Greenbelt encounters

I got recognised. “You did a talk last year, didn’t you?” asked the person sitting next to me. She had enjoyed it. How wonderful to make an impression on someone like that!

I really enjoyed meeting Kirsty. She was walking up the path as I was leaving my tent for the Eucharist. We talked deeply, enjoyed the sun together, and without irony she expressed admiration for my wisdom. I can’t remember anything we talked about. I saw her again just as I was leaving, and we hugged warmly. She is a lovely person, and found me a lovely person. With another, I enjoyed getting my reference understood- I had “seen a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand”.

At Greenbelt, we consecrate the bread and wine together. We are worshipping, we become one body, but we need no priest or leader to do that, just the whole group of several thousand people. I raised my hand in blessing of the bread and wine- the priest’s physical action is much like a healer channelling Qi- and we share it among ourselves. We danced and we sang and we heard a teenager preach through a speech device she programs through eye movements, as she was starved of oxygen at birth. She quoted Daniel 7:9-

an Ancient One took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.

God- in a wheelchair!! She was delighted to find God in her image in the Bible. God is us, and we are God: God is trans as well, the Father gathering us under Motherly wings. We are acceptable before God.

As I was packing up my tent, a man was walking by on the path, so I asked him to help me roll it up. “Are we folding it in half?” he asked. No, we are folding it from one end, about 2’6″ wide folds, then rolling up the folded tent. It is so much more efficient when you have one person each side, folding it inwards, dashing back and forth to do that is a pain. I roll the tent round the inner tent and the poles, but officiously he started to roll it up by itself, ponderously, forcing out the air. He was taking charge, diminishing me by looking after me. “You’ll have to dry it out later, or it will be smelly,” he warned. Well, that’s my decision. The rain had dried off in sunshine, the underside was not damp, I thought, it will be hard to roll up again if there is a breath of wind. He was talking down to me.

In the marquee, where the actors were preparing for their show, I looked over the shoulder of one into the mirror. Yuk. I have an old wig on, it is squashed flat, and its look displeases me. I push vaguely at the front, then move away.

“You’ll need to spend some time on that,” says a woman. She judges I have no idea how to present my hair, and starts to educate me. I could push it behind my ears, she tells me. That means I notice my own grey hair, and it looks more like a hat plonked on my head rather than my hair, I feel. What I said was, I was self-conscious about the tabs above my ears. “Oh, nobody notices those,” she said. My concerns don’t matter. She will show me what to do. She showed me in her own hair how it was fine around the temples, and how she had had to draw it forward to conceal that. I back-comb the front of my wig with my fingers, and it plumps out a bit. “That does not look too bad,” she says. It’s good enough. I want to take it off, possibly will drop it on the floor, and did not want to take my human hair wig. I don’t need to look impeccably groomed. I still got recognised, and given the microphone to speak from the floor.

University of Warwick

The university is beautiful. In the Arts Centre, there is a huge theatre for lectures and conferences, taking 1300 people. The lobby floors are paved with dark grey stone with bright pink veins through it, as if someone had spilled ice cream. Under a glass lantern in the roof, I bend to examine them.

Walking to it from behind, there is a passageway. I consider the shape of the buildings and the way my perspective changes as I walk through, the pale blue panels on the walls, and find it beautiful. I want to pause to appreciate it as I approach it.

The Humanities building, from the 1970s, is quite ugly, just a steel frame with concrete slabs for walls, rows of them, rows of windows from waist height to ceiling on each floor; but it is on four sides of the “Meditation garden”, with trees, a fountain, a waterfall, where two or three times I sat and chatted. It is all about the encounters, few of which are planned, really.

Not all the open air sculpture is worthwhile, but I love this:

I thought it looked like something to go hand over hand on an assault course or playground, someone thought it looked like a rollercoaster, the cage disturbed some and delighted me. I approach it from the campsite. I take a slight detour to the Arts Centre, passing three trees which seem perfectly spaced as I walk past. Studying here, one might habitually bring sandwiches to eat on that bench.

