traveling beyond on the bipolar express

In Tristimania Jay Griffiths tells the story of her struggle with a year-long episode of mental disturbance caused by bipolar disorder. Struggle indeed: the entire narrative bristles with her tension, bitten-down fingernails of reason digging down to keep a thin grip on sanity. She writes beautifully, skillfully, documenting every subtle aspect of her plight with clarity and astute detail, and the confidence of a master wordsmith. Griffiths claims to be sharing her story altruistically, “because what is individual can speak to the general, and if this book can befriend just one person in that terrifying loneliness, it will be worth writing.” Yet the fierce energy driving every page belies a desperation deeper than any community-mindedness: this woman writes to exorcise her demons.

I read the book with the particular critical insight of a fellow adventurer in bipolar lands, and I share my thoughts here through the lens of unpsychology, which Steve Thorp describes as ‘post-civilised neurodiversity and wild mind.’ Similarly, the Icarus Project has positioned neurodiversity within the spectrum of civilised and wild states, and more specifically as an issue of oppression whereby ‘normality’ can be viewed as the colonisation of one’s mental space. Rhiana Anthony of the Icarus Project teaches that authoring our own stories allows us to claim that mental space as our own territory, by deconstructing the labels that have been assigned to us by our families and communities.

Griffiths is familiar with the tension between the civilised and the wild. She earned her chops with a book entitled Wild, in which she traveled world to report on the impact of so-called civilisation on indigenous cultures and natural habitats. But where Wild goes on a freedom ride, Tristimania creeps along buzzing with anxiety. If the entire book could be condensed into a single idea it would be: don’t let go. She stands at the brink, stares down into the abyss, shivers with awe, goes so far as to stretch an arm out into the void – but she never takes the final step, over the edge. She never lets go. She never learns the secret of letting go: that she will be held, that she can fly.

My own experience of mental unraveling put me in a similar situation to the one described in Tristimania. For well over a year I held my shit together with increasing strain and exhaustion, avoiding crowds and phone calls like the plague, shaking with anxiety and panic in any shop I set foot into, talking and laughing to myself as I walked along the pavement. I managed somehow to keep up with a job and with parenting, but the pressure was building steadily and the steam beginning to push through the cracks. My distress at the state of the world turned inward, because our civilised society insists that the state of the world is the benchmark of normality. But unlike Griffiths, I didn’t reach the other side of my experience with my grip still on that precarious wooden-slat bridge of sanity. The pressure within me imploded, and I let go, into full-blown psychosis. I let go. First I plummeted; then I flew.

I don’t mean to romanticise something that is ugly and traumatic. The crippling undertow of depressive anxiety turns the most basic steps of living into an ordeal. Crossing a room becomes as complicated a challenge as crossing a desert. One wakes each morning to bone-deep weariness and fearful misery. Breath comes short, tears well up, hands shake. The world closes in upon you, leaving your lifetime of experience to feel as empty as a cardboard carton crumpled up and tossed into a bin. For many people, the pain digs in so relentlessly and horrifically that suicide beckons as bittersweet relief, an oblivion that can be bargained for. Is this the same as letting go? Or is it the ultimate expression of clinging on, one’s fists clenched upon the steering wheel of existence, crashing into a wall of despair?

Griffiths has written honestly in Tristimania about the energy-sucking negativity of the bipolar downswing. For her honesty, and her courage in opening herself up to scrutiny, I respect her. Yet I can’t help but surmise that she wouldn’t respect me in return. Her judgment upon me crops up in the myriad ways that she holds herself apart from the other crazy people – the really crazy people, the ones who do let go. Her doctor shores up this invisible line: “I never lost my insight, according to my doctor; never lost the overseeing part of the mind which charts the craziness of the other parts…. He said later that he thought hospitalisation would make me worse, and that the other patients, in particular, would affect me badly.”

Griffiths comes across as an apologist for the status quo, framing her annus horribilis as a breach and an offense to her narrative voice. Embarrassment and shame nip at her constantly, even prudishness as when she sniffs in distaste at an impulse to run “barefoot and naked” through the streets of London. (“Dangerous stupidity?” Bless you, Jay – it’s really not as bad as all that. There’s been far more harm done in the name of clothing than actual “trouble” caused by the odd naked rambler. Think sweatshops, illegal trade in endangered skins and furs, the psychological torture popularised by the fashion and modelling industry, the carbon cost of landfilled textiles… shall I go on?)

