two women

Two women have been on my mind today. I’ve not met either of them, but they have both been instrumental in teaching me about feminism and about compassion. I toast them both, in honour of International Women’s Day.

Woman #1 was an online critic of mine. Her tone was scathing, I would say withering. The putdown was simple: I was whinging pathetically about imaginary non-issues in the small community we both – well, I wouldn’t say ‘belonged to.’ She proclaimed her belonging fiercely, to this tribe of would-be culture-busters, while my unbelonging clung to me like smoke in my clothes. She hadn’t experienced what I had, and therefore neither could have I – I must be creating a storm in a teacup. It was my own problem, this dissatisfaction and frustration with The Menz and what I perceived as their stranglehold on our group’s dynamics and narrative. I had already weathered a shitstorm of backlash from The Menz themselves, but her online slap stung me deeply, coming as it did from another woman.

Even then I understood the threat I posed to her. She was riding along in the approval and acceptance of these men in a way that I had too, earlier in the story. Casting off the backbreaking cloak of little-sisterhood in order to stand up for myself and my gut feelings had been a profound step for me. It was the work of a lifetime and one of the bravest things I’d ever done. Some of my sisters responded with love and support, but others balked at the messiness of rebellion.

Writing today in the Guardian about the growing wave of feminist activism, highlighted in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Rebecca Solnit points out that social change doesn’t happen out of the blue; it is the accumulation of a million unseen nudges. She observes that

the shift comes from the cumulative effect of tiny gestures and shifts…

What this wave brought is recognition that each act of gender violence is part of an epidemic. It’s brought a (partial) end to treating these acts as isolated incidents, as the victim’s fault, as the result of mental illness or other aberrations. It’s meant a more widespread willingness to recognise that such violence is extraordinarily common and has an enormous impact, and arises from values, privileges and attitudes built into the culture.

…. something long tolerated is finally recognised as intolerable, which means that the people for whom it was not a problem finally recognise the suffering of those for whom it was. This shift from tolerated to intolerable is often the result of a power shift in who decides, or a shift in what stories dominate, or in whose story gets told, or believed. It’s a subtle shift in who matters that precedes dramatic change.

This online critic of mine, she wasn’t prepared to acknowledge my story as one that mattered. And I understand exactly where she was coming from: I’ve been there myself, in countless ways, and surely still am as I stumble on through the painful and complex process of growing as a person.

Woman #2 became a household name as the butt of a million jokes by male talk show hosts: Monica Lewinsky. At the time of her infamous affair with Bill Clinton I had already moved to the UK and that scandal seemed peripheral to the dramas of childbirth and divorce which were playing out in my own life. However I do remember thinking her foolishly naive, and I didn’t stand by her or voice anything in her defence.  I remember thinking with pity of all the women named Monica who were suddenly tainted by association to a name which now had so very much mud sticking to it. I certainly never gave a thought to how isolated and desperate she must have felt, nor to the imbalance of scorn heaped upon her while he got away with a collective roll of the eyes.

I have been following Monica Lewinsky’s growing public presence as an anti-bullying activist. She is an articulate and insightful woman, who has turned her painful experience into a source of personal strength and immense compassion. I admire her deeply, and feel shame for the part I played in discounting her. When I see her now, I see my own complicity in a system of oppression in which women’s accounts of their experience count for so much less than men’s.

So this International Women’s Day, I raise my glass to both Woman #1 and Woman #2 – the two women in me. In them, I see how much I have already learned and also how much I have yet to learn.

Rebecca Solnit writes, “Who determines what stories get told, who gets believed, whose words have weight, who’s in charge has changed.” Changed for the better, I say.

me and my daughter too

When my daughter was 10 months old, as I held her in my arms – in a bookshop in Louisville Kentucky – she was touched inappropriately by a man in late middle age. He approached us and commented amiably on her sweetness and I smiled in return and made some innocuous reply. Then I realised that he had put his fingers in her mouth and rubbed them along her gums, as he asked me conversationally if she had any teeth yet.

