A sonnet of Love

In In search of lost time, Swann has aristocratic friends and is welcomed in the salons of Paris society, until he marries Odette, his mistress.

She glowed. “Ah, what a pleasure to receive.”
Odette’s sweet radiant delight caressed
Swann’s virgin heart, awakening it. She blessed
his touch-starved hand with hers, began to weave
in him a passion he would not believe.
Unknown wellbeing faded, as you guessed.
The man, the lover, undertook a quest
the salon raconteur could not conceive.
The valued, welcomed, connoisseur of art
might keep a mistress, quietly. Men have needs.
He marries her, and has what once he craved.
A rule is broken. Monsters will be freed!
His friends are friends no more. Each shields her heart.
Convention reasserted, they are saved.


We’ve now been zoom bombed three times. The first time it was a short clip of a boxer, on repeat. We looked in surprise- what is it? What is the point? The second was a man masturbating on screen. Ew! I clicked to remove him. The third time, it was four people, probably young men. They came in an hour late. One put in the chat, “Yo. Anyone here play Minecraft?” I removed him. I waited until each revealed they were not here to discuss Quakers and Truth, then removed them. Their disruption seemed innocent to me: what did they expect?

After, people were keen to talk about the zoom bombing, and I wanted to talk about, well, Quakers and Truth. So I told the story of the monks. You know the one, surely. I typed “monk carr” into the search, and the first suggestion was “monk carrying woman across river”, which led me to Alpha Home. I had to tell the story, not well- I could not think why a monk would carry a woman across a river. Anyway, he does. And they said, they needed to process it. But that’s giving the bombers what they want! The group praised my care and respect, not judging the zoom bombers without clear evidence against each individually, and I wondered if I should have ejected the bombers sooner. They were clearly bombers. Attenders had the unpleasant feeling of lack of control: what will they do? Why does she not just exclude the bombers?

I love you being you. I love it when you show what you call, unselfconsciously, merely truthfully, your radiance. It is very beautiful. We agreed that if I controlled you, you would be nothing: less than human, merely a figment of my imagination. Still I want to control. My whole life is about seeking control. You said you had had a headache, and I felt one, briefly. Is it my extreme sensitivity, or am I attuned to you?

We talked of my fundamental inner conflict: I reflexively hold all my actions and characteristics in contempt. I carry this huge burden of contempt. No wonder I hide away and do so little. As you suggested, I talked from the contemptuous part. Well, the other is contemptible! She does Nothing, proving it.

I know my softness is beautiful, and that increases my frustration. Oh well. My physical life is almost inert, but my spiritual life is intense. I do not forgive myself, but barely tolerate my inactivity and contemptibility because it seems unavoidable.

Another has no partner right now, and is fantasising about Jodie Comer- perhaps Jodie Comer in role as Villanelle. Wow. Well, I can see the attraction. Sexy, effortlessly effective- just a bit frightening. Oh, yeah! And she feels guilty about it. It is objectifying. It is using another person. I feel she is too harsh on herself. It hardly affects Jodie Comer, and she is probably not the only one fantasising about Villanelle- being her, or being with her. You can work out in fantasy all sorts of things- if they are impossible, you process your desire, and might see other possibilities. I see her guilt, and want to assuage it. I have mercy on everyone but myself.

My fbfnd is a staunch ally, and her profile picture is the words “Trans people belong here!” Being right on, she added a Ukrainian flag. I love both sentiments, but they don’t really go together: Britain is enough of a war zone for trans people, for me.

People are using the invasion of Ukraine to make all sorts of points. Why care about Ukrainians, but not Yemenis or Ethiopians? Ooh. Normally I would want to analyse and understand, but perhaps even Anthony Blinken with all his analysts does not know what it might mean for the world. The details will only shock me without doing any good at all, so I wish to avoid reading or arguing about it, and simply pray for Ukraine and its people.

Love and Poe

How could I Love, and want to cause you pain?
You truly saw me. I felt such delight
I knew if I could blossom in your sight
I would have all I ever strove to gain
And then we talked, that morning in the rain
My words flowed beautifully, calm and right
and yet our conversation was so slight
you soon forgot it all, and my insane
obsession with the thought of you was vain.
The ghost of you now haunts me in the night
I know I can no longer bear the strain
or flee you though my only goal is flight
I’m innocent, but bear the mark of Cain
The world will have no pity for my plight
and now I have no stomach for the fight
I saw you as you fell from that great height.

Petrarchan sonnets are difficult, but not because of the rhyme scheme. A “stretched sonnet” has sixteen lines or more.

