Positive and negative

Is it good to think positively?

I seek serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and might find it in denial. I will die, but it is not good to dwell on the fact. Before courage to change the things I can I need motivation, made of belief and desire. Desire is a site of my inner conflicts, between what my heart craves and what I have been taught I ought to want. What belief is beneficial?

Looking at any past experience, I would seek all the good in it: all the delight, all the learning, all the evidence of my good qualities or value, or the beneficence of the world. I evolved to fit, here. The world does not revolve around me, but is not out to get me either.

Denial might be a good thing. I read that giving birth is the greatest pain a human can experience, and some women who have done it more than once report forgetting the pain. We construct narratives to understand but also to cope with experience- “Yes it is painful but it is worth it”.

Dwelling on the negative aspects of past experience might make me withdraw. I cannot bear doing that again. Denying the negative aspects of past experience made me withdraw, arguably: I denied them until they were unbearable. So positivity is not a safe space, a simple concept that will always do me good, but a tightrope.

And, we spend ourselves. My body is deteriorating, and doing something until you cannot do it any more may be worthwhile. Even if I avoided everything that will deplete or damage me, I will still die.

I want a positive narrative for My Life So Far. “My world became smaller and smaller until I was finally trapped inside a prison of my own devising.” I read that and was amazed at how it could fit me. I could be crushed under the weight of my own responsibility for my dire situation. Instead, I blame someone else:

I suppressed my true self for a false ego, because I was terrified of death. My parents imposed that ego on me because of their own terrors and their bad experiences. Despite generational trauma my true self survived, and I am discovering her, liberating her, letting her flower. I will continue growing into freedom. I will use my gifts for what I see to be good.

Self-blame depresses and enervates me. Blaming someone else and casting my own actions as unavoidable, or heroic struggle, will make me able to go on. This too is a tightrope, but I feel far from the risk of self-satisfaction stopping me from making an effort.

Considering where I am now: my situation is pretty dire. My CV is unattractive. There, positivity is worthwhile: make it as good as you can, by describing everything winsomely. The obvious action is to do some voluntary work to show I am capable of something. I don’t. Here I have no motivation for the rational choice. But when I want to write something, I do that first.

I choose to believe my feelings and my heart’s desire is a worthwhile guide to my flourishing. My priority is letting the feelings flow. This is being positive about myself. The negativity of my childhood- that self is bad and dangerous, hide it away- harmed me.

I need faith. I need to believe in myself and the world sufficiently to believe action might be worthwhile, and setbacks are not final.

A horse, and a cigarette advert. Is this place trapped in the early twentieth century? Woodbines are still available, and only new advertising is restricted by law.

Meeting a swan

Lunch was lovely. I had a large glass of wine, and when my friend decided she did not want to finish hers I had most of that too. Over two hours, I complained about my life to a kind, attentive listener. We were at the back of the restaurant, where the waiters barely looked, and it was just the right place, overlooking the water. Then, with me still a bit squiffy, we walked round the lake.

This is where canoeists can cross the path from the lake to the river. As we approached, we saw swans use it too. First there was an adolescent, full size but still with cygnet colouring, and then an adult.

I wanted to see how close I could get to it. It seemed happy enough for me to approach, and even curious.

Now it was getting a little nervous, so I left it alone.

Then we went round the dress shops. There’s social media, where we learn about the anti-trans campaigners who have captured the EHRC telling services to exclude trans women, and the Tories deciding that conversion therapy for trans people is a good thing really, they shouldn’t ban that. Please sign the petition. It’s gone over 120,000 on its fifth day. As with Ukrainian refugees, the Tory government has gambled on the sheer selfish nastiness of Tory supporters, and found the British people well to their Left. Then there’s real life, where we got chatting to Karen, and even swapped the dresses we had brought to try on. Two trans women in the women’s changing rooms! Kishwer, Karon, Akua, if you’re reading this: the cis woman was not traumatised. She was happy to chat.

In a stationery shop there was a notepad with headings: Goals was prominent, other blah, “rewards” at the bottom for you dutifully to record why the goal was important. Yuck. “My psychiatrist said goals are overrated,” I said loudly. Well, I love snippets of overheard conversation, so spread the joy. “One of my eight psychiatrists said goals are overrated.”

After, I worried about it. The swan would walk down the slope, as take-off for such a heavy bird is hard work. It does so slowly and carefully. It might not want to, with me hovering behind it.

St Albans Cathedral

A cathedral is a hodgepodge of styles, designed to intimidate, perhaps, at best to inspire with awe. At St Albans, the Normans tore down the English cathedral to build their own. Nothing says “We are the masters now” quite like that. And different parts are from different ages: the brick tower, the stone nave, then the newer, faced stone porch, tediously symmetrical. You enter the west door then, unusually, climb stairs to walk down the “longest nave in England”. The important people are at the far end. This is intimidating.

It’s not the highest nave in England, because of the Norman arches in the north aisle. They cannot support the same height. Yet there are Gothic arches in the South aisle. I found that weird, ugly and unsettling when I first saw it. I wonder how the builders felt, when news filtered through to them of the new, fashionable Gothic arch.

The earliest of the mediaeval wall paintings dates from 1215.

All are faded, some almost unrecognisable.

So the curators have set projectors, which can indicate on the site what the original might have looked like. Between restoring with new pigment and covering over the original work, and leaving the faded originals, this is brilliant and beautiful. A touch on a tablet, and she is transformed.

