Message Across the Pond: NW to NA

Over the past week or so I’ve come up with a personal mantra:
Stay Well, Stay Safe, Stay Apart.
I’d like to send these thoughts across the pond to some very special bloggers, and to those they represent.

Lavender & Levity, stay well:
this is a particularly scary time for those with compromised health issues, and painful backstories; I wish you oodles of strength, physical and mental, to see you through until we can all emerge into the sunshine once more. Reading your words can be thought-provoking and inspiring, always (well perhaps not ALL) fun. These are tough times for humour.

OtakuRN, A Black Female Nerd, stay safe:
profound purpose is the order of the day for wonderful health workers like yourself who are heading the fight against this insidious, relentless enemy; prioritising your own health at this time is not selfish, but rather it is self-less, because without you there would be nothing and no one to care for the sick and vulnerable. Thank you and thanks to everyone on the front line.

Beauty Beyond Bones, stay apart:
beauty living in an epicentre of an ugly truth, self-confessed extrovert keeping your distance within NYC, while sharing your faith so that others may gain inner strength from your deep reflections. Your words are a blessing to many, and an inspiration to all who have raised themselves from personal trauma. On top of that, your recipes are delicious.

PoojaG, stay connected through your studies:
recently you’ve been under pressure of deadlines at Uni and I hope that you can use this unique opportunity to connect by sharing your insights; to pause, rethink, and give yourself permission to step off the treadmill. Get that reading list drawn up, start on the book you’re going to write, clear a cupboard ready to donate to charity when this is all over. And breathe.

I don’t know any of you personally – I don’t even have the remotest idea where you live – and I hope my message to you doesn’t come across as patronising or flippant. Through reading your blogs I feel that you represent so many people, not just women but humanity.

So to you and all who read my words,
Stay Well, Stay Safe, Stay Apart.
Air hugs to all, and thank you for reading.

Social Isolation: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The good

I accept that it is nigh impossible for some to find any ‘good’ in these times when only uncertainty, fear, and death seem certain. Sadness and despair are not enviable constants to have in a life.
By writing about the good that can come from this global crisis I do not wish to minimise suffering, nor appear to be making light of such very dark times.

The most important positive that we are being given is Time: this can be a double-edged sword for some, but it is well if we use it to our advantage.

Pleas for “More Time”, “I need more Time”, “If only I had more Time” are all too common in today’s fast-pace existence. Well now we have it, and for some it is hanging very heavy in their hands.
When life is spent whirling around on a packed roundabout it is a shock to the system to suddenly find yourself alone on the swings.

This is not going to be a suggestion list for stuff to fill your days and nights. I don’t know you, nor what resources you have, nor what you like to do, and especially not what you’d like to be able to do.
It is a “show and tell” of the stuff that gets me through.

Time to reflect

Mindfulness has become a buzz word, and I’m totally against the ‘McMindfulness’ culture, but taking time to savour the moment, breathe in the beauty of nature, feel the earth under your feet, and just be in the moment is something we all have time for now.
Take time over your morning coffee, listen to the sounds outside, take a leisurely shower or bath. Whatever your routine is, just slow it down.
I spend time each day doing my ‘breathing space’ exercise, as well as time in my massage chair. All in all it definitely makes me slow down.

Time to grow

Seeds and bulbs and sets are in the shops, and whether you have garden space, acres of land, a balcony, or a window ledge think about the possibility of growing something to please the eye, or please the stomach.
I’m growing for the stomach with onions, courgettes, marrows, and carrots. Well, they’re not actually planted but …

Time for listening and reading

This is a perfect time to check out TedTalks. It is free and I defy anyone not to find something of interest. Talks range from 10 minutes to over 30, but not much longer. I have watched talks on mental health, autism, physics, climate, diet, astronomy. If you are interested in a subject then so are a whole lot of others, and you’ll find a talk on it.
If you don’t own a Kindle or KindleFire is it possible to access their e-books on a tablet, laptop, or a PC. Again, the range of reading material is huge although this isn’t always free. I have downloaded novels and short stories by Atwood and Weldon, books on natural beauty, hand sewing, jewellery making, and bi-polar disorder; we have the travels of Captain Cook and Charles Darwin, and the list goes on.

