only be a wraparound concept. Its baldest definition is cosiness, but that expands, according to The Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits, to covering a feeling of belonging and warmth, a few moments of convenience and contentment.

Thomsen Brits, in a self-described beautiful little book, which reliably delivers small pages and an unbelievably large typeface, lists some of the things that give us a feeling of hygge; We hygger with an R it becomes an intransitive verb first thing in the morning when we illuminated a candle at our breakfast table. No, truly, though: who does that? And by lighting fires almost every day. It is a practice as old as sitting around a flame or sharing food with a friend. Hygge practises are, broadly, things that we do that our ancestors would recognise; besides illuminating fires, eating, drinking, eating cake and drinking things that are hot.

It is not a new thought that activities bring pleasure in inverse proportion to how recently they were invented( Facebook; the cello; reading; keeping a puppy as a pet; constructing bread; having sex ). Yet there is certainly a Danish specificity in the prominence of pyromania, and principles crop up repeatedly that are highly specific to the Scandinavian climate. Proverbs swirl: We have a saying in Denmark that there is no truly bad weather, just bad clothes, Helen Russell associates, in her unexpectedly winsome memoir, The Year of Living Danishly ( Icon, 8.99 ). Blankets play a huge role. In heavily pictorial volumes, still lives of slippers are a mainstay.

The valorisation of the cold is maybe the most distinctive feature of the region, and surely the least exportable. It reminded me of an exchange I overheard in the Arctic Circle, between a Swedish sled driver and a travel journalist from the Daily Telegraph. The hack was moaning like some southern cissy because his contact lenses had frozen on to his eyeballs, and Sven said: At least you can protect yourself from the cold. How do you protect yourself from the hot? With factor 15, blind people man responded, and a pina colada. You cant concoct a love of the hearth without a chill wind. If you stay in with the curtains described and a hot chocolate on a warm day, thats not hygge, thats depression.

Almost as a throwaway, Thomsen Brits mentions elements of Danish life that induce them happy yet would go by the more pedestrian name of social infrastructure: Denmarks high standard of living, decent health care, gender equality, accessible education and equitable distribution of wealth all contribute to the measurable happiness of the Danish people. But thats not hygge; your ancestors would not recognise those things, and the sense of belonging is deeper, and stems from immaterial things.

It has three themes, again according to Thomsen Brits interiority, contrast and atmosphere and it doesnt assistance if you dont know what they mean. OK, interiority, since you ask is a perception of being a discrete, bounded presence that exists in relation to others, to place and to the passage of time Mind, home and country are the interiorities of hygge. Nope, still nothing. Its possible that to understand that kind of thing, you need to be someone who gets it before it is said.

One of the most data-rich of the recent richnes of Dane-books, The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking( Penguin Life, 9.99 ), is the one that gets fastest to the dark side of hygge: Danes are not good at inviting new people into their friendship circles. In component, this is due to the concept of hygge; it would be considered less hyggeligt if there were too many new people at an event. So get into a new circle requires a lot of endeavour and a lot of loneliness on the way.

Russell is more blunt on this point, and describes arriving in January, and wandering through streets, shops that are either closed or empty and homes that look unoccupied save for the dim glint of candlelight burning from within. It is spring before anybody talks to her. Danes prefer to gather in limited numbers rather than in large, expansive groups, to emphasise the unity of their small circles, Thomsen Brits writes, concluding the centripetal force of mutuality, warmth and exuberance is sometimes intimidating and impenetrable. Feeling excluded from a group is uncomfortable. Feeling trapped inside one is equally disquieting. There is the downside that the Danish style of socialising could be considered exclusive.

Is
Is there more to hygge than only having a beaker of coffee with a friend? Photograph: Leonardo Patrizi/ Getty Images

Or homogenous, stultifying, bland: books on hygge often include recipes, and there could be no more solid iteration of this tension, that comfort is a hairs breadth away from boredom. Flour, fat, sugar, jam, more sugar, cinnamon if youre lucky: Danes consume twice as many sweets as the average European, and it must be down to some internal hygge energy that they arent fat. Or maybe it is because they are tall.

