(Almost) Three Years Happy

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It’s a little early to be celebrating this anniversary. Really it falls in the autumn, the anniversary of the day that the dark clouds vanished and the game of ‘depression Snakes and Ladders’ was over. But I feel like now is the time to celebrate it because the ‘lockdown’ was as close as I’ve come since then to getting lost in the gloomy underworld again. I have clung on to my happiness by my fingernails, and with the support of my loved ones. ‘Lockdown’ started three years, almost to the day, from when I left my husband and the life I’d lived for 15 years in what felt at the time a last-ditch attempt to make a life that would satisfy me and make me happy, a life that was worth living. In those three years I’ve travelled, volunteered with amazing projects, seen myself reflected back to me by strangers, and worked hard every day to nurture and maintain the green shoots of that life, and to grow them into a fulfilling present and an exciting future, to be honest with myself and others, to be free of my past.

It seemed that 2020 was going to be the best year I’d had in a long, long time, and the future shone bright before me. ‘Lockdown’ squished that present and future, with the loss of a whole season of live events that I and a friend had spent many months planning, booking and organising. The whole performing arts sector now exists in this state of uncertainty, indefinitely. And it was the third time in three months that an opportunity to move on and move into my own home fell through, after three years of living in other peoples’ houses (or a tent!). It knocked me sideways. I floundered. I stepped on a Snake and slid downwards several levels in the game. It was very hard not to become ego-centred and hopeless at first, to avoid the feeling that ‘the Universe doesn’t want me to be happy and fulfilled’. Spoken word and poetry became too painful for me to watch, read, or even think about. I keep finding little sad, lonely and hopeless poems from that time that I don’t remember writing scribbled in odd pages of my notebooks.

There were times when I and my new boyfriend found ourselves living together in very close quarters, there were times when we had to social distance again and I had to cleanse all traces of him when he left after a visit sitting metres apart in the garden and I wept. Home was fraught with everyone’s anxieties. I worried about the safety and well-being of loved ones in care homes. It was sunny almost every day, so as a person with super-sensitivity to sunlight and warm temperatures, I had to stay indoors.1 Social distancing and even the emptiness and peace of the ‘lockdown’, although pleasant to my Asbergers’, did not really do my mental health any good.

I felt frozen and bereft and I fell into Twitter, often spending the whole day in there. I found stories from all over our world, stories that, for the most part, horrified or enraged me, and made me feel powerless against an ever-expanding soul-less and psychotic system that steals from the poor to give to the rich, that lies to our faces outrageously, that simply does not value life or believe in fairness. Like millions of us around the world, I wanted to be out on the streets holding these bastards to account. Instead we were all indoors, looking after ourselves and each other, as we always end up having to do since the ‘representatives’ we ‘elect’ to look after us actually want us gone. I began to feel that the contribution I had been making to my community was not enough, that nothing ever would be, that my own life and ambitions did not matter in the face of this crisis, and simultaneously, that I was powerless and incapable.

I watched every documentary that Adam Curtis has ever made. I understood the concept and progress of ‘hypernormalisation’ and it helped me get a handle on, and see through, the endlessly confusing, contradictory and downright false and ridiculous statements and actions of our government and others around the world. They are designed to create that feeling of fear, horror and powerlessness, so that we just give up trying to unravel the Gordian knot of bullshit and corruption and instead buy ourselves some sense of security and autonomy from Amazon or a mortgage advisor. So that we choose EastEnders over the real people that live in our real community and the hard work it takes to interact with them meaningfully and co-operatively.