This figure was controversial, as the head is covered with a sack.

It could be a person blind to reality, rather than a prisoner.

I did not take my camera, generally. I did not want to be looking out for pictures all the time. I went into the Woodbrooke tent to find leaflets on the Vibrancy in Meetings project. They were on a table next to one with construction toys on it, and a complex model Ferris wheel, where I met Alice who was stringing sparkly beads onto plastic twine. She is six. The 5 year olds were handing out strips of fabric to think about refugees, and she gave me one. “She was handing them out, earlier,” said her mother. She wanted to glue a star to the twine, so I set to carving a groove in the back with my penknife. It did not quite work. She made me a “friendship bracelet” with sequins, and the following day demanded to know where it was. I said it had fallen off, so I used it to decorate my tent.

I met Liz, whom I met at the spiritual healing course years ago. I suggested we exchange healing, but ended up simply receiving, lying in the chaplaincy. She said I had a good strong link to spirit through my crown, and she spent some time drawing the Qi downwards through my body to my feet; and as before with her I felt the warmth of her hands, at my forehead, even though she was not touching me.

I enjoyed Clarissa’s company. She was next to me on the camp site. Our first conversation was on non-theism, and only got deeper. She told me much of her life, and of a family she has housed in her town. She cares about the children like a grandmother. On Tuesday we met for breakfast, and were still talking at midday.

I raised a laugh from the Quaker Stewardship Committee, by saying my excuse that I was too spiritual to deal with all that money-stuff did not even satisfy me. I talked to a very sharp man who told me how trustees could still be liable if a charity, such as an area meeting, was incorporated, if they were reckless or negligent.

I went to H’s self-catering flat, where I met Liz and Ellie from Manchester. I had not known they had a son, Ben, now ten.

Day out

I went into the men’s loos. They smell awful- they don’t use the same floral air-freshener as the women’s. Who knew?

I got oil from my chain on my hands, and wanted to wash them. There is no soap in the women’s loos. The friendly cleaner explained that replenishing of the soap had been contracted out to PHS, a service company, and there was no soap in the station to refill it. He suggested I could go into the men’s, as the place was quiet. No soap there either.

He then unlocked the disabled people’s loo, so that I could wash my hands there. That’s not under the same contract, so there is soap there; however I noticed the disposal unit in there had the same PHS logo. Neo-liberalism in a nutshell: poorer service, greater cost.

I told this story on the train, where three of us round the table chatted and one sat silent, and there was the sound of conversation from all the carriage. Something in the air. The woman asked me if my bike was safe and I said once I had left it unlocked at the station for a day: no thief had bothered to check, or noticed. She has had four bikes stolen, but wanted to cycle to the station before work, as parking was £9.50 a day. Get a cheap reconditioned bike. When she started at work in the 90s they typed memos for internal mail, which would take two days to be delivered then two for a reply. As email increased, her line manager, who was in Miami, was copied in on every email she had- for support rather than surveillance, she thought- and broke down under the strain. Even on her day off, going for a meal with a friend she used to work with, the only former colleague she has ever kept in touch with, she has to keep checking her work phone. She is in contact with people from all over the world. Scandinavians are happy with a reply within two days, Russians want a reply immediately, even if it is 5am here. “Do you work?” she asked. God, do I look unemployed? Hardly a rentier, no-one would retire on my income willingly. I write a little, mainly on spiritual matters. I tried to explain Quakerism, to an avowed unspiritual person. “Spirituality” is one way of putting it. Some people might call it “life lessons”.

The man, a widower, volunteers at the Nupton theatre. As a volunteer he gets to see the shows. His wife died, and he had to get out of the house, being retired.

To the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition with H. There are thousands of works, including two complementary prints, each of three columns, light-dark-light and dark-light-dark, each an edition of 20 for £1200 each. £48,000 for at most a week’s work: one might produce several candidates, then print off a favourite. The income could support you for a year, while you made any art you liked.

