The dance and the game

As she looked at me, I felt my softness being valued. In her regard, my delicate flower stood tall. She said it was beautiful to look at me. I have to accept my sadness completely, in order to appreciate my delight. We are present to each other.

This is how I want to be, and I enjoy it, then analyse it. What am I doing, now? I take off my masks. I speak from the Real Me. Or, I show my vulnerable, feminine self. Three ways of seeing it each casting light from a different direction, each illuminating parts other images leave in shadow, none complete. The mask seems welded on, and to be seen without it is liberation, my only desire.

Burnt Norton: In the still point of the turning world, there is only the dance. There is who I am and what I do in the moment, and how I imagine it looks or want it to appear falls away. In almost all my actions there is care for appearances, more to myself than to others, and self-consciousness, and here I might flow naturally, unconstrained.

Nirvana is nonbeing. There is no I. There is only the dance. Possibly I should only do this with a lover (not with her) or possibly it could expand to all of life. This is paradise everyone old has dreamed of all their lives: the deep blue air that shows nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless, behind high windows Larkin could only look through, hoping that couple of kids were free to fly, like birds.

As a potential partner I have a great deal of beauty but fear I have little use. My earning potential is minimum wage at best. So I unfankle all the mess, the masks and pretence, the desire for appearance rather than reality, the impossible falsehoods. “I” is the whole animal process dancing with the world, changing it as I am changed, and “I” is the illusion that blocks the flow, the demands not to feel that were branded in me.

Mind-blown, I went to the Quaker group. With adolescent certainty I told them where they were going wrong. There is the dance, and then there is the game, which has rules. The business meeting is on the second Sunday of the month, and members should send agenda items to the clerk by the first Sunday so that the agenda may be circulated in good time.


The DANCE!!!

If only I could put it into words. But those words would become dust as soon as they were spoken, not even a finger pointing at the moon. Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

If only we could trust the wisdom we know. If only we could sit in silent worship in the business meeting. You only speak once, so you gather what you must say. You seek the good of all, and not appearances. You listen to Friends, and see their unmasked beauty. It is not a committee meeting where we talk over each other.

Nirvana is possible, and ungraspable. I fall away from it into habit. The words cast light and shadows. And I dismiss the rules, for they only permit a game, which is less than the dance. But there is wisdom which might let us dance freely. And I delight in my adolescence: I have been stunted, welded in, and adolescence is growth and life.

Covid dreams

My house is much cleaner than normal. I tidied away a lot of papers and stuff a couple of weeks ago, and have gone on a cleaning jag today, vacuuming crannies and crevices for dust. If a tiny particle can make a sufferer cough, irritating the airways further, I do not want my house as dusty as it was.

Eight percent of people over fifty coming down with Covid 19 need hospital treatment. My fear is that if I can phone and describe symptoms I will not be deemed sufficiently sick for transport or treatment, and if I can’t then I won’t be helped. And what that means for poorer areas without a fair hospital system horrifies me.

Oh I would like to talk face to face! I last had a friend over on Monday 16th. I like video calls, and now can attend Quaker meeting twice a week or even more- so I am having more conversation!- but I like hugs. Ministry is mostly guardedly positive- things are bad but we will be OK, quotes from 17th century Quakers- with occasional reminders of people who are particularly vulnerable.

And I think of people I know- people with MS, people over ninety, people who need oxygen to breathe even without 19. I fear for friends, I fear for people, I fear for myself. I am likely to suffer only minor discomfort, little more than any cold, but the worst possibilities are unthinkable. It is likely that someone I know will die of this thing.

The restaurants were told to close on Thursday 19th, and we were told to go into lockdown- only essential workers to go out to work, others can work from home if they can, stay at home but for one session of exercise daily and one shop weekly. Not having a freezer, and not always finding what I wanted, I shop more often. There are no rules yet on wearing masks. I don’t know the differences between masks, but with NHS staff angry about their lack of PPE, and the ENT consultant Amged El-Hawrani dying- he will not be the last- should I have a mask at all?