The origins of hygge lie in the implosion of Danish imperialist ambitions in the 19 th century, given a positive spin by the philosopher NFS Grundtvig, who was contended that the nations outward grandeur was less important that the wellbeing of its people, extrapolating from there a very tight culture of nationhood, Norse lore, folk sing, simplicity and cheerfulness. It is laudable from some angles but very narrow from others, and it brings with it the dispiriting implication that such solid and exemplary egalitarianism is attained possible by a rigidly demarcated in-group.

Even the most inspiring express of modesty and egalitarianism such as the note, in The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl( Piatkus, 10.99 ), that this value of meeknes is knowing who you are so well that you dont need others to attain you feel important. Hence, they try not to overload their children with compliments lose their lustre when that fellowship is so fixed.

There is a contradiction, too, in the notion of hyggeas a design notion elegant interiors, artful draperies, beauty in the domestic realm set against the insistence that it is about simplicity, the calm of aspiration, the respect for predictability and ordinariness, the abnegation of status in favour of togetherness. The Khler vase scandal, described by Wiking, occurred when 16,000 Danes tried to buy a limited edition piece of tableware on the same day, crashing the website. Queues formed outside the shop with the outrage of a breadline. This induces no sense as a worldview: you can either separate significance from trivia, or you cant; live contentedly on love and carbohydrates, or hanker after distinction and novelty; expend your time with the ones who matter, or wait outside a shop.

There is a contradiction at the core of all human yearn, of course: that everyone is simultaneously want safety and adventure, equality and status, intimacy and exhilaration, woodsmoke and fresh air. Yet to enunciate an ethos in which those conflicts are not simply unresolved, but wafted away with a scented candle, seems slippery and opaque, a set of rules in which every pillar could just as well be turned on its head.

The Book of Hygge is published by Ebury. To order a transcript for 10.65( RRP 12.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of 1.99.

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Lena Dunham’s surprise book sells out in 24 hours

Is It Evil Not to Be Sure? is a collection of her journal entries from a decade ago, and will raise money for the nonprofit group Girls Write Now

A astonish new book by Lena Dunham, collecting her periodicals from ten years ago, has sold out less than 24 hours after the writer announces that it release.

Dunhams 56 -page chapbook, Is It Evil Not to Be Sure? was unveiled on Tuesday afternoon. Priced at $25( 17 ), with proceeds going to the mentoring program Girls Write Now, its signed, 2,000 -copy first print running had sold out by Wednesday morning, although it is still available as an ebook in the US. Fourth Estate, which released Dunhams bestselling memoir Not That Kind of Girl in the UK, said that as yet it had no plans to publish the new book.

Dunham explained on her website Lenny that she had procured the diaries from 2005 and 2006 on an old hard drive earlier this year. She had been in bed after surgery, she told, and was feeling painfully adult.

I was, of course, full of the kind of mortification that is part and parcel with fulfilling a former version of yourself, a woefully misguided daughter desperate to be embraced by even the least exemplary specimen of young American malehood, wrote Dunham. But I was also moved by maybe even proud of how carefully I had recorded that period of day, my younger selfs commitment to capturing different types of hyper-internal formative moments so often lost to adulthood.

The writer and performer said she had always believed that girls chronicling their own lives, even( or especially) at their most mundane, is a radical act, and so decided to share the diaries as a short volume, to benefit Girls Write Now. I cant think of a more admirable objective for an organisation, or a better reason to expose the oft troubling supposed patterns of my final teenage year, said the author.

It was announced in April that Dunham would be teaming up with publisher Random House to launch her own publishing imprint, Lenny, in 2017. Lenny will publish fiction and non-fiction titles selected by Dunham and Jenni Konner, co-creator of the website Lenny, which covers feminism, style, health, politics, relationship and everything else.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Caitlin Moran:’ Were I not a novelist, I’d have the peachy, zingy buttocks of Gigi Hadid’

The author on writing for money, painful posture and having novelists block simply the once

As with all novelists, I read a great deal about the craft of writing. Not because I want to learn from other writers its simply because its the most virtuous and inarguable route of procrastinating. I CANT POSSIBLY WRITE A HUMOROUS Chapter ABOUT MASTURBATION UNTIL IVE READ ALL OF STEPHEN KINGS ON WRITING, OK?

