Seeing my grandmother

I’ve been seeing my grandmother lately. She died more than a decade ago. I catch glimpses of her out of the corner of my eye, moments of recognition that surprise me. It’s not a seasonal issue. It is simply that I am starting to look like her.

My maternal grandmother was born in 1920 – next year will be the hundredth anniversary of her birth and I plan to treat that the way we treat the centenaries of more famous people. She was therefore 57 when I was born. I don’t have any conscious memories of her face at that point in her life, but I think something is remembered unconsciously. I’m a way off 57, but my face is changing as faces always do, and I am moving towards my own grandmother face.

I’ve been thinking a lot about her in recent weeks. She habitually wore trousers, shirts and caps, had short hair, and went by the nickname ‘Barty’. I wonder what she would say to me if we could sit down with a coffee and talk about gender identity, and being non-binary because while she didn’t have those words, I think she’d have found them interesting. I have no idea what she would have said.

I think a lot about the pain she lived with, too. What she had used to be called rheumatism, but that diagnosis is no longer fashionable. The hard to pin down aches and pains are now more often called fibromyalgia. I’ve thought a lot about the trauma in her life, and her persistence, and her refusal to be defined by pain and diminishing mobility in old age. I don’t know to what degree I will follow after her.

If I can muster half of my grandmother’s interest in life and sheer bloody-mindedness around keeping going, I won’t do so badly. Aging doesn’t alarm me if I can age in a similar trajectory to her. I’ll wear more black than she did, and I’m never going to develop her enthusiasm for daytime quiz shows on TV, but on the whole, she’s a good role model for aging well. She kept walking everywhere for as long as she could. She kept singing and playing music and making art and cake. There were always cats. She had a lot of adopted daughters, and I remember her garden as always full of butterflies when I was a child. Like me, she collected up rubbish and made stuff out of it.

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Climate Strike

Today, a great many people are striking for the sake of the climate. I won’t be out there – as a self employed person my striking would be almost invisible and I’m not very good at crowds. I am however writing in solidarity and encourage everyone else who can’t join in physically to do the same.

We need radical change, and we need it now.

We need to be willing to make radical changes in our own lives. There’ s a fair amount that we can do individually right now, but the biggest thing will be our collective willingness to adopt massive changes when we’re enabled to do so.

We need clean, green energy. We need a farming industry that doesn’t harm the environment and that provides everyone with affordable food while paying farmers a viable living. We need to radically change how we do work and transport, to eliminate commuting and get cars off our roads. We can’t simply replace fossil fuel driven cars with electric ones because there are too many resources needed to make them. We have to radically cut back on flying and we have to entirely change the fashion industry. We have to largely eliminate single use plastics.

It won’t be easy, but it’s that or go extinct, taking a lot of innocent life forms with us. This year, people seem to be waking up to the climate emergency and becoming more willing to make changes and demand changes.


Approaching the equinox

I’ve never been very good at equinoxes in terms of celebrating the wheel of the year. Even when I was doing ritual regularly, they were the ones I found hardest to honour. It’s curious, because these are distinct events marking key shifts between the light and dark halves of the year.

There’s a disconnection for me in the way we talk about equinoxes  as times of balance, and the way I experience them. At the equinoxes, we have the fastest day by day change in the balance between light and dark. At this time of year, heading towards the equinox it becomes most obvious that the nights are drawing in and the dawn is later. I feel the shift, not the balance.

This may be one of those cases where modern Paganism has come at something intellectually not experientially. Somewhere in the midst of all this change there is indeed a balance point, but in terms of how we live through these days, that moment is almost invisible. It’s only really there to experience because we’ve agreed that it is, and that agreement may be taking us away from the experience of equinox.

I’m feeling the change and the shift into autumn. I’m feeling the changing length of days, and how different from summer the light is now when I get up in the morning. I’m feeling sleepy earlier in the evening. The smell of the air has changed, the nights and early mornings are colder. It’s a period of intense change, soon to be amplified as the leaves start changing colour and the woods around me shift dramatically from green to golden and brown.

I don’t feel balanced in myself, either, I feel the rush of change, the scope for everything to be different. If I am still now, it is because I’m being tugged in a number of directions and am waiting to see which pulls are the strongest.