Here there are two figures, about eight feet tall. I don’t know what the core is, but the exterior is fabrics. They are gagged with tights, with £20 notes stuffed into their mouths. One is male. One has breasts, but the forehead and chin look male, and the hips narrow. They are horrible. I don’t like the blowsy, sagging shape of the breasts, a bra visible. I talk to a stranger about them. Yes, it could be one of my lot.

To the Royal Albert Hall for my first Prom concert since 1986. After the Berg violin concerto, the conductor stands with his baton poised. Often with a quiet, contemplative ending there is a period of silence, but here it extends for an age. The I-player shows it is 24 seconds, but I have not experienced anything like it. Five seconds’ pause is rare.

To St Pancras, where I play the piano for the first time in months. There are three people round it: the old man says there are often more at this time of night. He often comes to play, living about a mile away. He says “She’s classically trained,” of me, appreciatively. “Is that Chopin?” asks the woman. Yes, the C Minor prelude. I haven’t played the piano for months, but can remember this.

Why haven’t you played? Too depressed. Too lacking in energy. And now- they changed my meds! I had an experiment with nine days of Norethisterone, synthetic progesterone, and had a wonderful high on it and colossal downer after. So now I want to experiment with taking it for longer, and see if the increase of energy continues. She says it never does. I hope it will.

He plays by ear. He plays the tune of Summertime, and stabs vaguely at other notes. Sometimes he makes useful chords, sometimes not. I sing it, baritone, I want to play with gender. No-one minds.

Interloper at home

Everyone who experiences themself as a woman is welcome. So I went over for a chat, and am now on the constituency party women’s forum Facebook page.

And looking up at her, beside her friend in the “I am a Feminist” t-shirt I felt like an interloper. What do I have in common with these women? It is just nervousness, but I am wondering what it could be, a shared experience of upbringing, unwanted sexual attention or even a female body that locks me out, makes me Other. The trans are welcome thing is policy, not these women’s choice.

It is just nervousness but it feels real.

A few days later, to the Tate. In the Members’ room I hear two men talking of what makes you the same person as you were years ago and what if you could be uploaded to a computer. They are transhumanists drinking Schiehallion lager- drinking rather than climbing or dancing- and I say I think of myself as a process, rather than a being. I do not understand object oriented ontology, but I like the idea of no hierarchy of objects- no order of importance between quarks, individuals, biosphere. Transhumanists are individualistic, and he says the culture is. They go on to Fermi’s paradox. I say aliens are likely to be social. It is worthwhile passing on how to make a flint axe, or smelt iron, only in a social species. If they have developed space travel and not wiped themselves out they will be collaborative. If they have not destroyed themselves with weapons or climate change, they will be altruistic.

He tells me that does not follow. Just because it has happened with us that we are co-operative, does not mean aliens will be.

We are sharing ideas, but also competing. I tell them how interesting it has been talking, and go to the Farrelnissa Zeid exhibition.

She was married to an Iraqi Prince, who served as an ambassador till the revolution, when he took a rented flat. Aged 57 she cooked a meal for herself for the first time.

It is quiet. Which of these huge canvases is “My Hell”? I ask the security guard, who asks another worker. She has graduated from art school, like most people here. The security guard goes round the room looking at the captions, slightly embarrassing me, as I could do that myself. Rose and I follow at a more leisurely pace. I only asked as it is named on the introduction.

She wants to know what I think of the last room, so we walk through. The Princess’s style changed dramatically. I love those oblongs of resin, with things embedded- they seem so fragile.

What are you working on now? This is a personal question, don’t answer if you don’t want to. She is doing embroidery, of Lisa Minelli as Eva Peron. Lisa wanted the role but never played it. Eva had cancer, but still went campaigning- she had a thing made so she could lean but appear to stand. It is about stories we tell about ourselves and others- Eva’s ability to stand, Lisa’s about Eva, Rose’s about Lisa and mine about the picture. All untrue. It is taking her years.