My beloved and I did some small ‘actions’ that helped us feel less powerless, that we were raising our voices outside of social media. I began to write again, and managed to surmount my fear of being on video to share some of those poems with my creative community. I started playing the guitar very very badly again, and singing songs that helped me express some of my thoughts and feelings. But still, I felt paralysed and simultaneously responsible for changing everything bad happening to us: isolation, death and disease, untrustworthy governments and corporations extending their surveillance of us, billions funnelled into the accounts of the super rich and the corrupt while people starve and get evicted in the middle of a global pandemic, legislation that enacts draconian and ill-defined powers for states and their police forces, environmental disasters, indigenous peoples encroached upon, brutalised and murdered … I could go on and on and on. What on earth could I, a single, deeply flawed organism, possibly do to change all of this? And then my health, and my right knee (the one I took for George Floyd), gave way entirely.

I was right back to three years ago, in a bed, in a room feeling powerless and hopeless and alone. So I got out of that room. The four walls and the closed door, so precious to me; my privacy, my space and my control, which help me stay sane in good times, are also my nemesis. Just like three years ago, I had to get out of my room and the energy that I’d created and experienced in it. I moved in with my beloved, and it took three weeks of sleeping and eating as much as possible, of avoiding social media and calling people for conversations instead, of taking slow little walks in nature and foraging in the verges, for the knee to recover and my teeth and gums to stop hurting, to get some energy back and to move out of a place of fear and loneliness. During that time the hits kept on coming and my frustration was no less. For every square forwards I moved on the board, it seemed I paid with having to sit out a round or two. Snakes snapped around my heels and Ladders were snatched away. There came a crisis, triggered by a sad event.

I sat one night a few weeks ago, unable to sleep. My head, my heart, my belly were full, were churning. It was 1.30am. I got up and dressed and went to sit in my car, the only place I have all of my own. I knew a poem was brewing within me and I had to be alone to write it. I had to be near the sea to write it. Serendipity finally intervening, I found that my knee was recovered enough for me to drive, and that travel restrictions had been relaxed enough that I felt that I could drive somewhere. What happened is this poem. And that night it all began to change, to move again. I am wild, I am free, I am loved. I have choices. I’m lucky, privileged, blessed. It took another long drive a couple of days later and a long heart-to-heart with my beloved for me to relax and really feel all of that.

We understood that the world has changed. And that it’s not for a few months, but indefinitely. That you might make plans, but that the ‘lockdown’ might well come back, and scupper them again. That the social issues that upset us the most are not going away, but will in fact worsen. That the soul-less are inexorably devouring the world and everything living on it while we fight each other in the streets and the supermarkets and online and bombs keep dropping like a rain that no amount of sunshine can drive off.

And we understood that we have to create our freedom inside ourselves. That, horrified as we both are by this new world, we have to make spaces within it to love, to enjoy, to connect, to play, to laugh, and to tell the truth. That if we can’t, then the virus of hypernormalisation has infected our minds and the soul-less have power over us. That if we can, we might be able to share that freedom with others, and help them feel it too.

Because actually nothing has really changed at all in this new world. No matter how much security you think you have, it is all an illusion, which could be blown away in a hurricane or even with a sneeze. The future always is and always will be unpredictable. Change is inevitable. Shit happens.

Snakes and Ladders.

And in the face of this, the answer too remains the same. Get that egg boiling! Resilience is going to be the key to avoiding the Snakes in the post-COVID 19 universe. Resilience and critical thinking. And critical thinking has to start with ourselves. Before we can truly assess with an open mind the tide of information the modern world bombards us with, we have to aware of our own biases and habits of thinking and feeling. We have to work to free ourselves from them, to respond to things as they happen, as appropriately as possible, rather than to react to things out of habit, fear and ignorance. Learn how to shine the light upon yourself and then turn that light upon the world once it is bright enough, and you will see further and more clearly. It’s not easy and it’s not work that’s ever really over. It has to be done every day. All the time. Relax and accept that you are changeable, along with the flow of life itself. That you are enough, as you are, that your unique combination of genes and experiences and tastes and quirks and talents have never been seen before in this universe, and never will be again, so express them in a pure and unpolluted way. Build compassion towards yourself and then shine that, too, onto the rest of the world. We are all flawed. We are all perfect. No-one knows what’s ‘really going on’. No-one. And that’s how it’s always been.

