People power

freedom

The word ‘anarchy’ has long been misconstrued as meaning ‘chaos and violent disorder’.

anarchy
1. a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems.
synonyms: Lawlessness, nihilism, mobocracy, revolution, insurrection, riot, rebellion, mutiny, disorder, disorganization, misrule, chaos, tumult, turmoil, mayhem, pandemonium
2. absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.
The word has, since the 1660s at least, always carried both of these meanings.

A direct translation from the original Greek αναρχία or anarkhos‘, would be ‘without (‘an‘) a leader/ruler (‘arkhos‘)’. And I think we can see the huge split in the two definitions thus: while an anarchist movement sees the second – the political ideal which elevates (and demands) every citizen’s participation and contribution and chooses an optimistic view of human nature and sociability, anyone describing anarchism from the position of the entrenched ruling elite will, of course, plump for the first – chaos, mutiny, insurrection.

It seems almost impossible for us in our large, centrally-controlled nation states* in the 21st-century world to imagine how an anarchist society might work. Indeed, I am new to anarchy myself (identifying as such only within the past 12 months) and still learning. But it unquestionably true that anarchism is the longest-running system of human organisation, the form of social organisation within which the human species evolved and grew up, and it continues to be the way in which mobile hunting-gathering-foraging peoples live. I guess that, if pushed, I would suggest a political system of local collectives which decide issues by consensus (predicated upon total freedom of movement and the choice to join together in whatever collective best suits your own inclinations), accompanied by a system of participatory representative democracy at a larger level, so that all citizens could/should take a turn in representing their communities.

An anarchist world would not be without problems and divisions, of course. So many, many people are unhappy, ignorant, lazy, mis-educated, and in order for us all to live and let live, we will need to address this. But community life breaks down a huge amount of barriers and heals a lot of wounds, as I know myself. Working hard together on projects that are larger than one’s own concerns is excellent at creating ties between people. Hunter-gather-forager communities do have to work to keep everyone equal. Typically this is accomplished with humour and love, gentle teasing, and practices such as ‘insulting the meat’ to prevent prolific or skilled hunters, for example, from getting too full of themselves. This is a lovely post about how this egalitarianism is sustained, and reproduced generation to generation.

Although we may think that such organisation is impossible in the huge nation states of today, if we stop to think about most of the movements and technologies that make major and positive changes to our lives, we can see that it’s always people/citizens that make the difference, make the change. A truly representative government should indeed always follow the people, but our governments, only having to worry about their remit every 4-5 years, often do so only when forced to by overwhelming public feeling. Universal suffrage, the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, the dismemberment of empires, LGBTQ rights, environmentalism; all of them started at grass-roots level, all eventually gaining enough momentum to force policy change in governments. The fight goes on on all these fronts and new movements begin all the time.

But does this not inevitably lead to the question: so why do we need the governments? They almost cannot help becoming distanced from the people, because they are corralled and given special status. While the hunter-gatherers make sure no-one’s ego gets over-inflated, our leaders are driven around in fleets of limousines with police escorts and wined and dined in palaces. They almost cannot help getting mired in corruption and graft because it costs so very much to become a leader. Because half of our MPs were privately educated, networks which link them to business and the judiciary are inherent to the system. A sense of specialness and privilege imbued since primary school is hard to eradicate (just go and have a look at some of the private schools and prep schools and try to imagine what it might have felt like, walking into one of those places every day, seeing other children walking into crappy comprehensives. There’s no need for the difference to be articulated, it can be seen and experienced).

Westminsterschool-808x454
Westminster School
mcentee-tech-school-1.jpg
McEntee School (my school)

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, 75% of human ingenuity, creativity, intelligence, passion, ability, talent, is languishing. It’s stuck behind gender and colour bars, wasting away in refugee camps and prisons, working in bullshit jobs or sweatshop jobs or slave-labour jobs. It’s scrabbling to feed its children and pay for medicine and school and housing while we pour oil on the land, plastic into the sea, particulates into the air. We have all drunk the Kool-Aid about anarchism. We don’t feel capable of dealing with these huge issues, making these important decisions. But it will take every single one of us getting involved in our society to change our society. Not just by voting – our representative democracies are at best a compromise, at worst a sham – but by acting, organising, communicating, taking responsibility. There are different things that all of us can do, from the utterly radical to the small and everyday. Try something. Take back power, a little at a time. Join a demonstration, educate yourself about some issues, give your plastic packaging back to the supermarket, volunteer, change your bank or your energy supplier, support a grass-roots movement or campaign in your area or globally. It feels good. It feels like being an independent, free, human being with a brain and a heart. Like being an anarchist.

