The wisdom to know the difference

You know the serenity prayer. It encapsulates the human condition so elegantly.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I might imagine that “know” to be instantaneous. How often I carry on banging my head against a wall, though there is no crack in it, no way I will break through in that way. I should “know” it is fruitless, I should perceive immediately that it will do no good, but often I have to learn that. I carry on banging my head against the wall because I have not accumulated enough evidence to convince myself that it will do no good.

Or, I sit amongst wonderful opportunities, taking none of them, because I do not see them. I should know they are there, and choose one, and pursue it. I should know, now, not have to work at learning of their existence.

So, perhaps we should change the word “know” to “learn”. I did not know, I say. I thought the wall would crack eventually. I had not seen the possibilities.

But I am insane, not seeing because I do not want to see. I want to believe that what I am doing has value. I want to believe my choices and decisions so far have been good enough, and my perception clear. Admitting I am wrong is painful. And so I carry on beating my head against the wall, because it is better than admitting I have been wrong.

So another word for “know”, there, is “accept” or even “admit”. There is blood streaming down my face, sweat stinging my eyes, and my trembling fingers find no cracks in that wall. There is a moment when I must admit all my virtue- courage, tenacity, intelligence, strength of will- has been insufficient to break it down.

But I know, really. I can carry on

banging my head against the wall

or stop. I can carry on

ignoring the possibilities

or consider them.

That wisdom entails admitting all the pain I carry into my immediate awareness. All the choices I have made that have not gone well. All the false hope and illusion. All the times I claim to desire something but take no steps to bring it to fruition. It involves choosing what I actually am over what I wish myself to be, and choosing reality over fantasy. It involves staring unblinkingly, and acting. This is who I am, here, now, with these characteristics, with this fixed past, with these possible futures. Wisdom is terrifying, the face of God.

I am going to die. My chance of life after death is in the memories of people who know me, and the lives of people I influence. My life will be finished: before then, it is for me to complete it, to make it a whole.

I have not actually been reading existentialist philosophy, just an introduction to some of its concepts. Some of them chime with me, though. Even when I do not admit, I still know.

The Real Self and the Inner Light

Quakers have the concept of the Inner Light which comes from God and which shows us the Way, which we then follow. For example early Quakers had a thrawn determination not to admit anyone as their superiors, just because the authorities called them such: removing their hats in court would have been showing respect to the judge, and Quakers were imprisoned for refusing to do so. Most people then would have removed their hats before a judge without thinking about it. It was just what everyone did, the societal expectation unconsciously obeyed. The Quaker refusal could be called monstrous egotism, asserting onesself over society. Alternatively, it is selfless, because it involves considerable personal risk and suffering in prison, and righteous, a stand against false authority coming from power rather than consent.

I can create a selfish and a selfless explanation of it. And the selfish explanation does not necessarily make it bad- though here I am analysing a corporately discerned campaign of many Quakers, so biased to see it as worthwhile rather than as, say, subversive of social cohesion and threatening a new civil war.

The analysing gets in the way: words make judging the rightness of the action more difficult. From a Quaker perspective, “hat honour” is clearly from our inner Light, the Spirit, God, because it was discerned by so many and carried out for so long. Most people do not wear hats now, and we have different ways of showing respect or a sense of equality.

Identity is a series of constructs dependent on specific circumstances. My friend said that is a quote from Patrick Marber- perhaps he paraphased it. After I committed to transition, the things I would have said about my identity changed. If I say I am “Scots”, what I mean by that depends on circumstances.

Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst, may help explain. The role of the analyst is to hear the voice of the unconscious, which makes itself audible through the censorship of consciousness in riddles, allusions, elisions and omissions, explains Caroline Belsey in Poststructuralism aVSI. In the same way, Quakers sit in silence listening to the inner light. I write poetry, sometimes: writing prose I seek to make sense, which involves using the meanings my society has adopted for words having their common use. That common use guides my thought, making some ideas unthinkable, like George Orwell’s Newspeak: The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. That works with English, too. Audre Lorde:

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

So we create new words, to name new concepts. “Slut-shaming”, for example: it is no longer just the way of the world that single men and women who have sex are treated differently. We can point it out, argue and protest, assert different values.

