Competing selves

Reading “Earth” by David Brin, a complex novel from 1990 about ecological disaster and human coping, a hard SF novel of ideas. From 1990, much of the prediction is off- the Ozone hole is a major problem- but the variety of issues considered is fascinating. Jen and Nelson discuss the cacophony of separate selves within, which co-operate and compete to make an individual. E Pluribus unum. Our conflicting emotions, such as embarrassment and pleasure in one moment, show that.

-So inside of me I’ve got… what? A barbarian and a criminal and a sex-maniac?
-And a scholar and a gentleman and a hero.

Brin’s characterisation could take second place to his essay-writing, but in this teacher-pupil interaction he escapes that.

Among my paradoxes- man or woman, supporting or subverting patriarchy, etc- I might reconsider my identification of selves. I felt I was writing with my Inner Rationalist, which analyses everything. Understanding is the royal road to Control. Yet it seems capable of feeling, especially frustration when its methods do not work, and much of my fear appears also to belong to it. My other main part is what I successively named the Vulnerable Bit, the Real Me, the Feminine Self, which seems to have final control of motivation: I wanted to transition, more than anything else in the world. I wanted to hide away. These motivations made no sense at all to the Rationalist.

For Jung (I don’t have to fact-check, this is a blog) maturing meant making the unconscious conscious, and accepting the contradictions. I had such a fragile sense of self, of me as one individual, and then I found the Vulnerable (Ha!) Bit, and changed my view of the world. I was not an individual- or I was, one body, home to many aspects of mind. At the time, I feared I was going mad- how could I not? I have always thought of February 1999 as my born-again moment, my leap into conscious spiritual growth, and have only just seen that this realisation was the heart of it.

Brin’s character Jen tells her student, “Free association… lets all the little selves within us speak out, see? No matter how thoroughly a bit or corner is outvoted by the rest, free association lets it slip in that occasional word or clue.”

(The novel is not all like that. The previous chapter is an Adventure bit, escaping the military Bad-guy through caves. In the following chapter he considers a super-weapon’s varied effects and continues a poignant analysis of a marriage break-up.)

My name is Legion: for we are many. It may behove me to meet more of my inner selves.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;	
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)	
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;	
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:	        
                  Praise him.

For complex Brin, I would recommend Existence– more up to date predictions, more character development; but if you like Existence, Earth is wonderful.
Miro, constellation- toward the rainbow


Dutch Interior III, 1928, oil on canvasAm I projecting? Of course I am. How could I approach another’s experience, except through my own? It seems to me that we are uncertain, and feeling overloaded, and not communicating well- then I thought, it is certainly true of me, though I would say that the stress is the exhilarating side of too much. I looked up just now and saw a plane tumbling and spinning, its wings going over and over, apparently out of control- would it crash? Then it pulled out of the spin; the pilot had been practising tricks.

So, then, is it just my own delight in conflict? It happens. I have managed to get people fighting over when we hold our meetings. You would have thought arranging meetings was simple enough, we fix a plan and stick to it. Now I receive emails saying my changes are insufficient, and others saying I should not change things. The emotional vampire can enjoy the display, or even my own intense emotions as I watch it. I have my preaching thought through:

Friends, this is not a zero-sum game. This is a loving and creative Spirit-led process in which we go beneath the apparent question to find our Friends’ needs and desires, and how best to move forward together.

That is true, and my saying it could be me scoring points for myself, rather than being genuinely constructive.

Putting my washing out, I found Ben and a young woman he introduced as Steph’s daughter Trish. Collage painting, sandpaper gouache mirror and threadWe greeted each other in a warm friendly manner. Then he said he would like to apologize for the other night, for the noise Steph was making. Trish scoffed. “You apologise for someone else?” I don’t know- Ben’s attempt to appear to be the reasonable, sane one? It backfired with me, and I expressed my sympathy with Steph being wound up. “Fuck off” is what I say when I am wound up. Or, worse, his moulding of reality: he keeps repeating such ideas, refusing to hear any alternative, to mess with their heads.

I said, “I don’t know. You have to sort it for yourselves. If you want me to preach at you, I will say that human beings get better at stuff, it is what we do. We work things out, we find ways through problems. You will sort it.” Ben said “That’s so wise. You are so intelligent. Isn’t she intelligent?” Trish went in. Ben had to go in too, he explained.

Next day, though, Steph explained the noise had not been her. It was her friend, who had smashed a bottle with the intent of slashing her wrists, but Steph and Ben together had dived on her to stop her. She had been assessed by the Community Mental Health team, and kept in overnight. Now, Steph was worried the landlord would want her out. I tried to reassure her.

I had an email, please give me X because you did not give it to me when we last met. I emailed back, you did not ask me for it. She emailed, “I did not know I had to ask you”, which because I thought she had known that she would need X, which I had, I found rather petty. Well, either you approach me or I approach you. But perhaps she had not known she would need X.


