The Anti-maskers

I wear a face mask, because mask-wearing protects people from covid. I could not evaluate it for myself, I have to take that on trust, and here are two articles which persuade me to wear one. Cloth masks are imperfect but make a difference, I say, even if I could not explain perfectly what that difference was. It’s also the law, and public expectation, to wear a mask. I see a few face shields, and I imagine they are useless, as aerosol droplets small enough to float in air will go past them. I am aware of reasons not to wear a mask including lip reading, or the fear some will have with something covering their face. Masks are not perfect protection, but I think it’s on balance better to wear one.

It would help if we had a decent government. In the US, Trump is more concerned to stir division and win on 3 November than to save lives. In Britain, the government seems too concerned with image, its testing never matching its boasting, its rules seeming careless and arbitrary, also too concerned with appearance, not concerned enough to keep people’s livelihoods, sometimes too concerned with preserving capital values, intent on a damaging Brexit and turning Kent into a lorry park.

Ach, I am concerned with appearances too. I think we have an unpatriotic government, not concerned with the good of the British people, wanting to tear down regulation protecting us, damaging the bonds that bring society together, and I want to persuade others of that.

I need to trust, and the hard Right works against that. The febrile atmosphere they and social media create makes trust hard. And mask wearing is nuanced, as not seeing faces is sadness, even if you smile with your eyes, and they are not perfect protection.

In my spiritual, wisdom seeking, milieu, anti-vaxxers predate, and opponents of “Big Pharma”. I have given reiki myself, and it does people good. It’s OK to take a bit of reiki along with your chemotherapy, not OK to take reiki instead, and though again there is nuance- chemo may merely slow the growth of a cancer rather than shrinking it- I would prefer an oncologist’s advice to an aromatherapist’s.

So there we were, sharing feelings and wisdom, sharing ourselves, and in comes an anti-masker. She says she has a relevant degree, and resents being told she does not know what she’s talking about by people who have just read a few magazine articles (like me). Zoom chat lets her spread her arguments. She said mask wearing is a “Pantomime”, and that’s a wonderful word to dismiss it. Five say they agree. Two make comments which could be read either way. Three of us strongly challenge her.

for those who have been silenced or had anything held over their mouth then masks are about death

anyone who has ever been assaulted will know what it feels like to have masked strangers all around them and be unable to see their intent in the facial expressions

Er, um. I have been silenced, and assaulted. I get by, walking in the street, by not noticing others much. This makes sense, but she puts it too strongly. I would rather accept that some people are mask exempt. I don’t know if that person without one is exempt or an anti-masker- or has just forgotten to bring one.

one of the best things we can do for ourself and each other and the whole population is to support our own immune system.¬† Masks do not do that, mainly because they block our ability to expel infective agents.¬† All of us have Staph aureus in our systems – if that gets over grown, then it will make us very ill.¬† Many of us carry Streptococcus and if anyone has ever experienced what folks call ‚ÄėStrep throat‚Äô you will know that it‚Äôs no fun.¬† If we interrupt these balances then we have problems – these are naturally occurring bacteria that will cause problems if we push them out of balance

I don’t believe, on balance, that bacteria I would usually expel will multiply on my mask and then be much stronger in my airways. If anyone can refer me to something authoritative on this, please do. I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand-

Even the woman who writes “We can’t let misinformation undermine science” takes herbal tea and ginger root for her immune system.

Yeats, again. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Anti-maskers can rile each other up in their web enclaves, and try to persuade others.

Also in that group an Indian woman talked of the poetry of Mirza Ghalib, “To Urdu what Shakespeare is to English”. I was sad that she felt the need to ask our permission, white people don’t. I found some in this ancient-looking website. He is really good:

On the subject of mystic philosophy, Ghalib,
your words might have struck us as deeply profound
and we might have pronounced you a saint …
Yes, if only we hadn’t found
you drunk
as a skunk!

Not the blossomings of songs nor the adornments of music:
I am the voice of my own heart breaking.