*Gonna do a post about the origin of nation states another day – it’s a fascinating subject

Putting on the vest

I have a lot to thank James Cameron for. Whatever sins he has been guilty of since, in the mid ’80s he helped to change my life.

When I first saw Aliens I was 15 and living at a residential school in rural Devon for children in the Osho (Rajneesh) movement. I felt I was on the cusp of life; I felt the adult me was about to be born. I’d just arrived back from a visit to London where I’d actually met a boy I liked and who liked me in return (first time those two situations had aligned). Everyone over the age of ten crammed into a room and we watched Aliens on VHS. From the very beginning I was gripped. Ripley is both Cassandra, the woman fated to know the awful future, cursed to be never believed, and Odysseus, clever and tough but set against a range of opposing forces that obstruct her return to home and family. Ripley wears the action hero’s vest. In being a woman who acts, who is independent, who is a mother and a lover and draws fighting strength from her love, she was a new kind of heroine to me. In a world that obviously has more gender parity than our own, Ripley still stands out to those around her as ‘more equal than others’.

In the search for heroines amongst the women I’d been exposed to on screen, I’d found that I had to go back to the black-and-white women of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I loved irreverent Jean Harlow, breezy and modern Katherine Hepburn, devilish Bette Davis, sharp-shooting Barbara Stanwyck. I admired a lot of other women of that era but as a decidedly androgynous-feeling person, I was intimidated by the sexuality of Dietrich, the elegance and poise of Bacall. I loved them, but I could not identify with them. It was the same for most of the women presented to me in comtemporary roles: they were too pneumatic (Wonder Woman), too good (Charlie’s Angels), too princessy (Princess Leia), too clean (The Bionic Woman).

Ripley impressed by being six feet tall, taking no shit and working as hard as any motherfucker out there. She didn’t have to be clean or feminine to be sexy. She picked up her flamethrower and fought as a mother might fight, and she used her brains as well as her muscles. It was love. I had found my hero. That night a lot of the younger kids were scared by the film and so I led them around the house, armed with a big stick, bursting into the bedrooms with a shout, checking under everyone’s beds, even leaving my watch with my favourite kid as a ‘tracker’. It was simultaneously a childlike performance, acting out scenes from the film, and the first assumption of adult-like behaviour: taking charge and making the young ones feel safe. Something awoke in me that night, a new possibility. I’d always felt nervous and cowardly, anxious and weak. That night, my inner Ripley got to her feet and showed me that that was not the whole story. Being bullied had made me strong as well as paranoid. Being different and lonely had made me independent; I could stand apart when I needed to. Plus I had discovered how much I love action movies and how much of an outlet for my aggression and rage they could be.

giphy

Cameron and his wife, Linda Hamilton also created the amazing figure of Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies, who, although seriously disturbed, is another action hero who is not confined to the usual gender roles, not forced to be good or sexy or even sane in order for us to root for her. These women are mothers who have been forced into existential battles and then chosen the fight over everything else, neglecting their parental role like a man is allowed to. They ‘wear the vest’, strap on weapons, lace up their boots, and learn how to handle the hardware. They battle against fearsome monsters and bang their heads against dark corporate entities and manage to be much more intelligent and humane, less casually psychopathic, than Arnie, Bruce or Sly.

I know that I have disgusted people of taste over the years with my preference for Aliens over Alien. I don’t care. I don’t care about taste or what critics think. I even like Alien 3. I will never forget what Ripley did for me that night. It’s been a long wait for us to see such powerful women on screen again. Nowadays we are used to women fighting, firing guns, flying spaceships. They can even turn out to be the Jedi-in-waiting, which I admit did both delight me and bring a tear to my eye in the latest Star Wars Franchise offerings. But while they are in lycra or latex or corsets,* while they have perfect lipgloss and hair and wear high heels and have Barbie-doll figures, while they have to be good or feminine, they remain unbelievable and inaccessible to me. Give me a woman in army boots and a vest, a complicated and imperfect woman who will stub out her fag with a tired sigh and get to work, getting sweaty and dirty in the process. Give that woman a flamethrower and I will be in heaven.**

*Not Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman, I really liked her even though she breaks all the rules I list here. She’s just so deliciously bad and insane.
**As I write, I realise that this is basically a vision of me doing archaeology with a flamethrower.

