Stating the Problem

Frederic Leighton The Countess BrownlowI am not at rock bottom. It seems to me that my life could be worse. My dissatisfaction is not yet greater than my non-specific anxiety. What holds me back? I want to state the problem so I might have some idea how to change.

I am a victim. It is not (all) my fault that I am here. And, it is for me to deal with the situation now. I think I am just about over I must be bad, because I am like this. The self-acceptance seems to be working.

Motivation and emotional lability seem to be problems.

In Doctor Who (The Bells of St John) the chief human slave could call up her fellow slaves on her tablet, and adjust their qualities- intelligence, empathy, whatever- with a slider. Hormones don’t seem to work that way: Dr Lorimer suggested testosterone for motivation, adjusting oestrogen for lability, but I don’t think it is that simple, though I remain open to suggestions from the endocrinologist. Cognitive behavioural solutions seem more likely. Initially, I put my increase in lability down to being taken off oestrogen, but actually I was pretty labile before then. The main issue with my emotional reactions seems to be that I fear them. I anticipate getting angry and frightened, which I anticipate will make me react impulsively, show my feelings, and look foolish. Or I feel that my anger and fear will be so unpleasant at the time and in retrospect that I need to avoid them. I want to control my feelings rather than external events.

It seems that fearing the feeling makes it far worse. If I could accept the feeling, it would be less painful. I felt intensely angry with my printer and the various websites when I could not print off a useful score for All Things Bright and Beautiful on Friday. In the end, I photocopied a book, which was not the solution I had wanted, though it was adequate. Accepting the adequate could be useful. Situations where I feel clearly, such as meditation, might be worth practising. Situations where I feel fear and do it anyway would be great if they come off: I need help deciding what such situations might be good for practising this.

I have written over a thousand posts here. My living room is untidy, and I am not looking for work. Mostly, I can go out to get food, or to London for particular purposes, so I am motivated for some actions which I think I will enjoy or will improve my situation, not for others, which I feel will not. It might be worthwhile thinking through what could be good to try, and what stops me.

I feel this analysis, trying to put it into words for you, is useful even if no-one reads to the end (please Like or comment if you do). I will now discuss it with my counsellor, and see what good that does.

John Anster Fitzgerald, the artist's dream

613 commandments

File:Rembrandt - Moses with the Ten Commandments - Google Art Project.jpgThe books of the Law, the first five books of the Bible, contain about 613 commandments which are for all God’s people, for an indefinite period. They do not form a code of laws sufficiently complete for community life, and this is a problem, because it is an offence to add to or take away from the Torah.

The editor was not writing at the time of Moses: Deuteronomy 17 permits the Israelites to take a king, but 1 Samuel 8 shows the dangers of abandoning Communism.

They show signs of learning as you go along, rather than once for all revelation: If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, 12 you shall cut off her hand. This is a precedent, not legislation. It is unclear what to do if she hits him with a tool or a rock.

There is no criminal law against assault- of course men will fight- though you shall not shame a man might count. Now, we differentiate between civil liability to the victim, and criminal liability to the State or community, but it is not clear that they did. That the wrongdoer suffers some loss is the most important thing. Punishment is not always specified: loss of reputation, where the community knows that a member has breached the law, may be sufficient.

Philippe de Champaigne: Moses with the Ten CommandmentsI love the rule You may not withhold your help. This is an interdependent community, and when one is in trouble the others must rally round, that they may all survive and prosper. It comes in a miscellaneous section including my law, and you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have blood-guilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.

Where damages are ordered, it is for a specific case: When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, 19 but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery. Shortly after comes the lex talionis: If any harm follows [a fight], then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. We differentiate intentional, reckless, and negligent injury, and also an injury justified by, for example, being in self-defence or the course of duty. This law only differentiates premeditated killing and death by “act of God”.

Ordering them involves judgment- as does differentiating them: not to delay payment to a hired man, and to pay the hired man’s wages at the due time, are separate commandments in the version I used, Jewfaq (found through the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible). See also Wikipedia. I have no suggestion as to what benefit might come from them being in the order that comes down to us.

Simplicity

John Woolman“Simplicity” is one of the Quaker testimonies, along with Peace, Equality/Justice, and Truth. I don’t know what it means.

It’s all very well in the 17th century, wearing hard wearing grey clothes without adornment; what else? I don’t know what it adds to Peace, Equality and Truth, and if it does, whether that is good. My eye-makeup is not “simple”, but I want to look good, and there is nothing wrong with that, surely. I have seen women going out without foundation as a dare, and being terrified and mortified, but I am not like that. Looking good is part of self-respect and a sign of health.

