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There’s Truth and then there’s TRUTH

Together

We know our truth.

Well at least we think we do.

Two people can have a conversation and come away with different ideas as to what it was about.

There’s a lot of new age, feel good stuff out there at the moment about knowing your truth.

Be true to yourself
You can only be responsible for your own truth
– Find your truth and you find yourself

These are all well and good, but what does that actually mean?

Last Friday, in my regular Barefoot Friday I talked about what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse spouse. Barefoot Friday is live illustration and conversation in which I cover a range of subjects around Identity, Belonging and Expat Life. 

With half an hour to spare before I started, I said to my wife, ‘what am I going to do for Barefoot Friday? Nothing is coming to me. I want to do something simple, but powerful’.

My wife replied,

‘I’m simple….’

‘And powerful’.

We often joke about her being simple, like the happy bouncy dog that can only focus on the ball you are about to throw. I appreciated her nudge towards our inside joke.

‘Why don’t you talk about what it’s like to live with a neurodiverse partner?’ she said.
She was right. This felt good.

Barefoot Friday’s illustration from 5 June 2020

It’s not something I could have talked about once. I didn’t understand it.

My truth was frustration, pain, hurt and confusion.

Ang’s diagnosis of Dyspraxia at aged 50 and our belief now that she’s also got Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Autistic tendencies created a space to talk.
It turns out her truth had been frustration, pain, hurt and confusion.

Ang is now 61, so we’ve had 11 years to learn, negotiate communication that works for both of us, and find ways that mean we get what we need. It’s like anything in a marriage. It takes a commitment to each other to make it work.

So, my truth turned out to be her truth too, but from a different angle.

Finding your truth

In reality…

I didn’t find my truth as the new-age tells me. I found my wife.

My wife didn’t find her truth. She’d known it for a long time. She finally felt understood.

In talking about neurodiversity, I received feedback from another neurodiverse listener who stressed the importance of talking about the positives of neurodiverse people, not just the struggles.  They are right. Neurodiverse people have amazing skills and that will be the subject this week, but it got me thinking about truths again.

It was my wife who suggested the subject matter and she was very happy with it, but someone with a similar experience holds a different truth. Even when we speak the same language this disconnect exists.

In the expat context, imagine too, the added complications of different languages and culture. It’s a wonder that anyone ever understands anyone else!

Dyspraxia is classified by the World Health Organisation as a disability. The benefit of this means that diagnosis opens avenues for funding, support services and further public recognition – all of which has been invaluable for my wife.

However, and I know this is going to sound like I’m speaking from a position of Privilege, non-neurodiverse privilege, the majority, the main-stream…. but I’m going to say it anyway.

And I am saying it, because THIS is my truth.

There is limited support for people who are married to people with dyspraxia. You can find information and services to help with bringing up autistic and ADD children and if your partner is autistic, but dyspraxia? Not so much.

At one point I even contacted the Dyspraxia Foundation to ask if they had resources, but they didn’t. Rightly so, their focus is on helping dyspraxic people, but I do wonder about partners. Are they also hidden voices as they navigate neurodiversity? Resources for non-neurodiverse people would certainly also benefit their neurodiverse spouses and relationships.

Have I just given myself another project?

Navigating neurodiversity in a marriage

Both my wife and I will openly admit that it’s been a challenge to negotiate, individually and together, but we’ve done it well and we continue to. We are an amazing team and I wouldn’t change anything.

Being dyspraxic is as much part of your identity as having brown hair. THIS is the reason I am talking about this issue. Diversity is about understanding, acceptance, embracing and celebrating.

Not allowing space for the full spectrum of people is nothing short of rejection. Who do you reject without realising it or without being honest with yourself, because you can’t cope with their difference?

Living with a neurodiverse spouse can be really challenging, but so can living with a feisty red-headed Australian. We are just who we are. Angie has opened my eyes to the world in ways that I would never have looked it. My wife’s approach to life has given me a lot to think about and loosened me up, inspired me and helped me in numerous ways….

but to find out about that, you’ll have to watch this week’s Barefoot Friday (Friday 2pm BST) on Facebook.

Cath x

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The cultural limitation of being old

Old hands

We all think someone else is old until we get there ourselves.

Then….

We massage our mind to try to be at ease with the number before looking to name a new distant number as ‘old’.

Is it any wonder though? At least in a large proportion of the West.


We erase the older generation from our lives.

And I don’t mean physically. It’s bigger than that.

It’s a deeply seated attitude where ‘old people’ are socially sandwiched between residential care and dying.

They become less than human.

When was the last time you saw an elderly person involved in a romantic storyline on TV?

When was the last time you saw an elderly couple in a film sex scene?

I can’t remember either.

It’s not because it’s not happening in real life.

In the UK, 54% of men and 31% of women over 70 report still being sexually active with a third stating ‘frequently’.

So, why is it that society pretends it’s not happening? Is it because it makes us (the society that values youth) uncomfortable?

I know that there’s the awkward thought of your parents having sex. I’m sure mine only had it twice…9 months before I was born and the same for my sibling.

Seriously though, in the expat community we often talk about how others box us in, especially with the ‘Where are you really from?’ question. Often, the enquirer doesn’t like our answer because it doesn’t fit their predetermined limitation of one’s identity.

The same applies to the elderly.

We place limitations on what we expect suitable behaviour and identity to be, but in doing so, we impose our own identity and attitudes. Apply it enough and at some point, the social pressure becomes a lived reality.

Last year, there was an incredibly good TV program in Australia called Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. I think it is my most favourite program ever on TV.

This unique social experiment brought older retirement home residents together with pre-schoolers, to see if their contact and connections could help the residents to lead happier and healthier lives.

The children placed no limitations on residents and the results were remarkable.

It got me thinking.

When we place limitations on others, we also limit ourselves. We assert our own fears. We lower our standards. We close our minds.

I do not think that Josephine Smith felt limited.

Meet Mrs. Josephine Smith, aged 84, whose hobby is digging graves, says the caption to this National Library of Australia photo.

Josephine Smith

Woah! Stop right there!

84 and digging graves as a hobby?

I think I am in love with that woman.

