Strange normalities

You know those days you get when wherever you go, you almost bump into people you know but you aren’t really, one hundred percent, in the mood to stop and talk to them? Or, it’s people who are a bit dodge and worth not being spotted by; or, people you out-and-out want to avoid because they talk and talk in long, long sentences that go on and on and on forever with loads of unnecessary words for no apparent reason that you can think of except possibly that they just really enjoy thinking of extra words to add on?

Well today is not one of those days. Today, right now, I am standing at a perfect people-watching vantage point, where many people are passing below me, at a recognisable distance, but without me invading their privacy or personal space being here. Further away, twice as many people again pass by beyond recognition, but clearly at ease; mostly strolling and cycling; very few walking at any pace. Two people see each other from different levels – they are the first I have seen to walk fast, they are excited to each reach the end of their level, to join each other. Their joy is palpable, and it’s hard not to watch the entire event. But there are others to watch.

I notice how much pleasure just witnessing everybody is giving me. There is a chill wind coming off the sea, but it is sunny and not intermittently. A significant inner voice thinks that in spite of the sun, I am unwise to stay out too long standing in the cold, that I should go home and rest according to my rulebook; a tiny, insignificant voice thinks that I might look odd here. The truth is that this level of exposure to a random selection of humanity, pottering about as if it were a normal day, yet, somehow, ineffably, better than that, is nourishing me deeply with a feeling I cannot possibly, arbitrarily cut short. I am being refilled. There is a sensation that I am witnessing something extremely rare, and yet we both know this should be utterly normal.

I stay and I stay and I write this. I have warm enough layers and the emergency winter hat in my bag. No gloves or scarf today. It is not Spring, we still have at least three weeks of legitimate hibernation time to go before we can expect ourselves to bounce and labour beyond a self-sustaining minimum. Incidentally, this makes it a crucial moment for noticing whether capitalist working hours / practices are fucking with or squandering your life.

But back to the people. Are they the blessed workless few or the privileged wealthy? They are not at work while they stroll and cycle, probably. It is not even lunchtime. How many people who have lost their jobs are happy today? Is it enough? Why do they seem subtly happier than I ever normally witness in this country?

And here are the cutest couple ever. They look so similar; I think they are both boys but I don’t care and guessing by age I doubt they do either. They are both white with long, furry/fuzzy/wavy hair; really long, combed out nicely, one black, one brown/almost fair. Their long-sleeved black cotton tops are a pair, the same but different. That also equals same number of layers worn on a sunny Winter’s day … definitely boys then. Same jean type, similar shoes; and they walk in sync, both holding smartphones in two hands, occasionally stopping so closely together that they could actually be a couple, and if not, even cuter. The best bit is that one (fair hair, glasses), is the only person to look up and smile at me today from that level; even if it was an accident, caused quite possibly by a spontaneous need to emit an excess of joy received from the device out further than the companion for one moment. It worked.

And now here comes the first obvious nutter, the first laden shopper, the first walking jogger. We are not so fit in February; we are flagging a little at 3 o’clock. Time for the nap.

Trans authority?

Do you think trans people are wrong for wanting to self-identify? Do you think it is a problem for someone born one sex, to choose for themselves to change their name and gender on official documentation to align with the opposite sex? Can a trans person authorise their own gender?

Trans people are not only vilified for wanting to employ the apparatus of the state to legitimise their chosen identities. They are vilified all the more easily for choosing to live in identity forms which sit outside the ‘legitimate’ identities authorised by the state apparatus – something they have been doing for millennia, if I have understood correctly.

So it is that one generation of trans-sceptics (or trans deniers, or transphobes) can harass trans folk for being fringe lunatics, while the next generation – possibly even the same individuals, can harass trans folks down the line for claiming legal identity, not acknowledging that it was not really trans folks themselves, but their own (predecessors’) behaviour which created the very need.

I have seen weirdly similar behaviour in my boyfriends. My ex, in opposing a new relationship I was in, sought to impose restrictions on how we conducted ourselves in my home. After much acrimony we went to mediation. During this mediation, he was of the opinion that we were managing to deal with ‘our’ restrictions and that we could therefore carry on, and while he sympathised somewhat with the hassle it was causing us, he did not see that his own actions or beliefs or feelings were relevant. He saw that it was our problem to continue dealing with.

He got comfortable with his own arbitrary, emotion-driven assertion of will having been obeyed, and promptly accepted that reality as if it had always been that way. Indeed, it took three of us (me, my new partner and the mediator), to get him to even think on the point that the restrictions we were all there to discuss were of his imposition. Indeed, had I refused to comply with his wishes/demands beforehand, the mediation would not even have been necessary. There would have been some other outcome, undoubtedly even more acrimonious, and involving other, less pastoral institutions. That did happen anyway; those poor institutions, they could scarcely believe the way their time was being wasted by us.

