Afon

I sat on a stone

and sang my song to the river

haunting and full of longing

crooning a spell-song

that binds me to her,

her to me

I hypnotise the river

and she slows down to listen

becomes dark and completely transparent

I can look deep down

and see all her treasures

exactly where they lie,

though I will never disturb them

But I like to know, to know everything

I fall silent and then

the river begins to sing her song

back to me

if mine is full of longing,

hers is full of hope

a clear, trilling melody

chorus of a million voices

it’s deceptively light

music such as faeries weave

to lift your heart and draw you on

on and on towards the sea

she lights me up with her

thousand shining eyes

part of me follows her

down to the ocean

part of me is now

tied to this spot

part of her now

lives within me

part of this place

is now mine

One Year Happy

DSC_1584

Today marks the anniversary of the day I woke up to sunshine. The marvelous, wondrous, tentative day that I woke up, and by a miracle, my depression had lifted. I wrote this post about the experience. Now it’s one year on, and, although I’ve had ups and downs, moments of feeling hopeless, sad, angry or lonely, they pass. They are no longer the boss of me. And it’s still wondrous. Now I have the added bonus of not worrying that it will come back again any time soon; I feel strong, I feel happy to be alive.

More than everything, I feel lucky. I’ve felt the love of so many friends old and new, I’ve had the steadfast support of both my biological and my ‘chosen’ family. I’ve met people that blew my mind, and seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Well, some pretty lovely things, anyway. I was healthy enough when I started the journey to recovery that it was easy to get back into shape (I only had to walk hundreds of miles up and down hills, really, no biggie..). And I have all the advantages I’ve built up over a lifetime: I have done a lot of therapy, met a lot of people, learned a lot of things, I have a loving support network, I am a white, middle-class (or can pass for middle class if required), well-educated and articulate person. Yes, my struggle to want to live was real. It terrified me. But I was so lucky from the start; I had all the advantages to help me get well again. Most of them only required me to begin to be honest and to reach out to my friends and accept their help and love.

I didn’t have to struggle with mental health issues while worrying about how I could afford to eat, heat the house, get to my appointment at the Job Centre or face being sanctioned. I was ‘homeless’ but only ever slept rough by choice, in beautiful places. My citizenship was never in question, I was never a stateless refugee, forced to contemplate jumping onto a moving lorry or taking to the sea in an inflatable boat to save my life and the lives of my children. I don’t face discrimination due to my body, race, sexuality, health or appearance. I don’t have any life-threatening illness or chronic condition to sap the strength a person needs to fight depression.

Be kind, as much as you can. Let people know that you love them and that you have their back if they need you. Several of my closest friends and family have been through some pretty dark and scary times in the past two years as well. A very powerful part of my healing process has been the mutual support we’ve shown each other, and the inspiration we’ve drawn from each other’s courage, spirit and determination to heal and have better lives. To be able to help and support another person – what can be more life-affirming, uplifting and self-esteem boosting than that?

In this year, I have cried a lot, laughed a lot, shouted to the heavens in fury and pain, and danced around in joy and gratitude. I am alive. And I relish the challenges to come and am excited about the way that we will navigate them, together.

Reflect

I am like the Moon

Change is my constant

From bright and full

To secretive and dark

Sometimes you won’t

See me at all

Rising to rhythms

Not diurnal

I push you away

I pull you to me

Little creatures

Of the night

Creep out to smile with me

At the silence

Cycle of violence

track

I’ve been feeling very guilty about watching the Giro d’Italia this year. Grand tour cycling is the only sport I’ve ever loved, would happily pay to watch, anticipate with great excitement and even give up birthday celebrations for (my birthday is mid-Tour de France). We all know that cycling is not a very ‘moral’ sport – cycling and doping have gone hand-in-hand since the Tour was first held in 1903. Most people who are not fans can’t see past that, and most people who are fans live in a state of determined denial about it. But I’ve never had a real problem with it. It’s unfair to those who don’t or can’t dope, as are all the other sports that routinely dope, but equally, watching Lance Armstrong was joyous. It’s more of a problem to me that he was reputedly an arsehole and went mountain biking with George W. Bush.

No, my issue with the 2018 Giro is that it started in Israel, as a part of the 70th anniversary celebrations, while Palestinians just miles away were being gunned down for protesting the same anniversary. No-one in the sport has really talked about this (there have been a few mentions and a few boycotts by cycling journalists), no athletes have boycotted or been reported discussing the issue. BDS has called it ‘sport-washing’. Israel paid at least €10 million to host the race, and paid Chris Froome €2 million to participate. Fans have protested in many cities. The lack of discussion about the issue is one of the chilling aspects of it.