Oh the sunshine is glorious! Outside is a work of art, that word repeated. I ask a woman to take my picture in it, and she is happy to.

To the pub. I get a pint and look quizzically at the front step. The door is narrow. Can Efrat get in,  in her motorised wheelchair? An Irishman asks if I would like to sit with him. He calls me “Darling.” I say I am waiting for a female friend. I go off to blog. Well, it’s a nice enough place to sit, and the live music is good. He goes to the toilet, and says to me, “Your friend not here yet?” No, she isn’t.

Efrat wanted to come here because it had an open mic, and she wanted to sing. Actually the blues band did not like her song so did not let her, and played boringly but at huge volume. Rather than talking, we typed on my phone. She was born in Beersheba, and though her English is good it is slow for her. We got onto whether people could live in peace in a state of anarchy, when it was time for me to leave for my train. She wore a ballgown decorated with classic tattoo designs which she bought in Camden.

I fit well enough, and know which sex I prefer.

ВПЕРЕД

That nervousness with women could be my pansy sexuality, the soft male deferential with women, wanting to attract the strong woman. It might even work! This couplet I find extremely sexy:

Boys are like rules they were made to be broken,
girls are like guns you better run when they’re smoking

Heat

Sweat beads between my breasts, trickles down my cheek, glistens on my shoulders.

I cycled to Meeting in the sun, in air brought from Spain by weather currents. It seems to me that I should calm my breathing, so I make that effort. If I can slow my diaphragm and heart, they will make less heat. Still, when I get there, my face is scarlet. It is as if a birthmark quite covered it, and I went to run my head under the cold tap. H runs marathons, I will ask her. Half marathons, at the moment, she corrects me. “I felt I was going into a panic.” You make a rhythm, of heart, breathing, stride all together. I like the island climate, a comparatively small range between our hottest and coolest. Today is 29°, which is unusual, and it is rare for several nights together to be below freezing.

Facebook. “I don’t like the heat,” she says. What? Why were you in Tunisia? “He does.”

So I wondered, do I like the heat? I don’t know. Yes could become a pissing contest- nothing lovelier than noon in Riyadh in July. I take precautions to keep my flat cool, drawing the curtains on sunward windows, closing the windows against warmer air outside. I could be happy on holiday, going round tourist attractions or jumping into a pool, enjoying time away from routine with friends. Or, it is pointless to complain about the weather, and I will not indulge in that. But the sensuous experience of being outside in the heat, simply for itself?

You could like the light. The sun at its highest, the brightness on the water of the Lakes. That it is also beautiful washed through mist, land across the valley getting steadily less distinct, does not mean the colour and the contrast of full sun is not glorious too. I could take my camera, but do not want to be thinking of framing images; I want to perform the experiment on myself. Do I like the heat?

I walk down and round the lakes. The mud is dry and cracked. The corn is still green, its long stamens turning into seeds. I don’t want to walk so quickly or so far as usual. I pause several times by the river, and try to connect with the experience, shorn of words or ideas about it. Do I like the heat? It is bearable; there is just enough slight breeze now and then, wafting my light summer dress, though the wig is a pain; but bearable is not pleasureable.

Going into shade of trees suddenly, I know that I like the shade.

I suppose I like experience. I understand life with words. I plan, analyse, conceptualise with words, and it is good to lay down the burden of words- I! a Writer!- for unmediated experience. I am here, by the river, sensing with eyes, ears, skin, open and not judging, and I like that.

It is good to be open to experience. I am in the heat, and it is not a horror I must shun, but an environment I can flourish in. I do not run from it, and that is empowering. It might create problems which I would deal with, different problems from colder months. I don’t particularly like to sweat. It is good to appear to be civilised, above that sort of thing, and it is a status symbol to not need to be troubled by it; but then I am an animal, and sweat is natural. I need not appear out of sorts.

