Forgiving the World II

starry night moon“Goals” said Yvonne, insistently, for the umpteenth time. At last I said “Yes”, hands folded in lap, imagining them both behind my back with the fingers crossed. Yeah, right, I did not say- “In five years’ time I want to have some sort of a job”. It’s like chess, innit, I explain to myself. While there are strategies, and you have to see three moves ahead, in each situation there is one best move. Rather than having goals, I will look out for Opportunities.

-How do you see yourself?
– A dancer. A poet. A beautiful, evanescent thing. I can be rational too, I suppose, it is good though not the only good. I no longer wear the leaden cloak of Dante’s hypocrites.

You have given yourself the nurturing self-love you need to become an adult, she said. Gosh, she is being encouraging, though a sting in the tail. Adult. Um. S’pose. Well, yes of course, but it’s difficult.

I think it has been of some use. Acknowledging being on the floor, curled up like a baby or a traumatised soul blocking out the World; and sitting on the floor, looking up, engaging but not taking on adult responsibility. I am a Benefit scrounger, I say happily. starry night starsPlans include approaching Dr Lorimer if my ESA gets reassessed. I was in a state when I just procrastinated. Deadlines had no effect. Anything I do would fail and make me look bad and feel bad, so I did not do it. Had I been sacked, it would have been fair. The bullying had ended by then, I had been under a different line management for 30 months.

I have done the work. I no longer see myself as worthless and bad. So I can see things differently. That claim where the Respondent forged documents: the claimant got her money in the end. She was capable of more than I had thought. The system worked, and the scoundrel got his just desserts. I did my job well. It is a matter of reframing. When I was worthless, I took in the wickedness of the employer’s lies, so the nastiness of the world; the suffering of the client; and the great difficulty I felt in proving it- by luck, eventually. So evidence of everything being utterly ghastly becomes evidence that the world is sort-of-OK, or OK enough; and I am OK.

If I see myself as OK, and my parents as OK, having done their best under difficult circumstances- losing your dad in 1934 aged 9 and moving in with your grandfather just as he gets sacked is traumatic- and just take all my rage terror and resentment at my Worthlessness and turn it against the world-


starry night swirl-then the World becomes shit-coloured, unrelievedly, irremediably Bad. So I hide in my living room because it is too horrible to go out. However, increasingly I can see my past differently. I had achievements. I had opportunities. I had even breaks. When Kerry from the jobcentre checked my capital, on Monday- the letter threatened I may need to suspend your claim to benefit- she was OK.

Seeing yourself as OK, you can walk along with your head held high, Yvonne counselled. Mmm. Yes, possibly. I wanted to be in a dress, and here is everyone in trousers, and my dress is still OK.

I was late, and on Station Road a man asked directions to Station Road. “It’s one of these side-roads on the left”, I said, in complete certainty. “If you drive me along I will look out for it”. So he drove me through Marsby to where I wanted to go, and I realised Station Road was not where I had thought. This does not make me Completely Utterly Bad. I will not be punished for it.

the town

Four Visits to my Mother’s Deathbed II

Klee death and fireI have an essay of 3500 words, made by tacking together my drafts. It is a mess. What should I do with it?

In places I have created scenes, attempting to allow people to visualise where they are set and empathise along with the main character. In other places, I explain things. From my middle-aged perspective, I write of seeing things in a new way and maturing, which for me has been a middle-aged experience. I am less defensive, now, of my point of view, knowing how it may change. The essay seems disjointed, but I don’t see how I can make it flow better. I don’t want to cut any of it, as all the experience seems relevant. How did I get to that moment, where my old way of being was found so wanted that I made such a complete leap in the dark? The whole week seems relevant.

I have changed it so one good line is not repeated, and I don’t change pronouns “she” to “you” mid-sentence. I have added a scene.

I could leave it. It is too ambitious, bringing together too much disparate material. I could rewrite it, first as an essay avoiding scenes completely, telling of my attitudes and ideas and not seeking to show at all. Or I could (try to) make it a series of scenes, with no explanation at all: I am not sure I could pull that off.

