Three pigeons

In brilliant sunshine, I watched two pigeons try to chase each other off. Repeatedly they would move from the roof, to the telegraph pole, to the TV aerial, and back.

This looks like preparation for a blow in karate:

Here one strafes the other’s wing:

Attack from above:

The weaker bird flees:

And- the suitor approaches courteously. Alas! She flew off!

Joy in a gallery

What should be the mood of a museum visit? Is it like going on a picnic, to school, on a shopping trip, or to church? –Cynthia Freeland.

There’s a difference between English and US English here- she’s asking about what we would call an “art gallery”, a special space for looking at Art. My first thought was, it should be like a garden, where I move, relaxed, with beautiful and sometimes unexpected things catching my attention. And it should have good cake. What do you think?

An art gallery should enrich and expand our understanding of what it means to be human, the glory, jest and riddle of the world. It should have something to delight, intrigue, confound, provoke, enlighten anyone wandering in- any child, any person who has never seen art before, any connoisseur.

So it should be welcoming, to everyone. No-one should feel excluded. Any faint lingering traces of the idea that this is for educated people, for people with good taste, rather than for everyone should be expunged. It should be enticing. There should be eye-catching things round every corner, to draw you through. It should be mindblowing. We might have our understanding of the world completely changed.

I hope it could overcome resistance. There is resistance- “That’s not Art!” imagines that Art means technical skill in painting and sculpture, the ability to make a face look like a face in a photograph, rather than the ability to make a face that a person can read and feel with. There is fear, that these connoisseurs are looking at things I will not understand. Well, possibly- an understanding of the meaning of the colours in certain icons, or the symbols used to indicate saints- Peter carries keys, for example- can enrich viewing such paintings. Arguably, truly great painters have produced something new, and lesser artists copied their betters, and so some sense of the development of Art has value, but progress is not linear. Instead it is an expansion, in many dimensions, with people finding new possibilities and their idiosyncratic way, or revisiting the old and finding something new in it.

It should be a place we escape words. Words mediate our experience of the world, and come between us and the thing in front of us. You do not see what is around you because you are thinking. Words move through your mind, and you pay attention to them instead, even if they are the same words as flowed through you yesterday and last month. I love to escape words. It is an experience I know and value. There must be a wordless experience before there can be new words or new understanding. So I enter an art gallery with the intention of relating to some art object- probably many- and allowing it to communicate to me, without judging, or at least permit my mind to see possibilities in it without seeking to define them.

The child or adult entering a gallery for the first time needs a certain level of trust in the guide taking them there, or the society which values the gallery, to be open to such experience. So the gallery should do all it can to win such trust. Not understanding is OK- but the viewer must perceive the possibility of understanding, and a route to understanding, without too strict an idea of what understanding might look like.

I have strong memories of art in my teens grabbing my attention and engaging me. Then I saw that there was something that would repay my attention. Now delight is quotidian for me, enraptured by the flowers in a Burne-Jones forest, but also perception, being brought face to face with a man standing over his wife, just killed in war.

Go to a gallery! They are wonderful places!

The asset-strippers

I love the Duveen galleries at the moment. Mike Nelson’s The Asset-strippers fills it. Wooden walls and doors from factories make corridors through it. The machines are beautiful, and forlorn, not needed in our modern, services finance and consumerism economy. Knowing the prevalence of industrial deafness I would not want to work on such machines.

I see how important sharpness in the photograph is.

I also feel photographing inside the item, so that it stretches beyond the picture, makes my picture more intriguing.

I am happy to go along with the institutional definition of Art- art is anything shown in an art gallery, or even called so by an Artist. It may be good or bad art, morally or in terms of expressiveness, but it is still art. Richard Anderson says Art is culturally significant meaning, skilfully encoded in an affecting, sensuous medium. The skill, here, is finding and arranging things to be affecting.

Then to the Don McCullin. He photographed new corpses, with their relatives staring at them. He says he tried to catch the eye of the relative, to gain implicit consent for his work of documenting the atrocities. Just, no- I would not be consenting, I would be too shocked to take it in, leave alone to object. Possibly some others might relieve anger and despair on the photographer. He photographed people in Berlin, looking at the other zone, and homeless people in London. A man sleeps, standing up. He photographed a battle in Vietnam. I have seen half of it: I hope to go back to see the remainder. I decided to walk round the outer wall of the exhibition space, pay at least a few seconds’ attention to each picture, and more time sitting before some of them.

I met H on Friday evening. We ate in a Greek restaurant and went to Deborah Tannen at Tate Modern. I may get her poems. I cycled to the station, and was pleased to see my bike still there on Sunday evening.