When I asked friends what it was, they started with the words “Not, er…”

Some say having a car is not “simple” in the 17th century sense, yet I imagine Cadburys, Frys and Rowntrees in their carriages, using them to get somewhere for a useful purpose. So the car is practical, for use not ornament. It might be expensive to prove a point: there were a lot of Quakers in Priuses, not a particularly Green car in itself but developing green technology.

Joseph_John_GurneyIt is- not– complex. What you see is what you get. Here it shades into the testimony to Truth, but these are not discrete dogmas but ways of approaching the God-filled life, words which lead us on.

I was thinking of a devil’s advocate article- we do not do it any more, why mouth the word?- when in Meeting it was vouchsafed to me What does Love require of you?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1c/Elizabeth_Fry_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie.jpg/361px-Elizabeth_Fry_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie.jpgMy life is not particularly Simple. It is not virtuous not to have a car, if I am not earning the money to afford one. In Quaker Faith and Practice I find there is a Way of Life that does not depend on the abundance of the things possessed, and I can see that Acceptance is a virtue, though drive and ambition are virtues too. As with the make-up and adornments, it seems that there is more than one virtuous Way, and arguments for the rightness of something which is clearly not Quaker-Simple. There are wrongful and oppressive ways of pursuing ambition, and our Simplicity may be a way of avoiding such temptation completely, relying on other virtues to protect us from hebetude.

John Woolman travelled steerage to England because of the decoration in the more expensive cabins. Might my taste for luxury draw me by insensible degrees into worse vices? I feel my language getting Victorian, because this way of thinking about what is Right is alien to me, and I grope for ways into it.

————–

Every time I reach an understanding, every time I learn something new, I beat myself up for not getting it before. I must celebrate all clarity: it is a sign of my intelligence and value, not the opposite.

Religious, but not spiritual?

George Elgar Hicks a cloud with a silver liningWhat is the point of religion? So much seems to ride on belief- the Great Schism over the filioque clause, or the precise meaning of being “born again”. If you find yourself unable to believe in a teapot orbiting Jupiter, or a God who created the World, should you really leave the Church? If your answer is yes, then the Church is not doing its job.

All those who are “Spiritual, but not religious” have something valuable. They have feelings telling truth which they cannot quite put into words. They have experiences of Oneness with Reality, Awareness and Presence, or whatever- each is a lovely experience, you will know when you have it. It helps to have these with other people, and that is where Religion comes in.

Religion is what we do together: we go to church, we have coffee after, we have discussion groups and committee meetings. Religion is not dogma, but practice. Religion builds community. I have met my best friends in churches.

Then there is Dogma. Do not reject it, just because you do not believe it. You might not believe in a Virgin Birth, but think for a moment on

In the dark street shineth
The everlasting Light

The unexplained and beautiful is my experience. If you would not call it a miracle, call it a Synchronicity. Yes, I know, human beings look for patterns where none is, undeserved Bad as well as Good happens, and miracles are a thing. Myths would not exist if they were not true.

Spirituality, Religion, Dogma, these three- link human beings together in awe of something greater than ourselves. They are vitiated by human striving for power. They can make us equal adults working together as in the Religious Society of Friends, or they can be exploited to give one person power over another. The priest can be servant of the congregation, or its ruler. Jesus said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Then, Jesus told us to call no person father, rabbi or instructor, for God is that for us. The Kingdom of God is within us. We are right to reject power, but wrong to reject community and truth in religion, spirituality and dogma.

The Remnant

[M]ost people who accept homosexuality (actually all, in my experience) do not have a high view of Scripture or the deity of Jesus.

The reason PSPruett goes on and on about homosexuality is not that he hates poofs. It is that he has-

-what was that, Pruett?God angry

 
"a high view of Scripture or the deity of Jesus".

I am glad that he does not claim to have “experience” of me. Really, Pruett? So you would behave morally, would you, and not be beastly to people who have done you no harm, were it not for your high view of Scripture? There are so few Christians left, Pruett, it really must be the End Times, because they are all falling away, all in danger of Hell, all (whisper it) accepting homosexuality. No-one accepts Scripture or believes in the Deity of Jesus any more.

Pruett, though, has to stand up for God (unless he thinks God stands up for Himself, by sending all those floods and storms). No belief in the Deity of Jesus, no Christian goodness, no self-sacrificing attempt to follow Jesus, is worth a damn unless you echo Pruett’s homophobia. Even The Pope is no longer a Christian, though he may be a Catholic.

OK, Pruett, you and the Bigot can enjoy your mutual appreciation society, while the church (following God) leaves you behind. Bye.

Here is an Italian bishop open to the arguments in favour of homosexuality.