All suggestions would be very welcome. Any questions or comments are also welcome.

Sketch 7, Draft 1

1927_Klee_Variationen_anagoriaThis is not what I do. This is not who I am. This is not what I believe. But it might be. And that might be good.

When do you change your mind? There was a time when I was absolutely certain of my former understanding. Now I know different. In between came a series of experiences challenging my earlier view and opening me to a different one, then confirming that different understanding. I have moved from right to left, Caliban to Ariel, rationalist to mystic, self-denial to self-expression, and in this experience my old way fractured from top to bottom, and green shoots of new life poked through.

Noticing everything is bliss and danger, distraction and- I notice everything. I see the marks on the floor from the wrong kind of training shoes, the bars on the walls and the ropes from the ceiling, the sound my footsteps make, Anthea’s footsteps though I do not see her, no, I glance at her then drop my eyes. The sports hall expands, its ceiling the sky, its walls miles away, and I sit on the floor, resigned to whatever might happen. The way of being in me which would have been dismissive, judgmental, denying any possible value in this is silenced by my pain, but I am not, yet, a believer. I fear, but have sufficient trust in Anthea’s good-will and ability to hold the process that I go along with it. I see no alternative.

Anthea creates a flowing circle of healing energy around me so that only the highest and finest energy may come through, and asks me to focus on my chakras, a concept new to me. What colours do I see? I have no mind’s eye, so if I close my eyes cannot see anything, such that if I imagine a room I will imagine a verbal description of it. She insisted, and I plumped for red.

“Imagine your coccyx uncurling beneath you, extending downwards into the Earth. It roots you in the Earth, in our Mother Gaia, and energy from the Earth flows up for your healing.”

I try. I really do. I imagine my coccyx warily pushing down into the Earth, but it pulls back, unable to trust.

I speak my pain. I am begging that psychiatrist. “Do you have any idea what I feel? What did you do to diagnose? Can you not see that I am female?” Then I speak my anger at my mother. I imagine her on her death-bed, in the middle of that sports hall, and I prowl round it screaming at her. The foam is on her lips. “What did you mean, you still have work to do? Did I ever smile? Did you ever smile at me or touch me?”

I hear the Carpers at the back of my head. There are three of them. Anthea tells me to sit them in a chair in front of me, then bring them into my heart and love them. At this moment I realise:

I can channel the healing energy of God.

The first is like a baby whom I can pick up and cuddle. The second has a chalk-board and chalk, to lecture me. The third is black, a mass of energy. I need to make friends with it, as with a wild predator. I need to integrate, love and calm these aspects of me.

God’s Love is intimate.

At Anthea’s suggestion I have a shower then go to bed. In the shower I feel the healing energy of God channelled through my hands.

This piece comes from the Writing 201 course:
What’s your angle;
intros and hooks;
finding your key moment;
setting the scene, putting it into practice.

Here is the whole piece, most of the sketches tacked together in more or less the order I want, but needing quite a bit of editing.

Yearly Meeting Gathering

Renoir Two women and a girl in a landscapeMore on Membership.

It is different for each of us, but our insights are collective: ours is a Do It Together not DIY society. Our discipline is difficult, for we must give over our own wills. We move away from a rigid demarcation of members from attenders. Most meetings use attenders to do particular jobs. Some attenders do not apply for membership out of a feeling of unworthiness, but none of us is Worthy in that sense (or all of us)- we keep learning. Some reject membership fearing the burden of the tasks of the meeting, and all those committees. We reject outward sacraments, considering the underlying spiritual reality, but we still have this process. And some, contrary to expectation, find joining transformative. Someone suggested a re-commitment act for members.

Though we are collective, we give space in which each person can work out her/his spiritual journey. We come together and maintain our cohesiveness not through all using the same words, but through mutual respect and care, which is more difficult. We share structures which permit our experiences to happen. We need something which can unite us: perhaps it is the power of God.