She certainly does not look like a woman who would take well to being treated as old. She is a prime example of the power of seeing the elderly very much as active members of society.

They have a lot to offer if we allow ourselves to see them. I am not saying that to be seen, they need to be as active as Josephine Smith.

Rather, let us look beyond our own lens of limitation. Wipe your murky glasses to help you see differently. You might find that you do not even need to wear glasses and a new perspective will reveal itself.

The integrity of any society can be judged by how well it treats its youngest and oldest members.

– Brian Atuhaire

We have a lot to learn about how other cultures treat their elderly.

Mediterranean and Latin American cultures often all live under the one roof. I remember reading an article years ago that talked about the elderly living longer in cultures where they lived with family. The simple fact was that they were not isolated.

In South Korea, it is an honourable duty to care for one’s parents.  In India, the elderly are the head of the household and respected for their wisdom and sage advice to younger family members. In Vietnam, Japan, and China they also live with family as do many other cultures.

So where does leave us?

I look to Josephine Smith.

I’ve made a deal with a friend that we will go running together when we are 75. Who knows if we’ll even reach 75. It might be more of a crawl, but I know one thing for certain.

I’m aiming high and, in the meantime, I’m going to aim high for the elderly in my life.

I might even ask how good they are on the end of a shovel.

Josephine would be proud.

Cath x

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The Cultural Implications of Fatness

I’ve heard it my whole life.

The one with a ‘lovely smile’ and ‘pre-Raphaelite hair’. I’m the woman with ‘brightly coloured shirts’ or the woman with a ‘lovely complexion’. Sometimes I’m the one with a ‘curvy figure’. Occasionally I’m the ‘larger lady’. I’m never the ‘fat one’.

At least in my culture.

But I am fat.

It’s a fact. I have fat. The fat is reducing, but it’s still there.

Why is fatness such a sensitive subject in western cultures?

It’s been my identity as long as I can remember. Defined by others, which in turn imposes a valued definition and worth upon myself. I’ve always struggled with my weight.

See, even there I say ‘struggled’. That phrase comes naturally.

It implies that I should be thinner…..
or is that fatter?

If I was Jamaican, I’d be considered more physically attractive and in good health. However, I’d probably also be serving a jail sentence for being gay, so as they say in Britain, ‘swings and roundabouts’.

In Barbados, doctors report of diabetes patients worrying about becoming ‘less sexy’ to their spouse if they lose weight. A stark difference to my own Australian culture.

I remember being bullied all through school for being overweight.
There it is again, ‘over’weight. ‘Weight’, being the preferred size according to the name caller – the one who takes it upon themselves to decide my identity.

We all do it.

We all look at people and make decisions about who they are, based on our own cultural and social reference points.

What I love is when a cultural taboo like talking about fatness, is smashed together with another culture. Each person’s parameters are poles apart, but the collison creates cultural tensions within oneself.

In 1988 my family backpacked around China. I was 12.

Me, aged 12.

I returned in 2005 and again received the same question, “Why are you so fat?”

My brain always takes a few seconds to register.

Yes, she really did just ask, “Why are you so fat?
My first thought? Bitch!


But, when my brain has time to organise itself away from its cultural programming and natural reactions, I remember I’m in China.

I want to bark back, “Why are you so small?”

But I’m torn.

My own cultural limitations prevent me from asserting myself so freely.

I then want to say, “and why are you so rude?” but that is pointless too. It’s not rudeness. It’s cultural difference and it’s just smashed mine to pieces in the most non-violent game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

In the two seconds that took up those thoughts, I’ve traversed thousands of years of history in both cultures. I’ve searched the depths of my soul, ethics, values and internal dialogue about self-worth. I’ve seen my life through another culture’s eyes, I’ve seen another culture through my eyes.

Not bad for two seconds eh?

This is how identity, belonging and expat life work.

Sometimes they are three distinct elements. Other times, you don’t know where one starts and the other begins.

I am pleased though to find out that I’m not alone in my experiences of discussing fatness in China. A friend told me about a friend of his who was kicked out of a taxi, because, “you’ll break my tyres!”.

If you want to travel or want to be an expat, you better develop a thick skin.

Maybe I should live in Africa.

In many African countries, being overweight implies richness, fertility and wealth. When living in west Africa, a friend of mine discovered that their cook was adding a lot of oil to their food to fatten her up. The explanation came that given her husband’s esteemed job, he was not being a good patron if his wife walked around thin. He would be seen to be not taking care of her and they would not be doing a good job of showing their status and wealth.

Fatness and fertility have often gone together. In Vienna, the Museum of Natural History is home to the Venus of Willendorf.

She was found in Austria and is believed to be a fertility symbol crafted between 30,000 and 25,000 BCE. I took great delight in drawing her when I visited and joked that it was me 25,000 years ago.

The fateful sketch!

But, I also feel the need to confess.
I don’t mean to brag, but…

My hair is way better.

I knew you’d agree.

To me, there’s a great irony about the Venus of Willendorf being at home in Vienna. I love Vienna, but never have I been looked up and down so much by well-to-do women. And they weren’t shy.

Four feet from me. Eyes start at my feet, look me up and down again and then dead in the eye. Terrifying.

It happened mostly at the people’s opera. A childhood friend of mine is a soprano soloist for the Vienna State Opera and it had been my dream to see her on stage. I realise that I wasn’t dressed to the standards shared by these women, but who cares?

MY mate was on stage. MY mate got the standing ovation.

And this is the thing.

This is all it’s about, any of this cultural stuff.

Know who you are
and
Know what’s important to you.

Get those two sorted and you’ll know your identity and where you belong.
The only place you need to belong is within yourself.

It can be one of the most hostile of places.
But it can also be the most satisfying and peaceful.

So, let’s:

*talk about fatness
*talk about all those things we struggle with about ourselves
*remove the taboos and we remove the isolation of sitting in silence
*remove the power in taunts
*remove the voice that tells us we are not enough, too much or too little.

*EXPLORE other cultures.
*LIVE fearlessly.
*JUMP INTO conversations and JUMP at the chance to be challenged.

It’s where the good stuff lies.

It’s where we grow.
It’s where we find ourselves.

