George OrwellIt is the clich√© that most makes me grind my teeth. Seventy years after George Orwell attempted to eradicate cheap litotes with the sentence “a not unsmall dog chased a not unfrightened rabbit across a not ungreen field”, “It is…. that” makes me fall to my knees, sobbing Oh God!! NOOOO! WHY!!!!

From Prospect magazine: “It is Joanna Scanlan, as Catherine Dickens, who almost wordlessly conveys the true cruelties of Love”. “It is…who” adds nothing here. I first noticed it in my own writing. It is a way of providing emphasis to the subject of the sentence by making it the object of the verb to be. The trouble is that (pause- no, I have narrowly avoided it) this is a cheap way of emphasising, requiring no thought or creativity, and so it becomes addictive then omnipresent.

Just like Orwell’s cheap litotes. St Paul was a citizen of “no mean city”- the greatest in the World at the time- which carries a hint of menace, something to savour when you work it out. “Not un-” can be stuck in before any adjective.

File:Tolstoy, from Gallica.jpgI have hated the word “almost” since an adjudicator called my teenage performance of the Chopin C minor prelude “almost breathtaking”, offering me praise then snatching it away from under my nose. Either it is breathtaking or it is not. Prospect narrowly avoids that: one can indeed be almost wordless.

Listening in my mind to the rhythms of my sentences, I think of where to put the full stop, and where I can carry on the melody with a colon: for a colon inflects up, and a full stop irrevocably down. Too many colons: eg, here, ruin the effect. Psalms say the same thing twice, separated in English by a colon: saying it the second time, as lawyers often do, gets the idea over to more limited minds. One author I used to like made sentences longer than a page by making lists of clauses separated by semicolons. One Michael Moorcock novel had only one-clause sentences. They illustrated the closed-mindedness of the first-person narrator. It is tedious after a time.

“It is that,” agrees the Yorkshireman.

What clichés in writing set your teeth on edge?

Looking for an illustration- should I really use Orwell?- I started reading Clive James. He writes, Any successful style is a spell whose first victim is the wizard. Perhaps writers are better with our infelicities jerking you out of your mindless absorbing, so that readers question rather than idolise. But I could hardly wish that for myself.

Faith in meeting

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Avenue_bij_ArlesAt its best, the Quaker business method enables human beings to set aside our egos and desires for the good of all, and to choose that Good. Sometimes it is dialectic: from thesis and antithesis comes synthesis, something better, revealed in the Meeting. I feel this is so difficult that it needs religious belief: while Respect for Reality, and Trust, might get us there, Reverence for God, and Faith, help me to set aside my ego.

And I have repeatedly seen it go wrong, traumatising people. In one group we could feel community until we tried to accomplish tasks together. I came back from Thailand, where I had my vaginaplasty, and M emailed the group- “Ah, Clare. Welcome back- what’s left of you.” I have not forgiven him. I do not want to see him, and I wish him ill. And a group of people whom I had thought mostly decent cannot bear the presence of my friend, and exclude her despite the efforts of many “weighty” Quakers, over years, to reconcile them.

What am I to say of R leaving in September? He thought the Society he had sojourned with for decades was turning away from Christianity to such an extent that he no longer felt comfortable with us. Or, as it seemed to me, he did not trust (have faith in) our business method, so that he had to control our meetings. He misunderstood so much I call him delusional and when others blocked him, he walked out. The trouble is that I don’t have that faith either: rather than humans emptying ourselves of Self for the good of Community together, I see egos tiptoeing round each other to minimise confrontation.

But some decisions seem to evince a conservative clinging to the familiar.

Oh, faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen? Not for me, taking the step forward which must be taken now, though I have no certainty of the end I seek. Part of why I am unemployed is that I have little faith in myself or in my apparently atomised society.