You toy with your long, dark curls
while I remain captive to my dark, pensive thoughts.

We congratulate ourselves that we two are different:
that this weakness has not burdened us both with inchoate grief.

Now you are here, and I find myself bowing‚ÄĒ
as if sadness is a blessing, and longing a sacrament.

I am a fragment of sound rebounding;
you are the walls impounding my echoes.

All your life, O Ghalib,
You kept repeating the same mistake:
Your face was dirty
But you were obsessed with cleaning the mirror!

I want a nice, safe consensus on mask wearing, and that appears not to be available, though I heard of people shouting angrily at maskless strangers when I last went to the Swanston supermarket. Some of the propaganda sheets in the UK seem to be pro-mask for now. In Meeting, I had my wayward and disturbing thoughts, and they merged and mingled with my Awareness, stretching it, because it is not “My God”, but ours. Strange and disturbing things are part of how the world is.

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Without the mask

If I were to appear without my mask, I would appear almost exactly as I do now: serious except when humorous, caring, determined, sometimes deeply moved. Heaven and Hell are so close I almost cannot tell the difference, except for the pain of it.

I was unable to speak again, and as always it surprised me. After we discussed his wedding at the weekend, he asked why I volunteer here.

I have emotional problems, I thought. I am (or part of me is) happy to be open about that. And I could not say it. I closed my eyes trying to gain control, feeling tears rise. It is not that I consciously feel overcome. And then suddenly I was over it, as if there was a barrier to speaking and then there wasn’t. And later when D asked the same thing I had no problem saying it, in that higher voice which feels the more authentic me.

I do not know what I am feeling, much of the time, but today I realised how anxious I am. I wish I were not, but the need to be perfect is hard.

And I do not realise what I want, often. I wrote, “I want”,¬† then put the paper down for some time. Then I picked it up and wrote,

“to take a full part in my AM. I want my service valued there as it is elsewhere.”

When I got home, I called the Samaritans to talk of that paralysis or barrier. I don’t climb over the barrier, I let it go.

I want to be high-functioning, I said, and saying it I know it to be true, and so learn the fact and realise how much I want it.

I want to appear competent, so there is a barrier to saying things like “I have emotional problems”, because a competent person should not; yet achieving competence requires that I am able to admit it is it is true. Competence does not mean pretence.

She asked, why do you wear a mask? Because I am frightened of showing what is underneath. What would happen if I did? Utter humiliation equivalent to death. And yet I showed myself this morning and was met with sympathy and understanding.

I don’t climb over the barrier.
I let it go.

I may learn this fully, then the barrier (fear, need to keep up appearances, whatever) will have no more power.

Then it is a paradox: the need to appear competent in my own mind prevents me from being competent. My fear of being unable is the only thing preventing me.

Then we talked of suicide. I have been suicidal, and am not now though I feel incapable of looking after myself, and my income is inadequate and precarious. I tell the safety harness story. Jess said, “The thing I learned about you is you are a really hard worker,” and that is how I learned it myself. I had not known it before. And now I realise how much I am hurt by that.

I am seeing how hard I am working now and what I have had to overcome. I would have said ‚ÄėWe are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.‚Äô Perhaps I would still: me without the mask looks very like me with it. Yet I would no longer believe that.

Turning

I find it hard to admit that anything I do or think of doing is difficult. Turning my life around is like turning a supertanker, rather than turning a knob on a cooker. It is hard to say these things.

In shame, I hide away, and try to conform- with an idea of what is normal, which is not necessarily shared by anyone else. That’s why I had my balls cut off, which pleased me so much at the time, and now I am kicking myself because my ideal was not real, and I should have realised that.

I am highly intelligent, unreconciled to a lifetime of not getting it, or getting it too late. And negative. When things go wrong, I notice, and that affects my actions afterwards. My work of disentangling myself is to bring these things to consciousness, in counselling, and then to type them here.

