About M's Winding Path

I enjoy writing about life, books, poetry, music, pop culture, SF, feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, mental health & whatever else occurs to me.

The First Harvest – Reflections

A rectangular cake nicely browned and studded with blackberries on top.
Blackberry cake

This weekend marks the first harvest festival, Lughnasdh in Gaelic and Celtic traditions, Lammas in Anglo Saxon and Christian traditions. It’s known as Gŵyl Awst here in Wales.

I can’t call myself a Pagan, but I do love marking the ancient seasonal festivals for the sense of natural rhythm and balance they bring to the year. We try and do something for each holiday, even if it’s just making a cake and cooking a nice meal. This year we baked a blackberry cake and ate salads made with seasonal ingredients.

I also use the festivals symbolically to punctuate my year, connect with myself and reflect on where I am. But it’s been such a strange one, I’m really not sure what I’m ‘harvesting’ at this point. My goal at the beginning of the year was to focus on healing. Work was going well and I was happy with my living situation. Even better, the thing that has been emotionally destabilizing for me over the last few years would finally be less present in my life. I was feeling hopeful, even optimistic.

Well, the relatively peaceful year of reflection and healing that I was hoping for hasn’t quite materialised for me, or anyone else. None of us are bringing in the harvest we may have expected as we start to move into the second half of the wheel of the year.

Personally, I feel it’s too soon to start talking about positives in relation to this situation. That would be insensitive when so many people are suffering terribly, with the grief of losing someone to this illness, with the long-term health effects from having had it, or with awful financial difficulties. It would also be a bit foolish. I may have been lucky enough, and privileged enough, not to have been badly affected so far, but that could easily change. My feeling is that it’s going to be very bumpy here in the UK for months, possibly years, to come.

But, at the same time, we are all meaning-making creatures and we have to work with what we’ve got, so I’m going to write about what I’ve learned from the last few months and what I can take from this experience that’s useful, while also wishing very much that it hadn’t happened.

This is what I can say. The crisis has reminded me of what’s important in life: relationships, connections, community. These are the things that matter and have the potential to get us through this horrible time.

It’s also reminded me that there’s no point in putting things off if I don’t have to. I might as well get on and ‘self-actualise’ as much as I can. Perhaps even more importantly, I may as well try and be my authentic self in all aspects of my life. One shift I have noticed in myself and other people is more willingness to share different parts of ourselves, to be more authentic and even vulnerable. Of course there are always people who behave badly, especially online, but I have seen many people being kinder and more compassionate both with each other and to themselves. I think this is good and I hope we can build on it to improve the way that we do things and relate to each other, just as I hope we will continue to introduce pets and small children on video calls. I know I’ve met some fabulous cats and seen some very good drawings over the last few months.

Lockdown has taught me a lot about myself, much of which is useful. It’s also encouraged a growth mindset and pushed me to try new things. I’ve been getting involved in various initiatives at work and trying to support my colleagues as much as I can. I’ve been working on my mental and emotional health and taking a lot of online dance and yoga classes. I plan to keep it up and take more classes in the autumn. I’d like to do a creative writing class and perhaps I’ll start learning Welsh again.

Reading this over, in a strange way, I wonder if I might be working towards my original goal for this year after all … In any case, I hope the rest of the summer will be gentle with you and that you get a break at some point.

The Epidemic of Mass Fixing

This is so good, I’ve been posting it everywhere.

Quick fixes are rarely effective. What we need are investments directly into people and healthy environments, which facilitate and nurture positive connections and opportunities for people to contribute. This is what it will take in order to stop young people from becoming disenfranchised, vulnerable to criminality and drugs. Young people need to feel they belong and have purpose and connections that are strong and positive in their lives. Connection means we have people to go to during the tough times and purpose gives us the confidence to cope. We become less dependent on ‘fixing’ and more internally and externally able to deal with life, and importantly to understand the wider context and barriers we face.

But if we can individualise and quantify the problem, we can target resources to where they are most needed, right? Wrong.  A woman may have a drug problem because of personal trauma caused by living in poverty, because of a lack of opportunity to have a real purpose, or as a result of surviving homelessness. A multitude of possible reasons – so to start with a drug intervention may work as a temporary sticking plaster for some, but won’t have a long term effect and misses the point. How can solving an individual’s drug problem-solve their poverty or give them hope or motivation that life could be different? The only thing you have done in stopping their drug use is to take away their survival strategy, coping mechanism, only pleasure or release.

Pat McArdle, CEO of Mayday Trust, The Epidemic of Mass Fixing

Community Comfort – e-cookbook to raise funds

This is such a lovely idea.