Of writing and magic

For various and somewhat complicated reasons, I stepped away from magic more than a decade ago. I found I could not afford any ‘woo-woo’ thinking in my relationship with reality. I had prior to that been a person who worked with all kinds of interesting stuff and for whom enchantment was a significant thing. I do not regret the choice to step back – it was absolutely necessary in the situation I was in. I have, however, missed it greatly. I’ve missed feeling that I could connect with anything.

Sorely beaten up by events, and obliged to be very consciously un-enchanted, I came to feel that this just wasn’t for me anyway. Of course no deity would want to deal with me. Of course there would be no fairies, or encounters with spirits of place, or ancestral magic, or anything else numinous. My shattered self esteem did not leave a lot of space for anyone, or anything to love me in return. I certainly wasn’t going to risk deluding myself with the imagined love of Gods when I’d become pretty convinced that I was too rubbish to do love of people.

It’s been a long, difficult road. There have been moments of surprise and wonder along the way, but I have never made anything of them.

And then this happened. I wrote an obituary for the Hopeless Maine kickstarter that was, quite accidentally, loaded with significance for the person I wrote it for.  There is a blog about it over here – https://scottishdruid.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/a-death-a-rebirth-a-claiming

Reading it made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve felt there was any magic in my writing. How long it’s been since I’ve had a sense of anything outside of me tugging on the threads of my life. How much it cost me for it to be absolutely necessary to step back from all of that. How much of myself I lost in the process.

I don’t know if I can have those parts of me back. I’m in a much safer situation now, the external pressures and threats are no longer there. But I don’t really know how to do it any more. What was once innate, seems dead. What was at one time integral to my sense of self and how I moved through the world is lost to me and I do not know how to seek it. But, for a moment there, in a state of some kind of grace, I put together the words someone else needed, and that seems significant for my journey as well.


Fat Shaming

There is no evidence that making fat people feel unhappy about their weight does anything at all to bring about weight loss. However, people who fat shame others routinely hide behind the excuse that they’re doing it to help. Fat shaming people is a form of bullying, the mechanics of which need exposing.

I have some idea what shape my body is. At this point, my sense of self may be fatter than my physical presence. It may always have been – it’s hard to tell. I have never needed anyone else to tell me about this, and I am normal in this regard. Talking to people about their body shape starts from the assumption that somehow the fat person doesn’t know about their own body. At best, that’s patronising. At worst, it’s humiliating and destructive.

It’s ok to talk to fat people about their body shape if you are their doctor, their fitness coach, their physiotherapist, their counsellor, their nutritionalist or some other professional and qualified person working for them. If you aren’t qualified and you haven’t been asked then it is better to assume that your unsolicited opinion is neither helpful, nor required.

One of the great myths about fat is that it is simply a consequence of eating too much. It is because we are encouraged to see fat as a moral failing that we feel entitled to humiliate fat people in the guise of ‘helping’. There are many causes of fat, including physical illness, medication for bodily ills and mental health problems, sleep deprivation, and possibly stress. We don’t know how pollution impacts on fat storage. We do know that starving yourself increases your chances of subsequent weight gain, and we know that making people miserable and self conscious doesn’t help them change.

Poverty diets can mean you’re overweight and suffering malnutrition. Depressed people may be eating as a form of self-medication. Alcohol has a lot of calories in it. If you don’t know what’s caused a person to gain weight, you aren’t qualified to tell them how to deal with it. If you give unsolicited advice when you don’t know what’s going on, you might encourage the very behaviours that are causing the problem. Just because a person is thin does not mean they have a good understanding of how anyone else can also be thin.

If you are genuinely worried about the health of someone you care for, pointing out to them the health risks associated with their weight won’t do anything productive. Instead, why not find out what the problem is – maybe they are in too much pain to exercise and could do with some emotional support. Maybe they are in poverty and living on cheap carbs and you could help them by setting them up with a weekly veg box. Maybe they are so painfully self conscious that they can’t face exercise, and you could offer to go with them so they feel safer and more supported. Maybe their diet is being influenced by a controlling partner who wants them fat so that no one else will find them attractive – it happens.

Those moral judgements about fat mean that sometimes some of us can’t bear to see a fat person being happy. Some people act like its unacceptable for a fat person to be comfortable with themselves, and the reaction is to knock down hard with fat shaming. That’s deeply shitty. By ‘fat people’ here, in my experience we can also be talking about women who have recently given birth, and women who are anything other than bone thin. Fat shaming on social media and in the rest of life can happen to anyone female who isn’t a skeleton. Because it’s not really about the fat at that point, it’s about grinding women down.