 

Wild wild life

Twobirds

I’ve watched up to episode 4 of the Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country. Every episode is an education and a test of my willingness to be honest and open. I’m learning new things about what happened, and it’s eye-opening to hear the version that is being presented, in great part by those that my friends within the cult?/movement? would consider the ‘villains of the piece’ – sannyasins like Sheela and Shanti B. The full story, the story of every one of those thousands of sannyasins who lived and worked at Rajneeshpuram, is not being told in the series, let alone the story of those who could never fit in in such a rigid structure as existed at ‘The Ranch’ as we called it.

Anyone who remembers the London sannyas scene of the late 1980s will remember how many sub-sects there were after ‘The Commune’ (the globe-spanning network of official communities run along the same lines as Rajneeshpuram) collapsed. There were the people that continued in the same vein, practising meditations and visiting the Pune ashram regularly, there were the followers of various star therapists such as Veeresh or Teertha, there were the bonkers ones for whom the parties, the celebrating, the music and the drugs were at least as important as the meditation and the darshan. The brilliant and beautiful thing about Osho and sannyas was that there was room for everyone to join: it was a wide, a very wide path.

In 1983, my parents were veterans of several ‘movements’ – the Socialist Worker’s Party, radical feminism, CND, Greenpeace and primal therapy, the new enthusiasm for Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was not an alien concept to our family; it was just the next thing that my parents got interested in and then passionate about. It involved various new behaviours that were mortifying to the 12-, 13- and 14-year-old me: changing your name for a Sanskrit one, wearing only shades of red, orange and pink, wearing the ‘mala’ (a necklace of 108 wooden beads representing the 108 forms of meditation and suspending a ‘locket’ with a picture of Bhagwan), at all times. There was the ‘Dynamic‘ meditation in the morning (although my parents practised a ‘silent’ version, kids who went to my school could hear the strains of the ‘Indian music’ that comprised the last stage as they passed our house in the mornings), ‘Kundalini‘ at night. But whatever, we had always been a weird family, and this was just a bit more Hilton oddness. I enjoyed visiting Medina, the English commune in a large faux-Tudor manor house in Suffolk, which was also the site of the school for all the commune kids from across Europe. I liked those kids – for one thing, none of them wanted to punch me, unlike kids in London. I was tempted to take sannyas myself, but I could not countenance being told what to wear.

By the summer of 1985, my parents had decided that they wanted to go to join Rajneeshpuram, the giant commune situated in the Oregon back country. I was very torn. I am not naturally a big ‘joiner’ and also I treasure my alone time; the idea of living in a commune was very challenging. But equally, I loathed my life in London; I was depressed, lonely and feeling harrassed to the point of despair at school and, even though I was a star pupil, I was skipping school about half the time. Suffice it to say, I wanted to leave the life I had, but not particularly for the prospect of Rajneeshpuram. I tried to convince myself it would be like the Prince song Paisley Park, which I listened to over and over that summer.

The sale of our house and its contents had been finalised, the visa forms filled out, we’d gotten rid of all our possessions save two small cardboard boxes of stuff each – we were very much on our way to the commune, when, in September 1985, Sheela fled the Ranch with a group of her cronies and the whole structure came crashing down, sort of in slow motion. Bhagwan was arrested in October and then left the States, never to return. There seemed no reason to travel to Rajneeshpuram now. Instead we travelled and lived in communes and slept on floors for six months. In February 1986 we were in Bali. I was 14 years old and stuck indoors with second-degree burns from the sun (I am not at all suited to tropical climates!) and had run out of reading materials. I read an article in The Rajneesh Times and like a bolt from the blue, knew that I had to take sannyas, I had to join in: the words I’d read were a perfect reflection of a peak spiritual experience I’d had aged 12, a feeling I missed greatly and wanted more of.

I honestly feel like being a sannyasin gave me a life, a chance to be happy. I never met Bhagwan, who later renamed himself ‘Osho’. I read his words and I listened to them with the zeal and passion of a true devotee, though. I was transformed by the master-disciple relationship which is so dependent on the quality and sincerity of the disciple, not just of the master. I basked in the love, the warmth, the wisdom and the crazy of sannyasins. Aged 17 and 18 I lived in a commune that was like a miniaturised version of Rajneeshpuram – there were no guns or poisonings, but there was every type of power play and life was lived at a pitch of intensity rarely seen outside of military basic training. There was rat-packing and love-bombing, boot-licking and camaraderie and very little sleep. I took part in all that with the purest of intentions. I wanted to push myself spiritually and therapeutically. I wanted to gain ‘enlightenment’. I wanted to help the whole world gain enlightenment. And I look back upon those times with a mixture of pleasure, pride and regret. I learned deep and often painful lessons; I also made friends that will be with me for life.