Now, give me a second to find my car keys and I’ll see you there.

Cath x

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New Online Shop

This week I am proud to announce that I launched my new Drawn to a Story online shop!!

And I couldn’t be more proud.

This is big.

It’s been a dream of mine for three years.

So what was the dream?

To provide a range of products and gifts that help people feel seen and heard in their global lives.

Like any spectrum, there’s the full gamut of experiences in the global community. I refer to the shop being for people who ‘Struggle, Survive and Thrive in Expat Life, and for those who love them’.

As someone who’s moved through ‘Struggle’ (not so elegantly) into the more stable, but not easy ‘Survive’, and now very happily sitting in ‘Thrive’, I want to help.

I want to help people feel validated in their experiences.

I want to let them know they are not alone.

I want to offer them a sense of belonging.


So…. I now have an online shop.

WE, the expat community now have an online shop.

All the products are themed to expat life, third culture kids, global nomads. They speak our language and they hold up a mirror to us to see our lives reflected and celebrated.

The drawings come from my book, Living Elsewhere.
It’s been a real joy to use them to spread the love more widely.

One of the nicest things about creating something new is that you also get to establish your own ethos.

You get to choose to live your TRUTH every day.

This is mine.

It’s important to me to run Drawn to a Story with these values at its core.

Body Size

I am passionate about clothes being accessible. I want more equality within diversity. Here, each size within a clothing product is the same price.

Just Clothing

Gendered clothing reinforces sterotypes, social conditioning and limits personal expression. In my store, there are no genders. Clothes are just clothes.

Change for Good

I aspire to make positive change and create a better future together. Each year, I donate 3% of shop sales (in 2020 up to £200) to a charity of my choice.

Passionate about Products

When you buy a gift, you want it to be just perfect. If there are products you wish were in the shop, but aren’t, please let me know.

Dreams are not made by one person alone

Like the saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child‘, so too does it take a village to raise a shop.

I could not have achieved this without support.

Angie – My wife. My support in every way possible. This is the woman who encourages me to follow what feeds my heart and soul. She brings me cups of tea and coffee when I’m working, smiles at me when I’m stressed and is so incredibly thoughtful. On Sunday night, I worked all night to make sure the shop was ready to launch on Monday. She stayed up night too to support me, so I wasn’t doing it on my own. Isn’t that amazing? Thank you for everything!

Naomi Hattaway – From I am a Triangle.
Without Naomi, I would have a book and I wouldn’t have created Drawn to a Story. At one of my lowest points, I was desperately trying to find purpose amongst feeling lost. I had an idea to create a book of drawings about expat life. I mentioned it to Naomi and she said, “What a wonderful idea. Go for it.” Her immediate support gave me the push to leap forth. She kindly gave me feedback on every single draft cartoon, promoted my work and was constant support through the process.

Sundae Schneider-BeanIntercultural Strategist and Solution-oriented Coach
Not only is Sundae a dear friend, but working with her has revolutionised my work life. I hired Sundae to help me ‘go up a gear’ professionally. Through our coaching sessions, she helped me to realise my potential and develop strategies to move forward. Sundae had a wonderful way of getting to the nub of my struggles through a beautiful mixture of candidness and compassion. With Sundae’s help I’ve been able to imagine and create a future where I am living with purpose and fulfilling my dreams. Thank you.

Jerry JonesThe Culture Blend and Expat Up
In 2018, I met Jerry at the Families in Global Transition conference in The Hague. The night we met, we talked for four hours. It was a conversation that changed both our lives. We came back to FIGT the following year to present our story, Unlikely Connections: The Baptist and the Lesbian. Jerry helped me to realise that I had something to say and reminded of the importance of sharing your truth, because you never know who needs to hear it.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You all mean the world to me.

All that is now left to say is, please take a look at the shop http://www.drawntoastory.com
I hope that you find products here that you love AND also products you want to give to the people that you love.

Cath x

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Walking the Work

Okay, we’re told that if we have a location independent business we can work anywhere.

But how true is that?

In my time, I’ve said, Oh, but I need my desktop computer and I need to be in my office where all my stuff is.

On occasions I work from my laptop in coffee shops. I even once wrote a cemetery management plan in Sao Paolo airport.

But this is the work of apprentices.

Today, I’m testing it BIG time.

I’m writing to you as I walk through my local cemetery.

Welcome to St George’s…….

Here, my phone is my ‘computer’ and my ‘office’…. well, let me show you.

I’m not suggesting that we work in our leisure time. Space away from screens and our work is critical. Rather, I’m proposing that maybe we can work from anywhere.

Of course, it depends on the type of work you do, but how often do we stop ourselves before we’ve even tried something?

Typing this on my phone is not the quickest thing I’ve ever done, but I haven’t thought twice about not having my computer or all my stuff in my office.

And you know what?

It’s better.
It’s better because I’m feeding my soul.

Writing as I walk through a peaceful landacape is so much more enjoyable than sitting at my desk inside. It’s got me thinking about what else I can do to shake up in my day. What else could change that means I still deliver on work, but maximise the benefit to my soul?

Maximising Joy
As expats we’re very good at problem solving, developing strategies and adapting to change as our norm. I’m sure we’re evolving an expat gene somewhere in our DNA. If not, we should be. All that hard earned experience could be bottled up and sold for a fortune – especially in times of Covid19 quarantine and lockdown!
But I digress.

We tend to focus this incredible troubleshooting brain for life’s big decisions, but what if we shook things up and used it for daily improvement?

Little changes often have a much bigger impact than we first think they can. And when they accummulate, before you know it, a hell of a lot more in life has improved….. and far more than you could have ever imagined. It sneaks up on you.

Before anything sneaks up on me in this cemetery (it’s getting dark!), I’m heading home.

It’s now the next morning. 10.09am to be precise. Yesterday’s test had an impact. I’m in the garden sitting in the sun finishing off this blog. I’ve been here since 8.30am and I’m now wondering why I ever sit at my desk indoors if I don’t have to.

Why would you work anywhere else?

So often we defeat ourselves before we even try. There’s the vibrant spark of an idea, then that little voice starts telling us all the reasons why the idea won’t work.