I don’t see many people in the park. There are a few cyclists, and some families by the adventure playground, picnicking in the shade of trees. I will ask this woman, walking towards me by the hedge.

Do you like the heat?
-Hmmuhh? she says, surprised by the question.
-Do you like the heat?
-Yes, I suppose. Better than being cold. (I had her exact words in my mind, all the way home, but forgot them before writing them.)
-Thank you.
-Have a nice day! cries into the distance.

Defiant

I have lunch with my friend, who is slowly and steadily making the preparations for transition: telling people of her true self, appearing in public, laying the ground. I notice the imperfectly shaven hair beneath the make-up. To my mind, her face, the size and shape of it, jowls and brow ridge, appear male, and the wig is wrong: its parting shows a cloth lining rather than a scalp. The clothes suit a woman of her age, but the dress sense is slightly off.

And this is me, not her. How often I have looked in the mirror and thought, “Oh God, I look like a man!” and at other times thought, well, actually, I don’t look too bad; and I looked the same, it was just the way I was looking at myself. I thought of telling her- “Don’t do it! It isn’t worth it!” but what would be the point? I do not know that it is not, for her; and I really want to tell my two decades younger self, but I can’t, and that younger self might not listen anyway. S/he had her heart and mind, her reality and nature, and if s/he would not listen to them s/he would not listen even if someone came back from the future. Or, perhaps, she is right and my doubts now are wrong.

And this is dissatisfaction, a nameless unease rather than a clear understanding of what might be better. If that’s all there is, let’s break out the booze and let’s keep dancing. In Tesco’s, two small children, below waist height, stared up into my face and said “Are you the bikey man? Are you the bikey man?” “I’m the bikey person,” I said weakly. Such clarity and definiteness from two so young is depressing.

Possibly the thought of defiance is the kind of illusion I would jump at in this mood. I shake my fist in the face of encroaching Night. It feels as if it might be energising. The febrile energy would be heat not light. What would I be defying? What would be better?

Possibly dissatisfaction is better. I am dissatisfied. Things are not as I would wish- this is the impetus to find what might be better. I would be defying the expectations of others, or what I imagined those expectations to be.

If-

If that really is all there is, it is good enough, actually. I try to be a Real Man, and fail, because that is not who I am, and learn about transition. It fits me better than anything else I can imagine, so I do it. I could fit in, take a role which is almost acceptable. I could be me.

Years later, I look down at that child. It would be nice not to be laughed at, not ever, but it might not be possible. Good enough: I work out how best to be me, and now am still working on that, but more precisely.

Now I decide it does not fit, so create a new role. This takes a long time, but I get there. I see more clearly who I am, accept that, and can live it; less conflicted, resentful, but incrementally. Would that the work was done!

After meeting I drank with H, and told her I was populating the word “pansy”. It means effeminate male, but has no other baggage I dislike, unlike “sissy”. She said, so, you are identifying with masculinity? No, maleness. Definitely not masculinity. Masculinity is cultural, maleness physical. I should have asked her why she used the word.

Being a soft male is OK.
Being a soft male is OK.
Being a soft male is OK.

I don’t know what defiance would look like or what I would defy. I am happy with the names I use and the way I dress. If I can admit I am a “man” would the pointed scrutiny of that small child have less effect? What she sees, thinks, even says is part of the world I cannot control, which does not hurt me really.

In the pharmacy, I ask for “Prescription for Clare, please”. It makes me sound like a disease! To see it another way, I could be an elixir or universal tonic, inspiring merriment everywhere.

Pansy

After the election, where I anticipated an increased Conservative majority, I am overjoyed. At the station, that woman asked how I was.

“I’m delighted,” I said.

“I can see that. It shines out of you. It’s beautiful” she said. I offered a hug, and she accepted.