I pulled her back away from him as I replied to him, sensible of the physical imposition – but I didn’t rebuke him. It didn’t even occur to me to rebuke him. I was swept along in the imperative to be polite and friendly in public. And it all happened so swiftly. He didn’t linger, he headed with his purchase out of the shop and that was that.

My friend had seen it all from a few feet away and she moved over to us quickly, indignant on my behalf. She asked if we were okay as we watched him walk out the door, and wondered scathingly how he would like it himself if a total stranger stuck their fingers into his mouth. I brushed it off, played it down. He probably meant no harm. He may not have even been conscious of what he was doing. He had just been trying to be friendly. Well anyway it was too late now, he’d left the shop. No point in dwelling on it. Just a weirdly unpleasant encounter, best forgotten.

The trouble is, I have never forgotten it. I remember being surprised, caught off guard, when he reached out and touched the inside of her mouth. I remember pulling her back and away from him, my gut instinct being that he had crossed a physical boundary, and wondering when he’d last washed his hands. I remember the immediate mental negotiating, trying to rationalise why it was no big deal, that I shouldn’t worry about it, that it didn’t matter. I remember a seed of disquiet lodging itself inside me and spoiling the rest of that day, what should have been a wonderful day visiting with my friend.

Time hasn’t eased the disquiet. That seed has grown steadily over the years, and with it my anger. I’m not especially angry with the man himself. My baby daughter wasn’t harmed, and he really may not have meant to cause any offense. I’m not angry with that man himself but I am very, very angry that it happened. It makes me angry that he felt so thoughtlessly entitled to touch her. He imposed himself upon her, and upon me too by proxy. It makes me angry that I didn’t stop him or confront him – that I didn’t have the social tools or the inner confidence to confront him. My ingrained response was to swallow my discomfort, to not rock the boat, to minimise and excuse and push it all aside. It makes me angry that I accepted it with a smile, even though it didn’t feel right.

Jesus, it wasn’t even sexual contact.

Like every woman alive on the planet, I have experienced inappropriate behaviour and sexual harrassment from acquaintances and strangers. I have been ordered to wear shorter skirts and sexier tops by my male boss, and fired when I failed to be flirtatious enough with his pub clientele. I have had my ass touched in public places, and been ordered to smile by complete strangers. I spent nearly an hour one afternoon trying to peel away from a man who had attached himself to my side, demanding that I tell him my name and join him for a drink. I’ve sat next to men on the bus and the train, squeezing myself into as small a space as possible, while they stretch themselves out, often with their legs splayed wide apart. I’ve walked past innumerable men with a hand resting on their crotch… why? To intimidate me? To reassure themselves? To make sure their dick hasn’t dropped off?

But of all this everyday sexism, it is the encounter with the man in the bookshop which sits like a grim pit in my stomach and still nauseates me nearly twenty years later. It was so casual, so nebulous, so invisible a transgression. So insidious in its power dynamic: you are there, available for me to touch, this old man told my infant daughter – and in doing so told me as well. I can touch you as I like, and then walk away as though it means nothing. And you won’t complain. You won’t kick up a fuss. You will try to tell yourself it doesn’t matter. But it does.

Frankie Vah meets Laurie Penny

Edinburgh in August becomes a swarm of performers and tourists and buskers, there are posters and flyers plastered onto every available fence or lamppost, and the pavements are littered with dropped handbills and ticket stubs. With hundreds upon hundreds of shows and concerts and talks and gigs on offer, it can be overwhelming. Choosing what to see becomes a gamble: it could be great, and well worth the money, or it could be a lemon. This year in the lucky dip I came up with real prizes: performance poet Luke Wright, in his acclaimed one-man show Frankie Vah, and journalist Laurie Penny, talking about her new book Bitch Doctrine at the Book Fest.