Bird, flower, tree

It was not a completely wasted weekend.

bird 1 bird 2

bird 3We went to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens, where there is a hide by a few bird feeders, and I snapped away. I don’t know a tit from a finch, but they are pretty. After I cracked my line that “bird, flower, tree” is usually specific enough for me, C. made remarks like “Isn’t that buddleia pretty”. Um, I think I may have heard the word buddleia. She added to my irritation by taking great pains over inane photos of blooms, when she had sabotaged my requested photo for a facebook profile. I have a new wig, you see. flower 1

Oh fuck. Am I moaning? I’m not boring you am I?

Onywye. We went to Betty’s, originally of Harrogate, for tea. “I couldn’t eat here every day, but it is so lovely to take tea at Betty’s occasionally”, C. simpered. The purpose of conversation to say things with which everyone will agree so as to draw us together rather fails when what you say is Crap! It’s a fucking tea room! I’ve been trailing round with fucking Hinge or bloody Bracket incessantly screeching “My gender dysphoria is in the PAST!!!”

flower 2We went to the Quaker meeting at Pontefract, where C. actually shut up for a moment, I contemplated the beauty of their wooden table and the five children. A girl aged about one made strenuous efforts to stand. She did not take a step, and she swayed quite a bit, and getting her leg under her was a struggle and she needed some support to get up, but watching her make this single-hearted effort to improve her life was beautiful. I chatted to Quakers over coffee, and enjoyed that. I like them. I like the meeting house.

Then we went to the Outlet, and I got a frock for the wedding; and I could leave any shop C happened to be in.

We went to her country dance club on the Friday night, where about 26 dancers bodged our way through the dances. I get less pedantic about these things.

The food and the outings were pleasant enough, but she had no real interest in my concerns, or even my responses to hers. We drove through a village with a police box. As a mad keen Doctor Who fan, I would really really like a photo with that, but she ignored me. She wanted to tell me The Truth for some reason. The conversation was almost entirely tedious and horrible. I imagine her quietly satisfied.

Wedding

The Political is personal.

I have just come back from a wedding reception. We had about eighty people in the Quaker meeting house, for our first wedding in Northamptonshire AM in twelve years. People from all the meetings in the area joined us, and friends of the couple from as far off as Germany, and we sat in the profound silence of the Holy Spirit and in deep joy as we celebrated our friends’ love. Then this evening we danced together, part of the time to a ceilidh band, part of the time to a disco.

Some think that this is a betrayal of Scripture, or God, or true religion; I wish they could see the joy we shared this afternoon as we worshipped together, and this evening as we danced together. That two women can join in this way before God and according to secular law is in part thanks to Quakers. This ceremony liberates me.

Love never fails.

On a completely different note:

A weekend away

squirrel climbing downYou might think this post ungrateful and mean-spirited. I have been away for the weekend, staying in someone’s house, and this is how I repay her? However, as I have spent that time listening to her tedious, self-satisfied, ridiculous and/or commonplace ramblings, I feel she is the one beholden, to me.

C. and I have some similarities. We both were brought up Anglican and Tory and have become Quaker and Liberal, and we both have transitioned. I find her rather a bore, when she phones up for an hour at a time, but she was slightly less dull in the flesh, so when she invited me to Yorkshire I thought I might as well go. I have little better to do.

She has a great regard for her sense of humour, which consists of deliberate misinterpretation and malapropism: this morning when she mispronounced “possibility” as “pissibolity” for the umpteenth time, I said that it was probably her cleverest witticism. This drew a hurt denial. She remarked that she had meant to fill the bird-bath.
-How do you fill it? (An inane enough question, but sincerely meant at the time.)
-With water, she replied, triumphantly.

She looked after me well enough, with a comfortable bed, reasonable food and a gift of a jar of home-made marmalade. Each meal she produced, she told me how she likes simple food, well prepared. She insisted I wore my wig at all times outside the bedroom: when our mutual friend O. visited, C saw her with her wig off, with just a few wisps of hair round the side of the head. It ruined the “illusion”. Worse, she told me at least once a day how her own hair had grown thicker, and returned to formerly bald areas, after she started using Evorel oestrogen patches. Yes, I am really happy for you. No, my own hair-loss is too far gone for me to hope ever not to need a wig if I want to look remotely female, I said the first couple of times, then yes no or um when she paused, as if encouraging her to proceed; and finally I was silent when she started on that one. She paused for my prompt, and when I did not make “go on” noises looked puzzled for a moment then ploughed on regardless.

bird, flower, treeYesterday we went to York, where she took meretricious photos of the Minster. Finding a couple with a guide-book at one of the “bars”, or openings in the wall (I would say “gate” but a “gate” is a road) she screeched “Are you lost?” and prosed at them: I felt embarrassment I have not felt since I was a teenager with my parents. We walked round the wall, a dull enough entertainment, it is a raised stone path between warehouse shops on one side, and 1950s tenements on the other. I went ahead while she took photographs, then sat on a bench by the river to let her catch up, blissfully relieved of the burden of her presence. Then she arrived, and treated me to a precise inventory of the ailments which prevent her from walking faster.

