Us, them and stuff

van Gogh, thatched cottages at CordevilleWhat does a Quaker meeting need to function, and what are our highest priorities? We want a Meeting every Sunday morning, so we need to open the building and have tea or coffee after. Either we have a rota, or agree on the day. Someone brings milk.

We have a building, so we need to pay for its upkeep. We could use up our reserves, but it makes sense to make some revenue by renting out rooms for meetings. One person has to organise this, but all of us could do a bit of selling. If we have business meetings, it makes sense for one person to clerk them, keep the papers and send them out, but that is an admin job, and should not involve making the decisions or necessarily doing work in between.

The heart of the Quaker meeting is our worship together. We need to share the experience of the gathered meeting. We need to help newcomers find the meaning in the silence. We need pastoral care: to share our joys and woes, and sometimes in particularly stressful situations we need access on demand to that, and the hearer may need to offload on someone else, while preserving confidentiality. These are the difficult responsible roles that other churches pay pastors to do.

In one AM, the whole membership takes responsibility for pastoral care. Imagining people in a circle, each member is responsible for those on either side of them in the circle. This mutual oversight, like co-counselling, binds friendships. Attenders and less regular members are spokes on the circle, with oversight but not overseeing. What do the people want? What are the relationships really? There are three monthly mutual oversight meetings.

We need to work on the depth of silence. Come, we say, even when you feel tired or spiritually cold. It can be like sitting in a waiting room. It can be like the Lord gathered us all, as in a net. Speech should deepen the silence and togetherness. Elders are responsible for this. We could all take the responsibility. We say we have not abolished the clergy, but the laity.

We have our relationship with the other meetings in our area meeting, and elders, overseers and trustees work together. These meetings support the work. I want to build relationships across the AM, so that the whole AM is the community. We build relationships by working together, but what are these meetings like? Spirit-led and inspiring, enlivening, or routine and enervating? Is the work delightful, giving people pleasure as they see what they achieve, or burdensome?

Hope III

Boldini- Berthè considers a fanKnow the past. Let it touch you. Then let the past go. Good advice from Octavia Butler’s heroine Olamina. Actually, it starts “To survive, know the past…”- well, it is dystopian SF. I thought of putting it as my header text.

I was crying this morning about the job I left in 2006. After various jobs round the CAB, I was going round the hospital wards, advising patients referred to me. Meanwhile, Steve, hospital service manager, was in a stand-off with Andy, chief executive. Steve said he was a manager, so should not be advising clients, and that it was unsafe to open the office when there was only one worker in it (though it was in the hospital) so if he was alone he would lock the door. Andy failed to provide any volunteer workers. I don’t know why, possibly there were other considerations, or possibly he just wanted Steve to give in and advise like Penny had. Meanwhile the hospital continually threatened to withdraw funding, including the funding for my wage. My job was fascinating, but often stressful and frustrating apart from this.

Let the past go. Of course, good advice, but how can I? My last four job-roles turned to shit, and it was not merely and entirely my fault. It will always be like that is what I take in to myself.

Let it touch you. I do not think about this a lot. I think I let it touch me at the time, my fear that funding would cease, my irritation at Steve.

I have goals, and given the exercise I wrote them out. Some, I even approve of.

To survive.
To control my space.
Not to suffer.
To see myself as a good person.
To do something worthwhile.
To form connections.
To learn and understand.
To accept and forgive myself.
To see myself and others as we really are.

What goals do you want in your life? was the question. These are not my goals, but I would like them to be:

To support myself without recourse to benefits.
To get stage time.
To write something more substantial than a blog post.
To learn new music on the piano, and polish and enjoy my repertoire.

Stage time is possible. There is a small amateur theatre in Nupton seating 83, to hire for £130 a night. I have no idea how to market my performance, though I could just invite an audience as I could afford £130, and that would be a good experience or useful try-out. Though I have only written half an hour, and am not entirely satisfied with that. Six minutes of it is good, and has had good audience reactions. I found memorising difficult. Having just found that theatre three days ago without having thought to look for such a thing before, I may start writing again.

I need hope. I want to put down this heavy weight, it will always be like that. Neil told me he just kept going. Fucking brilliant. Bully for you. I did until I couldn’t.

Clerks

champion peaceAfter giving feedback from the breakout session- you know the drill- I had my best compliment for some time. The woman said she heard her exact words, said forcefully to get the idea over, and it was as if I was acting her, saying them. This is what I desire, to hear what others say, rather than merely forming an impression. I said would you like a hug. Wonderful later to read Octavia Butler stating what I seek to avoid: she listened to what I told her and, I suppose, heard it according to her own experience. So often, people do, and the clerk must avoid that.