Both Wright and Penny advocate for the political left with spitfire gumption. They both wield words like eloquent weapons, aimed with clarity and precision, that cut open hesitancy or prevarication and rally the troops to the cause of social justice for all. (God knows the left needs to be rallied.) And both operate from the same base: a deep and abiding respect for words as voice, and voice as political agency. But what resonates most for me in their work is this: both understand that the most radical act anyone can take in life is to learn.

Frankie Vah tells the story of a boy growing up during the 1980s, setting himself against the conservative, religious dogma of his father (a vicar) by embracing anti-Thatcherism. We watch a tentative, yearning teenaged Simon evolve into a snarling, adamant Angry Young Man named Frankie Vah. Along the way Frankie becomes consumed with his own righteousness and self-creation, eventually insulting, betraying and alienating everyone close to him – until he breaks. The anger-fuelled facade falls away, leaving a raw and humbled human heart on full display.

Likewise, Laurie Penny offered a graciously open interview, the most notable point of which (for me) were her reflections on the responsibility we must each take to keep learning. ‘I don’t always get it right’ she admitted, ‘I make mistakes,’ and she acknowledged the privilege she holds as a white, middle-class, well-educated person who holds a very public platform in her writing. She described her personal commitment to listen and learn from others about what is needed to create a just society.

Both Wright and Penny draw on this fundamental truth: the personal is political. Every individual holds values and makes choices that contribute to the collective human experience. Every individual is responsible for their impact on others. And every individual makes mistakes along the way. But as Penny pointed out, we need to create safe spaces where people “can get things wrong.” Getting it wrong is the fuel of learning – but only when it is digested and transformed into a usable energy.

Anger at injustice can be a form of getting it wrong; it is a valuable resource from which we can create a useable contructive energy, so long as we don’t stop and linger with anger for its own sake. Frankie Vah learns that righteous anger hits a dead end if one doesn’t remain open and listening to the equally valid emotions and opinions of others.

It’s a balancing act, for sure. One audience member at the Laurie Penny talk was a German lady who referenced Karl Popper’s “paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Penny replied with Oscar Wilde: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

The discussion also touched upon the relationship between truth and reality, in this age of so-called post-truth. How can truth and reality either of them be anything but subjective, and aligned with an individual’s experience and perspective? Penny alludes to this when she writes about journalistic objectivity: “I have never held with the notion of objective journalism…. When I started out, my world was overfull of stern men imploring me to strive for objectivity – which meant, in practice, that I ought to tell the story as a rich older man might see it.”

In this way, objectivity becomes confused with telling one’s story from a worthy point of view. When we listen to individual perspective as indicative of a greater legitimacy, we grant it the power of voice.

Here is where Laurie Penny and Luke Wright veer off from one another: while they share a vast common ground of ideals and values, Luke Wright will only ever speak as a white man, and Laurie Penny as a white woman – and their experience of voice reflects this. Interestingly, Frankie Vah is a persona created by Simon, who is himself a character created by Wright. These layers of identity fall away like tshirts tugged off and flung to the far corners of a teenaged bedroom: Luke Wright as Frankie Vah paces and swaggers and sweats and vibrates with an indignation summoned from his own alive-and-beating heart. Luke Wright as Simon at the start of the show stands in awkward gawky adolescence, eyes gleaming with eagerness to connect and participate in life; he stands in lone, vulnerable hurt at the end, when Simon faces up to his life choices. Wright’s honesty and self-examination drive these characters. He channels himself into a story that leaves him poised at the edge of reason, and we love him for it.

Like Wright, Laurie Penny digs deep into the viscerally personal and channels her soulful passion into the stories she tells through journalism. But what happens when a woman voices righteous anger, and travels to that same edge of reason? Penny can tell you: she takes vicious and unrelenting flak for daring to hold an opinion, daring to express herself, daring to challenge the demand that she be quiet and submissive. Her voice becomes a dare, a transgression, for which she will be emphatically trolled, verbally abused, even threatened with physical violence. And most likely of all, she will be dismissed as irrelevent.

