Sunday, October 16, 2011

3 of my poems I performed in the Traverse bar

These are 3 of my poems that last night I performed in the Traverse bar:

They were all inspired by places. The first one by the bar itself:

the naming of chairs

Let me introduce you to these chairs:
that one's Doris. That one's Bill.
That one's Frederick. That one's Jill.
She used to be Jamie. She was having problems then.
But she's much better now.
In fact she's doing very well thank you.
I often think of chairs.
- that one's Dolly, this one's John -
and I think it's really sad
every one has their histories
but people just park their bums
without regard for the places 
that they're putting them
life can be so impersonal don't you think
so important to respect individuality.
That table's Janet.
The ceiling's name is Jim.
Everything has a name, if you look out for it,
and the names matter. 
They put a ring round things.
The wall's name is Paul
but close friends call her Mavis.
Names are important, names are a defence
against an anonymous and faceless world.
Jennifer's the light bulb's name
But she used to be known as Robert. She hated that.
Names can be a fortress
Names can be a safe
But sometimes we get locked in them
and then we lose the key.
The light-shades name is Richard
He used to be known as Paula.
It was horrible.
Names can be a prison
Names can be a bind
Names can just confuse you
Names can make you blind.
Names can leave you just not knowing
who in the world you are.

Don't ask me what I'm called
I don't have a name.
I lost it long ago.
It wasn't my real name anyway.
(I'm not a lightbulb. I'm not a chair) 
My real name's in the distance, over there
I don't know where:
It's not a place I know.
It's somewhere that I've never been:
But mean to go.

I was commissioned to write the second for Confab’s Hidden City project.
(You can see the clip here:
It was written about Paddy’s Market, the old flea market in Glasgow, once surrounded by Poll Tax protest slogans painted on the railway embankment walls, and now locked up and fenced as part of some development project.That was where I performed it, on a soap box outside the locked gate:

at Paddy's market.

Patrick used to be a friend of mine
His market dealt in stocks and shares,
Discounted trading and derivatives.
Patrick was a bandit in a bespoke cut suit
Who traded in deception, greed and in despair
And so was honoured as an asset to the state.

I disowned him when he got his knighthood.
I'm an open-hearted trannie, very tolerant,
But that was one step too far for me.

So instead I took up with his cousin Paddy.
Paddy's place wasn't quite as smart as Patrick's.
Full of deadbeats, rejects and derelicts.
Just my kind of place. I felt at home here.

Paddy's goods were open to the wind and rain
They lay scattered in puddles, in the mud and dirt.
You bought and sold stuff at Paddy's out of desperation
Out of need.

He never got his knighthood. They closed him down.
They built a picket fence around his market
Locked it up behind the biggest padlock they could find.

(My heart was like that once)

Patrick's market is doing well, they say,
For all it's hated and despised,
They still tell us it needs to be doing so much better.

All around Paddy's are the faded signs
Resisting the poll tax. Talking about the revolution.
The one we all think never came.

(My heart's changing now, and the both of us
Are living through our own revolution.
We’re tearing down the fences that used to stand guard
We’re unpicking picking the locks at dead of night
We’re creeping past the police barricades
We’re removing frontier posts of fear and shame)

That's how I know Paddy's market's still around somewhere
And Patrick's one day will come tumbling down.
Because it's true what the man said
The man they built the empty church for just down the road:
You have to choose, he said,
Between your money or your soul.
And the first will be last
And the last will be first.

The last one came about when my elder daughter was studying engineering.
In her last year, she had to do a project which involved designing a new pedestrian bridge leading to the St. James shopping centre in Edinburgh.
Her design was beautiful: a sinuous curve with an island half way across. A place where people could sit and be quiet a moment and look out to the sea.
She asked me to write a poem that could be engraved in that place.
Now she’s designing fish farms and swimming pools and primary schools; but the bridge never got built.
So this is a poem for a place that does not yet exist:

my daughter’s bridge

Rest here, traveller
On this bridge between worlds

Between the place you were in before
And the place you will soon reach

Between the person that you were before
And the person you will soon become.

Bless you traveller

May the place you are going to
Be better than the place you were in before

May the person you are becoming
Be happier than the person you were in before,

Richer in mind,
Calmer in spirit.

