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What do I want? Part one

October 1, 2017

friday1Over the weekend I’ve learned that I am not as good as saying what I want as my b/f, because he pointed it out to me. I love that he is so able to say simply and clearly what he wants or needs without any fuss. Of course at times life throws spanners and blindfolds, but in general it seems to be a natural process for him. Not so for me.

I immediately wondered whether I am less good at even knowing what I want. It’s not the only factor, for example I do know that I have a real thing for wanting to appear amenable, flexible, easy going, willing to adapt… I am always getting people to express their preferences so we can go and do things that I know for certain they are going to enjoy. When I get a massive passion for something and persuade people into doing it with me who wouldn’t normally be into it, my tension and confusion about whether they are going to like it and whether that ultimately matters, can spoil it for me, and so sometimes I like to do things alone, just to make sure I don’t spoil it for myself!

And what about when there are choices that don’t make me burn up, choices I can sweet talk others into making? I wait until they have expressed a preference, then suddenly perhaps I find out how I feel about the options for the first time. It’s easily said that choice can paralyse us, even though it’s touted nowadays as the be all and end all of market driven society. But this paralysis isn’t something new that comes with the explosion of consumer goods and entertainments. Surely it’s an older dynamic, which comes into play wherever we are not quite sure of our footing. If we are constantly unsure of our rights, our power, our relation to the other parties if there are any, choices are inevitably fraught. How does this become a trait? By being overdone, relied on too heavily for too long? Have I been punished for my choices? Well yes pretty much.

But it’s time to know what I want. An excellent piece of advice to know what you want from a relationship before you go looking for one was given to me by a great friend and it stuck fast. I had just separated from a 9 year relationship and was determined not to jump into another one as seems to be my way. Although I never wrote the checklist, it compiled itself steadily in my head in all it’s logical, illogical, deluded glory, until the moment when I met my new boyfriend and I had to completely burn it.

Not knowing how brilliantly good for me someone I had never met could be, my little list was composed of wants that I thought would make life easier or better. The real person makes life fuller and richer, partly because he enables me to be more me. Some of the the ways in which we are similar aren’t even things that we would call good – but when we see ourselves both doing them, instead of despairing we laugh.

That said, there was one massive new criterion on my list that another friend gave me in post break up advice, which the new guy meets. “Maybe this time you should go out with someone who is nice to you”. If you have never tried this, I can tell you now, it rocks.

Getting what you want isn’t achieveable just by list making, unless you interpret your list with extreme retrospective pragmatism. But list making and list thinking focusses the mind and can give you a massive leg up when it comes to assessing a complex real life situation with confidence. I have started to think about how I can improve my ability to know and say what I want in the moment.

One part will be less chatter in my mind about the options (Tea or coffee? That’s a good question, did you know they contain different types of caffeine which do different things?…). One part will be literally tuning into myself more deeply to increase focus on the things that really matter in my life so that I can stop sweating the small stuff. I will know what I want. I will work hard to find out. I will probably bend people’s ears. As always, writing will help me get there.

For example, I need to think through what it is about the place where I live that I like and dislike, so that if I ever move I will be choosing somewhere that has or offers or is, what I want. Compromises and surprises are inevitable, but I’ll have a logical illogical list to start me off. Tuning into this question will be fun and illuminating, and I’ll be back to write about my utopian visions very soon.

 

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Writing / Sex / Mistakes

September 28, 2017

headinhandsHaving got officially sick and tired of hearing myself think about blogs I might write complaining about not knowing what to write (having exhausted in reality the topic of complaining about being too afraid/too anxious/too busy to write), I am back and ready to write actual stuff.

Not that these topics aren’t important at all, but certainly I am hoping to develop my ideas into a conversation other than the one with other writers about the experience of writing. But you know, one day I will look back at the obstacles I faced from a distance (she says willing this to be true) and on that day I may well see something more interesting than what I’ve had to say on the subject so far.

I ought also to wonder whether the book I’ve written (but not published, or sent out very far) is ultimately a veiled account of what it feels like not to write. I wrote it precisely while I was supposed to be writing a PhD. It was an escape from a harder task, and it caught me up in its deeply satisfying mental health giving properties. My blog posts about writing itself have probably all popped out when I have not been at work on it for some time.