Speaking in order to make sense to others within my community, I am trapped by my community’s unspoken assumptions. It is a continual struggle to escape those assumptions. I do not even see them, for they appear to be mere reality, the way things are/should be. In the same way my self-concept is bound up in words, ideas of how I should be or am, which get in the way of seeing my true nature.

Winston Smith escaped stultifying convention in sex with Julia, where the brain escapes its linguistic analysis in the moment of release.

The organismic self, spontaneously relating to its surroundings, responding to stimuli, is restrained by convention. Thinking differently is a huge struggle. Quaker practice can break those bonds. We sit in silence, attentive to the inner light. We speak from that light. Together, we can decide to go against the culture, led by something so powerful we call it God.

The language-animal, classifying and conceptualising with words learned from others, will fear that light. The light is unbearable to it.

Partial inclusion

When I am not accepted, often I am tolerated. When I am not wholly valued or cherished, I may be partially included: I pretend to be a normal person, and am allowed to be that normal person in the group. So naming the way in which my difference is rejected may be a threat to me: it draws attention to my difference, so maybe my pretence at normality has been seen through, and I will be rejected. No, no, it’s no trouble, I say. Please don’t worry about it.

Though I am depressive, and need a lot of acceptance before it gets through to me; and I am hypervigilant for any sign of rejection. And, that could be seen more positively: particular aspects of me are appropriate for this group accomplishing this task, and others can come out at another time.

Our liberation is bound up together. If I can take off my masks, I can accept others without theirs, and even help them to remove them. We shall stand together naked and unashamed, but conscious and aware. Jesus says: “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed, when you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children and trample on them! Then [you will become] children of Him who is living, and you will have no more fear.

This is a spiritual process, among Quakers. My Friend asked, What would it take to enable us to live in consciousness of peace, love and joy so that such issues as these and many others are resolved spontaneously? I think we need practice. I don’t know we will ever manage it spontaneously. I replied, For me, that is a continual process of emptying myself of my requirements of others and my false perceptions, and appreciating what is around me and within me. It is not instantaneous- noticing something and welcoming or emptying it, as it also involves things I desire or need to explore. There is love in me. I have blind spots where I do not notice- logs as well as specks in my eye- and it is a matter of seeing. I am pleased that I said there is love in me. I can acknowledge my goodness. Not everyone can.

Trans people are bound up in the concept of a real self, a kernel which is unchanging, which is the sex not assigned at birth. That might be a chimera. I can imagine a person’s self-concept being exhaustively defined, all the things they think they are and ought to be, but not the organismic self because it is an organism. I am an organism that reacts to circumstances, taking in ideas, responding to stimuli, so I cannot know how I will react until I am provoked. As the world I am in changes, I change.

How comfortable are you? There is a Quaker booklet, Owning power and privilege, which considers how some of us are advantaged, and the first voice in the text is a “white, middle class, educated, affluent” person who calls himself a “typical Quaker”. My voice comes later: For many of us, understanding power and privilege will be a matter of seeing both sides- how we are simultaneously disempowered and empowered by social structures and deep, embedded cultures. I am white, middle class by origin at least, educated, and I have refused policemen peremptorily demanding to come in to my house, unlike that typical Quaker who acknowledges “police attention bypasses me”. I know he is a man, from the pronouns he uses of himself. I think he’s straight. He does not mention being a straight man in that list of privileges. Fair enough, it’s a toolkit for recognising privilege in onesself, but the most privileged person is heard first.

Though the toolkit’s epigraph is by an “Aboriginal” activist, Lilla Watson: If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. She could be educated, too.

How comfortable are you? Bud Tillinghast has started a blog on the Roman Empire as a way of understanding the Bible. He quotes an English publication: August is named after Augustus Caesar…[who] brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire… The extensive network of Roman roads made travel much easier and thus [helped] the spread of Christianity. He points out that “peace” was in the interests of the Roman elite, at the expense of the rest, and that those roads helped soldiers march easily to places the Pax Romana was threatened. Tacitus said, They make a desolation and call it peace. If we think of that “peace” as a good thing, it is because we think of our own imperial adventures as beneficent, spreading order, rather than rapacious.