What is love?

You cannot understand love through words, only experience. I still can’t get my head round Je t’aime meaning “I like you” and “I love you”. There are four words for Love in Ancient Greek: storge, family love; philia, friendship; eros, romantic love; and agape, the unconditional love of God. We are commanded to love God, and “Love your neighbour as yourself”- “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”.

In 1979, Dorothy Tennov coined the term “Limerence”, which is an intense desire for a person, hoping they will reciprocate. Saying “I am in love” when not aware of being loved always felt wrong to me too. In The Makropoulos Case, a man sings “I am in Love, like a soul in torment”. Evolution is a source of suffering: all a bacterium has to do to reproduce is eat until it splits, but humans need to parent someone for twenty years or more, so the drives making us take on such responsibility have to be strong. Evolution cares not that your limerent object does not love you- at least, not yet.

Love is a human need. We are a social species, dependent on our society. Love bonds us together, and if someone is unloved they are vulnerable. There you are, lying on your back. Suddenly the nutrition that was flowing through your belly button has stopped. You cry out for sustenance, warmth.

So later the phrase “I love you” can be reassurance, but also a demand, a question, or a hope- “You love me too, don’t you?” Co-dependence arises when we cannot love ourselves and depend on another. Qoheleth says, “If two lie together they are warm, but how can one be warm alone?”

A child loved and accepted develops healthy self-love and acceptance, but this is never complete. Everyone’s parents hand on some misery to them.

So, other people are having a hard time. Thus, the Commandment. Love your neighbour as very best you can. People need all the gentle kindness we can muster. It is almost like Keynesian economics: our wealth is not in love we can hold, but how fulsomely love flows among us. Feeling loved, I am enabled to love.

I agreed to start off a conversation on Love today, and then join a group where the invitation was to write and bring a love letter/poem to self and share it. I found myself writing a sonnet:

How can I love what I was taught to hide,
even from myself, behind a great pretence?
The feminine soft soul whom I denied
and buried in a quicksand, dark and dense.
My fragile, wounded, narcissistic pride
in intellect unfeeling rose immense,
Beneath the weight of its desires it died
Till I was left with nothing but a sense

of something seeming weak and badly hurt
All I could hear it saying was, “No, no”
and so I tend an ember in the dirt
and mourn it. How could I be brought so low?
But there’s the beauty. That is what is real
My source of love and truth is what I feel.

“A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,” I thought to myself, dissatisfied. But sonnets are hardly worn out, and my problem with it was it was too direct. The ember in the dirt clings on to self-love and survival by my fingernails. I grow to love what I was taught to despise. This is hard work. Strong love and support from others never seems enough. And yet I am getting there.

Love is the way to freedom, but loving myself feels like pulling myself up by my bootstraps. If self-love is based upon what I admire in myself, then it is fragile. My belief in what there is to admire varies. To be stable, my self-love has to be based on a commitment to myself: this is my one life, my one body, my one set of gifts and characteristics, so I want to make as good a go for that self as I can. So loving myself is as much of a commitment and an effort as loving anyone else is.

I did not want to write I love myself because. I have these good qualities therefore I am lovable. No- what if I am deluded? Then my hope for survival hangs on qualities I must assert against all evidence to the contrary. All qualities fail. I am lovable, simply because I am human. I am human, therefore I love.

The joyful, playful child

“Forgive me,” said Anna, “but you seem confused”. Well, yes. I have had a striking week. I wrote my love poem, which enabled me to say the words “I love you” to someone. Wednesday 5th I would read it in public.

Unfortunately, before that I was discussing my psychotic friend. He comes to Quaker zooms to rave. One of his delusions is how the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is the perfect society. I wish he’d go to one of their concerts, proclaim his gospel, and get sectioned again. I wish he would realise he was ill and consent to the depot injections, but he believes he has unique spiritual truth to change the World, just like Licia did. He accepts he is hypomanic, and when he is less so he can have an initial appearance of profundity from all the Buddhist texts he quotes.

Then there was the BBC, explaining laboriously yet disingenuously that my complaints were without merit and Justin Webb did nothing wrong.

I read my poem in the Lovely Gathering. Jamie needled me a bit, and my barriers collapsed. I do not mind appearing ridiculous. That ship has sailed, I said- I have appeared ridiculous to some people since transition. But not like this. He asked if I wanted him as celebrant, and I asked if he could do the registration too. I would not want to have to go to the registry office as well. But, the barriers- I had not wanted to make claims about another, or potentially embarrass her. Jamie did not need a jemmy. He put an exploratory fingernail under my covers, and they exploded off. I felt exposed.