Yet it can work. As the clerk, my role in recording the decision gives me power to influence it, and the duty to take that decision from the words of Friends present, with at least acquiescence. I thought I should not influence, just be a clear glass through which the decision of Friends is seen, then I realised how much I wanted particular decisions. I see the uncertainty and fear and Will to Good of my fallible Friends, and have faith that it will be alright- until it isn’t.

Be not too curious of Good and Evil;
Seek not to count the future waves of Time;
But be ye satisfied that you have light
Enough to take your step and find your foothold.

Charles Carter finds a strong, sure faith an overrated virtue. Given the complexities of life, it is a comfort blanket, not a valid protection in the time of trial.

The faith of an atheist

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Avenue_bij_ArlesThe problem with the term “faith communities” meaning religious groups is that it implies that secular humanitarian groups like CND or Save the Children are faithless. Faith is not limited to the religious.

And disdain for faith, an anti-theist contempt conflating it with asserting unprovable things like the Flood or creation in six days, is new too, for our language is full of faith: “In good faith”; “a leap of faith”. That faith is something between irrational wishful thinking and something I know definitely from my personal experience. I do not know that everything will be alright, but have faith in myself, my world and other human beings. Faith is different from belief, but closer to “believe in” than “believe that”. I believe when I have proof, but I have faith when I trust.

This faith is practised and tested. I imagine how people will react, from my past experience, and new reactions form part of the evidence for the future. It is separate from dogma, because it is my understanding which I develop, partly from what others tell me, partly from my experience. The humanist might even use the word “God” to mean the traditional attributes of God: because human Love can be an overwhelming force. So God moves from literalism to symbolism and metaphor: mercy pity peace and love in action, the promptings of love and truth in our hearts which can come from an evolved human impulse as a social animal, rather than a personal God who numbers every hair on my head and prompts me and others to act well. God is a symbol of those values, not a supernatural entity which moves us unworthy souls to Good.

I have faith that my constructive actions will bear fruit, and the human society I rely upon will act well. This is belief in things unseen.

This is heavily reliant on David Boulton, whom I have seen speaking at a Sea of Faith conference and a Quaker meeting. It comes from his talk at the Quaker Council for Christian and Interfaith Relations. It seems special pleading to me, an attempt to take religious concepts without religion. But Ian quoted Charles Carter on Sunday, and Sabina happened to have his book from 1971, “On having a sense of all conditions”, so I am reading that. Carter distinguished religious assumptions, things one cannot know, such that God who inspires ministry is the all-powerful creator of the universe, from what he knows from his experience, such as that God is a source of strength urging him towards the Good- which he also knows because those words resonate with the experience of others. Carter had, in world war two, experience of the power of evil.

From this he seeks sensitivity to the condition of each other human being, to reach out with consolation in their distress, and find friendship and consolation from them.

Atheist Quakers

The ladder of divine ascent, detailBenjamin Wood, with copious Biblical quotation, argues Theists should accept atheists into the Religious Society of Friends.

From an atheist perspective, I might argue that Quakers being religious at all is a historical accident. The Quaker practice and process works. It is a matter of individual experience: “This I knew experimentally”, (sometimes modernised to “experientially”); “What canst thou say?” It was found by religious people, who used religious language to explain it; and religious beliefs sustain it, because it requires reverence to work- but that reverence can be for The All, or for humanity and human flourishing, rather than “God”. Other language can explain it, though uncertainty has value as we grow in understanding by leaving behind old words- in fact this is the Christian idea of kerygma, teaching, leading to dogma, understanding, showing that religious language can describe generalisable human ideas. Faith and reverence, or trust and respect: the former words feel stronger to me, still being religious, but the latter may serve.

From a strongly theist perspective, I distrusted non-theists until a Friend said “It is not a question of why people like that would want to join Quakers, but why they would stay”. Yes. I wanted her to stay. I got irritated when they pretended to Spiritual Maturity- when you are as wise as I am, you will be non-theist too- but rubbed along.

