The power of Positive™ Thinking

Fbfnd asked, Do you think that just focussing on the positive in life is ok? What about the darkness?

Grist to my mill. I replied It is always worthwhile to focus on the positive in a situation, possibilities rather than what you can’t do because of what you don’t have. But that does not mean you should deny that real problems exist, so you may do something about them. And much positivity “wisdom” is problematic because of semantics, it is just that it is only part of the truth.

Um. Not entirely clear: that write-Post rather than write-read-Post thing. For clarity: you should admit problems exist, so you may do something about them.

But wait. Is that any more than The Serenity Prayer? It is beautifully expressed. Perhaps I am better to express truth allusively and poetically rather than as if in a statute- Niebuhr’s clarity is beyond me.

Barbara Ehrenreich is onto something- indeed, her cancer was not a “gift”. Here is Eve Ensler arguing the opposite, that it gives gifts of empathy and feeling one with other human beings and valuing the life we have and accepting the need to be cared for and accepting the care of others- but I would rather gain those gifts some other way.

Denial may be a gift. If there is a Threat, but I can do nothing about it, I might be better getting on with other things in life rather than stressing about that threat like a rabbit in the headlights. Serenity to accept the things I cannot change may be better, but I would settle for Denial if I can do no better.

On facebook, the argument moved on to the Law of Attraction, with long closely argued paragraphs flashing back and forth: if you look out for and notice what is good in your environment, you learn to be more aware of it, which increases your curiosity and engagement with the world. Seeing the bad reduces self-esteem and self-confidence, and produces a sense of hopelessness. “Quiet desperation is the English way” sang Pink Floyd, not an original observation.

And looking for the bright side in ones situation- even cancer- does no harm. That part of myself which I see as Bad, as Shadow, so flee- there is strength there, and it behoves me to explore my responses and possibilities. Finding the Good in it blesses me.

Going back to Ehrenreich’s example, telling people who have just been dismissed that this is a great opportunity, that all the great entrepreneurs have sat where they are sitting now, is a lie, and victim-blaming: yet we do all have to get on with it. I still don’t get what Jesus meant by “Ask and ye shall receive” and Christians have been wrestling with the meaning and power of prayer ever since- yet some of those fired employees will transcend their situation, just as some struck down with mental health issues will live more productively after learning to deal with their illness. But- not everyone.

The generous thing?

Christ carrying the cross- VeronicaI am glad my father remarried. And, had he not, my relationship with him would have been closer.

I don’t know Margaret. I did not learn till the funeral that her son can sign. He is deaf, and when we met we conversed in writing- friendly enough, each time, he has a charming enthusiasm in his communications. So when he came over to their house, and we played knockout whist- a way of being together without much talking- and she talked to him, repeating herself, I don’t know whether she could not sign, or whether they spoke so as to include Dad and me.

She is not terribly intelligent, but her not signing was an indication for me that she was stupid and had stopped her son from signing in an obviously failed effort to integrate him into normal society. This is not a generous interpretation.

I am glad my father remarried, and I resent it. I resent the growing distance between us- he died on 31 October, I had not phoned him since I had visited in early September. He had not phoned me.

Poke and prod the gladness, and resentment.

The gladness makes me happy. It is a generous response- and we are genuinely generous, and like to see ourselves as so, him and me. It brings out the positive in the situation. I wanted his good, separate from my own if necessary.

The resentment is unassuageable. There is nothing I can do, now, to make him closer to me, possibly nothing I could have done at any time in the last ten years. It is not incompatible with the gladness: I am well aware that conflicting emotions co-exist.

Christ carrying the crossI am better to admit the resentment exists. Of course I deny reality where reality is uncomfortable, but there are moments when I do not. I can persuade myself that there are reasons to be glad, which makes the resentment less painful.

One reason I am not that unhappy at my father’s death is that it has changed a conflict situation, an open wound, the distant relationship where I wanted to be closer but did not see how into a resolved situation; and the sources of joy in it, such as his independence, are clearer to me. And I wept last night at those things which I resent. How liberating to be selfish!


Here is Hieronymous Bosch, Christ Carrying the Cross. To our left is Veronica, who wiped his face with a napkin which afterwards bore a likeness of his face. He is Blessed, doing what the people want and need. Around him is this mass of humanity, filled with their own concerns. And someone clings to the bar of the cross.