If you care about someone, find out how to support them on their terms. Anything other than that, is about hurting, shaming and undermining a person. If you see it happening, speak up. Shaming people destroys self esteem and makes it harder to resist this kind of abuse, so it should not fall to the victim to have to deal with the perpetrator.

 


Community creativity

My local theatre festival happened over the weekend. I was, at various times, a paid worker in a venue, a performer, a volunteer and an audience member. I went to three of the ten venues and saw six of the forty shows. It was an intensive sort of weekend.

It struck me how innately good it is though, to be moving between those different roles. To be a performer, and also an audience member. To be someone who moves the chairs around, and someone working the door, and to experience an event from most of the available perspectives. These are wonderful opportunities to have. Over the weekend, it was very normal to see performers going to other people’s shows, and volunteers who had been on stage in other years.

We’re so used to being entertained by people who aren’t even in the room. Television and film give us distance between performer and audience, and no sense of moving about. If you watch alone at home there is, for most of us, no sense that other roles might be available. However, go to a community event like this and getting involved in some capacity is easy. There’s no barrier between performer and audience. No one is so grand that they can’t do a shift on a door, or help set a room up.

There’s also something very powerful about sharing this kind of experience with other people. Over the weekend I talked to other people about shows I had seen, shows they had seen, shows we had both seen – and that added depth to the whole experience. Performers talked to me about how their shows had gone. The feeling of involvement was delightful and made me realise how little most of us get of that in the normal scheme of things.

If you can only ever be an audience member, only a consumer of other people’s creativity, you miss out on a lot. I feel strongly that everyone who wants to should have the opportunity to be creative and expressive. The way in which we hive off creative roles for the few – especially at the level where you might earn enough to live on – frustrates me. It’s not how I want to do things.


Anti-romantic poetry

All those heart metaphors

 

I wore my heart on my sleeve for you.

I spilled my guts.

 

I put my spleen on my shoulder

Was that helpful?

I draped my lungs over my ears,

Put my liver in the upturned cuff

Of my trousers,

Wore my pancreas on my wrist.

 

Do I make sense now?

Can you read my entrails?

Is the hollow place under my ribs

Understandable? Clearer?

Do you need to see all my bones?

 

Is honesty the exposed inner workings

Or was it the mysterious whole?

Where’s the true layer?

What should we dig down to?

 

I put my heart on my sleeve for you.

Just offal and mess, it turns out

And not much good at all.

 

(I may be going to do a run of these, exploring ideas around romance and dismantling them in whatever way occurs to me at the time. Especially what we’re supposed to do with hearts – which discernibly work better on the inside.)


The power to choose how we respond

There’s a popular line of wisdom that goes ‘we always have the power to choose how we respond’. For general purposes, it’s a useful line of thought. Often, when we have nothing else, we do still have power over our own reactions. What we say and do in response to circumstances is ours to decide, and how we act throughout an experience is our choice.

Except when it isn’t.

This failure to recognise what happens when you no longer get to choose how to respond is really unhelpful for people who experience that.

You don’t get to choose how to respond unless you are able to move or express yourself in some way. There are many physical conditions that can take some, or all of that away. You may still get some choice about what you think, but there are also illnesses, accidents and experiences that can rob you of this, as well.

Panic attacks are not a choice. Hiding them is feasible for some of us sometimes, but not for everyone. A severe panic attack takes away your choices about what you can do and say, think and feel.

Conditioning – which is most likely to happen in an abusive and controlling situation – takes away your ability to choose. If pain and fear have been used to train you to react in certain ways, you don’t have the freedom to choose your responses until you have first dealt with the conditioning.

Everyone has a breaking point. For all of us, there is scope for experiencing more than can be coped with and breaking down in a way that means there is no choice about much of what we do. Anyone can be driven mad by excesses of horror, and suffering, by gaslighting, by sleep deprivation and other forms of torture.

Not having the power to choose how you respond is a terrible thing to have to deal with. We do not have to add to that by repeating the lie that we all, always have the choice of how to respond. Sometimes there are no options available. Sometimes minds and bodies are too broken for choice to exist.

 


Darkness in spirituality

I find myself increasingly uneasy about the way the language of darkness is used in spirituality. We equate lightness and whiteness with good, darkness and blackness with evil. There are clear racist issues in this. It’s also a line of thought I think owes much to the Middle Eastern sky Gods who are all very much about the penetrating light of the divine.

