Compulsive sceptic

How my father lost his job: the education authority had the idea of teaching primary school children to care about others, and see they could do good, by getting them all to donate a bag of rice to poor people in a famine struck area. Rice would be imported, unloaded, bagged up into 1lb or 250g bags, distributed to wee Argyllshire food shops, bought by doting mothers, taken to school, put in boxes or crates and somehow delivered to the fashionable famine area. My father, as head teacher of at-CHOO primary school, said this was silly. You should collect money, and buy food for them locally. One thing led to another, and as this was not the first time he had failed to co-operate with the idiocy of his bosses, he was made to accept early retirement.

It is a pain refusing to comply with the delusions of ones bosses, especially when one can see the arguments for those delusions. That’s why I stopped volunteering, but also why my friend can’t carry on as a teacher.

Thinking about these matters, I distilled how I wanted to start my counselling session to:

I don’t want to work because I can’t believe in my ability in a job to accomplish anything worthwhile.

This felt like an insight. I could think the words, but not say them to Tina. So I wrote them down, and then could say them. What do I want?

To preserve a view of myself as-
so far as possible, to be
cultured, educated, compassionate, articulate
in my own mind.

That would be something I could value. The problem is not being it, or being it but not seeing that.

What do I do all day? I watch a lot of TV, which makes me feel intense feelings. There’s the hide-and-seek suspense- why do people wander into dark multi-storey carparks, anyway- with the music telling me this is exciting, or there’s the moment where our heroine, having imagined that a colleague is on her side, finds evidence to show he may be one of the ones out to kill her. Here am I despising the false emotion lazily imagined and forced onto me, and the moments I choose to tell Tina about are genuinely affecting. I despise myself for wasting my time like that, but the moments I tell of are worthwhile.

Or I blog. I blog a lot, practically every day. I missed a day or two in August. I want to value myself, understand and make things bearable.
-What is unbearable?

She lets me have the silence, where I luxuriate in my Sadness. It is lovely.

I look at the Quaker Studies Handbook, dozens of essays at an undergraduate level about a subject that interests me- and would be of value to me, as Quakers is my main social group, and I think it would be good to read it, and I can’t be bothered so I don’t even buy it and not read it…

I despise myself. This perplexity! I am amused by it, and as she observes profoundly distressed by it. I want to analyse and explain. I manage to get her laughing.

I dump the jigsaw on the floor. One piece or two:

We will all die!

-we might as well confront the whole thing-

It’s after the hour’s end, and we carry one skyping. I say what I feel about this to show my analysis. I should stop it, because this is the end of the hour- that’s the boundary, that’s the rules, following the rules makes me feel safe, I should not go over, or this is me exerting control (bad) or caring for her boundary (good) but I could let her give the gift to me and care for me- self-valuing and accepting, good- Appearance v Reality, and Really being the Goodperson is Heaven and trying to appear it is the blackest pit of hell-

You judge yourself dreadfully, she says. Yes.

We can’t hug over skype but I can imagine a hug. SO what would be good to discuss? Not “What do you want, however impossible you imagine it to be” but “What do you see as the problem?” perhaps. Ooh. Lots of stuff.


The following day I have a feeling I find hard to describe. You know that feeling when you break a tooth, and your tongue explores the unfamiliar hole. Imagine a similar sense of wonder, but at sudden wholeness rather than sudden loss. I don’t want to seem. I had always wanted to seem to be that good person; but actually I want to be the empathetic, compassionate, gentle being. I want to feel what I feel. I want to run towards something, rather than (as it always seemed) away from it.

Whole me

-Why would you want a job anyway? Why would it be better than this?
-I am dissatisfied, perplexed. I ought to want more because I am wasted.
-Who calls it a waste? I do.

It would be a challenge. It might be fulfilling. And, I like this, not working. I don’t feel responsibility. I analyse myself, and I write about it. I need to slow-think everything out, because my fast thinking is crap.

It’s not a sense of entitlement. I was unprepared for what I have had to deal with. I have had a lot to deal with.

Counselling with Tina Livingstone. It’s been good in the past. I told her of my last jobs, of leaving, and some stuff which I don’t remember and I took odd note words which I don’t understand seven hours later.


I told her I decided to be positive. At 3.30 the hour is over and I wonder if she will stop or I should stop but go on leaving the boundary to her- I am “caring for her” perhaps or seeking control, something, both could be good or bad; allowing it to go on I am relinquishing control and being cared for- there is the paid boundary, then the bit beyond. At 3.45 she asks, what part of you is grieving?

A part that just feels. There are rational bits which aren’t, don’t see it is justified. Now I say it is me. Whole me is grieving. We get more to small talk. Why should I want a job anyway, even the most fulfilling one, stretching me, making demands I could not be certain I could always fulfil to perfection, stopping me being in control? I like being in control.

