Possessions

Trilobite 1

trilobite 2When I was on holiday, my mother had the dog put down. Arthritis in her back leg made it difficult for her to stand up, though I would still like to have been told beforehand. But it might have affected me even more that when I was at University, my parents moved, and without telling me my mother took all the books I had left at home to a second-hand bookshop. I told Gregor, and he was shocked: “Sixty Doctor Who books! Sixty!” Gregor had got cable TV because it was showing old Doctor Who each night, had a notebook with the names of the actors writers and directors of each serial, and was busking to pay off his overdraft at £5 a time, never knowing where his next Doctor Who book was coming from.

One needs to practise with small losses.

What do your possessions say about you? I was proud of my hi-fi, a Mission amplifier and speakers, and Marantz CD player, and my TV, small and black-and-white, which all proclaimed that I am a cultured and educated person, at least in my own mind. That might be why I keep so many books. I am pleased to have read On Becoming a Person, it was life-changing, but I won’t read it through again, and I have not even dipped into it for years. On the other hand, a friend recognised its distinctive spine and we discussed it.

Through and through th’ inspir’d leaves,
Ye maggots, make your windings;
But O respect his lordship’s taste,
And spare his golden bindings!

But books do not need golden bindings to show off taste.

You might think this net-book my most treasured possession, the time I spend with it, but eventually I will replace it, and chuck it away happily. It is a tool. I value it for what it lets me do, rather than for the thing itself. Only a few books are tools. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is more reliable than the Internet, and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary-

-Ah.
There’s something I can prize in a possession, I who thought myself too practical, Roundhead, rational to relate emotionally to things, and at the same time too Spiritual to idolise them.

At £70 in the Nineties, it involved some sacrifice to get it. It is not beautiful exactly, but imposing on the bookshelf, two volumes 11¼x5¼”. It has had practical use at least monthly, hundreds of times since I bought it. And it does say something about me, to anyone who might find out something about me from looking at my bookshelves.

I am proud of my quirks, and have an 18th century edition of Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity, still the pre-eminent work of Quaker theology. I could not afford a 17th century edition. Rufus Jones’ histories, and my 19th century Books of Discipline, alongside recent Swarthmore Lectures, give a definite message to other Quakers. But generally, books are disposable. I value the experience of reading them, but afterwards there are others to read; the message a visitor gets from one s/he might get from another, and after, they are so much dead weight, to carry around if I move. Better to have an e-file.

There is the piano. I would not be without it, but do not play it much. However, what I value is the experience, not the object- if I look with pleasure on my bicycle in the hall it is because I imagine riding it.

I have mementoes. That picture of a camelSphinx by the Sphinx-

-will it scan? Yes. There it is. The colour is not right, and I did not take it out of its frame-

I remember where it hung, in my grandparent’s house, but it is not, usually, a madeleine for me. I do not find myself back, there, looking at it. Keeping it may be a way of honouring them, but perhaps it is more that throwing it away or selling it would dishonour them, or something. It is the same with my mother’s silver teapots. I have found out what EPNS stands for, but they were created to be valued. They have the look of something designed to be looked at, but I don’t quite get it, and I don’t keep them polished, they tarnish too quickly.

These family bonds are something to free myself of, at the same time as something to venerate. Something which matures in my mind as I mature, part of me which does not limit or define me. Those things, the symbols, relate to them somehow, and I need not know precisely how. The photograph from my parents’ wedding reception, though- as I journeyed from dependency to loathing and resentment of them, then back to Love, it was a tool for me, to see them at their brightest and happiest, and it touches me when I look at it.

There are other things, which have meant so much to me at one time, and after, not. The full-fed beast shall kick the empty pail. I went to see the psychiatrist in London, and bought a silver bangle. I was moving forward towards transition. This was something I wanted to symbolise and celebrate. That bangle became invested with all the meaning of my coming liberation. Then it got a bit battered, and vanished in a burglary. The symbol loses meaning when reality comes; it was a cup of water in a desert, and now I have high-pressure taps in a temperate land. I can invest a thing with meaning, then it has that meaning for me. Then I need that meaning less, and the echo of it dwindles, and I think Oh! Yes, that. But I could not throw away this old battered plastic key-fob, the first gift from my greatest friend.