On Saturday I went to Asda, and was taken aback to find the front door locked. There was only one door in, round the back by the car park, and people were queuing quietly to be allowed in, one in one out, by the guards on the door. The aisles had arrows on the floor marking a one-way system, so we could keep 2m apart, and while I heard gallows humour a week before now it was silent. Again I could not get tinned tomatoes, but cooked with fresh tomatoes instead. I could not get basmati rice, but got brown instead, so that now I have got basmati rice I have 1kg of brown rice to use. Boil uncovered for 20-30 minutes, in six measures of water for each measure of rice, then drain, put back in the pot and cover to steam for ten minutes. It’s alright. This seemed to bulk out quite suddenly after 22 minutes.

I like worship on the net. I place the laptop on a table slightly to my left, and sit below my window, composed. Today, I sat in the sun for twenty minutes paying attention to my fear. Paradoxically, the desire for a crisis in which the British can show our mettle is the desire for a more ordered world: a world where priorities become clear, action becomes defined or predetermined, our feelings fit the needs of the moment. Actually, the crisis increases mess: we still have the same old problems in the same messy lives, but unaccustomed new ones- using kitchen roll as toilet paper, perhaps, or not knowing how to care for parents suddenly under such great threat.

There are horrors, on the net, such as video of overworked doctors and patients on ventilators. The New York Times quoted a website advising doctors on how to broach difficult topics with relatives- your beloved granddad is getting no better, so we need to take him off the ventilator so we can save someone else. So here is a sweet article by George Monbiot on people being creative and generous. I have The Mirror and the Light to savour, but at the moment I am rereading Bring up the Bodies. Here is Cromwell: in those huge hands Holbein places a legal writ, but that crease down the middle of it makes it look like a dagger.

I was moved to parody TS Eliot.

Johnson the Etonian, a fortnight dead,
had forsaken spaffing for bouts of coughing.
Those are pearls that were his lies.

We do not wish anything to happen.
Seven days we have lived quietly,
Zooming, and queuing at the supermarket,
Living, and partly living.

Let us not go, you and I
where society now sleeps upon the world
like a patient etherised upon a table
Let us not go through half-deserted streets.
In the room the women stay
With Covid, there is naught to say.

Is this the world changing, or the world’s strangeness revealing itself?

Being trans is an act of generosity

Being trans is an act of generosity. Being trans is hard, tiring work, and joyous creation.

Reflect on which identities you are most comfortable discussing? Which give you the most joy? Conversely, which identities are you least comfortable discussing and involve the most pain?

Which of your identities do you question the most? Is there an identity you often need to defend?

Sara Ahmed: When being is labouring, we are creating more than ourselves.
Sara Ahmed: When we loosen the requirements to be in a world, we create room for others to be.

I read these questions from a white cis straight professional male, and they do not fit me. They imply that the identity I am comfortable discussing gives me joy. Well, sometimes it’s hard to be a trans woman, and I can be intensely uncomfortable talking about it with a woman who wants me excluded but says she “only wants the freedom to say sex is real and women need single sex spaces”- with one of her “male allies” it’s much worse- so I wondered, does my joy only come from self-actualisation? There’s nothing joyous about being a trans woman per se, it’s just that having suppressed in fear I realise in courage and being myself and finding myself gives me joy? Or even being a trans woman is inherently uncomfortable because I have to explain myself all the time.

Being normal or having one of the acceptable characteristics- white, middle-class, with a degree- is comfortable. I am white, and it is comfortable, I don’t have to think, Oh God, another room full of white men. It’s not necessarily comfortable talking about it, though. I am woker than most, I have heard a small amount of experience, two people separately talking about white people touching black people’s hair and how invasive that is. I am uncomfortable, but pleased, to talk about whiteness with a Black person: pleased because I can find how better to be an ally, be one of the good people who is supportive whose support they need and so polish my halo because I want to be seen as a good person, and give evidence of that by doing good. Uncomfortable because I glimpse how much I don’t know. Then I talk about whiteness with a white person and with some we nod our heads wisely and want to be better allies, though not all white people are like that.

