Friday, 31 March 2017

Lost In The Bubbles Of A Drink, I Took Up My Cribble

Today I sat for a while in a cafe.  I'd gone into the city centre but hadn't made it there because I was not up to it.  Mentally I was a knot of anxiety.  Physically I wish I was well again.  This evening I'm really not in great shape.

However, the cafe.  While I was there I began a set of writing exercises given by the writer Ali Smith, who doesn't enjoy giving writing exercises.  There are seven of them and I played with the first two.  This blog post contains the results.  Unedited.  One day I will edit something.

I find that both of these results are almost autobiographical.

The triumph (for me) today is that I entered a writing competition.  I have a marginally greater than zero chance of winning a prize for the three pieces of flash fiction I submitted.  It doesn't matter that there are many better writers than me who will have entered the competition.  What matters is that I enjoyed the writing.

The first exercise involved writing a few sentences and emotions in a particular way.  The instruction then was to choose one sentence and write from it.  This happened:

Separated from her peers, she could only watch each bubble as it burst into nothing at the surface of her drink.  It was one of her bad days.  A glass of coke was all her mind could process.  Falling into herself, falling into an almost infinitesimal galaxy she fought with each heartbeat for her own survival, hoping the world beyond the glass would not intrude upon that centre of chaotic calm.

She shut out the people, the conversations.  Shut out the music too.  Initially she'd been enjoying listening.  Jazz playing softly.  For a while.  Then it became like a broken cacophony, as if Stockhausen were playing a cruel joke on Schoenberg.  She blocked it out, blocked it out, "I WILL not hear it" and shut down one mental and emotional faculty after another.

Now only the glass remained.  One focus.  One life.  One eye in the hurricane.  It was as though each single bubble sang one note of a song, sang the language of purpose, shining brightly as it burst.  Consider the bubbles.  They grow and die in a moment yet God arrays them with joy.  She was content to watch.  Content just to be with her drink, resisting all temptation to try to impose order, knowing the apparent patterns of popping were just illusions.

And then she realised.  The bright light of the bubble was its unfettered death cry.  The bubble only had purpose in her drink when it was nothing.  The moment it birthed itself, called out its own vigorous shape, that was the moment it died too.  Lost in the air they became a nothing of greater or lesser magnitude.  She knew in that instant that death was life and life was death and that her bad day and her reduction of the world to bubbles was more real than each time she shouted her own importance to the world.

She wept.  Weeping, she saw beyond the glass.  Noticed again the cafe customers surrounding her.  On her table, a single staple, half folded, and she considered where it might have come from.  A staple, failing in purpose as the staper incorrectly stamped it into a government document.  A staple, fallen from a magazine.  A staple out of place and isolated on varnished wood.  She convinced herself she was that staple.  She wept again.  She was wrong.

A hand on her shoulder.  A face, radiating compassion.  A query.  "Are you okay?  Can I help in any way?"

She wept again.  Fiercely.  A hug replaced the hand.

Bubbles continued to sing their joy.

Unobserved.  It didn't matter.


The second exercise was one of those "Here are some words.  Choose three.  Put them in a paragraph or story or poem."  The difference here was that I don't know the meaning of most of the words.  That didn't matter for the exercise.  The words could mean nothing or be given new meanings.

"I can't do it.  I just can't do it.  I'm useless."

Jill looked at Lucy with tears in her eyes.

"You can.  I promise.  I know it's not easy for you but give it another try.  You never know what might happen."

Jill tried to calm down, took deep breaths, and bravely picked up the cribble again.

"Okay, I'll try.  If you tell me exactly what to do."

Lucy picked up her cribble and pressed it into the obovate.

"Look.  Like this.  Don't worry about how it comes out.  Just treat it as a game."

Lucy pulled out the cribble and pressed it into the obovate again.  Harder.  So a bigger mark was made.

"Now you do it."

Gingerly, Jill pressed her cribble into the surface of her own obovate.

"This is so scary."

"I know it is.  You're doing great.  You can wiggle it if you like and swap colours too.  Just have fun with it.  Don't try to be a grandmaster."

Jill pulled the cribble out and looked at the mark it had made.  A small pink circle, fading towards the edges.

"Hey, I'm going to do blue next.  And wiggle it like you said."

By the end of the evening Jill was smiling.  Her obovate was covered in colour.  It didn't look like anything in particular but that didn't matter.  It was still pretty and it was her own work.

As Jill was leaving, Lucy hugged her tightly and said, "I'm so proud of you.  You're amazing.  You thought you would never be able to incarnadine but you did it.  That's pretty special."

Jill laughed as she said  "And if I can incarnadine, what might I do next?"

Thursday, 30 March 2017

On Gratitude And Thanking Non-Autistic People For Their Support, Autism Acceptance, And Positivity

[Note: All photos in this post are taken from the gratitude diary I kept throughout 2016.  Note too that I pretty much free wrote the following.  It's not an essay, struggled over for weeks.]

I am a great believer in gratitude.

It's no secret that I have plenty of hard days, that my mental health is sometimes shot to pieces in ways that make it hard to see the light.

Yet there is light.  There is always light somewhere.  Always awe, always wonder.  Feeling the warmth of the sun in the day - or the strength of the storm when the sun is hidden.  Watching the night sky and considering how far away each point of light is from us and from each other.  Or smiling at the closer lights of Jupiter, Mars, and Venus, the glorious face of the moon, and the chance of spotting the International Space Station.

Sunrise, viewed from Cullercoats

Today I could be miserable.  Mentally I'm finding today very tough.  I am also anxious about something I can't change.  My thought patterns run wild.  I could be telling myself I have nothing much to celebrate.  There was a time I couldn't find positives.  I would sit for an hour with a piece of paper to write a list.  Sometimes I only wrote one thing.  Sometimes I wrote nothing.

Yes the positives were there and are here now.  I sit on a comfortable sofa surrounded by soft toys and books.  Music is playing and I had the freedom to choose to play it.  In this room I have a guitar, a bubble gun, art materials, and many photograph albums covering my entire life.  I have notebooks, a giant rosary on the wall (honest!), pictures on the walls - some drawn by a friend, blankets, a clarinet, and a window letting in light.  Through that window I see a tree and the sky and I hear the singing of the birds.

Beyond this room I have family.  I have friends too.  Most of my friendships are recently formed.  Because I have chosen to go out and meet people.  Some are embryonic, some more full fledged.  I can travel into the city centre and get involved with all kinds of things run by good people.  And - as much as my health allows - I'm choosing to do that.

I refuse to not live.  And I strive to be grateful for what I have, who I am, and the opportunities around me.

I began to learn more about the power of gratitude last year.  I joined an online gratitude group.  The idea was that each day members would post words or photos expressing gratitude for something in their lives.  It didn't have to be a big thing.  Whether it was a plate of beans on toast or a massive life changing event didn't matter.  I posted in that group nearly every day - I missed ten over the course of the year.   Focusing on the positive in that way helped me, one of many things last year that helped me.  Seeing other people post their positives helped too.  And for me it changed my life.  There were plenty of days on which I would go out and seek positives and find previously unimagined things for which I could be grateful.

In short, I believe in gratitude.  I don't believe in ignoring the horrible parts of life or pretending they don't exist.  This isn't some method of positive thinking that loses sight of realism.  I believe in acc-ent-u-ating the positive.  But not e-lim-i-nating the negative.