She wrote to me of my ethereal beauty, my blooming heart. I am grateful for the expressions of love from her deep integrity. And Thursday afternoon I spent some time wailing wordlessly and some time being listened to by my wise friend, who recommended howling.

I had given up hope that my sexuality might attract me to, leave alone unite me with, another human being and I am grateful that I now believe in the possibility. Friday afternoon I zoomed with a woman who has overcome huge challenges. She does herself down, and still I saw her humility is beautiful. She wrote to me of my generosity, receptivity, sensitivity, spirituality, thoughtfulness, beauty and desire to spread encouragement and love, and called me

a human daring to stand.

Tuesday at Morning Communion, which I experience at 1pm because of time differences, was striking. I was just feeling the feels. People would say something changing my view of what was being discussed, and my feelings changed with them. In order to hold these mercurial feelings, be present and conscious with them, I found my body flexing and stretching, tensing in different places. It was almost as much as I could bear. I thought I might look a bit weird but no-one said. I was pleased with this. I want to feel the feels and accept them, then I feel I will stop fighting myself and stand in my power.

I have been thinking of my honour, and one thing I want to do is keep any obligations into which I enter freely. So Friends asked me to do something, and I said yes, and I did not do it. I just did not respond when my fellow Friend involved contacted me. I did nothing for six months, and facing the prospect that the work was not done someone else was appointed. Then they asked me to do something else and I did not respond to the first email, or the phone message. I need to be able to say “No”, and I need my word to mean something. When directly asked I said “No”.

Another thing I want, passionately, is not to have my feelings just explode on show as they did on Wednesday evening. It makes me feel unbearably vulnerable and stupid. After, I hate myself for it. I need control.

I had an hour and 45 minutes with Anna the Samaritan on Friday morning. They did not seem particularly busy, and I had a long healing cry. Then I talked from my misery when I can only articulate words in a high wail. Then I talked from my Real Self, or whatever it is, when my voice goes higher than usual, I am fulfilling my needs telling my best understanding of truth and I feel frightened and vulnerable. I told of chasing Ulrika like a lost puppy, and how she used me to keep Luke on his toes, then chucked him away like a used tissue. I told of Jude’s girlfriend wanting him to make a man of himself, and how when they split up he was so much more relaxed. By the end I was more explaining to her than working things out for myself, so I stopped, and I have not felt the need to cry since.

F, to whom I said “I love you”, has been in touch and caring in a way making me feel cared for. I spoke at the Zoom Quaker meeting, when someone heard humility in my ministry and that felt true and fitting to me. Then there was the afternoon Quaker zoom where we addressed the question, “Who in your life enhances/encourages your connection with God, and how?”

I said I felt that God in me is when all of me is integrated and working together, and anything can either lead me towards that or drive me from it, and my attitude to it matters. So I welcome unravelling on Wednesday, making a fool of myself. I will learn from it.

I told the story of the grey corridor with doors to overwhelming light and colour. Jeannine had a new angle on it: the corridor more constrains me as I outgrow it. Ruth suggested I could open the door for a look, keeping in the corridor for safety.

So I began the lovely gathering with Emotion Detector.
Illusions are painfully shattered
Right where discovery starts
In the secret wells of emotion
Buried deep in our hearts.

What I wanted, more than anything, was to become that sane, well-boundaried person, who does not lose control like I did on Wednesday. And now, five hours later, I don’t.

The next Quaker question was, How do you hold people in the light? How do you believe that works? Well, it changes me. I think of another with love, and it enhances my capacity to love them.

Then I said words new to me, which felt true. I find loving important, and am good at it: the price is not knowing I am good at it, so striving to be better. Seeing Friends assent helps me believe this.

So now I know. The lesson I wish I had learned as a toddler, which my parents could not teach me, was that losing control was not the end of the world.

I would rather be in touch with my feelings and in control. And loss of control is not ideal, but OK. Outside the corridor becomes less terrifying.

I love you

I cycle on quiet roads.
Buildings cast shadows on buildings opposite.
The Light
on trees, stone, skin, purple clouds
makes me cry in de-Light,
sigh in delight.

Love is one thing.
Limerence, wanting them to look at you
Storge, family love,
all one thing.
It is radiance, and the need for it.
Darling- let your bewitching attention
Shine on me!