Let’s fight the power. Love each other. Build free and truthful spaces and share them with as many people as we can. Become as self-sufficient as we can, spiritually, emotionally and practically. Let’s divest ourselves of the old tired divide-and-rule power games and see that only if we have a revolution of the heart can we bring down this soul-less Snake and stop it from dragging us down into the underworld that we create with our own minds. Let’s find those bloody Ladders, and help each other up them, into the sunshine and fresh air.

Unlocked

I went to the cliff top
I crouched in the dark
And heard the waves crashing below
The wind shook the grasses at me and said:
“Remember that you are WILD!”
Oh yes, I remembered, of course I’m wild
And I sank my fingertips
Into the grass
Swore to be a channel
For truth, love and beauty
And speak up for all my siblings

Then I went to the beach
At 2am
I stood at the edge
The waves rolled up to me and said:
“Remember that you are FREE!”
Oh yes, I remembered, of course I’m free
Then I knew that the sea is a lake of tears
Shed in pain, shed in joy
And I shed mine too
She mingled them into her vast body
I sent love and healing
To those I’d shed tears for
And I grew strong

Then I went to the trees
And stood underneath
At the quietest place I know
No people no traffic no birds made a sound
Through the night breeze spoke the trees
“Close your eyes, weary traveller.
Remember that you are LOVED!”
Of course, I remembered, I am loved
My head fell back
Like a baby sister
I couldn’t understand their conversation
But I felt included
And bathed in the deep easy love
Of the trees

I am wild I am free I am loved
And that must be enough
But, I have to REMEMBER
And tonight is the night
To turn everything round
Charged with the magic
Of nature in darkness
Listening rather than looking
I can return to earth and rest
Safe in the arms of my rock

The Magical Heart

atisha2When my heart is full of pain

and fear and righteous anger,

it can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning.

If I am feeling wise that day,

I will remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

When the world is full of pain

war, hunger, prejudice and sorrow,

it can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning.

Atisha’s transformation meditation

is the key

 

When my heart feels all alone

full of resentment, failure and regret,

it can be overwhelming.

Instead of drowning,

I try to remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

Build compassion:

I breathe in – and with that air,

I breathe in all the hells, the miseries,

of all the creatures of the Earth,

including my own.

I breathe in all the darkness

into my aching heart

 

The heart is a magical crucible

heated with the heat, the light of love.

It con-fuses all things in the Universe,

distils life to its purest essence

 

Build compassion:

I breathe out – and with that air

I breathe out all the love, the bliss

the joy and benedictions

I can muster

to all the creatures of the Earth,

including myself.

From my magical heart

 

When we lose heart, lose love, compassion

that’s when we fail. We fail each other and ourselves

When we use heart

the eyes of love reveal another world

Every face a friend, every tree a sister, every bird a sign

And the air that I breathe in, so dark,

breathe out, so light,

surrounds me like a mother’s arms.

It can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning

in love.

If I’m wise enough that day to remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

https://kadampa.org/buddhism/atisha

On the Surface

fear

 

You are so much less than

The man you declared yourself to be

So loudly, so insistently

The anarchy symbol tattooed on your skin

Is a lie

When you think that you always know better

 

And although in the daylight

You’re almost convinced

By your own self-image

That fantastic creation

I know that deep in the dark

You feel the fear

You feel the lie

You know you’re falling

 

It hurts to feel the truth

Does it not?

To reveal to yourself through your actions

Not your words

That all your rebellion

Free-thinking

Environmentalism

 

Crumbles away in the face of

Shiny new things

Central heating

Domestication

And a woman who is so much more

Than she ever revealed to you

 

no labels

 

Summer Uprising

xr

Take to the streets

And dance for your lives

Sing the pollution

From your lungs

 

Take to the streets

And raise your voice in protest

Whose streets? Our streets!

Whose planet? Our planet!