100 British cooks from migrant backgrounds come together in this e-cookbook to raise funds for the bereaved healthcare colleagues and families of Black, Asian & Ethnic minority victims of Covid-19. All the recipes and stories are centred around comfort food inspired by the diaspora. OUT NOW ! Curated & created by Riaz Phillips

Community Comfort

I’ve got my copy and it looks amazing with an incredible variety of recipes.

Dionne Brand: On narrative, reckoning and the calculus of living and dying

Those in power keep invoking “the normal” as in “when we get back to normal.” I’ve developed an aversion to that word normal. Of course, I understand the more benign meanings of normal; having dinner with friends, going to the movies, going back to work (not so benign). However, I have never used it with any confidence in the first place; now, I find it noxious. The repetition of “when things return to normal” as if that normal, was not in contention. Was the violence against women normal? Was the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism normal? Was white supremacy normal? Was the homelessness growing on the streets normal? Were homophobia and transphobia normal? Were pervasive surveillance and policing of Black and Indigenous and people of colour normal? Yes, I suppose all of that was normal. But, I and many other people hate that normal. Who would one have to be to sit in that normal restfully, to mourn it, or to desire its continuance? We are, in fact, still in that awful normal that is narrativized as minor injustices, or social ills that would get better if some of us waited, if we had the patience to bear it, if we had noticed and were grateful for the miniscule “progress” etc … Well, yes, this normal, this usual, this ease was predicated on dis-ease. The dis-ease was always presented as something to be solved in the future, but for certain exigences of budget, but for planning, but for the faults of “those” people, their lack of responsibility, but for all that, there were plans to remedy it, in some future time. We were to hold onto that hope and the suspension of disbelief it required to maintain “normal.”

Dionne Brand: On narrative, reckoning and the calculus of living and dying

Wonderful piece by Dionne Brand.

Sunday Post – Hitting a Wall

A statue of a monk holding a lamp. Someone has put a mask on his face and a knitted NHS rainbow in his hands.
Statue in Cardiff Bay wearing a mask and an NHS rainbow

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling pretty tired recently. I seem to have hit a wall over the last couple of weeks. I was so fatigued last week that I couldn’t keep up my exercise, which is unusual for me. It felt like my body was made out of lead. I struggled to focus on anything and I was in a very bad mood. So I took some time off, prioritised rest and sleep, and I’m now feeling much better. It’s a bit of a wake up call though. I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and be more proactive about stress management

It’s not too surprising that it’s getting to me now. I’m hearing similar things from friends and colleagues. Over three months of lockdown. Horrible announcements about mass redundancies and threats of a deep recession. The possiblity of ongoing outbreaks and local lockdowns. So much uncertainty. It’s just a lot to deal with on top of trying to get on and do your job and live your life as best you can.

Personally, I do believe we’ll get a vaccine eventually, but it could be months (I don’t want to say years), before that’s a reality. In the meantime, I’m going to practice acceptance and create a plan for how my partner and I are going to sustain a life that will be quite restricted for some time to come.

Goals for the rest of the summer are to work on a medition practice, make a lot more time for creativity, and establish an exercise routine that works for me longer-term. There are some online courses I want to do in the autumn, so that should keep me occupied. One thing I will say for the situation is that it has encouraged me to develop more of a ‘growth mindset’. I’ve been trying new things, like dance classes. I did a class on ‘self massage and somatic movement’ the other week which was really good.

Reading

I’ve read five books on my #20BooksOfSummer list, so I know I need to pick up the pace and also write some posts! I’ve written about Blanch on the Lam and Notes of a Native Son. I’ve also read On the Red Hill by Mike Parker which is wonderful and The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF which is a lot of fun. I’m hoping to finish three more books in the next couple of days.

Podcasts

I’ve finally started to listen to more podcasts. This is another positive thing that’s come out of lockdown for me. I’ve been listening to a lot of epsides of Sounds True. A word of caution, some of the guests will be way too ‘new agey’ for some people, but I find a lot on there that’s helpful, especially around living through difficult times. I was going to list them here, but actually I’ll do a separate post about the episodes I’ve found especially useful.

Watching

We adored Staged with Michael Sheen and David Tennant. It’s so wonderful and perfectly captures the bizarreness of lockdown.

We’ve been enjoying What We Do in the Shadows, the TV series. We loved the movie and initially I didn’t think the TV version was going to be as good, but it’s a grower and we really love it now.

We watched the film Vita & Virgina and I hate to say this about a lesbian film, but it really is terrible. Bad script, lazy representions and no idea what it was trying to say about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West, both of whom were awesome and had a very interesting relationship, which the movie does not even get close to doing justice.