I say I am a man, or whatever- I don’t really know, it doesn’t really matter- but she insists she is a Woman with a Gender Dysphoric History. Her “trans” nature is in the Past. She went on at great length on this.

“Do you see yourself as ever working again?” she asked. “I have absolutely no idea,” I replied. Fortunately for her, this headed her off from either condoling or preaching further.

I should give her a shop window dummy to talk at. She did not want me to tell her anything more than it would, and perhaps she would then not need to inflict her hospitality on anyone else.

Writing a book

StandpointHow to start a conversation? The man had The New Statesman and Standpoint on the table, so I remarked “Something to irritate everyone”. Well, what do you read? Prospect and The Spectator, actually, so something the same. He is rarely home, so when he comes he reads as much as he can, to see how things are. Now, he is in Bangkok.

I find Standpoint pointlessly nasty, a lot of the time, so I have given up on it, but it did have the most beautiful photograph of a derelict factory I have ever seen: regular breaks in the ceiling receded into the distance, and puddles of oily water on the floor created an abstract of light, shade and reflection. Devoting a whole page to a single picture like that was the one way Standpoint inspired other magazines here.

There is a lot of English used in Bangkok, and he has made almost no progress with the language. Thai has its own unique alphabet, and he has not learned it. He has made much more progress with Vietnamese, which uses the Latin alphabet. I feel the same way: it is much easier to learn a language with the words written as an aid. Mobile coverage is much better there: ten miles out at sea you can get a signal, and here he loses it in rural Northants.

The Army has just declared martial law, without consulting the government. The political situation is extremely complex. The article in The Economist was mostly correct, but some matters were completely misinterpreted. The same arguments go round every few years, and most of the differences are personality based. He makes much of his income from writing, and would find it easier writing a book, in some ways, than a one page article. I am not really aware of the situation in Thailand: I would need some angle to pique my interest- “This is a situation in which democracy can go wrong”, say, to relate it to Italy or Greece
-or, perhaps, the situation here, he agrees.

Well. One good conversation. The trip is not entirely wasted. We shook hands in mutual respect and pleasure, and he went off.

Coming back, the pretty South Asian woman was willing enough to talk, but we did not get beyond the weather. The Indian elections? The Euro elections? I cannot tell if she is of Muslim or Hindu heritage, and Modi is hero or monster, bringer of the Gujerat growth spurt or the anti-Muslim riots. We chatted a little about Candy Crush saga. When I left, I said “ta-ra, namaste or salaam aleikum” and she said “salaam aleikum” back.

In the platform coffee shop, a man showed me his hockey-sticks, and I admired how light they are. He had not heard of shinty, though he knew something of the gaelic games. He is left handed, but there are no left-handed sticks, and it is only allowed to use one side of the stick. The time passes.

Vote.

OurVoiceOurVote_logoTwo American professors in France could only vote at the Presidential election by making a four hour round trip. One was Republican, one Democrat, so they could have agreed not to vote, as their votes would cancel each other out; yet they made that trip together.

This helps me understand why voting is important: by voting, I honour those who have made it possible for me. The UK has not yet been a democracy for a century- a fifth of the adult population eligible to vote is no democracy- so it behoves me to vote, just as I would undertake jury duty. I participate in the national conversation.

It does not particularly matter if I get my vote correct. I care, and I want the best representatives, but if I get it wrong my mistake is corrected by my peers. It is a group responsibility, and I may rely on the group. Yet I should take my part in that group decision, as without my contribution it has less value.

In a state of apathy, where few vote, we may have poorer quality representatives, who feel less scrutinised. Yet I have heard that in the local council elections there is a reduction in the number and quality of candidates. Who wants to be elected to enforce the cuts ComeOutVoteLogo-300x293in spending imposed by central government? Not voting is a possible protest. Yet-

in voting I claim my part in my society.

I want you to vote, and I wish to persuade you by appealing to “honour” or “duty”- emotive words rather than reasoned. Arguably as your vote by itself makes almost no difference at all, there is no point in any particular person voting- yet, because if none of us voted we might lose the ability, it is beholden on us (yes, I know) to vote. It seems to me that votes for UKIP, the racist party which racists can kid themselves is not shameful, will do genuine harm, and yet democracy is a conversation and a process, and that harm will be corrected as people come to see it.

A benevolent dictator might be better than democracy, but as none has ever been found, democracy is the least worst option.