Let’s thank them for their advice and for wanting to protect us, but say, No thanks, I’m going to try something different today.

​My something different came to life in the cemetery. That’s normal right?!

​I got to enjoy the dusk chorus of birds settling for the night. It unravelled into a morning’s work in the garden. The fluffy head of a dandelion made me smile – bringing forth childhood memories of fairies and making wishes by blowing the fluff into the wind. I saw sexy things between beetles. I’m sure there’s a joke in there about beetles banging, but that would be rude, so I won’t make that joke.

You see, this little decision to go up to the cemetery has brought me so much unexpected joy.

I’m not going to easily settle for my office again.

What about you?
What are you settling for which you know you can make better?

I have a hunch that you’re already thinking about some areas of your life that you’d like to change.
Why not set aside some time soon to manifest these dreams and ideas?

And to answer my initial question.
Yes, I think you can work anywhere with that location independent business. I know many who do. It’s about thinking creatively, making flexibility your friend and finding joy in day to day tasks.

I’ve now moved into the kitchen as coffee calls.

I know it may sound a little frivolous as I move around with my phone. I hear you saying, but that wouldn’t work with my business.

Is that really true?

You might need to be at a desk for some things, but there’s so much more to running a business. Planning, phone calls, strategising, emails, social media and marketing can all be done elsewhere.

And when I look at the photos above, I know where I’d rather be.

And so I challenge you, what’s the first thing you’re going change?

I’m excited to hear how you get on.
Let me know and we can celebrate your wins!

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The ignorance of being an expert

When you live abroad, you become an expert in your country.

You learn the culture intimately. You find the food you love. You soak up the nuances of social behaviours. You know it so well.

Right?

And once you’re ‘in the know’, there’s nothing more irritating to an expat than people at ‘home’  assuming that you’re the same as when you left. You’ve changed and learnt stuff. The more humble amongst us would not make the full claim, but we’ve learnt nearly enough to call ourselves an expert.

Right again?
You’re not going to like this, but my answer is ‘No’ and ‘No’ again.

Yep. Really.

Sorry.

Right about now, your head is filling with examples of where you know that you were/are at one with the culture.

There was that time wasn’t there, where you weren’t seen as the foreigner because the food stall holder laughed wholeheartedly at your joke? It was great wasn’t it? I’m still smiling.

I’m thinking of that moment too when the coffee waiter became our ‘friend’. We were really connecting. He wanted to show us around the next day too. It was A…MAZING.

I’m blending and I really ‘get’ this place and the people I meet.

No you’re not….And, I’m sorry, but you don’t.

Oh crap, she is joking about not being an expert, isn’t she?
Yeah, she must be. I sooo understand and love this other culture and its people.
Oh no, she really IS serious.

Why am I not an Expert?

In early February I wrote about my experiences with racism in Harlem, New York and discovering my own infallabilities.

This time only had the massive impact on me because I went from being an observer to a very brief participant.

When we live elsewhere, we so often remain the observer. We get glimpses into a life. If our heart and mind are open we hear it, but we know nothing of its layers.

When my parents told their cleaners that they were leaving Chile, one of the ladies looked at the other and said in Spanish, “Why do all the best ones leave?“. It wasn’t for mum and dad’s ego affect. It was in Spanish to her friend.

So, you imagine… What do the worst ones do?
Seven words that lead to another whole experience of life if you’re willing to ask.

We need to be full particpants, not to get a glimpse of another’s life, but to completely embody what that different life means. I don’t mean ‘participant’ in the sense of volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping out in a poor neighbourhood. I mean participant as someone who lives and breathes that life E.V.E.R.Y.  S.I.N.G.L.E   D.A.Y.

In Harlem, I experienced a miniscule snippet of ‘participant’, but I still had white skin and I still was able to walk away to my Privilege.

Recently with coronovirus, the rallying chat amongst postive-thinking people and those wanting to make the best of the situation, tends to focus on ‘we’re all in this together’.

We’re not.

We think we are (said the white woman), but others know we’re not.

In the USA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing masks made out of a hankerchief or bandana. Seems like a good idea when stocks of medical masks are low?

Aaron Thomas shares another view – a Black man with genuine concerns about risking his life if he wears anything other than an official protective mask.

This comment says more about the state of our world than the Coronovirus pandemic.

You need to live that tension and threat EVERY day to call yourself a participant.

… and you need to be a participant before you can call yourself an EXPERT.

Being an expert isn’t so attractive now is it?

Let’s shift to what we do know. Our own lives.

Experts of our own lives?

I know about being a white, red-headed Australian lesbian who lives in England. I am an expert in that and I write about identity and belonging in the context of expat life.

Well at least I thought I did.

Recently I heard an interview with the author Sara Collins, who talked about the pressure that writers of colour face to address Race in their work. People assume that she will always write about ‘Black issues’. She went on to comment about the double standard, “white people think they’re writing about humanity, but in fact they’re writing about white issues.” Sara Collins is not afforded the same luxury when writing about humanity. She is told she writes about Race.

Us ‘white experts’ assume liberties from our positions of comfort.

She’s right.
It’s that little thing again called Privilege.

We’re like that racing horse with blinkers covering the sides of our eyes; self imposed blinkers to make sure we don’t get frightened by the reality of our context (people of colour sharing their truths) as we head to the finish line to soak up the glory of winning (being seen as an expert on participants).

Does this blog make me one of those ‘experts’ on participants?
It’s highly likely. Unfortunately, yes, I believe it does.

It’s like I said in my piece about Harlem, I don’t have the answers, but I’m not going to do nothing either. Nothing is an easy option and that does not sit comfortably, especially when I hear the Coronovirus statistics coming out of America.

In Chicago 68% of people who have died are in the African-American community despite making up only 23% of the population. Socioeconomic inequality detemines that we are NOT all in this pandemic together.

And I want the Privileged amongst us to be aware of what our privilege means.

It’s a matter of life and death. 

So yes, maybe I am being that ‘expert on participants’.

In reality, I’m not a participant or an expert on anything other than being a 43 year old white, red-headed Australian lesbian who lives in England.