I am comfortable when I am reinforcing the rules of my social group: with the white man who like me wants to be an ally. There was the Suffragan bishop who wants to be an ally, and then he came out to me as “lower-middle class”, the grammar school boy in society on suffrance, with some privilege and some matters excluded. We want to be allies because we too are excluded in some ways. It seems everyone on the Diversity and Inclusion course is excluded in some ways.

I am uncomfortable when I am labouring, when whether I can go to the toilet without being shamed comes into question. The Equality Act 2010, with its rules on how I can be excluded if it is reasonable to exclude me, was fragile toleration of me, rather than acceptance, and some are working hard to tear down even that.

So we build as men must build
with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other

Building is fighting, for women as well as men, and in Eliot’s poem they were building necessary defensive walls for Jerusalem.

And the trans-excluder might see herself as building, a space for women, for women to be in solidarity, where a trans woman would damage that precious fragile space. We are set against each other. It is tragic that we fight each other.

There is joy in being trans. All my personality and all its beauty is ὁμοούσιον with being trans. I am one essence. There is me, not a trans bit I can separate out from the rest of it, not one bit which is to be deprecated and fenced in, or removed so I could be a productive member of society.

There is work in being trans, in defending my right to be, in being myself despite the flak. It is creative work. It expands the realm of the possible for everyone and particularly for those whom gender stereotypes do not fit (Everyone, but some more than others, some much much much more than others).

Which of your identities do you question? Well, that is a personal question. “What are your most vulnerable, insecure spots?” None, I tell you. “What of yourself do you doubt?” That might lead me to finding that imposed identities are forced and not real, self-concept not organismic self, not “myself” at all but a lie. And, I think I have ferreted out most of that already.


I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

I hear that lobsters’ shells do not grow. Rather the lobster hides under a rock, sheds its old small shell, and grows another. It never thinks to itself, “Oh, I need a new shell, and that looks an excellent rock”. Its need, sensation, desire, feeling and action are all one. Possibly it knows its territory and has tucked away in some dedicated dendrites the location of a suitable stone, possibly it has time to find one. Possibly its need for a new shell conflicts with other needs, but it makes no decision. You can’t imagine a lobster under a rock, and its mates come past and say, “Fancy a pint?” And the lobster says, “I’m changing my shell”. And its mates say, “Pull the other one! You said that last month, but that shell has lots of mileage left. You’re embarrassed by what the bar staff did. They’ve forgiven you!” And the lobster says, “I’m changing my shell”.

There are no silent seas, even if mermaids don’t sing. The currents rush past, the whales cry, and the sonar is deafening, and the engines of the great ships loaded with oil or containers are deafening. The silent sea is a dream of a more comfortable place, which does not exist. So we find comfort in this one. I may see myself through others’ eyes. “I am taken aback by how insightful you are,” said one. I went to look it up, I had remembered it as “wise”. It is worth remembering, even if one has more insight on others’ problems than ones own, like the “Ten ways to keep your relationship vibrant” article by the thrice-divorced man.

And I value my care and attention. I was insightful because I cared about them, admired them, wished them well, gave them my attention. I value my joy. It is communicable. I see the beauty of the tidal river’s strong flow upstream, and of Orion overhead as I cycle at night, and the joy is in me, and I can use it to make the world better. There is so much to feed my joy. Eye-contact with the cashier as I took my groceries away and I had a boost cycling up that steep hill from the postman’s cheery encouraging: “You’re nearly there, Miss Flourish!”

Sometimes desire, feeling and action are all one, and all the feelings are right. Sometimes words mediate judgment, and I find the right way that way. Words help me balance future with now, but ants do that without words, says Aesop.