The weekend was magical because of H’s dinner party, but I went to London for the AM clerks’ conference. The thing which I will take away and consider encouraging is the Testimony, the biographies that we write about our deceased members: the “Testimony to the Grace of God in the life of”-

This can be difficult. Some AMs produce Testimonies for everyone, because they feel that our Testimony to Equality requires it. Others do it for no-one. One AM had lasting unhappiness because a Friend who had been particularly active and Spirit-led moved to be close to his children. So the people in his new AM had not known him, and did not write a Testimony.

Cut Poverty UpdatedOne AM has a Book of Remembrance: every person gets two or three paragraphs recorded about their life. Some get a longer Testimony. Some but not all of these are sent to Friends House, and included in the Epistles and Testimonies part of the papers for yearly meeting. Some people find these inspiring, I glance at them. Some are read to the Yearly Meeting in session.

The “lasting unhappiness” is the most memorable thing. One AM- other than South Wales, where I had heard something similar- had a person who had resigned and reapplied for membership, and the visitor opposed granting it and would not give way. That visitor “was, in his own perception, a weighty and seasoned Friend”. The dark irony of the phrase “in his own perception” brought a bitter laugh from me.

Because what we do is Divine, it is so difficult. If we are ever satisfied with the appearance of the Quaker way, or seek the appearance because we cannot find our way to the reality, it becomes hellish.

It was lovely to be with my kind of people. I had the impression that one woman I talked to was particularly wise, and perceptive. Such experiences are blessings to treasure.

The Imitation Game

Turing memorialThis film makes the commanding officer of Bletchley Park a blimpish buffoon, and Alan Turing a traitor. Is that forgiveable?

It is difficult to make drama out of Ultra, which cracked the Enigma code. A few very clever people get together and two years later have solved a difficult mathematical problem with a precursor of the digital computer. Hooray, but not dramatic, even with scenes of enemy planes dropping bombs and U-boats firing torpedoes. A documentary could tell of some of the problems they faced, and the film tells of one: having decoded enemy signals, how do they conceal that they have done so? By statistical analysis to find what number of enemy attacks foiled will enable the allies to win the advantage without demonstrating to the enemy that their signals have been decoded. The film makes this drama by showing one of the first signals decoded showing that there will be an attack on a passenger convoy: they cannot save the convoy. “But my brother’s on that ship!” Thinking about it later, the film fails on both counts: we have a dry explanation of the statistical problem- not drama- and a man begging the others to save his brother- not believable.

Charles Dance prowls about beautifully as Commander Denniston, the CO of Bletchley. He cannot understand Turing, and so short-sightedly opposes him. This creates drama, and possibly there were problems, but six redcaps marching in and shutting down Turing’s computer is not history. It is too silly. Though it did not break my suspension of disbelief at the time.

Then there is the Queer scene. Turing discovers John Cairncross, who was never at Bletchley, is a Soviet spy, because of a silly mistake. Cairncross says he will reveal that Turing is a homosexual. Turing backs down. I just don’t know. On the plus side, it shows the pressure gay men were under when “gross indecency” was criminal. On the minus, it shows Turing not shopping Cairncross. I come down for. Most of us watching this film will get it- gay men had an awful time, but showing Turing blackmailed into a Betrayal shows the level of the pressure. And- I don’t like him being seen in misprision of treason.

The mistake: from a bit of dry expository dialogue, we know a spy is using a code based on Matthew 7:7- Ask, seek, knock- so when we see a Bible open at that verse, the visual image tells the story. Simplify, to tell the story visually.

They are all very beautiful, BC and Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode. Was Turing autistic? Autism campaigners might want him as one of theirs- “Man who won the War Autistic!” I don’t have a horse in that race.

Essence Process

Boldini- Seated Lady (The Conversation)Why am I here? Because it gives the illusion of doing something, thereby absolving me from the need to find or do something which would actually be useful. Because it appears good, not to any other person but to the chaotic controlling Parent in my head. That is the blackest way of seeing it. Of course things done for appearance’ sake never even achieve that- on some level I see through myself. So it is utterly pointless, even for such illusory motives, but that part of me grasping at the illusion still blunders on.

Is there a better reason? At the end of the first “process” we settled down to serious mutual affirmation, which feels nice, but is no good even temporarily unless I learn to believe it.