And even within a relationship, I have found myself having to argue in similarly archaeologically-torturous style. In order to protest against a given dynamic process between myself and partner which I experience as unfair and unequal, I have first had to dig out the roots of my own submissiveness. This I have done because my first (second, third) protest at the dismissive behaviour has been dismissed. I demonstrate that the behaviour which demeans me is real, by confessing that I have allowed it, earlier in the relationship, when insecurity or inferior/second-class status have made it feel necessary, and/or happen unconsciously.

Having confessed, I still have to make the case that the dynamic is not fair to me, based on how I feel when it happens. For example, I don’t want to carry on eating dinner late at night – because I want to eat earlier. Instead of being negotiated with by an equal, I am confronted with the reticence that comes from me having eaten late at night without complaint, suggesting that it is, factually, fine for me to do so. Never mind that I have requested change, multiple times, whist consciously trying not to do so in an attitude of complaint. Or I might want to go to a different supermarket, or say no to a visit on a certain day of the week, or say no to a certain kind of movie on cinema night, or use windfall money not to refurbish a decrepit car, or not smoke skunk, or have sex in the afternoons when I have better energy levels, or have a second child with a two-year gap from the first.

The roots of this contorted process are always privilege and entitlement. The entitled person takes for granted that the rules as they see them are self-evident. All they have done is endure the bothersome process of having to assert them – a process which I presume is experienced as reminding. Hey, you in the dress, you’re a boy, duh. Hey. You in the dress, I thought I told you yesterday; hey fellas this dude just won’t listen. Hey, whose funeral is this? Oh yes, right, no, no officer I don’t know anything about that. None of my business. Live and let live I always say.

As a woman you get reminded inadvertently of your actual second-class status by your own willingness to capitulate. When did that start? There is no accurate answer. The most accurate answer I offer you today is: early on. Yes we have assertive women amongst our ranks, and yes, hooray, some of them have never experienced that submissive dark-side first-hand, because they were brought up by intelligent and gender-aware parents. I am a bit of an anomaly. I was brought up without overt gender stereotyping from my parents … so it got imposed on me later on than most.

I believe this has made it easier for me to dig out my roots – they were shallower, closer to the surface than for the boy told not to cry when two or three years old; the girl put in the dress and told not to show her knickers while her brothers climbed trees. I did once experience heterosexual-correction from a parent, but it was an off-guard moment and popped out accidentally as part of incest-correction. Don’t overthink it, honestly.

I also suspect that a relative lateness in my own social conditioning created a strange brand of adaptive trauma – something like a more-profound-clash between my child and my adult, because my child was more sheltered than many. Still untangling. What is normally childhood conditioning followed by heteronormative entrenchment (and them maybe some deconstruction), was for me, some childhood innocence followed by a creeping heteronormative traumatisation. My sense of normality was out of whack for decades and I knew not why. I have followed this up with self-effacing apology for being complicit with others’ entitlement and privilege.

So: Entitlement creates people like my mum’s boyfriend when I was thirteen, filling my head with misogynist bullshit and fearmongering. Privilege (and fear of its loss) is what motivates people (like him) to defend their corner, even when that means to abuse and disrespect others. Entitlement is the unconscious experience that rules are there to make us happy. Privilege is the reality of having rules which give us an advantage. Entitlement is shouting transphobic abuse in public. Privilege is the murderer strolling past the funeral with his mates.

Trans women belong with all women: because we cannot win. And so do trans men: on the side of self-authorisation. There is no authority but yourself.

Theorist schmeorist

Relationships between men and women in the current phase of UK cultural development are truly fascinating. I say this quickly through a break in the clouds that overcast my personal life-story on a day-by-day basis. Some days when things are feelin’ good, I would not dare to risk writing some birds-eye-view observations about positives in evolving gender dynamics, lest tomorrow some unpredictable lurch comes to prove me wrong in the heart. Other days when things are feeling like an uphill struggle, I would not dare risk writing some birds-eye-view observations about negatives, or stagnancy, in evolving gender dynamics, lest I return to the words another day and find that my claims are clouded by personal demons that bear little relation to the rest of the world (local, regional, national or universal), or worse, that they embed misandrous barbs unconsciously aimed at my undeserving partner.

Today, I begin to feel like I have waited long enough. Not, to be quite clear, that I have literally waited. I have by no means actually held off committing extensive observations of bests and worsts in my relationships to initially untainted white spaces of material and digital kinds. I have even shared some, on this blog, in zines, and come to think of it, I have literally published a book composed in large part of precisely this thread of my ruminations, blended with ruminations of the most universal kind I was having at the same time.

But I have waited to feel like I could talk about my relationships without prodding and poking the most sensitive parts of myself in the process. Note that that book was started at a time when the M-F relationship dynamic I was living inside of was in truth dissolving, with only the barest, most utterly contested, awareness of the fact on my part. Now I have worked hard to progressively allay my vulnerabilities, for my life, and so that I can contextualise and discuss relationship features and hypothesise and enquire about their relatability, extensiveness and consequences. I can open up without fearing being shot at without my armour. I can no longer feel the former ubiquitous dread that exploring in public form any topic that bore a relation to my live-present-sense of M-F relationship was tantamount to jeopardising its well-being and its becoming. In short, I feared claiming things were good, and I feared believing they were bad.

