Friday, 30 April 2010

green cure

"Ask the colonial ghosts what they took" (Rae Spoon)                                                                                                                                                                                                          this seems a distant memory now... i had this idea i'd move to the countryside eventually. and as i got more burnt out it seemed more and more appealing. green fields, ragged walls, high places. i'd lived in such a place for a year in my early twenties after my first burnout and it had healed me at the time. i holed myself away, ignored my neighbours, commuted to work and soaked up the greenness until i could cope with returning to the city. recovered, i ran back to the city, to the queer discos, for the rest of my young adulthood. "You're dancing on air". and again, moving out of depression three-to-two years ago, along with worrying about, you know, climate change and that, it seemed very appealing to go back to the green, further up a hill this time, and stay there with a garden and a well and some close friends.                                                                                                                                                                                           
as i rebuilt my sense of being able to live i became more aware aware of my responsibility not to use my wealth and geographical mobility privilege to hole myself up somewhere and i started to face the need to be involved. still, though, 'wild places' were my solace from work and the city. buttercup fields, woods, moorlands, high treeless places. i would go and sit in them and feel saner. i'd go and visit my friend and look out of his window and feel untangled. i'd go for long, slow, talking walks and be able to breathe.                                                                                        then.. then what happened? gradually i was brought to realise that these places are not really so wild. i hate to be called a city kid as i had a semi-rural childhood, yet my parents did not have a connection to the land. they were an englishman and a scotswoman, feeling entitled to buy and set up home in wales. does it make it less colonial that my mother is a (lowland) scot? "Churches built from bones". there are paths through woods in mid-wales where i could show you every tree – in several areas because my dad has moved several times – but this is not a connection to the land, not living in and with the land. i have next to no connection to the place i want to live now; the connections i have are to other incomers. so i am a city kid, and it is not a neutral decision to decide to go and bathe my wounds from My Difficult Job in the landscape that surrounds this city that i work in, nor to decide to move permanently into that landscape.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              as part of my recovery from last winter's exhausted blankness, i was incredibly moved to be pointed towards a book called North Enough: AIDS and Other Clear-Cuts, by Jan Zita Grover (via Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, via A Country Punk). I like the book, but nothing in it shook me as much as first reading Sandilands' summary of it in the opening of her article Unnatural Passions?: Notes Toward a Queer Ecology
"“I did not move to Minnesota for the north woods,” [Grover] writes. “I had only the vaguest idea of what the term meant when I first saw them in early spring, the birch, aspen, and tamarack skinned of their needles and leaves. I thought they looked diseased.” Given that Grover had been a front-line AIDS worker in the 1980s in a city violently decimated by the disease, it is hardly surprising that she saw sickness everywhere. “I moved there,” she writes, “to try to leave behind – or at least, at a remoter distance – the plague that had consumed my life for the past six years.” [...]
The idea that one might find natural wholeness in this hard, boreal landscape was shattered at the sight of its large, multiple clear-cuts and the thin “idiot strips” of trees along the highways that foolishly attempt to conceal the scars to the landscape caused by the softwood pulp and paper industry. The post-contact history of the north woods reveals a region repeatedly marked by human greed and error: Farming was next to impossible on the thin, acid soil, and attempts to drain the ever-present swampland in the 1920s resulted only in crippling debt. Logging, the only commercial option left for the region, proceeded virtually without restraint: No paradise found, here. As Grover writes, “the Upper Midwest is a mosaic of such local disasters, once-intact, living systems plundered in ignorance, greed, and unbounded hopefulness.”"
I read North Enough in a day, stunned and overwhelmed following a between-winter-and-spring trip to the Lake District.
my friend and i had walked all day in Langstrath, talking about the land, agriculture and the soil. in the morning as we entered the valley i saw timeless beauty, a turquoise river, mountains on a new scale, wilderness. in the evening as we left the valley i saw overgrazing, treelessness, erosion, the soil blowing and washing away. i saw sheep inhabiting a vast emptiness, fed on imported feed made of GM soya and random shit as the thin grass alone can't sustain them, their single farmer collecting european subsidies while hundreds of people could live on this land if they were allowed to cultivate it.
"The story of any civilization is the story of the rise of city-states, which means it is the story of the funneling of resources toward these centers (in order to sustain them and cause them to grow), which means it is the story of an increasing region of unsustainability surrounded by an increasingly exploited countryside."  (Jensen)
how incredible, really, that although this landscape has been degraded and impoverished by the violent process of civilization, those of us who are made rich enough within this system are then encouraged to travel as tourists to this landscape which is sold to us as Natural Beauty. brought up to believe all this, i fell for it (head over heels). i have been a city kid, all my resources trucked in for me, the cost of that invisible to me. "Cover your eyes with both hands." now i’m stunned, wondering what to do.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Sandilands continues:
"Exactly in their ecological defilement, however, these wounded landscapes ended up teaching her. “Instead of ready-made solutions,” Grover writes that the north woods:
offered me an unanticipated challenge, a spiritual discipline: to appreciate them, I needed to learn how to see their scars, defacement, and artificiality, and then beyond those to their strengths – their historicity, the difficult beauties that underlay their deformity. 