Rublev Trinity: Angels at MamreI have things which I bought for their beauty. Those crystal wineglasses which I got in my first home make a wonderful rich sound if I flick them. I still get pleasure from them, though it has changed as I have changed. Beauty varies. I have a trilobite embedded in slate, 450m years old. I love the detail of its segments, but it symbolises for me three centuries of effort to wrest meaning from such perplexing stone, and 450m years of coincidence, that it still exists.

And I have a copy of Andrei Rublev’s Angels at Mamre. It is hand made with gold leaf on aged wood on Mount Athos, so it is a record of centuries of self-sacrifice and reverence. So I must treat it with respect. In a sense, though, it is just a thing, and if I no longer owned it for some reason it would be no great loss for me. That practice in loss has freed me from some pain. The icon is never of greater value to me than when someone notices it and comments on its beauty. Like the net-book, it is a tool, to make a connection, to another person or to God. The connection matters. The tools are replaceable.

What of The Rake’s Progress? There it was on the wall of The Foundling Hospital in London, and people came up close to it to examine it, for it is an art-work to hold in your hands and appreciate each tiny detail, ideally over a period of months. But if I owned it myself, and showed it only to visiting friends it would be wasted. It is too great for me. It deserves to be seen, by all the people who can gain from seeing it. I felt excitement in the gallery which I might not feel, if it were on my wall. There is no need to possess a thing to treasure it and take delight from it.

I treasure, too, the Quaker meeting house; but it would be almost nothing but for the people who meet there. And if I moved, there would be another meeting house, and even another community of people. This is a world of abundance, beauty and wonder, none of which needs be possessed.

Aloof

Sigismund Righini, Portrait of an elegant lady in the gardenThe woman at the butcher’s brought through a large vacuum-packed batch of bacon. “Here was I thinking you had a bacon-slicer through the back,” I said. She grinned and shook her head. The butcher in Aberdeen had one of those, but that was in the 1980s. My grandfather was a butcher, and he did everything from slaughtering the beasts to serving customers- ninety years ago.

Yvonne had double-booked, so gave me half an hour. I have come away with more ways of thinking about The Issue, but that may be a bad thing.

-What did you get, last time, from curling up on the floor and screaming?
-Absolution.

It really has been that bad. I am here because of the pain I have suffered. I am not here because of being useless or worthless or weak. Absolution has to come from me.

(It occurs to me that I have got something from curling up in the past- someone takes pity, and lessens the demands on me- but that is less likely in adulthood. A psychiatrist wrote my friend’s issue was “adjusting to adult life”.)

Crisis is coming. Early next year my benefit is not certain, but very likely to get cut by £50 a week, and possibly stop entirely. So I could get evicted. I accept that it is better to deal with that now than the day before: now, I have more options.

-You get out a bit. You do things with the- Mormons?
-No, Quakers. We like to think they’re the weirdos, we are perfectly normal. Or weird in a good way.

I want to survive- but just surviving has very little appeal to me. Any way I can envisage of earning money just seems a grind. I want instant gratification.

Counselling is not her telling me stuff. She said something, I forgot it, I asked her to repeat it, I forget it again. Something about my values.

-How do you see yourself?
-Ah. Long counselling journey there. I realised aged 20 that I see myself as the Centre of the Universe, and at the same time utterly worthless. Total arrogance and terror. In my forties I come to “I am a human being”- fearfully and wonderfully made, but one in seven billion; this seems a more rational way of seeing it; but the extremes are still there.

-What would you get out of volunteering at the charity shop?
-Getting out of the house, doing something worthwhile, being with people. I had a summer job in a hotel when I was at university, and a woman took me to task for being “The Lawyer, looking down on all of us” though my aloofness was partly from nervousness. I did not despise them. I think. I would get more practice with that.

-How do other people see you?

This is the new way of (over)thinking the problem. I notice, and am affected by, rejection far more than acceptance or admiration. Admiration is never enough. Just as winning every claim and appeal, at work, was never enough.

-What options do I really have?