I was already overjoyed, and my cup ran over. I spasmed with it. Feeling happy, walking along, I have sashayed; sometimes I turn my wrists outwards, as if the Qi in me needs to flow out; now muscles tense and flex expressing it. Joy ripples through me like aftershocks, on the train. I don’t tend to notice other adults doing this sort of thing. I am still doing teenage, but here going right back to being a toddler, a different kind of toddler-hood which teaches me to integrate rather than suppress feeling.

It seems to me that I could call what I am a “Pansy”. The word has little baggage, unlike “Sissy”, co-opted to describe non-penetrative sexual services offered by some discreet older women. I can make of it what I will, add my own baggage to it. I am a pansy. I like viragos.

We went to the Giacometti exhibition. Man and Woman, which he created in his late 20s, fits this idea.

You can’t see it from the photos, but that sharp point is not touching the female. She bends backwards, but does not retreat, and a flower opens to accept the point. It is vulnerable and proud. There is a meeting, and a balance, between the two.

Sexually, I identify with the flower not the point. Yet calling me transwoman, trans woman, woman, whatever, is only an approximation. That vulnerable flowering is overwhelmingly seen as Female, but rather it is feminine, and I am a feminine male. A pansy. I should not need physical adjustment to actualise myself, just to find how my body can work with my spirit.

This is not normal, but “normal” must be resisted. It is a cultural creation of powerful folk who cannot conceive that anyone could be other than they, or that what is best for them might not be best for everyone. I don’t fit the norms, or rules, so have to make my own rules. It might have helped if I had not been so indoctrinated so strongly into the value of normal. Discretion protects the abnormal, it can be good not to be noticed, and one can take that too far.

Yvonne points out that all the active sculptures in the Giacometti exhibition- pointing, walking, even falling- are men. Some of the busts look childish in execution. One of his wife reminds me of a sex doll, or at least the cliché I have seen on TV: wide eyes, mouth like an O, flat caricature face. Before marriage she had worked in an office at the Red Cross. From the 1930s, here is a narrow sculpture (The more I wanted to make them broader, the narrower they got, he said) about four feet tall, her head slightly raised to meet the eye of an adult observer about a yard away. It’s not assurance, exactly, nor apprehension: she does not know what that viewer will do. She will respond appropriately, to whatever requires a response. The mind of that figure contains no story about what thing feared or desired will happen next, or what ought to be happening now, so will see what is happening and respond to it. I see capability in that standing figure.

Across the room is another standing figure on a plinth which would be chest height on her, if she stood beside it. This relatively huge imposing plinth supports her slender figure, which is an inch tall. “She does not know she is tiny,” I exclaimed, and a woman says “I would never have thought of it that way”: here we are open, so that talking to a stranger seems natural. It is one of the most moving works of art I have ever seen, and she has the same naturalness, lack of constraint, and capability.

I do not need to be constrained by Manliness. I can be a Pansy. If I relax and lose my stories of how the world is or should be, I may even be able to be myself.

We ate on the South Bank at an outside table, and I loved the Sun gilding the edges of the clouds. When it was a bit cool to stay there, but still light, we walked across the bridge. “Love the T-shirt,” I said of a passer-by. It was blue with an EU circle of stars and the words “Member of the Liberal Elite, established 2016”. He stopped to enthuse about the election.

accidental good

I’ve been listening to some Ariana Grande.

A little less conversation and a little more touch my body

It is not aimed at me, but I see good in it. In the videos, the singer dances around in her underwear, but is clearly singing for female fans. “Dangerous woman” might even have a slight lesbian vibe. She sings that her boyfriend better shape up his ideas and consider her wants and needs. I am all for Millennial empowerment. This seemed a proper response to the Manchester bombing, to hear what the dead had gathered to hear, to spend time with what they loved.

Ministry this morning had a perfect shape. One spoke of Manchester coming together. I spoke of racial tensions: the picture is more complex than the stories we tell. Thesis- Antithesis: the synthesis was beautiful.

I lift up my eyes to the hills
from where will my help come?

He says the hills were the dangerous places, where there were bandits and lions. You might die. I had not thought of the psalm, whose words I know well, that way before. Ah. Complexity, darkness, comfort- in the Meeting.