I watch Wild Wild Country now, no longer a desperate teen but a well-educated woman with 46 years of life experience, and I am delighted by the energy, the talent and the sheer hard work that people put into building Rajneeshpuram. I’ve seen sannyasins put similar energy and effort into so many other ventures – businesses and communities and parties and houses. I don’t know of many other groups or movements who try for community, ecology, spirituality, fun, adventure, luxury, beauty and cleanliness all at once. It’s a unique blend that I’m proud to uphold. I am heartbroken that this ambitious project could have been so side-tracked by power issues. I’m annoyed that both the programme-makers and the interviewees present those thousands of sannyasins as one homogeneous lump of humanity. And then I’m furious at the way the homeless people were treated and used. I feel very strongly that the guns were a terrible idea, one that I could never have supported. I see one person after another refusing to take responsibility for the awful things that they did.

I have always felt that the lesson I learned in the London commune and the lesson of Rajneeshpuram was the same: power, even a tiny amount of power, can be a corrupting influence. No-one is immune! The baby-boomers who flocked to sannyas saw themselves as opposed to the mores and the wars of the previous generation but recreated a fascist-type state when left to their own devices. It was a great and daring experiment and one of the things it proved beyond doubt was that it’s not being a man, being white, or wearing a suit, that makes you go power-mad and lose your compassion.

No-one spoke truth to to power, or if they attempted it, they were ejected. And I think that all leaders need to keep truth-speakers near them. Like the Roman emperors during their Triumphal processions, all leaders, gurus, CEOs, rock stars, anyone in a position of power and adulation, needs someone standing behind them, whispering constantly in their ear ‘You are only human, you are only human’. In that, Osho let us down. I do not hold him responsible for the sickness and tragedy at Rajneeshpuram – all the adult sannyasins involved have to take responsibility for what happened and their decision to ‘go along’ with those horrible plots and schemes. Perhaps there is no duty of care for a Zen master – one who may kill you in order to bring you to enlightenment. But I am disappointed that Osho did not employ that whisperer, even just for himself. Because he was only human, after all.

 

Making freedom by hand

platter.jpg
Tension plate made by me

When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, I genuinely believed that humanity was never going to make it to the year 2000. It was so obvious that we were going to annihilate ourselves with nuclear weapons, it hardly seemed to make any sense to dream of a life, have a family or make any plans if I was going to die before I was 30. Then the wall came down and everything changed; the future opened up before me. It’s been amazing to spend nearly three decades free of that fear, and to see young people growing up around me who have never felt oppressed by the scary future.

But in those years, something else has happened. In Western societies freed from the Cold War, and in increasingly globalised markets, absolutely everything has been seized on and exploited by capital. We can have everything new and shiny, and cheap – so cheap! No need to dally here for long – so much has already been written by better-informed people than me about the impact of these processes. But I think we can see that in the past decade, a fashion for handicrafts (both participating in crafts and buying handmade products) and even more for the ‘Industrial’ interior, which values old, battered objects that speak of work with the hands and import ‘authenticity’ and history into the home, have been part of the response to this bright and shiny world of the new and mass-produced.

img_3277.jpg
Felt badges made by me 

It extends into all areas of our culture – look at an old episode of Top of the Pops and the naivety and crudity of the production will seem laughable. The alpha-example for me was walking into Topshop a couple of years ago and seeing denim cut-offs for £25. Who in almighty hell buys such a thing? That’s hours of minimum-wage labour for a teenager, for something that should essentially be ‘free’ – a by-product of the jeans you’ve already had for years, that you just chop the legs off of. Quite apart from all the problems of over-production, labour rights in developing countries and pollution by the garment industry, it bespeaks quite another issue: dependency. If we are dependent upon shops and industry to supply our needs, they have an immense power over our lives.

DSC02556
I bleached and added studs to my old denim jacket

Recently I heard Jay Brave talking about his veganism as a political issue, how if you could grow your own food you became instantly free of a whole industry. I found this very inspiring. I’m no longer convinced that there will be a post-apocalypse to deal with, or even that capitalism will crash and burn, although either of those may manifest in some form, but I do increasingly want to detach from a system that is rotten to the core. Not all of us can, or want, to live off-grid in an adobe house and weave all our own yoghurt. But we can all start to become more self-sufficient through handicrafts and gardening, by sharing large items like lawnmowers instead of buying them individually, and by re-using or donating old things. Simple acts like cutting up your own jeans, painting an old chest of drawers or growing some salad on the windowsill are small acts of revolution. If you can learn survival skills like camping, lighting a fire, making a stone tool or a basket, so much the better; you will feel even more free and less dependent on a system that only views you as a consumer, a cash cow.