God is Relationship

double bass and tents (2)God is not a hypothesis. God is Relationship; Contemplation; Practice.

Actually, “God did it” is a good enough hypothesis for my day to day use: I am fascinated to hear of inflation, or Planck energy, or that the size ratio of an atom to a superstring is the same as the Universe to a ten-storey building; but I get the feeling that the scientists are bending over backwards to explain, and know that theories change over time, and are more complex than I can know with school physics. It happened. I am glad people try to work out why, but do not want to spend the effort necessary to understand the theories. My religion is so much more than an explanation of the World competing with the natural sciences.

God is relationship. Sometimes it seems that I understand what is going on, but most of the time I do not, not really. God is my sense that everything is going to be alright. God is what is, surrounding and supporting me. God is in me, responding, for so often consciously I have no idea what that response might be. God is the moments when I can’t go on, yet somehow do. God is a punch-bag- “Why have you forsaken me?” God is a friend whom I can talk to, a friend who, like human beings, surprises me as I learn new aspects of their character.

God is contemplation. God is my silence when the world changes because I notice it. I kneel in my ritual space, and hear what is around me. I sit in the silence of the Quaker meeting, with the other worshippers. God is the world made new, heaven in a wild flower, when I find a leaf and am entirely absorbed in its beauty and complexity. God is the moment Now divorced from fear and regret, anticipation and recrimination. God is in my devotion to what I do right now- washing up, cleaning my teeth, washing my hands- so washing my hands can become a ritual which brings me to awareness of the moment and all my experience in it- water, movement, the complexity of a hand. This delights me.

God is practice. God is in daily meditation, and changes I notice in that. Not that I get better at it, necessarily, because monitoring my “progress” takes me out of the practice and into evaluation of it, ambition, looking back to past experience not experiencing now. It is not about a state of mind which is purer or better than others, but about accepting each state of mind, each way of being and doing.

God is these things, as a unity, as One to love and fear. Do not ask me what I believe, or classify me- agnostic, theist, whatever.

Guns

File:Portrait of a girl with gun and hound.jpgSometimes the US seems almost civilised- Rome to our Greece, as Macmillan said. Sometimes it seems insane, though the insanity of this story is apparent to my blogging buddy who comes from Texas and lives in Ohio, so perhaps not all is lost. Michelle shared this on facebook: a five year old accidentally shot and killed his two year old sister in Kentucky. His mother had only gone out for a few minutes.

Kentucky state police trooper Billy Gregory said, It’s just one of those nightmares, a quick thing that happens when you turn your back. County coroner Gary White said, It’s just a tragic situation. Grandmother Linda Riddle said, It was God’s will. It was her time to go, I guess. I just know she’s in heaven right now and I know she’s in good hands with the Lord. The gun was the child’s own, from Crickett, slogan, Quality firearms for America’s youth. A testimonial on their website says, My 4 1/2 year old daughter thought the “pink one” was far superior to a black synthetic stock,who am i to argue? I never would have thought that a pink rifle would be sitting in the rack in the gun room. The gun was somewhere the parents had thought was safe.

I would say the parents were criminally negligent, though have no idea what punishment, if any, is appropriate. Over here they would get support from social workers if their son stayed with them. It is likely the guilt will permanently damage him.

On CNN, a commenter said The gun was loaded because 678px-Schlossmuseum_DA_03these people were stupid. Safe gun management is lesson number one with the NRA. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. That’s all right then. It’s a Dar-win. Another said You can’t legislate people out of being stupid. An anonymous commenter said areas like Kentucky, West Virgina, Arkansas, etc, are seen as being populated by barbaric throwbacks whose gene pool has the depth and variety of a mud puddle. I do not feel this blanket contempt helps.

Alana Brown commented, Yet auto accidents remain the number one cause of death for children. We should really stop selling cars (the killing machines that kill way more kids.) Well, cars are useful. This analogy only holds if people think guns are as useful as cars- for defending The People from the evil communist Obama, perhaps.

Michelle’s facebook thread had nineteen comments, mostly sad head-shaking, though one said as a native Kentuckian, it was not usual for a five year old to own a gun. On my own share, the reaction was WTF. America really is that alien.