She relates her story with a constant grinding disappointment for falling short of normality: “When I was flailing around trying to force myself into recovery, impatient and angry with myself for all I could not do, [my doctor] gave me wiser counsel, permission to be ill, repeatedly saying that if I’d broken my leg, I’d have no problem accepting that I couldn’t use it properly.” Since when is propriety a benchmark for health? Are we really well-served by placing mental health within the medical model – casting mental irregularity as pathology? The mental landscape is more diverse than all our earthly ecosystems put together – so why do we try to pin it down into binary categories of normal vs abnormal?

Griffiths too expresses a vein of doubt about the medical model: “He seemed to think of psychiatric illness purely as a brain malfunction, a mechanical problem. To me, the psyche is also a matter of the soul.” She goes on, “Where does self end and illness begin?” Where indeed? The devil in me advocates: define self, define illness, define soul, define mind. Take your precision to its illogical conclusion and see it for what it is: an arbitrary boundary upon the essentially boundless. Let’s open up that can of worms, and let them all go, to wriggle back out into the mud and the grass.

However much we try to map out the terrain of our mysterious minds, we reside mainly in the precarious chasm of a many-coloured, shape-shifting, uncanny unknown – and it evokes fear and trepidation in most people. Griffiths herself acknowledges this in Wild: “I was taught – as we all are – to be scared of the prowling Unknown, of the wild deserts of Beyond.”

Yes, I was taught that too – but I am so very, very thankful that insanity took me by the hand into the wildest of wild places: my wild mind. Tristimania, for all its eloquence about the manic depressive experience, paints a view from the threshold but never ventures Beyond.

You can read more about my travels Beyond in the Climate Minds Anthology of Unpsychology Magazine.

environ-mental health

Today marks the launch of Unpsychology Magazine Issue 4: the Climate Minds Anthology.

When Unpsychology founder Steve Thorp invited me to co-edit this issue, I was delighted with the opportunity to get involved in a project with so much heart and soul behind it. It touched me especially to help address the elephant in the room that sits with almost every relationship in my life. I think of myself as Cassandra, Pandora and perhaps a bit of Antigone, in my quest to unravel and face up to the twisted logic of the culture I was born into.

I have known all my life that despite the wealth and prosperity of the techno-industrial west, our way of life is essentially corrosive. And not just to communities all around the world and to the environment of our planet Earth, but likewise corrosive to our inner sense of wellbeing and ecological belonging. Exploitation disturbs the mental health of the perpetrator as much as the victim, and a system which thrives on exploitation is a sick one indeed. Even the spoils of systemic, invisible aggression such as the kind found in industrial-scale agriculture, privatisation of the commons and mass advertising to manipulate the values and behaviour of millions of people: these are forms of violence which we tolerate all too easily.

Now those of us living in the 21st century face the spectre of entrenched global warming and increasingly extreme impacts of climate change and ‘natural resource’ depletion. It is not unusual to turn from bad news – far easier to (try to) ignore it, deny it and avoid it – but this isn’t going to go away. It’s fucking scary, for all of us. Our environs have become so weighed down with the effects of so-called progress that we face a collective environ-mental breakdown.

Unpsychology Magazine was founded by Steve as a response to the emotional journey that we undergo when we face our fears and our demons, whatever they may be. It invites writing and artwork that cultivate wild mind, and that tell “stories to challenge assumptions of culture, psychology and therapy, and to make soul.” This Climate Minds Anthology is Issue 4 in the Unpsychology series, and in it we invite you to consider the questions what is? what might be? and what can be done?

This beautiful digital publication is available to download for free – we want it to be as far-reaching as possible, in the hope that it may be used as a starting point for opening up that most difficult conversation: how do you feel about climate change?

Climate Minds Anthology is part of a campaign to open up a conversational movement, which we are hoping to facilitate with the help of crowdfunding. You can connect to the funding drive here.

We invite you to join Climate Mind Conversations in any of the following ways:

There will be a launch event on Thursday 5 April as part of the Alchemy programme at Oriel y Parc in St Davids, Wales where Steve is currently writer-in-residence.

Steve and I both hope that you enjoy Unpsychology Issue 4 and will join us in the Climate Mind Conversation.

xxx Julia

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.