V

V

I don’t have a life:

I exist in the corners

Of the lives of others

Kind enough to lend me space.

No, don’t shake your head,

Protest and frown,

Condemning me for self-pity.

It’s true: the words say it all:

Wife, daughter, friend, mother.

They define me by my

Relationships with others.

My name: a jumble of sounds

Meaning nothing in themselves,

A label by which to identify,

Quantify, stratify and forget:

Put me in my box

And hope I stay there.

Me, I reduce my name

To a single initial.

It takes up less space, less attention.

And maybe, just maybe

Beyond all names

I may shine, alone.

 

What I am and what I am not

What I am and what I am not

I’m not a teacher, as such, and I have nothing to teach you. But we might learn together.

I don’t have any answers, not the definitive big answers to the big
questions. I just have more questions. But my new questions might
inspire you to ask some of your own.

I’m not enlightened; I can make no claim to such a thing being sometimes so lost in my own internal darkness that I extinguish my own small light while thrashing around. But sometimes that tiny pearl of light might be enough to guide a soul home.

I’m not awakened; I live in that shadowy penumbra of the world between worlds, caught in the trailing edge of dreams. But sometimes we may be dreaming the same dream and can compare notes.

I’m not a guru and I don’t want disciples or followers. But I would like
friends and fellow travellers. I will carry your load for you while
you build your muscles to full strength and I hope you will sometimes
carry mine for me while I am weak.

For I am not strong. I stagger and fall and break into a million shining
fragments. I can be brittle, like untempered steel. You may see the
shine of polished metal but it’s only through repeated forging that
true strength comes. Being beaten on an anvil is painful and I try to
avoid it, and yet, again and again, I land in the furnace and the
forge. One day I may be a worthwhile tool but not yet.

I’m not a saint but I may yet be a martyr, for the drive to perfect
integrity takes us to strange and dangerous places where the choices
we make under pressure are not always ones that are good for us as
individuals. But those choices may be of greater worth for mankind
than for the poor soul who makes them.

I am just an imperfect human being trying to understand who I am in
this world. I make mistakes, I get things horribly wrong, and for
this I ask patience and forgiveness from those I may have hurt on my
journey. I have gifts but I am flawed and broken and sometimes I do
not use those gifts as well as I might in a perfect world.

I’m no angel, but I may be a messenger. I stand with one foot in either world, amphibious, between the world of the soul and the world of the body, never quite sure from one moment to the next where the messages are coming from.

I’m an empty vessel, being filled by the living words of my soul, and
letting them pour out and flow onto parched lands. If they water your
soul garden, I am glad; if they swamp your first shoots then I am
sorry and will try and channel the flow elsewhere till they have
grown taller and stronger.

I am a child, looking at the world with tired eyes and sometimes a
heart that is coated in jade, that is so easily broken. For all my
childishness, I am older than you know and in my ancientness I see
further and deeper than I should and for that I will avert my eyes if
you wish me to.

I’m not a leader. No one should follow me where I am going, but I would welcome the company if anyone is going the same way. Sometimes we all need a hand to hold in the darkness.   

   

Boxes, labels and trying to be Houdini…

 

Boxes, labels and trying to be Houdini…

Human beings are strange creatures. We are all unique individuals and like snowflakes, no two of us are exactly alike. Of all the 6 or so billion people on this earth currently, not to mention the billions who have previously existed, you and I are totally unique. Even identical twins have differences; their genetic material may be the same, as they are cut from the same cloth, but at birth, they forge their own path.

Yet we attempt to apply classifications based on the most bizarre things: hair colour, race, height, nationality. I laugh at blonde jokes, not because I think they’re true but because I know they’re not. After all, how absurd would it be if you could assess someone’s intelligence based on their hair colour?

Each day though we do something just as absurd. We label and judge everyone around us based on a few assorted “facts”. We extrapolate like wannabe Sherlock Holmes and come up with a conclusion based on those facts. Someone speaks with a certain accent and we put them in a box based on a series of lightning fast assumptions drawn from the few facts we “know”.

