At the Greenbelt festival, I loved the Death Cafés the most. We gathered in groups to talk of death, and as there were about twice as many there as we expected Annette asked me to help facilitate one of the small groups each time. In one of those, people seemed more concerned to talk about how to set up a Death Café than actually participating; in another a priest whose previous professional experience included business facilitation took over, interviewing each participant until I mildly said that was my job (though she was doing great at it), and I borrowed a woman’s umbrella to poke the awning above our heads, to drain the puddle bulging down towards us. We took turns, propping up the awning.
The attitude to talking of suicidal ideation is “how brave you are” (to talk of it). In thee separate sessions, my groups talked openly and fearlessly. What do we think of the Afterlife? At a Christian festival, my disbelief was not agreed with, but was heard without challenge.
I was on stage, to talk of Quaker understandings of God, and how we were changing our Book of Discipline. This was on Monday at 5pm, after quite a lot of festival-goers had left, before an audience of thirty. There were four of us. I have a thank you card, signed by eight, thanking me for my moving, open and honest sharing, and my wonderful presence. It delights me.
I made some contribution on the Saturday morning with the children’s activity. We had pictures of heads to glue onto paper, and the task was to draw a body; twigs to decorate with wool, glue and glitter; and “fairy dust” to play in. I played in fairy dust, making ephemeral pictures in metal trays, and some children joined me.
I met PT, an Italian-heritage New Yorker who spent tens of thousands on gay cures, which inspired his first stage show. Before the festival started, we walked around the field, going up on the Mount to look over the festival ground, almost empty of people but with all the tents and banners, and into venues where he would speak. I found him lovely: clear-eyed, deeply sensitive and courageous. I feared he had a poor impression of me, based on three things he said.
He asked what inspires me, and I felt inadequate, because I have got nowhere with what I love: writing, speaking on a stage. We walked into the Green Room, not guarded yet as the festival had not opened, and they gave him a meal ticket and a copy of the programme. I asked him to get me a copy, and he asked if he could. They told him he could not. “It’s on sale, right?” I did not say I cannot afford one- or can, but money is that tight. He handed it to me, and I carried it as we walked out into occasional light spits of rain. Then he said, quietly as if not expecting, or not wanting to hear an answer, “I gave that to you to look at. Oh, never mind.” I carried it back to the Quaker tent.
Next evening I came up to him after his last evening talk, not wanting to go off together just to talk for a moment- to the other speaker, or someone, about Evangelical ideas of Love, actually- or- and he said he had to go, he would see me tomorrow. As if he felt the need to escape me, I thought.
That hardened into my own depressive view of myself as grasping and boring. And, of course, inadequate, always inadequate. Probably, the viral infection worked with the depression, making me feel greater lassitude than usual. Days after the festival, two weeks ago, I called Samaritans.
What could I do? I could read, I suppose. Queer Virtue by Elizabeth Edman, perhaps, on how authentic Christianity and Queerness alike rupture and sustain us, of how the queer people she knows are in touch with their moral centre, of how Queer theory, Queerness and Queering disrupt binary thinking to get closer to reality.
That sounds heavy, he said. It may be the most accessible book I have in my reading pile- introductions to epistemology and existentialism, a Hannah Arendt reader. I have thought, trying to know myself, that I can work very hard at something; now it seems that though I do almost nothing, when I do something I am working hard. This is a good thing- I appreciate culture because I have spent time seeking that appreciation- but essentially I have two speeds:
Captain! The engines cannae take much more o’ this! and
All this struggling people do! All the struggling we demand of each other.