I am disturbed by this and feel awful watching the race even after it returned to Italy. So I started watching highlights of the Tour of California. And during that, I suddenly thought: hang on, who allows Israel to behave in the way it does? Largely the USA. So maybe I should boycott the Tour of California? Should athletes refuse to compete in the USA, with its history of training the torturers of the modern world, fighting proxy wars on every continent, launching open wars for regime change and revenge (don’t get me started right here about repression within the United States)? I live in a country that is certainly in the top ten of arms-exporting countries (some more recent estimates rank the UK as second largest arms exporter), happily selling arms to countries on its own ‘human rights watch list’ and to 39 of the 51 countries described as ‘not free’ by Freedom House. At the same time, crippling welfare and social care cuts have hastened the deaths or inspired the suicides of perhaps 120,000 people in this country, while the most wealthy got 30% richer in the two years after the ‘credit crunch’, and £55.5 bn richer since 2010. So I should not watch the Tour of Yorkshire, either.

The modern military-industrial complex has entered territory that Eisenhower could not have imagined. It’s a huge, huge business, estimated at 2.5% of world trade globally (which cannot account for illegal arms trading and is based on 2013 figures). Mercenaries are being employed at record levels, generating yet more revenue. War cannot stop, will not stop, while the fortunes to be made are so vast. And certainly, when an asset-stripping pirate like Trump can become president, while the worst excesses of the Conservative government’s ‘Austerity’ and ‘Hostile Environment’ policies cannot make the people of this country vote them out of office, I cannot see that war will stop: at least half of us seem to have ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ and blame other poor people for what’s wrong with the world, rather than our rulers and their business partners.

None of this is to, in any way, excuse or condone the violence of the Israeli state against Palestinian people. I despise violence as the lowest, laziest form of human interaction and believe that it will usually generate more violence (there may be times it’s the only option. That is a different case). The whole issue of Israel pins a large proportion of the region’s problems in place, and must be resolved before peace can come. Please do protest, campaign, boycott, publicise as much as you can for universal human rights, peace, freedom and compassion. But let us not devolve responsibility for the situation. Let us not hypocritically and unquestioningly continue to buy American and support American artists and sports teams and companies, or UK ones, or French, or Saudi, or Thai, or Turkish, to name but a few countries. Since I live in the UK and take part in its commercial and cultural life, I don’t know how to resolve this dilemma.

So I am disappointed in my beloved sport and some of my beloved competitors (not Froome, he has never been a favourite). But I am gonna watch my bike race and try to campaign more against the arms trade, and I hope that everyone finds their own way to face up to the rabbit hole of the global trade in violence and oppression. Answers on a postcard, please, if you find any.

Love locked

My guru once said something along the lines of: don’t put chains or conditions on your love – as soon as you do, you guarantee that your love will die one day. I always agreed with that and tried to not bind my beloveds with conditions (although, of course there have always been unconscious conditions and expectations that I see once a relationship is over). But only recently did I realise that this also means: don’t put chains or conditions on yourself, either. I think at least half the reason my marriage ended was the limits I put on myself. I tried to impress in the first months, I re-wrote myself in certain ways to leave out aspects of my life and personality I’m not proud of, I left out things I thought were ‘too much’ or too intimidating.

And so I set the end date for my relationship, as those parts of me are me, also, and would not be silenced or denied.

Don’t limit yourself, don’t censor yourself, don’t try to impress. It’s very hard, when you meet someone that bowls you over and you want so much for them to love you back. And you can obviously never see into your blind spots. But not having been as brave and true as I might have is my greatest regret. Who knows what the outcome would have been? The relationship might have never happened, or ended much sooner. All I know is that I never want to feel this kind of regret again.

Balancing change

feb29.jpg

Homeostasis

The tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.

Why is change so hard? I’ve asked myself this question so many times, in reference to a wide variety of situations. Sometimes I feel like every cell in my body is resisting. I can almost hear them all going: “Wait! We have food, a warm bed, some kind of day-to-day stability. What you’re asking is that we, your cells, risk all that by plunging into the unknown! No way. We are staying just as we are, in this admittedly uncomfortable and less-than-optimal situation, where we know what to expect and how to plan for it.”