No, I don’t trust these people. The Process has psychological trappings but is an entertainment, manipulating payers through rapidly changing emotions, to extort fees. It has some resemblance to a cult.

Bit scared of it. That’s the kind of phrase where I miss out the words “I am”, and put in the word “bit”. And I am hard on myself: my motives must be bad.

Why be here, really? Can I justify that sort of money? Well, I have the money; it is a few days away from home; the people and the situations we will be placed in could be interesting.

It is ridiculous to hope for a Born-Again experience, and yet I do. This is the kind of thing in which I have previously had such a profound challenge to my world-view that I have changed it.

I fear going into a hiding mode, find the rules and obey them, cringe against the wall, shut down and avoid the challenge, sit it out. Well, I might notice if I did, more quickly than last time.

I hope I will be challenged, and respond to challenge. That I will spontaneously- spontaneity is my desire, yet so rare for me- respond well. I may be outside my comfort zone, and hope I will be open to the experiences, see the people for who they are, hear what they say, notice my feelings at the situations, and come away with greater self-knowledge and self-respect.

Tall order. See what happens. Oops, clipping phrases again: This is a tall order. I will see what happens. No. I know that at every moment from now until Sunday, I will be the best I can be.

Boundaries of Art

In the Hold c.1913-4 by David Bomberg 1890-1957Never let the fact that you know nothing about a subject prevent you from expatiating on it. So I thought, if that Duncan Campbell film had no soundtrack at all, I would never have doubted its fitness for an art gallery. Masks brightly lit against a black background- repeated shots of what looks like a half-finished imitation mask- no problem. The words, making an argument, made the difference for me.

Entering a “how many hairs make a beard” argument, I note that Tris Vonna-Mitchell’s film also has words; but I did not object there because they did not make sense. I mean, that words were repeated, phrases seemed disconnected, I had an emotional reaction to the voice, sounds and phrases which was different to being told a story. Stories are literature, not Art.

While I have no objection to installations, or found objects, in an art gallery, I drew the line at a documentary film, which I might see in an art cinema or on the telly. I expect different experiences in a cinema and a gallery.

But- how wide is the gulf between, or is there one? In an art gallery I wish to be moved. As I wander through, I don’t expect that I should see the video installation from start to finish. So any way an artist in an art gallery chooses to move me, is art. Or outside: I heard of an artist, paid by the Arts Council to kick a can down the road.

I am playing with the idea now. Something wilfully opaque, or using a language the viewer simply does not understand, which produces irritation or anger is- not an interaction with an art work which I find constructive or valuable. The moment when I think “That’s not art” then see it really is- I have my appreciation enlarged- is valuable, but personal: any art work might do that for someone, none can presume to do it for anyone.

My conscious mind understands things with words. Unconsciously, I understand more, but it is shadowy, like grasping at mist. I want art, and music, to talk directly to that visceral understanding. Rational sentences making an argument get in the way. Or, I pay attention to the argument, intellectually,

and am still moved, unconsciously, by particular emotive words, or by the images.

Of course I can walk past it. I need not engage. I cannot demand that everything should speak to me, though missed communication always distresses and perturbs me.

Presuppositionalism

Mascagni, Joseph sold into slavery by his brothersGod has inspired the Bible, which is literal truth. True Christians believe the Bible, and therefore have the basis for understanding life and reality. Atheists do not, and therefore are incapable of rational thought or argument. This understanding is called “Presuppositionalism”. From false presuppositions atheists will draw random conclusions.

How wonderful! If not everyone, a huge number of those who disagree with me are merely wrong, not even in an interesting way. This is not how I think. It helps to explain Tim, the Creationist I invited here in July. What day of the week was the Last Supper? Did God create animals then humanity, or man, then animals, then woman? A lot of people maintain their are contradictions, but honestly I’ve never found a truly provable one, he wrote. He came up with arguments, rather than mere assertion, but I did not feel they were sufficient.

Octavia Butler, in Parable of the Talents, brings together the worst possible characteristics of the worst possible Christianities to imagine “Christian America”. Andrew Jarret, elected US President in 2032, at his inauguration preaches on “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword” (Isaiah 1:19-20) neatly blaming all the problems of the country on “traitors and sinners, those destroyers in our midst”. “Decent, ordinary men,” writes Butler, can guard slave camps, believing that interning minor criminals there is necessary for the good of the country. Milgram and Zimbardo again.