Listening

I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Laura Marling. I Speak Because I Can is lovely and the new album sounds just as good. My favourite track at the moment is ‘Blow by Blow’.

#20BooksOfSummer Book Two – James Baldwin, ‘Notes of a Native Son’ (1955)

A e-reader with a picture of the cover of Notes of a Native Son. It shows a black and white photograph of the author as a young man wearing a white shirt with his arms crossed.

I am what time, circumstance, history have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.

James Baldwin, ‘Preface’ to Notes of a Native Son (1984)

James Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924. He was a novelist, essayist, playwright and a social critic who was active in the civil rights movement. He spent many years of his life in France where he went to escape the racism and homophobia he had experienced in the United States. Notes of a Native Son was his first book of non-fiction. It was published in 1955 when Baldwin was just thirty one, two years after his first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain.

The essays in Notes of a Native Son are grouped into three parts. The first considers representations of African American people in literature and film. The second is based on Baldwin’s experiences of life and politics in the US. The third is made up of reflections from his early years in France. It feels like this structure is quite deliberate and is intended to take the reader on a journey with Baldwin.

The book’s ‘Preface,’ written thirty years later in 1984, is fascinating. Here James Baldwin reflects on what he was trying to achieve when he wrote Notes of a Native Son. He discusses how the essays reflect his struggle to locate himself within his inheritance because, ‘one cannot claim the birthright without accepting the inheritance’. It’s unsettling to see that some of his observations in the Preface (itself now over thirty years old), could easily still be applied today. Baldwin talks about the way African American people are always told to wait for things to change and to be patient. He speaks of the ‘panic stricken apprehension on the part of those who have maligned and subjugated others for so long that the tables have been turned’, something I think we have seen recently in the ‘debate’ over removing the statues of slave traders from public spaces.

For, if trouble don’t last always, as the Preacher tells us, neither does Power, and it is on the fact or the hope or the myth of Power that that identity which calls itself White has always seemed to depend

‘Preface’ to Notes of a Native Son

As a white, British reader, one thing that feels a little strange to read is Baldwin’s use of the word ‘negro’ to refer specfically to African American people. It isn’t language we would use now, but it is important. Baldwin doesn’t use it as a neutral term to refer to black people; it seems intended to convey something uniquely American and highly symbolic, an identify, or perhaps a figure, that has been created through an immense weight of history and cultural meaning (Black people as seen by the white culture), meaning that Baldwin wants to engage with in these essays.

Quite a lot of the content in the first three essays went rather over my head because I haven’t actually read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Native Son by Richard Wright. Nor have I seen the film Carmen Jones. It’s still comprehensible, though, because Baldwin is discussing what these texts tell us about beliefs that underlie the representation of African American people. The essays in this section remind me a little of Roland Barthes’s book, Mythologies, which was published a couple of years later in 1957. Here Baldwin was already talking about the way certain ‘signs’ and ‘mythologies’ are created and imposed upon people. He is critical of all three texts and wrestles most, I think, with Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son. It’s clearly an important work, which on one level Baldwin identifies with, but he argues that it turns its subject into a monster and leaves him nowhere else to go. Baldwin’s friendship with Richard Wright did not survive the essay.

The next section is based on aspects of Baldwin’s life in America. ‘The Harlem Ghetto’ is about ‘the rage of people who cannot find solid ground beneath their feet’. It considers the role of black leaders, newspapers and religion in the struggle for civil rights, including the difficult subject of anti-semitism in the culture of Harlem at the time. ‘Journey to Atlanta’ is about Baldwin’s younger brother’s experiences of working for (and being exploited by) the Progressive Party. Again, as a white British woman, a lot of this went over my head! But it was an interesting read which uses humour to tackle the way Black people were being used by the party at the time.

The middle section contains one of the most powerful essays in the book, ‘Notes of a Native Son’. This is an incredble, searing piece of writing about Baldwin’s father who died when his son was nineteen, on the same day as his youngest sister was born. His father’s funeral took place on the same day as the Harlem Riot of 1943. The essay’s place at the centre of the book, its doubling with the title, and the dedication of the work to Baldwin’s youngest sister, Paula Maria, indicates its power and central importance.

