Sunday, 29 April 2012

On looking back

Returning to my blog after this long hiatus is a very interesting experience.  I have been looking over my past posts and find that there are very many that I had forgotten I had written.  Even re-reading them, I have little, if any, memory of them.  In many ways it has been like finding a long-lost photograph.  I feel as if there is something unreal about them - that they are somehow detached from me.  I perceive my life to have been linear, with some sort of progress from point to point but yet I see that there have been discontinuities and shifts in my thoughts both about myself and Goddess.  I feel very differently about some  things now than I did before.  And yet, there is nothing that I would like to have erased from the record.  Nothing of which I am now ashamed or regret that I have written.

One of the major reasons for this is, I believe, that I am currently, and have been since my return from Hungary, rather solitary.  I am no longer involved in any significant way in any form of communal practice.  I feel very sad about this sometimes but at other times it seems to be a blessing.  I enjoyed ceremony and the feeling of being in the centre of things.  I enjoyed the feeling of belonging and the sense that I was recognised and somehow valuable.  I liked the glamour that came with this. Now, when I go to ceremonies in the Glastonbury Temple - which is not that often since I now have to rely on a very unhelpful public transport system - I feel a little marginal.  Things have moved on.  I have moved on.  It is hard to say, on any particular occasion, which movement is more significant.  It is just that I no longer feel that public ceremony is central to my life and being.  This is both a loss and a gain, a grief and a relief and it is hard to say which emotions predominate. The reality is that they oscillate.

I miss the connection with people.  I miss the structure of community.  I miss that feeling of belonging that went with it.  I am at times all too well aware that, were I to die tomorrow, there are few who would notice, At those times I feel sad.  On other days, however, I sense a freedom in this anonymity.  I no longer feel the need to police myself, to censor my words and even my thoughts, in the fear that I would offend or alienate others.  I no longer feel I have to please and my sense of myself as a human being no longer depends on the esteem of others.  I know that in some ways, through my actions and inactions, I have undoubtedly forfeited much of this.  Time has given me perspective on those occasions when this happened.  I will not go into detail here, but may return to the subject later when they will be more relevant.  What I am concerned with here is my current thoughts and positions.

For the last two years, much of my time and attention has been focused on my forthcoming book about Inanna.  A few weeks ago, I gave a short presentation on some of my research to a group in Glastonbury and was gratified at the reception I got.  My fear had been that I was completely off the wall or, alternatively, merely restating facts already well-known.  Neither seemed to be the case.  I felt that my work was being validated.  That I was, in reality and not just my won imagination, onto something

What I have come to realise is that, without the estrangements of the last few years, I would never have got as far as I already have.  I needed the isolation, first the linguistic one of being in a strange country and second the social one in my own home country, in order to delve as deep as I can into both myself and more importantly, Inanna.  She has remained the constant, the baseline around which all my oscillations are centred.  Even when things have got really dark and my fear seemed close to overwhelming me, there has ever been the awareness that this is part of the process that Her descent embodies.

I have never been one for sweetness and light - I am more drawn to the exploration of the dark, both within myself and others.  I have been forcefully confronted at times by my own darkness and have been all but overwhelmed by it.  I have also, however, become aware that there is strength in this awareness.  For darkness is part of being human.  It is the label I was given to refer to the  instinctual drives necessary to survive.  I do not like to know that some of my outwardly better actions have been, in part at least, driven by such base motives.  I do not like to acknowledge that I am far from saintly and unselfish.  But I am.  For I am human.  I am a man.  And, despite the discomfort that I sometimes feel at this, am glad to be so.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Thoughts around my birthday

I am now officially old.  Last week, I became 65 and am now in receipt of my State pension.  I am, in fact, older than my father was when he died.  One one level this is reality but on another there is my own concept of myself which does not seem to have changed since I was a child.  On an emotional level, little if anything has changed.  I am still waiting to grow up and do not know what I will be when I do so.

When I was physically a child, the world of grown-ups was a complete and somewhat terrifying mystery to me.  Full of strange rituals and incomprehensible actions, it also seemed bereft of any sense of the wonder of imagination.  To be grown-up appeared to demand that I settled for a dreary conformity and discarded the sense of wonder.  In return, I would be given the keys, not to the kingdom, but to a living death of 9-5 and the commuter train.  The shades of the prison house loomed large on the horizon, they awaited me and I dreaded them.  Dreaded, that is, when I thought about them.  Which was not often.  Most of the time, I did not think about it.  I suppose that I was aware that one day I would get older but that had no reality.  Adults aroused in me a feeling akin to pity for they had lost a precious thing and received in return a spurious authority and standing in a world far removed from mine.  It was a world beyond my comprehension.