In fact the book is about a lot of things, a great many, and on my to do list long before approaching publishers, is a re-read expressly to find out what my themes were (sex, gender, justice?). I like to describe it as a philosophical stream of consciousness confessional, but hey, who likes them? Maybe lots of people would like it, but equally, maybe I wrote it just for me. When I say it’s philosophical, I mean it’s full of questions. Literally, it’s full of questions. When I re-read it, it will take me back to them all and maybe from there I can get some clarity about what it matters most to me to write about. (Sex, gender, difference.)

Because I am only just beginning to bring the strands of my life together to see that my obsessions actually matter. For instance, this week my work bit me hard in the personal interests department. For that piece of code, read: my ‘boss’ called me ‘rather a strident feminist’ to a male colleague because I called out sexism. I reeled at the grilling I was given, though I should have expected it and, logically, it’s a fair cop; I tried hard not to name names and events, so my claims must have seemed pretty vague. But the real reeling is in the insane laziness of this characterisation. He was literally implying that if I’m a feminist then my view of sexism is inherently inflated. Worse, his emotional reaction (in a nice way) at being called out suggests that he thinks his workplace practices are feminist. He obviously doesn’t know that this is the right word for the things he is proud of in his workplace, not to mention in his personhood, but it is.

In fact I was really trying to call him out for his sexist positive treatment of arseholes. I suspected that a particular issue affecting two women colleagues would illustrate this weakness. In fact people thought that the guy in question was the root of the sexism I was calling out. What a fricking mess.

When I say sexist, I mean shockingly blind to an affection (weakness) for certain men who personify a brash confidence, but are rude or mad. Perhaps they got good results, but they were paid more than and treated with far more respect than the women whose jobs they made infinitely harder. It’s painful to throw another stereotypical judgement onto my own karmic log sheet but these guys are in marketing. The sex of an arsehole or an empty suit shouldn’t matter, and women should get employed for their skills and competencies, and men should not get employed when they lack these. And I should know better than to think I can fix a very old and entrenched psychological problem by flagging up how it disadvantages certain staff, using the method of professional observation and reporting. Apparently I have “a bee in my bonnet”.

Before I run screaming back into gainful relative unemployment (I’m freelance so it’s nicely vaguer than that), I need to reap some ‘lessons’ from this that are going to make me real goddamn happy but not smug. And I need to finish the work on my plate like a grown up, albeit a grown up in a team of grown ups with an overgrown child at the helm, calling the shots and giving me glare-eye.

Are there lessons? Hell yeah – you’re reading it now… I am coming to realise that, even if my report was strictly speaking true, my belief that it would work was in contradiction with the reality I know. Each time I tell myself that I don’t really know what I need to write about (sex, gender, sexism), I am making a temporary escape from dark shit that depresses and scares me. Then I go about my daily life thinking that all the tools we need to fix things are just there and we can use them and change things. Well they’re not. They need making. I need to remember that, much as I hugely value making discoveries through direct human contact, writing is a way to create some of these tools.

 

What’s the worst thing that could happen if … I write?

September 7, 2017

Calvin-WritingThe worst thing that could happen if I write, is that I could be hunted down by a group of vigilantes, carried to a temple and put in a hole where my skin in then cut off with razor blades.

Another diabolical thing that could happen if I write is that an invisible cabal of powerful, wealthy media professionals could easily, quietly, ensure that my work is ridiculed and dismissed before it is given a fair hearing by the wider public.

Or I could become so introspective, unsupported and undermined all at once that I would discover I truly do not know why I am here, or what is the point, or how my being alive differs from my being dead, in relation to the rest of the world, and so decide to stop all thoughts by wading into a river.

Another terrible thing that could happen if I write is that I would become more microscopically aware of the enormity of the structural obstacles to reducing and removing the structural injustices which ruin us, compared to the impact of just about anything I might ever be able to do, until I lose faith in ‘progress’ and ‘change’ and just walk into the sea.

I needn’t worry about these things happening to me though because they only happen to famous, talented people. Also, there are many far worse things that could happen if I write, that I haven’t even heard or thought of for chrissakes.