And while I have gained a great many insights, the major problem with text on writing is that they never talk about your arse. And thats the biggest problem for novelists the constant, growling pain in your arse. You are hunched over your keyboard for upwards of seven hours a day, compacting your lower spine, and essentially murdering your arse with a chair. Were I not a novelist, Id like to think Id have the peachy, zingy buttocks of Gigi Hadid. After 28 years on the Mac, however, it looks like the avalanche that chases Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me. If my arse caught up with Roger, it would kill him.

And all novelists are like this. Ive fulfilled them. Were distorted to fit around a keyboard. Our posture is violated. By their mid-4 0s, most novelists are in the shape of an ampersand.

I guess Im centring on the physical aspects of writing, because for me, thats the hard bit. Ive never struggled to write Ive only had writers block for 20 minutes, once. Then I had a cup of tea, and it is away. Plainly Id like to put this down to being the most brilliant and explosive mind of my generation but I think its simply that I have always had a lot of deadlines. I started writing for money at the age of 13, and Bitch gotta build rent is the remedy for any existential wobbles about how to express yourself. If youre turning over a minimum of 10,000 terms a week the coming week, working on my new novel, I did 10,000 words IN TWO DAYS then your conscious intellect generally gets out of the way, and you plug straight into your unconscious, instead. For me, the two have now presumed the characteristics of Jeeves and Wooster.

Wooster/ Conscious mind: CRIPES! ANOTHER SCRAPE! It seems I need to write a new book in less than four months!

Jeeves/ Unconscious intellect: Dont worry about that, sir. Its all in hand. Ive assembled all the disconnected believes youve had about this over the last few years, set them in the correct order, and come up with a pleasingly unexpected opening chapter. All that remains for you to do is smash up your arse for another seven hours by sitting on a chair, typing it out as I dictate, from now until summertime. I have, of course, scheduled an hour of dicking around on Twitter at 2pm, every day, as usual.

In November, I eventually invested in an office/ shed at the lower end of the garden, which is where I now spend the majority of members of my day. Before, I used to work on the patio, because of the smoking. Human, I have sat out there in some grim climates. Wrapped around in a junk-shop fur coat, in the snow, like some soon-to-be-murdered Stark in Game of Thrones, losing all sensation in my face as I finished How to Be a Woman. But, then again, gradually being covered in snow is a great style to attain you crack on with penning. Its like God is trying to turn you into a blank page, in some fabulous meteorological metaphor.

These days, with the luxury of my shed, I get up at the same time as the children, do an hour of Please Let My Arse Feel Normal Again yoga, get to my desk by 9.30 am, and then make sure that, unless its an emergency, Im pressing Send or Save by the time they come back from school, at 4.30 pm. After a long day of work, its great to give my arse a break by strolling from the bottom of the garden to the front room, and then sitting on the sofa until 10 pm. Please dont let my arse see this piece. Im fretted it will realise its in an abusive relationship, and leave me.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran is published by Ebury.

Interview with a Bookstore: Housing Works Bookstore in New York

They sell books, but they also provide care for thousands of homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/ AIDS. Welcome to the largest community-based AIDS service organization in the US and a fantastic bookstore

Housing Works Bookstore Cafes opening is a bit of a mystery, but lets say it opened, in our beloved Crosby Street location, in 1996. But the history of the bookstore goes back to the history of Housing Works, Inc, which was founded in 1993 by Charles King and Keith Cylar and other members of the groundbreaking AIDS activist group ACT UP. It was simple: if you had AIDS and you had no place to live, it was impossible to receive the lifesaving care that you needed. Today we are the largest community-based AIDS service organization in the country. We provide housing, primary care, job training, and legal help, to more than 20 K homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/ AIDS.

As the tale goes, in 1993, an angel investor approached Housing Works with a proposal: an investment in a second hand store of designer goods, stylishly presented and frequently rotated, sold at not rock-bottom but irresistible-bargain prices. The thrift shop swiftly opened and exceeding its three month fiscal objectives within the first weeks.

The key reason that Housing Works has always been a leader in delivering necessary and cutting-edge services, such as needle exchanges and much of our work for NYCs homeless population, is that we do not rely exclusively on outside fund from government and other sources. This work is part of “whats called” Social Enterprise and it is part of our core mission.