Time to learn a new skill

With shops closing, and usual supplies dwindling I thought I’d take time to cook up a tea-time treat and learn to make Danish pastry. I had the ingredients – it’s basically plain flour and butter, loads of butter – and I certainly had the time. All in all it was a whole day learning curve but with so much resting time and chilling time (that makes the whole experience sound pretty relaxing and, looking back, I think it probably was) that the prep + physically doing things + baking was only about three hours.

Time to create

Having decided to compose a ‘Vernal Equinox’ image I unpacked my Powertex resources after a lengthy break. For those of you who have not heard of it, Powertex is a hardening medium for fabrics with which to create 3-D sculptures and images. Unlike clay it does not require firing, and also unlike clay it can be quite forgiving. There are other brands that are available in other countries, so best advice is to search online for ‘fabric hardening medium’.

My representation of the Vernal Equinox: chilling Winter transitioning to life-affirming Spring

Not only is it a fun medium to create with, it is also a great way to recycle materials like plastics so that they don’t go into landfill. In the Vernal Equinox panel I was able to incorporate ‘junk’ like plastic straws, scraps of silicone, and those awful glittery bits that come in craft packs.

Time to reach out

We only moved here six years ago but found, almost immediately, that the locals were friendly. We have been humbled by offers of help from the young men who have come to do work for us, especially as they have serious family problems of their own. Local tradespeople, shopkeepers, and delivery drivers have all been so accommodating and helpful.
In turn, we have reached out to help others as best we can.
This is a perfect time to appreciate who and what we have in our lives – and to show our gratitude. It is easy to do and has such lasting benefits for all.

Final thoughts and thanks

I count myself very fortunate, and on many levels.
I live with my husband who is also my carer; we look out for each other, even when things are stressful.
I am a phone call away from my sons and their families; we have put their Easter visits here on hold, but we are pragmatic and look to a better future.
I can step outside my door and witness the beauty of nature as it unfolds into a glorious Spring, heralding a promising Summer.

We are living through difficult, stressful times but I hope that we can all find something to get us through. If you have found something of hope in my words please like, share, and comment.
Thank you for reading.
Stay safe, stay well, stay apart.

Social Isolation: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The bad – but with the potential to be better

Social isolation is particularly stressful for those who rely on going out in order to find company, connection, and care; the ones who live alone, or live with serious illness, their own or a loved one’s, those needing respite, the old, the frail, and the anxious.

These are the individuals that the mantra “STAY AT HOME” is trying to protect. The words are not necessarily directed at them, but at the idiots who do not – will not – follow the rules; who travel in large groups, who congregate in towns and offload in their hordes into National Parks. The idiots who put their own lives at risk by climbing and scrambling in the mountains, inadequately equipped, and expecting overstretched emergency services to bail them out.

These are the individuals that the mantra “STOP STOCKPILING” is trying to protect. While the selfish able-bodied are filling trolley after trolley with paper goods, frozen foods, cans and packets, and toiletries and medicines, there is little left for the vulnerable.
There is often little left for the front-line health care staff who work incredibly long hours, nor for emergency service staff, nor for others key workers who have unsociable hours.

There is a way forward but it takes commitment and that is a mindset that some just do not have. It is the mindset of “everyone’s doing it”, “I need …”, “I don’t approve but …”, “if I don’t have it someone else will”. I do not single out the young and able; there are thoughtless 30 and 40 somethings, myopic middle-aged, selfish 60-year olds, arrogant aged, opportunistic octogenarians, and entitled elderly.
This is the mould that needs to be broken. For the sake of everyone.

Rules and legislation are having to be enforced around the globe. That is a very sad state of affairs. Intelligent adults should not need to be ordered to stay safe and to keep others safe.
And yet despite directives people are still partying, packing into fast-food outlets, and congregating cheek-by-jowl on seafronts. Madness.
And so, within the last few days major social changes have come about: Bondi Beach has been effectively ‘closed’, MacDonald’s and Nandos have closed, supermarkets are restricting opening hours.
On a positive note, special time slots for NHS staff, for the elderly, and for the infirm have been put into place at supermarkets.

If you know of changes being made in your area please comment below. Hopefully it will soon be the case that there will be more positive actions than negative. I look forward to that day.
If you have enjoyed my post please like, share, and comment.

Thank you for reading. Stay safe, stay well, stay apart.

Social Isolation: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The ugly: a warning

Something popped into my inbox – uninvited – that I need to share.
It was an example of the ugly side of social isolation that we need to be on our guard for.