It still is. I am now old but somehow have not managed to get a handle on being an adult.  Although I know that there is an etymological distinction, I cannot but associate it with adulteration.  It is an added substance which pollutes and corrupts the original.  It is a violence inflicted from outside that has no connection with the original essence but overlays and masks it. It is the violence, both physical and mental, of school and the moulding of the young into something warped and inauthentic.  It is where play becomes competition with the inevitable rift between winners and losers.

I have tried to be competitive but am not very good at it so perhaps my vision is slanted.  But I find it pointless.  For, in the end, we all die.  We cannot win at that game.  In his talk with the gravedigger, Hamlet ponders the ultimate futility of human ambition:

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
O that that earth which kept the world in awe

Should patch a wall t' expel the winter's flaw!
This is the reality that Gilgamesh strove to avoid in his search for immortality.  Having previously spurned Ishtar, he and Enkidu embark on what is the first example of what would later become the buddy movie.  However heriocally Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might seek immortality in a rain of bullets, their fate is identical to that of the lowest peasant.  Later, we may well mythologise and apotheosise but the harsh reality of death levels all men.  However, we are told we need heroes.  I was raised with such heroes.  Gordon meeting his death at the hand of Islamic savages in Khartoum was an ideal held up to be admired.  The reality that he was a vainglorious failure who led his men to a terrible fate in a country far away in which we had no business did not enter into the adulation.  For he was an ideal to be emulated by all young Englishmen.  An ideal that should, in any rational world, have been laid to rest in the fields of Flanders along with the rotting bodies of millions but is even now trotted out in the latter day Imperial adventures of the nation to which we are now client, the USA.  The soldier, if he dies, becomes a hero and will enter the Valhalla of national memory.  At each Remembrance Day parade the pious prayers of "Lest we forget" are parroted over the heads of the heads of those destined for a future, pointless, premature death.  We never remember and we never learn.

This last paragraph contains, I accept, a bit of a rant which is somewhat of a digression.  But I will let it stay for it is related to my main theme.  It is the world for which I, as a boy child, was being prepared.  My imagination was already colonised even though it seemed to be free.  However much he resisted being an adult man, the boy was rehearsing the masculinity that he would someday be expected to wear.  He would shoot his friends and be shot by them but death was counted in seconds and the resurrection would be frequent.  It was never real.  War was and is a part of being a man.

And it is as a man that I write all this.  My body is that of a man.  I am not a boy anymore.  But when did this change happen?  I don't know.  There is no point at which I can locate it.  Even this recent shifting of status to pensioner has no real meaning beyond an arbitrary, Government decreed, date on a calendar.  I have in sense drifted through each transition in my physical life without any point at which I can mark a change.  No moments of passage from one state to another just a series of imperceptible minor changes which only have coherence in retrospect.

What I missed was any sense of an experience "making a man of me".  I was not in the armed forces, nor an apprenticeship. Neither was I sent to any residential institution dedicated to inculcating a model of masculinity - whether it be a prison (yet!) or  a public school (for non-UK readers a "public school" is a fee-paying school - a strange use of the word "public", I grant).  I have never, in short, had those experiences which are said to "to make a man out of me". . I am a man but I have never been made one. I am, it must therefore be assumed, somewhat less of a man than those who have been so made. (Not, I must most emphatically add, that I regret this!  I am, despite my own all too patent fuck-ups, happy for the most part to be the man I am although I readily acknowledge that there are many areas for improvement)

We talk of the need to "make" a man, it is common parlance.  We never, however, speak of the need to "make" a woman.  There is, in the onset of menstruation, a definite and inescapable event.  There are, in women with various genetic conditions, exceptions to this but, in general, the transition between girl and woman is one that is clear.  A woman is not "made".  A woman "is".   Herein there lies a major difference between the two biological sexes.  (Here I am deliberately avoiding the use of the word "gender" and keeping strictly to the physical.  That a person can realign themselves between genders is clear and I have no problem with anybody identifying themselves as other than the gender into which they were born.  Only they can know what they feel they are.  This whole issue is worthy of much more attention than I can give here, so I may well return to it).