Valued only a little by another, I can value myself. Sometimes I do not realise how others value me, and sometimes

treasure, appreciate and admire

Oh! I would make excuses- even going about as blindly as I have you see stuff in twenty extra years- and yet-

If there might be a “we”, that “we” would appreciate beauty together, for it moves your heart as it does mine, and you see it and have the words for it. Dance. Enjoy words. If there were a we, we would warm each other. “Know that you are loved,” one would say, and the other would


There is a We. It is a blessing and a source of joy.


My Quaker belief

In his last book, Stephen Hawking addresses the question, “Is there a God?” I would say no- or rather, that’s not a useful question.

My belief and my understanding come from my history: what I have read or been told, what people important to me have believed, what experiences I have had- and that I call some of them “spiritual experiences” is a product of my understanding. After some particularly wonderful spiritual experiences I reformulate what I believe, for myself as well as for you.

I was baptised a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and taken to worship weekly throughout childhood. I left home and continued worshipping weekly. When at University I went to St Andrews Cathedral, Aberdeen, and served at the altar, and was also in the Christian Union so exposed to Evangelicalism. I read the whole Bible with commentaries, repeatedly, over a period of about ten years. I said the creed weekly without any sense of being untruthful, though I doubted the virgin birth.

In 2001 I told my Anglican vicar I could no longer bear to worship God disguised as a man, and he was so negative about that I decided to leave his church. I had been introduced to Quakers by two friends, so knew I would be welcomed as a woman in a Quaker meeting; and had found value in the silence of Quaker worship. I continued worshipping just about weekly, with Quakers rather than with Anglicans.

I was aware that there were “non-theist” Quakers, and I rather disapproved. With my then partner, who took the point very seriously, I would have asked “Why should anyone who does not believe in God join a Religious society?” Then a Friend said, “It’s not why we join: it’s why we remain” and I understood, with my heart. From verbally challenging her membership (not directly about her but saying things which implicitly included her) I went to passionately desiring her to remain.

In 2009, I realised that I did not believe in God. It was a long, painful process. It was a change to my identity as Christian, a challenge to my relationship, possibly a breach with my Meeting, (though it included non-theists) which was the place I experienced acceptance as a trans woman rather than toleration. In February 2010 I accepted that I do not believe in God, finally. A day or so later I was touristing along the south coast, and went into a church: and was brought to my knees by a sense of holiness.

Being good at producing clever phrases, I said “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist. I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”. More than thirteen billion years ago there was a big bang, and the universe will not end but in trillions of years particles at absolute zero will drift apart, too far apart to influence each other, in cold blackness forever. We have evolved, over billions of years, over about 55m years as primates. So now my beliefs about God relate to my beliefs about myself as a human. I am an organism that, just as it takes in food, takes in sense-perceptions and ideas and moulds them into an understanding of the world; and I am a social being, incapable of survival without my social group, moulded by them. So I thought, God is Reality: when I worship, I relate to something greater than myself, which is human society, the biosphere, the entire world. And, being a social animal, I conceive of that as a matter of relationship. I am a tricksy soul. I love paradox.

After some rather wonderful spiritual experiences this month, I adjust what I think, returning to Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Shall be to return to where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Because I am a primate, I have a primate understanding of all-that-is, all that I could know or perceive. It is pre-lingual. I access it in the spiritual state called “mindfulness” or “awareness” where my words fall away and I know immediately rather than mediated through words.

And, so that I can communicate with other people, but also so that I can get the kind of grasp of an idea that makes me feel more comfortable, I put these things into words. I am a writer. Words are important to me.

My verbal and non-verbal (which, by a series of accidents, I call “spiritual”) understandings dance around one another, leading each other on. Eliot’s “Where we started” is the non-verbal understanding, always influencing our conscious belief. And, merely because by accident I have read Carl Rogers- “On Becoming a Person” and other books, and books about him and his ideas- I call that verbal understanding of myself my “self-concept” and underlying it my “organismic self” responds to its surroundings like an organism does.

That dancing may be as in “The darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing”.

Occasionally I am inspired to write poetry, by YHWH, Erato, or my unconscious mind, and around 2005 I wrote,

It hurt so much and it’s stopped.
Who I am is who I ought to be.