DSC02560
I reconditioned this sewing box that I bought for £2

I also get an enormous sense of satisfaction looking around and knowing that I made, or upcycled, or modified, or embellished the things that I use and wear. Making things is good for our physical and mental health, it’s calming, satisfying and fun. I hope this year to spend the summer living off-gird, eating mostly home-grown food, learning all sorts of new skills that will make me feel more secure in this uncertain world, more self-sufficient and more capable.

 

It’s a Wonderful Life

jun14

‘Re-write your life story’, said the headlines as I Googled late one night/early one morning in September last year. I was looking for practical advice, exercises that I could do right now to help me feel better. I’d been in a low-level depressive phase for a couple of years, in the previous 18 months becoming severe.

In 2016, lots of terrible things happened that we need not really discuss in detail; we all remember them. Wars, the refugee crisis, racism, Austerity, Trump, Putin, Brexit, etc., etc. Also Bowie and Prince, ffs. It was a hard year for all of us.

I remember that summer only hazily. I had a lot of physical pain, a lot of headaches. I was shaken, I cried a lot. It felt like my brain was a game of Snakes and Ladders: set one foot on one of those snakes, and you’d slide – whoosh! – all the way down into a murky level of reality where sound and movement were muffled. Like an endless underground wetland, dripping and foggy; all of your life, all your memories arrayed before you in a baleful, eerie light. And, wow, your life really looks pretty awful looked at under that light. All you can see is the pain, the disappointment, the times you let people down, the times they let you down. And all for no reason! Because, you know, I am an atheist and a materialist and like a very basic kind of Zen view of life. No meaning, no purpose… So why not just let go, and slide, slip away down the snakes and it would be so easy to never come back…
It can be hard to get back up the ladders from down on that level.

I began to think of those ‘snakes’ as neural pathways. Neuroplasticity, the truly wonderful concept that the brain can re-organise its complicated ‘circuitry’, enabling you to adapt and learn new skills throughout your life, also enables you to tinker around inside your own brain. If a skill, or a memory, is imagined as a path, we can trace the development of this path in the brain in definition and strength as the skill or memory is revisited time and again. We can imagine it in just the same way as that of a path through a field, the first time simply flattening the grasses along the pathway, then every day, every journey, the path becoming more ingrained, more defined and more deeply cut. The meanderings along in that general direction through the field are reduced, confined, to a single pathway that you follow every time, automatically, without conscious choice.

When you are learning to drive a car, this sort of sub-conscious routine is exactly what you are attempting to acquire. It’s an essential element of our skills base, the things we can do without having to engage consciousness. It’s fascinating how many of our choices are made in this way. But it’s a pain in the bleedin’ arse when you’re trying to change habits you don’t want. All I could do was try to notice the snakes as I walked along, and if I did step on one, disrupt it by using NLP techniques: play Warner Brothers’ cartoon music in my mind, sing, jump up and down, just distract myself in any way I could.

Anyway, 2017 was, on the whole, a very different kind of year, when I took every kind of step I could think of to get out of the damn game for once and for all. It was terrible and wonderful but by September I was again feeling pretty dreadful. So I was Googling for help with this. The articles said ‘Re-write Your Life’, and suggested journalling (I decided to take up 20 mins free writing a day, ended with listing three things I’m grateful for), writing letters to your younger self, or re-writing scenes from your life you wish had played out differently, changing the endings to a better resolution. Right then I felt that all my life could do with re-writing. So – why not? But instead of re-writing all the awful things and making them turn out differently, why not write a new life history in which only good things happened to me and I was always happy? I would write down the true story of my life, only the best bits. Ignore anything sad, painful, difficult, unless it was so essential to my later happiness or personal development that it had to be mentioned. But only a mention – no tragical details! I knew, as a rational being, who has led an amazing and privileged life, that I had good memories in there. But through  lack of use, the paths leading into those happy meadows of memory were harder to access. I had to trace them back like an explorer. Deep in that first depths of night/morning, I started out with the very earliest good memories. They are things I think I remember because there are photos, or because people have talked to me about when I was a baby. But I seem to recall glimpses of sunshine, green leaves, happiness. I slowly and deliberately followed the path of all the happy memories back from there. I wandered along every loop and spur of that path, trying to access people I’d forgotten, tastes and smells, sensations of childhood, good things like chasing each other with armfuls of fallen leaves every autumn in Epping Forest and celebrating the strong, independent, individual person that growing up made me. I don’t mention the ways in which growing up made me more like that. But I am proud of those aspects of my character, and they grew stronger in those years. I wrote up until about the age of 11, and then I fell asleep.