In this landscape, she came to understand that her challenge was not to leave AIDS behind, but to recognize and accept the impact it had had. In fact, the lasting resonances of AIDS allowed her to meet the challenge of coming to love the north woods not in spite, but because, of their wounds [...].
Grover’s metaphoric connection between “AIDS and other clear-cuts” is both painful and beautiful. She describes, for example, changing the dressing on a dying friend’s leg macerated by Kaposi’s Sarcoma: “It did not look like a leg. It looked like freshly-turned soil, dark and ruptured.” But Grover finds in the unlikely and horrific space of her friend’s dying a real appreciation for the plenitude of living. She can see in a festering wound the terrifying beauty of flesh turning to soil, and she can also thus see in a clear-cut both the ravages of capitalist extraction and the vivacity of jack pines, aspens, and poplars."
i identified with Grover's description of her grief and burnout (and her volunteer work was so much harder than my voluntary sector paid job that thankfully rarely involves the physicality of disease and death!), her ability and determination to face the awfulness and do the work, and then her need after six years, to leave. but. seeing the landscapes around me as abused is not a metaphor. i'm just beginning to understand how damaged the land is in many of my most loved places. i can't escape abuse and violence, and especially not by perpetuating the colonisation of the land around me.                                                                                                                                                                   my friend writes:
"Things to do:
  1. Identify the trauma of the land, i.e. listen to it
Walking up the track to Pant Glas Uchaf yesterday with my mother, I was trying, in stilted phrases, to tell her how the land made me feel, or more specifically how that landscape made me feel. I said to her that it had a sadness in it, that it made me feel sad, that it was sad. She asked why, and I said that things were missing from the land, she asked what, and the words that came to me were Soil, Vitality, and later, Complexity. Listening (or Projecting? It’s hard to know, but I want to give myself the benefit of the doubt) to that Gwynedd land, it doesn’t say much, only gives out sighs of tiredness, a thin, watery tiredness like it has been sucked of substance and body and is existing, ticking along, with less life than it is used to. It’s not being destroyed violently (can land ever be destroyed?), it doesn’t scream in agony… its sounds are more of shock. All sheep lands feel that way to me, in fact most British farmland – like the big dramatic insults have been done, and now it is slowly being sucked of life, little by little because there is such a tiny amount left."
so. i've been emailing the National Parks Authority, ha. (i actually did, but -) far more importantly and constructively, i've been talking with my friends. i've been starting to learn about how the land can become enriched. after hard days at work i've been planting things in plastic tubs in my concrete, shaded city yard and dreaming of a real garden. i'm just starting to find out about how people can live on the land in ways that support and don't just take from it. and i wonder how this kind of work can be balanced with and compliment the anti-abuse work that seems to be my vocation. it's dawning on me that living in a rural place and finding solace in the landscape needn't be the opposite of my current work, as i used to think. it could be, if i allowed myself to run off and be a hermit tending my garden and ignoring the rest of the world.                                                                                                                                                                                                      but i don't want to run up a hill and isolate myself in order to 'recover,' 'feel better', even with a handful of likeminded people. in the end, i don't think i would feel better, as i'd know i'd turned my back on the work i'm supposed to do. i want to work in a genuine way for my home and community, to counteract the trauma of the land as part of making my home and my food. the sanity and integrity that could come with that could provide me with a stronger base from which to work against abuse in my communities. all of this work is about healing, regeneration, working to re-establish interdependence between people and the land which is surely the only way to live sanely.
"Land tells you a lot when it is left alone. Here, on this small and immense island, it doesn’t change and spring into Vitality and Complexity overnight: it takes longer, it is slow, way slower than I have seen elsewhere, like it is starting from a lower baseline. All the same it does spring and change. Land cannot be destroyed.
I watch a field who is temporarily free from nibbling teeth and curling tongues, and I see the rank grasses and the brambles, the gorse and tangling tormentil. If I look closely a birch will be nudging up through heather, or ash seedlings will be growing like hair. It is on its way, this field.
I guess the question is how do you live with the spring and change, in a relationship with it. How do you, how do all of us, live with the surging, roiling potential vitalities of the land..." (A Country Punk)
until recently i thought it was acceptable to work in the city and take my pain and tiredness to the country to rest. now this option has been removed. there is no green cure. for my burnout, my future-fear, for my grief at finding myself in this culture, for my grief faced with the trauma of people and of the landscape. instead, thre is my love and commitment to people and the land which brings the need to find ways to keep working, in the healthiest possible way, which is what i'm trying to do.
"That’s what we’re trying to do, isn’t it?, all of us who desire and work toward social and economic justice, all of us who are trying to create or sustain ways of being in the world that are not about dominance and exploitation and violence? [...] Finding, creating, sustaining different versions of love and commitment is part of how we are resisting cultures of violence and domination, part of how we are surviving." (Hoffman)
understanding that control and abuse extends to the land, and that supporting people towards wellness needs to include supporting each other to build communities and relationships with the land - it's just all part of the same thing, isn't it, the same work to do.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