Paganism is full of Earth Gods, underworld Gods, night Gods and other deities of darkness. Inside wombs and cauldrons there is darkness, not light. There is absolutely no reason to associate light with goodness and darkness with evil – both are necessary and both are harmful in excess. You can die of too much light, dried out, burned, or cancerous. There is comfort, sleep and healing to be found in the natural darkness of night. There is mystery and beauty in the dark places – and the way our ancient ancestors went there to do beautiful cave paintings is well worth contemplating.

There may be some value in talking about human actions and choices in terms of good and evil. Often, talking about light and darkness in this way just allows us to externalise our own choices and reduce our feelings of responsibility. A person can be in darkness or in light and their actions are of their own making. What we do in the privacy of darkness – sex particularly – isn’t necessary shameful, just something we don’t want to share with everyone. If doing it in broad daylight seems like the more honest and virtuous position – I rather feel the politics of the last few years should have scuppered that illusion.

Light and dark are both good in their own ways, and both potentially problematic. Walking a dark path, working at night, celebrating underworld Gods – there’s nothing inherently evil here. This may in fact be taken as a path of great healing and compassion. As for light working – I am reminded of a conversation earlier in the year with a woman who has made a living as a light working, talking about ‘the compassion trap’ and how it was ok not to care about the death of a baby… Perhaps it was no coincidence that the baby in question wasn’t light or white. People who spend too much time staring into the light are not necessarily good or kind. I’ve encountered more backstabbing from ‘peace and love and light’ folk than ever I have anywhere else.

What would it mean to identify as a follower of the darkness? What would it mean to refuse to use the language of darkness to describe negativity? What would it mean in terms of how we might be unconsciously thinking about race? Can we let go of the idea that a good witch is a white witch and a bad witch is black? Can we make more room? Can we not have this lingering sense that white is superior and black is not a good way of being?


Suicide and selfishness

Trigger warnings, in case the title of the post wasn’t entirely clear on that subject.

This week has seen World Suicide Prevention Day, and a lot of conversations around why suicide happens and how to stop it. The idea that suicide is an immensely selfish thing to do has been challenged a fair bit, but, I wanted to pick over the mechanics. I feel this one keenly.

I’ve had a lot of rounds of wanting to die – not necessarily wanting to take my own life, but just wanting it to be taken from me so that I might stop hurting. I have also had rounds of wanting to take my own life and moving towards acting on that. Those rounds had one thing in common – the growing belief that it was the best thing I could do for everyone else.

When depression gets its teeth into me, I feel awful, useless and worthless. I feel like I’m a burden to everyone else, a nuisance, a problem. If my being depressed has a negative impact on other people, if my not coping causes someone else a problem, that suspicion creeps in that the best thing I could do would be to offer my absence. Usually I just step back, go silent, disappear, but death is the ultimate absence, and sometimes it starts to look like the single best thing I could do.

There are so many things around how people often respond to suicidal feelings that really, really don’t help with this. Here’s a non-exhaustive list. Calling it selfish. Focusing on how suicide would harm other people. Demanding that you get meds so as to not make the other person uncomfortable. Shutting you down when you try and talk about what you’re feeling because it makes them uncomfortable to hear it. What all of this does, is to make the suicidal person the least important person in what’s happening.

If you’re staying alive so as not to inconvenience someone else or to avoid upsetting someone, this is not a strong position to be in. Whether it’s ok to keep living or not becomes an equation in which you weigh their comfort against what you do. The worse you feel, the more depressed and stuck you are, the harder it gets to persuade yourself that the upset you’d cause by leaving is not in fact greater than the harm you cause by staying. When you’re feeling awful about yourself, it is hard to see your existence as anything other than innately toxic.

If you want to feel comfortable dealing with someone who wants to die, you are not the best person to be talking to them. That might feel uncomfortable, but I think we need to ask people who are largely ok to think carefully about how they prioritise themselves when dealing with people who are desperately ill and in massive distress.

If you want to keep someone alive, you may have to engage with what’s going on for them, and that may hurt. Consider whether it hurts more than the prospect of losing them. Consider what you can say or do to boost their sense of self-worth so they might want to live for their own sake. If you make it about you, then you may well be piling on the pressure and adding to their stories about how little their own life is worth.