Recently I decided I wanted to go further.  I don't just want to be thankful.  I want to act in thankfulness.  If I am thankful for a person, to say so.  If I am thankful for an organisation, to say so.  If I'm thankful for the great cake at a cafe, to say so.  Not just to myself.  Not just in an online group.  But to the person, organisation, cafe or whatever else I am grateful to and for.

As an intentional part of this process I have begun a little project.  I wouldn't have thought of it without the suggestions of a friend who pretty much came up with the idea.  Together we brainstormed - and I really hate that word! - and came up with a plan.

We, as autistic people, would seek to thank those people - especially but not exclusively the not-autistic people - who have helped us, supported us, and accepted us.  There were events leading up to this decision.  I don't need to recount them here.  Let it just be said that on a recent occasion one of us was badly hurt and mentally wounded by a group of autistic people who treated us very badly and didn't accept our autistic needs.  It was a group of not-autistic people who came to the rescue.  They understood, accepted, and gave lots of support through what was an extremely difficult situation. We looked at this situation knowing there had been betrayal by our own community and acceptance outside it.  The one of us who was hurt didn't behave badly and wasn't being mean to anyone.

Autistic Pride Wrist

As we talked together, that group of non-autistic people was the first thought of to be thanked.  They really were marvelous.

But then my friend took it further.  Why not thank other non-autistic (neurotypical, allistic) people and organisations?  The ones whose actions and attitudes can be described as examples of good practice.  The ones who believe in us and lift us up.  The ones who encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.  The ones who will sit with us in silence.  The ones who will see us through meltdowns and shutdowns.  The ones eager to learn and understand if they don't already.  The inclusive ones.  The ones for whom autism acceptance and appreciation is already a given.  Why not thank them?

I'd been getting annoyed by some things I'd seen online in autistic communities.  Particularly the way people can be treated if we perceive them not to be doing things just right.  I might agree that the things aren't right.  I'm no big fan of ABA or Autism Speaks and there are far worse things than either of those.  But I'm less of a fan of the times that people who might like ABA are made out to be evil.  They're not evil.  They're doing their best and children given ABA or restricted diets or any of the rest of it have parents who love them and want the very best for their autistic children.  While I might disagree about methods I'm not going to disagree about love.

I think there's a tendency online to find a bad particular situation and apply it broadly.  Not just with autism.  In every sphere.  Take politics - hey, the UK is leaving the EU and there are many memes telling how the people who voted to leave are majorly racist.  Some might be.  But I firmly believe most are not.  Of course they're not.  Or Muslims get called terrorists.  And all Christians get called homophobic bigots.  The particular is applied too widely.

A woman wants to cure her child.  That gets applied to many women until, in extreme cases, the "autism mums" are all seen as bad mothers who hate their children.  In reality of course nearly all of them deeply love their children and may be desperate to get them the best support there is.  Because they do need support - raising a severely autistic child isn't exactly easy.  Sometimes desperation may lead to unwise paths.  Sometimes.  But not to unloving paths.

Then there's Julia.  The new autistic character on Sesame Street.  One of the most autism positive things I've ever seen, as least on a TV show.  The puppeteer's son is autistic.  The designer of Julia felt very strongly about things because of all the autistic children he's known.  And the makers of the show have tried to do as good a job as they can having decided where on the spectrum Julia might be.

I have seen so many posts about how Julia is a terrible thing and how the makers of Sesame Street should be ashamed.  I don't need to give the reasons I've read.  Many of them were total rubbish.  Perhaps the makers need to continue to learn.  That's true and they say so themselves.  Perhaps Julia isn't some totally perfect autistic character, perfectly portraying every aspect of the condition.  It looks like she'll do a very good job though.

So I've been getting saddened when, especially online, the autistic community can sometimes [The word there is sometimes, not often.  That's deliberate.] spend a lot more time and energy blasting things and not much time at all congratulating people and organisations for the good they do.  We can get so stressed about whether we are autistic or have autism (and we can't agree on that ourselves) that we miss the picture of caring non-autistic people working their butts off for the sake of autistic people.

The Autistic Fringe Yurt, Edinburgh 2016

We decided we wanted to say thank you for the good.  Not ignore the bad.  But say thank you for the good.  So my friend and I planned.  I confess she was the instigator of the whole thing.  Our planning didn't take long.

April is known as Autism Acceptance Month.  It's a month in which many of us will campaign to be accepted.  And I will be glad to campaign - as long as autistic children suffer, while there aren't resources for brilliant child-centred early intervention, while adult support can be almost nonexistent, while people push for cures or in desperation use bleach solutions, while the situation elsewhere may be far worse than in the UK, and so on.  As long as there's a need I am happy to campaign.

But my friend and I want to spend the month rejoicing over the places and people where we are already accepted.  We want to rejoice over good practice.  We want to rejoice that there are lots and lots of great people out there.  Both of us know that there is much campaigning still to be done on many fronts.  Here in the UK and across the world.

So what are we doing?  My friend has bought cards and found out addresses.  She is sending personal thank you cards to people throughout the month of April.  "You've done this for me.  I appreciate it and you.  Thank you for your support/care/acceptance/creative compassion."  Or something like that.

I have started a Facebook page.  This one:

I plan to publicly thank someone each day in April and to let them know that they have been thanked.  Sometimes I'll have to anonymise what I write on Facebook - but they'll know who they are because I will thank them privately.

We'll thank the people who behave like this for us.

My hope is that other autistic people will be a part of the page and thank those who have helped them, accepted them, loved them, supported them, in large ways and small.  My hope is that autistic friends might join in the game and maybe some autistic strangers too.  My hope is that the page will be a place filled with gratitude and positivity.  I also hope that others might see the page, see what kind of things autistic people appreciate and seek to act along those lines.

It's a little daunting though.  I have to find thirty people and groups to thank and I haven't made my list yet.  I've also got the first thoughts of another project in mind that will take a lot more work than posting thirty things on a Facebook page.

Beyond that I don't know what will happen.

One of my soft toys enjoying Greenbelt festival.

We hope to bring smiles to ourselves and each other as we remember all the good people in our worlds.

We both hope that we can bring smiles to people and encourage them for what they're doing and being for us.

We hope that our simple thank yous will enrich the lives of those around us.

We hope too that saying thank you will not prove controversial.  I've already been told that it is and I've had grumbles about we poor marginalised autistic people thanking privileged neurotypical people.  Enough of that.  Please.  I know we could thank autistic people - for a start we could thank each other for acceptance.  But this time, just this once, we're going to look outside the autistic community and hand out a whole load of gold stars and celebrate autism acceptance in our own possibly peculiar way.

Autism Acceptance Month begins in two days.  This year I am looking forward to it.

The Children Shot Me With Their Bubbles

Feeling rough right now.  Much anxiety over something that happens next week.  I know intellectually that anxiety doesn't help.  I know that worrying about it will not change the result in the slightest.  That doesn't help, does it?

On the other hand I took another step forward yesterday and did something I've never done before.  Another step on the plan without a plan.  Even while finding everything very hard I did that.  That's something to celebrate.  Spontaneously.  Because it was the first session of an improvisation course.  Totally out of my comfort zone but it was a lot of fun because the man running it did so in such a way that it could only be a lot of fun.  I'm looking forward to the other seven sessions.

