Choices.

He says: all these things are choices.

And I’m like: ok yeah, I know.

And he’s like: No, I mean … you make the choice to do this thing differently in order to provoke or begin change.  And you understand that that’s a choice. Because this new thing you’re doing is different. It stands out.

Yeah, obv.

But what you aren’t getting is that the decision to do things the same way you always did is also a choice. All these things are choices. All these things.  Are choices. What you aren’t identifying right now is the behaviours that don’t look like choices to you because they’re the default.  Factory settings.  You aren’t even counting them as choices because you’ve assumed them as the baseline: you don’t question them. You haven’t even identified them. You haven’t even thought about identifying them because they’re so profoundly assumed in your head, that they don’t exist.  And he says: and they aren’t the baseline. They’re choices.

It’s one of those moments where you go wait, wait. Wait. Oh my god. And you can feel the rocks in your head get up and move about. Suddenly there are doors in what was a wall.  Suddenly someone’s given you a level cheat, and months and years of throwing the game controller across the room and saying you’ll never play again is over.  A lot of things are over.

A lot of things may now start.

***

I have lived here for 15 years.  All that time I have had a 2 metre square bathroom. It contains two mirrors. And somehow today, for the first time, I managed to accidentally stand in a whole new spot in that tiny room, in such a way that the mirrors lined up and I SAW MY OWN BOTTOM. For probably the first time since, say, my 20s. And it was massive and ridiculously cute. And that was ridiculously pleasing.

See, I’m a nonbinary person trapped in the lushly mountainous body of a fertility goddess. I’ve had 48 years of gender dysphoria (let me clarify, as a lot of you who read me are cis and straight: I’m nonbinary, and in my case that doesn’t mean I’m half man. It means I’m neither. Other nonbinary people’s experiences may differ, but this is mine. I don’t long for a body that in any way resembles a man’s body, but having one that flamboyantly screams “HELLO, I’M REALLY EXTRA EXTRA WOMANNY, CHECK OUT THIS WILD TOPOGRAPHY” is not good. It is not good).  The experience of liking – or in any way feeling represented – by what I see is novel to me.

But there it was. I have a cute arse. Ok.

***

My unmade bookshelves occupy about half my hall. They will come with me to the new place, and I will put them together and my books will, for the first time in a long while, have a home, right there in my face. My desk will be beside them, fronting directly onto a window from where a perfect blue triangle of sea is visible above and between a sugared almond spine of houses.  It changes everything.

Everything.

The new house won’t have broadband – normally, when you move, it takes a couple of weeks to kick in.  I’m going to kind of accidentally-on-purpose let that couple of weeks ride, and see where it gets me.  I will read. Because reading puts the words in me and when the words get in me, they come out again, but changed, like this.  I have accidentally started reading, like that little dog in the gif starts paddling long before he hits the water.  You had probably guessed.

I make choices.  The choices make me.

 

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Barbed wire fence.

So today a tiresome but common thing happened.  I just happened to spot someone I’ve known for years on twitter @-ing Corbyn in support of the group of transphobic women who’ve just (allegedly, lol) mass-quit Labour.

And so I block this person I’ve known for years. Because I’m nonbinary and I’m bi, In the LGBT that makes me a B and a T.  I am a member of the group of people your faves want to deny basic access to things like toilets, refuges and changing rooms. And I deserve better in life than to hang out with people who think hating me and excluding me is something we could maybe have a nice chat about over cocktails, and agree to differ.*

I would say this happens pretty much every couple of weeks. I certainly don’t ever go a month without it happening. And it’s always someone I’ve known a long, long time. It’s always someone who knows what I am.  It’s always someone I’ve exchanged with and laughed with, and liked – you know, until I found out they were ok with hate groups whose focus is, basically, me. I always block them. I never debate them. And I often mention it on my twitter timeline, usually with an exhortation to their fellow jellyfishpeople – the ones I know, statistically, must exist, I just haven’t figured out which of my friends they are, yet – to spine up and block me if they feel that way.

Because knowing you creeps are out there, and that I am accidentally including you in my life makes me feel sick.  What you are doing is abusive.

Read it twice: WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS ABUSIVE.