The joy of demonstrating

At one point, I was not marching so much as shuffling, the crowd was so densely packed.

At another, I could enjoy the dancing and the costumes.

I marched with an Irishman, and there were Irish tricolours about. One good thing to come from a hard Brexit might be the reunification of Ireland.

I took this, a statue called “Flight”, as a deliberately arty shot. I had to sit on the ground, and the woman with the placard good-naturedly held it up, but I did not quite get the placard to appear in the sculpture’s hand.

I was uncomfortable, marching from about 12 at Oxford Circus tube until about 5 at Waterloo. I coughed till my back muscles ached. Domi brought along lots of sandwiches. She has also had to get six months’ supply of insulin, as she does not want to die of Brexit. She has dual nationality so will be able to remain in the UK, and retain freedom of movement.

On Sunday morning I felt low, as did H, who had put me up Friday and Saturday nights and gone ahead on the march. But, there were a million of us, and the videos from the helicopter are inspiring- they cannot just ignore us. Those of us who wish to Remain in the EU will be encouraged, and that includes MPs. I feel my morale improving. We have done something worthwhile.

Franz West

Franz West’s sculptures are playful and anarchic.

I brought my stool just to the point where I am standing, and looked up at the loop, back and forth at the waves of this structure. Then I found the point against the wall where, sitting on my stool, I could capture that virus-model or whatever it is through the loop. I had not really noticed how the other pink thing enhances the picture.

Then I asked a woman to sit on the stool so I could be in the photographs. She pointed out how colour-coordinated I was, so I took my jacket off, then really played the game, taking several, trying to make a composition. I don’t know how to alter the depth of field on my phone: it focused on the brightest thing, the light reflecting on the virus, and was slightly out of focus on me.

You may go behind the curtains to play with four sculptures of metal and plaster. The video shows what you may do. So I did, taking a plaster blob on an iron poker, throwing it about and seeing how far from myself I could lift it. Closing the curtains, so I was alone with the sculpture, was important.

Before, I went to Tate Britain for the last day of the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition, and a brief look at Don McCullin. I saw from a very different Finsbury Park two beautiful young men in a pub sizing one another up, ready for verbal rather than physical combat I think. Later, from a war, I saw a starving woman’s deformed breast given to her starving child. The whole will repay my sustained attention, and there are members’ hours every weekend, but I just dipped in to get a vague idea of it. I love the idea of feeling a photograph you take so that the audience will feel it too. I hear his wrestling with his privileged position, getting money and fame from others’ misery, yet being the necessary witness documenting that suffering.

After taking the boat, I went to the Pierre Bonnard exhibition. I had not heard of him! These pictures are beautiful, and I hated the self-portrait from around the time of his life-long partner’s death. He was crushed, and he showed his misery.

At St Pancras, I heard a pianist play Rachmaninov, the Bells of Moscow Prelude, Beethoven and Mozart, much better than the usual players. I played Metamorphosis II, though without repeating all the arpeggiation.


You are never alone with the internet, which is a problem: always being tempted to check Likes and Stats- eight page views in the last half hour! Ten upvotes for that Guardian comment!- creates a brain fog, distancing me from my feelings in a nutrition-free series of tiny pings of excitement. I am not alone with a book, or the TV. I had hoped “Cleaning Up” would be gentle escapism, the cleaning ladies getting one up on the wealthy, but it is far more subtle, even realistic: actions have consequences, there is both good and bad luck, and there is a slow, doubtful path to redemption for the hero, though she lies to herself and others, acts to make herself happy or safe in the moment whatever the consequences in two hours’ time, and is drowning in debt. Her daughters love her. But I even face that with half an eye on my laptop, and those facebook likes.

Possibly in some circumstances an Anglican church should be a “safe space”- in the East End during the Blitz, for example, giving some community reassurance in the horror. I don’t think a Quaker meeting should be. We encounter God there. But if mine has to be made safe, I may confront reality better meditating in my own flat, or in a walking meditation. I took the camera not to create beautiful images, but to record sensation. I wanted to create pictures of what caught my eye, not to package and curate a celebration or an imaginary ideal.

Though who am I to suggest the natural process of rusting, or the scaffolding of my civilisation, is not beautiful?

The photo does not show how steep the path is. I am constantly afraid of slipping and landing in the mud. And in the field, there was the sensation of soft divots thrown against my lower calves, and again the fear of slipping. And tension in the tendons at my knees. The intention is to observe what is around me, and how my body is, and for practise to develop awareness of my situation and feelings.