There are things which cannot be said or acknowledged. There is a normal way of doing things which is just normal, however ineffective: trying to work out a better way is just too much work, or I cannot imagine working out a better way.

We find ways of fitting Normal to ourselves, but if we are too far from it that becomes too difficult.

-I hear you perceiving and holding your friends’ differences and hope you might not be entirely conventional with them.

Can I be without the mask with others? Can I ever say what I think or feel? Sometimes, though I would not feel the need to blog if I could do it with other people.

I say “What is interesting is delightful”. I like things which pique my interest. Let’s have a look at that. So it is not the thing in itself, it is my attitude to it which I like, my curiosity finding a loose corner and prying it open, finding out.

Then, though, I said “What is interesting is delightful” and immediately began questioning and doubting it. I think I am only saying that because it is a thing I think would be admirable or good.

I find it hard to say these things out loud, even to Tina, so I type the next bit: “Life is terrifying”. Then I could say it. As in, “May you live in interesting times”. No I don’t like interesting, I want boring. And yet now I think I find “What is interesting is delightful” admirable and good because it is my best self, my self going out to meet the world and engage, and I can do that, it is real me not mask or pretence, not a gambit in the conventional game of counselling where we both want me to take off my masks and instead I try on different ones.

And life is terrifying, whether I engage with it or not.

Mmm. The knob on a cooker, or the supertanker. Turning should be easy, should be the task of a moment, and when it is not I leap to the conclusion that it is horrendously difficult. It is as it is. Do I want to change? Then, change. Easy, difficult, that does not matter, the judgment of difficulty gets in the way, especially the judgment that I am making no progress gets in the way. That judgment, my inner critic, speaks in fear and seeks to drive me to greater effort, but I can no longer be driven in that way. Changing it to encouraging, to seeing progress, is my war.

Behind the mask

All the different aspects of me need to be pulling together. They are proud, contrary souls.

The one I am in right now is playful and filled with Love. I have no self-confidence, I go to another space to be self-confident. Sometimes I cannot speak, I have a thought so disturbing I cannot bring it to consciousness. I am tenacious: were I not, I would have been subsumed. This is the part of the whole human being which makes the decisions, even if all I can do is say No. This is the part that takes delight, in the sun as I cycled to the wee shop this morning. I am determined, to go up the steep hill without dropping another gear. I know what I want to do, day to day. I want to see her, then. Though getting out of bed to cycle to the wee shop was an effort. I would rather just read the news.

This is me without the masks, the central me
Masks are my way of interacting with the world
Masks are what I can let people see

I am glad to be speaking from this part of me. It is a relief to take off the mask. And it is a bit tiring- no stop minimising it is tiring.

Freud’s patient Bertha Pappenheim said that even when she was in a very bad condition- a clear-sighted and calm observer sat, as she put it, in a corner of her brain and looked on at all the mad business. It is such a relief to read of someone else’s double consciousness, one person looking at the other, recounted by Siri Hustvedt as if it were a useful observation rather than just more demented drivelling. Though in my double consciousness I identify with the mad bit rather than the observer, I can think with the observer, say, X is the sensible thing to do; though the chance of X seems more and more remote.

In bed this morning I was thinking how it is much warmer and I don’t need to stay in bed to keep warm, and I could get up for breakfast, even shower first. And then I had breakfast in bed, and could have got up to shower but would rather read the news than get up, even if I have to go somewhere.

-What do you get from reading the news?

That’s a good question. If I have to go somewhere I generally get up in time, but if I have to do something which I could always do later, I may put it off until later. Stimulation without responsibility: it does not matter to my day to day living what is going on in the wider world. I do not need nearly the amount of detail I have. If Mr Trump’s wickedness will make my life worse it might be better not to be reminded of it several times a day, to reduce the pressure to despair. If I am doing something which matters I might do it wrong. If I am just reading the Guardian I can’t. And my comments can get hundreds of up-votes. I like up-votes, and like writing partisan posts to fish for them or more thoughtful comments which get fewer. I might be better to write posts seeking reconciliation, as partisan conflict helps the Right not the Left, by decreasing confidence in what politics, government, and working together for the common good can achieve.