I’m deliberately avoiding giving examples here because I do it all the time, make assumptions based on a few known facts. I can usually also predict behaviour past, present and future working from those facts, and I am rather often spot on with my guesses. I am somewhat proud of this, feeling a sense of kinship with my fictional hero Holmes. But real life is far more complex than fiction and there are usually rather more options to a person than the few considered in the Sherlock Holmes stories, just as the fonts used by newspapers are far more varied than the ones Holmes memorised.

It works like a vastly speeded up flowchart: spreading out and then narrowing down and down till you get your conclusion and it’s so satisfying when you get it right….

But people aren’t flowcharts. That middle-aged man wearing Harris tweed and carrying an armful of leather-bound books through the centre of Oxford may be an actor in a TV drama being filmed round the corner, or he may be a professor, or a librarian or an antiquarian bookseller or just some guy carrying books for whatever reason. Without actually stopping and asking him, you won’t really know.

This weekend I got warned I was going to be asked to consider being a committee member for a local charity and this news discombobulated me to such an extent I started having one of those accident prone days. I dropped something on our cafetière and smashed it, I broke a wine glass while washing up, I tripped over one or both the cats repeatedly. It took me hours to figure out what was wrong.

I didn’t like being put it a box or given a label based on a very few “facts” someone knew about me. I was being asked not because someone knew me very well and because I’d expressed an interest in either committee work or a charity but because I wore a label they thought meant I would be likely to say yes. More than this, I was upset because this was what used to happen a lot in the past, when my husband was in parish ministry. People put together the information they had about me and made assumptions. The trouble was virtually none of the information was about me as a person but rather me as a figure. It was based on a composite of what a clergy-wife would do or be. Very few people considered that I was an individual, with my own path and my own interests and passions. I can’t blame them; I do it myself a lot. But it made me more than uncomfortable; it made me angry and rebellious. It made me want to rip off all the labels, leap out all of the boxes, yelling “Ta dah! You didn’t expect THIS, now did you?”

So I was pretty uncomfortable to have revisited this state of anger and rebellion. I thought I’d mostly left that behind a long time ago. I get it some times at work, when work colleagues make assumptions based on the little they actually know about me. Their conclusions are almost always hopelessly wrong, which both amuses and annoys me. But like all things, it can be a mirror of what annoys us about ourselves and I know I do it too: make assumptions based on a few scattered facts.

Like anyone, I want to be met as an individual, someone to get to know in all my personal complexities. I don’t want to be chained down and locked in a box, with a label, so that people don’t need to bother opening the box and discovering who I am. I want to try and open other’s boxes and find out who they are. Surely that’s so much more fun than just reading labels and accepting everything at face and shallow value?

I’ll tell you one thing I have learned about myself though. If people persist in shoving me in a box, laden with ropes and chains and larded with labels, then I’ll show myself as the true descendent of the great Harry Houdini and that’s when the trouble will really start.

Identity

After J made me write out a hundred lines, I started thinking about my own identity. Basically, who am I?

How do we define ourselves? By our names, our jobs, our families, what we are good at , by our beliefs? There seems to be a powerful need in humans for labels that define and quantify us.

But when I started to go through the labels that I wear I found endless discrepancies and inconsistencies. Things that don’t match, like the sock drawer after a hurricane has gone through it.