This is “The Leaves of the Trees”, a touring artwork inspired by Covid.

This is the latest art added to the cathedral:

The shrine was broken up, and used as infil when the East end was walled off. When the wall was taken down, it was rediscovered. It has just been restored, with a new canopy. You can see the precise way it was broken, with pillars cracked and repaired in the same place. Here is the reredos.

That’s the best nourished dead Jesus I have seen. His head could be bowed in prayer, rather than death.

Here is the sculpture, which the priest would see, facing this altar:

It is Victorian restoration: the older screen was empty of statues. At the time, crucifixes were illegal in Church of England churches. The Reformers got at the older sculptures:

And here is a Chantry chapel, a bribe to God to get a rich man out of Purgatory early. What is so oppressive as religion enslaved to the interests of the rich.

Norwich cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is filled with Dippy the diPLODocus, and ropes, barriers and closed doors to distance it from the rest, which still has church-like aspects. My train was delayed, so I went to see the cathedral. Everywhere there are signs saying “No entry to Dippy here”. Gawpers are directed to a specific entrance at the south west corner of the cloisters, then through a guide with pictures of dinosaurs and parallels with the climate catastrophe, and finally into the nave. I associate the DIploDOcus (?) with Roman arches, because of the Natural History Museum.

I wanted my picture with it, and the man left out the head.

Initially I had no idea of the illustrious guest, and found a way in through the South door. Why can’t I get into the nave? I want to see the cathedral, not some dinosaur. A volunteer on guard at a closed door into the nave reluctantly let me through, telling me he should not really. The effect is to divide a museum, the nave, from the holy bit, transept and choir, which is normally big enough for any Sunday services. Yes the nave should be a public space for the city and landward areas, but why close off the worship bits? The restrictions inhibited my relaxation into timelessness. I went out into the cloisters, and there was another barrier, aimed at shooing the pilgrims to Dippy’s relics out. Again, the man there allowed me to step over the rope.

This is what a cathedral is for: commemorating important people.

This is a very important person indeed. His crest has a helm, meaning that he went out slaughtering peasants, and a coronet, meaning he told mere barons what to do. I have no idea who he was. I prefer the roof bosses:

The cloisters could be timeless, a place for aware contemplation. See, there is a labyrinth. There are also Dippy-seers, and photographers. I did not quite get in the mood. I feel a bit resentful.

Here are some dark works about refugees:

This one is trans- breasts, but no hips. Jesus was crucified at “the place of the Skull”.

I like this art work, an engraved door with lines from Eliot. It is hard to see the whole thing, but I take it by the handle, and move it back and forth to examine it. In the chapel I find some contemplation.

Ely Cathedral

The lady chapel has a powerful feminine energy, focused by a human Goddess above the altar. I love it.

Elsewhere, though, the chapel shows signs of Reformation: the original pigment on the figures, and the way their heads have been struck off. Beware men with hammers who know the Will of God. They will pick up guns if they can.

These hundred glass feathers, Solace by Layne Rowe, are inspired by the pandemic.

Cathedrals should commission new art. Here is Mary Magdalene recognising the risen Christ:

and here is Christ in Majesty:

In the chantry chapel, endowed by someone for monks to say masses endlessly to get him out of Purgatory quicker- hope he’s not in Hell, chantry-magic does not work for the damned- there are other alcoves without a figure.

This is the Octogon, at the centre of the building, above the altar. The nave is visible.

If I had not photographed it, I would not have seen how enthusiastic these thurifers are. With a long chain, the censer would normally not reach a higher angle than a swing pushed by a careful nanny. With a short chain, held by a priest, it can reach the horizontal, but never this high. Mercy!

The nave ceiling was repainted in the 19th century. Here is Christ in Majesty:

Here is a far more conventional Mary, left holding the baby:

I don’t like tombs in cathedrals. Christianity should not be about death and the dead- we are not ancient Egyptians- but I have a soft spot for this reclining bishop. He looks comfy:

This is the West porch. All its alcoves are empty. I wonder if they always were. See also where part of the building has fallen or been demolished, taking away symmetry, and how even the doors dwarf that tiny human, and my bicycle:

The arches both sides of the nave show their age:

The face of this chap on the floor looks Mediaeval in style, but I don’t think he would be that well-preserved if so:

Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Writing out of the Silence

The world has depth. The world is magical. There is infinite complexity and beauty beyond the surfaces we impose and the concepts we use to manipulate the world. We need the concepts to get what we want.

The world is huge. There is God in all of it: all the people and all the things. I want to bring treasure back, for the delight of Friends. I find it within. I shall find the beauty and truth in myself, and use it to bless others.

Imperfection is only in our minds. I don’t want to say “All I need is freely available” facilely, but I have usually had what I needed- except at the trauma. I don’t want to say “Flow like water” facilely, as conscious incompetence is good too: but that is also Flow, as its desire is not divided, like mine is- for appearances, what I ought to want, propitiating my inner Idol. Out of many desires, I will make one, by submitting to God within.

God, Love, is who I am. I am who I am. I am waiting for what I want to happen, or I am maturing, changing like a chrysalis, reordering within. I do not know what that would look like. False ideas of God get in the way of the reality of God. What must I let go?

I submit, to God, or to a great lie that is my enemy, an illusion that promises little and gives nothing. If I am struggling, the struggle is unconscious. I could not bear my fear and sadness if I were conscious of them, but sometimes I become conscious of them and the world comes alive.

I am never safe. The way I seek safety is barren. Only love is real.