If our cells are trying to be maximally efficient all the time, they will be in energy-conservation mode. That’s our brain cells, too. In fact, the brain seems to put systems on ‘sleep’ mode when they are not needed. It feels unhealthy to me, because, just as muscles atrophy through under-use, so can our senses be blunted, our minds slower on the uptake, our experience of time itself changes as the sameness of daily life allows the brain to stop noticing, stop being alert. Novelty of any kind forces us to activate all those systems again.

In our hunter-gathering past, we evolved these brains of ours to answer specific needs. First and foremost, our brains are social brains. An enormous amount of processing power is devoted to analysing facial expressions, for example (which is one of the reasons that an over-botoxed face can be disturbing to watch). Trying to anticipate the reactions and feelings of others demands further huge tracts of brain cells. So if you are not being social, you are probably under-using large parts of your brain. Interacting with fictional characters in books and visual media cannot be the same, as it doesn’t involve your participation, or your jeopardy. I don’t game but I’d be interested to know the difference that an interactive medium makes in brain activity.

After that come all the dangers of life in the wild – falling off things, being attacked by animals or other people, or going hungry to name just a few. We had to notice everything very carefully, partly due to danger, partly just to make sure we were exploiting all the opportunities that came our way – a tasty snack (like a giant spider), lurking under a log, a new plant or fruit that we’d not seen before. This is a major change in human history – a lot of the time, a lot of us can just wander around texting as we go. We know where our next meal is coming from, and we don’t have to keep an eye out for sabre-toothed tigers. We are domesticated. We have domesticated our world.

That’s why the thrill of doing dangerous things is so great and so seductive. It brings all of our systems back online and make our glands produce substances that make us feel aware, keyed up, focussed. Afterwards we get a rush of ‘high’ hormones. Blood was pumped all around our bodies. We got oxygenated. A ‘natural’ life is a mixture of both states – rest and excitement. It’s the healthiest way to live. It seems that HIIT training is a good way of mimicking the ‘fight or flight’ type of situation, producing similar body reactions and after-effects. But the stimulus need not be physical – it can also be mental, emotional, psychological. The act of overcoming your shyness and talking to someone at a party. Standing up and giving a presentation. Playing a song at open mike night. It might be a small thing – going out for a walk, phoning a friend, getting a different haircut. Taking the risk is what counts. And using the social brain is probably the most demanding and exhilarating of all – which is really a ‘note to self’ to get out and interact with humans more. Some of them are idiots but many seem to be kind of okay.

Agree to disagree?

tumblr_me1s7i3G6A1qbw3a4o3_250

Hey peoples. I am so happy about all the uprising that’s happening at the moment. Whether we are demonstrating against gun violence or racism, marching for women’s rights or against the invasion of Afrin, people in the Western world, pushed hard by the crises, sharing their experiences directly via social media, are finally angry enough to get out on the street again and stand up for themselves and each other en masse. So happy and proud of everyone, whatever contribution they are making. In the ’90s and ’00s, it was considered pretty dull to hold strong beliefs, or the preserve of some sorts of fanatics. For example, I continued to identify as a feminist throughout all those years but had so many young women tell me that they did not consider themselves feminists. I had women tell me this while we were out drinking late at night, or in Oxford University bars, or at work. I had to laugh because when I was small, going out to work was problematic for middle-class women, going to the pub with your woman friend was very unusual indeed, and going to university was still often considered a waste of time for women who were just going to have babies and homes to look after. We’ve made huge progress since the ’70s in equality for women, people of colour and LGBQT people. Even children are beginning to make their voices heard. We are nowhere near the world I would like to see yet, but we have advanced, to the point that these are no longer marginalised causes, but mass causes.

But why are we on the progressive side of politics still refusing to learn the lessons of the ’70s political movements in terms of unity? What I remember very clearly from the late-night/all-night discussions that took place in our house among the activists that my parents consorted with is the cry of ‘Splitters!’ Just as in the scene from The Life of Brian, it seemed that the only people the SWP hated more than Thatcher or the Nazis were the communists. There were endless splinter groups and discussions of details of policies and the interpretation of The Communist Manifesto or Capital, what specific kind of anarchist one was, what specific form of feminist collective. The only thing everyone agreed on was that Rock against Racism was a good day out.