I’ve read Baldwin’s novel Go Tell it on The Mountain, which fictionalises his experiences as a child preacher and his difficult relationship with his father, so I knew something of the story. Baldwin’s father was a deeply troubled and damaged man who simply could not connect with other people. Baldwin says hauntingly, ‘there was something in him ‘groping and tentative which was never expressed and which was buried in him’. His father encouraged his son’s brilliance, as long as it manifested itself as something he approved (preaching), but he was also controlling and oppressive. As Baldwin leaves Harlem and encounters the racism of the white world, he begins to understand his father’s rage and trauma. This experience brings him to the point of breakdown and a confrontation that endangers his life. As he says towards the end of the essay, ‘I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain’.

The essays in part three are told from the perspective of Baldwin’s early years in France. There is an essay about encounters between the Aftrican American people living there and people from various countries in Africa and how hard that meeting is. There’s an essay about American students living in Paris while studying on the G.I. Bill which probably feels the most dated in the collection now. There is a funny and horrifying essay about Baldwin’s kafkaesque experience of getting arrested for stealing a bedsheet, being put in a French prison for eight days, and finding himself unable to communicate with the criminal justice system.

The final, and brilliant essay, ‘Stranger in the Village’ brings the collection full circle. Here Baldwin uses reflections on his time spent living in an entirely white Swiss village to delve into the relationship betweeen white Europeans and Africa and how this has played out in the history of slavery and white supremacy in the US. In the Swiss village, Baldwin finds himself treated as ‘a living wonder’, a creature that is hardly even human, and realises that the people there have no idea about the history with which he lives: ‘People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them’, he says. He discovers startling racist customs, such as ‘buying souls’ in Africa for conversion to Christianity (something my own mother did at school in the 1940s) and people ‘blacking up’ during carnivals. He considers the difference between being the first white man to be seen by black people in Africa and being the first black man to be seen by a village full of whites; the difference is conquest and power, what it means to be controlled by white culture and the inescapable rage this creates. As he says,

‘this village brings home to me this fact: that there was a day, and not really a very distant day, when Americans were scarecly Americans at all but discontented Europeans, facing a great unconqured continent and strolling, say, into a marketplace and seeing black men for the first time. The shock this spectacle afforded is suggested by the promptness with which they decided that these black men were not really men but cattle’.

A decision which has shaped history and from which there is no way back to the ‘simplicity’ of this European village, ‘This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again’.

Baldwin talks about many things in Notes of a Native Son, but there are two striking silences. Women are almost entirely absent from the essays and Baldwin avoids talking directly about his sexuality. Women are mentioned here and and there, but Baldwin seems to be referring almost exclusively to men and addressing a presumptively male audience in which women appear to be subsumed and have no separate voice. Maybe it’s a 1950s thing. I don’t think it has anything to do with his personal attitudes because he was a close friend and supporter of many black women activists and creators, including Nina Simone, Lorraine Hansburry, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, so I’ll be interested to see whether he addresses this issue in later works.

The biggest silence, though, is the silencing of Baldwin’s sexuality which clearly couldn’t be spoken about openly in a book published in 1955. There are only shadowy hints beneath the surface of the text. It does feel like a big ommission because no doubt his sexuality had an enormous impact on his life experiences. He went to France to escape homophobia as well as racism. As with many LGBTQ people throughout history, sexuality can provide the motivation to get out and create new lives elsewhere.

Notes of a Native Son is a powerful collection which gripped me despite gaps in my knowledge. I’m looking forward to reading Baldwin’s later essays and novels now to see where his thinking developed, especially The Fire Next Time.

Read for #20BooksOfSummer20

More

Documentary, I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Making Gay History Podcast

I’m loving the fascinating interviews on Making Gay History podcast

The Making Gay History podcast mines Eric Marcus’s decades old audio archive of rare interviews — conducted for his award-winning oral history of the LGBTQ civil rights movement — to create intimate, personal portraits of both known and long-forgotten champions, heroes, and witnesses to history.

35 Years since the first Cardiff Pride

It’s been 35 years since the first Pride event took place in Cardiff

Nice article on the BBC.

“At one of the [gay social] meetings he [Mr Foskett] said ‘I think we should have a gay pride march in Cardiff’.

That might not sound particularly strange now, but back in 1985 it was like, ‘are you serious?’ He was very keen and his sort of enthusiasm was very infectious.”

The small group got planning and the event took place on 20 June.

With placards reading “gay love is good love”, the procession marched from Queen Street to the students’ union in Cardiff.

“It was a small band of people, but it was a huge step for Cardiff I think, because of what it represented,” said Mr Brown.

Mr Foskett remembered it being “quite fun, and very small”.

“The people that we encountered were friendly. People laughed. People were incredulous, but they weren’t hostile.”

Today, the Pride Cymru events draw in 50,000 people, with 15,000 attending 2019’s parade, but the first march was less than 30, according to Mr Brown.