Wood considers Pentecost. The author of Luke-Acts- “Luke” is as good a name as any- writes of the increasing community of faith, with Jews but also the Magi and the faithful centurion, and at Pentecost “Parthians, Medes and Elamites” hear God in their own language. Quakers extended this: George Fox said “Christ has enlightened every man…he hath enlightened the Turks, Jews and Moors”. Therefore for Wood, the Holy Spirit of God speaks through non-theist Friends. This idea is in the Old Testament too. God’s teaching cannot be obstructed by the absence of the Bible. We theists have to be receptive to it, and our Reverence helps our receptivity. We seek to be “Open to new light” from wherever it may come.

Wood says non-theism can save us from idolatry and fundamentalism. The uncritical worship of ideas or created things rather than reality leads to the sacrifice of Iphegenia and of gay people who are subjected to worthless traditional rules. So the non-theist leads us to God, the Ground of Being Who cannot be contained in our words. Our Christianity is not a doctrine but a way of life. At absolute worst, the non-theist is wrong in an interesting way, helping us see more clearly because s/he challenges us.

We grow together in conversation, in encountering other human beings as themselves not in the labels “theist”/”non-theist”. When I see a person not a label I can see the Spirit and Light in her. And my words and concepts must inform my way of life, authentically, or they are worthless.

Homophobia II

>Some people get steamed up about the word homophobia. They are not afraid of LGBT, they say. Well, OK, perhaps they are not. As a matter of tactics, we could stop using the word. There are others, after all. What about-

Prejudice. Our opponents have come to a position on us without knowing us. They have prejudged. They might have less wiggle-room to challenge the word “prejudice” than “homophobia”.

Lack of empathy. Not everyone feels disgust about the same thing, and so saying “That’s disgusting” rather than “I find that disgusting” betrays a lack of imagination. If you find two people holding hands disgusting rather than lovely or sweet, that says more about you than about them.

Meanness. You want your relationships recognised and privileged by the State, but not those of other folks. This is mean-spirited.

Judgmental. If you think gay lovemaking is a sin, don’t do it yourself. Don’t tell other people how they should live their lives.

Obsessive. There are blogs by straight people entirely devoted to the issue of LGBT rights- arguing LGBT rights are a bad thing. Don’t you have anything else to worry about? And if you find gay lovemaking disgusting, stop thinking about it. All sex is more or less weird. Or, complete loss of the sense of proportion: here is a bizarre fellow in a pink waistcoat who imagines that a candidate saying “homosexuality is normal” is, by itself, a reason not to vote for her.


The problem is that “homophobia” is a word recognised by a majority of the population, but resented by a minority: some even call it a slur. So, if someone gets unduly het up, and denies feeling fear, the solution is simple: there are plenty of good simple descriptive words to apply to them. Tell them they fall below the standard expected of civilised human beings.

I got the idea for this post from Joshua R Ziefle, who asked for alternatives. Vera’s comment there illustrates the point perfectly: she is not fearful, she says, she “disagrees” with the “homosexual lifestyle”, as if there were only one. Fearful or not, she is certainly prejudiced. I suggested the new coinage antihomo√Įsm- from which I get antihomo√Įc, antihomote- but it is unnecessary.

Quiet, please

File:Syhem Angel.jpgI am not sure how we got on to murder- but all the ideas came from me.

I went into the library, and got chatting to the librarian. I wanted to ask her what quote she had tattooed on her arm. She rolled up her sleeve to show me, “because I don’t read it every day”. It is about how we are surrounded by angels, who support us, and we should practise awareness of them.

-It’s unprofessional to talk about myself. (Oh, what could the next word possibly be? Nothing other than) But-

The tattoos are the history of her life with her husband, ending with a butterfly, her pupation and leaving him. I congratulated her. He was a little scrote, she says, packing great malice into the word. She has been reading the detective fiction in order to get ideas.