In the morning, I woke up into natural sunlight. Not the underworld light that I was used to. It felt as if some great beast had overslept, not woken up when I did, and I crept around all that day, enjoying the sunlight, space and fresh air, but not mentioning it or thinking about it too much in case my attention woke up the snake and I was whooshed away underground again. The next day – sunny again. A miracle of some kind had occurred and I was out from under the ground, the shadow, the enchantment! Can it be that re-writing my life is so powerful a tool? Perhaps it’s the combination of that with the journalling, and my powerful desire to change. I haven’t finished the life story yet. I write it in chunks when I feel inspired to – 5 years or so at a time, or a discrete-feeling period of time in my life -when I feel low. It always makes me feel better again. It’s a ladder. The rungs are all the things that I remember as good, uplifting or pleasurable, even small-seeming things like a tree I used to walk past on my way home. I don’t worry about how boring it is to read: ‘… and then I went to live in so-and-so, and I met a really nice woman called —— who I got on with and we made each other laugh, and then I went to such-and-such a place and enjoyed myself’. It’s not about producing a great literary work. It’s just meandering through all the good times, like looking through an old photo album of memories you haven’t seen in years.

I don’t promise that this will work for anyone else. I think it’s a really interesting thing to try, though, and it will bring you pleasure if you stick to the rules and do not even look at the snakes sleeping alongside the path. I hope that these new paths will become the neural superhighways of my future brain – the routes I always take, automatically, through my own thoughts.

 

 

The trouble with eggs

Ruined_london_mortalengines.jpg

Hey peoples, have you ever thought, “Maybe my hormones don’t ‘make me crazy’ – maybe they actually make me more honest?” I’ve always speculated that although there is no doubt that PMS makes me more sensitive and more reactive, the actual issues I may shout or cry about are REAL. I really AM pissed off that you left shit all over the floor right after I tidied up, I really AM sad that you ignored my feelings in order to dump your own all over me. In a way I am like a kid when I’m hormonal – I simply can’t maintain the normal social barriers that I usually do, and stuff leaks out.

So don’t dismiss what arises when hormones strike. Try not to yell at people if they don’t deserve it, perhaps get a hot water bottle, a large bar of chocolate/family-size crisps/several punnets of berries/bottle of wine/bong, retreat for a while and consider. What does the stuff that leaks out mean? There will be truth in it if you listen. Is it easier for everyone if we label that powerful female voice ‘crazy’, dismiss what it says as the result of hormones with no basis in reality?

One day I will write the film that this poster would advertise. It would be like a Falling Down for women with a lot of axes in it. Because I think what those hormones are really doing is releasing my inner desire to kick ‘ass’ (as the Americans say). I want to clean up the house and make it comfortable, I want to get stuff done. I’m impatient, not just temporally, but also with idiocy and interpersonal game-playing. I don’t want demands constantly made of me. I want time to retreat and take care of myself and my body. Let’s not shut ourselves up. Let’s not problematise our angry selves, our heartbroken selves, our impatient selves. We have waited too long. Harness your hormones to your service. They provide an amazing source of energy, an energy which our ancestors appreciated as fundamental to the turning of the wheel of life.

Doing identity

NonbinaryGender

Inspired by this Aeon article on performing gender and my continuing thoughts about this Guilty Feminist podcast on taking up space today.

I’ve long been interested in how we perform identity and all the elements that go into making our bodies and physical selves a manifestation of our culture and beliefs. For the most part this is unconscious – gender, ethnicity, class, etc., are physically, mentally and emotionally trained into us from the first breath, or even before. What has been trained into our bodies can then be presented as ‘natural’ – after all, don’t men behave in certain ways, women in others? Aren’t French people different to English people? Sociology and philosophy can only study beings who have already gained these unconscious modes of physical being – there is no ‘control group’ of humans brought up free of culture. Therefore there is no ‘nature’ rationale for any society’s ‘norms’. However, I have often been struck by how children seem to display more similarities that adults do, because they have not been properly socialised yet (a friend once accused me of this – being inadequately socialised – a very proud moment for me).

So perhaps the best way to test if ‘normal’ is also ‘natural’ is to try to act against what we’ve learnt – individually, physically. I’ve been doing this most of my life and it’s interesting. Simple things serve as great experiments. Although I never ‘manspread’ when space is tight, if the bus or train is quite empty and my clothes allow, I will sit with legs apart, arms resting along the seatbacks, just taking up space in the way I see men do all the time. It garners a lot of surprised looks, but it makes me feel that I belong in the space and the space belongs to me. Just try it, and see how it feels. I like to always come forward and shake hands confidently with people when I first meet them. Again, this was something I copied from men, just to see how it felt. Not everyone likes it, but it’s me declaring firmly the way in which my body interacts socially. I don’t wait for someone else to start that physical dialogue, and it certainly seems to prevent more sexist body interactions, where men shake hands, but women get clasped by the arm or hand, or are given a kiss in greeting by a stranger.