I kept rejecting who I am. It is my way. And last week that changed from poetry to prose for me. I would say it as a thing I believe, around thirteen years after it was given to me.

With that immediate, direct perception, not mediated by words, an understanding which feels ghostly when I am with my words and True when I am present as a perceiving animal everything seems more real and more alive. When I see clearly without trying to impose words and explanation, everything is more real. It is imbued with- magic? Or, perhaps, God. It’s not “There is a God” but “There is God”. God may be the One that is greater than all things or merely a metaphor.

I shall not cease from exploration, and my words will change; and I shall know fully as I am fully known.

accidental good

I’ve been listening to some Ariana Grande.

A little less conversation and a little more touch my body

It is not aimed at me, but I see good in it. In the videos, the singer dances around in her underwear, but is clearly singing for female fans. “Dangerous woman” might even have a slight lesbian vibe. She sings that her boyfriend better shape up his ideas and consider her wants and needs. I am all for Millennial empowerment. This seemed a proper response to the Manchester bombing, to hear what the dead had gathered to hear, to spend time with what they loved.

Ministry this morning had a perfect shape. One spoke of Manchester coming together. I spoke of racial tensions: the picture is more complex than the stories we tell. Thesis- Antithesis: the synthesis was beautiful.

I lift up my eyes to the hills
from where will my help come?

He says the hills were the dangerous places, where there were bandits and lions. You might die. I had not thought of the psalm, whose words I know well, that way before. Ah. Complexity, darkness, comfort- in the Meeting.

I can’t remember what she said because I was interested in how, rather than what, she communicated. “It’s —— 4 ——-, written —– 4 ——” and she gestures in the air, writing the first word, the 4, then the second word. She repeats the gesture. “Oh, —– 4 ——” says the other, gesturing. They emphasise the 4 in their gestures. But both write from left to right as they would see it, in the air- so from the other’s point of view it is less comprehensible, seen right to left. I watch, intrigued. I would always, gesturing like that, use mirror-writing to be more comprehensible, and expect to get my meaning over immediately. You could say “The 4’s a digit”. We ended up absolutely clear, except that I do not remember what it was 4 what.

It’s worth listening to Ariana to understand how Millennials think. After all, when I am eighty they will be running the country, and I would like to not be completely confused. And, try to find something good in it. That is like in education, she says: however poor the student’s attempt, you should start with praise. No, actually, a teacher should encourage students, but this is different: you should find good in it because that is a better way to understanding it. If you are simply dismissive you don’t see it.

I share my joke. I am disappointed with it, because it works beautifully from a linguistic standpoint- the last word changes the idea round completely- but the concept is too horrible. So it does not work as a joke. Here it is:

I scatter lots of bird seed on my lawn. I do love to feed the cats.

One laughs, one does not. I hurry to explain that I don’t think it works, and that is the first time I have shared it.

The “Gifts reserved for age” in Little Gidding have haunted me since I first read them. In Meeting, a pastiche came to me, which I wrote down after to ensure I could remember it:

Things done right, and accidental Good
to show your “thoughtless bumblings” are virtue

Sometimes you can go into things in too much depth. We tell ourselves stories about reality, we have words and concepts, because understanding everything is impossible. Trying to understand too well may paralyse action. Know just enough to make the next step good enough. I am a good person really. Totally failed at life? From an absolute standpoint, possibly I have- no family, no job, no savings etc- but from a relative standpoint perhaps I have done alright- I am still alive!

Gift of days

We will meet in the place where there is no darkness, says O’Brien, and it sounds wonderful. No darkness, a clear mystic metaphor for truth, answers, understanding, enlightenment. It is that, literally: in these cells and corridors the lights are never turned off. But all Winston achieves there is the knowledge of his powerlessness, and that he will do anything, however depraved, in order to survive.