Over here, I recall two mass shootings, in Dunblane and in Hungerford, though Wikipedia reminded me of twelve shot in Cumbria in 2010. Our law restricts guns. We don’t have school shootings now, whether “real” or otherwise.

Hope II

File:Pandora and The Forbidden Box.jpgThe world is heading for disasters.

The natural rate of extinction is 1-5 species each year. Now dozens go extinct each day. Thousands go extinct each year. Humans emitted 4.5 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2012. The rate of increase was 1.4%. Undertakings to reduce carbon emissions were not kept. More than half the world’s rainforest has been destroyed. Often it is simply burned. 12m hectares of arable land are lost to drought and desertification each year. Collapsing fish stocks create ecological dead zones in the oceans.

Even democratically elected governments are a conspiracy against the people. The UK government will pass all publicly owned land to a “Homes and Communities Agency”. Rights of way will be ended. The Infrastructure Bill allows the government to sell that land off. The government whittles away our means-tested benefits system. Benefits are not increased at the rate of inflation. People confined to wheelchairs are found fit for work. People mentally incapable of independent living are found fit to work. Government policies inflate housing costs. Housing benefit to pay rent decreases in real terms.

Private firms take over public services. Private companies run prisons, schools and hospitals. Outsourced hospital cleaning caused job cuts and lowered standards. This increased hospital-acquired infections. Direct public ownership is cheaper than “Private Finance Initiatives”. The public still bears the risk of failure of these schemes. Profit goes to the private sector.

File:Opened up a Pandora's box.jpgGovernments conspire to make public or environmental protection legislation illegal. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiated between the US and EU will introduce investor-state dispute settlement. This means Australia is unable to require plain packaging of cigarettes. Germany is unable to phase out nuclear power.

Kinnock was right. I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.

The wealth of the richest doubled in ten years. Their charitable giving decreased. 85 people own the same amount as half the world’s population. The income of the poorest reduces. Conservatives argue this gives them incentives to work harder. Those incentives are born of desperation.

Fear of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union has decreased. Fear of nuclear or terrorist attack funded by Islamic states has increased. Fear increases. People are controlled by fear.

Government spies on the people. Automated facial recognition, monitoring of internet use and keyword recognition in emails and phone calls make this spying complete.

Each of us will die. Our bodies wear out. Muscles recover more slowly. Our beauty fades.

————————-

I remember being told that metal cannot be used in a microwave oven. I was warned not even to put a cup decorated with a thin metallic line round the rim in there, as it would produce spectacular firework effects and the microwave would cease to work. This morning by oversight I put a spoon in the microwave, and there were no fireworks- and the food heated.

Ah, progress. There is some, slight hope.

Dilation

Orchard in bloom with poplars, detail (2)For someone who moves as often as I do, I have a great deal of junk- especially as “De-cluttering” is fashionable. I have a spare bedroom filled with junk, stuff I might use again and stuff I certainly won’t, and there is a bag in it which gives me painful memories when I see it in the pile, though I cannot quite bring myself to throw it away. It contains four plastic dilators, some outdated lubricant, and tools for douching myself.

I went to Thailand for my op, having heard that Dr. Suporn Watanyusakul produced particularly deep neovaginas, did not require pre-operative electrolysis to remove hair from the scrotum, and preserved the glans to produce a clitoris. Rather than lining the neovagina with penile skin, he used the scrotum, and I understand much of my seven hours under anaesthetic was occupied removing those hairs. Scrotal skin does not stretch like penile skin does, but there was no need to stretch with the 7″ of depth he generally achieved. Immediately after, I would have to “dilate” by inserting a plastic dildo into myself for two hours each morning and two hours each evening. I would hold a water-bottle between my legs to prevent the dilator from coming out.

I found this painful. The pain was in the opening to my vagina, and was constant while I dilated. Initially I was supposed to put in the medium dilator at first and replace it with the larger one, and then use the larger one only. I found this difficult. I used to get up at five, insert the dilator, and lie in bed trying to rest, but though I was supine I found it exhausting rather than restful. I crashed my car, writing it off and damaging another which I shunted, driving home in order to dilate after work. I hated it.