BUT…
I’ll also be damned if I know these inequalities exist and I stay silent.

I have much to learn.

I’m being public about my personal exploration, in the hope that you see yourself in my musings and explore your own internal dialogue.

I firmly believe that this is how we change the world.
LEARN, in order to GROW internally, so we can EMBODY WISDOM, which leads us to ACTION.

“    Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.”
– Anthony de Mello

I want to find out that I am wholly and massively ignorant.

That would be a good day.

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Drawing Upon Angels

Oh, Not again…. I wish I didn’t have to post these pictures again.

But I do it because it helps me cope.

It helps others cope.
I know because they tell me.

I’ve often posted these pictures to social media unfortunately. Normally it’s in response to a global grief – a large natural disaster, a mass shooting, or other event that surpasses our comprehension.

They seem to express what we can’t verbalise. The brain process images 60,000 times faster than words do, so that’s pretty effective.

It’s one of the reasons I love to draw. The simplicity of the pen allows all superfluous information to fall away and the minutiae of the message is highlighted.

‘Trusting’ in Angels
I drew these angels in 2003 when I was the Cemeteries Conservation Officer at the National Trust.

Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes and no, it wasn’t a dead end job.

It actually gave me life.
You may not realise, but cemeteries are not actually about death. Sure, they are the final resting place of our deceased, but they are memorial landscapes for the living. Their epitaphs tell you not necessarily about how people died, but more how they lived.

Headstones offer much symbolism – carved stone that reflect beliefs at the time, materials give indications about the wealth of a family, epitaphs tells you about religious sentiments and values, grave locations tell of social hierarchies, whilst the style of monument can reveal how a family felt about the death of their loved one.It’s about life. It’s always about life, which is actually probably the reason that so many of us struggle to talk about death.

And now, it is also life that we now grapple with, in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak.

The world is trying to contain the virus and preserve life.

This brings me back to angels.

In cemeteries, angels are protectors of souls. In life and more so than ever now, human angels are also protectors of our souls.

Whilst we hunker down in lock down at home, I want to draw your attention to these five categories of human angels.

Medical Staff

My friend, Dr Anisha Abraham recorded this in her street in Amsterdam the other night. She says “Shout out to all my fearless health care colleagues around the world who are working tirelessly in hospitals, clinics, research centres and more to fight coronavirus. Tonight, throughout the Netherlands, we applauded health care workers at 8pm and we will it repeat in again tomorrow night. It made me feel so proud and a bit teary eyed. Here’s the view from our street. Stay strong peeps!” Wonderful huh?

Funeral Staff

Often forgotten, but they too are on the front line. Standard protective equipment is as rare as hen’s teeth for Funeral Directors to buy. Staff are working without it. I’m not posting this to frighten or cause panic, but to raise awareness about the dedication and sacrifices that people are making to fight this virus. It’s easy to forget when we’re watching tv on the sofa warm and safe in our homes. In this article, read ‘funeral staff’ in place of NHS staff and you get the picture.

Teachers


Yes, schools are closing left, right and centre, but here in the UK, teachers are still teaching kids in school with special needs. Schools are ensuring online learning is available for students to try and keep a sense of normality flowing. Now I know some parents aren’t terribly pleased at suddenly having a 3 month weekend or becoming an overnight ‘expert’ in Maths, Science and Geography – no one wants to look stupid in front of their kids right?

Shop keepers and food delivery people

These champions enable us to stay home, so that we don’t run the risk of making the spread worse. We need them just as much as our other essential services. If the human body could survive on water alone, I’d be the first to try it. Mind you, a little less food might be a good thing for those of us trying to lose weight! As someone said on my Slimming World group page, I will either come out of this 60lbs lighter or 100lbs heavier – only time will tell. I joke because I feel the same. Whilst I am able to run outside I will, but I am soon to set up an exercise space in our house.

Rubbish collectors

Whatever is happening in the world, we still produce rubbish. Mountains of it and if it’s not managed, we end up with other health problems. Thank you to those who collect our rubbish and allow us to live at home reasonably carefree.

But equally importantly…

If you are someone who believes in angels of the spiritual kind, please may I ask you to send your prayers, your thoughts, your woo woo juice, whatever you practice, in bucket loads to the people I am most frightened for – those living in abusive relationships.

Imagine lockdown for 1 month with an abusive partner.
Imagine lockdown for 3 months with an abusive partner.
Imagine kids at home in that abusive space, when their only safe space (school) is now closed.
Imagine a mix of alcohol, drugs, guns, frustrations.
Imagine isolation in this environment.
Imagine how fucking frightening that is!

I have no idea what we can do about this.
All I can do is hope for goodness to come across the spiritual airwaves. If you’re ever going to believe in this stuff, then now is the time to enact your interest. Please send your vibes their way.

And if you don’t believe, that’s fine. I used to think it was all a ‘crock of shit’ 🙂
All I ask is that you raise awareness of how some people may be safe from coronavirus, but in dreadful danger from partners/parents.

Check on your neighbours.
Watch. Observe. Help those unseen, be seen when they need it most.

I once asked a police officer at what point I should call the police if I was worried about domestic violence in a neighbouring house. He said, ‘the moment you are scared’.

So if you feel scared for someone’s safety, please make that call.
And in the meantime….

Enjoy lockdown, but spare a thought for all those workers who enable us to be in lockdown.

Cath xx

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The Disappointment of Realising You’re Racist

I’M RACIST

No joke.
Unfortunately, I’m deadly serious.

That’s not something you want to discover about yourself.
Racists are those people that I Ioathe. The ‘less than’ people I see on the news being arrested for hate crimes.
The people I disassociate myself from because….

I’m well-travelled.
I’m educated.
I’m cultured.
I have friends with different coloured skin.
You need to know that as I write this, that my whole body is creasing up in discomfort.
It’s the pain of realising that I’m no different to the ‘less thans’ and I’m trying to not feel ashamed.

I want to run. Badly.

Every cell in my body is fighting this admission. I hate it.
And now I’m crying. I feel like I’ve hurt my dear friends who have different coloured skin to me and I hate that even more. They don’t even know that I’m racist… but I feel like crap for actually being secretly pleased that I’ve been able to hide.