The way to equality is owning our power and privilege. It might help us get people of colour in if we recognised our privilege, as part of the emotions, attitudes and prejudices in [ourselves] which lie at the root of destructive conflict, the things we can’t see because they are so normal and expected. This is just how things are. This is not how things should be.

I am seeking my own liberation here, not just as a trans woman oppressed by the Patriarchy but as an educated white person oppressed by my education, which blinds me to other perspectives. When the least of us is free we are all entirely free.

Diversity, inclusion and Quakers

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Do Quakers welcome everyone? Do they feel welcome? An area meeting committee considered the possibility of putting the Inclusive Church statement on our website, or something similar: We believe in inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ. That is probably too Christocentric for us in its language. “Gospel” means “Good news”, which I would prefer in case there was any misunderstanding. We don’t need you to know our jargon yet. It also has the ring of a paragraph designed by a committee, to please the people inside rather than those outside. I have read Marcus Borg, so think a “scripturally faithful” church is liberal not conservative, but that could be off-putting.

Roll up, roll up! Get your spirituality and mysticism here!

Ten years ago I was inspired by City URC in Cardiff, which had a welcome sign outside: now, their website says We are an Open and Affirming Church, made up of and welcoming people from all communities regardless of race, colour, gender, age, nationality, economic circumstance, marital status, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability or emotional condition. I like that. It says we welcome, without making any requirements. Yes, we still need to talk about economic power, though James worked that out two thousand years ago.

Some of my Meeting do not know what “intersectionality” means. Oppressive institutions are interconnected, so misogyny and racism together oppress the woman of colour; more generally, there are harmless or worthwhile parts of ourselves which we keep quiet about, as we fear they will not be welcome in any social group. At a Greenbelt session on intersectionality, I heard

When they enter, we all enter

-that is, if the most marginalised person can thrive in a group, everyone can. Every part of ourself is welcome. If my Friend does not know the word, I could quote Jesus: just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

All the chairs in my meeting room have arms. We are replacing them. They are sturdy enough, but getting a bit shabby-looking, and I feel my respect for the worship requires, if we can manage it, attractive chairs. But I was embarrassed today when someone who worshipped with us for the first time, having been thinking about it for a year, had those chair arms pressing into her flesh. They simply were not wide enough for her.

We are considering getting two or three of the firmer sort of easy-chair, supportive of the back, high enough to ease getting up, as we have older people who find our existing chairs uncomfortable, which makes them less likely to want to come. We are considering painful backs, poor balance, difficulty getting up from a chair and we could also consider the range of sizes people come in, if we get over our prejudices. We have so many unspoken ways of doing things, what we’ve always done, and people who don’t fit in can learn to like it or leave- just like any other community which has not thought about these things.

I went to talk to her afterwards, but that breached a rule against personal remarks. It is intrusively personal to comment that someone does not fit a chair, because it is seen as a criticism of her rather than of our welcome. I couched it as an apology. I explained that we were getting new chairs- and fat-shaming is so prevalent that it was still seen as a personal remark, as “You don’t fit our chairs” rather than “Our chairs don’t fit you”. The personal remark is the usual thing in society. The apology and pledge to make amends is revolutionary.

I was introduced to my first Quaker meeting by a lesbian, and because I had learned of Quaker action for LGBT folk I chose Quakers when I left the Anglican church. I was a stranger, and you took me in– because of this, I have a need to be an ally to any group disadvantaged among us. We need similar positive work on behalf of all disadvantaged groups. And we need a careful audit of all the things we don’t notice, imagining ourselves as the people who don’t come to meeting.

With a content warning on sexual assault, violent assault and abuse, here’s Whippoorwill, a self-described gender freak… existing somewhere between intersexual and trans-gendered. They have been able to pass, sometimes, as one sex or the other, but hiding was killing them: and “owning their peculiarities”, no longer seeking to pass, they feel less fear. I hope this delights you.