The generous thing

Christ carrying the cross right detailI am glad my father remarried. Otherwise, at 88, he would have needed a carer. He might not have lasted this long.

Christmas 2001, they had been married for two months. I visited: it was the three of us, her descendants were in their own homes. On the Sunday I went to the Quaker meeting then to visit Sheena in Linlithgow, dressed female. I was still presenting male at work, but less and less, elsewhere. I got back to Dad’s flat, and went into the spare bedroom. Dad told me I would have to get changed in order to spend the evening with Margaret, who would be home from her visiting soon. Later, he came in to tell me I had to get changed as Margaret was arriving. I stayed, lying on the bed. Just as I had started cleaning off my make-up he came in to tell me I could stay dressed. And I wonder whether he projected his distress at my transition onto her- even whether I was part of that projection.

After I went full time, in April 2002, he told me I could not be in the house when she was there. I did not see her again until 2004.

He complained about her so much that when she wanted to move back to B—- I thought he might not go too. He complained about her to my sister as well. Now, my sister’s children call Margaret “Grandma” (my mother had the baby-name of “Li”) and may be more likely to stay in touch with her than with me.

And yet it was unquestionably good for him. I don’t know what his social life would have been like, but with her this year he could live independently, and without her he would need some carer- me, possibly- at least to shop and to do some of the housework and any gardening. He was dressing and bathing himself, I think.

If he, or we, were projecting distress at my transition onto her, had he not remarried that distress would have to come out in some other way, and we might have had a more honest relationship. When I had aversion therapy in 1991, he

(I have just found the title for this post.)

accepted me. I did not have to have aversion therapy, he said: if that was the way I needed to relax it was fine by him. Now I say I am glad he remarried, because it was so good for him. Even though it drove us apart, or at least after it our relationship was more distant. That is the generous thing to say.

Crying for the money

Claude Monet- Yellow Irises detail 1If a man for money criesClaude Monet- Yellow Irises detail 2
cry not when his father dies
It is proof that he would rather
have the money than his father.

This has been bothering me. Even if the original is a mockery of Lopez de Vega rather than a serious point, I have cried far more passionately over my father’s loss of money than over his death.

£60,000, or £10,000, as soon as the executry was complete, would give me choices which I do not now have. That my father could be conned out of £50,000 last year was bad enough; that he could be conned out of another £50,000 by practically the same con, after he appeared to see that he had been conned before; that after he appeared to see that the second con was a fraud, he could scrape together £2000 to give to the same people this Summer; that his wife, and my sister who lives ten miles away could not protect him from this; that I could not, because I was so far away and because of how I was with his wife; that we and hundreds of others conned in the same way could tell the police of the particular con-men, and those con-men could continue to operate with impunity from the same addresses and telephone numbers-

makes me weep, passionately, abandonedly, repeatedly- for my failure to control my world, and my loss of the money. Whereas at his funeral my weeping was a happy grief, with delight at his beauty and vivacity-

Is this next bit brutal and dark? I don’t know.

At 88, his physical and mental powers were greatly reduced. He needed no carers, and took some part in the housework, but did not go out a lot. He had stopped going to the church, or the dancing. People visiting made his social life, and I am unclear about how much there was of that. He has ceased to be a source of worry for me. In part the worry was that he would be unhappy or weary or frightened or deluded, and I and others could not alleviate that.

In dying, he has ceased to be this vulnerable old man, and become- himself, the whole of him over his whole life. In that sense his life is Eternal, outside time. I have memories, of gifts and achievements, and his real regrets are outweighed by his consolations and mine.

The images are extracts from Yellow Irises by Claude Monet.

Wedding photography

Wedding portrait small

Here is my parents’ wedding photograph. Wedding photography has come on a great deal since 1962, it seems. After scanning it, I recalled it and thought how they might almost be holding numbers in front of themselves, it was so impersonal- looking at it again I see it is not quite that bad. I note the prayer book my mother holds.

I much prefer this informal one.

Wedding informal small

Just as in the war, he has cracked a great line, and looks as if he cannot believe his good fortune.