-There was painting poison onto a stamp, so that when she licked it, she would die.
-Oh yes, I saw that. Murder in Paradise. I like that, it’s terribly British, isn’t it: fluffy, unserious, always a happy ending. But stamps are self-sticking.

In The Name of the Rose, a monk was murdered by painting poison on his manuscript. As he turned the pages, licking his finger to stick to the corner, he took it in.

-Now all I have to do is poison all the motorbike magazines in the hopes he will buy one.

File:Syang.jpgYou could steal a car, knock him off his scooter, then burn the car out. She likes this idea.

-There are people I would like to imprison in a disused nuclear bunker with a plentiful supply of bottled water to drink, and lots of sharp knives. I would have painted on the wall, “If you kill someone you will have something to eat”, and I would switch the lights on and off randomly.

-You’ve thought a lot about this, haven’t you?

-Well, it doesn’t take much to think that up. How do you feel when you kill a spider? You probably couldn’t do it.

-I don’t mind spiders, they don’t do me any harm. They kill flies. I hate flies, I kill them.

Her brother got the huge row for getting a tattoo, so when she got her first her mother was almost reconciled to the idea. They are all over her now. Her mother was a biker-chick, though: she has seen the photos of her mother in leathers. She remembers her grandmother, with a blue rinse, telling her off for dying her hair that colour, and she thought, oh, you can talk. Her sons are learning to drink, but are far less trouble than she was.

In other news: I had a serious WTF moment reading this blogger. He says Christianss are not obsessed with gays, and is bewildered by questions about homosexuality when he has been talking of “the state of marriage”. It is society that is obsessed: Activists want to change the definition of marriage, and they want to require Christian¬†photographers¬†and florists¬†to service homosexual weddings. He presumably thinks that of all Worldly, Atheistical people, gays are the unique evildoers whom Christians should refuse to serve. Go, if you like writers who miss the point, and savour his befuddled, injured innocence.

The process of transition

What a job, eh? Dreaming up new ways to make babies cry, making lots of babies cry to prove it works, and then writing about it?

WisteriaThe mother interacts, and the baby learns. Then the mother stops interacting, just giving a blank stare. The baby tries everything to get the mother to respond, and within a minute is crying helplessly.

Well, I don’t know about all of you-
both of you?
but possibly that is what I am doing here. All those facebook likes and comments make me feel happy, and when page-views and comments  here go up then I feel happier: which is fine until they go down. I got the video from Monkeytraps, and while I can see that a husband withdrawing communication would upset a wife, it bothers me that I might feel the same way towards a screen. Before thinking this, I found the baby video extremely disturbing, even though I realised that this is a useful lesson about babies, and people generally.

I threw my wobbly on Saturday, then felt a bit fragile on Sunday. E drove me to —- for Area Meeting. How are you? I feel fragile, and I want to say why, then I want to go over diverse causes for my wobbly because I feel the need to justify to my inner critic just why I felt that bad. Um, no- focus on the positive. I am not sure about AM. I don’t trust the process, and I don’t trust the people, after it went so spectacularly wrong in September that here, where I let it all hang out, I haven’t written about it. So Ian’s reading for AM was what I needed: QFP 26:39. True faith is not assurance, but the readiness to go forward experimentally, without assurance. It is a sensitivity to things not yet known.

Ruth asked me, How are you? How’s the job search going? It’s been nearly three years, hasn’t it? Shouldn’t you be signing on at the jobcentre? When I say that I told them what my psychiatrist and endocrinologist were doing, and they let me not, she said, mockingly, “So you’re a full time clerk?” Later, she challenged me about writing parts of the minutes in bold type, and I am unsure what she sees wrong in what I am doing. Gillian told me how well I was clerking, and I said I know that, and- it is good to hear it from another. And- clerking a light meeting, 1¬Ĺ hours, tired me.