In Gift of Days by Mary C. Morrison, she describes her illness around the time of her 91st birthday. She nearly died from an infection, which weakened her so that she could not turn over in bed. She suffered paroxysms of shaking, so that she tried desperately not to shred her lips with her teeth, and wanted to die. “No, there’s more,” said a voice, as inexorable and terrifying as the Raven’s “Nevermore”. With occupational therapy, with the workout that is everyday life for a person in that position, she regained the ability to get about her house, to prepare her meals, to go outside her front door; this was after she started writing again, and found her hand illegible.

Something she had known how to do. How could it be that she could no longer do it?

She continued writing.

Possibly, she wanted to. She wanted to die, and she could not. She wanted to write, she failed, she failed again, she succeeded. She wanted to get back to her house, and she succeeded. When there, she found a way to silence her monkey mind. “Can’t you just stop thinking?” A total impossibility as far as I was concerned. Yet with three spoonfuls to go of her breakfast cereal, It came into my head to wonder if I had ever really stopped still enough in my mind to taste, savor, enjoy, really experience the pure pleasure of it. So she did. For once I was really there, truly present to the experience, I was living, not just thinking, thinking, thinking all the time.

What? 91, and only just learning to do that?? I can drop into that whenever I like; though relating it to what I must do is difficult, beyond cleaning my teeth, or eating.

Or, perhaps, writing. I am writing. I don’t care if you get anything out of this (she says bravely- of course I care- Please Comment!). It is for me.

Possibly, her task was to live as an old woman, cleaning her house, talking to visitors, writing. To live as herself. Other parts of the pamphlet might grasp my attention if I read it again.

Am I really squeezed out? Tried and found wanting so often that there is nothing left to try, known so that no game is worth playing any more, you can predict my tiresome response. Then we need a modus vivendi, and if there is no pleasure in it the important thing is to avoid pain.

Well, that is the worst way it might be.

Or that job. I thought about it, thought of applying, did not, approached the deadline and still did not. They did not recruit, so readvertised. Today at noon was the second closing date, and I did not see my friend yesterday because I wanted the energy to do the application. Instead, I wrote a poem, did my washing, watched TV. Today at nine I could have written something, even something I thought might appear sane, on the application form. So I thought about this, and about mystic understandings of what it means to be human- the way wherein there is no ecstasy- until I had no time to put anything worthwhile on the application. Then I watched TV.

The concept of a job application is simple. Do you want the job? Have you a reasonable chance of getting it, or, is the chance of getting it worth the effort of applying? If so, then you apply. Simply because of good luck, in this precise moment I do not have to apply in order to get money to eat. Jobseekers Allowance has the soul-destroying requirement of making a certain number of applications, whether you fit the job or not, pretending to apply because otherwise you will not get the JSA money.

It seemed to me that what mattered, considering that job application, was my self-image. I hope I have these particular gifts and qualities, fitting me for this job. I fear I have not. In applying, rather than wanting to get the job I want to shore up my hopes- yes, I am that admirable person- and stave off my fears, which overwhelm me.

I procrastinate because I imagine applying, and seeing my hope confirmed in my own words; but fear all my fears being proven. And there is outside judgment as well: on the few jobs I have applied for I have almost always had interviews, so gone through a process of judgment, and been found wanting- though people might console me, they preferred someone else, it did not mean you would not have been suitable. Though it did mean I did not get the job.

Self-image is so important to me that I might make a grand gesture to prove my noble generosity, only to find afterwards it proved nothing of the sort and I ended without anything I might want.

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

Self-image. Failure after failure after failure!

the knowledge derived from experience…
imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment

Possibly the most clear thing he wrote

And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

Oh Christ! Eliot understood this problem of self-image! Or at least, those words have this so personal meaning for me now.

Would that I could create a rule. That self-image or valuation is a fantasy. So, stop fantasising! But fantasy is the way humans work out what is possible, if we can resist the temptation of wallowing in fantasy of what is not possible. These two types of fantasy are not clearly distinguishable except by hindsight.