Potato, 1928, oil on canvasShe likes to think of herself as one of Nature’s conciliators. She loves to serve, she says. Her fingertips lightly graze your forearm, her gaze through painted lashes melts at you winsomely. Yet those who spend time talking with her find all their irritants, all their niggling worries, coalescing; other misery and blame surfaces, so that they recognise it for the first time. Soon after her ministrations you will wake at four in the morning, sweating and writhing, for all that need has merged into white rage. Yet she is not a hypocrite. Truly she only sees herself as dispensing blessing and Love to all.

Where does the shoe pinch? Where does it rub? You hardly noticed any more. We all have our crosses to bear, and you may imagine yourself hardly short of saintly coping as you do. Mustn’t grumble. It is the way the world is- until someone shows slight surprise and concern for you that you should be so afflicted. Nothing may be done, or surely you would have done it- and suddenly you see how small your world has become, how different your life from how you imagined it.

In the Quaker meeting, it can seem like I purify my thoughts in the clear Light of God. Here I am again, seeing more clearly, what might be done in Love, what is real, what is true, what is right. But in the Meeting for Worship for Business, I must speak that aloud, and test it with others. Perhaps someone will see it entirely differently. Perhaps I will have to change.

Then again, Steph and Ben. “As God made them, so He matched them”, me old muvver used to say. Two alcoholics, even if he is off the white stuff. They were shouting at each other drunkenly, fuckoff fuckoff fuckoff leave me alOAAN. Sometimes it clears the air, sometimes it doesn’t. Good job my bedroom is the other side of the house.

Some day I will be old

Women, birds and a star, 1949, oil on canvasHere’s Bert, peering through thick glasses, two hearing aids, a wee bit breathless, complaining how Quakers have changed in the last sixty years. “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” He asks. Yes. So that is me safely boxed, one of the less threatening ones.

I had a lovely time with Tia, walking in the garden. She does not like English literature, it is boring to be told what a book or a poem is about. She likes writing. She writes poetry, liking rules which restrict what words she can choose, which can make the poem better. Like haiku, with seventeen syllables. So I tell her one of mine:

Blossom like snowfall
Sunshine like a [“lover’s”- oops, internal censor comes out- “loving”] touch
The Supermarket

She laughed at that. It’s about nature- as we understand haiku- then something boringly everyday. It is called “bathos”. High-flown, then crash to Earth. Though- why should we distinguish “lovely places” and “boring places”? I walked in the sunshine from the High Street past some trees  and grass to Morrisons. You respond to the verse, and you can put your response into words. In Creative Writing she wrote a poem about me wanting an apple so we went to the trees, but found only cookers.

Circus Horse, tempera on canvas, 1927We walked between the hedge and the wall, up to the other wall.
-Oh, we’ve come to a stop.
-I was wondering when you’d notice.
-OK, we could climb that wall, go back, or go through that hedge.
So she went through the hole in the hedge, and I followed.

She is just starting GCSEs, but I am old enough that my children, had I had any, might have graduated and got jobs. People that age think differently, see the World differently. Now, the World is mine, but soon it will be theirs, so I should learn how they think. When Bert peers at me he sees someone two generations younger, nearly. I would not like to be so puzzled by the World, that people two generations younger owned it, but I wanted it to be as I had made it and had not thought to learn their ways.

Though please realise this is not Bert himself. I have no idea that such a desperate plight might be his, merely that it might be possible, and I should strive to avoid it. It was an inkling I got when I happened to be looking at him, which is not the same as a true understanding.

Bert told a story where I would admire him. He was in logistics, though that was not the word he used. A driver thought he had planned the journey badly, and was so angry he raised his fist to hit him. Bert, believing his pacifism should start with personal relations, did not defend himself, and the other’s fist stopped just short of his chin.

When I retreated to the monastery in the 90s, the Guestmaster told how men remained, to an extent, as they had been in the World- there were 70s men there, 50s men, even one or two with 1930s manners and mannerisms.

Hearing their words

Serie noire et rouge, etchingWhat did T say? Not “discourteous”, that is my word. He said it seemed I was not paying attention. We use words with different meanings, but it is worse to understand what I think he meant, and put that idea in my own words. The actual words you use may help me approach your meaning.

I clerked Area Meeting yesterday, and we had 38 people- more than have worshipped at that meeting house in living memory, double what we ever have at AM. As an experiment, we moved directly into business from the meeting for worship, and I encouraged members from the four local meetings to come so as to worship together. As people spoke in the business session, I typed what they said- verbatim, in places, especially when people spoke slowly. I noticed F used verbal phrases, but could not specify one, now, as I did not take them down. Her words flow quickly, and persuade by the bubbling torrent of them; each of D’s seems measured and weighty, with a magisterial effect.