friendship, solidarity and reality checks

a friend of mine is dealing with a controlling person at the moment and they have asked me if it's ok to keep in touch with me about their attempts to challenge this person's problematic behaviour.

i leapt at the chance (partly because i'm such a geek and am always keen to try and analyse new examples of control in my quest to articulate the universal elements! but mainly - ) because i remembered how sanity-saving it was for me when i was dealing with accusations from a manipulative person, to forward our emails to two friends who could vouch that i was not the one being unreasonable and who were able to be objective when the person wrote things that they knew would strike a chord and made me want to rescue the friendship by allowing them to set the terms. replies from my real friends reminding me "omg they're such a nutjob!!" were the reality checks that got me through.  

we cannot deal with control / manipulation / abuse alone, in isolation. anyone who suggests we should is, in my opinion, dodge. because isolation silences us, and is therefore a key ingredient of abuse.

obviously, the controlling people concerned would entirely freak out (and be likely to whip out the big guns, manipulation-wise) if they knew their actions were being witnessed, shared and analysed in this way, as this completely undermines their methods: isolation, as a tool for silencing, is central to the operation of any control. this is because if someone shares with their community the methods someone used to manipulate them, and the community believes them and decides that such behaviour is unacceptable, then the controlling person will have to either:
1) stop being controlling
2) leave the community
3) develop less detectable methods of control
and the more adept we all get in all our communities at identifying controlling behaviours, the more that 1) will be the only option left for everyone.

sorted. how hard can it be? :)

Monday, 26 April 2010

responsibility and recovery

funnily enough after my post last night that touched on this, i met someone else today who was considering warning her ex's new dates about his abusive behaviour. she suggested this, then said "but i guess i've got to look after myself first" and kind of waited for my response (it's odd, working with people who have been controlled and who have come to you expecting help, you have so much power to influence them in the early stages before they rebuild their sense of self, and i am so often asked 'what should i do?' and have to find ways to try to minimise the power and turn the question back round..). i was in work-mode, despite my posting last night, and said something about her being responsible for herself first, once again offering individualism as my 'expert' solution to her situation.

goddamn! now i think the best response when a client wants to warn and help other women, would be to encourage her to focus on her own healing and rebuilding as a first step and allow herself to come back to the besmirching of his name (ha) later. i read this article recently about pathologising survivors of DV as "in the experience" and have been questioning how much i do this, and need to write a lot more about this but unfortunately i had to give the book back to the library too soon.

am i being condescending to survivors i work with by suggesting they are "too in the experience" within days of ending the relationship to be supportive to other women? perhaps. i don't know. i really tend to think there needs to be a couple of months at least of real serious focus on one's own healing before it's a good idea to try and heal your community. i have met women who are driven by fury to help other women who themselves can't get a night's sleep for terror as they've never healed.

having written about the extreme of individualism last night i guess i'm writing here about the other extreme of giving to your group over and above giving to yourself. i feel weird writing about all this as someone who hasn't experienced relationship abuse, but i really need to get my head round it as a supporter.

it starts

i'm thrilled because two ex-clients who don't know each other, in the space of one week, have asked me for advice to set up their own grassroots groups. no one's ever mentioned doing this before. i swear, there must be something in the ether. maybe it's the astrology, ha.