Breakfast in bed, then reading the news- an activity which I cannot possibly get wrong– are rationally chosen activities if maintaining my short term emotional equanimity is my main aim. Which it is.

“If I had to find a job locally, working in a shop or behind that bar, I would hate it,” said H empathetically- not necessarily sympathetically. “Stand in a shop all day, come home and watch television, go to bed- I would just want to die.”

“Or a factory or a warehouse,” I said.

“That would be Worse!” You’re not ill, she tells me. You’re not depressed. Well, perhaps I am, as depression comes before acceptance. She has managed to evade such jobs, at least recently. Should I just embrace malingerer status- I need to convince people I score those fifteen points? What is going on, consciously or unconsciously: it feels like there is this Behind the mask figure, making the decisions, and the sensible part ineffectually insisting that I should look for work. I need to get them working together. It could just be that I do not want to admit, even to myself, I can see nothing better and no way of getting it. There was that woman on the telly, high-functioning anorexic, still doing these apparently self-destructive things around food and yet also doing the rational things necessary to hold down a job.

I like to think she bears me no malice, and seeks to shock me into a more productive response. “Could you work in some LGBTQI whatever organisation?” I have applied, and not even got an interview. “It’s hard, isn’t it?” she says.

Don’t give to beggars, says the Guardian. It locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost. Of course I apply that to me. I gave to a beggar last night who approached us as we left the pub at 10.30ish, non-threatening but insistent wanting money for food. “Where would you get food?” He indicated McDonalds, or vaguely “up there” where they give him it cheap as they know he is homeless. And for the first time in Marsby, population 9000, I saw a bloke sitting outside Tesco on one sleeping bag and wrapped in another, head down, with a cap for change. When I left Tesco his stuff was still there but he had gone.

Masks II

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d7/COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Houten_dansmasker_gedragen_tijdens_feesten_voor_de_zaaitijd_van_rijst_TMnr_391-162.jpgI talked to Yvonne about masks.

I pretended to be male, and people did not guess I am female. Then I transitioned, and I was still doing the benefits tribunals, and I kept the same mask. The same way of being with people. I don’t think it works. Being without it, though, feels naked and vulnerable and confusing. If you have worked this one out, please let me know.

I had a rare opportunity to come over all professional yesterday. C asked me to come to a meeting. He had five of us there, and stated the problem in a way I found tedious and long-winded. I have no idea how big a problem it is, from minor inconvenience to life-changer, because it is not C’s problem: he was lending R a hand. Can we help R? Oh, OK, I would think that worthwhile, but first I want to know what help R thinks he might need, rather than impose my solutions on him like Lady Bountiful. From giving R particular help for one afternoon, we have somehow taken him on as a client or prot√©g√©.

At the time, I wondered at C, thinking he was just not understanding and making heavyFile:Java Maske Panji Museum Rietberg RIN 204.jpg weather of something trivial. Now I see his generosity, including coming from the other side of the town to give me a lift in, an extra 14 miles. Foolish, or sweet? Two conflicting strong impressions of which I have been certain at different times.

Or there are A and B, a lesbian couple. B and I can be quite friendly, when we bump into each other. A stands slightly apart, monosyllabic. I could construct all sorts of stories around that. I am comfortable with B, and embarrassed with A, though wanting to be friendly.

I became aware of my mask or shell, and in February 1999 it appeared suddenly as if I was just me, without it. So strange. What of friends? Sunday afternoon I had lunch with S, and she was chatting away all the time. I really enjoyed it. I felt immediately at home with J, and have seen her since the snakes at the museum, for coffee. This is a friendship I could like. And- what really concerns me, bothers me, worries me, my midnight thoughts, I do not want to share with them because I fear they will judge me. Which may just be my judgment on myself.