I can’t remember what she said because I was interested in how, rather than what, she communicated. “It’s —— 4 ——-, written —– 4 ——” and she gestures in the air, writing the first word, the 4, then the second word. She repeats the gesture. “Oh, —– 4 ——” says the other, gesturing. They emphasise the 4 in their gestures. But both write from left to right as they would see it, in the air- so from the other’s point of view it is less comprehensible, seen right to left. I watch, intrigued. I would always, gesturing like that, use mirror-writing to be more comprehensible, and expect to get my meaning over immediately. You could say “The 4’s a digit”. We ended up absolutely clear, except that I do not remember what it was 4 what.

It’s worth listening to Ariana to understand how Millennials think. After all, when I am eighty they will be running the country, and I would like to not be completely confused. And, try to find something good in it. That is like in education, she says: however poor the student’s attempt, you should start with praise. No, actually, a teacher should encourage students, but this is different: you should find good in it because that is a better way to understanding it. If you are simply dismissive you don’t see it.

I share my joke. I am disappointed with it, because it works beautifully from a linguistic standpoint- the last word changes the idea round completely- but the concept is too horrible. So it does not work as a joke. Here it is:

I scatter lots of bird seed on my lawn. I do love to feed the cats.

One laughs, one does not. I hurry to explain that I don’t think it works, and that is the first time I have shared it.

The “Gifts reserved for age” in Little Gidding have haunted me since I first read them. In Meeting, a pastiche came to me, which I wrote down after to ensure I could remember it:

Things done right, and accidental Good
to show your “thoughtless bumblings” are virtue

Sometimes you can go into things in too much depth. We tell ourselves stories about reality, we have words and concepts, because understanding everything is impossible. Trying to understand too well may paralyse action. Know just enough to make the next step good enough. I am a good person really. Totally failed at life? From an absolute standpoint, possibly I have- no family, no job, no savings etc- but from a relative standpoint perhaps I have done alright- I am still alive!

Empathy III

I hate common sense. Here we are, pontificating about giving. You have to do it sensibly, or you can do harm, he says. For example, if you give to a beggar, you enable them to continue in that lifestyle. Charity can produce dependency- in Africa, people from the village say “That pump you gave us broke down. Fix it.”

This produces nods and noises of assent round the room. Am I the only one disagreeing? What makes you think those Africans are dependent? They might have any number of ways of dealing with a broken pump, but demanding that the NGO do something is surely something worth trying. And- You are not my tribe, if you want to feel you are Good by doing Good for me, you should at least do me some good rather than giving me a pump that breaks down.

And- giving may enable the beggar, but not giving does not incentivise them to become independent. If they could see a better way open to them, they would take it. Spurning them reinforces their worthlessness. That is why Francis says you should give generously, look them in the eye and smile. Benefits sanctions are not the kick up the arse which someone needs to get on, but the kick in the teeth which will crush them.

I hate common sense because you can make these Rational Arguments, making you feel good about not giving- for, what is the purpose of Rational Argument if not to make you feel good?- and not fit the actual thing happening now. Rules never do. Love does.

Though I have only ever dealt with individual cases. If you deal in policy, you have to consider the bigger picture.

I don’t know why Quakers talk so much. Maybe we should not be talking before going into meeting. It does not aid centring down. Isn’t it lovely to see all these people? That man has the look of a man who is Looked After. His jaunty straw hat is someone’s way of protecting his pate from sunburn, I feel. It’s his way of looking down at the floor, or something about his face- it’s a feeling I get from lots of stuff, some of which might be unconscious, and it may be mistaken. I hope he is comfortable here. If he is embarrassed about being dependent, I hope he is not made to feel that.

One reason for talking is to increase understanding of each other, but this morning we produce more heat than light. It is not true that no Quaker can be a Tory, but there are not that many of them. I have been leafleting for Labour, I say.