If you’re ok with the existence of a hate group, get your sorry fence-sitting self the fuck out of the lives of those people who are its subject.

Often when this happens I feel utterly sad, for quite a few days.  Today, for some reason, I romped straight across the line from sad into furious. And I think it’s just down to erosion. There are only so many times you can believe in yet another stranger’s equality-&- basic-decency shtick, only to have them beat you with it; before you find yourself viewing all strangers as your next potential kick-in-the-faith.

Do you have any idea how much damage you’re inflicting on someone when you make them have to fight the urge to mistrust everyone? Not just strangers, but the people they already know.  When you are part of that gaslight drip drip drip? How outside and precarious you make someone feel when they find out you’re metaphorically (or in the case of one well-known woman I blocked recently, literally) lunching with the people who hate them? How unwelcome, how as if their needs are literally nothing?

Well I MATTER, FUCKO.

And if this happens to you, you matter.  YOU MATTER.

Life is too short to waste any of it with people who are supporting those who hate you. Get away from those people. Don’t feel you owe them an explanation, just get away. Find people who have your corner & support what you are. They exist. It’s worth having that as your basic minimum standard for friendship.  You deserve that as your minimum standard, even for just hanging out with someone.

I’m weary of the people who face no social exclusions themselves who play the “can’t we all just get along?” card. No. If you defend those who wish social exclusion on me, we can’t.

And I’m personally going to make sure that the fence you’re sitting on isn’t at all comfortable. I’m going to make sure you know you’re doing harm on that fence. I’m going to make sure that fence has barbed wire on it.

“Get along” with that. You expect me to.

*holy shit I am writing for the second day in a row WHAT EVEN IS HAPPENING? let’s pretend we haven’t noticed and maybe we won’t frighten the Fornit** away.
**you either get this or you don’t. If you do, I love you a bit more.
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The Year of Unthinkable Things.

I would imagine that – all things being equal – I’ll be living outside London for the first time in my life within the next three weeks. After that, things get a bit interesting. I won’t be taking broadband with me. Not at first, maybe not for a year. Maybe never. My life needs a refocus and Netflix and Amazon aren’t great team members if that’s your project. I will have a new garden to learn, then bend to my will. I will have a swimming pool a few minutes’ walk away. I will have a myriad things to walk to and look at and sit in and eat at and everything, everything is UPHILL. No, literally.

Oh, and I’m half rebuilding the house I’m buying.

I can’t wait. I’m terrified.

London, my London, how I love you. But the truth is, until I had a friend living nearby I never realised for a second how lonely I was here. And when I became disabled – a decade ago – suddenly everything is too far away for me to get to. No cinema, swimming only as a very special treat on a very good week. Nobody to go to a restaurant with, unless I’m well enough to go into town. And there’s not much here for me to walk to (I don’t drive). To top it all, the place is turning into a giant coral reef. Have you seen Lewisham recently? I like what they’re doing, but it’s so profoundly different, and so fast and I just … it’s not that I can’t keep up (although that may be true). It’s that I don’t want to. My focus is softer these days. I want other things, not to have to keep up with the wriggling competitive push of my home town. I want the sea, and a huge plot of sky. I want a desk that overlooks both of these things. I want to read again. I want to write again.

So I’ve bought a triangle of sea and an absolutely huge lump of sky, and a little pile of bricks to hide in when the sky gets too much, and that’s pretty much the plan.

Oh, and I’m going to learn to drive, so if you’re on the south coast and you own a car, sell it. Now. Before it’s too late. Warn your family.

And I think, once I’ve got myself all sorted out with these things and am writing again (I must get those things sorted out first, as one can’t really achieve meaningful levels of recklessness without access to a garden centre, and out in the sticks that means I must have a car of my own; and I can’t feel anything if I can’t write), I will probably fall in love again. The two things are inevitably linked.

As with the threat of driving: do the sensible thing and just avoid the south coast entirely. Warn your family.

Having buried Dad in January, sold my house in April and moved in May, I intend to make 2018 the Year of Unthinkable Things.

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If I wanted to talk about it I wouldn’t have written it down.

An audio version of this post is available here.

London is the love of my life.

I have said this elsewhere, in other words in other years: I meant it.