bb3_tU

I totally understand that we who are motivated to join these movements have strong ethics and often painful and specific experiences in our histories providing the fuel for our protest. I advocate free speech even for idiots and bigots (although I reserve the right to disagree, shout back my own opinions of your opinions, or simply not listen to you), so of course I advocate everyone’s right to their own version of Utopia. But a Utopia is not a real-world thing. There is no-one in the whole world with whom you can expect to agree completely, on everything. There is no-one in the world who will not have performed some action or made some comment which rubs you the wrong way. If you are honest, you yourself are not an uncomplicated entity, you yourself have done or thought things that you would now take back or revise. To be otherwise is to admit that you have not bothered to learn anything in your lifetime, and that is grossly irresponsible for anyone purporting to be an activist; new information comes our way all the time, and an intelligent person will revise their beliefs based on new facts. To desire a world where we all completely agree and think exactly and unchangingly the same is to desire Fascism.

Let’s get over this! Understand that you may not feel exactly the same as your comrades about the fine print of your struggle. You may even have larger issues about animal welfare, gender, education, giving back the Elgin Marbles, religion. But my friends, this is no time for us on the progressive side of politics to focus too much about this problem. We are in a battle in which our adversaries have no ethics at all. We are struggling against people who will happily deal with child killers, rapists, extremists, torturers of every hue. They will deal with people they find utterly distasteful or stupid, people they privately hate and despise. Your government has no problem in doing this – just look at who they turned to in order to cling to power: the DUP. They will court, support and arm despots and murderers and just as happily throw them to the wolves when their usefulness has expired, or when they become useful as enemies rather than allies; for example: the Taliban.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon our ethics and our strongly-felt positions. We do not want to sink as low as our enemies. We never want to become them. But if people who want basically the same things – equal rights for all, equal opportunities for all, a caring welfare state, equal access to an unbiased justice system, the right to live free of prejudice – cannot come together and overcome our differences, we will never win this battle. If we are busy slinging shit at each other and yelling ‘Splitters!’ at the tops of our voices, we will never even notice the scumbags stealing our wealth, our rights, our water, our children, our lives, our hope. We must come together (We are many – they are few!) and win the fight first.

More than this, though, I don’t want to live in a world where we all agree; not only do I think it’s unrealistic, I think it would be boring, too. I don’t want what the Soviets created, I don’t want what the ancient Greeks created, either. I don’t want us all to be the same. I want a rainbow world where we are all free to find those with whom we can best work, create, enjoy and love. And those we can argue late into the night with – one of the great pleasures of life and a fundamental way in which we learn and grow.

What the cool kids are calling it…

borders2-13x2-75_blk_spanDisclaimer here: I don’t have children. I don’t feel I ever really understood children, even when I was one. However, I feel this way about grown-ups, too. Perhaps because I am some way along ‘the spectrum’ . Certainly I don’t sentimentalise children or childhood at all. Thus I only have an outsider’s view on being with children and growing them up. But, just as I do with any marginalised group of humans, I stand with children, and I will advocate for children’s full human rights in any way I can. There is no way that I can express my feelings about children’s rights more eloquently than this article in New Internationalist‘s youth issue. Please do read it.

I understand that some grown-ups will protest: ‘But you aren’t a parent, you just don’t understand! Children need discipline! Children need protection!’ I agree with all of that. I will never understand what it is to be a parent. However, I do remember what it was like to be a child. Not having autonomy was often painful for me and the memory of that always makes me glad to be an adult. However hard it may be to take responsibility for oneself, it’s much, much better than not having power over your own life.

Yes, children need discipline. So do we all! But what form should it take? The ‘because I told you so’ school of unquestioning obedience is not good enough for adults, neither is it ever good enough for children. And as for physical ‘discipline’ – imagine saying ‘Oh, sometimes I just have to give my wife a smack, it’s the only thing she understands, the only way to make her behave’ – is that acceptable to you? Perhaps you do feel that a ‘smack’ is the only channel of communication you have open to you in a certain situation, but have the honesty to admit that that is your failure to implement either an effective argument (with an older child) or firm restraint or safeguarding with a younger child. A child (especially one too young to understand a reasoned argument) is much smaller than you – you can’t contain them in any other way than to strike them?