And fundamentally, I owed my current lover his privacy. Of course there are many easy tricks a writer can employ to disguise people’s identity, but it is not so easy if one wishes to write from the heart, from the hip, from the present-moment. A fully structured hypothesis is very different from a sharing.

I love fully structured hypotheses. But I write to share too. I sense that as I continue to write I will continue to share, and strive less to construct hypotheses. I will never give them up: I am a theorist in nature as much as I am a cook, a mother, a gardener, a talker, a listener. I ought to inject as much oomph into my resentment of the professionalisation of the idea of ‘a theorist’ as I do of the celebritification of universal human birthrights like singing, dancing, playing music, writing poetry, acting and so on. (Let us not even try to attend here to the celebritification of just being a person, and how intrinsically damaging that is destined to be to a generation of youngsters, just trying to become persons.) To be a theorist must no longer be a term associated with academia alone. To be a theorist means to be a person who likes to (and enjoys) and is good at constructing theories. You can be a bad theorist. Certainly you can be gainfully employed at the highest levels of academia and be a terrible, or ineffectual theorist; quite easily if you are the same gender and colour as your teachers and mentors. So too can you be a terrible, embarrassing, ineffectual lay-theorist, pub-theorist or self-publishing theorist. But it is, theoretically, quite possible to be an excellent theorist in so-called ordinary life, whether your theory concerns the imminence of a new age of enlightenment or the better stability and consistency of a souffle made with ground flaxseed.

And so I aspire to start yet more blogs with the same sentence and slowly start to say something concrete about heterosexual evolution in the early twenty-first century UK and perhaps beyond. My hope and expectation is that my theories will show themselves up within and throughout such apparently random writings. Not simply for you, dearest precious reader, since you are supposed to be entertained and inspired and caressed by pieces like this in an almost-whole, one-by-one, fashion. But for me: I cannot grasp these theories so easily as I would like. I have to lay out the pieces right-side-up, pick out the straight edges and put them in the lid, sweep the middles into the bottom of the box, tip the straights onto the table and lean the lid on a handy stack of books, find the corners, and most of all, I have to keep going even if there are gaps in the edge. It’s a hard-knock life folks.

knock knock, acceptable-statement police open up

Relationships between men and women in the current age have never been more simple, or more complex. Except, I don’t believe either of those things. We humans are very fond of pointing out how things have ‘never been as x y z’ as they are now. My observations suggest this is very rarely worth saying, that is, at the level of communicating some kind of real information or, dare I say, truth, about our world. I think it serves to bring us into focus on the present time, and by making it exceptional, to give us a little boost of excitement, which might well be wildly irrelevant to us by the end of the day. ‘It-has-never-been-better/worse’ statements may give us hope to carry on, shock us into action, or numb us into a little respite from our labours, which may be no bad thing. But why do we use them when they aren’t true? Perhaps unconsciously, we want to sound like an authority on the subject. Perhaps that sleight of hand can achieve this: a commonly heard turn of phrase which will arise no objection in the listener, yet, embeds the notion that the speaker is somehow able to have coolly assessed every other era of humanity, every culture there ever was, every continent perhaps, every perspective and angle, and summarised their relative values in terms of good or bad, or simplicity vs complexity or whatever the claim du jour might be, and just knows that today is better, the best; or worse, the worst.

Next time you hear or read or almost say such a thing, let us remember Dozer from the Matrix. Faced with the prospect of the discovery <spoiler alert> of a messiah who has been anticipated for, er, centuries or millennia, one of those, and whose existence, if genuine, heralds the end to a kind of extreme exile and enslavement of the entire human race, a goal for which he has been fighting presumably his entire adult life, he says: “This is an exciting time.” The excess of emotion is expressed with the arm. That is truth. Not “OMG Neo this is the MOST exciting time in human history, man.” (NB. This is despite the fact that it might really be that.) In the circumstances, Dozer could easily be forgiven for the everyday and commonly accepted hyperbole of “This is the most exciting time of my life / thing that has ever happened to me.” But he doesn’t even do that. Perhaps because he is more in tune with the group than with his own individual experience. I don’t know, ask the Wachowski sisters.

So maybe I should check my aesthetic prejudices now. I always accept – and practice – these personal hyperbolics (‘This is literally the best pizza/cake/fry-up/beer I have EVER had in my life…’) and I can enjoy them actually. I probably used to rankle at them, and while I may have stopped due to the pointlessness and pragmatics of it, if I have joined in too, then surely I feel the communicative, expressive value. I boost my story; I express my joy efficiently. Likewise if a negative, calling someone “Literally the worst pigfucker prime minster we have ever had,” has more cathartic value than “I don’t like this prime minister, even though in the spirit of accurate communication I am willing to admit that I can’t remember ever liking any prime minister.”