Birth of the inner critic

You have that inner voice which tells you how useless you are. Most people have. I know mine comes from my mother, and possibly this is how.

In counselling, the inner critic said “How can you be so fucking useless?” and I knew that was my mother. My mother would not have said “fucking” but it came from her- probably pre-lingual, that is my adult vocalisation of the interaction. I know it comes from my mother like I know my own name-

yes, that’s me protesting, I know it and I don’t think anyone will believe me-

and at the same time it does not feel right. I have felt my own rage, as a baby, in a pram under a tree watching the light through the leaves, a recovered memory, a reconstructed clarity of how I felt at the time-

it does not feel right because my mother was so completely dutiful and controlled, as well as controlling. She would never have expressed rage like that. Rather,

she felt that rage.

Her rage, like mine, was always directed internally against herself. She could not get me to stop crying, or I did not like what she fed me, or there was some inability to communicate, and she was angry- with herself, not me, but I sensed it, and felt it was with me. I feared it. So comes my raging sense of inadequacy, whipping myself until I can go no further.

Research shows that the sins of the parents are visited on the children. We know how patterns are created, maintained and passed on, says my friend who should know. This fits, for me: how the pattern could be passed on. Two human beings want to be happy, together, and fail- and each rages against herself.

I told her that I do not trust my “Inner light”. I am not sure I have one. I can discern different voices or characters within myself, but not an inner light. Of course, that may just mean that I do not understand it: I have a false view that it should be particularly moral, or it should seek my flourishing in a particular way, or even that it should fit me into wider society in a particular way. One barrier to spiritual growth is a false conception of what that growth might look like.

She found this hard to understand, and asked, “What sustains you?” I don’t know how to answer that question. “Test the spirits,” said St Paul, and Licia Kuenning’s local Quaker meeting easily discerned that the voice she thought was that of Jesus leading her to prophesy was a damaging fantasy.

I have been crushed. I did not know my feelings, and when I found them I felt them as anger, frustration, resentment and fear, later refined to rage and terror. Does this mean that my inner light is crushed, feeling rage and terror? It would be easier if I were a theist, believing the Light is from God, but the Light is part of my humanity.

How weak, that I would want to hide away as I do, would not use my talents but just bury them? I despise myself. I have wanted to die, wanted to kill myself. I have found how I want to survive. These are two strong voices inside me. My mother was very controlling, and that came from fear. Everything has to be accounted for. I have taken on that controlling pattern. Possibly, the idea of a “Light” is getting in the way of perceiving how I am.

And yet- I like the idea of an inner light. Many people testify to its existence. I want to know it.

There is that one thing that I feel I could do, that would be worthwhile. And my Friend wanted to warn me of the dangers of it, especially for a trans woman. I cannot be sure it is a leading. I might test that leading, even if my Friend thinks it unwise.

The Limits of Mindfulness

It rained all Saturday, and Sunday morning, and around eleven I walked into the garden, under my umbrella, into that clear light of high sun diffused by cloud which is excellent for photography, in search of an apple. The tips of the branches of the fir tree were a grey-blue, and I paid it attention because I had not seen one like that before. Either it was diseased, or it was a different subspecies, but I saw it as beautiful simply because I saw it in that Mindful way. I have practised mindfulness for years, so that I can fall into it, and it still gives the things I see, and even the light I see them in, an intensity I find beautiful. I walked to the apple tree, communing with my surroundings, and lightly pressed apples until one fell into my hand.

That fir distracted me from my task, and from the group. Or, I had time; or, it helped me descend into the state of presence, which would help me be in that group. I looked at it, and took pleasure mixed with doubt- is it sick?- without knowing why. I just did.

I should not have agreed to that Occupational Health report. She phoned me for half an hour, patronised me, told me things I knew, suggested my room was untidy because I have bad habits not because I am depressed (there’s a lot to unpack in that, and in my reaction to it) and wrote a report saying there was nothing wrong with me. Please look at doing Mindfulness exercises. This website offers 6 exercises to try daily. Mindfulness can help reduce daily stresses and balance the mind and body which may be helpful as you move forward into work.