A story.
It didn't happen.
But I have been learning how to play more.
The person who taught me it was okay to own bubble guns and play with them on city streets knows who she is.

Bubble gun. I can see it now.

Attacked by bubbles.
The children laughing at me
Shot me with their gun.

Without permission
And I glared at them, pointed
Angry reaction.

Where are your mothers?
Do they think you should be allowed
To disturb strangers?

I shouted. Saw red
Beyond red. Into crimson black
My rage uncontrolled.

And waving my arms
Approached the closest of them
Seeking full revenge.

Grabbing her weapon
I wrestled it from her hands.
She began to cry.

A boy shouted back
Who the fuck do you think you are
To upset my sister?

It was only then
I stopped. Caught short. Held my breath
Anger stumbled, fell.

Extended vision
I saw the scene from outside
Saw my own sad truth.

Was it really true
I'd forgotten how to play
Lost my innocence?

How had I become
A man fully capable
Of breaking children's hearts?

Falling to my knees
I wept too. For myself first
Then for the poor child.

Tried to apologise
No words sufficient. After
Damaging her freedom.

Handing back her gun.
She placed her hand on my arm
Her smile brought healing.

She began to laugh
Pointed her gun right at me
Shot bubbles in my face.

My tear continued
But I began to laugh too. More.
Big belly guffaws.

I cried tears of joy
She kept attacking me while
Running rings round me.

Later, healed by a child,
I bought a shop's entire stock
Of plastic bubble guns.

Kept one for myself
And gave the rest away
To passing children.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Eyes That Follow You Round A Room - A Poem And A Prose Piece

A day for feeling mentally a little wrecked and I'm proud of myself because I made it to the Writers' Cafe this morning and managed not to walk out even though I was feeling totally nauseous with anxiety and for a while could hardly process verbal inputs among the noises from other parts of the cafe.  And the wallpaper?  Oh God the wallpaper.  I find it difficult on the best of days.  Today it came alive and at times engulfed my whole existence.

Our theme this morning was "Eyes That Follow You Round A Room" based on art work, John Berger and our own thoughts.  I wanted to get out of that place.  Instead I managed to write a few words.  The poem below.  And I had an idea, the first fruits of which are below in prose.  One scene out of what could be a larger tale.  I just free wrote it and the scene was not quite the one I'd had in my mind when I began.

The wall of wallpaper.  Someone CHOSE this paper.

The Joy of Painting

Alone unpainted.
Forced to bear my existence
Among silenced lives.

The don't speak to me.
Except to say their contentment
Is found on canvas.

In paint there's no pain.
Even the eyes of The Scream
Are calmer than my own.

Without words they call:
Join us.  Stretch yourself.  Bare flesh
and blood is your paint.

No walking future.
A blade is the artist's brush
Releasing my life.

In death I'll be preserved.
Freed into quiet.  Lifted high.
Held, framed on a wall.

The Faceless One

Having forced open the French window it was still difficult to climb inside, across a large desk and into Doctor Wilson's study.  On the way I knocked my knee hard into the window ledge, placed my hand down painfully onto something jagged, and knocked something heavy to the floor.  When it landed on the floor the thud sounded to me more like the chiming of the clock in St. Matthew's church down in the village square and I held myself motionless, hardly daring to breathe.  No lights were turned on though and I could hear nothing beyond the ambience of the night.

Once in the study I turned on my flashlight and found that the jagged item had been a crystal of some variety, purple and sharp.  I removed my glove to check my hand and was relieved to see that there was no blood.  Nevertheless I wiped down the crystal carefully.  The thud had been caused by a large paperweight.  I was only slightly shocked to see that the resin contained two human ears and a tongue.  I placed it carefully back on the desk hoping that I'd put it roughly where it had been before.  It wasn't what I had come for and it wouldn't do anyone any good were I to remove it.

I turned and scanned the study with my flashlight until the beam hit the bookcases on the other side of the room.  Somewhere among them was my prize.  I began to tiptoe towards the books, worried that each step would cause an almighty creak in the floorboards and the doctor would wake and discover me.  I didn't want to consider whether I might be able to talk my way out of the situation.  I doubted I could.

As I crept past a green leather sofa in the centre of the room I heard a squelching noise behind me.  Faint.  But definitely present.  I swung round and shone my light in the direction of the sound.  Nothing.  I was alone.  I scanned the room with the beam a few more times to make sure before turning back to my goal.  Two more steps.  The noise again.  I turned.  Was everything the same?  I thought so.  Something was making that noise though and my heart beat faster.  I knew I was beginning to sweat and hoped beyond hope that I could find the book and escape.  The doctor's study would be the worst place for a full blown panic attack.

I took deep breaths.  Willed myself to relax.  Told myself I was alone.  And then, I am almost ashamed to admit it, I crossed myself and said a prayer before heading with greater speed to the bookcases.  The squelch squelch began again and I tried to ignore it.  There's nothing there.  Nothing there.  Nothing there.  I tried to convince myself but in that situation I was the queen of sceptics.

I shone my flashlight across each shelf of books in turn.  Books of anatomy and physics were scattered among volumes of stage magic and actual magic and books of stories and poems by writers so obscure their names didn't even ring vague bells in my mind.  All the time the squelching.  Louder.  Closer.  Or was I imagining it?

I cursed my luck as I didn't find what I was seeking until the final shelf.  A precious book.  At least it was precious to me.  Because it had been mine.  I hadn't bought this book in a shop.  I had hand crafted each page, making the paper and the binding myself.  And I'd filled it with the results of my own researches.  Ten years of work distilled into one journal.  Stolen by Doctor Wilson.  The theft had taken place the previous year and it had taken this long to discover the perpetrator.  I hoped he hadn't been able to decode too many of my ciphered scratchings and drawings.

I hastily took the book and placed it into my bag.  Turning I saw a hint of movement on the dark floor.  The squelching stopped.  I shone my flashlight at the movement and there, in the middle of the floor, I saw two eyes.  Just eyes.  The eyeballs and connecting tissue that would normally hold an eye to a head.  No head.  No face.  No eyelids.  Just eyes.  Staring up at me.

I realised in that moment that the eyes had been following me round the room.  I realised too that Doctor Wilson's experiments had progressed further than I feared.  If he could remove a person's eyes and they could continue to live apart he had followed his science to a level I hadn't dreamed.  Perhaps I could help.  Rescue these instruments of vision.  Perhaps even one day locate the face they had been cut from and restore them.  Maybe I could find a way to communicate with an eye and it would help me find its true home.

Without a further thought I picked up the two eyes and placed them in my bag with my journal.  Thought could wait until I was standing in a place safer than the doctor's study.  I climbed back across the desk and out of the window, sliding it closed behind me.

And then I ran, putting as much distance as I could between myself and the night.

Monday, 27 March 2017

A Talk For The Sunday Assembly Newcastle, But Mostly Not What Was Spoken

Yesterday I spoke at the Sunday Assembly in Newcastle.  I've been attending the Assembly on and off for a little over three years.  Yesterday was the first time I've stood at the front and spoken any words during a meeting.  I guess it won't be the last time.  When I first attended I was, of course, still quite a strong Christian although I'd lost my evangelical zeal and my belief in exclusivism - that only Jesus can save you and outside of his way you're doomed.  At the time I was part of Metropolitan Community Church and was attending the local Quaker house sometimes.  Both of them are groups I still respect.  And I'll get back to the Quakers again soon probably.  A lot had happened to get me to the point of wanting to go and see what happened at a "Godless gathering" as the Sunday Assembly was then known.  A lot has happened since.  Leading up to yesterday.  Standing at the front speaking.  It was almost like testimony time at a Pentecostal church.