One is planning a general domestic violence group in case we lose our funding (the standard three years are nearly up) and one a group for women whose children have been removed temporarily or permanently by 'social care'. hurrah! the fall of the voluntary sector begins. i haven't properly started discussions with these women yet and don't know what they're planning but it sounds like it might involve not needing paid workers and general DIY amazingness. yes!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

tired ramble about counselling and individualism

the other bit of this issue of make/shift that's got my head most buzzing is a discussion between Tyrone of Enough and Tiny of POOR Magazine. at one point they're talking about Tiny's challenge to privileged people to consider 'moving home' to care for their communities and families of origin. she says:
"Now, I know this gets really touchy with folks. Especially folks who've had a lot of years of therapy. No, seriously - I want to call that out. In dominant culture, the support is not given for staying and caregiving. The support is given to leave, cut ties, and become independent. That's really embedded in western psychotherapy, in Freudian and Jungian theory. And let's be real about white folks - that's a lot of where their knowledge comes from, especially folks with privilege."
this statement sent me scribbling to myself urgently for an hour, before i could read any further. when i did read further i realised that Tiny then explains "I pose it as a challenge partly for shock value [...] because I want people to rethink this paradigm that pathologizes staying with and caretaking for family of origin". well it certainly worked on me. this challenge sent my brain off in all sorts of directions.

as a white person with a heap of privileges i've had seven or eight counselling sessions, the most recent three being last winter when i was verging on burnout and begged the sessions from work. i found it incredibly helpful to have this considerate stranger paid to concentrate on 'my issues'. i talked about work-stress, losing friendships and about some family stuff. it was remarkable to have my experience centred completely. but i was aware that i could only tell her so much. i was gradually realising that my entire worldview is becoming too - i don't know, radical? - to discuss with the nice lady counsellor. my feelings and reactions to the world would be pathologised if i was open about them. a large part of the reason i was feeling mental during the winter was due to trying to get a grip on my integrity and start to acknowledge more what i know and believe and to orient my life more to be true to that. and let's face it, reading derrick jensen is not compatible with continuing sanely in paid employment and an urban lifestyle... it all involved a lot of mourning, for lost friendships and other major emotional upheavals of the past year, and for the comfort of the old worldview i'd allowed myself, the illusion of safety that i'd enjoyed and the societal myths i'd fallen for. the latter parts were not stuff that the nice lady wanted to hear.

the previous counselling sessions i'd had, with the same nice lady but two years earlier, had been when a woman i'd supported at work had been killed. when i tried to explain some of my anguish to do with this woman's death, and other work situations, to the counsellor she was supportive up to a point but at pains to remind me that this woman "made her own choices" etc etc. there was no room for me to talk about the greater forces in our lives over and above individual choice*, and just how much knowing about these forces and their effects affect my mental health!

so that quote from Tiny finally crystallised my discomfort with counselling for myself (as much as i would use it again, in the absence of amazing holistic peer co-counselling type stuff, until i can help make that happen in my community). it just seems that the only solutions and balms on offer in that counselling room are individualist, and that is not going to help me now. if work had been able to keep paying i could have had lots more sessions - concentrating on how hard done by i am... this is just not the sort of support i want any more. i do have things i need to figure out, i do have sad stuff that has happened, i do have a weird family - but it's not the end of the world. i need to balance and counter my need for a certain amount of healing with the simple fact that i'm staggeringly unscathed and cocooned compared to most people on earth. Tiny's quote crystallised my realisation that the support-work industrial complex, if you will, including the likes of my job and counselling, usually bolsters this over-focus on the individual. this is not the support i want or need any more. the support i do need is to figure out ways in which life and living are ok while acknowledging injustice and the reality of abuse and oppression and the necessity and life-affirmingness of working against it in communities. i am so lucky to have so many incredible friends, and occasionally we do talk about some of this stuff, though i think i need to be braver to start these conversations more often, and to ask for support. i also realise this is precisely why amazing people like Activist Trauma Support exist, and things like co-counselling, which i need to find out more about.

