A for AGE. My white hair and whiskers remind me that society, economy and culture influence stereotypes of gender and of old people. A for androgynous reminds me of the mix of masculine and feminine qualities in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and in me. Magic spells add mystery to the warts of this old witch who was once upon a time a lesbian and is now married to a man. Memories of a once-upon-a-time red-head in a gold lame glitter body stocking or dungarees or suit rambling through despair, gay liberation, Antisemitism, climate challenges and resistance in seven decades.
Fear for the future of children dominate the dawn with news of forest fires, drought and war. Schorse rings and ends the call with our running gag “let’s go make the world a better place”. I lift the lid of my comfort blanket laptop to write about despair and the search for hope. Seven decades plus and my time is running out for me and for our human nature. A visit from a three-year-old from Ukraine in the afternoon brings sticky fingers to wave a magic wand which brings back the good witch shared with my nieces and nephews and many children in my lifetime – children, who have inspired me, taught me and given me joy. If I am moving into the winter of my life, then it is one where the witchy hats will bring all times past and future together in to-day. I pull at the whiskers around my mouth. The leggings in the mirror warns me about mutton dressed as lamb. Perhaps vegetarians will be kind to my unfashionable skinny bum.
In my Alphabet series on gender, I trace disappointments and despair prompted by the pandemic in search of a gut-wrenching realignment of emotions and visions of a better world. Tracing these disappointments through trees and through the decades has helped me recover my sense of self. I take again the hand of my next-door friend in Ulster public housing, a Protestant boy and son of an RUC constable, as we explore a copse of trees in 1956, unaware of the IRA border campaign. Was that what separated us forever? I remember another boy in my primary school in Strabane a year later, why was this light brown boy put among the girls and why did we dare to ask him to do something unspeakable for a collection of ha’pennies? Something we would not dare ask the white skinned boys. Is a search for hope in the childlike belief in innocence, magic, mystery, and interconnected humanity an illusion?
In 2022, when Gay Community News pops into the letterbox, it brings brave questions on inclusion and exclusion with an article about racism in the Irish LBGTQ+ “community”. Decades of time spiral me onto a float in a gay pride parade in Manchester in the 1970’s where I pull on an apron over the gold-lame-glitter-body-stocking borrowed from a transexual. I shake the wild mane of red hair over my face, no longer ironed into place, and hope no-body recognises me and tells the family in Ireland. In the 1980’s, working for Save the Children, baggy dungarees were more appropriate when we marched the same streets to object to Clause 28 ( UK law against teaching tolerance of gays) or when we supported striking miners shouting anti-Thatcher slogans. Faced with the threats of 21st century, connections across the decades strengthen my spirit of resistance. I re-read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Androgyny and bisexuality take on new meaning as age dissolves my masculine and feminine tendencies
When I read again some of my idols – Virginia Woolf, Primo Levi, or Jean Amery (Hans Chaim Mayer) I realise they all committed suicide. Was there a common denominator in despair over World War II? The rise of antisemitism in Germany today keeps my fingers on the keyboard. Documenta is an exhibition of international contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel in Germany. In 2022, a team of artists depicted antisemitic images in the context of rich countries exploiting the global south. The huge canvas displayed in public had to be removed. Three deep breaths and I struggle on in search of an antidote to our complicity in the exploitation which blights the South and brings misery, division and degradation everywhere. How does manipulation of our human nature into US versus Them work? I wrote my first novel, Bone and Blood, about a Leitrim woman who ended up in Ravensbrueck concentration camp near Berlin during the Second World War to explore complicity. No suicide for me, the tendrils of honeysuckle across the terrace tempt summer to linger into autumn and winter. The roots of trees and the strength of saplings persuade me to put my trust in children, young people and research to show us how the spirit of resistance animates the connection between mind and body between Us and Them. Stories of hope will be spun from trees in Donegal.
A dip in the vulnerable ocean spurts salt into my eyes and reminds me of the strength in its hidden depths. I dive into the deceptions which have delayed our response to climate change. In 2022, Al Gore admits that 40 years ago he “did not anticipate the fossil fuel industry would spend billions of dollars on an industrial-scale programme of lying and deception to prevent the body politic acting in a rational way”. His admission acknowledges the odds against us are great on every continent. Nationalism and ethnic conflict, combined with economic models of “development” bringing climate catastrophe have left their mark everywhere but those who benefit least suffer most – from climate change and from conflict. When considering the part played by religion in conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mattias Basedau @GIGA_Institute giga-hamburg.de makes links to the social and economic conditions which harbour sectarianism and ethnic conflict. One of his suggestions appeals to me in wild rural Donegal: he suggests the European Union and the United States should reduce subsidies to rich farmers to boost the agricultural sector in African economies.
Can we pour vast oceans of consciousness into small pockets of resistance to connect them? Schorse texts me an interview by Asal Dardan with Eva von Redecker (Revolution for Life, Fischer September 2020). They speak about interconnection and about how we have created “pockets of liberation” for example the Black Lives Matter movement.Their exchange prompts more questions as my time spirals through the alphabet. Please join me with comments as I travel from Age to Zwitter.
Is it possible to connect “pockets of liberation” in the solidarity of a Wood Wide Web?
What would it take to recognise all lives matter?
Does our consumerisem make us complicit with the economic powers which profit from exploitation of our lands and seas?