In Bitch Doctrine, Penny writes “When women write and speak the truth of their own lives, it is called ‘confessional’, with the implication of wrongdoing, of sharing secrets that ought not to be spoken aloud, at least by nice girls. When men do the same, it is called literature, and they win prizes.”

That particular observation resonates, because I’ve experienced the same. Too personal, I’ve been told about some of the things I’ve written publicly. Too raw. And yes, even “confessional” – that last by an otherwise open-minded, feminist, liberal friend who is also a man. It was a throwaway observation about my blog, probably forgotten as soon as he said it – but on my end, the word stung. There was a gentle reprimand in its tone, a suggestion that I was being incautious by baring myself so openly. It instilled a pinprick of shame, which I can still feel despite all efforts to rationalise and yes, excuse the friend who said it. He is a gentle soul, a considerate and loving and well-meaning person, very willing to reflect on and engage with feminism, to question the assumptions of masculinity, and to acknowledge the privilege he holds. Yet even he found it somehow unseemly that I would write candidly about my personal experiences and opinions, and felt entitled to chasten me.

It hardly seems worth dwelling on this, given the scale of crises which are engulfing our world in the 21st century. But no, on the contrary: I think it is well worth dwelling on even the most subtle of dilemmas, exploring any avenue which may lead us to learn from one another. Learning is at the core of our salvation, if there is to be any real healing of the wounds which fester so doggedly in the human psyche.

Organisational theorist Margaret Wheatley once observed that in natural systems, dysfunction is only resolved by introducing new information. Our human system is deeply dysfunctional, bloated with injustice, mired down by obsolete and discredited philosophies and customs. It is time to welcome the new information being voiced, to flood the system with fresh ideas and different perspectives. We can learn to do better; we must learn to do better. We can and must learn, individually and collectively. Our capacity to learn is the most powerful thing about us, and the most beautiful.

climate minds

I grew up in a midwestern American suburb, with neat rows of houses each on their own patch of tidy lawn. It was still a fairly young housing development, perhaps twenty years old. The trees of the neighbourhood were beyond the sapling stage but not yet grown to their full height or strength. Ornamental bushes and beds of flowering plants decorated the edges of front porches and backyard decks. Residential streets and long driveways crisscrossed the groundscape, establishing car traffic as the dominant species in this constructed environment.

Yet some of the most emotive memories from my childhood are connected to the natural world which insisted on existing beside and around the self-contained boxes of suburban housing:

sitting on the front porch in a heavy, pressing air watching the spring sky turn the deep grey-green of tornado weather; weird fingery flashes of lightening scratching along the cloudscape, punctuated by groans of thunder, rumbling and grumbling in sometimes alarming closeness overhead. Rain breaking through the salty tang of sulphurised air, pouring steadily down in a loud beating cadence, driving all the earthworms from the dirt out onto the slick wet black of the tarred driveway

deepening dusk on warm summer evenings, a long lingering at the threshold of darkness, and the sudden magical smears of fireflies’ golden light, appearing and disappearing in a slow blinking dance

bright yellow blobs of dandelions scattered across the grass, on a fresh summer morning, with the sun reaching its way upward behind the houses opposite

moody grey overcast autumn sky, lost in its own thoughts, and leaves turning red gold brown, dropping into crisp rustling layers and skittery scattering across the pavement

waking up to the first frost, a crisp white icing sugar coating each stiff blade of grass and each dried up, gnarled up, long gone autumn leaf – and then, weeks later, the first snowfall, thick feathery flakes drifting down in slow motion and gathering like feathers into sparkly soft contours over bushes and rails.

tulips appearing, from nothing to something, steadily green and then surprising bright pink and deep red with yellow streaks

grey squirrel leap-jumping across the lawn and scurrying up a tree, bushy tail a fluffy curl

robin landing with a thump by the kitchen window, beady black eyes peering around, taking off again in a startled flapping rush

white papery moth beating against the wire mesh of the window screen, creepy tiny rustlings of summertime night-time

Despite the best efforts of suburban town planners to build over and tame the midwestern landscape, the natural world persisted. Green weeds pushed through cracks in the pavement. Spiders explored bathrooms. Black ants invaded kitchen cupboards. Changing seasons demanded attention and the grass – oh the grass. The grass never stopped. It needed to be mowed again and again and again – my brothers’ weekly chore.