The best rule I can come to is, Appreciate. See all the good, all the things it is possible to be grateful for, all the things which could possibly be said to please, rather than always seeing failure. It seems to me that is a choice- cry for what might have been (in fantasy) or delight in what is. What is seems so little, but is all there is. No wonder we distract ourselves with alcohol or television.

My idea of Wisdom and what it could do for me gets in the way of true wisdom and gaining anything from it.

This is good enough. It has to be. What do you want to do, or try, now?


My pictures the last few posts have been by Louise-Catherine Breslau, or Maria Luise Katharina Breslau, a Swiss-German painter born in Munich who worked in Paris, because I love her work. The technical draftsmanship, and the psychological insight, appear to me as accomplished as far better known artists, yet the work seems mostly in pastels rather than oils, and I had not heard of her. I want to give the name she would prefer as a mark of respect to her, and do not even know that.

I am this person

It is not that I like being humiliated,
but that what I like humiliates me.

I am this person.
I am this person.
I have done what I have done.
I have believed what I believed
and do not now believe.
I believe what I believe.
I do what I do.
I am this person.
I want what I want.
I am who I am.

Humiliation and shame and denial and judgment
Such judgment! Cruel, harsh, unsparing judgment
which judges me for being unable to bear it.

I have done the best I can,
which I resent, which horrifies me
because it seems so little.
It is as it is.

I like myself.
I am kind, soft, gentle, peaceful
and that pleases me.
I have done all I can,
understood as best I could
admitted and accepted as much as I could,
protected myself as well as I could.

I am where I am, and wish I was not.
I am this person,
where this person is,
having everything this person has.

This is a direct answer to TS Eliot, East Coker III:

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

“The darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing” has deeply moved me.

And this “Keep Britain in the European Union” meme:


I commented, I have indeed totally failed at life. Some people say it is not entirely my fault. However, I voted remain, and am fairly liberal in my ideas about refugees and immigration. It is a gross generalisation to think of Leave voters as non-metropolitan losers- some of us voted remain. Because I have totally failed at life, I really dislike this meme, and possibly it is not the best way to win over Leave voters either.

Someone replied, I did chuckle at the meme but take your point, made with such humility, in the same spirit[…] someone who can take responsibility for her own life’s path is in some sense more successful than most. If anything, I fear that you may be taking the self-blame too far, and hope that you do so in part for rhetorical purposes…

Perhaps I have achieved what I most wanted to achieve.

The meaning of life

with TS Eliot.

Everyone should do a meaning of life post occasionally. I refer to Portrait of a Lady, in which despite the first person pronouns, the young man reading the comics and the sporting page may not be Eliot himself. Yet it speaks to me most insofar as I am that young man, or the older lady.

I shall sit here, serving tea to friends

I have many memories of things going well, but one in particular, finding and making the perfect legal argument to win a difficult motion, and ten thousand pounds. My feelings, drives, intellect came together to achieve what I wanted, and it felt good. It still does, in retrospect, and I am aware of people whose working lives contain many such days- as well as a great deal of work to reach the standard where it is less of a fluke for them.

I don’t know. What do you think? Working in a challenging, rewarding job, where pleasure in success generally outweighs the frustrations- possibly, it is not the external circumstances which matter to anyone, but their own ability to take pleasure exceeding their frustration. It’s not what happens, but how you see it. Any expectation that that brilliant day would be often recurring for me was doomed to failure, but its memory is pleasurable and there are pleasures now.

The lady imagines life without her friends. “Nightmare!” Actually, it being Eliot and this particular lady, she says “What cauchemar!” I did not have the internet when I first read that. I get a feeling of making the best of it. She is so glad to have found such a sensitive young man, she says, and he realises, or imagines, or worries that it is not so, they do not have the intimately empathic understanding she imagines. Though why should his judgment be better than hers? She sees potential in him he denies. He is less than she imagines, he thinks, lolling in the park, reading the funny papers.