Subject line was ‘Could you be my soul-mate?’ and it was from a dating site.
First off, the potential ‘soul-mate’ images were of attractive young women.
Secondly, there did not appear to be anyway of stopping receiving more such postings other than unsubscribing.

Initially what concerned me was that lonely people might think that having someone to write to on-line might relieve the tedium of isolation.

Then a more sinister thought came to mind: by clicking on the ‘unsubscribe’ link could you be unwittingly letting hackers into your PC?

What are your thoughts on this? Have you come across similar scams and hacks? Do you have advice to share?
If you feel my thoughts have merit please like, share, and comment.

Thank you for reading.
Keep safe, keep well, keep distant.

Gender vs Sex: why the difference is important

Historical usage of ‘gender’ and ‘sex’

When I was a teenager the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ could be used to mean pretty much the same. Even so, it was more usual for ‘gender’ to be used in the linguistic context of feminine, masculine, or neuter cases. In the widely-used Modern English Usage (1926), Fowler stated,
“Gender…is a grammatical term only. To talk of persons … meaning of the male or female sex, is either a jocularity … or a blunder”.

Deriving from the Latin ‘sexus’, the term ‘sex’ was used in this sense of division into male and female, as in section/segment. In my parents’ passport dated 1985, and in my passport of 2008 the word ‘sex’ is used along with ‘name’ and ‘date of birth’ as a marker of identity.

Shakespeare used the word ‘sex’ to refer to ‘gender’:

Helena to Hermia,
It is not friendly, ‘tis not maidenly;
Our sex, as well as I, may chide you for it,
Though I alone do feel the injury.
(from A Midsummer-Night’s Dream’ III, II)

Lady Macbeth,
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe topful
Of direst cruelty!
(from Macbeth I, V)

Helena speaks of females generally, while Lady Macbeth wishes to be stripped of feminine weakness; either way they are referring to issues of gender.

Two centuries later Sir Walter Scott, in Ivanhoe, writes ‘especially of the fair sex’ in referring to women. Even an 1800 Medical Journal states, ‘These melancholy cases … spread a general alarm over a considerable district among the fair sex.’

When was the shift in meaning first noticeable?

Prior to the middle of the twentieth century sexual intercourse may have been referred to as ‘carnal knowledge’, ‘lying with …’, ‘having knowledge of …’, and ‘coitus’; alongside these were terms that we now euphemistically refer to as ‘four letter words’, and which would have been common in the time of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pepys, and beyond. At this time ‘gender’ was still used solely as a grammatical descriptor, deriving from ‘genus’ – Latin for ‘kind’ or ‘variety’ (as in ‘genre’).

By the second half of the twentieth century a clear shift in meaning was evident. The use of ‘sexual’ to refer to physical acts / behaviours, as opposed to mere biological states, was enshrined in law in the 1956 The Sexual Offences Act (included mention of ‘sexual crimes’, ‘sexual intercourse’, and sexual assault between women) and the 1967 The Sexual Offences Bill (that decriminalised certain homosexual acts). There was also a change of emphasis in how same-sex relationships were referred to, moving away from essentially derogatory terms that referenced only the physical act.  ‘Homosexual’ had first been seen in print around 1870 having been coined from the Greek homos (meaning the same, as in homogeneous) and the Latin sexus. In 1886 the psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing used both homosexual and heterosexual (from Greek ‘hetero’ meaning ‘other, different’) in his book Psychopathia Sexualis in describing sexual behaviour.

Not until the 1960s – 1970s was ‘gender’ used to denote human maleness / femaleness, as in the sense of David Bowie being a Gender-Bender, or as a social construct as opposed to being an exclusively grammatical one. Early examples of gender used in biological contexts are found in words relating to procreation, e.g. gene, genesis and generate that derived from the Greek root gen- to produce.

As a biological term the word was used consistently into the 20th century.
As a social construct its use rose 1850s – 1950s then saw a sharp decline.
Consistently used in grammar until the 20th century, from the 1950s its use as a
social construct and identity marker rose significantly and remains the favoured term today.
Why has it become important to clarify the terms?

As ‘sex’ was increasingly being used as a shortened form for both ‘sexual identity’ and for ‘sexual intercourse’ I believe it created a tension as the line between sexual identity and gender identity blurred over time. Added to this, an individual’s identity could be misaligned to a sexual predilection. There needed to be a clearer distinction between a person’s biology, their identity, and their sexuality. Fast.