 

Take to the streets

Talk to everyone you meet

Eat and sleep together

Share the hope and the love

 

Because it’s love

That brings us here

We do not want

To see you harmed

 

And so

 

Take to the streets

Sing, dance, raise your voice

Wave your flags

And bang your drums

 

Because we love you

We stand in your way

Because we love you

We take to the streets

 

We are standing on the precipice

And we are dancing

We are singing

To save humanity

Four Walls

painI don’t usually write about this sort of thing, but I decided to try. Perimenopause sucks a big one, but it is getting better as I get stronger and fitter and if I eat and drink and sleep enough. Love and good wishes to everyone going through this too, I hope you find ways of managing it that work for you.

 

 

I lay trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

The world is narrow

On a day like this

My body calls the shots

And shapes my whole reality

 

It doesn’t matter what I want

What I plan

Whatever my intentions

But I must lie

First one way, then another

Sometimes there’s no way

That doesn’t hurt

 

I eat I drink I take the tablets

And I try for the relief of sleep

Another sunny day gone by

While I lie

Trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

 

On other days grief overtakes me

Or hopelessness or rage

My whole psyche is so sensitive

I can’t bear even the gaze

Of another human being

 

I wish to be both far away

Alone on an island

In a storm-tossed sea

The blessedly cold salt spray

Caressing my hormone-hot skin

Or else wrapped up in total love and care

Someone to cook my eggs for me

And hold me

 

Inside the four walls

Migraine lays me low

Every joint and cartilage inflamed

Hot hot pain at the base of my skull

I press my knuckles hard, hard

Into my eye sockets, my temples

And pray for the pills to work

 

A hand has taken hold of my womb

And squeezes it, squeezes it

And I’m gasping, dumbfounded

There’s nothing to be done

But let it rush through me

Like the incoming tide

Is it better if I breathe?

Or if I don’t breathe?

 

I have to change position again

Sometimes there is no way

That doesn’t hurt

And I’m scared and alone

Trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

 

And all the pills and hot water bottles

In the world don’t help

Reassure me that one day

This will all be over

And I will be set free

To enjoy the sunny days

Outside of these four walls

And It Was All A Dream…

castle

You see, I built all these great shiny castles

Out of air and fairytales and need

My need to love and be loved

I think you built some too

But I don’t know what they looked like

I was too busy piling up summer palaces

Full of flowers and sunshine

Laughter and starry nights beside the fire

We laugh as I chase the boy and dog

Around and round the garden

I turned my face away

From anything that didn’t fit

And hoped that the fairytale of love

Would work its magic on us

But I see now

I am looking now

Only we can work that magic

Love takes courage

You can’t build it out of hope

And air and fairytales and need

And it should not be locked away

In castles and palaces

You must love everything

From the ground up

You must join with everyone

Join the dance

I won’t turn my face away from you

Although your jagged edges

Hurt my eyes

Although your rough surfaces

Scratch my skin

Although I do not know how to make

The flowers bloom in our garden

What you can do if you fall

fall

If you fall down, what you can do

Is let the shock wake you up.

Feel the pain, breathe, shout it out

Or cry. Then, in your own time,

Get back up.

If a friendly helping hand

Extends towards you, take it.

Back on your feet, you may feel bruised

And trembly, unsure of your footing.

Take your time.

Breathe. Check out your bumps and scrapes.

Rub them better, give yourself a shake.

And hope that you have learned

How not to trip again, over the same old

Twisted roots.

Your first steps may be uncertain,

But one day soon you will be

Far along the path, striding happily.

And you will smile ruefully at the memory

Of falling.