May the world you are entering be kinder
Than the world you are leaving behind.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Not listening

Yesterday I travelled up to Perth to speak at a Round Table discussion on feminism and being transgender.

I was pleased to be asked, because it was organised by a feminist research and pressure group; my late partner was one of it's founders, and for a while was it's co-director.

I said what I'd planned to, and the discussion seemed to go very well. People were clearly interested in the isues, were very eager to speak about it, were respectful to each other, and the event was skillfully chaired. It all ran it's course, and at the end everyone expressed satisfaction at the outcome.

Everyone but me, that is. I started to shut down quite early on in the proceedings, and then became ore and more distressed as the morning went on. I was too distressed to see why; the distress seemed disproportionate to what was actually happening; I felt inclined to reproach myself for it. "Neurotic" and "over-sensitive" were the words forming in my mind.

It wasn't till after I left the building that I began to understand that one of the main features of the morning was people queueing up to speak, saying their turn, but seemingly unable to listen to each other. No-one noticed this, particularly, because it's a normal feature of meetings, where the real business, the serious business happens in the margins and the conversations that happen in the lunch or the coffee breaks.

Only later still did I start to see different ways I could have structured the meeting - if I had been chairing it - that would have helped people to listen to each other.

Only this morning did I understand that a massive feature of my childhood suffering was the fact that there was nobody to listen to me. And that consequently I spent many many years not listening to myself.

If I had been able to, I could have spared myself many years of suffering.

It's not just my problem: children, in general, are not listened to. So we all grow up, and then, as adults, have the most immense difficulty listening to each other.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

4 last songs

On Friday, coming out the Traverse, I saw a poster for tonight's concert. Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony in Strauss' Four Last Songs. I didn't understand the impulse, but followed it, and bought a ticket.

I'd thought of inviting friends; but again, not really understanding why, ended up going alone.

Sitting in the stalls tonight, waiting for the concert to begin, it was maybe the anticipatory buzz of the audience triggered a memory. Of being a schoolboy of fifteen, maybe sixteen, and sitting in the balcony of the Colston Hall.

One of the many many gifts given me by one of the assistant housemasters, a man I knew as Mr. Tomes, is that he organised outings to concerts.

The school functioned a bit like a prison; most of town counted as "out of bounds" but on concert nights the rules were relaxed and I could travel down to the concert hall alone.

I so loved that sense of freedom.

Life in the boarding school was designed to deprive us of solitude. Privacy was impossible; and the fact we were at each other's mercy was a powerful way of enforcing conformity.

I always escaped as much as I could. And sitting in the concert hall, or the theatre, I could be on my own. And that in itself helped me to survive.

I didn't want to talk to anybody, either before or after: the music opened up some precious space inside me which talking to people spoilt.

Maybe that was what I was after tonight.

Whatever it was, the music seemed to enter me without any guards or barriers: Beethoven's fierce longing for freedom, the incredibly rich chaotic, tender, and noble turbulence of an Elgar symphony.

I was awkwardly placed for the songs: I should have been more central, and further back. But what I did get was a profoundly moving sense of someone utterly rapt up in life's beauty and yet somehow also utterly ready to leave it.

It's a kind of model. Of how to die well: but how to live well too.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Equality Network Conference

The Conference was an extraordinary place to be. I was so moved, yet again, to see how our public institutions are working towards trans inclusion.

It is actually beyond everything I could ever have dreamed of.

It really wasn't that long ago that I believed that if I suffered it was my fault. It was because i was somehow sick. I had so greatly internalised my oppression that I could see it for what it was.

On Wednesday someone asked me where I got my hope from. I said it's because I'm sixty one years old and I'm still alive.

I guess so much of that survival I owe to my creativity. It was that above all, I think, which enabled me to receive the amazing love of my partner and my daughters and learn to come back to myself once again.

I was leading an hour's workshop on creativity in the afternoon, and while I think I communicated something, i don't think that was it.

Except maybe indirectly. What i was trying to express was that developing our creativity - in our work, in our relationships, in our art, obviously, but also in our daily life - helps us live in the present and value who we are.

And learning those things helps us free ourselves from suffering.

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