We issued a Statement on Gaza urging diplomatic recognition of Palestine. The clerks said that it was particularly carefully drafted, but some speakers from the floor quibbled, wanting more emphasis on Hamas rockets. They delayed our statement by only a few days.

I went to the “Jane Austen Dances”, which were on at lunchtime daily, once. I had not heard dances Jane might have done in Bath around 1805 called that before. It was crowded and enthusiastic and bodged, error-prone. On the Friday evening some people did a demonstration on the stage, but I did not find the chance to perform worth the effort of practising.

I found Ben Pink Dandelion giving the Swarthmore Lecture charismatic. He was eye-catching and charming. He waved a page of A4 saying it was his entire notes. After, a woman told me he was irked sometimes by female admirers sitting at his feet and looking reverent. In his question and answer session, I found his jokes not brilliant, and most of the laughter sounded feminine. But someone else said he is gay.

Thursday morning I was exhausted, and weepy, in misery around not being able to stay on the sick indefinitely, but not getting work either. I sat in the sun in the camp site with a novel, then wandered in to talk to an Overseer. Being heard, I could talk myself into calm. I had met the man at the clerks’ course, but did not recognise him because he had shaved off his moustache. Then I sat in the gathering tent chatting and joking.

Mark Smulian, an Israeli who had been part of a band with Palestinians talked, and led us in a workshop clapping rhythms and taking turns to improvise across the rhythm. Aged 18, he volunteered to be a paratrooper, and had to police a curfew. On patrol, he saw an “Arab” out, so gave chase, and when he caught her found she was 15, so let her go: his human reaction went against his training, law and duty. Thank God.

A filmed experience of YMG:

Forgiving the World

12th_Royal_Scots_Lewis_gunners_in_gas_masks_25-06-1918The World might not be forgiveable, but it might be survivable for a bit longer yet.

When I finally vanished into my living room last year, I had mostly completed two parts of the work I had to do, to bear going out into the world again. My bitter rage and resentment against my parents and myself had changed to acceptance, more or less. My parents (like everyone) did their best under difficult circumstances. My sexuality and gender identity was not weird and wrong, but part of human diversity. I did not deserve to die, after all.

But I still have my rage, resentment and terror for the World. I have the general complaints, of the war, exploitation and destruction, the squeezing of the British middle-class lifestyle in the gush-up economy, the relentless rise of housing costs, the precariousness of employment, the obsolescence of my skills. I also have my particular experience, of being bullied at work, of the lies and evasions used to subvert the rights of my employment tribunal clients, of my father being defrauded of more than ÂŁ100,000.

Then there is the treatment of trans women, seen as ridiculous and disgusting, mocked derided and belittled, or frankly loathed. RAMC_search_packs_of_British_dead_after_Battle_of_Guillemont_1916_IWM_Q_4245So my self-forgiveness- I should not be ashamed to be a transitioned sissy- necessitates blaming others and society.

By now I have forgiven myself. It is alright to be me, trans, only so far intelligent, timid and scarred as I am. I have forgiven my parents, who always did their best: my roots are not irremediably poisoned. But the World? I have been so badly, repeatedly hurt that I want to curl up as small as I can, as far from the Outside as I can.

I need to be able to bear going out. I have gained one essential tool for that- Positivity. I was entirely negative, a glass empty person, and with effort I can be positive. I need to see the World differently. Thinking calmly and rationally as I can, it seems there must be opportunities as well as the threats I see. It might be worthwhile to enumerate the blessings I have had, but when I look back the pain and terror looms much larger in my sight.

This is the work I must do, now: to see all the good I can in all my experience: the people I can admire and delight in, the beauty, the blessings and good luck. Outside my living room, the picture is not entirely unrelieved blackness.