Mass media, social media, extreme role modelling, online shaming, bullying – it is all out there ready to attack the unwary, the naïve, the vulnerable. Everyone needs – deserves – to know who they are, how they fit into society, and to be accepted. Choice is vital to personal well-being, but it is not enough to ‘identify as …’; validation needs others to ‘identify you as …’.

Some back-story on gender issues

Getting on for twenty years ago I became friends with a fellow in-patient, a young woman with clinical depression. She was in a very loving lesbian partnership and for personal reasons had elected to have a double mastectomy. She had hoped it would add another dimension to their relationship but deeply regretted her decision.

About a month ago I read a news item about a young man who regretted undergoing gender reassignment therapy and surgery and believed that having more counselling and emotional support might have prevented his going down such a traumatic route. Then just last week was yet another news story about a young couple who had both followed the same gender pathway: ‘she’ to ‘he’ and back to ‘she’. One expressed sadness that she loved singing but hormone treatment had led to a loss of vocal range.

Medics and surgeons in the field claim that no-one regrets their gender reassignment. From the personal experiences I’ve read about and listened to I have to disagree with that viewpoint. Even if a huge majority are delighted with the outcome there still needs to be a lot more discussion and counselling to protect the few.
This is where my contention that semantics are all important comes in.

How can semantic distinction impact upon the well-being of individuals?

Society imposes constraints on how we express ourselves through the language it uses. A young girl who enjoys sporty or outdoor activities may be labelled ‘tom-boy’; a young boy who enjoys cooking or dancing would probably be dubbed something equally stereotypical. Neither is helpful and may lead to choices that those young people neither want nor need. A healthy society makes no distinction between, in fact has no reaction to clothes / activities / demeanours that are outside an accepted ‘norm’ in a binary culture.

In terms of sexual identity and gender expression people can be binary / non-binary / gender fluid / genderqueer / transgender / cisgender; bisexual / pansexual / asexual / homosexual / heterosexual / intersexual / Sappho sexual. In terms of describing one’s individuality, a person may be cisgender and pansexual, or non-binary and asexual, and use a personal pronoun of he, or she, or they. The main point here is that the spectrum is broad and I admit that my knowledge of terminology is imperfect.

Forcing gender and sexual choice into narrow binary constructs falsely limits possibilities and this is sustained by there being little or no discussion at key stages of development. Personal identity can often seem indefinable and without an inner confidence that comes from acceptance it becomes easy to succumb to finite role-models that create insecurity and a fragile self-esteem.

It is fairly common in a material, consumerist society to feel that being other than you are may be better; “the grass is always greener …” notion of ‘if I was richer, better looking, had a better job, and so on’. Perhaps a not so common, but certainly not unusual thought is that life would be better if physically, emotionally, intellectually you were different. I knew a young man with body dysmorphia, good-looking and polite, whose conversation was limited to constant questioning, “Do I look alright? Do you think there’s something wrong with …?” Any amount of time spent with him was exhausting as you knew that nothing you said would make the slightest difference.

Gender dysphoria is another very real condition; peeling back the skin to reveal another ‘you’ would bring greater possibilities for fulfilment.

More questions, and final thoughts

If society ditched the binary construct and embraced the spectrum of human feeling, identity, and experience, would non-binary attitudes be seen as expressions of individuality and not as indications of being ‘exotic / artistic / creative’ or ‘butch / man-hating / tomboyish’?

If clothes and adornment was accepted as reflections of the individual rather than of stereotyped sexual / gender orientation would it become the norm for anyone to wear what was personally comfortable and desirable?

In a world where dress and hairstyle, leisure and work choices, manner of walking and talking did not pigeonhole us could there be complete freedom to be who and what we wanted? Is that too big an ask? Would it be so difficult to assimilate?

It troubles me that in the society we’ve created it raises fewer questions when individuals radically change themselves rather than expect society to accept them for what they are. ‘Types’, for now, are easier to understand than ‘individuals’. I hope this will not always be the case.

If you have enjoyed my thoughts please like, share, and comment.
Thank you for reading.

Nature’s fading bounty

In all of nature’s bounty I think the flower whose fading transcends its inherent beauty is the tulip. As the petals open there comes a quiet revelation of its exquisite inner soul.

Perhaps of all the tulips the pure white is the most perfect.
Delicate. Elegant. Stunning.

Do you have a favourite Spring flower? Or a flower you just enjoy?

If you have enjoyed this post please like, share, and comment.
Thank you for reading.