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.

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