Because of the mud, suddenly the bush looms up, loaded with leaf-buds.

Ice on the river, though the air is above freezing. The one photo I actually wanted was from my last walk here, a coot walking on ice in the sunshine. I will see if I can take something like that. So I am not just in the moment: I am planning, and blogging, as I walk.

The river is half-visible above the thicket.

Despite the stern warning, this gate is no longer locked.

Geese on the water. I cannot create a record of my clearest impression, of a goose sliding down that bank into the river. I would need to set up the camera and wait for such a thing.

Even though there are still some on the bank.

The wet patches on the bridge are also slippery.

I did not intend to record the dog leaving a scent-mark, but that was the luck of it. My original picture did not show that the woman wore her right glove, but not her left, for the handholding.

I am not a nice person, I think, and I am where I am. This week I will meet my support worker, who is paid to get me into work (!) and the counsellor she has arranged. And I will exchange a few words at checkouts. I have stumbled into solitude, which I muddy with that obsessive checking of stats, and want to take the opportunity it brings. My boots heels hit the path with small shocks. Walking faster than others, I am slightly hot in an open coat, a thin shirt and no scarf.

That grass, taller than me, is striking.

I had not seen this inscription before. Now, writing, Google tells me it is from The Windhover by Hopkins, and that “sillion” is fresh soil upturned by a plough. Everywhere, evidence of human love!

That twig in the sun. A girl points her pink camera over ice, in the sun, with her parents on either side, encouraging, and her brother slightly ahead, on a scooter.

That I might have taken if I were curating a sales-pitch image of this place, or something for my managed image on facebook. I love the way the park is continually improved with art works.

This is the only one I have cropped. I have not adjusted the colour or light on any. That was the best view I could get of a bird walking on ice.

And the bottle catches my attention.

What of feelings? There was not much litter, the weather was beautiful, and I feel- not sure. Some fear and anger possibly. I have created my aloneness (which is different from solitude). “Self-Pity!” shout the Guards, aka the Inner Critic. They always speak up for my good, and I feel I might benefit if I could retrain them.

I know what would be good for me. Less screen, more meditation, possibly even action and encounter. I don’t know if I will manage it.

The edge of transphobia II

My friend wrote, I think there is a real discussion to be had about what constitutes a woman (I’m open to discussion but I currently think being a woman is an embodied state, so ones body is relevant to it) and calling people transphobic who think that differences between cis gender women and trans women are up for discussion transphobic or TERFs does not help reflective engagement in an open discussion about gender.

How can we show respect for women’s bodies? A woman spoke impassionedly to me about her body, about suckling with her breasts, about carrying a baby, about giving birth. These things clearly matter. We have no experience of them. There are many reasons why there should be women’s spaces, and the vulnerability of bodies which might give birth is surely a strong reason. I felt the emotional swings that progesterone could bring, and when I found them unbearable could simply stop taking the tablets. I remember the miserable pleading of a child, “Please, Miss, can I go to the toilet?” repeatedly during lessons, from nearly forty years ago, and realise I have no idea of the shame and pain of her experience.

Many on the other side see menstruation and penises as trump cards. That’s it, there is no further need for discussion. Trans women are men, and should be kept out of women’s spaces. Some tolerate post-operative transsexuals, some not even that.

I may have driven a woman into the arms of the anti-trans campaigners by my attitude to menstruation. I hated the thought that it was a trump card. Germaine Greer said, Being a woman is a bit tricky. If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know. It’s not all cake and jam. Well, no. Yet, if that means there should be female spaces where not even post-operative trans can go, it changes my life completely. I am afraid. I see myself as a harmless anomaly, one in a thousand, not really a threat, and wish feminists would devote their campaigning attention to the gender pay gap or sexual harassment, and not to me.

There was a loose group of bloggers, commenting on each others’ posts- queers, straight Lefties, and religious sceptics- and Roughseas’ first comment on my blog admired the portraits I had had taken expressing female when I was nerving myself to transition. She commented here from 2012-2016. Then I wrote on menstruation as a trump card, and she challenged me. And, as you’ve said you’ve lived as a woman for 13 years, I can take it you have no experiential knowledge of horrible bloody soggy knickers in your teens, leaking sanitary towels, leaking tampons and people making snide digs when you were ‘on’. Her last comments here were challenging my feminine presentation: Whatever you think and buy, you are supporting patriarchal imagery. It may be what you want. It still supports the idea that the rest of us should do the same. She started following and supporting anti-trans blogs. I don’t think I converted her to anti-trans campaigning, but what I said could have pushed her in that direction.