I cannot imagine loving a human being in the same ‘no feet on the floor’ way that I love London. The tide and change of it, the bones of it, the flow, the light and grime and shine and profligacy, the ancient silver ache of it, the black toothed kiss. I cannot love it more. I need it.

Does it love me? I don’t know. I love it so much it doesn’t matter.

I am leaving it. I am leaving you. London. And unless I win the lottery I will never be able to return to you again, other than as a visitor, an ex standing awkwardly in the hall that used to be home, unsure what to do with my hands, noticing the new wallpaper, waiting for the kids to get their coats on. The idea is too large to be grasped as a whole. I catch the hem of it sometimes and panic, all the air goes out of me. It is exhilarating because it hurts. Because it is a mad, cold act of vandalism. It is the first feeling I have had for a long time. You stay alive by making decisions.

You stay alive by making decisions.

No point making small ones. And look, look how alive I am now. Do you see the words on this page? After all this silence. All the still; today I ran through the bones of you, London. You smell better than anything. I will visit you. You will go on without me. I will go on without you.

I am as calm as licked fur, all of me combed in one direction: towards the unlikely, the difficult, the irrevocable. How unnerving and bright and thrilling life is, once more.

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The Wonky Allotment

An audio version of this piece is available here.

A few years ago I took an allotment. It was always a wildly ambitious –  perhaps even foolish – thing to do, given my health, but if there’s one thing I have learned with MECFS, it’s that almost anything can be achieved if you are left alone to peck at it. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there. A week off. A month off, peck peck peck, and provided there is no deadline, you will eventually get any job done.  Accordingly, I had soon put up a polytunnel and bit by bit the beds were conquered and dug and weeded.  Things were planted, and they grew.

My site is not a council site and as such has a gloriously laissez-faire approach to plot management. I know a couple of plots where the owner turns up one day a year, digs the whole lot over in a fit of furious endeavour, then buggers off for 11 months and grows nary a carrot for his labour.  Well, generally speaking, I went every day I could walk. Quite often the only thing I set out to achieve was a bit of watering, and weeding with a hooked knife on a 6′ pole, which is surprisingly easy to do (and you can use it as a walking stick when you go a bit wobbly). Once you’ve got a bit of ground tilled over and properly weeded, the maintenance isn’t challenging. And when I took a dive and couldn’t go for a month, well, so be it.  The sad consequence of the latter is that I don’t recall ever getting a tomato from my plot (though I grew plenty). But I did get rhubarb, asparagus, broccoli, cabbages, raspberries, squash, and a terrific sense that I still had some sort of meaningful existence in the world.

I would typically be very nervous before going to the plot: elated when I got there (a feat in itself, given my balance, and one which usually required the aid of a walking stick, or a strategically carried tool that could be used as one); and super-elated on my way home after achieving something, however small.  Even just ambling around and looking at things counted. It wasn’t the sofa.

And then, about two years ago, I became a lot more ill than I had been. This was ungood: I was in such a lamentable state to begin with that “more ill” confined me to the sofa almost permanently. My usual spring surge – a few weeks in April or May where I feel almost well again, albeit weak from lack of use – failed to materialise.  My regular little walks stopped.  My already sporadic socialising disappeared entirely. I couldn’t go to the plot. Every now and then I’d have a run of a few decent days, and down I’d go: turn over a couple of yards, stick in some garlic or sow a few seeds into it. But it was wildly insufficient, and bit by bit the plot was reclaimed by couch grass, convolvulus, and feral strawberries.  And then I got too ill to even manage the extremely treacherous path to my plot. And that was that.  I had a series of falls – at home mostly – which damaged the rotator cuff muscles on one shoulder so badly I couldn’t use a dinner fork.  I wasn’t getting better.  While all this was going on, my GP noticed that my inflammation markers were way up and sent me to be tested for kidney or bladder cancer, which was … well, basically that used up any tiny dregs of energy I had. Happily (and unsurprisingly), after a full battery of tests I got a clean bill of health. My kidneys just don’t work very well, and my immune system is inflamed.  Cause unknown.

By last Christmas I knew I would have no alternative this March, when rent became due, but to give up my beloved plot.