Being polite

RAF portrait small file

kilt portrait croppedUp to London, then up to Edinburgh, all in one week. I had no conversations on the train, at all, which disappointed me. I cut cheese for lunch on Tuesday 12th, and the man next to me gave me a wet-wipe to clean my penknife. “Be prepared is my motto”, he said. Well- I lifted the knife. He had thought of getting one, but they are £19. Several people helped me with my heavy case, going south.

I wrote that on my last leg, then a man sat opposite, and we chatted. He is a chemical engineer from Ohio. His daughter is 13, and wants to be a writer: at the moment she is devouring books, hundreds of pages a day. He adopted a child belonging to a neighbour, and the child thereby avoided a life of crime. Despite this, I found his talk boring, perhaps for lack of affect.

I had wondered why I had not been subjected to a medical for my ESA yet- but I saw the GP on Monday, and she told me that it was time to put some structure in my life. Then, perhaps my face fell, perhaps it was my bereavement, she gave me another three months. Stopping being on the sick does not put structure in my life, it makes me sign on every two weeks, and possibly get sanctioned. Possibly SEMA expect GPs to put us off the sick, rather than doing it themselves.

I got the 9.20 bus, and my sister picked me up at Waverley at 4.10. As I thought, we were polite to each other. That evening, we could have talked but I was finishing off my draft minutes for AM. Then we could have talked, but she was watching soaps. So, rather than getting drunk, and weeping together, and sharing our feelings, we were polite, and went to bed around ten.

The next night I watched her daughter, who continues her Architecture course, design a building by CAD, loving the way she manipulated it. She creates disabled access, and the principle is that the disabled person’s experience of the building should be the same as that of the able person. No going round the back for disabled access. I looked through Dad’s photographs, and my nephew looked too.

And- I just passed them to him. We did not discuss them. I did not point anything out to him. So while I resented how polite and flat of affect we were, as I predicted, here was I at least taking my part in creating that. I don’t know whether we could have expressed real feeling. It could be worse, fighting and blaming each other would be worse than mere politeness. We refer to when I will next be in Edinburgh, but I do not know if I will ever see them again.

The funeral was beautiful. We started in St Vincent’s church, where Dad worshipped for years, and where the presbyter Rodney, 87, was his good friend. Rodney celebrated the Eucharist, and preached, then preached again at the crematorium.

It had been suggested that I not share the funeral car with Dad’s wife, but I did, and six of us drove in a silent dream up the hill through new town and old town. Beautiful city. Past the Liberton hospital, which is a happy memory for me.

The crematorium is being renovated, so we had the smaller chapel, which seats fifty: we had people standing at the back. Rodney spoke of Eternal life, the life with God, more than once saying “Which Alec is now experiencing” and I thought, I do not believe in that; but his voice is beautiful. The family wore black, which I had not thought to do, and Dad’s wife asked me to the line at the end, greeting everyone, which surprised me. Form’s sake, or sympathy, I do not know. Bomber Command Association and dancers and walkers and Piskies and friends: none I really recognised.

Next day, my sister went back to work and her daughter lay in bed as I scanned those photos. I had nothing to say to her, hardly even meaningless expressions of good will.

Granny, happy

Here is my grandmother, looking happy. With her is my grandfather, who died of tuberculosis in 1934.

Granny, happy

When she had to be taken into hospital, my father said he saw her and she did not stop screaming. We buried her shortly after, beside her husband, who shared my former name. That was in 1982.

So happy memories are necessary. Here are my father and his brother, with a cuddly toy,


And in short trousers.


And in the choir.

choir church

What makes that photo stand out is the ladies standing on our right.

choir park

Here is Granny in the orchestra, not smiling as whole-heartedly as when sitting on the grass.


Mentioning the War

I look at these photos and I feel love, pride, and wonder that my father could fly operations. At the funeral, there were a few from the Bomber Command Association to pay their respects.

Even if he looks a bit unhappy here.

Then they went round to the tail. The war was over in Europe, though Hiroshima had not yet been bombed and it was possible that 218 squadron would be posted to the far east, and they look playful- especially him, between his machine guns. Mild kudos to whoever can identify the pilot- comment, and say why.

Lanc tail 2

Then- oh, wow.

Off duty

I don’t recall seeing this one before, but I love the eye contact. He must have come out with a great line to evoke that reaction.

We mention the War too much. Our TV dramas are still set in it, and we mark endless anniversaries- if every five years is significant, then all the time is an anniversary of something in WWII. Next year is the centenary of the start of WWI, and in November is Remembrance Sunday.