Each month there is a main talk by a visiting speaker.  This month the speaker spoke about sign language and her work as a sign language interpreter.  She was very interesting and mentioned how strange Geordies are in their sign language dialect - the local sign for bread is the sign that everyone else in the country uses for jealous and she gave several other examples.

In addition, there is a shorter slot in which someone from our own community speaks.  We call that section "X is doing their best."  A call for volunteers went out and I found myself agreeing to it.  What follows is what was originally written for the talk.

As it happens, half of this talk was not in the final version.  There are eight photos below and the talk only contained the final two.  Yes, half of this was missed out.  And of the half that was used, much of it didn't remain the same.  Instead of being a script it became a guide and it got quite widely deviated from.  Even the section that's a direct quote from my own blog got changed a lot!  Sitting at a laptop is not the same as standing with a microphone in your hand.  It's a shame I didn't get someone to video me.  I think I could have learned a lot by watching myself and noticing what was good and what wasn't.

Anyway.  I did a good job.  That's what I'm told.  And I'm also told that I really should aim at some point to perform a stand up comedy routine.  Terrifying!  Three months into this year of the plan without a plan and I am completely scaring myself.  Oh well.

So here is what was typed.  It was not what was spoken.

The last time I got up and spoke before a group of people who had assembled for a meeting not unlike this one on a Sunday was about three and a half years ago. I was an Anglican preaching a sermon and if you had told me I'd now be a part of this community I'd have laughed at you.

But life's full of surprises and I was already getting over some big ones. I've got five minutes to talk now about surprises. And coddiwompling. Mostly about coddiwompling. Let's get the surprises over with.

In 2010 I was an avid Catholic man.

One of the "I used to be very sad" photos.

There I am. Full of smiles and happiness and deep contentment. We lived in Wales and knew that we would be there for a very long time.  [Of course I knew I would be discussing the pictures more than just one sentence.]

Then we weren't. In 2011 after life went wrong in too many ways at once we moved to Newcastle.

By the end of 2011 I had left the Catholic church and signed on with the CofE. Total surprise. I thought I was Catholic for life

In 2012 I became a preacher again. I looked for a picture of Jesus for this. I found one. It's called “Jesus Christ Lord Saviour.”  [Yes, I expected a laugh at this point if I had included any of this talk.]

Jesus Christ Lord Saviour
In 2013 my big surprise was to come out to myself and everyone else and say “Hey everyone, I'm female.” This photo was taken by my mum on the first evening my parents saw me after I came out. It's amazingly different from that first photo.

Not all surprises are so wonderful. When I came out in 2013 my parents welcomed me as their daughter. By September 2014 my mother had died of cancer and my dad was in a care home and couldn't remember me.

My mum. Standing on a woman's nipple.

In 2015 I got the shock of my life when I got to know quite a lot of autistic adults and finally had to come to terms with accepting myself as autistic and getting a diagnosis rather than actively denying it as I'd been doing for many years.

Some autistic people in Edinburgh last year

That's led to lots of other surprises – including an embracing of soft toys and finding new love and realising that it's okay to own bubble guns.

In 2016 I was surprised to be involved in the first steps of starting my own business. I couldn't cope with it though and had to let it go which was very difficult. I felt ashamed and weak and that I was letting the world down. Later I decided to try again – because I felt I should and anyway, it was a good idea - and threw myself back in to the fray.

That brings me to this day.

Marsden Quarry
November 2nd of last year. I was walking, on a quest to take a picture of a white horse. During that walk everything seemed to become brighter and clearer and when I reached this spot – or somewhere near it - I had a moment of total clarity and began to coddiwomple. I knew that I had to give up all ideas of the business, that it wasn't what I was meant to be doing. I knew I had to embrace myself more than I ever had before. Walk my path without having any clue about where it might lead. That night I wrote about what I'd realised in that moment.

Today, standing at the top of a quarry cliff, the wind blowing through her, laughter filling every particle of her being, she knew. Certainty struck her. A thunderstruck realisation that of where she can learn to walk and learn to run and to learn to fly.

To walk on her own feet on the ground that spirit calls her to walk upon.

To run in her own strength, developing stamina and speed.

To fly in her own feathers.

So many times Clare has attempted to fly in feathers that were not her own. Through self rejection. Through embracing the ideas and desires of others. The things she thought she should think and be do.

But she fell. Every time. And her own feathers were never allowed to grow.

Now it is time for Clare to learn to walk and to run and to learn to fly.

Now is the time to lay down some possibilities, strengthen others, and embrace still more that lay dormant or rejected.

Clare doesn't quite know what this mean. She doesn't know where these ideas will lead. She has hope and she has excitement and she has a vast gulf of uncertainty for the future.

But tonight Clare knows at least two things with certainty.

She knows that something, a particular thing, is not for her no matter how good it is.

And she knows that definitively saying no to it will be a release and a happiness, rather than a shaming disappointment.

She knows.

It took the wind, the cliffs, the over arching sky, and the whole of nature to cry out to her and scream "This is what you are."

It took a lot for Clare to listen and receive the song of the air.

A few days later I totally withdrew from all involvement with the business ideas and felt a great sense of relief and release. I began to consider my path. As me. How to follow my joy and my bliss. And then got totally sidetracked by photographing every Snowdog and little Snowdog in the next ten days.

Yes, in short I began to coddiwomple. There may be people here who don't know that word. To be honest I don't know it either. A definition.

So how is my coddiwompling going? My biggest coddiwomple urge is to write. At the start of the year I decided I should try to write something every day and post it in a blog. I decided too that I'd get to the Writers' Cafe workshops more regularly.

A month later I'd set myself two ambitions for the year. First I would stand up and perform one piece I'd written at a spoken word event somewhere by the end of the year. I've done that now.

Second, I would submit at least one piece and see if it might be published. I confess I've been putting that off.

It's now the end of March and other ambitions have formed. To write a novel by the end of the year. To perform a stand up comedy routine – which is difficult because according to some of the books autistic people don't understand humour. The plans and possibilities open up and I've met some gorgeous people too. And joined a drama group.

I don't know where the writing will lead. I don't know where other aspects of my life will lead. And the year is already throwing up some other major surprises.

But that doesn't matter. I am making an effort to follow my joy, my bliss and to walk a path as myself. So wherever it all leads it will be the right place for me. Mental health means that sometimes I'm going to be collapsed on my bed or whimpering in a corner. But when health allows and in all things I want to try to walk in what I call “the plan without a plan.”

If you're not coddiwompling already, and I know some of you are, why not give it a go? It's certainly more enjoyable than watching reruns of Jeremy Kyle. There's great happiness in not having a destination but striding towards it anyway.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

As If One Voice, Mine, Suddenly Cried Out In Terror And Was Suddenly Silent

Totally shattered. Glands swelling up again, pointing out to me my own frailty and pumping another curiously macabre hormonal selection into flesh and mind.  Tonight I am both exhausted and unstable and I watch, wondering whether my current fall from stability will land me on cushions or in a state in which my every vision on closing my eyes is the cutting of my own skin to bring order into the chaos.  Could I request cushions please?