F*** This. Is. Hard.

Our street in Harlem

Last October I spent a week in Harlem, New York.
It was incredible and it was hard. Boy was it hard. It’s taken some time to process and has led to me sitting here, writing to you.

My wife is an Archbishop and her denomination’s Synod was being held at their church in Harlem.
I went along for the ride. I think my exact words were, “you’re not going to New York without me!”. It was my dream city and I’d never been before. For ease of access to the church, we stayed in Harlem.

And then it began. Five days of realising I’m racist.

So how does that happen?

MISGUIDED ASSUMPTIONS

His words were, “with all due respect, please do not compare your sexuality with one’s race. It is two totally different things.” I was affronted at his assumption that I was like ‘the others’.
I got it. Really I did!  I didn’t.
I’ll just reframe my point because he’s just misunderstood me. He hadn’t.

De-Dee Loft Davis is a racial equity consultant I follow on Linkedin. She’s great. About 2 months before New York I’d commented on a post of hers (how WOKE of me eh?) to show support that I understood the micro-aggressions Black people experience, because I get them too as a gay person.

It started a conversation between me and another racial equity consultant – a guy who continued to say, For me, most can hide their sexuality. I cannot hide my Blackness. It is what you see. I understand what you are trying to say by, “Sit in my shoes,” but I really don’t like when people try and compare the two. Both identities should be able to stand on their own.

I still didn’t like it. I really wanted him to understand my position. He wasn’t listening. (I know…..) He didn’t understand my gayness. I continued my argument, reframing and adding more points from my angle. This would make him understand (Don’t say it. I know…).

Suddenly I stopped.
I don’t know why, but I remembered something that Catrice M Jackson had said in her book ‘Antagonist, Advocates and Allies: The Wake Up Call Guide for White Women Who Want to Become Allies with Black Women’.  See I knew I wasn’t racist; I was reading the right books.

Essentially one of Catrice’s messages is simply to shut up and listen.
LISTEN to Black voices.
LISTEN to their experiences.
LISTEN to what they are telling you.
TRULY LISTEN.

So I listened and then I apologised to him. I did come to understand his point.
However, I still managed to tell myself that this was a one off experiences of me misunderstanding.

There’s that blindness of privilege again eh?

A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY

Fast forward a couple of months to Harlem – grab a coffee and walk to the station to head Downtown. Ironically I was on route to give a talk to Families in Global Transition Tri state affiliate about identity, belonging and the biases we hold.

I’m feeling confident as I walk. Slightly excited at being here. Yeah I’m in Harlem. I’ve always wanted to come here. I’m an ally. I want to show support.

My naivety hit me hard. I smiled at people. Nobody gave a crap.
In fact it felt the opposite. It felt hostile.

And there were two hostilities, but I realised that they were both inside of me.

The first? I was desperately uncomfortable and trying to not look privileged. I couldn’t hide it. I’m a white woman walking down a street called Malcolm X Boulevard. That’s enough.

And second, (now I’m really trusting you with this), it became apparent to me how different my body felt when I walked past Black men. It hesitated and it felt anxious.

I tried to tell myself that it was because I’m a woman and we’re good at keeping ourselves safe in public, but deep down I knew I wouldn’t have felt it so acutely if they were White men.
I was ashamed and felt awful. I even found myself blaming them for making me feel this way. Nothing like a bit of projection eh? But I did want to understand why my body spoke to me this way.

I’m still wrestling with the why, but what I can offer for now is:

  1. My thoughts about Black people have primarily been developed through White eyes (mine and other people’s)
  2. My life has been very White. Yes, I’ve travelled widely, but observing is not living the truth of someone else’s life
  3. So much of the media talks about crime and social problems in Black communities, when in fact there are also many problems in White communities
  4. Somehow, the biographies and stories I’ve read about Black people, compartmentalise in my brain as separate individual cases, rather than evidence of a greater status quo of discrimination. I mean how much evidence do I need? Seriously? Again. Privilege.

YOU’RE JUDGED FOR BEING WHITE

I was completely ignored as I walked around Harlem. No one smiled at me. No one said anything to me. No one made eye contact of any description. But if you’re White and thinking that’s normal for any city street, watch what happens when you’re next out and about where you live. You receive subtle acknowledgements all the time. A sorry when someone squeezes past you, a quick stare if you’ve got a slogan on your shirt, people stay on the footpath when you walk towards them or they might give you a smile.

I got nothing. Like A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.L.Y nothing.

In shops, the cashier talked to me as in, ‘that’ll be $5.99 thanks’, but if I said anything else it was completely ignored.

I felt like I wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t.

And why should I be? Centuries of slavery, discrimination and aggressions towards Black people and I think I can be welcomed as I venture into their safe spaces? Their communities? The reality was starting to hit me.

The reality hit even harder when I walked down the street with my wife dressed in her clericals. Her Bishop’s collar received welcomed smiles, greetings, Hello Padre – yes, padre! 🙂 In the laundromat where we’d been met with disdain in the morning, we were now offered a staff machine and all the help we needed.

My wife in clericals and me.

Previously, being White was enough to be judged. I hated what my skin represented. I wanted them to know I was different to ‘other white people’, but it didn’t matter. It was irrelevant. I was now experiencing what it was like to be judged for the colour of my skin.
It’s shit by the way.

Having struggled enormously when my wife became a priest (suffice to say, I didn’t like religion much), the irony of her giving me warm passage through the streets of Harlem was not lost on me.

You see, one less barrier existed. One less potential agitation removed. The collar bridged our differences and mutual fears.

I found myself wanting to leave Harlem, because I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to go back to blending. And then it hit me again. Blending is not an option for Black people. Unless they’re in Harlem. And then there’s this stupid White woman walking down the street…..

That’s gonna piss anyone off.
Privilege.

And you know the really awful thing? When I was in Harlem, I wished I had black skin, so I could blend and then I thought about what that really meant outside of Harlem and I didn’t want it.
Not because I think being Black is in anyway ‘less than’, but because I wanted to be accepted and not judged.
Privilege.

