Thursday, 17 December 2009

Dealing with It

Winter Solstice Tree on Mousehold Heath by Helen Simpson Slapp (NR3/Reskilling)

Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth.
Deal with it. (popular car sticker c.2007)

Yesterday I found a poem I hadn’t read in a long time. It’s called It Allows A Portrait in Line-Scan at Fifteen by the Australian poet Les Murray. I heard it when I was working for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival back in 2005 just as Transition was starting up. Sinead Morrissey, a young brilliant poet from Belfast was performing what is known as close work - delving into the depths of the poem and coming up with gems.

You can read the poem in full here.

I don’t think I would have noticed the poem so much otherwise. In that 15 minutes intense attention to its workings, Sinead handed us a key that opened the door of the poem. You see, the Portrait is of the poet's son who is now fifteen years old. “It” is the condition of autism that holds him captive – only allowing under certain circumstances the feeling relationship with other human beings that most of us take for granted.

When you read the poem, you realise it’s not just his son that Murray's talking about. He’s talking about an autistic world. The people who aren't listening in Copenhagen. The troubles we've been encountering on the dark side of Transition.

As we head towards the darkest and coldest part of the year, as the door of Solstice opens to let in the new light I considered what this It does to all our communications:

It talks in meetings with a voice like a cyborg. A dead pan voice that goes on and on and wears us all down.
It is made of mind. Data, facts, machines, correct spelling, precise rules and timings, rituals, mantra, constructs of all kinds.
It has an agenda it’s sticking to. A secret one it does not divulge. That makes our meetings go round and round, get lost in details, come to no conclusion. Most of all It wants its own way. This is because it has to have control of situations at all times. Everything outside of It is a threat to Its total power.
It has said things to me like: You have to accept the fact you are second-rate and You are just a.n.other. We don’t want to know what you think. I have learned to not go under when It is talking.
It talks of love, but, being heartless, exudes only a kind of passive coldness into the space between us. Even when the heart is angry or bitter it is warm. I have learned in these years to recognise the difference between words and action by their temperature. You could say the rising temperature of our home planet is a response to the coldness of Its empire, the way a fever burns up an infection in the body.
It outwits psychology and sometimes is psychology. Has been the bane of many a wise man, even caused the wily magus Gurdjieff who articulated its every mechanical move to close the curtains in his flat in Paris and start cooking for his friends.
In Diss when we all gathered there was a pink post-it note in the centre of our wall: it read unconscious sabotage.
It is a big problem in the world. Inside our own heads where it lives. Inside the meetings where we are trying to co-operate and find out a different way of doing things. Dreaming a different dream.
It doesn’t dream. It likes to feel good and keep in control. Dreaming means out-of-control which equals BAD. When it feels bad it starts to throw a fit, throw its feelings outwards onto other people in the room. We’ve been intimidated by Its moods and tantrums, its bone-chilling voice for aeons, so we keep quiet. It speaks with the power of gods and governments. Institutions and corporations are made of It.
It does well in school, where a lack of empathy with the object of study is essential.
What It hates most of all are poets. Poets see It coming and use their art to expose all its invisible workings. It has a pathological fear of being seen. Of being questioned by the heart. If It has a chance (which it has many times in history) It sends these all-seeing, all-feeling poets off to the gulag, to the trenches, to the Tower. Mostly it wears them out.
Fairy stories warn us about It many times. They are tales of how to outwit the saboteur and his wife, the cruel stepmother, what to do when the mirror enters our eyes and freezes our hearts, when we become trapped in reason, walled up in ourselves, held in a glass coffin, asleep.

It says fairy stories are for children.

We like to think we are beyond our childish games of it too. But It touches everyone. It comes through the young and pretty and clever and the wild man in the torn overcoat who is shouting too loudly in the room. In Transition when It gets the upper hand, people start leaving meetings. Groups dissolve. Good ideas get shelved. Initiatives run out of steam. Dealing with It in Transition means we’re having to face people when It comes through. If we’re going to succeed we're going to have to find ways of naming It’s moves. Not running scared, or becoming enraged or bewildered or worn out.

Gotta get smart!

Last Thursday the Transition East Support Group met in Dereham and we exchanged our tales of the It girls and boys in our various meetings. How some of us are reconfiguring the way we are coming together centering on working parties and creative projects. We decided we are going to look at some of those Troubles that were written down on the wall and work through them in 2010. Communication about these difficulties we decided is the key that would open the door.

On Saturday four Transition Norwich dreamers - Mark, Helen, Alex and I - met and explored a conflict that had broken out between us. Helen showed us her painting of our four previous Dreaming journeys. It was a circular map of blue and green with a red dragon, a castle, a river and Mark standing amongst the weeping willow like a silver fish outside Julian of Norwich’s cell. Dead wood from a sweet chestnut tree pointed into a white space where the circle was incomplete. “There’s a gap,” Helen said. We looked into that howling gap for three hours and It allowed us to shout and weep and stand in each other’s shoes and feel what that was like on the other side of the tracks. "Storming" in groups sometimes calls for what is known as conflict resolution, but what we really need is an agreement to look closely into the eye of the ice storm together and create new ways of proceeding, finding the gems that are hidden in the dark.

That's when you realise that the dreaming of cities is not in the buildings or history, or even the land that supports them, it's held within the people who live there and the strangers who come to their door.

At some point It has to become Us.

Sweet Chestnut Tree by Helen Wells (Transition Circle West)

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