I have met two men, beside the Polymath, who have seemed to me unsuccessful but fiercely intelligent. One actually stank- a bulk of resentment in a long black coat. But I have too big a heart to end up like that, surely, friendless without anyone to converse on their level.

Masks

j wrote of a conversation with a woman about experiences of Love, where she realised how alike we all are. It is not a new thought: the line in my mind was

the Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady
Are sisters under their skins!

and I stick by that¬†on looking at that whole¬†poem. The¬†auld sodger in whose voice it is slips away when Kipling says that.¬†I am sure¬†there¬†is something Biblical on the thought, even if St Paul often articulates our different gifts. A quick search for “We are all one” yields this. “We are all brothers and sisters” yields Glenn Beck!¬†For a British person, whose glimpses of Fox News are in satire showing how weird¬†these Americans can be, with Beck the principal exhibit, that was a surprise.¬†However, while it is a sentiment anyone may mouth, it is a truth each person has to see for themself, experientially, and ideally in the muck and mire of living, not just in meditation on retreat. Like j’s deepening conversation.

What gets in the way of the realisation is the masks each of us wear, pretending to be normal. The mask creates a feeling of inadequacy, and impairs our vision of other people: we think they are closer to “normal” than we are. I am taking mine off. All the time. The mask of being male was impossible for me, but when I transitioned to female I still kept a great deal of my reserve and silence, which is also too painful for me.

Quentin Crisp, gay when that was dangerous, said

What I want is to be accepted by other people without bevelling down my individuality to please them- because if I do that, all the attention, all the friendship, all the hospitality that I receive is really for somebody else of the same name. I want love on my own terms.

One friend says of my sharing, “it is so wonderfully surprising how open and vulnerable you are. I truly admire you.” I discount that less than I would have at one time.¬†A reserved and private man, quite eminent in his field, who once told me of being very badly hurt by the dysfunctional Cardiff Quaker meeting, called my earlier effusions “cries for help” and counselled me against them.

It is important for me to state precisely why I am so open and vulnerable. I am not showing off my insecure spots to be rescued and validated by others, to have someone say “there there” and kiss me better, to be accepted so that I can accept myself- for that is what I wanted, and when I could not accept or value myself, no amount of validation expressed by others was enough for me.

I am taking off my masks because my aim is to accept and value all the bits which the masks hide, all the bits which I am self-conscious about. So that I can achieve the state in my tag line, “Open heart, independent mind” which I took from a strong-minded friend who I think is closer to that state than I am. Or Neil Peart’s Cinderella Man-

eyes wide open
heart undefended
innocence untarnished

This is the best way I can see right now towards my own flourishing and growth, and ability to survive in the world. I am taking off the masks, or the Shell, because I cannot live that way any more.

————————————————————————————————————–

I am a primate, and primates are social animals. So other people have great power over me. But the nature of that power and its exercise has changed.

All my friend did was touch me lightly on the arm- two fingers by the elbow- and kiss me on the cheek, but such is the state of my heightened sensibility at the moment that I was- the best word I can come up with for it is “Unmanned”. Moved to the core of my being. It was completely lovely. When I was trying to pretend to be a man, repressing all my feelings, that would have had no effect on me at all. I remain lonely, and starving for such connection- and now it is possible, and I will find it.

In the coffee shop, the woman behind the counter said “That is ¬£3.10, ‘s”. I was not sure I had heard aright. What did you say? “That’s ¬£3.10.” Did you say anything after that? She denied it. Then she said, “There’s your change, sir”, and this time admitted it. So, calmly, I took time to explain to her. “That is not the right word. What do you think the right word is?” With the sound of disbelieving questioning, she said, “Madam?”

So I explained to her that I am a woman, and I feel insulted by the implication that I am a man. She apologised.

Now, I am irritated. I do not have time for such petty games, and buying a coffee should be a pleasant experience, as I am sure Darcy Willson-Rymer¬†would agree. But I am no longer subject to this woman’s power. I am not, now, lying curled up in a ball on the floor weeping, as I might have been ten years ago.