All of CA is based on lies. The seminary dining room works hard at being as dreary and cheerless as could be managed, and the “hot cinnamon-apple tea” is tepid, slightly sweet water. If all the wickedness is in the Other, then my anger must be Righteous Love.

The book has a moment of self-abnegating love which made me weep. The mother finds her daughter, stolen from her in infancy, and addresses her by her birth name.

-My door is open to you, Larkin, always.
-Asha. My name is Asha Vere.
-Asha, she whispered. My door is open to you, Asha. Always.

“Think it possible that you may be mistaken” says Advices and Queries, quoting Cromwell. CA creates impossible contradictions, which must be denied- “Stupid faith was good. Thinking and questioning were bad.” “The working poor who love Jarret need to be fooled. They scratch a living, and they need a savior.”

Think it possible that you may be mistaken, and possibly I think that too much. It opens me to greater understanding, and makes me incapable of decisions. But the choice is between asserting you are Right, and seeking the truth. As Timothy Garton Ash wrote of the Velvet revolution, a great deal of what is happening is about words: about finding new, clear, true words rather than the old, prefabricated, mendacious phrases under which they have lived for so long.

Medical model

I was styled by SophieWhat do doctors do, exactly? They cure physical illness, but with disability it is more complex- they help patients conform to an ideal as well as possible. Synaesthesia seems at best a distraction, but many synaesthetes like their peculiarity and seek no cure. Messiaen used it in his music, producing colours only he could see but sounds many enjoy. Mental illness is cultural with medical responses: what level of boisterousness is classed as manic? Plastic surgery is given for preference, even where there is no physical or mental need of it.

Trans women could fit three separate categories here. I am a woman, so my deformed, enlarged clitoris is reduced, to look like any other woman’s. I am mentally ill, with the chronic delusion that I am female, so unusually the doctors help me conform to my delusion in the hope it will make me function better. Or I am well, but want to alter my body so should have plastic surgery if I want it.

I was styled by Sophie 1I say the sickness is in society and not in me. I am effeminate and unmasculine, and this is a bad thing- or at least I hear enough messages that it is bad, for me to be distressed at how feminine I am. You might think society is more accepting than that, but a friend recently expressed to me his distress at being thought unmanly. He thought the solution was to become more manly, rather than to find people who would accept him as he is- like the two of us who heard him, at that moment. Perhaps he will change, and see the solution as self-acceptance; and perhaps he will veer between these two paths, uncomfortable on both.

Whether I am a man or not, I am more comfortable dressed feminine calling myself Clare. If others were completely happy with feminine men, I would not need to, and perhaps never would have. I might have retained my gonads. This fashion blog, where I got the pictures, thinks that is OK now. I notice evidence otherwise.

We don’t fit in, so get sent to Doctors, who have to do something. How to alleviate distress? “Therapy” to make me more Manly does not exist, though some treatments might get me suppressing my nature, to my harm. I don’t think I am mentally ill, but within the normal range of feminine to masculine. Are there ways to thicken my skin, get me able to tolerate messages I should be more masculine, that I am wrong in some way? What we have in Britain is a path where those who persist in expressing ourselves female are allowed to have hormones and plastic surgery to help us better approximate a female appearance; or deal with the issues in our own way, without the treatments. In Iran, where homosexuality is seen as wicked but transition permitted, some people who would function as gay men here get gender reassignment.

I needed to accept my femininity. Without the cultural judgment that such femininity is womanly, a psychiatrist might have seen that self-acceptance was the way to alleviate my distress, without the need for transition.

But transition is the path the doctors prescribe. They like to do what all the other doctors do. That is the Hunter v Hanley test of medical negligence- did s/he do something different?

Heritage, authenticity, allies

Mask in the LouvreBlogging, not writing- thinking this through-

I get angry, but one of my angriest times was two straight people telling a room of mostly straight people all about trans folk. They had trans friends, apparently. I went to the microphone and expostulated, and thereafter the impression people had of me was my anger. I am clear on this. I get to use the word “tranny”, speculate that I am a man, really, or write on the flaws of the Medical Model- coming up- and you don’t. Not unless you’re trans, not even if you are gay. If you imagine you have something in common with trans women, or have thought about transitioning but haven’t, you get to say what that’s like for you, but not for anyone else- “No-one should do it” arguments I despise particularly. If you’re gay, you get a little more leeway than if you’re straight.

Yes, you may have trans friends, or do Queer Studies, but if you get one tiny thing wrong– you have no right to do that.