Quaker business

File:Renoir - Bouquet in a Vase, 1878.jpgWhen the Yearly Meeting gathered to discern the leadings of God, those planning our business expected cautious support for equal marriage. Instead, with the fire of the speakers and the unity of those who did not speak, we demanded that we be able to celebrate gay marriages in the same way that we celebrate straight marriages, and so changed the legislation to permit that.

I wish I had been there.

Sarah commented acidly that when we decided to join Churches Together, “The clerk knew who to call first”. He deliberately called speakers opposed first, supportive after, so that it seemed that the mood of the hall was moving towards joining, according to her.

This year we had a fudge. Meeting for Sufferings recommended that we revise Quaker Faith and Practice. This came up in the evening session on Sunday, when I was elsewhere, and there was no unity for it. Why should we spend so much time and energy on a navel-gazing exercise? What we have is all we need. “Would you go back to the previous book, approved in 1959?” I asked. “Yes,” said Axel, definitely, surprising me. But there are holes in it. For example, the previous book had no out gay voices. The revision process will reveal what those holes are. This, Axel thought, was the best argument for revision he had heard.

File:Renoir-Chrysanthèmes-Rouen.jpgThe clerk being unable to discern unity, with no time on the Friday morning to come to unity, proposed the fudge. We would proceed with preparatory work towards a revision, without committing to do it. I wanted to revise. The procedure could take ten years, and in 2024 I want our book of discipline to have contributors who are still alive. I want it to state timeless truths in contemporary language: the 17th century quotes will still have value, but the 1980s quotes will need pruned. At the clerk’s proposal of a way forward, I had to let go of my desire. This was my most intense spiritual work of the Gathering.

Much of the rest of the business was formal. We have to agree certain nominations, but do not challenge them. The possibility of challenge may affect the process of those nominating. One committee drafted our Epistle from the Yearly meeting. I stood, then, to advocate restoration of a sentence which had been deleted. I was not called to speak, and probably the sentence was correctly deleted. We received reports, and there were other sessions for any questions.

On the Saturday evening, we sang, sometimes in Rounds:

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
and the other gold

This manages to be both trite and tendentious, and drew the heckle “Rubbish! Appalling!” I wondered what the press bench thought. The words don’t matter- no group of Friends will agree on words- but togetherness from singing does.

On Membership, I considered ministering on the Friday morning on my own experience of joining: I was a stranger, and you took me in. Frightened and vulnerable, I needed a place to belong. Considering words I might use, it came to me that I have found it: I belong, Here. My ministry was for myself, not for the meeting, and I began to sob. The Friend next to me was concerned for me, and I reassured her quoting “Excess of joy weeps”. I stood to share something around Love in our membership procedures, but was not called, and another expressed it quite as well as I could.

Here is a video we saw together.

And one on our work together:

The words we use

Renoir, la marchande d'orangesIf I use words, I cannot avoid inaccuracy, interpretation and ideas. Sometimes when communicating, only silence will do. However, since communicating in silence remains a rare, intense experience for me, usually I have nothing better than words.

Words trap us in ideas. A clear idea is a vehicle for understanding, and a barrier to greater understanding: the idea that planetary orbit must be perfect, and therefore had to be circular, inhibited observers from discerning the true orbit. I seek to crack open ideas with paradox:

Both are true:

God is

God is not

This sometimes works, sometimes does not.

We know our experiences. We theorise explanations of them. My heart beat fast. I could not stay sitting. I had to speak. This I know, and others hear and instantly recognise their own experience. The theories are that God did it, or unconscious processes did it. If I demand that others accept a particular theory, I create a barrier between people who share experiences. Theist and non-theist share the idea that what is said may be good or bad- from God or from evil spirits, or from communal co-operative or selfish unconscious impulses.

Quakers say “Christianity is not a notion, but a way”. We use “notion” as a jargon term like Marx’s original idea of “ideology”- a false understanding. So my religion is one of practice and attitude, not belief or dogma. I have the experience of Unity in a business meeting, I do not need a theory of what causes it.