I am reminiscing for a reason. My relationship to the natural world sat uneasily beside the more pervasive lessons of my childhood, which involved bug spray and cellophane wrapping. Twentieth century American post-war suburban life gave me interstate highways and shopping malls and a two car garage. McDonalds and Wendys and KFC. Oreos and Cheerios and Cheetos and Doritos. Pacman and Walkman and synthetic clothing in neon pink and green. The culture of my upbringing worshipped the artificial, the mechanical and digital, the automotive, the commercial, the televised and the mass produced. Nature was just a messy nuisance.

Those memories of mine were collected despite, not because, and in truth I know very little about the natural environment. The names and characteristics of all but the most obvious of flora, the habits and habitats of all but the most common of fauna – I know so relatively nothing of who they all are and what they’re all like. In a wilderness challenge, I would die quickly. Foraging, protection from predators, weather patterns and terrain? Sorry, but no. No idea.

That leads me finally to the point of this post, which is to ask: how have I been prepared for the spectre of climate change? How does the average mind of modern civilisation grasp the information that is coming at us about global warming, and all the evidence we have marking the gruelling degradation of our natural ecosystems? Psychology is so commonly associated with human culture, human relationships – but what of our relationships with the natural world? What of my intense internal dialogue with those mesmerising stormclouds as I sat watching the sky from our front porch, what of my tentative, curious friendship with the worms on our rain-drenched driveway? What of my far more intimate relationships with my collection of factory-made cuddly toys, my menagerie of small plastic animals and my beloved Merlin with its battery-operated blinks and bleeps? How have I been set up, for the predicament I face as part of the human community?

Do you ever wonder the same? What are your own experiences and ideas at this unique, bewildering and many would say terrifying juncture of civilisation? Can we humans ever be forgiven for the damage and even extinction we have caused to so many other species and ecosystems in this world? Can we create a human culture that harmonises with the natural world, rather than destroying it? Can we clean up the mess we have made? Will we even survive?

These questions and others inspire the next issue of Unpsychology magazine. My friend Steve Thorp, founder and editor of Unpsychology, has invited me to co-edit this upcoming issue which takes as its theme Climate Minds. You can read the brief and the call for submissions here.

Please consider contributing to this issue, or circulating the invitation throughout your own networks. The deadline is 30 September 2017.

Allow your imagination to soar. Remember those moments of your childhood, when the natural world bewitched you. Consider how you fit into this remarkable web of life. Share your thoughts, your fears, your hopes. And above all, trust your heart, which remembers so vividly the joyful fresh air of a summer morning, lawn mowers rumbling in the distance, and those damned inevitable dandelions smiling up at you.

thank you friends

It’s always good to recognise the dappled patterns of one’s perspective. ‘The way it is‘ contracts and expands. Memories come coloured with emotion.

I wrote in my last post about the environment in which I grew up – one of middle class privilege and relentless competition. This was the 1980’s and the Reagan years, a time when America rode a wave of material prosperity and the promise of evermore: endless growth and profit, bountiful rewards for joining the rat race and playing the game. I called it “the belly of the beast” and indeed, when I imagine myself as a teenager walking through the local shopping mall, with its designer boutiques and its trendy brand logos, its parquet floors and potted trees and fast food courts, the picture takes on the discordant atmosphere of uneasy dreamtime.