Government uses this interest to justify vast military spending: two new aircraft carriers, and a new nuclear playset budgeted at £100,000,000,000 and hardly likely to come in so cheap. Would we really destroy life on Earth, even if the Americans let us? And there is mawkish sentimentality (well, sentimentality has to be “mawkish”, even if nothing else is) around “doing their bit”, “all pulling together”. We remain British.

training-group photo

Added: I love The Aircrew Dictionary, and particularly “as useless as Anne Frank’s drumkit” as a representative sample of its black humour.


trees in snowWhat have I lost? A worry. The chance of pain.

I do not ought to feel anything. I feel-

I hated Dad’s second wife, for banning me from the house when she was there, and resented him for not standing up to her. Then she tolerated me, and we exchanged small talk, occasionally, when I was there.

I have been up twice this Summer, and I saw him away from the house, away from her. In September she was away, and we stayed together. In hospital in July, I spent some time convincing him he was 88, rather than 87: my sister and her children had had a go, and I insisted, writing it out: how old in 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1945, 1955, 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013;

I could have written, “You get the idea” there but wanted you to really get the idea. S thought it was not worth the effort.

Margaret’s son is alright, I suppose, though never seeing him again after the funeral is no great loss. Oh, Alan, that’s it.

I kissed him on the mouth. I told him I loved him. It was a good farewell, though from September to 31 October I did not phone him.

You take your pleasures as they come. From the hospital ward, I took him down in the lift to a bench just outside the main door. It is a small hospital in the south of Edinburgh, and we sat in the Sun. In September I took him into the city centre, and it was too much for him. He dozed on the bus home. Yet, despite walking with a frame, he could stand on the bus before it stopped. He could still surprise me.

I would say I had lost the one person who would always unequivocally be on my side- except for his wife’s rejection. So that would not be true.

I would tell you that I had done the work of acceptance, that those things in him which I most resented were the things I resented in myself. Is that it then? I feel angry. I feel a bit depressed, lacking in energy and motivation. I can, still, doss around at home, and I do.

Considering his worsening weakness-
he would just have got slowly worse-
it was better now??????????????????????

In memoriam

Oak treeI feel Relief.

At 88, my father was a very old man, thankfully able to stay at home without any need for the visits of carers. His wife did the housework, he could bath and dress himself, and he spent his time in the house, sometimes walking across the park. Collapsing on such a walk, at one moment as fit as usual, now; then perhaps not full consciousness, not knowing what is going on, no particular pain or no emotional component to physical sensations; then death. A good death.

His childhood was difficult: born in 1925, he was nine when his father died, and his mother had to move back in with her parents. His grandfather lost his job just after he moved back in, and he remembers men from work coming to see his grandfather at home. He flew fifteen operations as a rear gunner in Lancasters over Germany, and was about to be transferred to the Far East when Hiroshima was bombed. He had a grant to attend the University of Edinburgh as a returning serviceman, and after his Bachelor of Commerce became a salesman. He met my mother at church in Falkirk, where she was working as a nurse. I have their wedding photograph on my shelf: I love the joy on his face.

He then worked as a teacher, becoming a head teacher. I remember his enthusiasm about the job, working alone with eleven-year-olds who needed help beginning to read, and with the brightest pupils who needed stretched. He had one year in which enrolment rose over the figure where he could be a head teacher without a class of his own, and he delighted in that like a young man, finding new ways of stimulating the children. He did not get on well with management, which I have inherited, and he was chronically stressed.

We moved to Inverneill in 1975. He bought a bungalow up a farm track with 1/3 acre of rough land. He made it a garden: the steep bank down to the river he strimmed until it became short grass, he planted plum trees and apple trees, and I remember gorging myself on plums. We swam and sailed together on Loch Fyne, I remember him sawing up a tree for firewood for years, and digging out the soakaway of the septic tank: Dawson’s smelled for months, Dad fixed ours immediately and properly.

He read to me, played me music: I have loved the Emperor Concerto longer than I can remember. He introduced me to painting and encouraged me to learn the piano.

He lost his capital because he was trying to provide for us, my sister and me. The weaknesses I find most difficult in him, I find difficult because they are in me.

I feel love and gratitude for a life well lived.