Incandescent

Yesterday, my friend shared a post from the local paper on Facebook, detailing the anti-mask protests taking place in the city centre over the weekend, talking about her sadness at the fact that this was taking place. I couldn’t even get my words out articulately, I was so enraged – not with her, of course, but with those at the protest. So I shall try harder, here.

Here’s the thing. I support everyone’s right to their own opinion and I believe in freedom of speech. But I also, passionately, deeply, furiously, believe in compassion, and doing no harm.

I am not a doctor; I’m not clinically trained. I don’t have some magical knowledge as to when (or if) COVID-19 is going to go away, or expert insight into how it is transmitted, prevented, mutated. However, I do know that there are a lot of actual doctors and clinicians who are saying that they firmly believe that masks may very well help – and after all, they wear them for their work all day long, so I think they’ve got a better idea than I do. So I’ll go with that.

But more than that, and I find myself feeling more and more angry and more strongly about this all the time, I find myself coming back to this basic, rage-inducing point. I have a medical condition that means my immune function is shit. Repeated, chronic, life-threatening infections are my jam, so I know that I’m at risk. But more than that, I know that because I’m at a potentially higher risk of catching it, I’d then also potentially be at more risk of passing it on, so on the off-chance that I do pick something nasty up on my infrequent ventures out of the house, I will wear a mask, in an attempt to reduce my chances of passing it on. Do I like wearing one? No! A thousand times no – I hate it. But I would hate, even more, to be part of a preventable chain of infection that could lead to someone become seriously ill and possibly dying (including me). Do I look good in a mask? No. I have a fat face and I breathe heavily when anxious so I constantly look like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet (if you know, you know).

I just feel that this isn’t about masks. It’s about being a decent human being. If there’s the slightest chance that our actions could help someone, then I really genuinely feel that if we dare to count ourselves as halfway decent humans, those are the actions we should take. Even if it’s not guaranteed, even if it might not actually turn out to make the slightest bit of difference, at the end of the day, if there IS a tiny chance, I think it’s just our collective responsibility to take it. To try, for each other. Let’s just try. Who cares if your mask looks a bit shit? I regret to inform you that none of us look good in them. It’s not like we’ve got to get everything right first time or we’ve failed somehow (and this is something else I want to talk about, soon) – this just feels like a fear of looking stupid, a fear of losing…something. Losing what, though? Genuinely, what is it that people are fighting so hard against? Looking out for each other? It’s a grim thought. A grim one. Haven’t we gone through enough?

Tie on: COVID, conflict, resistance and resilience

A few weeks ago, when we were a few weeks into lockdown here in the UK, I had a text conversation with my friend Amy, the wisest wise woman I know. Because I’m one of those people who texts like machine-gun fire and neglects punctuation, I’m including Amy’s original message (with her consent), and then I’ve compiled and punctuated my rambling responses, as well as editing out the “mhmm”s and “EXACTLY!”s, for reading ease.

A: You know Gill, I’ve been on my phone all day with women. I’m wondering if there is something going on in the universe about conflict and resolution.  I mean that.. all day with issues and troubles and resolutions

I think that this global situation we find ourselves in is unprecedented because suddenly, everywhere, we are no longer living in a linear time of certainty. We are in a liminal mutable space, and that does not sit well with our socially accepted non-cyclical linear progression where we go day to day to day moving along – we are having to become used to ebbing and flowing.  And women do that a lot more easily, I think, because we can be less target driven – we have to adapt more. We are the moms and the listeners and the people who have to scramble the family (and community?) along.

We are all kind of mothering each other at the moment – well us listeners are; we are listening and ebbing and flowing, and pulling each other along and finding a lot of strength in our fellow paddler-alongers.  But it’s tiring because there are a LOT of people who are desperately trying to cling on to something that’s not there any more…so, OK, it’s like this:

Let’s get on our boats and be paddling .  There’s a lot of us paddlers, and our boats are tied together. We tie each other on, and we go in a group in whatever direction the tide takes.  None of us know what exactly is going to happen, but we know we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing, so we hold on to each other and share the watch. But there are so many people DESPERATELY trying to swim in one direction, and hold onto the riverbank.  And the riverbank- it is not there. The tide now comes in all directions.  We have to look in all the directions and go together and hold on.

I am a reluctant paddler but I’m getting better because I see all my other paddlers coming and tying our dinghies together so we don’t blow away.

We’ve all been jettisoned out to sea, haven’t we – that’s what it is. We’ve spent all our lives trundling along the neat waterways that we can move along in nice straight lines going from A to B to C and all of a sudden we are all in the fucking sea with no shores in sight! GOODBYE RIVERBANK!

I been thinking about it a lot these last few weeks to be honest. About how we are and have been in this state of not-knowing, and how to we adapt to that to make it bearable? How?

It’s just easier to try and ride it out even if you’re scared, because I think we all are, a bit, but I think the panic is lifting as some folks learn to bob and then hold others so they can learn as well. I’ve been talking to my students a lot you know [I work with neurodiverse young adults, some of whom have learning difficulties and disabilities], and a lot of these very rigid thinkers are bobbing.  Just forcing themselves to take a big breath and bob a bit and say okay: I’m alive and I can see other people doing this not too far away.  Let’s bob towards them, I’m not drowning, I’ve got it!

The thing is, we don’t know how long this will go on.  What we do know is that even the virus isn’t linear. It comes in waves, and it’s evolving all the time. We can’t just power our way through in a straight line – we have got to be flexible, all of us, and it’s going to be really hard because we have built our empire on going in a line.  And at the moment it’s like the line’s been rubbed out, and some of the destinations aren’t where we left them. If ever there was a time for everyone to step up and show each other the way, it’s now. Everyone has something to offer in this new landscape, and it’s all valuable – we need to start recognising the things we can offer each other, and honouring the power of diverse communities.