I know at these times to be gentle with myself.  To tell myself that it's okay to feel this way and that when all is said and done it isn't my fault.  I tell myself that this too will pass.  I tell myself of the saint who said that "all will be well" and then remember she wasn't talking about anything like this or anything that has much to do with my life at all.  Or your life.

And yet, it has been a good day.  I couldn't do much this morning and knew I had to conserve my energy.  This afternoon I was able to be out and took part in an artistic workshop at Baltic 39 - a gallery and studio space in Newcastle that's kind of a side-arm of The Baltic gallery in Gateshead.  From there I headed over to another city centre building and took part in a drama workshop that was full of smiles.

Exhaustion is the price.  It's a price worth paying.

Arriving slightly early for the first workshop I was able to sit alone.  For just a couple of minutes.  During those moments I wrote a few lines on my phone.

Empty gallery
We'll gather here today
To explore voices:

Our own, each other's.
Ask what the devil it means
To sound as free gods.

I sit full of fear
Art must flow from my scared voice
And I don't know how.

Empty pages hang
Among boxes, paints, bare brushes.
Just potentials now.

Art did flow.  Of a kind.  I confess I was left at the end staring at the gallery wall we'd all made our marks on.  And I was as confused and bemused by the result as I ever have been at The Baltic.  It's the first time I've been part of a small group faced with a blank gallery wall that needs to have art added to it.  Not just a blank sheet of paper to be filled with words or with pen and paint marks.  But a whole damn wall.

What I know is that in that situation my voice was not free.  It was trapped and imprisoned and broken.  Any more broken and I would have needed to use a text to speech app.  I would have become a woman with an electronic voice.  A woman too with an Australian accent because it sounds more natural than the English one the app uses. 

Moving to the second workshop and my voice was free.  It is interesting what a change of space can do to a voice.

Tomorrow I will need my voice again.  And I will need it to be free.  I am speaking publicly.  For five minutes.  Roughly.  On a subject of my choice.  Each month at the Sunday Assembly there is a section called "X is doing their best."  This month I volunteered.  I'm not doing anything spectacular.  We've heard some spectacular stories.  But I am doing my best.  Aren't we all?

I wrote a talk but it was twice the length it should have been.  I wrote another.  It's only slightly long.  This will be the first time I've spoken publicly on a Sunday since I was a Christian preacher.  I had to stop that (I was forced) when I came out, "in case anyone is ever worried" about me being transgender.  At the Sunday Assembly nobody will be worried by that.  If if, by chance, someone was worried, well they would just have to get over it wouldn't they?!  Nobody there would ever, ever be stopped from anything on the grounds of gender, sexuality, race, disability or anything else.

Tomorrow I mention my "plan without a plan."  Speaking tomorrow is in itself part of that plan.  It's one more little leap into freedom and my future.

But for tonight I am shattered and very unstable on my brain.  For tonight I will drink tea and then curl up with a blanket and the comfort of several soft toys.

For tonight I must be content to be rather than to do.  And that is fine.

Finally for tonight there are these few lines, written before I wrote the first sentence of this post.  I had a whole story in my mind related to this.  But these six lines are what stand.

Walking barefoot along a perfect sand shore
Each granule reflecting elements of sunlight
My left foot found the one jagged stone.
With the piercing of my skin I understood
That there can be no utopia
Even in the most vivid tranquility.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Failing To Write, Here Is A Little More of the Jesus Army

I haven't managed a writing blog today.  There are some reasons for this, not least of which is that my head is really struggling after a couple of weeks of illness and glandular problems that send hormones and everyone else completely potty.
The other day I posted a few memories of my time connected with a Jesus Army community house.

Here's something posted today by someone who grew up as part of that household and is still a part of the church.
James has included a video in the post about the making of the church's latest DVD/CD.  It contains songs and people from the church talking about the history of the fellowship and of the songs too.

The first person to speak in the video in this post is Olivia. I remember her - she was part of that household too. A memory:

There is a popular Christian song called "Shout to The Lord," written by Darlene Zschech of Hillsong Church in Australia. The first time I heard that song was in the dining kitchen of Vineyard Farmhouse. It was sung by Julie - the woman whose gorgeous flapjack making skill I mentioned. She played the guitar and accompanying her on vocals with some totally stonking harmonies were Olivia and Caroline, the sister of the person whose post I've just linked to.

Another of the good memories of Vineyard.  I think too of walking in the countryside with a few of the sisters - how did I get away with that in mid-90s Jesus Army?! - and the absolute joy of one of them whenever she saw a beetle.

I think of the night we walked back from Cornhill Manor during a festival weekend, almost all of the way to Vineyard before a minibus appeared and picked us up.  It was a stunning night.  Totally clear and directly ahead of us for almost the whole walk was the clear light of Hale-Bopp comet.

I think of the time, with some of the brothers, we wandered out of the marquee during a service at one of the festival weekends and ended up in a field.  Out came the weed.  But they wouldn't let me smoke any of it.  They didn't want to lead me astray.  Eventually I walked back into the marquee, halfway through another long talk by Noel Stanton, the senior pastor of the church.  And just at that moment he said something that hit me very hard.  Twenty years later I haven't got a clue what it was he said.

Many memories.  And most of them were good.

One more thing.  This song.  Written a couple of years ago and filmed by James.  I no longer believe.  But I still think this is pretty special.

So Jesus Army, Jesus Fellowship, New Creation Christian Community, to you I say thank you.

To the people who came and stayed at Vineyard Farmhouse and those who came and left, I say thank you.

For the laughter.  For the honesty.  For the tears.  For the frustration.  For the hospitality.  For the friendships.  For the times I thought the whole thing was ridiculous.  For all the apple crumble I devoured, never sticking with one helping.
For the fact that you know mistakes were made.  For the fact you can now hold your hands up and say so.  For the fact you're putting right what you can and seek to continue to learn.  I thank you for that.
Thank you for the red wooden cross I wore the other week when performing as a godly Christian who found far too much joy in strangling sinners.  I still have the cross and probably always will.

Thank you for the memories.  I wouldn't be without them.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

On Learning That I'm Part Of An Extremist Group Of Fake-Autistic People

I'm part of several online autism groups.  This post is about one of those groups.  It's run by people I respect and I know quite a few of the members, either from conversations online or from meeting them in what some people call "in real life" as if an online conversation and developed friendship can't be real.  It's not just an autism group though, not now.  Now it includes various conditions and differences and disabilities that would come under the category of "neurodivergent" or "neurodiverse."  It's a group which campaigns for acceptance of all people.  Among the members are autistic people, other neurodivergent people, and people who would be classed as "neurotypical."

This week we got trolled.  Someone joined.  Acted badly.  Left.  And then posted a thirty minute rant on Youtube insulting us all and insulting some of the members in particular.  While doing something else I left his video playing.  He made me cross because of the attacks he was making on people I know to be good people, trying their best to build something of value - something which not so long ago very nearly crashed on the rocks and got shattered into a thousand jagged pieces.

So what did I do?  I wrote some words.  They're rubbish poetry but they're heartfelt.  Now, having written them, I can let go of being cross.  I wouldn't post them here except that I'm still not that well and haven't been able to write the things I want to write.  For today, this is all I have.