Anyway. Small talk. I went for a walk in the park this morning, in the sun (one walk, three posts, amazing how you get material). On the river there were a load of blokes in two person kayaks, shouting at each other in a ribald, bloky way blokes seem to enjoy, with a football. I could not work out the rules.

-Ah! You hit it with a paddle! Ten points off!
-You didn’t tell us that! You can’t just introduce a rule like that!

One kayak prow is in the bank, and a man on the other bank shouts at him. “George! Paddle backwards! Paddle on the other side!” There is a long pause, then George complies. He digs into the water angrily, powerfully, forcing the canoe backwards. “Now George, paddle forwards. Paddle forwards, or you’ll hit the other bank!” (They’re all talking in exclamations). I stand enjoying the late blackberries, watching. That one, nice and soft, should be alright. That one’s past it. The boat drifts backwards, and George gets his motivation, at last, to paddle on the other side. He must have been completely exhausted.


Anyway, talking to Tina makes me feel better about myself, and that can’t be bad.


Listening makes me feel good. I don’t do it out of love, or duty; I do it because that is who I am. It confers no rights on me: I have received my reward in full; yet I am well rewarded.

One could not listen without communicating first. I am a person who will not judge you, not your past acts nor your character. You check this out, first, a toe in the water before diving in. You need to hear it before you can trust and unburden. Though some people appear this way, and are not: my philosophy student friend remarked that people told him things; he mimicked this sympathetic type, without being it.

People talk because it is a relief for them. You judge yourself, you tell me, I absolve you, you gather the ability and energy to absolve yourself. Or you feel badly hurt, and resentful: I agree it was not fair and you gain relief. When my mother was dying of cancer, she became dependent on morphine. In hospital, some idiot doctor decided to wean her off it- as if addiction could harm her, at all, then. Reducing her morphine gave her needless pain and probably shortened her life. I told this, later, to a trans man, a consultant in palliative care, and he said that oncologists should have known better; and his few words took away so much of my pain.

Sometimes a person is like a bottomless pit of misery. S/he could talk for an hour sharing pain and gain no relief from it at all.

I feel I earth the pain. I do not take it into myself, but offer it up to God, or let it go. I must sympathise: while listening, I am in the moment with the person, feeling with them, accepting them; then after, I shed the pain, taking a moment to cleanse myself of it.

I loved listening. While it was a necessary part of my job, to delve into secret suffering, what a person could not face, so as to get evidence for DLA or IB, I felt as well as helping with appeals I was giving relief. A person would feel less alone.

Some people are good at it. F was the doctor in the genito-urinary clinic, where all the patients are terrified, who would hear the story of the patient being abused as a child. Other doctors would deal with the presenting physical problem.

So why do I not do it now? There are opportunities, such as the Beaumont Trust telephone line for trans folk to call about practical issues or for a listening ear; for more commitment, there is the Samaritans. I do not want the commitment. I see that commitment as holding forth only possibility of failure, rather than fulfilment. I need to learn to trust.

Monet, Madame Gaudibert

Envy II

In December, I realised I have self-respect, for the first time in my life, and since then it has felt that I solidify. I am not at war with myself to nearly the same extent. I learn not to judge and deny my feelings. I grow and change. Then on Saturday I realised, that my question in this place, with these people, is not “How may I fit in?” but “How can I be myself, here, now?” It feels like one more liberation, on top of many.

I contain multitudes. There is so much of me that I have never accessed. One problem with associating with Quakers is that they tend to be highly intelligent, mature individuals who, while often profoundly counter-cultural still have the gifts for worldly success. So I hear of advanced degrees, and visit large houses: one woman apologised so prettily for the electric gates with camera, it was the previous owner’s idea and not hers, then showed off the huge kitchen, so beautifully appointed.

And I have thought that I am happy where I am, where I am is right for me, and these unsought gifts are so beautiful, and my healing is my labour and blessing. Now I feel upset when I hear Quaker ministry of how privileged we are, with our worldly success. Hmm. Upset- angry, sad- Envious. I was sitting on the Fulham Palace Road, outside a cafe, watching life go by, and I thought how much I want a car, to get where I want to go. I want that money.

I have no idea how to get it. I still feel bruised and hurt by work, which feels like it was an endless cycle of failure and humiliation ending in my despair and giving up. So, I am unsure how to deal with this;

and so, just possibly, my ministry in meeting on Saturday was ministry, for me and for others. Who could resist an audience like Meeting for Sufferings? There was that ministry about our privilege, and our large houses, and comfortable incomes, when we were reflecting on YM especially Minute 36.

I rose and said something like,

It is alright.
It is wonderfully liberating when you lose your dignity.
I am on the sick, on means-tested benefits.
I could lose all I have at any time (though so could most people)
There is the blessing. It is enough.