Lucie asked me what I thought of that. I wasn’t meeting her eyes at all, that session; I said nothing, and closed mine. It is not that I don’t want to participate, but that I can’t see anything of value to say.

“You look like you were doing it then,” she said. Yes. She is perceptive. I don’t do mindfulness exercises because if I kneel in my ritual space my anguish may explode over me, and I fear that. And I want to advance my own interests, and I feel I am less capable of that in Mindful Presence than when I am in the endless internal debate, conflicted, concerned with appearances- only how things appear to myself, not how they appear to others.

Shortly after, she said “Shall we arrange another appointment?”, bringing this one to an end. I had been resisting begging to just go. It was twenty minutes short of the hour.

I don’t have the luxury of liking myself. I might have been in that Mindful Present state- or that aspect which I think of as my Real Me, my Emotional Bit, possibly my Inner Light though that would make the Light strange indeed, not virtuous according to my conception of virtue-

when I was begging the other day. I was begging. I abased myself. Please don’t let that happen. Please delay that. I was speaking in the high voice I sometimes use with Tina; I was articulate, putting forth arguments (this is why it’s good from your point of view arguments). He went away to check. He could not decide to grant my wish. He could not even ask the one who should decide, to grant it. But it’s delayed, often, anyway, by weeks or months. “You can ask when it happens,” he said, encouragingly. “Don’t worry twice- deal with it when you have to.” I liked him. That did not stop me thinking after he had been trying to catch me out, and had succeeded.

So there I was. Acting in my interests as I best see them. Failing. And that might have come out of my integrity.

Memory bothers me. I had talked to A before, just not remembered it. How to get people to stick in my mind? It was only six months ago.

Symbols v Reality

Through the crucible of crisis, we enter the heart of Contemplation. I desire freedom, in two senses: flourishing, where my gifts and humanity are best utilised, in a role which fits me; and choices so I can best use those gifts, to be fulfilled. I want to be able to like myself, and fear this may be a luxury I cannot afford.

At Charney Manor I had experiences where I might not even trust myself. On Saturday evening I laid out a hand of fan patience, and stared furiously at it, wanting to see the way ahead to win it. I explained it to others sitting nearby. I played a few hands, and as we were supposed to gather I was so frustrated by being blocked that I stayed alone, wanting to get one out. We noted that playing patience on computer is far more addictive, with the pretty patterns cards moving to the correct place made, and the little instant ping of dopamine, which is diffused when one has the physical sensations of handling the cards. I have not played it for years, and still the compulsion grabbed me, to stop me going to Epilogue. I could easily fritter a morning with it now: in my mind, one voice says “fritter” and another portrays the idea far more winsomely.

At the end, we wanted a group photo: but who would take it? I said “Does anyone’s camera have a timer?” Silence. “Would you like me to get my camera from Andrew’s car?” No objections, so I ran off- jogged off, at least- to get it. I set the timer ten times for ten photos, and said “just one more” as people were getting restive. I know this, because my camera had ten photos on it, and in one case people said, “it isn’t flashing”, meaning I had not set the timer properly. And I only remember doing it three times.

I worried that I had made too much of a fuss, going to get the camera. Were people irritated by the time-wasting? No, said Anne, and I am grateful: absolution sought and given. C is also prone to beat herself up like this: I suggested to her that we speak on the phone, as each would be far kinder to the other than to herself, so we could get a better perspective on our actions.

In the last discussion session, before worship, lots of people expressed thanks to organisers, which irritated me: we had not finished yet, this is preparing for going when we still have worship and lunch. And also it seemed to be creating a reassuring narrative about the weekend- wasn’t it lovely- which it was, but there was other stuff, it was more rich and strange than narratives allow. What I remember saying in the worship sharing, though, was “All this gratitude!”- sarcastically, unpleasantly, without explaining what my objections were. Though having misremembered taking photographs, I might not remember what I said.

Liz was too moved to read that poem, so I read it for her, delighting her. It is a good amateur poem. It shows its author. I was so pleased to serve in that way.