BBC, Pride Cymru: 35 Years since ‘huge step’ in Cardiff

#20BooksOfSummer No One – Barbara Neely, Blanche on the Lam (1992)

A copy of Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely. It is a plain white cover with the title a sillhouette of a plump black woman wearing an apron.

Barbara Neely was a lifelong activist and a writer who was best known for her Blanche White mystery novels which feature a black female detective. I didn’t know anything about Barbara Neely until I read an article following her death in March this year. I’d been looking for a new mystery to read and it sounded interesting, so I thought I’d check out the first book in the series.

Blanche on the Lam begins with Blanche being sentenced to thirty days in jail for inadvertently passing bad cheques. She makes a living as a domestic worker for white people, but times have been tough since she moved back to her home town of Fairleigh in North Carolina where employers have been less than punctual with her wages. Terrified at the prospect of prison, Blanche uses a distraction at the courthouse as an opportunity to escape, but then she has no idea what to do next. As she wanders around a wealthy neighbourhood, a white woman mistakes her for the domestic worker she has requested from an agency. Blanche decides to go along with the story. After all, the family’s country house could be a good place to lie low while she waits for her tax rebate to come through. Then she can pick up her kids from her mother’s house and head back to New York.

But Blanche is about to get a lot more than she bargained for. Her new employer, Grace, and her husband, Everett, seem to be trying to get their hands on their eldery Aunt Emmeline’s money. The money has been left to Grace’s cousin Mumsfield, a young man who has down’s syndrome, but the couple seem to have pursuaded Emmeline to change her will. Pretty typical behaviour for rich white people thinks Blanche, but as the days pass, the situation becomes increasingly sinister. Why has Aunt Emmeline suddenly become a violent alcholic? Why won’t Grace let Mumsfield see her? Why is the black gardener, Nate, so cagey about the family? What is the nature of Everett’s strange relationship with the local sheriff? Nobody is quite what they seem. Then someone dies and Blanche must figure out what’s going on before she finds herself coming to the attention of either the police or a murderer.

Blanche on the Lam takes the tropes of the classic ‘cosy’ mystery and turns them on their head to create something quite subversive. In classic crime fiction, servants are often the people who can see what’s really going on, although they rarely understand exactly what they’ve seen, and they sometimes pay a high price when the murderer decides to silence them before they can speak. In Blanche, Neely picks up this trope of the domestic worker who sees more and runs with it, turning the hired help into the detective. Blanche is perfectly placed to investigate. She’s used to noticing things, she has access to all areas of the house, she isn’t taken in by her employers and is largely invisible to them. ‘A family couldn’t have domestic help and secrets’, thinks Blanche on p. 85.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Blanche’s only ally in the house is Mumsfield, the other character who sees things differently and is a lot more astute than people think. Neely has taken characters who are usually marginalised in crime fiction – working class black people and disabled people – and made them central to her story.

Blanche is a tremendous character: uncompromising, intrepid, fiercely proud and independent. She is a mother who didn’t want to be a mother. She is lonely, but chooses to remain single. She fights with her mother, but also depends on her for support. She is a black woman who is relentlessly critical of white supremacy, but who has chosen to make her living working for white people. Her name means ‘white white’ conveying the complexity and irony of her position as she tries not to compromise or abandon herself.

She’d come to understand that her desire was to avoid pain, a pain so old, so deep, its memory was carried not in her mind, but in her bones’.

p. 99

Blanche on the Lam is a lot more than just a cosy mystery. Neely made it clear that she orginally intended it to be a work of social commentary. It’s a book about inner and outer worlds, about appearances and depths. It’s about black women’s lives and how to develop the internal resources and networks to survive in a world that will crush you if it can, a world in which you know you won’t be given an inch. It’s about white supremacy, the legacy of slavery, and contemporary racism and police brutality. It’s also a response (and antidote) to literature that has represented black women as the devoted servants of white people (I noticed the reference to To Kill a Mockingbird on page 70).

While people were reading the book to find out who killed who and why, they were also getting a lot of information about race, class, gender and all the issues that I cared about

Barbara Neely

I’m looking forward to seeing what Blanche will do next and will definitely be reading the rest of this series. A good start to my #20BooksOfSummer.

More

LA Times, Barbara Neely, creator of black female detective series dies at 78

NPR, Remembering Barbara Neely, A Pioneer in Crime Fiction

The “I’m Tired” Project

The “I’m Tired” Project utilizes photography, the human body and written words as a tools highlight the lasting impact of everyday micro-aggressions, assumptions & stereotypes and pull back the layers of discrimination to reveal thoughts and feelings that aren’t usually voiced through fear of backlash and lack of being relatable.