Social enterprise is the key to the bookstore in every route: Housing Works decided in 1996 that a perfect offshoot would be a use bookstore& cafe the intersection of books and food being a wonderful style to engage with the community. Not only is Housing Works supporting its lifesaving services and relentless advocacy by selling great second-hand goods now were a place where you can come and hang out, read a book, drink a coffee or a beer or feed a delicious pastry.

Overtime, due to the hustle of our board members and volunteers, the community space of our bookstore caf became a significant culture institution. We now present public programming most weeknights, bring back hundreds of New Yorkers into our space to educate them about our mission and share great books and culture with them. And to show them a really great time. On the weekends, the place gets dressed up by real nice for bridals and private functions, another key part of our community efforts and fundraising, which are conducted by our award-winning in-house catering company, The Works.

Molly Rose Quinn,( Director of Public Programming)

housing-works-event housing-works-event Photograph: Courtesy of Housing Works Bookstore

Whats your favorite section of the store?

Merril Speck( Store Manager ): Graphic novels.

Rebecca Shaughnessy( Bookseller& Cafe Staff ): I read mostly fiction, so thats my immediate answer; but one of my favorite things to do is browse the smaller sections that arent as popular, like math, surrounding/ wildlife, or health. Theyre full of concealed gem! I lately find a volume on country medication and remedies: did you know the simplest way to get rid of a blister is to have a snail crawl over it?

Tom Morris( Bookseller ): Art! When I started volunteering I had no vague notion that my background in art( especially modern and contemporary art) would be particularly useful. But within a few weeks I realized that not everyone knows about that stuff in the same style that I know little or nothing about areas where many staff and volunteers have amazing knowledge and absolutely brilliant insights. The Bookstore benefits enormously from New Yorks art community when it comes to donations , not to mention that our clients include artists, collectors, educators, and curators.

Brent MacKenzie( Bookseller ): My favorite section in the store is the graphic novel segment. We get some great titles donated and always have a great selection. Im always observing things I never knew about, hard to find and out of publish books.

Meagan Kavouras( Bookseller ): My favorite segment of the store, the section I always check before I leave the store, is the proofs wall. We have a group of clients we refer to as the proofies because they come in daily to scour that wall. I like it because its the best way to find upcoming debut novels from young female writers. The proofies usually skip those in favor of the Ishiguros and Morrisons. On the flipside, I love our fifty cent cart because its the best style to read the classics on the cheap.

Rebecca Merrill( Bookseller ): I read principally non-fiction and the memoir segment is mine to curate, but thats not the reason I love it. Over the past century, memoir has changed so much as a genre and the donation-based nature of our store entails the section reflects it. Not only do we sell new releases( Between the World and Me ), recent classics( Just Kids ), classic-classics( The Autobiography of Mark Twain) but harder to find quirky editions, too. Right now, we have an advanced readers copy of 1976 s A Loving Gentleman by Meta Carpenter Wilde about her love affair with William Faulkner.

housing-works-interior Over the past century, memoir has changed so much as a genre and the donation-based nature of our store entails the section reflects it. Photograph: Politenes of Housing Works Bookstore

If you had infinite space what would you add?

Rebecca: If I had infinite space in the bookstore( and no NYC health code ), I would add cats and lounges !! My favorite place to read is on my sofa with my cats, so Im just assuming everyone else would love that too. And Im right, arent I?

What do you do better than any other bookstore?

Molly: I think we bringing new meaning and new life to the idea of a bookstore being a community space. When we get to do concerts and slapstick depicts and such, some of those folks never even going to see bookstores, but we enticement them in with nightlife and beer. And on the other side of that, we have many regulars, used book and vinyl collectors, longtime neighbors, and also Housing Works clients who hang in our space during the daytime, many of them dont even know we hold events in the evening. And my favorite thing is spying on some of my favorite writers when they come to write in the cafe during the day. Also, our cafe attains something called MENSTRUATION BROWNIES.

Whos your favorite regular?

Tom: I cant pick only one. Theres a married couple; the spouse is an artist and art teacher; the husband, a retired carpenter, is severely into US History. Hes written and produced a play based on the late-in-life correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams that has been performed at various New York Public Library branches. Another client owns an art gallery on Bleecker Street and also lives nearby. Weve had many enjoyable dialogues about the art world. She also collects LP records, and some of her LP buys have piqued my own interest in some classical and jazz records that Ive attempted out and acquired.