But these hyperbolic personal statements are very different in their content than the sweeping all-of-human-history-in-a-breath statements I tried to open with. These do subtle violence to our innate ability to assess the true breadth and depth of the speaker’s wisdom according to the meaningful statements they offer on the topic at hand. I don’t suppose I really expected to let myself get away with it here, but for that moment it felt like a normal thing to say. And that just won’t do. Let’s put a stop to this nonsense. And while we’re at it, Please, Please, PLEASE for the love of Dog, will everybody STOP spelling ‘led’ as ‘lead’ or I may have to kill myself.

A war of needs

Internally, I have different needs waging war with one another. This can spill out into relationships with others, for sure. But it also impacts my physical health (via overwork and overload), my mental health (via self-esteem and overwhelm), and my social life (via anxiety about overwhelm).

For example, I go online to fulfil a simple administrative errand. I see my email inbox first, so I open a message. I reply to the message and open a link to an article within it, or I fetch a link to go in the reply, and while fetching it, I open more articles to read now and later. I send the email then I compulsively go to my other email inboxes to check them, and look at message portals. This affects my mood and sense of being kept-in-mind versus being truly alone, as does visiting chat groups where I can feed in however many comments are required to reap the validation I need that day.

When I get back to the errand I actually needed to do, it may be when I have decided arbitrarily to get off the internet/computer, or when my body is really shouting at me. It may be when I have turned it off that I remember the errand. This might be really fucking annoying and happen regularly.

My need to maintain good order at the administrative level is thwarted by my need to respond promptly to other people who write to me. My need to continually learn new information is fed while I neglect my need to drink, eat, stretch, pee, get the fuck out of the house. Does it help me to try to categorise these activities as belonging to one or other need-type (feeling safe; being nice; intellectual/physical survival: human contact), so that I can police or micro-manage myself more effectively? Do I believe I can develop a less addictive relationship with a tool I currently depend on for an enormous range of activities and needs? Or do I believe I can just gradually get better by employing intention and willpower? I’m trying to categorise. I have ways to soothe myself, feel loved and known, communicate with others, learn new information and express myself … that aren’t online.

The habits run deep: they were ingrained when I first worked alone in a small office full-time while my kids were still in primary school, maaany years ago. I emailed all day (that was what there was). I wrote poetry in emails and sometimes sheer desperation drove me to send them to the people they were about. This might be also the root of adrenalin addiction, which eventually led to adrenal exhaustion.

If I can get clarity on which categories of need these things are I might be able to switch, or to preempt, screen binging. But eating away at my belief in this twofold strategy is the deeper belief that I was not built to withstand this balance of contact and aloneness. Maybe neither were you.

Wish me luck though yeah?

Ladies

Today I cannot decide whether to aspire to be a lady who lunches, or a crazy cat lady. I live in an environment now where a lady who lunches would fit in perfectly, and indeed, the closest thing I have come across to a regular community gathering is a poster inviting ladies to lunch together. Mid-morning coffee is probably more accurate, but then, eating is fairly intimate isn’t it.

Craziness and cats are completely evident here in this strangest of neighbourhoods. But lilting, wandering, scruffy people with trolleys are restricted to employment at the local supermarket. Being a cat lady requires a lot of responsibility, which I have openly boasted about being unprepared for since the trauma of having to keep some new people I made alive for 18 years without any paid holiday. Vets bills, keep them. Pet insurance is just too ideologically complicated for me to process, which means I can never actually make a decision to house a cat. Phew.

lady, crazy: no cats, bags
lady, crazy: no cats, bags

On the other hand, I have always had a lot of bags. I love bags. I refuse to have a handbag. Like stilettos, bleaching or shaving hair, wearing lipstick or tolerating pads in bras, handbags are a giant step too far into the overt symbolism of femininity. Leave me occasional earrings, beads, long hair, smelling of birthday-present Jasmine, skirts, dresses, cookery, drinking beer in half-pints and eating chocolate. But, I have couple of bags that most people would call handbags. They’d be wrong. Only one is a handbag. The other is a good bag for getting into easily and has three compartments, is perfect for keeping books flat and clean and can hold a surprising number in one go. It also has enough corners to stuff rolled-up worn knickers away from books, making it technically an overnight bag.

It would be far, far too easy for me to be a bag lady. I talk to myself now with full volume and conversational exchange and duration. I’m only 46. Let me give you an honest inventory of my bags.