The Quaker ideal of Simplicity confuses me. I pit virtue against eudaemonia, or flourishing. I think of Virtue as “Being good”, an ideal of morality I reject, following social rules. Eudaemonia is about fulfilment, which may mean breaking conventions. Simplicity is not merely “decluttering”. It is certainly not asceticism, or at least not that kind of asceticism which tots up the virtue-points and claims superiority. I think of asceticism like that, as a kind of collection-mania, acquiring things-I-avoid.

I abhor virtue in the sense of Being Good. I do good things, follow the rules, with the intention of thereby making myself safe, accepted within society. But you can’t please everyone.

I scrawled “Symbols v Reality” on a piece of paper. Simplicity is part of facing reality in an aware way. Rather than being distracted by symbols- either ascetic avoidance of self-indulgence, or acquisition of things to show Success- one decides what one finds important, and seeks it. So simple clothes means not being distracted by fashions, but also not choosing clothes for any appearance- of virtue, of asceticism, of an artful carelessness, anything. One might want to give any sort of impression- of seriousness, attractiveness- and that is OK.

You see I contradict myself. I am unsure.

Being undistracted. Giving the clothes, appearance, presentation, just the amount of attention it needs and no more.

Being non-dual: escaping self-consciousness into simple being, united in integrity. Just as I lift a weight with my qi, so I use it to get dressed.

The great gift of Charney is to see that clarity is possible, though I have not attained it. There is a link to mindfulness, if I can manage that.

Per ardua ad astra

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
Dead stop.

All this struggling people do! All the struggling we demand of each other.

A blessing

I had a good day, yesterday. I went into London to Friends House, and met some wonderful people. I might help arrange something worthwhile. Then I went to Tate Modern, and saw the exhibition Shape of Light: it is of abstract photography. Things which I would not consider beautiful became part of beautiful images. My photographs are of things, which I might seek to frame in an interesting way; just now I watched a video, and found myself noticing the light and dark in it more, I think, than I would have. I may change my photography, to consider the light more. I even find myself noticing the light around me more: the best exhibitions change the way I see. I cycled to the station, leaving home at 8.15 and returning after nine; it was a good day, a full day, quite tiring.

What we do in worship came up. I said I am dealing with emotional pain, finding a way of holding it and accepting it, experiencing it and healing it. The healing may be slow. The feeling is teaching me things I did not know, and will continue until I have learned them.

“The meeting can uphold people who need the silence for something else,” said someone. I felt patronised. I said I am aware of the others, and the communal activity. This is my way to communion with the light within, and it may take some time.

This morning I cycled to worship, still coughing after a virus which hit two weeks ago, thinking of that group. John, who is ninety, is particularly beautiful. I am not sure what I can contribute. In meeting, I thought of when I joined Quakers. I needed a place I could feel I belonged, and was not nearly ready for it.

There’s the anger. How could I be so blind, so stupid, never making the connections? I hurt, and so I berate myself. I am enraged at myself, that I could let myself be hurt. That was the start of the meeting. I had failed to bring the bicycle lock, and might have left my helmet lying on the ground outside. I feel stupid as well as tired.

Near the end, I saw it.

I must break the connection between pain and blame.

When I hurt, I feel such anger against myself! It could be my mother’s anger. This is part of it: allowing the pain to be, not blaming myself for it. The blame stops me going out.

Rather, I need gratitude and appreciation for all the blessings. I was in need, and I was showered with


There is always kindness. No-one judges me as harshly as I do. I wept at the pain of feeling that anger, at myself, of blaming myself. I am loosening my bonds.

Summer fruit

Most summers, I have one or two utterly outstanding peaches.
Blackberries have varieties of beauty,
hard and wersh, soft and sweet, late and subtle,
dying my fingers
A meal of them in August, a freak lone fruit in November.
Apples are dependable.
You know where you are with an apple.
The full plum tree ripens all at once
for jam, wine, and a sugar-orgy, our family as animals together.
Grapes are pleasant.
I like it if someone else peels them for me.
But peaches
early in the year they go squishy before they ripen
and they may wrinkle quickly
and some grow blue fur overnight
and I bite one, to find it crunchy-
and just one, all summer, floods my mouth with sweetness
its juice flowing down my hands
It is the only fruit of the year.