The “I’m Tired” Project

A Few Nice Things

It’s been good to rest, but I’ve had some difficult days this week. Feelings of sadness and hurt have been welling up. So, here are some links to a few nice things that I’ve found comforting or cheering recently.

Dan Vo’s LGBTQ+ #MuseumFromHome videos are absolutely delightful. You can keep up with them on twitter @DanNouveau

Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway’s podcast Home Cooking is wonderful. Full of laughter and helpful lockdown cooking tips. Sadly there are only four episodes.

The Poet Laureate has gone to his shed is a lovely series in which Simon Armitage interviews different people. I really enjoyed the episode with Jackie Kay. Full of warmth and wisdom.

NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts are really fun and often showcase artists in a different light. If you only watch one, make it Lizzo’s!

I find TV cooking shows very comforting. At the moment I’m particularly fond of Nadiya Hussain and Nigel Slater. I’m not really Nadiya’s target audience (busy parents), but her enthusiasm and gleefulness about food is increadibly infectious, I love it! Meanwhile, Nigel Slater is so reassuring. He’s just here to help us cook.

Sunday post: Time for a Break

Cardiff Bay basin looking out twards Penarth on a bright sunny morning
Cardiff Bay basin on a clear sunny morning

We’ve had some glorious weather during the last couple of weeks, although it’s cooling down now. Lockdown has been eased very slightly here in Wales. You are now able to meet up with another household, as long as it’s within a five mile radius of your home, outside in the open air, and you maintain social distancing. Personally, I’m going to carry on being extremely careful and wait to see where we are in about three weeks time. By then we should know whether infections are increasing again. It does feel a lot busier outside. I’ve pulled my morning walk back by an half-an-hour because there are so many people out and about by 7.00am.

This week has felt extremely intense with the Black Lives Matter protests across the world. Like many white people, I’ve been wondering how to help. What’s the most useful thing that I can do? For me, right now, I think it’s listen, learn, promote the voices and work of people of colour, lobby those in power and actively support the organisations that know what they’re doing. It does seem like a tipping point has been reached and I hope it will lead to longer-term, sustainable change.

We are both feeling really tired. This is partly the ongoing effect of lockdown stress and partly down to just not having had a break since Christmas. We’ve taken next week off work, so that should help.

Reading

Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo was definitely the best thing I read in May. This story about the coming out of an elderly, gay Caribbean man is full of brilliantly drawn characters. It’s just a joy to read.

I also finished The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths, book seven in the Ruth Galloway series. I think I’m done with this series. It started well, but the books feel increasingly padded and the focus on forensic archeology has given way to very silly relationships between the characters. Time for a new cosy mystery series.

But for now #20BooksOfSummer will be taking up all of my reading time. I’ve started three of the books on my list: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (seemed appropriate), The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson and The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF (really enjoying this).

Watching

We watched an excellent documentary about Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things. I didn’t know much about her and it’s an amazing, powerful story.

We finished Schitt’s Creek. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I felt like they were just hitting the narrative beats and kind of fudged the ending. It seemed flat to me. A great series overall though.

Podcasts

This is a lovely, warm and insightful conversation about life and literature The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed (with Jackie Key)

I also listened to this fascinating and alarming podcast about extinct food, Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction.

Music

The album of the week is Unhalfbricking by Fairport Convention which includes one of my favourite songs of all time, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’

RIP Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer, playright, author, gay rights and AIDS activist, died this week at 84.

The Advocate, Larry Kramer Towering Figure of Aggressive AIDS Activism, Dead at 84

Making Gay History Podcast, interview with Larry Kramer

Hollywood Reporter, Larry Kramer, ‘Normal Heart’ Playwright and AIDS Activist, Dies at 84

Pink News, Larry Kramer’s furious, impassioned HIV speech is essential viewing 30 years on

Rest in Power.

20 Books of Summer 20

A pile of books (that’s my e-reader on the top of to represent the e-books)

It looks like it’s going to be a good summer for a big reading project, so I’ve decided to take part in the #20BooksofSummer reading challenge again this year. Last year I managed to read fourteen books, which I didn’t think was bad going.

This time around, I’ve tried to create a balanced list with some serious works, some fun reading and a good mixture of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I’ll try and do better at actually writing posts about them too.

I’ll be starting on 1 June and stopping on 1 September. I won’t be reading the list in any particular order. I’ll just go with what I fancy. I don’t slog through books I’m not enjoying, so I reserve the right to ditch any that I don’t like, but I’ll replace it with a book of similar length.