Suitcases: 0
Full size rucksacks: 0**
Large ‘daypack’ rucksacks (modern): 1
Army surplus daypack-sized rucksacks: 1*
Small day-to-day rucksacks: 1
Colourful over-the-shoulder fabric bags: 2***
Aforementioned overnight bag that looks like a handbag but is not: 1
Highly durable courier bags: 1
Highly durable laptop bags: 1
White tote bags: 3
Black tote bags: 2
Red tote bags: 1
Waterproof stuff sacks: 4
Toilet bags: 1 normal, 1 multi-section fold-out hanging
Stuff-away bags that fit inside their own tiny pocket: 4
(on-the-shoulder: 2 (RNLI: 1), over-the-shoulder: 1, rucksack-style: 1)
RNLI stuff-away bags that others have borrowed and not returned: 2
Holdalls: 1*/**
Tiny over-the-shoulder bags for use w/ inadequately pocketed clothing: 2
Bum bags: 0
Heavy-duty shoppers with fabric handles (UK): 3+
Heavy-duty shoppers with fabric handles (foreign, proud of): 3
Strong canvas/jute bags with short handles (portrait): 3
Insulated picnic bags: 2
Heavy-duty open-out tool bags: 1
Small, soft bags for household storage (in use): 4+
Bivvy bags: 1
Sleeping bags: 1
Handbags: 1****

****I bought four handbags for my new mother-in-law who needed one but who doesn’t go out very much. I limited myself to maximum £5 per bag (ideally less than £3, so that I could buy any number that fit my criteria), (effect = charity-shop home-visit). They had to be near-pristine, otherwise it was pointless to offer them as a newer replacement-bag that was unnecessary but would be a nice thing to have. She had clearly had one handbag for a minimum of twenty years and it clearly matched her needs perfectly. It was therefore clear that the new bag should match the format of the old bag very closely. She chose the one which matched it the closest. I obeyed a rule that they had to be colourful, not navy, brown, black, grey or, heaven forbid, white. The winner was a lovely bottle/emerald green. Leather was allowed because it was for her. Of the three remaining, the one I had most obviously bought because I liked it so much myself is still in my cupboard.

It is flat and rounded, has only one proper compartment, a single shoulder strap which does not fit over the head, and a patchwork exterior of non-hippy fabrics. Actually most of the patches are brown or cream or blue et cetera. In short it is an abomination of a bag on every count. I like it though, and I have gone outside with it ‘on’; I feel like a proper imposter, method-practising for a play. I’m not sure why I won’t be able to get rid of it. Speaking of which, * means that I almost culled one of these when I last moved house; ** means that I did cull one or more when I moved. *** means I have culled one but it is still in my home.

(Also in the home are heavy-duty carrier bags (5-10), large beach bag employed as laundry holder (1), fabric sausage of carrier bags, small plastic bag of small plastic bags, brown paper bag of folded brown paper bags, and a sizeable collection of flat, durable ex food-containing bags (packets) (e.g. coffee, nuts) for future storage of seeds, one folded black bin liner, a roll of small bin liners, and 5-10 empty folded compost/bark chip bags (outside), a pack of mint greetings-card cellophane bags and some toilet-paper-wrapper bags and large crisp packets which make excellent mini-bin liners for the kitchen, living room and bathroom.)

Please let me know in the comments section if I have neglected a bag category.

The other half idly believes having so many bags is crazy. But this many bags enables me to dress up as any kind of lady on the spectrum. I can even dress as a boy easily, with the courier bag or the laptop bag, which is very important. I feel funny today, as if the craziness of old age is upon me, and precisely because I have set my mind some time ago to being an early developer. The purple hat-wearing lady of the famous poem always struck me as too patient and polite, as far as aspirations go, though I heartfully respect that her beauty depends on it. I cannot decide whether my suppression of the frequency with which I speak out loud to animals, to the full extent that basic courtesy requires, has dropped over time from 90-95% to about 15%, or only 5%. I suspect, and hope, that it is probably in the 13-15% range with a further drop to 5% still to come. I am also thrilled and excited by the dramatic deepening of the conversational range of plants. Life is truly a rich dance.

[Please feel free to share your bag inventories below. I don’t think some people realise how important bags are.]

Who am I?

It’s an age-old philosophical question and one which, in conversation with others, can lead into the biggest questions there are – how we should behave, what makes a good life, how should society be organised and who should decide … is it time to update the question?

It occurred to me that when I blog, although it is often self-reflective, sometimes entirely, there is still something quite abstract about how I present or reveal myself as a ‘situated subject’. Which is what? Which is a person with a particular set of identity markers, living in a particular social and cultural context at a particular place and time – a situated subject, something everybody has to be.

Anyone who has read a lot of my posts will know there are times when I put parts of my identity up front and centre so this may sound odd to you. But other times I talk about, say, the struggle of getting back into writing (that old classic), I may be missing out parameters of my life that would make the writing more relevant to some and more transparent and honest to others. By not noticing my own situatedness as I write, I might be making unconscious assumptions about my readers, which can perpetuate a conscious and unconscious sense of not-belonging. I know amongst writers that similarities of experience can be very valuable regardless of external social identity too, but today I’m going the other way.