Aiming to please

Earlier on, I was in the kitchen preparing to start serving the lunch. My partner came in and said, “that smells nice!”. Automatically, I said, “well, I aim to please”, and then I had a flash of righteous feminism and said, actually, no. I aim to NOURISH AND CARE. Take that, fuckers! (I probably need to work on doing that for myself more, as well as for my feral stepchildren, though.)

Make the hole bigger

This is a late night awful confession: I am 100% addicted to those videos on YouTube. You know the ones. The ones more recently presented in hi-definition close-up by heroes (heh!) like Dr Pimple Popper or Dr Derm. Yes. The ones of hideous infected cysts and wounds being squeezed out vigorously much to my intense pleasure and my partner’s horrified attempts to look elsewhere. I have been powerless to stop watching compulsively for more years than I care to mention, and have seen my fair share of ham-fisted home surgery attempts.

I sometimes think about one that really stuck with me. A slightly nervous man is being jabbed at enthusiastically by a family member with a not-quite-sharp-enough blade. The cyst is bulging and shiny and looks excruciating. Eventually the timid jabber manages to make a tiny pinprick hole and starts squeezing viciously with all their might, to very little effect. There is lots of whimpering and thrashing and teeth clenching. Eventually, an exasperated voice off camera says, “MAKE THE HOLE BIGGER!”

It’s a revelation. Just ease the passage. Be brave and make a nick not a prick. What a life lesson.

Anyway, I suppose what I’m saying on this extremely hot and bothersome sober Saturday night, following a day which has been exasperating and painful with little productive flow…is, just make the bloody hole bigger.

You’re welcome! I’m here all week.

Goth boy

Picture the scene, if you will.

It is a muggy  Thursday evening and my miserable lymphoedema legs and I (at this time of day they become the boss and I am powerless to challenge in the heat) are gently simmering and browsing the magic of the ‘gram. In my case this evening, browsing the actual magic, as I’m enjoying a witchy book feed and contemplating something new to read.  Imagine my absolute joy when a shouty, sweary goth boy appears and starts shouting at everyone because apparently, the recommendation, by one of the community, of a book called Waking The Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic and Power is exceptionally sexist and exclusionary and he is feeling oppressed and left out! Gosh. 

I think the problems are multiple but the most glaringly obvious is that it’s not a book for women, it’s a book about women. It actually says so in the title. Also, nobody is forcing him to read it, but also…you cannot come into a space which is largely curated by women giving each other book recommendations – not deliberately to spite him, but just because that’s how the community has fallen into place – and aggressively shout that the space has not been made representative enough specifically for him: a white boy in makeup screeching about being oppressed. Give it a rest mate. 

It was interesting to observe the rage and indignation from someone who was claiming to be in tune with the feminine (he wears makeup you know – we all know, because he shouted about it at us) but who also seems to have a confused understanding of what it looks like to truly value and respect it. I did, of course, have a click through to look at his profile. What else are thumbs for? He is physically relatively unblemished, appears to live in a nice home and is able to wear clothing that reflects and expresses his cultural identity. He is able bodied, white, slim. He is secure enough in his own identity to be able to play with his gender expression publicly and not expect any real backlash. In other words, then – the epitome of privilege, in passing at least. No wonder entitlement grows from such conditions. It’s the most fertile kind of soil there is for roots to grown down into.

Anyway I’ve recommended him a book by the GLAM Witch, Michael Herkes – it’s about Lilith, so it’s another book about “FEMALES!!11!!” – but at least it’s written by someone whose voice he might value. I hope he enjoys it.  

Sloths

I’ve read Untamed and I’ve concluded that I’m far from being a cheetah. I’m more of a sloth.  I move so slowly I’m covered in algae, I am unbearably cute, I have terrible posture and low muscle tone, I spend a lot of time resting, and when it’s sexytime I emit high pitched shrieks that can be heard for miles.

Werewolves

I have been thinking about werewolves quite a bit. I have vivid memories of a battered 70s myths and legends book with a grisly story about a loup-garou, complete with a black and white illustration of a wolfish grin, and that, plus my much-too-early exposure to An American Werewolf in London, sealed the deal. Rick Baker’s film effects (complete with those crunchy, crackling sounds) made quite an impression, and despite vampires being everywhere (I blame Buffy for starting the tidal wave), it’s still werewolves I love most.  A friend once said to me, ‘we’re all hairy on the inside’, and that’s stuck fast. What I have recently come to realise though, is that I have always thought I was a bit frightened of them, which didn’t really sit well with such a fascination. My standard response to any suggestion of camping, for example, is a flat no – because, well, werewolves (watch the opening sequence of Dog Soldiers and come back to me).

However, just recently I revisited the story of La Loba. Actually, I think it’s not so much of a visitation as a return – it doesn’t feel like we will be parting ways much from now on. La Loba is the story of the old woman in the desert who gathers up dusty bones and then sings them back to life in her cave by firelight. Slowly the flesh and fur creep back onto the skeleton until up jumps a live wolf, running wild for the horizon. But if you narrow your eyes just right, you’ll see it’s no wolf – it’s a woman, laughing and running free.

It’s interesting that in all the tales of werewolves I loved when I was little, there were no lady werewolves. They were all murderous big bad boy wolves, coming to savage you in the night.

Food for thought (or for the wolves).