If I look at how other people see me, which can be a useful thing because the views of others can be valuable mirrors, I find there are serious problems. For example, at work I am regarded and even referred to as a hippy. It actually rather annoys me because it’s sloppy thinking, and lazy at that. It seems to be based on a few rather random things: that I have very long hair, that I sometimes wear slightly bohemian clothes and have views on the environment and on spirituality. I was born halfway through, near enough, the Sixties and I don’t really remember anything except a pair of psychedelically striped trousers I wore when I was three and hated because they were not the kind of trousers that the super hero Superman would ever have worn and since I wanted to be Superman, I didn’t like wearing them. In truth I am rather a long way from being a hippy. True, I have long hair, but since it’s rather beautiful and unusual in colour and texture, I consider it my best feature and my one true physical beauty. I wear slightly bohemian clothes because they appeal to my sense of the aesthetic and sensual and they suit my figure; they are not chosen as a statement of anything more than that. In addition they are always clean and neat. I buy some fairtrade clothing but only when I find it within my price range and that will suit me; I’d like to buy all clothes that are made without exploitation of people or planet but I can’t afford it.  I don’t speak much about my views on the enviroment or on spirituality unless it comes up in conversation and someone actually asks; I don’t believe in ramming it down throats. Unlike the hippy movement, I do think that war is sometimes a neccessary evil, and I do not belive in FREE LOVE. I’m actually quite a prude when it comes to carnal matters; I don’t believe sex is another contact sport or an amusing recreation between friends and consenting adults. I do believe that the recent phenomenon(or at least the recently coined term) fuck buddies is an unbelievably damaging diminution of the sacred act of love. The trouble is people don’t know how much it damages them because they’ve often no way of comparing. I know from stories from friends and acquaintances that in almost every case, whether it’s ever admitted or not, someone is being exploited and used. I don’t believe The Beatles song lyrics that LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED; I believe very strongly that love is a good start and after that comes hard work and committment, whether we’re talking about world peace or relationships. I don’t believe I’m the most important person in the world or that my needs or desires are that important to the grand scheme of things.

I’m a devout Christian but I’m also a permanent doubter of just about everything, including the organised churches and of any form of orthodoxy. I’m also a trainee shaman healer, though I can’t tell you who is training me or why. I believe that all life is sacred, and yet I eat meat. I believe that even rocks have a form of consciousness and that unseen by almost all, other beings walk among us constantly. In the liturgy of the Church of England it mentions Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven; for me this means those unseen beings. I don’t believe as so many New Agers do, that angels are there to do our bidding, nor do I believe they are much interested in us in the main. With so many other races present (but unseen) it’s actually unusual for any of them to wish to interact with us. I also believe that as many of the unseen company are good, just as many are bad. Something or other has hidden or purloined my favourite lipstick and I’d like it back. Please.

My identity becomes even more blurred when it comes to what I do. I don’t consider myself a teacher even though that’s what brings in some money; I’m actually quite a good teacher but I’ll never be the best because it doesn’t interest me enough. I find people quite a strain much of the time. I know I am unusually intelligent; probably somewhere in the genius range if my remembered score at IQ from childhood is anything to go by or means anything beyond I was once good at IQ tests. I don’t believe this makes me a better person or a more useful one. I have almost perfect recall and yet I am forever forgetting where I put things. Including lipsticks. I know (thank you J!) I am a good, even a great writer, but as yet this is not borne out by more than a few published items, the feedback from friends and the positive comments from agents and publishers. Believe me when I say that if you get a positive comment scribbled at the end of a rejection letter or even more so typed up as a custom written letter, take that comment and cherish it. They simply don’t have time to be kind; if they say it, they mean it and you so nearly made the grade at that point it would make you scream in frustration to know it. They just don’t bother if you didn’t strike them as worth it. As I said I know I am a good/great writer and I do wonder if this will mean more to me once something makes it to print and starts getting reviews. As an aside, Metro the free London newspaper commented on Dan Brown’s new novel as having a plot that was as intellectually taxing as an episode of Scooby Doo. I’d feel quite sorry for Mr Brown if he wasn’t earning so much money from it all!

Much of the time I feel quite empty, like a pair of eyes floating in an ocean and somehow simply observing the universe. I get quite hurt when people don’t seem to “get” me but that’s a tad silly when I don’t “get” me either. I ended up in floods of tears last years when a colleague at work had a go at me for being a know-it-all as she said. I was braced for more of the same a few weeks back when she asked me how I knew so much; I was unsure of whether she was working up to another attack. I simply responded that I read a lot (and very widely too) and remember about 99% of it. 

I think I like writing novels and stories most because I can lose not just a sense of personal identity but also the need for it. Not only that the people in my stories are more real to me than the people around me; and they can’t hurt  me either.

In the end, I don’t know who I am. I’m not sure that it really matters. Do you?