So I’m a white hetero woman in my 40s with two grown-up children and two long-term exes. I have a father who was almost entirely absent and then died to boot. I have a mother who did a great job (if I say so myself), but who could only do so much, as one person with her own set of childhood-related problems to work through. Although her messed-up childhood cast a long shadow over mine, which is often the way, she modelled working through one’s own mental health issues by training to become a counsellor herself when I was about 15. And a word about single parents: I hope I’m directing this at a straw man, but anyone who still thinks being lone parent tells you something about what kind of person or what kind of parent that is, it doesn’t. One advantage of being a lone-parent-child is that you don’t have two conflicting models of how you should be going on every day. This is not so true if your parents are warring despite being separate, or if you regularly spend time with both, but it’s true for me (child) and for friends (parents) who tell me how much they’ve appreciated not having to fight with anyone to make decisions about how to raise their kid/s.

My subject position in relation to mainstream society is as someone who works part-time, is self-employed, does manual work and claims benefit for housing in a context of extortionate rents. I have un-diagnosed ailments that limit how much I can work manually but for which I see no point in seeking diagnoses, as the process would complicate my life so much it would literally drain the time I have left outside paid work to write. I work part-time specifically so I can write. I am learning to count writing and all its corollary work as ‘work’, so you could say I work full-time but at my own pace.

So as a subject I am also a (struggling) artist. I’m loving the brilliant swipes against the concept of the struggling artist I have come across in recent years and have swallowed them whole. We have inherited this whole aesthetic from an unfolding of certain societal conditions that we should really aspire to overcome – think artists being lined up in sports stadiums to be shot, but less overt, less violent, less quick. We have been exposed to an insidious brainwashing about good art being the result of struggle, which presents far less of an obstacle to artists from wealthy backgrounds.

I struggle. This takes many forms over time and can be experienced one day as like trying to open an old, stuck jam jar, another day as the torment of a creature trapped between a frustrating hindrance of simple physical disappointments, a wildly speculating mind, and the cruelty of a disembodied self-observation seeming to exist only to dictate that I should do/be better. Even as I struggle, I never found myself wanting to be an artist because I am ‘poor’. I find myself choosing to prioritise managing on a low income over earning a lot of money (as if tho lol), because focussing on earning money works against me in two ways. One: It strips my writing resource (me). Two (Perhaps more importantly, since I could in theory do more paid work and still write if I had more self-discipline, less rest and so on … probably a myth): It pollutes my mind regarding what I should write and how and for whom.

Any kind of creativity is best for its producer-person when it’s flowing joyfully and uninhibitedly. But many people have to struggle for huge tracts of time against the tide of the money-earning-work-ethic to become practicing artists in the first place. By some ubiquitous logic, only when you are fully established as a wealthy and successful painter, film director, singer, novelist, poet et cetera, does it become apparent that that is the ‘job’ you are meant to be doing. Up until that point you are probably just an arrogant nutter, or maybe a workshy scrounger. Well how nice for society at large that there are so many workshy scroungers out there willing to devote their lives to making the world more beautiful and livable.

This post was started about a year ago and I decided to finish and share it today in a fit of administrative perfectionism – a gesture devoid of artistic purpose. Now I get where it was unfinished. It’s an almost dry list of the features I think constitute me as a person. And I had left out spirituality. I can’t do a good, quick job on that but I can see myself a year ago not realising it was missing. In spite of the fact that I have been devoting huge chunks of my energy to this side of myself for years, I could still sit with the keyboard and just put it out in the hallway like a naughty dog … even when intending to somehow catalogue my parts to share with you all.

Today I’ll say this: throughout all the disjointed and discombobulating shifts I have created in order to be able to take myself seriously as a writer, I have always known I want to write about the spirit. Yet somehow I have managed to spend about 80% of my time in forgetfulness of this choice, an artistic direction which could so easily be engaged as a central pillar of my identity, bringing the painful answer to ‘Who am I?’ from 1200 words down to a sentence. This shows me how incredibly distanced we have become as a society from the spirit of being human. That’s my job done right there.

Identity thinking: part 4, or, ‘Where the fuck do I go from here?’

not 'a cheesecake'
Ceci n’est pas ‘un cheesecake’. credit freestocks.org

If you land on this post and want to read the other parts first they are here: one, two, three. If you’re like me, you might want to read this one first, either to see whether it’s interesting, or, even better, to trick yourself into reading something long by starting at the end.

And now we’re at the beginning. Where the fuckyff-f-f-ff-kkkkk-k-k-k do I go from here? It’s not an idle question. I nurture the desire to employ an exploration of sex-and-gender as a means to learn about identity thinking and how to teach each other to stop doing it. That’s like getting a £40 refund travel voucher (after you get stuck at Liverpool Street for 45 minutes) and saying, ‘Cooooool, I’d think I’d like to see Asia, and the Americas’.