Solus and the City

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I’m very happy to be a part of this event via Degenerate Space

I’ve contributed this essay, which will be displayed in the structure that they are building. It can be seen from the 1st of June as part of the London Festival of Architecture at Greendale Playing Fields, just off Dog Kennel Hill in Camberwell, SE London. The themes were solitude, sanctuary, women negotiating urban space. Some of it is based on a previous post, Doing Identity

Here’s what I wrote:

On the Street

Growing up as I did – a ‘weird’ kid with undiagnosed autism, a unique dress sense, the oddest parents in the neighbourhood, and indoctrinated as a good baby revolutionary, was pretty lonely. Sometimes I had friends to pal around with, but more often, I didn’t. But, since home was not always comfortable, either, I walked the London streets alone a lot from the age of about ten or eleven. Often, I crossed and re-crossed the street to avoid other children, from whom I always expected, and often received, a hostile reception. I walked in a state of constant paranoia and tension, trying to remain alert to any possible danger. At home I got rubbish advice: try to be more like other people, because dressing my individuality was attracting the hostility, or to just punch people who bullied or physically harassed me. But as far back as I can recall, I have been a pacifist and an individualist. So no help there. At the age of twelve, I did try for a while to dress like everyone else at school, and I cut my problematic hair (curly, bushy, frizzy, huge). But I felt so miserable in my ‘normal drag’ that I decided the trouble it caused me to dress as I pleased was worth it; I returned to my own tastes.

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McEntee school, Walthamstow, which I regularly absconded from

That was the year I discovered, during the chaos of a teacher’s strike, that truancy was a thing. Rapidly I learned to take advantage of the fact that I was often mistaken for my mother on the phone: I rang up the school in the morning and excused myself, changed out of my uniform, then spent the day walking around London. Sometimes I wandered far, as far as the British Museum or National Gallery, where I swooned over Egyptian artefacts and Tudor paintings; sometimes I walked around and around closer to home, weary and driven, not enjoying myself at all, but unable to stop. The city streets are hard, they blistered the soles of my feet. I got lost in the maze of streets and had to retrace my steps. Sometimes I saw groups of truants in the shopping centre, where I would only venture on rainy days. They were having more fun than me. But I never went to speak to them, and I often saw them being questioned by authority figures. I didn’t want to get caught. In the backstreets of ‘Theatre Land’ I saw drunks on the streets, urine trickling away from them in streams that stained the tarmac. I kept walking, never stopping. Once an older boy, brother of a kid in my class, followed me for a couple of hours and tried to chat me up. I knew I had to be jaunty but firm, and to keep walking, just keep walking, to fend him off without making him angry.

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Me aged 16

As I grew older, leaving school at fourteen and spending a year travelling the world with my family cemented my individualism. I returned to London (sans parents), aged fifteen, did not attend school, and embarked on a year or two of constantly changing my appearance and hair colour. It called even more attention, not always hostile, but often it was the attention of men, in cars, on scaffolding, just walking down the street. Now I had sunglasses to hide behind, and a fierce image which I wore as a shield. I told the men to get stuffed if I was feeling confident, or just blanked them, hot, angry, humiliated on the inside. I cultivated what I like to call ‘fuck off-vibes’ and insisted that I would walk where I liked, when I liked. I would not take up the cultural burden of fear that society tries to drum into the female body. I drew on my anger about the fear culture and projected that outwards, striding along. I’m not physically brave, but walking through London at 3am, perhaps dressed as a punk, perhaps as Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan, I felt that I was willing to risk anything in order to feel free, as free as a man might. No-one ever approached me then, even in Soho, even in the 1980s ruins of Docklands – I must have looked pretty angry.