It is quite possible that people will laugh at what I write, even if it is not meant to be funny. It’s also possible that I’ll write dry, sarcastic jokes, and people will miss them and totally misinterpret my work. That wouldn’t be my fault! It’s also possible that I’ll write something so ridiculously wrong that it will be lambasted and eclipse and outlive anything sensible and decent I write. It’s also possible that I’ll write and write and write and then one day look back in shock to see I’ve missed out on the things I always wanted to say. I could pick up a book by someone else one day, and think, fuck, I was going to start writing this twenty years ago, and I never did.

Another terrifying thing that could happen if I write is that no-one will like what I write at all, or that a huge number of people will dislike it and a tiny number will like it (or pretend to, to be friendly). It’s quite possible that any public writing could be trolled, the emotional impact of which outweighs the felt benefit of any positive engagement. It’s also possible that there is a completely indifferent response to what I write so that I am suddenly face to face with myself, realising that my rage, my inquiry, my obsessions, my instincts, my convictions, all boil down to one painfully obvious piece of common sense which everyone else already knows. I guess if that’s the case, it would be good to find out what it is, sooner rather than later.

 

Long-haired privilege

July 10, 2017

Intersectionality

Is it just me or is anyone else getting a bit overwhelmed with all the types of privilege we are now supposed to know we have (or not) and check? (As in ‘check your privilege’.) Thin privilege and white privilege and male privilege and of course, class privilege, which often (though not always) the others almost boil down to: this tapestry is a bit like saying that we are all unique, except that it calls on us to search the term intersectionality and learn what it means and why it matters.

Today I was feeling the wind in my hair for some time, having been forced to take the simple healthy step of going for a walk by the apparently terrible circumstances of having a stressful job. Do I have employment privilege because I am earning, or is it a sign of my underprivilege that I have to sell my labour to survive since I cannot live for free on the Earth which I was born on?

While feeling the wind in my hair I felt feminine, and this experience tapped me in to all the images of flowing hair you see in the movies, and music videos, and glamorous fashion photography. I had short hair for a while and was regularly assumed to be gay, which didn’t cause any problems but certainly made me realise how powerful a metaphor for straight femininity long hair is. I am very glad to be living in a time and place where women can easily choose to have a short haircut and men can, relatively easily, choose to have long hair even if not through a religious tradition, though this is much harder for men working in some contexts than others.

But why do I have to suffer the dilemma that I might be somehow capitalising on a privilege that others do not or cannot share, just because of what grows on my head (and choosing not to cut it off)? For the sake of full disclosure (I just love full disclosure), I can share that I don’t shave any part of my body any more, ever, and the bits I pluck are very small and I am very lazy about it.

While I mull over the pointlessness of my objection to how I am internally feeling about my hair, I realise that I am combining the urge to try and be clever about being bored hearing about privilege with an observation that there is a glaring and huge state of privilege that is rarely called out: feminine privilege. Okay, maybe I do live under a rock and there are raging twitter debates about feminine privilege, but I would rather write this in ignorance that trawl through men’s rights fora to absorb some stale brain-wincing dialogue about how men being expected to change is just cruel and a sign of a world gone mad. Feminine privilege is probably not discussed because of our collective fear of inadvertently encouraging these guys to talk more.

But it is real. All the tropes about men not knowing whether to hold the door open for a woman are insignificant compared to the real, embodied expectations of the opposite sexes that relate to different kinds of dangerous and unhealthy work, the taking of risks and responsibilities, and the endemic risk of violence from men. The taboo against violence against women, however much it is not strong enough yet, is far greater than any taboo that is yet to fully take root as such, against violence against men. Identifying men as the perps of the majority of violence does nothing to protect men from the threat of assault and neither does the extraordinary number of brutal deaths we clock up on screen each year – often of men given little or no identity but violently disposed of to add dramatic tension to a plot. While many men truly benefit from being neutral in society (male privilege), they are portrayed simultaneously, for our entertainment, as appearing in such numbers as to render them almost disposable. Being a woman is hard, and being discriminated against for being a woman is also hard, but there are many aspects of culture where it is a given that women should be treated with respect, just as, at the very same time, there are many aspects of culture where it is still easy to disregard and discriminate against women. The same is true of men, and this is why assigning privilege to adjectives (white, male, female, thin, long haired) is only one awkward step on the road to mutual respect of all regardless of identity markers, aka true human solidarity.