Yes, children need protection. They need patience, care, endless love and time and explanations and discussions and being made to feel safe and that they can trust the adults in their lives, that they can come to them with their worries and problems. It’s not a job I could do well, I think, and I admire those who can. We can protect our kids best by making them feel empowered to ask questions, to have opinions, to speak up about the things that they’re thinking. By making them feel valued, so that they may be less willing to risk themselves, to offer themselves up for attention from the wrong sources, or the wrong sort of attention. Most essential of all, we have to give our children the sense that they own their own bodies. Never, ever make a child accept physical attention that they don’t want. Never make them kiss Aunty Lou because it would be bad manners not to, or because Aunty Lou might be upset if they don’t. Kids will offer affection when they feel they want to, and this is right and proper, and safer. Then perhaps 20 years from now, significantly fewer of us will answer #MeToo when the question is asked.

I want a world where we respect one another. We won’t all agree, that’s okay. We won’t all get along, that’s okay, too. But I want a world where violence really is a matter of last resort, for defence. I want a world where sexual contact is divorced from power relations and is pleasurable and consensual for everyone. I want to live among people who take responsibility for themselves and their actions and speech, and who take time to think about what they’re doing and know how to articulate why they’re doing it.

Children have loads more synapses than us old fogeys do. Their minds are not ‘made up’, they are not realists. They can make creative leaps that we have lost the ability to. Teenagers can bring a joy and enthusiasm, a ‘can-do (anything)’ attitude that most older people are too sensible or self-conscious to conjure. They can make anything fun. Let these young humans participate in their world, they will bring us so many gifts. Playfulness, intensity, imagination, questioning everything, flexibility, empathy. We all need more of those.

This is also interesting: The Infinite Monkey Cage: The Teenage Brain
Follow @stinneydistro

The Perfect Zero

DSC02634
Falls, Tara Evans, 2015 (mixed media on canvas)

Falls, Tara Evans, 2015 (mixed media on canvas)

Or how I learned to love minimalism

People been banging on to me about minimalism my whole life. My parents were into it, the spiritual movement I joined was into it, and there have always been those annoying twats who just live in pale-grey empty spaces and don’t let their children have more than one toy out at a time.

My feeling has always been that it’s not my bag. AT ALL. I always loved my things, was very sentimental about my things, they were perhaps as significant to me as living people. Also, I am messy. I make a mess, and I grubby things up. I can’t live in a pure white box coz I always make marks on things, or drop beetroot on them. I do things and use things and make things, and that leaves a trail of books, papers, paintbrushes, threads, pencils, discarded clothing and on and on. Luckily for me I also really enjoy having a good clean up and clear out, or I’d be like those hoarder types you see on TV.

So this time last year I and my ex were knees-deep in selling everything we owned (mostly what I owned, to be honest, it was mostly my stuff). Things I’d owned for a quarter of a century, things I remembered my Nan having when I was little girl (she has now upgraded from junk-shop antiques to 100% John Lewis’s finest), my two crates of accessories (they might come back into my style again!), even my books (even Len Deighton’s Bernard Sampson novels, my favourite espionage fiction of ever). I had suddenly begun to feel that all those things were weighing me down. They demanded space, they demanded maintenance, energy. We worked very hard for three months and we cleared out almost everything. The idea was to live van life and travel for a while, but even though that didn’t work out, I am delighted to own so very little now.

I got my very small collection of clothes (checked out Project 333 to get started), about ten books, a couple of plastic crates of art stuff, photos, a few favourite kitchen items and tools and my work materials. It could be a lot less, except that I found it very hard, and completely against my frugal nature, to get rid of tools and fabric, etc., that I will only have to buy again. What I miss is my egg-turner, which I can’t find a replacement for, and I regret the fact that during the break-up with my husband my six metal skewers went bye-bye. They were supposed to be once-and-forever purchases! Other than that, I don’t miss or think about anything I gave away or sold.

What’s brilliant about my new lifestyle is:

How long it takes to clear up – I made a mess, threw clothes, books, papers around everywhere? It only takes ten minutes to have everything ship-shape again. Everything has a place to live and dusting is a doddle.

I hardly buy anything – it took such an effort to get rid of everything, you really ask yourself whether you need this object/item whenever you are tempted. Buying things is not a casual act any more.

It’s green – I’ve always been big on upcycling, re-use, frugality (or being tight) and saving energy and resources, and minimalism is the logical extension of that. Smaller houses, less energy. Less furniture, clothes, books (I use the library now), less consumption, less waste.

I feel floaty-light.

You can choose the level of minimalism that feels right for you – it’s not about us all living in identical empty spaces with one artistically-draped house plant and no chairs. Have a go at giving some things to a charity shop – it feels brilliant and it will be good for your health and sanity, too.

Here’s a nice post with collected TED talks about minimalism: frugaling.org