Two extremists plotting world domination.  Or perhaps not.

I'm numbered among the extremists;
The radicals who in their words
Lie; hurling slander at all others.
My leaders are evil people
And we, their foolish followers
Have been lobotomised.
We hate science, we censor all debate,
We are the arrogant, deluded thousands
Who stand together in unity
And sometimes agree to stand in disunity.
We're not really autistic at all.
Because if we were autistic
We would see through the extremism
And leave. Not only that,
We wouldn't have been accepted to begin with.
Then, outside the dark citadel of that group
We would find the true Aspergians
The ones whose diagnoses are valid.

That's what I heard today.
However, I don't quite trust my source.
My source has a fixed view of his own rightness
And though many groups have given up
And, exasperated by his ways, thrown him out,
He claims it was never, ever, for trolling.
My source has something interesting to say
About feminism too. He says that people are right
To view it as a cancer.
He wants everything to be in context
Except for the video clips of feminists he posts.
Context is irrelevant. If it wouldn't serve him.
In short, he's as hypocritical as anyone
He may accuse of the same shortcoming.
My source claims that we of our group
Are not the real autistic spectrum people.
We're fakes. We're obviously neurotypical.
And we're trying to replace the real people
With our extremist deception and fakery.
My source says we don't know what we're talking about
Just because we didn't respond to his single question
With the answer he wanted us to give.

But, and this is a big but,
I know people from the group.
I know them to be autistic.
I've met them. Worked with some of them.
Some of them are my friends
I've sat in cafes with them, and tents
And waved sparkling lights with them in the dark.
I've smiled with them and cried with them.
I've even spent three days in a yurt with them
At an international autism conference.
It's safe to say this:
The autistic people among them are autistic.
Actually and undoubtedly and beautifully autistic.
We're fallible, we're faulty,
We're known for our social issues and complexities.
We screw up sometimes, and can fail to see the grey.
We argue and debate and sometimes fall out
Only to make up again when peace breaks out.
And sometimes our mistakes can be whoppers.
I know. I've been as guilty as anyone.
But we're trying our best.
We're not the liability he thinks we are.
We're not a bunch of brain dead radicals
Just because we don't want to discuss
Vaccines and bloody Andrew Wakefield for the
Hundredth time this week.

My source is correct though. In part.
Extremism is dangerous.
If it ran riot then autistic acceptance
Would only be a pipe dream.
I agree, and I share his concern.
It's just, he's pointing in the wrong place.
Perhaps there's nowhere much to point to.
Perhaps that Hell serpent is just a fantasy.
And perhaps, consider this,
He should point to himself, just for a day.
Perhaps we all should, just for a day.
I know I should.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

On Hearing That A Radical Atheist Is Now A Radical Christian

On hearing the news that an old friend is now a born again radical Christian preacher.

(Haiku with the wrong number of syllables.  I am told that I can get away with that by calling them modern haiku.  Perhaps I should look up some other syllable structures and spend some time playing.  Playing is a most excellent pastime.)

Didn't you jeer at me
When I fervently believed
My father was God?

You called me idiot.
Said I'd taken leave of all
Faculties of reason.

You lived so proudly
Placing your atheism
Above my raw faith.

You spat on Bibles
Recrucified my saviour
Mocked him once again.

Said you could not see
How anyone could be so
Stupid as to believe.

Shaking your big head
Despairing because your friend
Was one of those fools

Even though you knew she
Had two well earned college degrees
And genius IQ

You would have prayed
For her to see your great light.
If you had her God.

So tell me what happened.
How did we get here from there?
When did it all change?

Turning on turning.
Hurting, I lost certain faith.
And you picked it up.

Nothing really changed.
You are still evangelist.
Strong in conviction.

And I still cherish
That you have made up your mind
To live to the full.

You called me Jesus Freak
Now fallen freak, lost in sin,
Everything is the same.

We exchanged our creeds
But in that unforeseen swap
We remained ourselves.

Theism? Atheism?
Neither creed maketh the man.
Neither changes the heart.

When all is said and done,
Religion doesn't make the saint
Or a lack make the sinner.

I'm not against religion.  I'm not against faith.  People find comfort in faith.  Direction.  Some people find survival.  They find meaning and belonging.  They find an impetus to be nice people.  I found all these things and more.  Catholic prayers helped me a lot in providing some central order to my life.

Believe in your God(s).  Follow him/her/them and for you that can be the path up the mountain to whatever enlightenment is.  I hope the Hindus have it right when they say that enlightenment is the realisation that the core of our being, our true self, is a state of pure bliss.  Like the Upanishads say:

I am of the nature of consciousness.
I am made of consciousness and bliss.
I am nondual, pure in form, absolute knowledge, absolute love.
I am changeless, devoid of desire or anger, I am detached.
I am One Essence, unlimitedness, utter consciousness.
I am boundless Bliss, existence and transcendent Bliss.
I am the Atman, that revels in itself.
I am the Sacchidananda that is eternal, enlightened and pure.

Isn't that wonderful.  Yep.  In short I am God.  And so are you.  And so are we all.  And so is everything.  And we are one.  And we are bliss.  It's a stunningly beautiful philosophy.  That doesn't necessarily mean it's true.  But it's beautiful.  Certainly more beautiful than the Calvinist concept of the total depravity of mankind.

Yes, believe in whatever happens to be your path up the mountain.  Follow deities.  Or don't.  Be part of an organised faith.  Or don't.  Wear garments of faith.  Or don't.  Sing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs.  Or don't.  Pray.  Or don't.  Meditate.  Or don't.  It's all okay.  As long as it's the right path for you, without coercion, without fear, and based firmly on love for all people and the rest of the world on which we live.

What I am against are aspects of religion that I used to follow:
The view that one path up the mountain is the only one.
The view that anyone not walking on that path is damned in some manner.
Views that lead away from equality and social justice.

Apart from that, keep your faith.  Cherish it.  And it can be very beautiful indeed.

A confession: The friend mentioned above is a figment of my imagination.  I have though known some rabidly fierce evangelists for their version of Jesus who were previously equally rabidly fierce evangelists for their version of anti-Jesus.  Conversion doesn't really change you.  It just changes your views about what might be right.  And thus you set yourself to live differently.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

I confess! I was a cult member! I was part of the Jesus Army.

I confess.

I was a member of the Jesus Army.

They called it a cult.  I still joined.
I went in with my eyes open, knowing that I would not be there forever.
I was warned of heavy shepherding, warned that they would brainwash me and steal all my money.
I joined anyway.
This was in the mid-1990s.  Since that time the ways of the church have mellowed somewhat.  There are actually people there who believe in LGBT equality.  Perhaps they've moved on a little from what, to an outsider, would seem to be a very sexist structure.  I've heard that there is even a transgender member of the community.
It's been sixteen years since I attended one of their services, sixteen years since I stayed in a community house, prayed and slept with the brothers, sang those songs and rode around in a brightly painted Jesus Army minibus.
Looking back now in my post Christian days I can tell you this:
I had a great time there and if I had to live those years again I'd live them more devoted to the vision of that church, more enthusiastic about the community, and less likely to grumble at all the shortcomings I saw.
Would I be safe if I visited?  As an ex-Christian, non-theist, transgender woman.  I don't know.
Looking back on the Jesus Army I see perhaps the only church I miss.