I wear whatever I feel like, and reject all uniforms. And I don’t mean clothes you have to wear for your job, those are fair enough. I mean the clothes you must wear to belong to a group – man, woman, surfer, road protester, graphic designer, etc. People who are shouting their individuality from the rooftops but all look the same. Try swimming upstream here as well – wear a suit to your environmental group meeting, try full make-up and a blowdry on a hike! I’ve found that an office environment can be more accepting of diversity in dress than a Traveller’s camp.

And I have always insisted that I will walk where I like, when I like. I will not take up the cultural burden of fear that society tries to drum into the female body. When I was younger and lived in the city, this meant cultivating ‘fuck-off’ vibes. 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, I felt that I was willing to risk anything in order to feel free, as free as a man might. Now I have lived in the country for many years and I love to wander alone through the wilderness. Nothing makes me feel more liberated and powerful than challenging those 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.

So have a little go at it, if you like. Wear heels if you normally don’t; if you’re male, cross your legs and keep your hands in your lap on the bus; try to imitate the rolling, bandy-legged gait of a ‘lad’; just see how it feels to be in another kind of body. Remember that all of these performances are open to you, and that you can flow between them as mood and situation demands. This is freedom, this is the ‘natural’ body.

I am a dimbot

azfujqvm2h8hiuluft8z.gif

Cor, I dunno… for someone with a brain I am surprisingly stoopid. Yesterday I realised I was getting stressed and upset, feeling like crap, all because I wasn’t getting a result I don’t even want in an effort to counteract all the extremely hard stuff I’ve done for the past twelve months. And this only two days after deciding that I need to go for whatever is easiest and most fun in my life! Dimbot.

To clarify, I ride myself hard, psychologically, all the time. I’m always obsessing about ‘growth’ or ‘development’ or whatever you want to call it. I push myself to confront my own issues and do the hard things. I’ve just spent over a year doing that. Shedding 90% of my possessions. Leaving my husband. Working hard to become physically fit. Wandering through Wales on my own. Trying new things. And giving up tobacco, my latest.

Hormones and insecurity still sometimes lead me back to the same bleak, dark place that I have been working so hard to leave behind; the place that swallowed me up in 2016. In it I feel useless, worthless, goal-less, defenceless, and worse, a burden on those who love me, because they have to worry about me being miserable. After several years of depression, the hard work of the past year finally bore fruit in mid-September and I woke up one amazing morning to find my depression had gone. I will post about possible reasons for this another time. But anyway, who fucking cares about the reasons! It’s a miraculous outcome that I celebrated every day for months, and still brings me joy and wonder every time I’m not complacent about being fine (which is, in itself, an amazing change – to be able to be complacent about not being depressed!).

An episode occurred on Friday (premenstrual right now, of course), and I visited a friend, crying and saying ‘Life is always a struggle for me! What the fuck am I fighting for?’ In our conversation she suggested doing whatever feels easy, and I scornfully replied ‘Oh, I never take the easy option!’, like it’s something to be so proud of. Dimbot. Luckily I was not idiot enough not to realise immediately the conflict between complaining about the struggle and rejecting the concept of the easy. IF YOU ARE TIRED OF FIGHTING AND STRUGGLING, WHY NOT DO THE EASY THINGS? Great! Now implement it, you fool.

So off I go to immediately start to try to address other issues and do things that make me feel sad and awful. I am a dimbot because I am a dim robot. Reacting, out of fear, out of my own judgments about the easy and the lazy. Out of my fears of people judging me, as I judge them, for taking easy options. Out of habit. Habits are hard to break. Habits are easy to follow, because they follow well-established neural pathways and allow the brain to conserve energy, which it is always trying to do. Brains are incredibly energy-hungry. Forging new neural pathways is exhausting. I adore thinking in this neuroscientific way because it is so elegant and simple, and provides really effective methods for healing and change.

Thank gawd I realised yesterday that I was departing from the easy path, and course-corrected right away. I am a dim robot, but not that dim. New mantra: Easy and fun, easy and fun (repeat into oblivion).