the quote also made me realise how much i use the same techniques to make my 'clients' feel better - prioritising their individual needs. like i said the other day about supporting women towards independence and almost never interdependence. the example that most obviously springs to mind is that my clients know they will be left alone when their ex finds a new partner he can successfully control. one or two women i've worked with over the years have contacted the new partner to warn them. the others have breathed a sigh of relief and moved on with their lives. i'm not saying either action is 'right' or 'wrong', only that it's so painfully obvious how charity domestic violence work is - not even a sticking plaster these days, more of a conveyor belt operating within the system. have we all forgotten how we used to want our jobs to become redundant? i want to be working with women to end domestic abuse, not just 'rescuing' survivors one by one in this 'you're alright mate' style.

i hope that all this rambling makes some sense in the context of Tiny's quote. i do not believe in the slightest that anyone should have to stay and care for anyone who has abused them: in fact i'm not offended by the idea of serial abusers being abandoned as i said in my post about forgiveness. but i am very uncomfortable with support work that bolsters the structures of privilege and comfort, for example by bringing a few of the lucky ones to join 'us' in individualist 'safety,' and saying that those who don't make it have simply "made their choices".

* i hope it's clear that i do not ever wish to deny the agency of survivors of abuse, nor those who don't survive - of course there are always individual choices - it's just that i don't wish to make myself feel better by pretending that's all there is.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

my lovely new make/shift

there is so much in this magazine, every time. i really do recommend subscribing and supporting them. this time there is this incredible article by Courtney Desiree Morris about perpetrators of gender violence within activist groups and how they do much of the same work as FBI informant infiltrators:
"We might think of these misogynists as inadvertent agents of the state. Regardless of whether they are actual informants or not, the work that they do supports the state's ongoing campaign of terror against social movements and the people who create them. When queer organisers are humiliated and their political struggles sidelined, that is part of an ongoing state project of violence against radicals. When women are knowingly given STIs, physically abused, dismissed in meetings, pushed aside, and forced out of radical organizing spaces while our allies defend known misogynists, organizers collude in the state's efforts to destroy us." 
wow wow. and there is so much else in the magazine that i want to respond to here, soon as possible.


I've just seen this on an email list. 
Subject: Irish women need CASH, not ASH! – Urgent ASN Appeal

Whether it’s a shortage of mange tout at the supermarket or a friend
stranded abroad, we’ve all been affected by the cloud of ash from Iceland.
But imagine if you had only a few weeks to navigate your way to England for
a safe and legal abortion.

This week, we’ve heard from a number of women who were due to have travel to
the UK this week for terminations, including a very young teen who is
extremely close to the 24 week time limit for abortions in the UK. She had
to miss her appointment earlier this week and is now coming next week by
ferry and train – a roundtrip journey of more than 24 hours. Her mother
solely supports her and her siblings with a part time job and now has to
cover costs of £2,300 (procedure + money lost on cancelled flights + last
minute ferry and train tickets).

Due to these extraordinary and extremely difficult circumstances, ASN has
made a pledge to fund this young woman £500, much more than we usually
commit to a single case. This is less than half of the costs she is facing.
We would like to *help more*. If you would like to help cover more costs for
her and women like her, please pledge to make a donation today.

You can do this by donating via PayPal (, writing a cheque (email for our postal address), or by making an online
transfer (HSBC/Abortion Support Network/Sort Code: 40-11-18/Account Number:

Please mark the donation “Iceland”.

Thank you in advance for any amount you can give – your donation will make a
real difference to this family or to one of the other women who have had to
re-purchase tickets to travel to England.

With best regards,


Mara Clarke
Abortion Support Network
+44 (0) 7897 611 593

Abortion Support Network (ASN) is an all-volunteer organisation that
provides accommodation and financial assistance to women forced to travel
from Ireland and pay privately for abortions in England. The cost ranges
between £400 and £2000 depending on circumstance and stage of pregnancy.
While other organisations campaign for law reform, ASN is the only group on
record providing women travelling for abortions with the thing they need the
most: money.

not defeated

hmm been unable to channel any rage or articulation lately, hence no blogging. been feeling mostly defeated by it all. but i am going to attempt to drag myself up and at least get a bit angry. as futile as it may be to try and pull out slim threads of Everything That Is Too Much, it was making me feel better and i need to do it some more. and there is some cool stuff that has helped keep me afloat that i want to write about.