The 20 Books of Summer logo

  1. Mike Ashley (ed), The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF (2013) – short stories
  2. James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955) – essays
  3. Ann Bannon, Odd Girl Out (1957) – novel
  4. Willa Cather, My Antonia (1918) – novel
  5. Christopher Isherwood, Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) – novel
  6. Jackie Kay, Red Dust Road (2010) – memior
  7. Ursula K Le Guin, Always Coming Home (1985) – novel
  8. Ursula Le Guin and Others, The Eye of the Heron and Other Stories (1980) – short stories
  9. Elizabeth A. Lynn, The Dancers of Arun (Book 2 in the Chronicles of Tornor) (1979) – novel
  10. Jamal May, Hum (2014) – poetry
  11. Paul McAuley, Austral (2017) – novel
  12. Patricia Mckillip, Wonders of the Invisible World (2012) – short stories
  13. Alice Munro, The Progress of Love – short stories
  14. Barbara Neely, Blanche on the Lam – novel
  15. Sharon Olds, Selected Poems – poetry
  16. Mike Parker, On the Red Hill – non-fiction
  17. Rebecca Roanhorse, Storm of Locusts – novel
  18. Sarah Schulman, Maggie Terry – novel
  19. Jane Trais (ed), Now You See Me: Lesbian Life Stories – nonfiction
  20. Bee Wilson, The Way we Eat Now – non-fiction

LGBT History + Wales

I meant to post this a while ago but got distracted by, well, a pandemic. My friend Norena (author of the groundbreaking Forbidden Lives: LGBT Stories from Wales) wrote a great roundup of all the events that happened here for LGBT History Month 2020: Wales + LGBT History Month round up.

It’s heartening and moving to see so many activities happening across the country. We have come such a long way, even if as Norena says, we now need to move beyond events being restricted to celbratory days and months.

Llongyfarchiadau LGBTQ+ Wales!

LGBT Bookstores

The shops, who supported each other by sharing news and ideas, became cornerstones of the communities they served, hosting political organizations and providing safe spaces for people to explore and embrace their sexuality. Such inclusiveness —  along with the spirit of the anti-war, anti-establishment revolution that fanned out before and after Stonewall — encouraged others to build upon the idea started by Rodwell and the Oscar Wilde. By the mid-1980s, queer bookstores were in more than 20 cities across North America as well as venues in Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands and the U.K.

Jason Villemez

Good article about the history of LGBT bookstores

Sunday Post: Doing quite well, considering …

The sun glowing through thick grey cloud and mist over a calm sea
Misty morning walk

I’m feeling tired and my anxiety has been high over the last couple of weeks. Not surprising. I’m sure many people are experiencing similar things. Last weekend was particularly difficult though. The ninth anniversary of my father’s death hit me hard. I think I cried more on this year’s anniversary than I have on any of the others. My partner also had some painful emotional stuff to deal with. There have been various other stresses and strains, which just feel like too much on top of the pandemic anxiety. I’ve booked a week off work early in June. We can’t go anywhere, but I think it’s important to get a break.

On a happier note, we finally got our home office set up. The desk and chair arrived and the spare room is now comfortable for home working. Achievement unlocked! We have to take turns using it, but at least my partner doesn’t have to suffer through all my video calls anymore. Her job requires quiet and concentration, while mine involves several meetings a day, so it’s amazing that we haven’t had a falling out.

I also finished my blog refresh. This was one of my lockdown projects. It’s taken me a month, but I read every one of the 800-odd posts I had on here. There’s now around 600. And, as you can see I’ve given it a bit of a new look too.

I’m still doing well at the self-care. Yoga at least three times a week, daily walks, and a dance class twice a week, which I’m really enjoying despite it being waaaay out of my comfort zone. Dance is a bit of a sore spot for me since I failed grade one ballet (my fault, wouldn’t practice), so it’s fun to give it a go again.

Reading

I re-read All Systems Red by Martha Wells, the first book in the much loved Murderbot series. I finished The Heavens by Sandra Newman and, have to say, I didn’t like it all that much. Beautiful prose and very clever, but I found it distancing and couldn’t engage with it emotionally. Otherwise my reading has slumped. I’m chipping away at Mr Loverman, The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths and the complete stories of Hercule Poirot.

But I’ve decided to take part in #20BooksOfSummer again this year because I could do with a project, so that should motivate me.

Watching

We finished Good Omens which was an achievement because we’ve been struggling to get through new TV shows recently. Michael Sheen and David Tennant were delightful as Aziraphal and Crowley. We’re enjoying Season Six of Schitt’s Creek but I’m glad it’s the last one because they are clearly running out of ideas.