My friend wrote, I disagreed with a statement you made early in the gathering to the effect that objections to people with penis’s in women’s spaces is transphobia. I thought it was unhelpful and should have been publicly challenged at the time as I think that sort of statement serves to shut down debate.

There is a moment where slight discomfort with trans people, moderated with sympathy for our struggles, can become anger at “trans rights activists” and campaigning against trans inclusion. Looking into each others’ eyes, making an effort to understand the other, and being very careful with our speech we might still see each others’ humanity and accept the other; yet that is so difficult.

How can I accept your slight discomfort when I am sensitised by open hate? I see the disgust and contempt on twitter, and claim that all this talk of penises is transphobic. Well-

Having a penis is also a source of shame and pain. I was always sitting to wee long before I stopped presenting male. Like others, I was bathing with bubble bath to avoid seeing the thing. When presenting male is unbearable, and expressing female is terrifying-

I now fear my initial reply is not enough. I wrote,

I said it was transphobic to object to penises in women’s spaces because most of us have penises. To give myself as an example: I associated with transsexuals, and knew I wanted to transition, but took some time seeing if I could manage it before seeing my doctor. That meant dressing female and going in women’s spaces, first around Canal St., the gay area of Manchester, then the Bridgewater Hall, then supermarkets and other such places. Later, I had a diagnosis from a psychiatrist and had thrown out all my male clothes, but had not yet had my operation. Some people wait more than ten years for the operation. So although most of us want it, many of us have not had it.

There is a constant harping on about penises in the campaign against us, in stickers saying “Women do not have penises”. I find it dehumanising. I am so much more than a penis.

These things could have been brought out if we had a longer dialogue. But I take the point about dislike of the word “transphobia”.

I now fear that was not enough. A minor point was, what women’s spaces? Loos but not changing rooms, and only loos when I really needed them. Not changing rooms: I did not swim for three years. Though I think we should be in changing rooms, we do not want to show off our genitals more than any normal person.

But more, it does not address the discomfort. I am claiming a trump card of my own- because transition is more important to me than anything else in the world, I should be accepted. On the anti-trans side, there is the idea of “Peak trans”- you are a liberal feminist, or even a radical feminist, believing that trans people have a lot to cope with and should be accepted, and then you meet a few, or read what trans women write, and find that natural slight discomfort becomes campaigning energy against us. If that is true, then trans women have no hope.

There is so much fear and shame here. Trans women should never forget the depth of oppression of cis women by patriarchy. My own burden of fear and shame is so great! I hate the thought that I pushed someone to be against us; but if we cannot hear each other, and see each others’ humanity, across the divide between trans women and cis women, then trans women will not survive.

Yet- I am here! I cry, despairingly. I am human too!

The Bad person

You made an adult cry, and then you gloated about it. “She cried like a small child,” you said. “She had a woman with her with her arm round her, comforting her like I would comfort a child.” You mocked them.

I have cried like that, I said. Cried like before the Abomination of Desolation, as if my heart had been ripped from me, wordless, screaming, unconsolable.

I am not here to share my hurt. I would tell of the time I was crying hysterically– by which I mean, in the way a rational husband and a rational doctor, a man, would see as a reason to put a woman in a lunatic asylum, diagnosed as sick, so not to be listened to. When I was curled in a ball weeping on the floor. When I was screaming at the floor. I would tell of these times and they would put their most concerned-sympathetic face on, lean forward, put a hand on my knee and whisper softly “How shit it is to be you.”

“They”, here, are everyone but me, everyone outside my skin, the undifferentiated chorus of condemning humanity circled around me mocking, berating, ignoring. They are individuals. You know who you are.

You made them, “her,” cry, and they won’t talk to you again, or interact with you. And it happened fourteen months ago and it lives with you. It affects your life and important relationships now. You both are hurt, but their hurt is heard because they cried, like a small child, and were heard and comforted, and you will not cry, because too often others have made you cry and been pleased: it is their victory, proof of your worthlessness, proof of your abasement and irrationality. Why should they listen to anything you say?

I love your strength. You will not cry. I have been able to cry and be comforted, and able to cry alone, and I have cried and been abased, amazed at my own tears, proof to me of my worthlessness. Such strength, to stare back dry-eyed, at the man, a foot taller than you, perhaps twice your weight, and resist him.

So they are the expert, speaking to audiences of good, thoughtful, decent people of their experience and understanding, and you are the person who must be controlled. Your hurt becomes anger. It becomes fuel. Audre: a boiling hot spring likely to erupt at any point, leaping out of my consciousness like a fire on the landscape. How to train that anger with accuracy rather than deny it has been one of the major tasks of my life. You use it. And you have Sisters, people who love you, and support you.