“You’re not saying you want Jeremy Corbyn negotiating Brexit?” he asks, as if Jez and Donald Tusk would arm wrestle then Britain would be sunk. Trained negotiators we do not have and cannot afford do the negotiation.

“I want a Brexit for all the people, not a Brexit for Billionaires” I say sententiously. This adds nothing. It is a sound bite. It will not bring us together, it is a way of shutting down communication. Would a Tory Government trample on all rights of workers, consumers and the environment as I suggest? I can articulate arguments. He says if people do not vote for strike action, they should not strike. I say 40% of those eligible voting for strike action is an impossible target. A 50% turnout is unusual. We were unclear about the rules, so I have just looked them up. All we are doing, here, is stating the arguments of our own side, even in words which are other people’s.

I say I need ESA, and F. tells me of being dumped on her own resources in her teens. The iron entered her soul and she realised how capable she is. I hear this as a judgment. I do not trust myself, or the World. Bad things will happen, and I will be incapable. I am delighted that she bounced back, but that is not relevant to me. “Do you have any relatives?” she asks. I say my sister refused to let me see her children after I transitioned in 2002. We are not in contact. She tells me how her brother spurned her generosity, and how she is going to try to see him again. He accused her of rubbing his nose in the fact that she was better off than him when she gave him a gift. “I’m no taking that!”

I can empathise with him. It’s not a constructive position, but I see where he’s coming from. And that does no good at all. Then she tells me how she hates the Nationalism and Catholic/Protestant sectarianism in Glasgow. She wore a green coat and someone spat at her.

Internal focus

You never feel shy in a crowd?
-Never, I said. She was amazed and envious. Actually, I am not sure what the adjective was, but it was something around being glad to be among people. I was talking, hearing challenging things-

buses are not the best way of transporting people. A bus with only a couple of people on it, like those on Eagle’s Nest, uses a huge amount of fuel for little result. Buses took people to town centres. They were talking of “Orbital buses” but could not get them to work. Mmm. Not the kind of opinion I would expect in this social group. Collective action is our thing.

When I was living in South Africa, the Anglican Church named itself the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, and some people broke away, saying they were the Church of England in South Africa. Ridiculous, we agree, and harmful, like the “consecration” of the “bishop in the church of God” by the descendant of that church, the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa, who want to split the Church of England over equal marriage. It’s a bit odd to be that interested in the Church of England, but these are otherwise the kind of thing I would expect people here to believe. I like agreeing. It makes me feel safe.

Glad to be among people, feeling a pang when driving away, and yet today alone and doing nothing in particular, and quite happy about that. I should write, I was glad, etc. I was- I am talking of me, and so should use the word “I” for I am important. Right now I am happy alone. I don’t want demands on myself.

Then, though, I could express difficulty and experience sympathy. Am I unfit for work? This is how to prove it, she says trenchantly. As I need to doubt I am entitled to ESA- surely I could not be that incapable?- yet need an income I am glad of the reinforcement.

Three conversations. Who are these people? Who am I? How may we be together? It is fascinating, and-

one of my things is not admitting when something is difficult. Nothing should be difficult. So, do I know what I feel in any situation, or do different parts of my brain feel different things? “Ooh, this is nice, isn’t it?” I might say, imagining I really was enthusiastic. I am dissociated from feelings. I imagine I feel what I think I ought to feel, and under that feel anxiety.

And I am glad to be here, now, alone. Feelings may be strong, and strongly affect me, though I could not name or perceive them. If I could bear to be here only if I suppressed certain feelings, suppressing those feelings would be a useful skill. If I have mixed emotions, some positive, some negative, in order to feel good I might suppress the negative.

Here we are, smiling at each other, and is that a prelude to something else? Smiling is always a good start. I am a person of good will. I like you.

I am internally focused. I notice things in myself more than I notice other people. There are these façades- a person, being the person s/he ought to be, trustworthy, pleasant, reasonable- and do I see below? Could I bear it, if I saw them?