However: even in the midst of the spectacle and the striving, there were lifelines of human warmth and belonging. A few days ago I was reminded of this when I received an unexpected greeting from an old friend and neighbour: one of the little girls I used to babysit for, now grown up and a mother herself. It threw me into reminiscence.

The girls were three years old and three months old, respectively, when I first met them – and I was only thirteen myself. It’s easy to say I watched them grow up but really, we grew up together. Mr and Mrs H took a regular and well-earned weekly break: an evening out to the movies or dinner with friends; sometimes if their calendar was full I would be at their house twice or perhaps even three times over the course of a week. When I learned to drive I was entrusted to take the girls on outings to the library or the swimming pool. I was invited to join their birthday parties, and occasional holiday gatherings, introduced to visitors and relatives, and I was always, always made to feel welcome in their family.

Some stray memories: sitting on the couch in the evening with the girls in their pyjamas, watching Fraggle Rock or Fairy Tale Theatre. Playing Rainbow Brite. He Man and She Ra. Smurfs. Drawing pictures with coloured markers, and making a game of mixing and matching the pen caps with the pens. Sitting on the carpeted bedroom floor, back leaning against the bed, choosing bedtime stories from a pile of picture books. Angelina Ballerina. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. The Berenstein Bears. Plastic bags full of gorgeous handknitted sweaters that Mrs H passed on to me from her mother. Mr H walking me home, along the pavement to my own house down the street, the dark summertime air heavy with humidity.

All just ordinary snippets of ordinary American suburban life. Nothing dramatic. No crises or conflicts, no serious accidents or notable difficulties. When I imagine myself as a teenager, in connection with this family, the picture takes on the gentle atmosphere of nostalgia. Fondness and gratitude wash over me. A Big Star tune comes to mind: thank you friends.

the soul of money

I grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago, a place of large houses with expansive lawns, and two or more cars in every driveway. I was educated privately, among peers who were the children of doctors and lawyers and financial executives. Leisure took place in tennis clubs and shopping malls. I think of it now as “the belly of the beast.”

But everything is relative. I never felt secure in that setting, and my family didn’t especially fit into the surrounding culture. My parents both worked hard to earn enough for that private education – no stay at home mother, no home help to manage the domestic chores. We belonged to no clubs, took no summer holiday trips, and shopped at Sears. (Unless you grew up there you’ll miss the cultural reference. Suffice to say that the kids in our family wore Toughskins brand denim rather than designer jeans – and it marked us.) To our minds, we weren’t rich: we lived modestly and we got by.

The message drilled into me by this place was simple: achieve, make money, achieve, make money, achieve, make money. Self-worth? Achieve, make money. Relationships with others? Achieve, make money. The meaning of life? Achieve, make money.

It wasn’t until I left for university that I found some relief. Leaving the country was even better. I discovered people with less onerous value systems, places with less privilege and pressure. I made connections and assembled my tribe. And I made choices about how to live that would have terrified my younger self: even now, I own no house or property, I find my clothes in charity shops, I take the bus or walk.

In The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist explores what money means to us, and how to change our perceptions. As a tireless fundraiser for the Hunger Project (an international development organisation which aspires to end world hunger) Lynne has worked with people from myriad economic backgrounds – from wealthy philanthropists to backwater villagers, from bejewelled trophy wives to starving street beggars. In this beautifully written book, she “demonstrates how we can replace feelings of scarcity, guilt and burden with experiences of sufficiency, freedom and purpose.” She calls scarcity “the great lie” and sufficiency “the surprising truth,” and digs into these assertions fully with a rich mix of personal experience, sincere reflection and above all, warm compassion.

Since reading her book, I’ve been able to look back on that high-stakes environment of my upbringing with gentle regard rather than anxiety or resentment. I can recognise the pain behind the habits of spiteful judgment, and the need behind the relentless competition. To have so much, and still feel so driven – to own so much personal wealth and yet feel so little personal wealth – is living in a fairy tale curse for sure.