Getting out of the car in —- (this post is not chronological, but all over the place) I noticed the fading and stained wood and plaster decoration at the tops of the terraced houses, and thought how beautiful it was; and then I was Present and sensitised, looking at the gloriously green moss on the porch tiles, damaging the house yet beautiful. It seemed that to be this sensitive is to be fully alive, and I could not be so without the downers, like the day before.

Oh, and I found this picture on facebook. It makes sense, actually.

The process of transition

Good news

Bishop says something sensible, shock! Unfortunately I can only find out about it from people who think this is bad news. They tell me Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier says it is no longer tenable to think sex before marriage a grave sin, or a new marriage after divorce a permanent mortal sin, or homosexuality unnatural, and if birth control by the rhythm method is OK then artificial contraception should be OK too.

My first source is in translation. It produces that irrelevant quote from Romans as if Romans was criticising gays, rather than those who fixate on the “sins” of others. Then fuckwits with names like in caelo et in terra (in Heaven and on Earth) or Suscipe domine (Have mercy on us O Lord) say how they disagree with the quoted comments, and it’s the end of the Church as God knew it.

Um. Googling only shows blogs commenting on these sayings, and Wikipedia calls the bishop a “vigorous” spokesman for the Roman church. His motto is in lumine tuo, Domine¬†(In thy light, O Lord) and he seems unlikely to say anything so sensible. The oldest report in English is apparently The Eponymous Flower, a surely computer-generated translation of that German site.

In caelo says that the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage is an eternal, central truth of his Faith; homosexuality is unnatural- blah, blah, blah. He too uses that German source.

You know, I started this post thinking the bishop had actually said those things, but if he had surely Die Zeit would have reported it. Free Republic– fruitcakes and eejits- calls for his excommunication on the slender evidence of The Eponymous Flower. Suscipe Domine, on the same evidence, says the Bishop is no longer Catholic. Other fuckwits say the world is ending.

From my Google (it might be different if I spoke German) the first article from a fact-checking reputable source is the Chicago Tribune, about another matter, from which one cannot judge the level of the bishop’s conservatism.

So, no good news: just the paranoid fears of a load of conservative Catholics. Their fear perhaps shows that they know they and their church cannot resist the truth indefinitely. And a terrible warning: however obvious it is that you should not believe all you read on the Net, people still do.

Added: actually, possibly he would say something so sane. Here is the Catholic Herald: Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier told the Trierischen Volksfreund daily that the sacraments offered a ‚Äúchance for reconciliation and a new beginning.‚ÄĚ He said the Church needed a ‚Äúmore intense and honest account of the concrete reality facing many couples and families‚ÄĚ. Not all of it, though.


Oh wow. I have ego on my face. Here is Die Zeit. The bishop appears to be talking slightly more of presentation and of the gap between German Catholics’ beliefs and teaching, but he is saying sensible things. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) says the bishop calls for a change in substance.¬† Thanks to Fr. Stephan Hippler.

You have nothing to fear

HMRCOpen this fucking door, Now. If you don’t open this door I’ll fucking kick it in.

Well, I am glad it’s not my door, and glad it’s a woman’s voice as women tend to be less physically strong. A wronged lover? Shouting from outside, then from inside, recurred for about an hour. Next day, I saw my neighbour’s mother. “I don’t want to pry,” I lied. Well, I don’t just want to pry. “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.” Her daughter Steph had been drinking for a couple of days, so they have taken her home for a bit. The mother was just there to pick up a few bits.

van Gogh- The Mulberry Tree, detailThere’s a large dark bill board to walk past on my way to the Meeting house, from HM Revenue and Customs, in the same series as the one illustrated: just one eye, peering over something. The fact that the eye is female, young and attractive makes it more spooky. “If you’ve declared all your income you have nothing to fear.” If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear is an authoritarian lie, since snoopers can see wrong in anything: the Revenue investigation of my brother-in-law found ¬£7.43 in unpaid tax, but cost him ¬£1000 in accountants’ fees, in about 1990. 600px-Radiation_warning_symbol.svg

In the dentist, all the surgery doors have radiation warning symbols, and the dentist gave me a radioactive source to take into my mouth. I saw the x-ray on his monitor, and wondered if they have found a new way of exploiting NHS payment regulations. He sold me yet another new design of tool to stick between my teeth and remove plaque, told me my gums were receding and inflamed, and arranged to see me again in six months. I went off clothes shopping, and found Dottie P. had closed, and the tiny Clarks’ shop stock seemed much poorer than usual: well, there are always the charity shops.