The minute was fairly dry, referring the matter to Arrangements Committee for more focused discernment at later meetings, but Isobel was moved by what I said, and would take it to Quaker Life Central Committee.

How strange, to say something so movingly Spiritual from a place of envy and desire for material things! That was Saturday, and I have only admitted my envy today (Tuesday) after further conversations on that Quakerly prosperity which I do not have. I admit it. It is me, and shame about it would do no good; though what I do about it may be good or bad.

Rembrandt, the descent from the cross

Trust and confidence

Woman is head of an organisation. Her predecessor was a bully, and when she went there she found a pile of complaint letters, ignored, in his office. He made inappropriate appointments and she has had to manage or dismiss those individuals. After four years, approaching retirement, she has turned the place around. She lives alone, and needs a friend to hear her speak about it, to give her a sense of perspective about some of the issues. So she comes to visit, and Dave just says, Don’t worry about that, it’s alright. Have a glass of wine.

I had a moment of vertiginous terror thinking of it.

The trustees of the homeless charity want someone for maternity leave to take responsibility for the whole place. Liz looks at the list of responsibilities and quails: you would have to give your whole life to it. They cannot get a person who can do that for £16,000 for a notional 35 hour week. Though, I say, there are decisions where there are more than one right choice, and the important thing is to make a decision, rather than to make the perfect choice each time. And other workers will be grateful that someone is making the decisions.

The tasks Liz does as a volunteer are “mindless”. Not responsible. Yet they have to be done, and in the incidental interactions, in her very presence, she gives the spaces she frequents something far more valuable than merely carrying tins from one place to another.

She feels that if you can find your path and walk along it-
but finding the path can be so difficult-

I do not recall what she actually said, so do not want to be specific. It felt like putting off happiness, and so if I write an approximation it may be more unreal than her understanding. I would take her distance from truth, multiply it by my misunderstanding, and libel her. I cannot be certain that she is wrong.

Though, also, I want her to be my Wise Friend and not wrong.

I started by writing of someone in the world of work, making Decisions, which just have to be good enough for the moment; then I wrote of Liz’s “path”, and find in me a delicate desperation to find the exact way of expressing the truth, finding perfection-

my seeking perfection might paralyse me in ordinary tasks

it might drive me to actual perfection, so terrified am I of anything less

it might be the right quality in the right circumstances

it might just be a way of avoiding responsibility.


My confidence level is low. I thought this morning of how I am still hard on myself, and thought, I can notice when I am bullying myself, and evaluate how accurate the bullying thoughts are. This is a sort-of cognitive behavioural therapy thing. Or I can notice when I want perfect certainty now, and tell myself I cannot have it and do not need it. These are not new ideas and are worth practising. I might find myself in a panic and notice why.

At the coffee shop, we met a woman looking after two Staffordshire bull terriers, or “Staffies”, pulling on their harnesses. One is two, the other not full grown, but strong. She started talking, as we admired their beauty, and told me that collies do not need exercise, so much, as company: you cannot just leave them at home while working and call in at lunchtime. They are social animals, thinking dogs, needing stimulation.

Jean-Léon Gérôme,Pygmalion and Galatea


I don’t know how interested you are at the moment in finding paid employment, but there is a significant opportunity coming up which I think might suit you if you are.

It would be good, I suppose, in so many ways. It would be a move sideways from my last paid job, much better than the checkout, or all the warehouses. I was looking grimly at the warehouses where the jobcentre might send me, where I might not have a common language with many of the workers and the employer could drive workers as hard as they liked. Swanston is in an excellent location for warehouses.

Yet- three jobs, all of which ended badly, which I found traumatic, with the trauma associated with my transsexuality and my inability to accept my femininity which only so recently ended- I have self respect for the first time- I can’t imagine going again into those dingy interview rooms for such conversations. I would be weeping and raging within a week.

So, no, I am not interested in finding paid employment, even though alternatives are precarious.

Liz B came round. I had forgotten, so was still in my dressing gown at noon. That’s OK. My living room was reasonably tidy. It is important to me not to be ashamed of how I am. She told me her awful news and I sympathised. She admired my dressing gown.


Should people who are unfit for work and have no other means of support receive support from the state, or be left to starve? Most British people would support benefits for the sick, though some might take an extreme Darwinist position, and David Brin’s near future vision in Existence says Everybody works. That’s a rule if you want to keep living here.

We don’t have such a benefit. Instead, we have a benefit which is paid to a very few of those mentally or physically unfit for work- indeed, not to everyone who is incapable of living without a carer. While some of those registered blind may be capable of work, again most people would think that they should be helped into work and paid benefits as long as they need, rather than bullied with the continuing threat of a sanctions regime, and fortnightly interviews. However, a person who is registered blind but has learned to use a guide dog and can “navigate around familiar surroundings”, and possibly a person who might be taught to use a guide dog, would not be entitled to ESA and would have to claim JSA: less money, liable to be withdrawn at any time.