Brent: Over my past year and a half of volunteering a man named Everett would come in almost every Tuesday. He is always exceedingly kind and is just a great guy. He has been selling volumes in New York for years so we would have conversations about different trends in volumes and reading and I always enjoy ensure him.

Meagan: Theres a man named Peter who lives in the neighborhood and comes in every Tuesday. In his past lives he was a sailor, a musician, and god knows what else, but hes currently a poet and motorcycle fanatic who, as far as I can tell, only walkings around the neighborhood spreading good cheer. Peter comes into the store and talks with me about poetry because I have to take the damn English GRE soon, and I know nothing about verse. Hes helping me learn.

Whats the craziest situation youve ever had to deal with in the store?

Molly: A few hours over the years weve done two events in a single night last month we had Kate Beaton appearing for her new book, which is now being 300+ fans, a three hour long signing line, followed by a sold-out, pop up concert by Glen Hansard. Kates fans were waiting in line to meet her all the way through the bands soundcheck, up until the doors opened, which was shortly before midnight. They played until 2am. Kate and Glen are now friends.

housing-works-interior-2 If I had infinite space in the bookstore( and no NYC health code ), I would add cats and sofas! Photo: Courtesy of Housing Works Bookstore

Whats your earliest memory about visiting a bookstore as small children?

Tom: I grew up on the far northwest side of Chicago. Our street was the bordered on an unincorporated suburbium. No public library within a couple of miles, and no bookstores at all. Beginning around age 10, whenever our family piled in the car and went downtown, I started noticing bookstores, galleries, museums, and theaters. Lots of them, some of them huge. At some phase it dawned on me: “Thats what” I want to be around all the time.

If you werent operating a bookstore, what would you be doing?

Merril: I would want to be the bassist in an indie boulder band circa the 1980 s( Essentially I want to be Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order ).

Whats been the biggest astound about working in a bookstore?

Rebecca: The biggest astonish about working in this bookstore is( honestly, truly, I am not just saying this) how nice our clients are. Ive heard so many horror narratives from people working in retail that I merely cannot be attributed to. I believe when customers come to this store, they feel good about buying books knowing that the buy supports a great cause. In buying books, they join our community and that creates a culture of a bunch of people who are about to become friends rather than one of a traditional service industry.

Molly: Social enterprise is a keyword at Housing Works, but I also think it is a key principle in New York City and has been a large part of my personal experience working with publishing, bookstores, writers, comedians, musicians, and other artists in NYC. When I try to explain my job to my friends and family in other cities, it is a very long run-on sentence. I get to plan, create, and publicize wildly popular and culturally relevant programs at a beloved NYC institution in order to spread awareness and raise funds for our efforts to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York by 2020. I fill my life and my work with volumes because I believe that literature touches everything and everything touches it. And Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is a perfect example of that.

The Staff Shelf

What are Housing Workss booksellers reading?

teeth The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli( 2015 ). Molly( director of public programming) recommends: Read Valeria Luiselli is a bit like strolling through a beautiful, charming, exploding use bookstore. I find myself scratching down on bits of paper the millions of volumes, poems, philosophers, artists, and unknown tidbits of the world that she folds into her narrations. This book is almost impossible to describe, so I wont try. Just read it?
Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis( 2015 ). Molly( director of public programming) recommends: What occurs inside Robin Coste Lewis Voyage of the Sable Venus is demolition, excavation, grandeur, heart. This volume, which lifts devastating words from historical and art archives, argues for living even at its most annihilating moments.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel( 2014 ). Merril( store administrator) recommends: A beautifully conceived, post-apocalypse story that follows a small group of characters in the years following a global pandemic. Mandels gift is to see the innate goodness in humanity, forgoing a Mad Max-style horror show for something more delicate and hopeful. Like the great film directors Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson, Mandel works with a large canvas, ingeniously weaving character arc that tease out surprising connects among the survivors. Wonderful Wonderful Times by Elfriede Jelinek( 1990 ). Rebecca( bookseller) recommends: I just finished reading Wonderful Wonderful Times by Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, and was totally preoccupied the whole way through. The story focuses on four adolescents in Vienna who have no respect for authority and perpetrate violent crimes just because they can. Read it for the write: harsh, direct, and dark, graceful and lyrical.