A few things about the community:

I was part of a community household that no longer exists.  The head of the house says that he takes the blame for some of the reasons why it fell apart.  Perhaps with a little more of the heavy shepherding it would have thrived.  Or at least with a little more shepherding.  In effect most of us who visited that house could do pretty much as we pleased.  And we did.  The other reason why it fell apart was perhaps that of charity and compassion.  Vineyard Farmhouse took in a lot of waifs and strays, of whom I was one.  There were a lot of people to be helped and not enough people to be the helpers.  Eventually that balance gave way.

I was loved in that community.  I had friends.  And I laughed more than I ever laughed before or since.

I struggled in that community.  I wasn't prepared to submit to much at all and was critical far too often and charitable far too little.  While there was much to criticise that's only because the place was full of fallible humans.  They were all doing their best and all too often I was too quick to point my finger at the shortcomings of the church.

I sang lots.  I played the guitar lots.  I enjoyed worshiping my God through music immensely.  In the community the evening meal was preceded each day by "grace time" which wasn't just a five second mumbled prayer.  It was a half hour praise and teaching party.  Each evening the community was united in purpose before sharing the meal.  At least that was the theory.

I was a brother and so slept in the "brothers' bungalow" above the main farmhouse.  That's a building which no longer exists.  A good thing.  It was pretty rough and often smelled of oil.  It was cold too and if you ever wanted to live in a luxurious cult you wouldn't have chosen it.  But there was clean bedding and clean towels and a hot shower.  And there was generally conversation, laughter and the odd argument too.

The Vineyard community housed some "interesting" characters.  People of I kind I never would have met anywhere else in my sheltered existence.  On one occasion - in another community - I found that I was the only person in a sizable group of brothers who had never been to prison.  One person involved in the community, the guy who stole and wrote off a Jesus Army minibus, had a large collection of car badges from different makes of car.  Each badge was taken from a car he had stolen.  One person held a knife to the head of the house.  A young brother ran off with a much older sister who happened to be celibate.  One person had robbed a bank.  There were lots of people who were drug addicts, some of whom still took drugs.  The aroma of weed could often be smelled outside Sunday services.  The Ship of Fools mystery worshiper went to a service a few years ago and popped out to the loo half way through.  He found people snorting lines of coke there.

With all the interesting characters relationships were sometimes strained and everyone wore their issues close to the surface.  There wasn't time to be proud and hide everything and there wasn't a desire to put on an English stiff upper lip.

When I first arrived at Vineyard I refused point blank to go and sit with the brothers for meals - sex segregation at meals was the custom.  I was much more comfortable sitting with the sisters.  I wonder why!  Of course I submitted to that custom pretty quickly and found some great brothers.

I learned eventually never to lend anything to a community member.  Jesus said to lend not expecting to get it returned.  That was a key there.  You wouldn't get it back.  Ever.  It was as if people thought Jesus had said you should borrow not expecting to give it back.  Maybe I was just unlucky but I had a 100% success rate of losing everything I lent to someone.  Including a guitar.   He couldn't give that back.  Some high up drug dealers took it in order to cover some of his drug debt.

I am no longer a Christian.  Yet a folder of songs is currently on the music stand on the piano.  It came from Vineyard Farmhouse and contains all the songs we used to sing.

Flapjack.  I can't speak of Vineyard without thinking of flapjack.  There was a lot of flapjack.  The best of it was made by a woman named Julie.  Lovely woman.  Sorry Felicity but yours wasn't quite as good as Julie's.  But the doughnuts you made once were absolutely gorgeous.

Flapjack.  It was part of the Jesus Army.  Early in its history, with the members pooling their resources and income into the community and the church, members formed several businesses and cooperatives.  They had solicitors, doctors, a hairdresser, a motor repair business and a farm.  They also started a bakery and a tiny wholefoods cooperative.  The latter developed and became a large health food company housed in what was the largest warehouse in Northamptonshire.  They had their own line of flapjacks.  Oh Chunky Jacks.  I miss you!

Critics pointed to the monetary worth of the Jesus Army and its turnover and accused it of being a very rich organisation.  They said that someone somewhere must be getting very wealthy out of it.  None of it was true.  That financial turnover was the result of the businesses and included the incomes and livelihood of each of those members who lived in the community.  Nobody was getting rich and the church used extra money to pay for the work of the church - all those events in the big marquee and the printing of thousands of copies of the magazine to be posted to subscribers for free and giving so much to waifs and strays like me who hardly contributed a thing financially to them.

All those nights stayed in community.  How much did they charge me?  Zero.  That's how much.  I'm sure that if I'd been able to give them something and had given it they would have been glad of the cash and would have put it to use.  But it wouldn't have changed the way anyone treated me.  Not one bit.

As for getting rich.  The head of Vineyard farmhouse lived in a shared bedroom in the brothers' bungalow.  The leader of the whole church lived in a bedroom in one of the other community houses - New Creation Farm.  He ate what everyone else ate and lived as they did.  He worked very hard and kept up his passion for Jesus and the church vision throughout his life.

I struggled under his teaching.  I found his sermons painful to listen to.  They just didn't seem very good.  I'd moan about them all the time.  And then he would say something and it would just hit me in the guts and I'd have to deal with it.  We used to laugh about Noel's preaching style and imitate him excellently.  The head of Vineyard pointed out the fallacy in our claim to not be listening to Noel while imitating him so perfectly.  Because we were listening.  Carefully.

Vineyard had comfy and very scruffy sofas.  It had a basement with washing machines and second grade apples from the farm.  It had no potato peeler but many potatoes to be peeled.  It had an outhouse containing a 24/7 prayer room with walls on which we could write prayers.

Vineyard had smiles and tears and struggling people and a bunch of misfits.  It had walks in the woods and in the countryside nearby.

I moaned about it while I was there.  There was much to moan about.  I could write another blog post about the moans.  But what would be the point?

But it was one of the happiest times of my life.  Sixteen years later, though I don't believe the gospel and don't believe in many of the practicalities of how they think that gospel should be lived, (Whatever they say, women weren't treated as well as men) I love that church more than I ever did.

One day I might return.  Give my testimony in that giant marquee again.  Tell them I don't believe in their God but I love them still.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Remember: You Deserve More Love, Not Less. Every Single Day

Yes.  Still ill.  I feel somewhat better today and was able to get out and do a few essential jobs.  I'm worn out now though and not up to writing a blog post.  Especially as I have to write a talk today.  It should have been written during the weekend but that wasn't possible.  Hey ho.  Illness.  It happens.

Instead of giving a new piece of writing - finishing that story or writing about the man who keeps the Earth turning - here's something old.

I saw the name Joubert yesterday.  It didn't belong to the Joubert mentioned below.  And I remembered this:  You deserve more love, not less.  Always.   It was helpful to remember.  When I'm ill and can't do everything I want I have a tendency to be unkind to myself.  I'm great at adding a few self insults when I'm already hurting.  Not so great at remembering I deserve more love and to offer myself more love.  Today, when not writing something new for this blog I find I want to metaphorically whip myself until I am very sore.  My instinct isn't to tell myself it's okay, that it doesn't really matter and that I am still deserving of as much love as I would be if I wrote a 5000 word story today.