Before I sign off I want to throw another spanner at privilege discussions – because I once had to endure a white Canadian couple visiting the UK who were so expert at their own white settler guilt that a local low-income working class white male anarchist nearly killed them. How we would have secretly been relieved.

My point is that their consecrated guilt determined them to educate other whites in privilege, and cost them their ability to recognise difference when it stared them in the face. And they became self-righteous and patronising. And no-one had a productive conversation. No matter how long it takes us to educate everyone ignorant in the world about their discriminating practices, we are still soon going to need something more sophisticated than identity chastisement to forward our desires to be surrounded, on the whole, by increasingly humane and intelligent companions. What device comes next?

Depression: to have or to be?

July 9, 2017

If I was depressed I probably wouldn’t be writing this, right? Yet there are still small moments in my life when I feel nothing, or rather, when I might wish to feel nothing instead of what I am feeling. I was once told not simply that I was depressed, but that “what I see is three generations of depression” and later “you and all your friends are depressed.” If I am being honest, I don’t think this observer was very objective – though they are better qualified than me to speak about depression. Their own needs created a special perspective: yes they may project onto others some of their own (felt or blocked) emotion and experience, but also they are so finely attuned to depression that a cycle of emotion that is normal and healthy in relation to real circumstances may still appear as depression.

But before I declare that I have hereby logically demonstrated that I am not depressed, we can turn this on its head in two ways. Firstly we can ask where real circumstances end and our emotional embodied response to them begins. We can ask whether it is possible or even healthy to be un-depressed in a depressing world; we can ask whether depression is a successful strategy for protecting us from certain horrors, temporarily? We can ask, if this were so, does it follow that for some individuals, there is literally no way out, because the cost of traversing the gap from the safety of depressive self protection to something more like a fluid interaction of the full range of emotions, in real time, in live response to live events, is too great.

I often think back to my twenties as a time when I did not know that I had no emotional understanding of myself, and not even the idea (until about 26) that emotions were a thing that I wasn’t doing. That more or less had to be explained to me by a professional. Was I depressed in my twenties? What about before then? I think back to my thirties as a time when I generated a profusion of emotion and spread it thickly over everyone who managed to tolerate me. This crossing of the death strip from silence to freedom required me to endure almost constant, sometimes overwhelming feelings of being pathetic or unattractive, of being weak, vulnerable and a drain on others. The reinforcements they provided, so that I could continue, led to feelings of being selfish, self obsessed and taking advantage of them. I can hardly recommend this experience. But now in my forties, I am beginning to understand that I can be emotional without showing it all here and now, and that that does not mean I am or will become depressed, or, my ultimate fear, that I will go back into denial or hiding, leading to one day where I suddenly have to feel a huge backlog of emotion in one go and will surely break.

In this process I have seen that emotion never goes away until you feel it. Some of us choose to carry it around for a long, long time rather than feel it. That weight suffocates us and I would call that depression. Nevertheless, when an experience overwhelms us and we are not able or free to respond to it gracefully, we are each entitled to choose how much emotional pain we release at any given time, and clearly there are no escapist drugs to compete with our efficiency at anaesthetising emotion by trapping it in the body, using all these mind tools we have evolved to enable us to just keep going in spite of terrible traumas. Then again, escapist drugs are a very popular choice when that shit inevitably starts to leak out by itself. And maybe when it never does is precisely when the universal mental health problem of a fucked up culture becomes the individual mental health problem of uniquely reconfigured psychological coping strategies that no fucker can get a grip on, not even the self, or especially not the self.