Rhiannon Grant led a workshop at yearly meeting on our words. She has done a thesis on the words we use. She invited us to put them in categories: words we never/sometimes/always use. “God” was in all three. I could say “Highest Good/ Truth/ Reality” as a synonym. Some of us are happy saying “Jesus of Nazareth” but not “Christ”. Sometimes it seemed that our most precise words were used less. I was pleased there to see again a man who, in this highly intelligent gathering, is particularly clear and sharp. He is enjoying being a Woodbrooke trustee.

Often we say what we are not. “Quakers do not have a creed”- yet we have accumulated a number of verbal formulations which we assent to, the first being “There is that of God in every one”, ripped out of George Fox’s original context and made gender neutral. We don’t have a lot of those, though, and most are images, leading people on rather than leaving them in a definite (so probably erroneous) idea.

“Inner Light” is a good word for what leads us. We know what we mean. Outsiders might not. So in discussions we seek to use words people will hear and resonate with, treading carefully and checking their responses. Though if someone merely wishes to deride my idiocy, I can be more knockabout.

One woman found she was using verbs rather than nouns: “Encounter” rather than “God”. Again, this brings us back to the experience rather than the theory.

Let there be no barriers between us!
As my words move in your mind
We become one flesh, like lovers
though we only pass in the street


La sortie du Conservatoire, Renoir, in partAt YM, we discussed the meaning of membership. I want to belong. When I joined Quakers, as I moved towards Transition I felt isolated and vulnerable. I was a stranger, and you took me in.

However we are counter-suggestible, often, and not all feel like that. One woman said she had been an attender for thirty years before joining, and each suggestion that she join put her off for longer. Sometimes, Friends wish such an attender to be an elder or a clerk. Thoughts, and thought-experiments:

In Tripoli five ex-pat Quakers have a meeting in each others’ houses. They all retain membership of British area meetings. Someone joins them, and wants to become a Quaker. For this person, a Membership procedure has great importance. They could, together, discern that this new person is one of them, a Quaker entire, but they have no power to call him a member of our Society.

I could say the first attender should grit her teeth and allow the formal procedures to recognise the reality of her membership, her being a Quaker, however unhappy she feels about joining; or the second should be satisfied with the welcome and inclusion he gets from the other ex-pats. Or, I could say that Friends should accept fuzziness around membership, that the first is obviously a Quaker and can be given the jobs, but the second needs a formal membership procedure and British Quakers should give him one.

We are members of area meetings originally because we operated a parallel poor law, and needed a group which would be responsible for our poor; but we don’t, now, and the difficulties of having a National membership should not be insuperable. A small committee could be appointed, or an existing committee could deal with it. We have lots of committees. Generally, we are members of particular area meetings now because we are members of communities of people, Friends in practice as well as theory, but not all of us need be.

Sometimes things are important to people, and the rest of us should look after them. I met a woman who loathed the very word “God” because for her it was irredeemably masculine, a Father which excluded her, and no matter how reasonable I am, saying God is agendered, and being careful with the pronouns and language I use, when she hears the word “God” she gets upset.

My role, here, in these disputes, is to be a peacemaker, a role most Quakers like. “Can you give what they want? It should not be too hard. It is not a great denial of Principle,” I say, winsomely, to both sides. This is more Quaker than “plain speech” is, so there.

Membership, the word “God”, the ability to reject formal membership procedures, all have value, but each individual human being has greater value.

To provoke thought, I suggested a “proposal of membership”. Elders could identify an appropriate attender, and bring the matter for the discernment of Area Meeting, then tell the attender that we will recognise her/him as a Quaker, a member, if s/he only agree to it. Some people are frightened of the membership procedure, imagining they might not get through. Some don’t.


Renoir, Moulin de la Galette rightWe are serious people doing serious things, but it was a lot like a party for two thousand people going on for a week. S complained about looking like a little old lady, and was not reassured when I said she was a lot more impressive after one had talked to her for five minutes. Her hippy coloured trousers did not help: the eye passing over a “little old lady” does not notice them.