(Are flat brogues in, this season? My suspicion is that the Swanston Clarks’ has last year’s styles at full price.)

Quaker stuff. We decided to nominate M to Outreach Committee. He has enthusiasm and ideas, not all of which will work out, I think. He went to his first meeting, and wants to share his ideas with the Area Meeting Clerk (me) by email, as well as the committee. He phoned me to say that they seemed a little lacking in conviction. The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ are full of passionate intensity, I quoted. I did not say to him you have to sort it out among yourselves. I can’t get involved. Crikey, though unemployed I have a management problem. Then I got worked up about saying that to him but in such an indirect manner. Should I phone him back? Should I put it in an email? I want everything to be nice and everyone happy and working together and what if-

msc1aThen there was the Facebook at 10 film, which includes this photo, which shames me. Comment from U., feeling honoured to be in your review x, which wound me up far more because it still winds me up. I was pacing the floor, screaming, they could probably give me something to calm me down and I could get a job in Tesco, but I would rather be devoting all my gifts and intelligence to FINDING A WAY THROUGH THIS-

and F can scream, and be taken home and looked after

I want to scream and for someone, anyone, just to hear me.

Writing later: I threw a wobbly. I do that. I get that I cannot trust myself, my perceptions or my world, and this destabilises me. Five hours later I feel more stable if a bit fragile.

All the love here

Cadmus Harmonia Evelyn de MorganI never expected the letter. I thought it would say the opposite. With four pages of tedious verbiage, starting with skirting round the issue, I had to go over it a few times before I realised. Then I paced the floor and babbled for a bit, looking back and forward. Then in the evening, meditating, I had to check the letter again- it could not say that, could it?

But- an extra ¬£28 a week does not mean that I get an extra ¬£28 a week. Down comes the once-so-familiar Welfare Benefits Handbook. Mmm. On last year’s rules, my housing benefit personal allowance would rise by the same amount. So I would keep it. But then, on last year’s rules, I would have got housing benefit for my whole rent for nine months before it reduced to the “Local Housing Allowance,” rather than three months as this year. That is, the benefit changes this year reduced my benefits by ¬£500. Might they also have taken away that ¬£28 a week?

At meeting, Liz ministered about missing Terry, and how here in the Meeting house there is so much love and care. It seemed to me that there is so much love, and that, as if I had a chlorophyll deficiency, I am unable to feel it properly. I am like a cur expecting a kick: I get good news, and I think of ways in which it is not good. I get to keep ESA. I told ATOS about the psychiatrist, and the endocrinologist, and what they are doing, and I got to keep ESA. I hope that means I have more money. I will check. Rather than thinking of the possibilities this opens for me, I think of ways in which it could be not good news really.

I need to be more open to the even breaks. Liz was one of two women who taught me that: I need a lot of practice.

When my housing benefit went down, I really should have moved into Swanston. Services would be in more easy reach, and I could get a flat closer to the amount housing benefit would pay. My flat would not be as lovely, nor in such a lovely location, but the course of action is clear and obvious. Snakes 2Rather than doing the sensible thing, I hunkered down, trying to live on £50 a week, rarely putting the heating on, and mostly not thinking about when I would be obviously found fit for work and have to sign on and get benefit sanctioned and not get any money and

you get the idea.

This is really good, though I will still check that I do get to keep the £28.