I have been reading a slavery novel. More on that too, later, perhaps. Octavia Butler, African-American, set it in 2030 not 1830, when the economy of the US has collapsed. Her protagonist, Olamina, has one thing in common with her that I know- that both get relief from writing about their issues- so speculate she has others. I wondered why. Perhaps she was used to SF, perhaps she thought people would read an SF novel who would not read a slavery novel, perhaps she wanted 1990s people, not 19th century people, as characters- but perhaps there were heritage problems. (Blogging, now.) That suffering is not hers, even though she was a descendant. We need the voices of the real people, to honour rather than to interpret.

Duncan Campbell, saying the Nigerian constitution remained colonialist, bothered me. A Yoruba who has read Edward Said on Orientalism can criticise it like that, perhaps, but not a white Glaswegian. Voltaire is the heritage of the whole world, not just Les Demoiselles d'AvignonEurope. And- Campbell was arguing that. These African art works should be interpreted and shown by Africans considering their origin, not Europeans.

What of the- — – Marbles? Prospect debated it this month. One, calling them Elgin, said Greek Orthodox despising a pagan temple blew it up in 1670, the Turks were destroying them, and Greek air pollution would have finished the job. The Ottomans, having been in power for centuries, were the legitimate government. The other, calling them Parthenon, called the Ottomans the “occupying power”, and Lord Elgin a looter who bribed the guards. H cut through this- where should they be, now? Or- who has the connection to 5th century BCE Athenian culture?

This subject is too big for me. I want accuracy, if you talk about me, more so, for me, but do not know what accuracy would even mean, a post-colonial academic understanding of pre-colonial ways of being. In the Scottish Country Dancing, I noticed the English were better at it, taking more care. For us, it was just something we did. The converts were so self-conscious.

Turner Prize exhibition “Not Art!” shock

Rain, steam and speedThe other artists in the exhibition had videos. One gave me a moment of surprised delight. An ink line- animated, we do not see the pen- joins dots in a grid. The line lengthens, then suddenly appears to bulge and change shape, joining more and more dots. There you go. I don’t know if it’s art (well, I think it is) but I know I liked it.

The projector was odd, and I spent some time examining it. It points sideways, not at the screen but at a small mirror at an angle, which reflects the light upward to another mirror, which reflects it towards the screen. The narrow film is held taut above the black projector. I could see unfocused colour on the mirror, a blurred misrepresentation of the image on the screen- a cup, from above. It was made or altered for this installation, in a black room. I was intrigued, trying to puzzle it out, though I came to no conclusion.

Duncan Campbell’s other film had a series of African art works starkly lit against a black background, while a white female voice read an essay. I could disagree with the voice- that the Nigerian constitution echoes Kant and Voltaire is not a sign that Colonialism continues, because Kant and Voltaire are world heritage, too great to be merely European. I could argue that is a patronising judgment for Campbell or the woman to make, more acceptable from a Nigerian. I would say it is not Art: it is writing, or a documentary, a film, “The Arts” but not for an art gallery. I would say that. So there. There were far more people watching this than the other videos.

The other videos were more what I am used to, as the video installation in an art gallery. The film lingers on a book of photos, parts of which have been scratched out. Where the photo showed a man lying on the floor, I could not tell whether the boot on his face was part of the original photo, or filmed on it, but a boot on a face is horrible. A wild flower caressed a woman’s face- we could not see who held it- and her open mouth, then her labia and anus. Not suitable for teenagers. I felt detached, and was self-conscious about myself with this art work: attempting to be open to it, wondering if the feelings it evoked were the point- mainly in my case disgust and puzzlement. It gives me a safe space to feel these things, like a horror film.

I loved the voice on the second artist’s film. It was beautiful, sounding to me urgent, wanting to convey to me its feeling of excitement, though the repeated words did not make clear sense. H thought it sounded “needy” and I wondered how that related to my own experience.

Then we went to the Late Turner exhibition, which was crowded out. H saw Rain Steam and Speed– through a huge crowd, it took patience. The mythological paintings seemed to us lit from different places: there is the moon in a night sky, reflected on the water; there is a city up a steep hill, seeming lit by bright sunlight from another direction. Agrippina brings home the body of Germanicus, and I saw the figures as relaxing, as with a picnic. It is possible not to get 19th century art too. I loved the members’ coffee bar. It really does not need all those arches and supports, the pillars and capitols. Even the corridor to the loos, sky-lit and dark panelled, was a sensual experience.