In the bar I would see couples chatting away, recognise the style of name badge, and ask if I could join them. I was not rebuffed. I talked to a big burly man with a thick, wild beard about the Salter Lecture, the “Socialist rant” as he called it. I was disappointed last year in the talk on co-operatives. It was on tax justice this year. He says law must follow opinion: tax avoidance must be seen to be Wrong before we can make it unlawful. I disagreed: the discrimination law was ahead of public opinion.

The Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship would not change its name to a longer acronym, but a bisexual man said he was not recognised. So they have the slogan “Accepting all sexualities”. A woman challenged me on this- what about paedophilia? Well, Adam is a sympathetic paedophile. The act is abominable, the person tempted to it is not. I have experience of the Normal People pointing at the Weirdos Over There- me; and being unable to do anything but transition despite its weirdness and difficulty; so have sympathy. Bestiality- can the animal consent? I have read those who do it say the animal does, and bestiality is also compulsive. Necrophilia? Er-Renoir, Moulin de la Galette centre

She also said that if trans women really were “the shock troops of patriarchy” we could find a better way of going about it.

A woman told me about the historical Jesus- definitely Not God, definitely Jewish. She had been reading Geza Vermes. Oh, OK.

Two women talked of “our children”. Hmm. Are they a couple? It feels like they are, though the phrase does not make it certain, and I feel unable to ask: being lesbian is entirely normal, one doesn’t make a thing of it.

The last time I met Sue, I felt excluded. She did not want me there, and I thought- “But I’m not the Bad Person”. On the last evening I joined her and her husband, and we talked of how their children were getting on, and R’s children, and Cardiff meeting, which is growing, with more younger people. She was at the meeting with H and felt there was movement towards reconciliation. I have now facebook friended her. It was a gentle conversation. We hugged. I would not want to discuss previous issues, though perhaps “worship sharing” would be possible- saying how we felt and what we thought had happened, without discussion or dispute. Here at least we can take pleasure in each others’ gifts and happiness.

I noticed that what I remember of these conversations is what I say. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for it can help me get things clear in my mind to articulate them, and I respond to the other speaking at the time. However I thought it would behove me to listen a bit more, and try to remember.

Wells Cathedral


The ceiling of the nave shows the Tree of Life design. You can see right through, past the altar now generally used- the priest stands behind the table, in full view of the congregation, as is fashionable, rather than far away, celebrating a secret mystery. Those arches, looking so modern, are internal buttresses put up when the tower began to lean.

nave 2

This shows Christ, and the ubiquitous fan vaulting.

I particularly like the heads, carved everywhere on the walls.

head 1

head 2

head 3

This is my favourite. He owns everything he beholds. It is new to him, and he is excited.

Tombs, now:

tomb 1

He has his feet on a snow-leopard, and an angel whispers in his right ear.

tomb 2

The Bishop had this carved before he died, and saw every time he came here what he would end up looking like.

tomb 3

Not a problem for the Jacobean.


altar frontal

Chester certainly has the advantage of Wells on modern art. Their millennium addition was this set of altar frontals.


clock 3

clock 2

But who needs modern art, when you have possibly the oldest clock in the world still telling the time with its original movement? The guide did not say that movement is now in the Science Museum in London, so I thought it was here. Wikipedia says I was completely under the wrong impression: that jouster has been knocked off his horse since the 14th century, said the guide. Hm.



The whole, including the West front, would originally have been brightly painted. Edward VI ordered all churches be whitewashed inside, and this is all the colour that survives. However I was surprised that the statues outside remain intact.


So now I don’t know whether to believe that guide, that the font is Saxon, and its wooden cover Jacobean.

fan vaulting



“What moved you most?” asked Susan. I was intrigued, or fascinated; I was impressed; but what moved me most was the birds flocking on that stone cliff, and descending as one before rising again in a circular motion, back to their roosts.

West wall