L'Oiseau solaire l'oiseau lunaire, lithograph and aquatintI looked down at my net-book, with its ten inch screen, and T thought it looked like I was not paying attention. The screen forms a barrier between me and the other person, and putting the net-book on my lap, so that the screen does not stick above the table surface, does not improve things. I am looking down, I should look at the person, and take the odd note with a pen.

I am auditory, not visual-focused. I get information through hearing. Looking at someone might mean I take in less. Taking down what someone says shows I am paying attention. Did he think I was blogging? Have some trust in my goodwill: if I am uninterested in what people say, I am not trying to do the job. The appearance matters, reality matters more. In tribunals, the judge’s pen moving shows s/he is paying attention. Beware when it stops- I have to win her interest.

I would rather note-take on worship sharing around the Long Term Framework questions, including What is your vision of the ministry that your local meeting and Quakers in Britain are called to, now and in the future? Instead, we are squabbling about when AM should be. Oundle want trustees’ meetings to be held on the same day as AM, so their elderly members do not have to drive in the dark when they cannot see properly. Trustees think this impractical, as their meetings can last three hours.  I said, diplomatically, that we were hearing each others’ needs, but we were most keen to press our own.

I want us to struggle to Unity on this. I do not want us just to do as we have always done, or even to accept my compromise proposal out of weariness. What is the Good of the meeting? Yet I want some structure.  K proposed dealing with membership business at the end, because asking attenders to leave is- discourteous is my word again, something around she did not enjoy kicking her heels outside and does not wish it on others. No, membership business comes at the start, because it is particularly important. Let us do as we have always done for that, not open it up again.

Changing Tracks

Changing tracks 1

A ladder to the sky! I would have crossed the water by those wooden beams, had it appeared possible.

joan miro

into the sky

It makes me think of Joan Miro. Actually, it is a temporary art work by Xevi Bayona, from Catalonia, in homage to Stephenson’s railway line which ran through here once. Below was my first view of it, unclear whether it was two or three uprights.

from the other side

Framed among the berries-

first glimpse

I think the kayak is part of the same art work:

canoe tracks

I also got three rather good swans in flight pictures. The trouble with having my camera is that, instead of being captivated by their beauty, I am irritated at not getting a better shot.

swan Septemberswan 11 9 14swan 11 9 14 2swan 11 9 14 3

The geese are congregating for their migration, honking from behind in encouragement.


At the Miro exhibition at the Tate last year, I was overwhelmed by the Barcelona Series, having been softened up by the earlier work, and was in heart-opened, receptive mood when I entered the room with the three Blue canvases. I sat and contemplated them. The computer screen does them no justice: they are 270x 355 cm each, and sitting in front of them, among other people who felt similar respect, I could have fallen into them. I have had three A5 sized postcards of them on my shelves since.

I could make up a story of them, the red flaring up to organise the black dots, then going away- characters who Are, and I have no moral judgment on them: they could be “good” or “bad”, cooperative or confrontational. No, actually- I have a multitude of moral judgments, which fluctuate, and so fade as I contemplate the art work into stillness and acceptance.

I find it fascinating that I love the proportions, especially of the second, and I do not know why. “Anyone could paint that”- I do not think that is true: the shading on the red, the black dots, are all in the perfect place for them. I can make no argument for this position, but I believe it to be true. They are worth the attention of the Pompidou Centre, and the Tate, and the multitudes of people who see them.

I read at the exhibition that Miro took a great deal of care of the shape of his lines. Those long diagonals in I and III look like rapid scrawls, and I do not know how fast they were made, or whether they needed to be done more than once: but I do know that Miro took care making them.


They’ve wanted to buy humour
but he just wouldn’t be bought!
They’ve wanted to kill humour
but humour gave them the finger.
Fighting him’s a tough job.
They’ve never stopped executing him.
His chopped off head
was stuck on a soldier’s pike.
But as soon as the clown’s pipes
struck up their tune
he screeched out ‘I’m here!’
and broke into a jaunty dance.

From Humour, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, set for bass soloist and male voice choir in Shostakovich’s thirteenth symphony. Where the rulers are the enemy, the only weapon of the ruled against them is mockery. Where the rulers are the enemy, it is a fight to the death.

The Barcelona Series by Joan Miro shows monstrous creatures with sharp teeth: Franco and the Fascists. Yet: what is this? There is such uncertainty in these distorted eyes. Cupidity, of course, lust, violence and destructiveness- but also fear. You need to guard yourself from these monsters, but the proper attitude to them includes pity. There is sympathy in the pictures, an attempt to understand what it is like to be these creatures. The act of drawing includes sympathy: Alasdair Gray says that you cannot paint or draw an expression which you cannot wear on your own face.

Possibly I am reading too much into the Barcelona Series (I have not quite accepted Derrida). Yet it is something I want to see in the pictures, because it is my own attitude: What is it like to be this person? always has to be a useful question. Where is our common ground?

Solzhenitsyn says,

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.

So I treat mockery with great care. It creates barriers. It makes conciliation less likely.