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Art on the street in Bristol

I also became a ‘tagger’ for a while, writing my graffiti tag as often as I could on every available surface. Our tiny crew walked everywhere, as much as we could, because that was how you found the newly-cleaned-of-graffiti bus shelters to ‘bomb’ (entirely cover with graffiti), and at night was the best time to tag post boxes, phone boxes, any kind of signage, billboards, etc. It was another kind of urban freedom – we claimed the space as our own by marking it, and we became part of a network. The first time I went Kilburn I was paranoid until I saw a familiar tag. I felt reassured – I was not in entirely unknown, unexplored territory. ‘Care’ had been there before me. So I still feel at home in areas covered in tags. I know they are not the acceptable face of street art. They are often poorly penned, poorly executed, and seem to me to be poorly chosen (a ‘tag’ is like a single-word signature that you don’t change often. If you come up with a good one, you may keep it for years, even decades. The word you choose may be misspelled in order to make the artistic flow of the letters better). A good tag is a beautiful example of the calligrapher’s art, executed at speed, often on an uneven surface and with felt tip or spray can. So I’m often, when in cities, caught standing in front of a wall of tags, looking for the good ones, laughing at strange word choices, by young people who may well wonder what the hell this middle-aged white woman is doing. If I lived in a city now, I think I would engage in street art again. It makes a city yours.

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Burnt-out taxi

Nothing makes me feel more liberated and powerful than challenging those societal fears that my female body might be violated if I am alone, or where I ‘shouldn’t’ be. I have experienced just as much – or more – violation indoors, in domestic settings, where I should have been safe. And in other ways, I like to play with urban space and feminism. Although I never ‘man-spread’ when space is tight, if the bus or train is fairly empty and my clothes allow, I will sit with legs apart, arms resting along the seat backs, just taking up space in the way I see men do all the time. It garners a lot of surprised looks (I admit, I relish those looks), but it makes me feel that I belong in the space and the space belongs to me. I will stick out my elbows and square my shoulders and muscle my way through a crowd, and only step out of someone’s way if they are also behaving politely. I’ll sit on the steps, on the ground, climb over walls and railings, dash across the road. Because the more you let the conventions of civil behaviour rule your body and where and how you negotiate the city, the more you ingrain obedience into your psyche. I do not advocate rebellion against civility itself – I am considerate, helpful, polite, always making room for people who need a seat more than I, offering help with a bag or a pushchair, holding doors open and trying to spread good feelings in my wake. But I won’t submit to rude, pushy and aggressive people. Nowadays, having lived out of London for sixteen years, I no longer generate my ‘fuck off-vibes’ all the time, I have slowed my pace, I can walk without being driven by paranoia as I was when I was a child and a young woman. I talk to people in shops and on buses like the bumpkin I’ve become. But something of the streets will always be in me, something of the rebel who jumps the gate instead of going all the way around, and the woman who enjoys messing with preconceptions about how to use space and where and when and how we can be in the city.

Lines and borders

 

Many years ago, I shared a place with a friend. We got along well, accepted each other’s quirks and complied with each other’s domestic foibles, since none of them were excessive and we were both quite clean and tidy. He never complained if I spent two hours in the bath; I never minded him spending two hours on the phone. We never expected each other’s company, but always enjoyed it. We subjected each other to our crap weekend telly preferences. On occasion we slept together; we had dated for a while several years before and it happened after a few beverages, I think.

My friend suggested that what we had going was a good basis for a marriage. But I knew without any doubt that reclassifying this relationship would ruin everything. If he’d been my boyfriend, his quirks and foibles, mannerisms and politics, moods and wanderings and phone calls and crap TV choices would all have made me nuts, or paranoid, or angry, or impatient, by turns. I would have taken them all personally. I’d expect his attention and company, not just enjoy it when it was there. I’d feel I owed him the same. Now, why do I do this in relationships? Does everyone else do this, too? I know that for many people, just the sexual contact would be enough to transform the relationship; for me it’s not, but calling it a ‘relationship’ would.

I’d like, in my next turn on the merry-go-round of love, to remain in that friendly state, and not concern myself with my beloved’s habits and behaviours as long as they have no negative impact on me. I’d like to not take moods and quirks personally. I have lot of work to do to avoid this: I am egomaniacal enough to think that I am responsible for the happiness and comfort of those closest to me. Perhaps it seems to some of you that this would be no kind of love at all, or impractical, or cold. But I just want to enjoy my beloved as I enjoyed my friend, with all his funny little ways.