You, with humanity circled around you since the age of twelve, to use you, blame you, touch you, hurt you, only your cleverness (not any human custom or rule) to protect you.

And I, a man in women’s clothes, terrify women who see me in women’s spaces, as I remind them of violent men where they are told they should be safe and their safety is an illusion, the unspoken rules contradict those spoken. “Do this and you shall be safe” say the con-men. The internet is a pain: I hear all the anger against people like me, which in the street or in my curtailed life I might have been able to avoid. I was not there, but I saw the video, of a hall of women, whipped up, their necessary anger permitted so unleashed against “dangerous men,” and how could I not take it personally?

The rules say you should be safe, not hurt or crying, so when you are hurt it must be your fault. What were you wearing? What did you do to provoke it? Don’t be so sensitive!

You made them cry, and you became the Bad Person. I am not a bad person, I say. “You’re a man,” you say, reasonably, rationally, incontrovertibly. We are divided. I see your hurt and my heart grieves, and yet you are made my enemy and I might use your hurt against you, as proof of your irrationality, you should not be listened to, and proof of your Badness, as you made them cry.

Audre: Why does that anger unleash itself most tellingly against another Black woman at the least excuse? Why do I judge her in a more critical light than any other, becoming enraged when she does not measure up? And why is our anger channelled against each other?

I hate you because I see myself in you. You are my enemy because you want what I want, though perhaps in a slightly different way. The people circling will never let up, never concede anything to you or to me. We are in the ring together, in that circle, and cannot but fight.

Spiritual exercises

To love others, you must love yourself.

I have a lack of confidence, and a deep desire to heal it. I deserve more confidence than I have. Over the last month I have produced a detailed concept of part of myself I now call the Pain-bearer, that part of me that holds the feelings which are too strong for me to bear consciously, and which then stew inside me. Feelings can be fuel, the energy to deal with my problems, or a burden making those problems more intractable.

Perceiving or imagining the Pain-bearer, the ideas came from my unconscious. First I saw a part of me curled in a ball, cowering, broken, head down, hugging herself. I imagined myself sympathising, getting her to uncurl, or perhaps uniting with her. The feeling part of myself is in control. The rational part can offer suggestions but not give orders.

Later I saw her as the Pain-bearer. She is not curled up, but standing, bearing all the burden of my unacknowledged pain without being broken by it.

This morning, I cleaned my living room and especially the rug where I kneel in meditation, my Ritual space, in preparation. I was not clear what would happen, but I was clear that it was important.

Two nights ago my dear friend suggested I join a Zoom webinar spiritual exercise for the Hunters’ Moon. After a visualisation Tina H. asked us to write down the feelings we were bearing, and needed to release. We would then recite the mantra,

I see you, I hear you, I feel you, I thank you
But now it is time to let you go.

Um. I wrote down, Anger Frustration Resentment Fear Rage Terror HURT
Loss of confidence

but did not feel these were the real issue. I was just writing what I had perceived my feelings to be in the past. Even more, I felt that I could not yet let my feelings go; that I had escaped feelings by pushing them onto the Pain-bearer, so if I were to “let go” or even release feelings I would be loading her further. First, I had to integrate the Pain-bearer into myself, to be one, and then when I let feelings go they would be taken from her burden and we/I would be rid of them. I tried to explain this to Tina, but then left the webinar to avoid disrupting it for others. The moon was beautiful, in a clear sky.

This morning, I knelt. I had not thought of writing out my feelings as Tina H. suggested, but did. They came to me in the form of stories. The advice for meditation is to see your wandering thoughts as passing clouds, and let them pass rather than fixating them, but I found my thoughts relevant. They were stories from which the feeling became apparent. For example, as the pre-bought train fares are much more expensive for the next two months, because of Christmas shopping, I imagined myself working out how to come home from London on buses. This revealed confusion and feeling out of control. Some of these feelings were my mother’s too. I wrote:

Terror of not being accepted: Withdraw.
Rejected- Worthless.
Confusion- desperate scrabbling for Plans.
Sadness- now alone from own doing.

I realised that forcing pain onto the Painbearer is clinging on to it. One may bracket feelings, storing them away to be dealt with later, but I do it all the time, and never release. It makes me think of Richard Handley [the link is appalling].

I know what I must do. I wrote,

Cleanse her
Feed her
Warm her
Love her
She is Me.
I am Alive.


Possibly, later, I might consciously release, but right now I am feeling content. I spent a quiet day reading, after tidying my books to make my room look better. And- I made a pigeon!