Okay then I’ll start with a recap. Identity thinking is the linguistic mistake – a mistake embedded in language – that we all make every day. Sometimes it makes it hard to find the wood for the trees, sometimes it condemns millions to death. It consists of forgetting what we are. We are not linguistic beings, we are beings that use language. We discovered it, crafted it, embedded it, came to depend on it, hopelessly. We are addicted to it, high on it, killed by it. Daily, we are in pieces because of it. It fragments us, all too easily. We evolve it, riddled with its profound untruths and errors, over millennia, so that every being born into its fabric is, quite literally, torn apart by it. Now I hate misuse of the word literally as much as the next rabbit, but as beings, we are not only bodies. We are minds too. While the mind and the body of a single human can and will never be separated, the mind has limited independence from the body (Adorno).

It is not this independence that makes us vulnerable to language however. We might readily imagine that the unfortunate, word-bound mind is in thrall to language, while the body frolics in the sea, rides a horse, eats some scheesecake (yes that’s a real fucking word), makes out with some guy/ess, plays the drums, does some cartwheels, has a hot bath, takes up Forro and then sits under a tree for a month. But No. The body is run by the mind, and the mind has absorbed all the rules it was told to make the body live by – and it metes out the punishment when the body disobeys. The body is a slave to language. It starts young, but we are not born enslaved. We can break free, but we can’t reverse time.

The mind has the power to develop its ‘limited independence’ by noticing that the body rebels for a reason. The body says No. The mind says Why not? The body always gives an honest answer, even when the mind has gone full-throttle-nuts. If the mind listens carefully enough to the body and what it ‘says’, it can (not only work with the body to reassure it that its basic needs can be met without it getting sent to prison, it can also) develop a dialogue whereby the partnership can begin to distance itself from the damned lies and accidental untruths of language.

Before that can happen substantially, the mind apparently needs to experience some really bending forms of suffering. And so I say again, every being born into our current language system is literally torn apart by it. Our identities fall apart if we properly examine the totalitarian role which language plays in them. If we muddle through with only average amounts of suffering, it may be because we have obeyed enough of the rules, including getting lucky with being in the upper-middle zone of many of the categories which are poised (by language) to enjoy success – in the form of having hung onto our textbook identities. If we get through this life feeling that we really know who we are, then we have been torn apart, and we have put ourselves back together differently, and we have integrated.

Okay, I’ve strayed off identity thinking a bit here. Remember it’s the process of forgetting that some thing is not the same as the words we use to describe it (or of not knowing in the first place). No thing is the same as a word. No thing is a word. It’s an invisible habit. The way to spot it is to stalk it in everyday conversations. Whenever you notice two people starting to disagree, heatedly, ask yourself ‘What is the central concept they are disagreeing over? See if you can detect one – maybe it’s how to cook pasta, maybe it’s whether somebody is racist, maybe it’s when the world started or how best to soothe a child to sleep. Maybe what each of them means when they say that word is subtly different. Maybe by being the third person, listening to both without joining in, you can discern what the difference is. If you catch that little vermin by the tail, call it out. Tell them nicely what each of them means. Probably not good to intervene until you’re sure you can. Possibly necessary to run away afterwards, until the heat drops.

That’s homework. Share below when you have started trying this experiment. If you practice, you will find yourself becoming able to inject this awareness into your own conversations sooner or later, and then my friend, you stand a chance of getting beyond identity thinking. It takes a long time and it may take longer than we have. I’m going for it, and I’d love not to go alone.

 

Lurcher

lurching from this day
to another coming down the line
reaching out to some rock, some rope,
some thing
imagining
that success is inevitable
without being able to define
or describe it
asking only
for the death of a paradigm
to come gently
lest feathers ruffle
a windless revolution
a deathless massacre
another chance to live life
somewhere more real
an insane desire
for liars to get caught
for cheats to get kicked out of the game
for some authority to slap those
who trade in evil

lurching from this night
to a morning like every other
reaching in to some swamp, some cave
some spleen
my dreams
where families hang by the neck
and they are all parts of me?
hoping only
for resistance to change its referent
from what I do to myself
to a movement I can be part of
a howling revelation
a righteous obliteration
another world of the same kind
somewhere identical
an insane belief
that warriors can beat drones
that truth will be taught in schools
that some quality light and air
will melt demons

Checking in – dropping out

Good things take time to prepare.
Good things take time to prepare. Credit Devon Rockola/pexels

Some days you write because forcing yourself to write is better than trying to imagine when you will get round to it if you wait until you feel better. Today is one of those days. Some days I can only write a spiral about why I write. Today will NOT be one of those. I set myself a target of writing two blog posts a week, that was a few months ago now. I didn’t manage to write one post a week; but today I will write two.

I think of blogging as where I can write out my thoughts bit by bit, piece by piece, knowing that eventually my philosophy will start materialising before my eyes; my tired, tired, tired eyes. Wake up eyes.