The hunger is terrifying. My sensitivity is terrifying.
So I have my deepest desire,
to hide away alone and not be seen.
Might I be subsumed, like a male Angler fish?
Ah. There’s the self-contempt.

Your light is an earthquake in me.
Your voice is warm as the Sun.
Broken open,
the cracks are where the light shines Out.
My breasts are full.

Love is one thing.
It flows like water
so that who gives and who receives cannot be known.
Or a dream of water in a desert
making thirst more painful.
Take every chance to express love
however mad you seem.
I love you.

Storge is an ancient Greek word, στοργή, for love within families. Part of the inspiration for this was this voice message, which you might not be able to hear as it is substack, and which led me to write a fangirl reply. Written on an exceptionally warm, sunny 2 January.

Should I visit Edinburgh?

The sadness comes upon me, like a predator.
At its touch I stiffen and writhe.
I must collapse on my bed, weeping, wailing,
possibly screaming.
It will prove its mastery of me.
And then, a change.
The sadness is in me. It is me. It fills me,
chest, belly, fingertips
I know I am big enough to contain it.
That knowledge is relief and delight.
I hold the sadness, dance with it:
I am aware of its fulness,
and, satisfied, it flows through my heart.

Not permitted to show my sadness
I fought it, and it curdled into sorrow,
a weight I could not bear.
And now it flows like water.

But what of my love?
My breasts are full,
and I have no-one to suckle.

Yes I could go there. It would be lovely.
We would walk by the firth.
I love the way you live your life,
your courage and tenacity, meeting the challenges.
I would see him, and her, possibly her, and him,
whom I wish well.
I might call up she
who was cursed to see my full beauty,
and love me for thirty years.
When, too late, I saw it
Her love warmed and perplexed me.
She has got over me at last.
She might not come.
I might meet a wise woman.

We faced the traumas side by side
but walled apart.
We did not have each other then.
On two islands, we wish each other well
but to reach you, I must cross that sea,
the pain of the past,
the terror of death.
It is easier to wave at you and smile, then turn away.

You want to meet me too!
Would we be blown apart, or sink?
or would we hold the terror,
adults together,
at last, enabled to touch?
We would dance with it.
It is us.

If I can feel all the overwhelming sadness and terror,
might I feel joy as well?

I imagine you asking,
How is your life? What have you been doing with yourself?
I have wrestled my dragon
but not yet climbed on its back.
We watch each other warily.
We want to fly together, and feel land bound.
Nothing, I say. I have stayed in my room for ten years.

You have such presence! they told me. You’re just there!
They missed me when I did not come.
One sees “a lovely air of authority”.
My bafflement increases their enthusiasm.
At last, they make me smile uncertainly.
Could they be right?
What might I do, if they were?

Freeing the Spirit

If ego is wrapped around spirit like ivy round oak, how do you become spirit
naked spirit
unencumbered spirit
free spirit?

Is it by letting go of something?

I do not let go words. “Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life.” I might let go words which distract from that.

Can you stop seeking to persuade? A multitude of words to persuade that trans women are harmless amid a long scream that women need to exclude us and are entitled to.

Descriptive words- words drawings and symbols describe a Saturn V rocket, and if you followed those words you could send people to the moon again.

Words as truth. Words as poetry. Recognising that words always have a tincture of persuasion or judgment, and of inaccuracy, so I cannot set down a set of rules to follow. I get better with words.

What of Desire? Trauma? Let go of illusion and the Idol, the wish to seem.

Should I let go of fear of the future? There’s a way of thinking I don’t like- imagining a particular threat, and pleading with it, or shouting at it. That’s not fair or this is what really happened or its wrong to do that, when I feel others will not agree with me but I’m still right. Partly it’s rational, thinking through how I could be most persuasive. Partly it’s denying reality, emphasising the truth of what I say and the complete wrongness of how I believe/know/fear/am unsure about how others will see it. Partly it’s picking up a particular fear and dwelling on it without doing anything to improve things.

Possibly I only hate this habit of mind because my experience is often that others don’t agree with my arguments, when I eventually put them. I am like William Brown, desperately or defiantly but pointlessly crying “I was just statin a fact”.

I can escape that habit by making my life so simple that there are few of the threats that would engage my attention in that way. Maybe I have faced so many threats that I can’t bear them any more.

A more horrible experience of rumination is replaying incidents in the past. For those ten years old or more I have mostly distilled these to “I was right, they were wrong. It didn’t matter.” For ones less than ten years old, it’s “It was what it was. I suffered more than I deserved, perhaps. I wasn’t perfect.”