After six months, I was supposed to be able to reduce this to one session of two hours each day. However, when I did so, I found I could only use the medium dilator. On two hours a day, the opening was shrinking. So I gave up. I consulted a plastic surgeon and a gynaecologist, but rather than looking for a solution I was really seeking absolution for giving up. I could not celebrate my determination in sticking out six months, as I had failed. Eventually, I absolved myself.

I thought the orifice would heal up, and it does, but very slowly: ten years later I still have a neovagina, suitable for intercourse if my partner’s penis is no longer or thicker than my thumb. (People sometimes comment on my beautiful, feminine hands.) I had one try at what we jokingly referred to as “organic dilation”- using something organic rather than plastic- but it did nothing for me. My friend said her partner, after, complained of being sore, as our organ is not as stretchy as real ones. I have little sexual sensation in my clitoris, though this may be psychological rather than physical.

Some years after a trans woman gave me a dilator as thick as my thumb, to use in order to build up to thicker ones. Worth a try, perhaps, though I have never used it. Yet I cannot bring myself to throw that bag away.

Goddess

Pam Gerrish Nelson Fantasy portraitWhat do bloggers have to say about the Goddess?

Here and now states in my art i try to capture the concepts i think are closest to realities i observe which is strange, as his female figure has no head, and no genitals. Yuck. I learn that “Goddess” is a trade name for a bra manufacturer, courtesy of the Bra Museum, which has eleven photos of their “688 strapless backless longline bra”, which “may be discontinued”.

Linda Olsen has photographed a woman outside, in a long robe, posing with a bow and arrow: as she observes, “having nature as our backdrop really was nice”. I agree. The model is the focus of interest in the pictures, but the backgrounds add complexity and depth. See left, go and have a look.

Awen is a Welsh word for inspiration, specifically of the poets, and Cat Treadwell in Drops of Awen writes of having a focus to her creativity. The Lady is guiding my hand as I get on. That creativity which I am most proud of comes as random and spontaneous, which is perhaps why what I write is so short. I like the idea of working with particular Goddesses, aspects of power and personalities. It might help me to differentiate characters. I would like pictures of her creations.

File:King Arthur Sir Bedivere throwing Excalibur into the lake by Walter Crane.jpgSwati Prakash shares evidence establishing the scientific truth behind spiritual experiences. An infra-red security camera has captured a beam of light from the Goddess’s third eye. When I played the video, it appeared to show a store-room with a dot of light flickering rapidly about occasionally. But then, the faithless confronted by a miracle may see nothing.

Avalon is an island in the Arthurian legend, and the last album by Roxy Music- I felt they were going off the boil a bit. Son of Avalon has found that the Morrigan, Goddess of battle, strife, fertility, water, healing and prophecy- a useful, all-purpose Goddess, then, like a Swiss army knife- is calling him. She is the Lady of the Lake who gave Arthur Excalibur, and she has shrouded Avalon in mists for protection, so that one may only find it through her.

Luca Crow, a Pagan, shares her preemie (premature child) birth story. She has a rare condition which makes her unable to bring a child to term, which was found during her pregnancy. She had particular dreams of the child and the birth, whose messages she did not at first understand but which turned out to be predictions of what happened. When she had emergency surgery, her faith in the Goddess kept her calm. She accepted the Goddess’s will, even if it were to take her baby. She spent three weeks in hospital, and her husband stayed with her.

Not shutting up

File:Panel With Design of Meandering Floral Vines LACMA M.81.69.2.jpgI am left handed. I don’t have a left-handed lifestyle, or identity, exactly: the variation of left-handers is as great as that of right-handers, and in my view of myself it is as important as being Scots, or a graduate, or a pianist- I acknowledge it if someone mentions that my pen is in my left hand. If that is “never shutting up” about being left-handed, then I would never shut up about it, and if anyone thought that made me less, or disabled, or the spawn of the Devil as in the past, I would want a Pride march.