Velleities and regrets…

Her life is odds and ends, and what is his? She may talk of Michelangelo, but not write a thesis or give lectures; perhaps her observation of the Sistine chapel gives new insight to another of the young men she invites to entertain her. As my observation of the Baptistery in Florence pleased the Bishop of Beverley once.

Stacking the shelves of the supermarket may give a well-deserved sense of achievement, and so might tapping out a blog post, or getting a few Likes. And the world is full of contingent delights- dare eat the peach, and its juice may overwhelm you, or it may have gone soft without properly ripening, and that must be good enough. It is good to be her, able to appreciate Chopin, and he, wondering in horror Is that all there is???? might only realise that his own mediocrity is good enough, too, long after. This young man reads in the park, perhaps killing time until dinner at the Drones’, rather than working in the bank, or the publishing house. I read that happiness for the young is excitement, for the old, contentment, and that makes sense.

It is better to be alive than not. Any meaning one must find in what is, rather than what might be or what one ought to want. We are only living, and never “partly living”, and no Archbishop can save us.


What to feel?

Not knowing what to feel or if I understand

The young man imagines the death of the Lady- well, she said she was one about to reach her journey’s end- and wonders should I have the right to smile?

What to feel. There is a right feeling, which the decent person should feel. Grief, obviously, at a death, perhaps love or admiration, perhaps gratitude for friendship and appreciation of a human being. Or perhaps revulsion- I shall sit here, serving tea to friends- at a life wasted in odds and ends. And pleasure at a lucky escape.

I have just heard Portrait of a Lady, read by Jeremy Irons– recording available till the end of the month- and it moved me, when it had passed me by in my teens when I found Eliot. I don’t know- it was cruel and pointless in its portrait of her, I did not know what to make of that narrator, I tussled with four quartets and found the thought of being consumed by either fire or fire exciting rather than terrifying or despondency-inducing. “Only Live”- what a calling! The calling was not yet impossible.

Where was I? Oh yes, “What to feel”. I may come back to Meaning of Life stuff- would I write sensible, continuous prose, or odds and ends?- but first I wanted to say

feel what you feel. It is the Only Way.

Feeling denied or suppressed sets up intolerable unmanageable revolt within you. It will not be denied, but erupts, in violence against others or self, smashing things or tearing at your hair.

Ha. Only the slightest pause before I typed “intolerable”- the inner voice still says, you could have managed if you had minimal abilities and I give it the slightest credence, then reject it.

The sadness is not that intolerable shirt of flame, even if it feels like it when it is there. Am I bargaining again? I feel the pain of sadness with the purpose of not showing it, not needing to express it. I want not to express it, and having failed to suppress it, perhaps feeling it authentically deeply, draining the cup to the dregs will be a useful technique not to express it.

Should you seek sympathy, anyway? It is all so much work. I meet a friend and all our time is spent expressing feeling and sympathising, unless it is sadness where one should pull onesself together. I don’t know, by the way. I start typing a sentence and its meaning forces me into considering its opposite. Perhaps Chopin’s soul, resurrected among friends would mean we would not have to speak, only understand together.

Bring all the feeling to consciousness!

Aha! I have an answer, a guiding light, a solution, a rule, which may be more valuable in contemplating than in practising it.

I could feel all my feelings then move on, my actions rationally chosen and effectual, responding not reacting, doing the right thing. One more way to avoid mistakes.

Avoid mistakes! I can learn, I get better at this stuff was the phrase which entered my mind, by which I mean living but not as good as I desperately want to be.

The young man at the Lady’s death might not feel what he ought to feel, but a cacophony of conflicting feelings, many of them mean and unpleasing to him. He really is that mean person. I am my shadow. I am a human being. I am beautiful! was an answer to this- I must admire and delight in the shadow-parts, the bits I do not like, because they are real- yet should I also bear the roiling change of it, confusing me, always behind it? If I only had a chance to contemplate, accept, move on, but I never have time-

Is he really better than she is?

That’s all, that’s all, that’s all. that’s all,
Birth, and copulation, and death.

Good night sweet ladies