For the making of a man there is one vital first step.  Separation from women.  The next step is the eradication from the male psyche of all those traits deemed to be feminine.  Military basic training is the clearest example of this.  A similar process can be seen in gang culture.  In both instances, the main desire is that the initiate not be a pussy and the marker for unpussiness is to demonstrate an ability and willingness to inflict violence on the bodies of other human beings.  Empathy and compassion must therefore be rooted out and replaced by homocentric loyalty to the peer group. How the inclusion of women on the front line will impact on this is yet to be seen, but the cases of rape and molestation that have come to light already indicate that the process is not easy for them.  However, we now have all-volunteer armies and widespread youth unemployment.  Very few men are, therefore, being made.  Women are, in many fields, already challenging and often out-performing their male colleagues.  The old certainties no longer apply.  There is, in this sense, a real crisis of masculinity.  This has given rise to a fightback against what is perceived to be a takeover by women.  From  the men's rights advocates and the apostles of the various religious fundamentalisms comes the same brand of rhetoric.  The only way for men to be men is to keep their women under their thumb.

A similar thinking occurs, I believe, in the works of such as Robert Bly and, I fear, some of those within  New Paganism.  Having rejected the Abrahamic religions of their forefathers they seem to have adopted mythologies that have the same stereotypical  binary gender divide.  On reading some of their works, I have been reminded very strongly of my childhood visits to the rugby club where my father spent most of his free time.  I remember very well that every evening there was a chorus raised from the bar of, "goodnight ladies, goodnight ladies" and the women and children would depart, leaving the men to get on with the serious business- whatever that was beyond drinking.  This was a time for men to be men.  Whether they had the occasional stripper or so, I have no idea but strongly think they might.  Whatever went on, it was not for the eyes of wives and girlfriends.  This was a clearly male preserve and a male mystery.  Is there, in fact, any need for such male only space? Perhaps for some men, but I am not convinced that it applies to all.  I accept that, for many reasons, it is inappropriate for me to be present at some ceremonies that pertain to women's unique experience.  But I can think of few, if any, significant occasions in my life that could not be shared by a woman.  I am a man.  I grew to be one.  I was not made one and I do not wish to be made one.

Men and women are different, I am very glad to say.  They are, however, both human. Neither have to be "made".  We do not need to look for a new model of masculinity beyond one that recognises that we all, men and women alike, have our strengths and weaknesses and that these are not necessarily sex-specific. There are many within each sex that prefer to socialise within that sex and many who don't.  The problem comes when one set of values, or preferred mode of socialising is privileged and the others considered deviant.

I had no idea where this post was going when I started it.  The same is true of my life.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Another return to the blogosphere

A friend alerted me to a recent comment to an earlier post so I went to see what was written so that I could respond. This was the first time in many months that I have been here. The reasons for this were many. First and foremost, however, was the need for me to withdraw from the world and do one hell of a lot of internal housekeeping, the details of which are not relevant here but may well emerge over the course of my return to blogging. I have made abortive attempts to do this a couple or so times since my return from Hungary in late 2009 but none have been continued. However, I have been rereading some of my previous posts and noting that while some of the things I have written are still valid today, some of the things I would now revise.

But I will not go back and re-edit or delete anything. I will let it all stand - even if there be some I will find I regret having ever written. My life is only a work in progress - a progress that I hope to continue for many years yet. So I will write now about how I am now and, if any reader cares to point out places where I have, or appear to have, shifted my position I will either own to it or explain the apparent inconsistency.

Another reason for deserting the blog is that I have been concerned with a more academic, albeit necessarily often speculative, account of the history of the goddess Inanna from pre-history to the present day. It has involved much reading of the bible. I first typed "bile" there and this is perhaps a rather revealing Freudian typo. For much of the bible is undoubtedly bile - the bitter and twisted rantings of bitter and twisted men. Much is, however, very beautiful and wise, compassionate and loving. I had focused on the old men and forgotten that within the bath in which they wallowed was a very beautiful and wise baby, whom I was in danger of flushing away.

In short, I have been living inside my own head a lot. This has involved a large amount of emulating the ostrich as far as the events in the outside world are concerned. A lot of this is because I am, simply, often very frightened at the way the world, and my country in particular is going. I have chosen largely to ignore this fear and push it down along with the anger the fear has triggered.

So no word has been written about all this. In my attempts to be as academically rigorous as possible I have failed to acknowledge my own subjectivity. The result of this has been a severe writers block. I have probably written about this before - I do not want to go back and check, for that may well result in censorship, but before now I had lost all my confidence in my right to speak about anything.

But write I must. The only way to beat writer's block is to get into the habit of writing.

So it is back to blogging. I n0 longer really care if anyone reads me or not. If anyone does and agrees with me it will be gratifying to my ego. If they read me and think me a pillock I will try to meet that with equanimity. For, after all, my opinions are as ephemeral as those of anyone - some will die with me and some may change tomorrow and it doesn't really matter.

So, if anyone is reading this, I hope you will enjoy what is coming as much as I will enjoy writing it.