Listening

The album of the week has been Banga by Patti Smith. I just happened to put it on and it transported me back to happier times of seeing her play in Cardiff in 2012.

Kay Ryan on poetry

A poem really has no beginning and end, although it does appear to. All the parts of a poem exist as a sort of plasma, simultaneously apprehended, existing in the mind all at once, as soon as we have become familiar with them. The word “blight” constantly and forever charges every word in the poem, shores every word in the poem. It is Indra’s net, everywhere is the center, reflecting all. This great capacity of poetry is seldom so well exercised as it is here. The fact that the mind can move around in a poem—is asked to do this—is why poetry is considered the supreme art. Poetry is the shape and size of the mind. It works the way the mind works. It is deeply compatible with whatever it is we are. We dissolve in it; it dissolves in us.

Kay Ryan, On the Preposterous Beauty of Gerald Manley Hopkins

Sunday Post: Sadness returns but the birds are singing

Early morning sun peeping through light clouds over a calm sea.

A difficult week, but the early morning birdwatching has been wonderful. I’ve seen flocks of linnets, starlings, goldfinches and greenfinches feeding on dandelion seeds. I’ve witnessed singing duels between whitethroats, sedge and reed warblers, black caps, wrens and ceti’s warblers. I’ve been surrounded by swooping sand martins. I’ve watched grey wagtails and, the highlight of my week, a handsome wheatear bobbing around on the rocks. It has been glorious.

But as the “excitement” of crisis mode finally wears off, grief has resurfaced. This week I found myself experiencing the attacks of sorrow and anger, mood swings and crying jags that have plagued my life since 2017. It’s strange to say it, but for a few weeks there, I amost felt like my old self again. I knew it was just a ghost and would slip away eventually. You can’t go back to being what you were before, although sometimes a past self might visit for a little while.

Despite the return of difficult emotions, I’ve been looking after myself quite well. We are doing online yoga classes several times a week and have found a dance class that we actually enjoy.

Since I’m in a position to do so, I’ve been trying to support local businesses by buying as much food from them as possible, which has meant lovely vege boxes being delivered and lots of good cooking.

A rectangluar roasting tray containing roast cauliflower, greens and chickpeas.

I’ve made curried new potatoes, a sweet potato and parsnip tagine, butter roasted leeks with bulghar wheat and feta and roast cauliflower with chickpeas, spring greens and tahini (pictured).

Reading

Picture of the following books, Poems 1962 - 2012 by Louise Gluck, Selected Poems by Sharon Olds and Hum by Jamaal May.

I’ve mostly been reading poetry because I find it helpful. I treated myself to collections by Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck and Jamaal May. I’ve also been enjoying the ‘Shelter in Poems’ selections being emailed to me every few days by Poets.org

I haven’t finished any books, but I’m currently reading The Heavens by Sandra Newman, which I feel ambivalent about, and Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo, which is excellent. I’m working my through the complete Hercule Poirot stories at bedtime.

Watching

I watched the Netlix documentary A Secret Love, which is about the 70-year relationship between Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel. This really is a fascinating must-watch. If I have a criticism, it would be that I’d have liked a bit less centering of the heterosexual family’s feelings and rather more about the couple’s lives together. But it’s very good and I cried buckets at the end.

We also enjoyed the episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table with Buddhist nun, Jeong Kwan, which is just beautiful.

Otherwise it’s just been trashy TV and comfort-watching.

Listening

If you like melodic, politcally aware folk music, along the lines of Joan Baez and Thea Gilmore, I can recommend Eliza Gilkyson’s new album 2020

But my album of the week has been Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul by Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter which was a late birthday present from my sister.

Sapphic Link Love #11

From Ancient Rome to Judith Butler in this issue …

Cheryl Morgan blogs about the evidence for women loving women in Ancient Rome, Tribade Visibility Day

The Paris Review has a great piece on The Fabulous Forgotten Life of Vita Sackville West

them, 100 Years Ago, this Lesbian Doctor Helped Contain NYC’s Typhoid Epidemic

TIE Campaign podcast has episodes on Lesbians Against Section 28 and Anne Lister

A long and detailed article in Out History, A Tribute to Phyllis Lyon (1924 – 2020)

The Advocate, Netflix Doc Reveals the Queer Romance Behind A League of their Own

Interesting interview with Judith Butler about her latest thinking Judith Butler wants us to reshape our rage

A lovely blog from Torch, Women Retold: Eurydice and Portrait of a Lady on Fire

And a nice interview with the poet Jackie Kay, DIVA meets LGBTQI literature royalty, Jackie Kay MBE