Which reminds me of the second way I must turn on its head my observation that my observer was not very objective in defining me and all my friends and family as depressed. The family comment did lead me to seek help. I had had therapy for a couple of years before that comment was made, after other shorter stints, and I had decided to approach an integrated healer who believes you can communicate with the unconscious and combine this with body work to encourage the release of trapped emotion (or if you prefer, to encourage the relaxation of muscles and tissues that have seized up at the time of a traumatic event). Setting up the first session, I told him about the ‘three generations’ comment, and so we worked first on depression. I don’t get it any more. Whenever I think that what I am approaching is depression, my train gets steered down another track, sometimes leaving me wondering why I can’t just have my anaesthetic when I want it like everyone else. When I feel as if I am depressed, I notice it is just the normal flow of emotion, not a layer of numbness underlying or overlaying everything. I think my observer friend could see that I have the layers of sedimented misery and bullshit that comes with growing up in a segregated community with an indoors culture.

To go back to my thick spreading of emotion… maybe some people liked it. Maybe it gives us permission to feel ourselves, or if that’s not a problem, to express our messy selves, when others get messy. I am glad to hear this said more and more often, and have close mutual friends who have told each other this: When you allow us to see that you are depressed, we love you exactly the same way as when you are cheerful. It feels different to you but not to us. Of course, we want to see you happy and fulfilled, not depressed and anxious. But we do not want to see your cheerful mask because then we are not seeing our friend at all. (Some people manage to see only the cheerful mask of their friend, even when the friend is not actually wearing it, because they can only deal with their own need to share. They’re so annoying.)

Poem for people

June 5, 2017

people

People

you know I like you a lot
sometimes I miss you when you are not there
sometimes you are not there for far too long
and I weep, although I have no idea why
it’s starting to seem more obvious

I was told I had a weakness
a fear of being alone
I found this to be true
it suddenly seemed less true
when I told it to you

do you feel so normal being alone
that the very idea of loneliness
is empty and meaningless
do you look down on those who succumb
to such experiential trivia
or are you so well adapted to being alone
that you have no idea what else there might be
in that 100% you space

what I want to think
what I dare to suspect
is none of the above
I suspect you of not being lonely

I suspect I find this impossible to imagine
I am suspicious that you have found something
I have been looking for

I suddenly wonder whether it is an either or condition
but it involves being connected to the universe
all by oneself

maybe you did this because you were
forced to
and maybe we all need to do it
before we start making sense
can a wrong and a right be the same thing?
I have wanted it for so long
or maybe it is synchronous with
isolation

only at just the point when you were plunged into
neglect
did I begin to be spoken to
out of free will that is
not by people paid to do so
my loneliness is embedded
in my sense of normality
and I still don’t know whether it is fine

yours was imposed on you
you went from one lifetime of noise
to another
seen and not heard?

people
you know I like you a lot
sometimes I miss you when you are not there

I was told I had a weakness
but really
I am just a common or garden victim
of the rise of individualism
where a family of two
comes to seem pretty big company
compared to big families who fuck each other up
of which there seem to be rather a lot
I can’t leave the house without tripping over them

anything that can possibly be managed alone
is sooner or later annexed
and accounted

if you can’t do every single thing well for yourself
confess your dysfunction now
and you can chant your absolution
I must love myself
I must support myself
I must take care of myself
I must know myself
I must be strong for myself so that I can be strong for others

I was told I had a weakness
for people
so sue me

Poem for today

May 16, 2017

HowWeWorkThis morning I didn’t feel like I had shown up, so I wrote this.

 

Set out to show up with intentions for yourself
Show up for yourself
Don’t pave the way to hell
Set intentions you can fulfil
Wonder aimlessly why you do not

Set out to show up for yourself
Show up

Get a handle on your priorities
Make a to do list
Improve your time management
Put time management and priority setting
on your to do list
Do things

Get a handle on your motivations
Plan your rewards
Don’t reward yourself if you don’t
intend to do your to dos
Celebrate your successes
Don’t call yourself a failure

Aim to be motivated
Intend to be prioritised and time managed
Show up with a to do list
Focus on your intentions and successes
Set aims and objectives you can believe in
Pull your weight

Fake it till you make it
Focus on the goal
Motivate yourself
Plan your successes
Reward your priorities
Intend to do lists

Object to time wasting and loss of productivity
Set out to show up for yourself
If you fail to intend
Be motivated by the stack of paving
you didn’t lay
to Hell
Show up