So here today is something I wrote six months ago.

Love yourself.  And love others.  Even when standing firmly against what they stand for, love them.  And love yourself when you screw up many times a day in the matter of loving others and yourself.

Recently I attended a meeting of a not-church. I call it a not-church anyway. It's a meeting for people who are “guided by the life and teachings of Jesus” and who meet “in the presence of a God whose love is freedom, whose touch is healing, whose voice is calm.”

The people at the meeting are good people, seeking their God and I find it less difficult than most meetings. It's still hard though because every word in the little bit of the liturgy prepared for each meeting is phrased with theism in mind. It's a language that takes theism as a presupposition of a shared belief in an interventionist deity. I don't believe in that deity. I'm not sure that everyone there believes in the deity either. But the language, like the language of a church, is theistic.

It's not exclusive though and it's not evangelistic so usually I've been able to cope with it and just miss out what I couldn't say at all and translate the rest into my own meaning. That day I couldn't participate at all. Just as the meeting began my brain decided it had had enough of things and I spent the whole time wanting to walk out and sit in the sunshine. Perhaps that's what I should have done. Afterwards I left very quickly and couldn't speak even when grabbed for conversations, including one with a person who offered to buy me a ticket for an event in October.

The subject of the not-church this month was kindness. As always, the liturgy includes some quotations about the subject and after they are read there is an open group discussion – something that I can't participate in at all vocally because I can't deal with group discussions. My head just doesn't know the rules and can't process everything quickly enough. By the time it has something worthwhile to say the topic has moved on and even if I have something to say at what might be the right time I don't know how to break into the group and say it. Never mind. That's just how things are and they're not likely to change. The diagnostic criteria for autism still mention a triad of impairments. My inability in group situations is part of one of those impairments. It truly isn't my favourite part of my autism and it's one in which this so-called very high functioning autistic person is pretty severely impaired.

One of the quotations struck me:

A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.
Joseph Joubert

Joubert was a French moralist who died nearly 200 years ago. His Pensees were published after his death. I haven't read them – I hadn't heard of Joubert at all. Then again I never managed to finish the Pensees of Blaise Pascal either. I guess I will probably never read Joubert. But I guessed I would never read a lot of things that I have since read.

One of the members of the not-church discussion really liked that Joubert quotation. She talked about it. I wasn't able to speak and was rapidly sinking into a state in which it's quite difficult to even get myself home. If I had been able to speak I might have talked about this quotation too. Because I didn't like it. I still don't like it.

Joubert says “loving people more than they deserve.

I take issue with that and ask a question:

How much love does a person deserve?

I believe that every single person on this planet deserves more love than they give themselves. They deserve more love than other people give them.

Basically, whatever is happening, whatever the situation, whatever a person has or hasn't done, a person deserves more love not less.

However they feel, however they dress. Whatever their gender or sexuality or race or height. Whether they are disabled or not disabled. Whatever their politics. Whatever their religion. They deserve more love not less.

Even if they treat us badly or treat others badly they deserve more love not less.

And for ourselves. We deserve more love not less. Always and at every moment.

My belief is not an original idea. I've inherited from others, and recently heard it expressed clearly by a spiritual teacher who has been known to use “more love not less” as a kind of mantra and as part of a liturgy. It's pretty powerful to look at a person we don't like and tell ourselves that they deserve more love not less. It's even more powerful to look at ourselves when we unfairly criticise ourselves and say “I deserve more love, not less.”

More love, not less. In fact I would say that we deserve total love. All of us. Total love. Constantly.

Joubert said “loving people more than they deserve” and I sit here typing about it two hundred years later. And I type this: Joubert's thought was nonsensical.

You cannot love any person more than they deserve.

You just can't. It's impossible.

What we need to aim to do is to love each person as much as they deserve. Total love. Always. If anyone lived according to that aim it was Jesus, a teacher of the way of love.

Unpacking that is hard. It raises many questions of how to love people as much as they deserve. It raises questions for what to do when we fail to love people that much. It raises questions of how best to love ourselves, and how to keep loving ourselves when we fall short of the aim of a life of total love. I am not even going to begin to attempt grappling with those questions in this post.

I think Joubert is not to blame for getting it wrong. He was living in a society with a Christian based morality. Even those Frenchmen who killed priests in various revolutions were really only removing a Christian establishment and morality and replacing it with what, beyond story, was just another Christian establishment and morality.

The Catholics of Joubert's day believed in original sin. They believed that God loved them but that loving them was in itself an act of mercy because they didn't really deserve the love of God, let alone to have God as a friend. The Church taught that each person deserves to go to Hell and suffer for eternity, separated from God in fire and torment and damnation. That's what humans deserve. Anything about that is mercy. It's true that the mercy story was rich – the loving, merciful God finding a “just” way to rescue the fallen, sinful humans from hell if they followed him and his son. But it's also true that the Church had a very negative view of human beings. Gee, thanks Augustine for developing that doctrine so well.

Every now and again you might have heard that we're all fearfully and wonderfully made or heard about the dignity of human beings. But the Catholic liturgy was based on the idea that we need to repent – and that one sin of the wrong type leads to Hell without that repentance and reliance on mercy. The Protestants of the day weren't much better and sometimes were much worse. Thanks Calvin, for outdoing Augustine – the very first point Calvinism makes is that every single one of us is totally depraved. It's not a good starting point for developing a healthy, loving view of the human race.

I confess that I used to go along with all this. Original sin. The fallen nature of human beings thanks to Adam and Eve eating some fruit. There was a time I even believed in the literal truth of that story, that there really were two people wandering around a pretty garden being tempted by a wily serpent. I believed that we were fully reliant on God for salvation, hope and anything that might be nice. I believed in a literal Hell once. And in literal human souls burning for eternity. I believed that the Bible taught it so it must be true. The preachers in my churches taught it too, straight from Scripture and you wouldn't want to go against what God wrote in his book, would you? Yeah, I believed people were fundamentally sinful. I believed I was fundamentally very sinful. I was a worm – as Scripture puts it. I was a wretch – as John Newton said in the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

I don't believe any of that now. It's been a long journey to get from there to where I am now, which is a much more free place. And I don't like that hymn any more because I am not a wretch. I was not a wretch. I just believed in my own wretchedness and acted accordingly.

Now I believe that humans are fundamentally good. It's a statement of faith. It would be easy to look at newspaper headlines and see the suffering we inflict on each other and to despair, to see the obvious faults – and let's face it, the way humans act is sometimes particularly awful and the way I act falls short of the way of love. But we're fundamentally good. And we're fundamentally deserving of more love not less. Yes, even those of us we see as monsters. To prove Godwin's law because it's fun to prove Godwin's law: Even Hitler!

Human beings deserve total love.

So. A rewrite of Joubert's thought is in order, removing all the nonsensical stuff about deserving or not deserving love.

“A part of kindness consists in loving people.”

But hey, that's not right either.

It's backwards.

I want to rewrite it again:

“A part of loving people is showing kindness.”

Yeah, that's better.

Love people. And in that love, show kindness.

Here endeth the lesson!

Those final words could have come from Jesus who said to “love one another.” He didn't say anything about deserve did he? Just “love one another.”

Sometimes it's good to be like the people at not-church. And as an ex-Christian I can say this too: Sometimes it's good to be “guided by the life and teachings of Jesus.”

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