I made the woman on the checkout laugh, with a bit of impromptu clowning, pretending to be unable to open my shopping bag. It lightened my day.


Managing memories

spider webAll of them said it, eventually. “I’ve worked all my life”. They came to me because they had been on the sick for years, and then been found fit for work, so it was not really true, but I did not challenge it. According to mood, I said something sympathetic or moved onto other matters, but it irritated me. I have only seen two lone mothers who were pregnant just as their income support entitlement was about to end- actually gaming the system- but these did not show insight into their situation.

“I just get on with it,” said Neil, and I saw that as a challenge. “Well, so did I- until I stopped.” I worked without a break for fifteen years. Lots of people my age have worked longer, even with degrees, but I can’t be entirely work-shy. In total, I have worked over eighteen years. And now I am not looking. My last interview was nearly a year ago, and I found it so distressing that I have not applied since.

So, offices. Having to be with people. What matters is how I feel, and that is pre-lingual, yet I use language to communicate it, even to understand it myself. “Upset” is not an emotion, but sometimes the closest word I can get to it. I use language, despite the spam email which said, “As long as a word remains unspoken, you are it’s master once you utter it, you are it’s slave.” by Solomon Ibn Gabirol. A spam, which is more than gibberish!

I thought, “I would rather be earning my living than claiming ESA and HB”, then thought if that were true I would do something about it. That I would rather be earning my living is a comforting thought, shoring up my self-image. At the moment, I am almost getting away with it, but I will sooner or later be found fit for work, now after the “reform” that prevents me appealing immediately and carrying on ESA while I appeal. “Would you really rather sit at home watching television?” From my actions, the answer appears to be yes.

Looking back, I can see the occasional triumph, and lots of irritants, and those are the major memories.
-A good memory of Newport?
-I walked to work one day, and in a garden saw two spider-webs, sparkling with frost.
-I have to do better than that-

there were people there I liked. Not all of them, not all of the time. Were we really all so negative? S saying she would get a job on the checkout at Tesco. Steady pressure from the funders, and problems with rules. And- the beauty of the World, the beauty of the park which I walked through even when the gates were locked and I had to climb the wall, in my maxi skirt-

people. People who are mostly OK.

Quote Rilke at me again- all professions are saturated with the hatred of those who have reconciled themselves to their own insipid duty-  but I am not trying to create in myself a belief that work is non-problematic, and would always be comfortable, but that it might, possibly, be bearable

The inner critic II

I lie, of course, because I am ashamed. I do not want to avoid the CAB, as it is my way of meeting people, having an interest, exercising my altruism. I want to avoid having my buttons pressed. The problem is the strength of my inner critic.

The paid job I had at Swanston CAB was poorly planned. I was supposed to advise parents at Children’s Centres about their benefit entitlement. The CAB thought the Children’s Centres would be eager to refer the parents, and the parents would be eager to see me. The Children’s Centres thought the CAB would refer clients whom I would see at the Centres, so bringing new clients to them. The parents showed indifference, mostly, and one support worker was deeply hostile- think of incident, rage and cry a bit, put it back in its box- so I saw far fewer clients than was expected.

Making an effort to see it positively, I can say: it got me to this beautiful place, six  months’ paid work, and I did some good for some clients. I had not really made an effort to publicise my services before, and I had that challenge. (At one show, with stalls for various services for the parents, few parents actually turned up, but that was not my fault.) I had to form relationships with the children’s centre workers, with varying results: I choose to think that with Lucy more important than with that hostile worker.

Seeing it negatively, as I did, I found it a failure, which was a judgment on me. My failure. That is the inner critic, which sees me as a bad and generally useless person. Just as the internalised transphobia is reinforced by the few transphobic people I meet, my inner critic is reinforced by the occasional harsh judgment of me by others. The problem is that as my inner critic is so fierce, I find it hard to differentiate those negative judgments of others according to whether they have value or not. Each feels like a complete rejection of me, and I react angrily and imperceptively. My judgment meets my angry denial, where I would be better to see things as they are, and feel and respond appropriately to this situation not past situations. And my inner critic disregards any hurt I feel at this as inappropriate, again stupid and useless.

I had the Minute of Disunity of Quakers, and my appeal against it, to deal with at the same time.

Now, I have been volunteering. I wrote about how I find it now, and over the last six months I have been thinking of how I can fit in there- do as I am told, basically, rather than formulate my own arrogant way, as there is only room for one way. Accept that. Now, I think, reduce my fierce reaction to criticism, because it is not a reaction to the real world. Find my own current emotional reaction. See clearly. Something I need to practise.