When my friend and I named our social enterprise Personal Wealth, three years ago now, we received many confused responses. Were we a financial services provider? Were we money advisers? Did we play the stock market? No, no and no – we worked with people and organisations, and tried to open up the conversation about what wealth really is. It usually took a moment for our response to sink in, and then typically our inquirer would say “ah-ha” with a delighted light in their eyes.

I will be revisiting the conversation on Saturday 1st April, when I host the first of four experimental workshops. Participants will be invited to play with the phrase “personal wealth”and we will learn more about the ‘great lie’ and the ‘surprising truth.’ If you are in Edinburgh and fancy coming along, please do add your name to the event list here.

healing crisis, one person at a time

My lovely friend Steve of 21st Century Soul has been a broker of healing in my life.

I met Steve through our mutual dabblings in the Dark Mountain Project – we exchanged emails in the runup to the second Uncivilisation festival in August 2011, an event that I helped to put together from behind the scenes. We communicated about event-admin details over the summer and then I must have met him briefly there at the festival – though I was in such stressed-out misery I could barely function, let alone make any real connection with anyone. I didn’t understand it at the time, but Dark Mountain was the instigator of the deepest and most difficult crisis of my life.

In her new memoir, Tristimania, Jay Griffiths writes beautifully about her own experience of crisis:

Do episodes of madness have causes? What do they need, to unfurl themselves? They unfold like tragic dramas and, just as tragedy needs a tragic flaw, a backstory and the dramatic incident which kicks off the drama, so chapters of madness also need a tragic flaw (genetic vulnerability), a backstory (long-term stress) and an incident (a trigger).

Genetic vulnerability? Tick.
Long term stress? Tick.
Trigger? Happened like this.

… And then he wanked all over me.

Gosh, that’s almost exactly what happened to me too! Only with Dark Mountain it was mansplaining intellectual ego-wanking that splashed all over me and left me stunned and vulnerable. For them it was nothing out of their own ordinary, so why on earth did I have a problem with it? No doubt they wished I would just go away quietly and leave them to their important job of shaping the cultural narrative.

Like Jay, however, the trigger had been sprung. Like Jay, I headed into a period of bipolar madness: long descents into terrifying depths and later, spinning dances among the stars and the angels.

It was during this time that I became better acquainted with Steve. We mingled in some of the same online circles and he contributed wise, and humble, contributions to the issues that were getting hashed over in the discussion threads. And then, eventually, by way of his Unpsychology project, across my threshold fell his invitation to join him in Soulmaking.

There was something about this invitation that tickled at me, something about Soulmaking that spoke to me, and beckoned me with its gentleness. It was the right thing at the right time, as so many things often are, when we look back in hindsight – even the painful things, like Dark Mountain. If I’d spent much of my growing up and adult life in building up scar tissue around a wounded psyche, then my experience with Dark Mountain was like ripping off the scab and setting the blood flowing, and now it was time to take a gentle swab to the sore spot. The wound was open but it needed a healer to tend it. Steve stepped gracefully into that role, and the Soulmakers Gathering of spring 2014 served as triage. Some wonderful and inspiring people came into my life there, and I felt a shift under the surface.

My journey with madness was far from over, but my story turned toward resolution, and began finding a path of restoration.

So this brings me to now. Steve recently published a series of essays which started with a cry of distress and discouragement at our current state of affairs, and then worked their way in – like a surgeon making an exploratory probe. In the course of this he made the following comment:

…this crisis cannot be done away with by pills and talking. It can’t be healed one person at a time…

and this pulled me up short. It felt so out of place, coming from someone who in my own life had contributed to healing – to my one person at a time‘s worth of healing – that I felt I must engage him in finding out where that thought had come from, and if it was true. It led to this dialogue between us, published today on the Unpsychology site via Medium. Please have a read of it, and join us in the conversation if you feel inspired.

I’ll end this here, with a heartfelt thank you, Steve, for Soulmakers and for Unpsychology, for your friendship and for your healing ways. xxx