In January I noticed that I felt less ill, and started to take a few walks. The minute you feel less ill with MECFS, you want to get up and do.  So I did.  At first, just a few hundred yards. Then a quarter mile, then a half mile. Then a mile. Then throw in a little hill.  Hills are bastards. I can’t breathe going up them and my chest and arms feel laced with tight, red-hot wires.  I can’t describe it adequately.  But it’s human nature to persevere, so I persevered.  I was exercising that damaged arm as much as I could, to restore movement.  When I say “as much as I could”, I mean about 30 seconds to a minute of gently moving my arms about, per day. But it made a difference.  My range of movement improved, then some strength returned and at least I could use my stick again, which reduced the likelihood of more falls.

Having established that I could not afford help, I decided to take on the back garden.  Out I went with my loppers and some woefully inadequate gloves, and one stem at a time I hacked my way through what had become, over the two preceding years, a Sleeping Beauty tangle of bramble. Peck, peck, peck. Ten minutes out there, and a week lying on the sofa in agony.  Ten minutes out there, and five days on the sofa in agony.  Ten minutes out there and THREE days on the sofa in agony. I was getting stronger. Now I could use the fork for a few minutes. Half dig out one bramble, spend a few days recovering, then come back and have another go. And fuck you, nature, fuck you, fuck you.

March came.  I became so anxious about the email demanding plot rent, that I started to avoid my inbox.  I say “started to”, I avoided it entirely. It was by pure coincidence that I ran into a fellow plot-holder on the street during one of my sweaty and painful walks.  I casually dropped in a question about the rents, and she said there had been no request for them, yet.

Huh.

The request finally came at the end of April. Rent due at the gate.

The day before it was due I took a stroll to Little Tesco, more for the walk than to buy anything.  It’s uphill.  I was breathing OK, and by now  I could do half an hour in the garden, on a good day.  They have a cash machine.  I took out enough to cover the rent, mindlessly.  No thought behind it, because if I stopped to think it through I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t.  Oh, but it’s too late now, I have.

The following morning I pulled on some clothes and a hat, grabbed my stick, and went to the gate. I think they were fairly amazed to see me, but nobody actually threw any rocks, which I took to be a good sign.  I paid up, and walked to my plot to see what had become of it.

A meadow, almost lovely.

The bones of my carefully created beds were buried somewhere. The raspberries had taken full advantage of my absence and staged a green coup at the western end.  Some sort of leafy chinese thing I’d planted halfway up the plot had gone full triffid.  Oh, what have I done, paying the rent on this?

Further up the plot I reached my orchard.  Two, maybe three years ago I put in a set of six embarrassing little twigs that I was assured would eventually turn into fruit trees. And now here they were, and they are fruit trees. Taller than me. Covered in blossom.  Two cherries, two apples, a pear, an apricot. I put my hand out and felt a branch of one of the cherries, cool and fat with sap and life.

I can do this.  I can do this.

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Perfect though

A few days ago, I woke up
with a different head. It was not
the one I’d gone to bed
in.

My old head wanted
you (nonspecific
you, you in general, you singular or plural,
you-who-is-not-me)
to notice me and approve.
Old head did so many things to gain your attention,
each one pulled as tight and perfect
as the rigging on a tall ship in some draconian navy,
always tacking hard into the shoulder of a strong wind
seeking conquest,
pennants and gold leaf,
pennants and gold leaf.
Oh look, look, look, I have brought you
a dead mouse
a pie
a painting look
I made you this
look
I wrote a book
here is my heart.

My new head waved its hands at that and laughed. It spoke,
for the first time in my voice,
which
to my surprise,
was birds it was blossom and the kindness of my mother. It was the cat and kettle, it was the imperfect mitten, knitted and given.

It said
you are as lovely as a flower
do you see? And
I said
yes.

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Time to live.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.”

Mmhmm.

image

“I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.”

Rutger, calm your tits mate. I’ve just been for a walk in Catford in November.

image

I’ve resisted temptations you can only imagine.

image

Stared at London Plane bark until it became nebulae.

image

I don’t think you understand, Rutty old feller.

image

I don’t think you grasp how amazing a little life is.

Time to live.

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