REALITY HITS

One of the fun things about New York is all the snippets of conversations you overhear when people walk past talking on their phone.

On this occasion I wish I’d heard differently.
A group of guys sitting on the front steps of a house.
Yeah, he’s dead. They said, ‘Stop! Freeze!’ then shot him. He’s dead.

The laundromat’s bathroom walls

This wasn’t a TV cop show or a social media post that you can distance yourself from.
The reality of their faces said everything.

I was now starting to truly listen. Minute snippets of truth slowly sinking into my tiny brain.

A couple of days later, Atatiana Jefferson was shot in her own home through her bedroom window by a Fort Worth police officer responding to a report that her front door was open. Moments before, she had been playing video games with her nephew, heard a noise and went to the window.

She’s now dead.

Black people are subject to deadly force even when they stay home.
I have never worried for my life when the police come to my home or when they’ve pulled me over in my vehicle. Privilege.

Poignant graffiti on the subway

RELIEF AND GUILT

It became time to move to another hotel Downtown. Synod was over.
I was relieved to be leaving the tension of Harlem.

This relief was also distinctly uncomfortable, because I knew that I could simply walk away from the discomfort I’d felt. It was an easy option for me. I could return to privilege without any effort and if I wanted to, forget about my experience ‘north of Central Park’. I could slip back into the melting pot of New York’s diversity and everything would all be okay again.

But it’s not.

What is not okay is not doing anything about it.

A switch has been turned on and I can’t turn it off.
I don’t want to.

The challenge for me personally is to work out what I’m going to do about it.

It starts with this blog.

In reading Catrice Jackson’s book, I had hoped to be classified as an ‘Advocate’ with the aim of moving to ‘Ally’.

However, my well intentioned, but misguided comment on Linkedin puts me in the Antagonist camp. I am not proud of this. But I’m also not afraid of difficult conversations.

So for me, it’s back to Catrice’s book to learn how to move forward into ‘Advocate’ and ‘Ally’. It’s too important not to.

Who’s with me?
It’s going to take more than one coffee to work through this one.

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Don’t ‘DIS’ My Ability

Why do you choose to sit where you do in a restaurant?

Noise levels? Away from the toilets?
By the bar?

Or maybe to protect yourself?
Huh? Protect yourself?

Yes. Stay with me on this.
Just before New Year’s Eve I was enjoying dinner in a resturant; one where you choose your table yourself.

All the diners had arranged themselves roughly in the centre of the restaurant, except for one table.

Sitting in the furthest corner away from any other diners and under a loud TV was a family; two parents and their adult child who had an intellectual disability. They were distinctly separate; removed from other diners.

Now, humans are fairly predictable. We follow well-worn paths. We clump together. We struggle to be random, even when we try to be. For example, you can tell if someone has fudged their expenses because they will often include numbers ending in a zero or a five.* Yes really. Don’t get any ideas! (*Is this where I enter my disclaimer?)

I admit that there may be a myriad of reasons why this family were separate (other diners had since left or they liked the TV? etc), but I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d removed themselves because of their son?

And the minute I write that I want to correct it.
Not because of their son, but due to a fear of how people might react to them.
We naturally want to protect ourselves. Who wouldn’t?

I know too as a gay woman, how much my own public behaviours are modified to remove any chance of being hassled, stared at or jeered. You self-select your protection measures.

Insight 1: DISCRIMINATION can create ISOLATION on route to PROTECTION

There’s oodles of research out there which proves that people with intellectual disabilities are discriminated in restaurants and cafes.

Do an internet search if you want stats. It’s real and it’s about as polar opposite as you can get from Belonging.

And within the context of our globally mobile lives, disability adds a layer of complexity. Do you admit to employers that your adult child needs to travel with you and has extra and different needs? Subsequently, you wonder if you will you be as employable if the company perceives your family to have additional cost implications? For example, you need to live near health facilities or require a house with no steps etc.

So you don’t say anything, but you feel guilty. You feel guilty because what does it mean if I don’t say anything? Does it matter? Well, yeah, because it’s like I’m hiding. Does that mean I’m uncomfortable by my family’s difference? No. I’m just scared about how I will be treated. I want to be open, but if I’m completely honest, I worry that….. And so the thought cycle goes round and round. It’s exhausting.

I have a friend who works internationally in the developing world and travels a lot for work. Picture rural areas, broken pavements, pot holes, footpaths covered by market stalls, animals lying in your path, stairs not lifts etc. She clearly impressed them in her interview as she got the job. The first they knew of her wheelchair was when she entered the interview room.

Now, imagine that. Really imagine that.

Think of the emotional energy that goes into removing the chance for discrimination.
The excitement you feel at getting an interview takes a hit when you imagine the potential discrimination and previous experiences of ‘not suitable for the job’. You try to work out how much it matters to you; whether or not you want to ask for the disability assistance that’s available for the interview. NO, let’s remove all chance of discrimination and just turn up. This protects you emotionally whilst holding the uncertainty of how it will be received. That’s all before you even get to the interview.

That’s a lot of emotional energy that could be redirected into more positive things.

Insight 2: INCLUSION removes wasted energy and creates a sense of BELONGING.

I’m not sure that people who are resistant to diversity realise that inclusion is going on all around them. They just don’t see it.
And in many way they’re not meant to. It’s not for them.

It’s a bit like a hidden code – only seen by those who can read it.
For example, my wife wears a sunflower lanyard when we go through airports. It shows staff that she has a hidden disability and might need assistance. A Rainbow flag sticker on a cafe door shows me it’s a safe space. A Rainbow badge worn by the nurse and doctor in the UK’s National Health Service tells me I’m seen.

Cartoon produced for Families in Global Transition.

These visual cues are so important. We all know to be careful walking near someone with a white cane. It is no effort for us, but makes the world of difference to that individual.

BUT, we still need to listen and not assume that we understand the code. We all speak different emotional and observational languages….. and if we go back to those *fudged expenses (*ahem…insert another disclaimer here), we need to remember that we struggle to be random. Based on our own set of cultural and social reference points, we tend to assume that our own observations of an individual’s behaviour equals that person’s intentions. Mostly, it doesn’t.