People make assumptions. The partner of a woman is going to be a man- well, obviously: even I make that assumption, but though I am embarrassed and apologetic when I get it wrong, others turn that feeling outward in resentment. So Hollywood is “full” of gay characters, even though the proportion on screen is lower than that in the general population. It gets noticed.

-How was your weekend?
-I had a date. It was wonderful! We just clicked immediately, it was as if we had known each other for ages [You know, the idealised “known each other for ages”, not the bored, irritated by faults and mannerisms, sex is mechanical if it ever happens at all known each other for ages]. How long can you go without a pronoun or a name, a revelation or assumption? If it slips out, am I “going on about it”?

File:Floral-Design-with-Peonies-Lilies-and-Roses-for-Spitalfields-Silk-by-Anna-Maria-Garthwaite-1744.jpgSometimes it is in a friendship where we would talk about these things, and sometimes there is small-talk with a stranger when it happens to come up, and I must decide whether to Come Out to someone I have just met or be evasive- like strapping my watch on my left wrist in case Someone Notices, rather than in order to avoid a watch-mark in my sun tan. Incidentally, my watch has its knob on the right of the face, assuming its wearer is right handed like most people. Better to avoid embarrassment: this is in part internalised homophobia, in part fear for ones job, and in part wanting to avoid a scene or deal with someone else’s reaction.

We make our own way, sometimes coming out and of course it is all right, because people are either completely accepting or they know that, though they are not, it is their problem and not mine; and sometimes coming out and the atmosphere goes cold and tense or the shutters come down behind the other’s eyes and they put on a formal act of being accepting. I can’t be bothered with that. So sometimes I do indeed just shut up, and die a little.

This is our England

Britannia Pacificatrix (2)What does the Sun make of England?

It delivered a free tabloid to 22m households in England. Friends, disgusted, circulated an address to send the rubbish back- unstamped- but if it ever prints something which does not disgust me, it will challenge anyone content to suck at its poisonous tit. Is there anything worthwhile in this free Sun? What does it find to love in England?

The front is 117 faces. Almost all are white, though there is Mo Farah and Daniel Sturridge, a footballer. Ed Miliband looks like an idiot, though so does Nigel Farridge. The Queen and Duchess of Cornwall Cambridge are prominent. There is Brian Cox, the astronomer, and Johnson Beharry VC. It promotes Noel Gallagher to National Treasure status. I am suspicious, but find it unobjectionable.

Page 2 and 3- What makes us proud of England? HM the Q, and three women voted “favourite English rose”- pretty women, oddly enough with their nipples covered. Our greatest historical figures are Churchill, Brunel and Shakespeare.

What a Sunderful world, it says: “Grab your copy of Saturday’s Sun and get behind our boys as they take on the world’s best in Brazil”. I would hardly associate The Sun with Englishness, though I suppose it is English- the “Scottish Sun” has a couple of pages different, insulting the Scots.

This being the Sun, there is of course something to disgust me: Rod Liddle writing Obviously, the best thing about being English is not being French. Or Belgian. He probably wrote the column more quickly than some would read it, this lazy confection of prejudice and cliché. “Downbeat irony” is very English, he says. There are some white middle-class liberals in London who think it is a bit much to be proud of being English, and would dob you in for committing a “hate crime”.

No, actually. Nationalism is being proud of stuff you have not achieved, and hating people you don’t know, but I take delight in being English (and Scots, and European, and Quaker…). It is part of my identity. The Atlantic slave trade and the Industrial Revolution are my heritage. I find enough to admire, in the past and now, to be able to face the world with cautious optimism.

Anything which gives human beings something in common, the start of a common interest and common good will is a good thing. Englishness is as good as any other thing, for this.

The picture is Britannia Pacificatrix, painted by Sigismund Goetze just after the First World War and hanging in the Foreign Office. Looking at all that imposing architecture in London- the galleries, the British Museum, Whitehall- it seemed that if I identify with this Britishness it gives me confidence, but if I did not I would find it oppressive, and feel tiny and of no account here. I want to identify my own Englishness, to take pride in what I take pride in, and not to be dependent on others’ views- certainly not The Sun’s.

Still, I can use it to protect my laminate floor from muddy shoes.

Britannia Pacificatrix