I attempt to write morning pages too, which serve to declutter my brain, especially on emotional and logistical topics, like why the fuck am I still in bed at 11am after having now had years to ‘recover’ from my fucked-up job/s…? And: do I have too many friends or too few? Am I afraid to say No to social invitations even though I desperately need to say No more if I’m ever going to write more than a couple of pages of coherency in one go … Or am I only afraid to say Yes because I need to spend all my time at home in isolation <not a topical reference>, stewing over the writing I’m supposed to be doing, instead of just writing whenever I am here, whenever I don’t have something else to do, something better, like connecting with real people.

But the morning pages don’t get written either; sometimes I even tell myself that laying in bed for an hour, after I am awake, contemplating my dreams, plans, fears, goals and mental well-being is practically the same thing as sitting up, getting a drink and a pen and writing the morning pages. When I do get that pen though, I’m still there hours later. The past few months have been both a trough in my aspirations for a ‘wholesome’ daily routine, and a time of deep transformation, no-going-back style. I welcome the latter. I’m an inner-change junkie, a stalwart non-giver-upper, but hell it’s not an easy path to choose. I can lounge like a pro, but it’s a performance of lounging, I never really give myself a break. I’m out to change the world, and there’s really nothing else to be done until I die. Oh, I’d also like to live a wonderful life, full of love and joy. It seems like to make both of those things happen simultaneously, you have to tip your soul out into a furnace and hover about catching back little bits of rising ash until you gather back enough to start over.

Switching metaphors now like a cowboy who doesn’t give a shit, I feel like a caterpillar gone rogue. I got into my chrysalis a long, long, long-long time ago, expecting that I would emerge as a butterfly, just as the universe-of-uplifting-quotes has assured me I would. Every now and then I awake to a hole, offering a glimpse of that cheeky blue sky saying “come on out whenever you like, I ain’t a-changin’”. Such is the weight of my relief, I nod off again only to find myself back in the fucking eggshell, which I then have to eat and digest just to begin being another fucking caterpillar.

They say take the road less travelled. They say find your path, your purpose, stick to it, it will lead you where you need to go. They say sometimes you will walk your path alone, into new territory no-one has ever explored before, and sometimes you will walk alongside others, in true companionship. They say turn left, turn right. They say watch out for the roadworks. They say only a fool does the same thing twice and expects something different to happen. Fuck them. They don’t know shit. Sometimes the only way to get what you really, really want, is to break every fucking rule in both the rule book and the book that tells you how to break the rules. Only then of course, if you fail, you really, really are on your own.

My path is like the Crystal Maze on acid. And Lo! This post now decides what it wants to be about, 761 words in. When I was a baby I fell into a vat of acid and now I’m not allowed to have any more (cf. Obelix; my very best lame joke about myself, probably ever). Well while I was in that vat I chose my path. I understood completely that the answer to every imaginable question is at our fingertips, that there are no mysteries, no paradoxes, no dilemmas, there are only illusions of these things. I did all this fantastic thinking and feeling and I learned just one important thing that I have never forgotten: this state of mind does not depend on acid. I took the lazy man’s route to enlightenment and then I stupidly fucking woke up and I was still only 19, and I went and tried to lead a normal life. What a fucking idiot.

No regrets. I gave birth to possibly the two best people walking on this planet today. They had a bit of a rough ride, but then, hey, that means they know how I feel right? If you have kids, make sure you stick with them every moment, don’t go blind to their beauty and their needs just because you are completely fucked up by trying to live a normal life in an insane world. Being in the world is truly very simple, if only we were allowed to know that.

Fuckers aren’t an illusion. They are real and there are a lot of them: the so-called leaders, the so-called sheep, and the fuckers in between who know all too well that their actions could change it all but would prefer to stay comfy, thanks. But the institutions and structures they – we – have created to make us all perform our respective roles, across our entire lifetimes, those aren’t real in the way we think they are. We all, always, already know this on a certain level, we’ve just been assiduously trained to assume that this knowledge is madness… Wrong… other way around.

Right now, as I sit typing on my ergonomically pathetic set-up, with my stiff neck, my cold feet and my face (astoundingly) still feeling tight from sobbing a couple of hours ago; with my moderate mess and my cut flowers and my un-posted mother’s day present (I’m in shit), I can see my life is in fact a resounding success, and I’ll tell you what I mean. I unplugged. I dropped out. And I am still alive. I didn’t die, I didn’t have to hit the streets, I didn’t go mad, well, except as required. I did find another person to be with and I found a lot of things to do with this time and this space and this body and I plan to keep refining these choices for the rest of my life. I still have to work/earn, but it’s totally different. And yet: I barely manage to live a ‘normal’ life whilst ‘working’ for a very small amount of time … this is my ultimate proof of how fucked the capitalist system truly is, not that we needed any more.

And now onwards and upwards. I don’t mind being in a chrysalis. It beats being an egg. I haven’t been eaten, nor squished between a gardener’s fingers. So I may as well knuckle down and get on with some real work, the kind nobody will ever pay you to do.