A woman who used to research and write articles for a think tank had a traumatic brain injury. Now she finds her mind is as quiet as she had wished. It is in a state she had sought through yoga before the accident. It could just be that her life of argument is wrenched from her, and all that remains is her recovery and being able to “run errands without getting lost”. The kinds of issues she was writing about no longer matter to her, so much of the content of her conscious thinking has become unnecessary. It’s not that she does not care about the homeless, it’s that she cares about them as fellow suffering humans, rather than as a topic which affects her own position.

Then there’s the experience of the divided mind. You know the quote “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” Well, judge myself harshly, go into denial, freeze. I know I ought to X. But I don’t want to, because it will be uncomfortable, and involve admitting I was wrong, at least in the sense of making the wrong decision when full information was not available.

I am seeking spiritual enlightenment, that “inward stillness”, in order to be better able to engage with the world. Enlightenment does not mean no longer having to face conflict, loss, or error. It just might mean having a trick, or a knack, for dealing with what Kipling called “impostors”.

Calling it a gimmick is showing disrespect. I am serious now.

I want that inward stillness to be large enough to contain my fear and hurt so that it does not simply burst out of me, so that I am conscious of it, and can bear it. The law, the method, the way, seems to me to be Love. I judge myself- my fear, anger or resentment is unbearable- I deny or suppress it- it bursts out of me- I suffer. I love myself- I accept my fear, anger or resentment- I contain it, and see how best to act. I love the world- I see it better- I respond and act better.

Love is the answer. Love is the way. Yes, spirit is like the oak, and ego like the ivy- though they might look like one plant, spirit provides all the strength to hold ego up, as both seek the sunlight, which is the love of God. I am bombarded by experience and my emotional reaction to it, even when I rarely go out. The only way to bear all that is to love it all. It’s not letting go, it is accepting.

There are other spiritual lessons to learn. Accepting the fact of your death is a big one; but the greatest of anything is Love.

Is the Quaker meeting a safe space?

The Meeting might seem a safe space, where we come together in Friendship to worship. We come to recharge, away from the World, to be better fitted to live in it. Often it is. I come away feeling loved. And “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

God gave me a gentle working over at Zoom worship, reducing me to tears. I hope I come away with strengthened Love, better fitted for my world, with greater understanding, and it was painful. It did not feel safe at the time.

There was a harsh sound like a fog-horn, in repeated blasts, and I was irritated. Someone should mute themselves. They are not showing proper respect to the meeting. Such a horrible sound would distract anyone. I was certain of the rules, and my entitlement.

Then my wise Black Friend ministered on the love and mercy of God, quoting psalm 139 on God’s inescapability. Black Friends have told me the Quaker meeting is not always a safe space. “Can I touch your hair?”

The meeting is safe as far as we work to make it so. We have love, one for another. The practice of sitting still, like poker players where a sigh or the slight tightening of muscles indicates inner turmoil, is an attempt not to distract our Friends. (I find sitting still difficult.) Only love will bind us together, create safety amongst ourselves as we run our meeting, with our different desires and understanding.

Some find that having something to do with their hands, such as knitting, seems to help them centre down. Others find this distracting- perhaps, it is the sense that the crafters are breaking the rules. They should not be doing that. Here is a Quaker discussion. Love can bring us together- the person who is easily distracted, the person who needs something to do with their hands, and others supporting both.

Looking back at it, Quakers are delighted with our 2009 YM, agreeing that we would treat gay marriages precisely equally with straight marriages. This outcome was not widely predicted. Gay Friends went to YM feeling valued members of their meetings, their relationships accepted, even celebrated, knowing that “the acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends”. Those Friends too might be apprehensive about the meeting. We came together in Love, led by Spirit, and other yearly meetings have split over accepting gay people, each side believing they were rooted in Christian principle and even in Love.

Again Friends approach YM in fear. Again, our sense of ourselves- the trans person, and the gender critical- feel threatened. With the clerk in a discussion group, I knew I should not lobby her about the Correct Result of YM, but the temptation was so great I could not speak about the topic.

We must be prepared to be changed. I have been changed beyond recognition, and as God Loves me into wholeness it has been intensely painful. In Meeting I am weeping, for myself and for the World. And at the end of the meeting I hear the foghorn again, accepting it. It does not bother me, and I weep again in joy.

Only Love can save us. All will hear things that might hurt them, but the meeting is not mine to control, and others will say what seems to them right at the time, which may be an act of courage. I pray for a good result, and try to let go of conceptions of what that result should look like.