I suspect that we’ve all stomped along that well-worn path of human predicatibility at some point in our lives.

Insight 3: ASK FIRST – Always! and FOLLOW THEIR CUE

We’ve all heard the story of the elderly ‘disabled’ person who is ‘helped’ across the road by the well-meaning but misguided champion, only to inform them that they in fact weren’t waiting to cross the road.

Only last week, after my wrist operation, the nurse said,
Wear your sling in public so people know to be careful around you.
You’ll probably get someone trying to take you across the road!

A cartoon from my book Living Elsewhere.

A few years ago, we were in Glasgow for my wife’s work. As we stood at the pedestrian crossing waiting for the lights to change, I saw a woman in a wheelchair coming towards us.

Oh no! Angie! There’s a woman coming towards us in a wheelchair. I don’t want her to think that we’re ‘taking the piss’.
(For non-Australian and non-British readers, this means to make a joke at someone else’s expense).

So picture this. Angie and I standing by the side of the road with Ichabod (her ‘rubber man’ as she calls him) in his wheelchair and his granddaughter, Jessicha on his lap.

The woman approaches. I now see she has britle bone disease. I’m hoping she goes straight past us and doesn’t see us. But of course no, she pulls up, right next to us to also cross the road. The five of us in a row, waiting like peas in a pod – sandwiched together between two traffic light poles.

Angie and I stare straight ahead, trying to act as though wheeling a rubber man around in a wheelchair is normal. Mind you, he’s quite life-like so people often don’t realise that he’s not real.

And then I see her.
I see her slowly turn her head to look at Ichabod. The look of surprise is palpable.
She opens her mouth to speak.

I wait, worried.

And then in a broad Glaswegian accent she says Aye, and there I was thinking I was the special one! before laughing uproarously.

I’m fairly sure I then embarrassed myself by chatting to her waaay too enthusiastically. My relief burbling out with freaky friendliness.

It is also safe to say that I didn’t ‘style it out’ particulary convincingly.

But I didn’t care. She showed me how to ‘style it out’ like a pro.
Thank you Glaswegian woman. You taught me well that day.

Cath x

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Tears in the Bathroom

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Every single time we lump people together, humanity takes another hit.

We lump.
We like to lump because it’s easy.
We lump people together as though we’ve grabbed a bag of oranges and chucked them into our grocery trolley.

A bag of oranges here. A packet of dates there. A box of biscuits.
Different food groups, but all the same within their collective packet.

It’s the reason that supermarkets, haven’t offered (until recently) imperfect fruit and vegetables. We like symmetry and we like to lump together.

We like to lump together when it comes to people too.

We do it with nationalities. We do it with gender. We do it with religion. We do it with….. well, everything.

It’s easy isn’t?
But have you noticed that we only do it when our words have derogatory intent?

When was the last time you heard someone say,
Oh that’s so typical of women to be amazing at juggling family life and work?
or maybe,
Typical men, they’re so good at raising their kids.

Me neither.
We lump together and generalise when we want to slag off or have our misguided judgements confirmed.

Oh yeah, but that’s not always the case I hear you say.
I wouldn’t say that because some guys aren’t great at raising their kids.

You’re right, They’re not, but I challenge you.
Do you afford the same positive variations and distinctions when generalising in a derogatory way?
Do you say, Ah, typical men! or do you pause and say, that’s so typical of a certain type of man?

Generalising Isolates and Incites Hate
I’ve seen it. It’s not pretty. In fact it’s horrid.
Social media is not kind. Faceless ‘warriors’ influencing and creating fear against certain people. Massive generalisations.

Transphobia. Xenaphobia. Islamaphobia…to name a few.

I feel fairly helpless in my ability to affect change. I speak out when I can. I’ve been described as difficult for doing so, BUT:

I have to. I find myself thinking of beautiful moments I’ve had in mosques, of visiting Syria and never feeling so welcome in a country as I did then, of Muslim friends, of reading about women having their hijabs ripped off in the street by strangers or the increase in racism after the Brexit vote…..

and I know that however helpless I feel, I am always in a position to do something positive.

Inclusion and Being a Friendly Face is Not Hard
It’s not till you see someone else’s every day, that you realise the reality of why we need to reach out.

On one of my last trips to the USA I was standing in a slow security queue at an airport. People were starting to get irritated at the delay. The security team were being extra thorough on one person. A muslim woman and her 3 year old child.

People smiled as he played behind her, leaping onto anything he could climb, but at the front of the queue you could have cut the air with a knife. The security guys were doing their best to be polite, but there was a massive elephant in the room, stomping down the conveyor belt.

I swear I heard it blow its trumpet, at least twice. Once when they insisted on putting the woman’s bags through the scanner for a third time and again when they offered to repack her now completely jumbled bags. She fought back tears as she grabbed her bags; all her belongings falling out. No, I’m okay. I’ll pack them myself, she said, clearly desperate to get away from the public spectacle.

It was awful to watch. We all knew why she’d been stopped, but no one said those words…. Muslim woman.

A few minutes later I was in the toilets and realised she was there too.

Excuse me, do you always get that level of detailed checks?

Yes.

That broke me. 
I placed my hand on my heart and through tears said,

I’m sorry that you have to deal with that. It’s not right.

I’m used to it.

You shouldn’t have to put up with that. I’m so sorry and for your children to see it too.

She shrugged,

I’m used to it. It happens all the time.

By now she was crying too. She leant forward to hug me. There we stood in the bathroom, two strangers in tears, hugging each other.

And the incredible thing…?
I spoke to her to give her comfort, but in reality she gave me comfort. That experience of ‘other’ was new to me. THAT reality check of someone else’s life.

How is it that we’ve got to the point where the victim is the one who reassures the privileged? And because they are so used to being treated as ‘the other’, it’s become their normal.

That frightens me.
I do not want to live in that world.

So I’m making a plea. I hope you’ll join me.

Next time you go to generalise, please think of the woman in the toilets.

Please think about the personal impact generalisations have on her and her son – the new generation growing up knowing they are ‘other’.

Please be the person who doesn’t generalise. Please be the person who speaks out.
Please be the person who sees individuals.

Cath x