Bad eggs

Today I was inspired to write by this article in The Guardian. Not sure I would agree with a whole lot that Jordan B Peterson thinks, but I do agree that we are (almost) all monsters, at least potentially.

veruca_salt_1024x1024
Verruca Salt by Heather Buchanan

It’s very easy for a UK citizen of the past half-century to convince themselves that they are not a monster. Most of us have never committed violence upon another living being, human or animal. We consider those who express themselves through physical violence as aberrant. Something has gone wrong with them. Through some sort of rehabilitation and re-education we like to think their violence can be solved or purged. But might nothing be less productive of peace and harmony than this attitude? We are all like addicts who refuse to admit that we have a problem, and, just like addicts, how can we even begin to address our issues unless we start from a position of honesty? Human beings rule this planet not only because we are clever, but because we are ruthlessly violent. The combination of social organisation, smarts and ruthlessness has proven unstoppable. It seems that only climate and geology can deal us significant blows.

There’s plenty of evidence to support our monstrous nature, and to indicate that horrors like the Holocaust and the Khmer Rouge genocide are not aberrations. For one thing, they keep happening, time and again, throughout our global history. Chile, Rwanda, Timor, the list goes on and on. Can we really explain the way in which neighbour can rise up and annihilate neighbour as an aberration? There are of course differences in scale, but see here for a little more information on the prehistory of violence. It’s a species-level phenomenon.

Violence is a part of our nature. We are all addicted to it – whether we play Call of Duty or watch Poirot, we are sating the same urges that the ancient Roman arena catered for. I am lucky, as a pacifist, that I am never called upon to deal with violence in my daily life. I’m doubly lucky that I grew up in a subculture that explored alternative and experimental therapies which considered the expression of violence (and indeed all human emotions) in a safe, protective environment, essential to personal growth and freedom. I loathe violence enacted upon other beings, but must admit I have greatly enjoyed smashing things up, beating cushions or mattresses, envisioning dancing in the blood and entrails of my enemies, and so on. I think we should have facilities for the safe expression of violence on every high street in the world.

We do very well to live in great cities/colonies and not fight or kill each other. It’s a strain. No wonder we are medicated up to the eyeballs. No wonder we love shoot-em-ups and psychopath dramas on Netflix and screaming our heads off in sports arenas. We need to address our own violence, and channel it healthily. Beat a cushion, get an axe and chop some wood, take up kickboxing. And let’s try not to commit the small acts of everyday ruthlessness – take a few minutes to talk to the homeless guy, treat him like a human. Try to live ethically and with minimal impact on your brothers and sisters (human and non-human). Accept that you hate, but accept that it’s biological, and not to be directed at others. Your anger may be entirely rational, but use your intelligence, too, and find out where it really needs to be directed.

Most of all, struggle against objectification. It’s when we turn people into things or categories that any kind of cruelty becomes possible.

Egg?

broken-egg

Why a hard-boiled egg?

Because it’s what we should all aspire to be.

An egg is a beautiful thing. In its simplicity and purity, in its economy of design and brilliant use of materials. An egg is perfect at what it does, no messing about. That’s a great thing in itself.

But last year I realised that an egg can be a metaphor for our spiritual development, too.

Think of the shell as the ego (is that really a coincidence, God? – because I know you invented all the words) and the inside of the egg as our natural, essential ‘self’. I know it can be debated whether such a thing as the self actually exists, but let’s leave that for another time…

Most of us are raw eggs. The ego shell is essential to our self’s integrity. Without the shell, we collapse, dissipate, go all runny, perhaps die or get scrambled. That’s a terrifying prospect and so we all try to maintain the ego shell – no cracks or chips, no challenges to the shell of identity, composed of our history, beliefs, voting habits, eating habits, what we wear, who we sleep with. It’s the image we hold of our own selves and the one that we would like other people to think of as ourselves. But in reality it’s just a thin, fragile capsule and all the ‘real’ things about ourselves that we don’t like to look too hard at are slooshing around inside it. Things we are scared of, like rage, pain, dissent. Things we might love, like silliness, clear-sightedness, an outrageous dress sense. We don’t really know because we mostly don’t look and just spend a lot of time polishing the shell real nice.

But an enlightened person is a hard-boiled egg. The enlightened person has integrity of the self with or without the shell. She knows that all the elements of the ego can crack and fall off, but her yolk will stay in place. The exposure of the essential self will not destroy the enlightened person. In some way, by some method, the egg has been ‘cooked’ and the self accepted. A huge amount of time and energy, once spent maintaining the shell can now be freed up for other stuff, I imagine. Whatever stuff the enlightened individual wants to do – meditating, kite surfing, dressing outrageously, whatever.

How does it happen? I’m not sure. But I want to get cooked and I’m trying everything I can think of. Except for jumping into boiling water, I’m going to save that for a very, very last resort.