Why I don’t Want Kids (and I’m ok)

Hey friends, some of you worry about my future emotions around the topic of not having kids. I’ve thought about this a lot! I definitely don’t want kids. And I think I’m going to be fine. Here’s a blog post to explain further, if you’re interested.

Why I don’t want kids

Two people in my extended family were raised by alcoholic parents. I noticed that as adults, they chose to be teetotal their entire lives (one is 98!) This despite the heavy drink culture we have in the UK and the strange comments one always gets if one is not drinking. I think they do this because they had to live through what this problem does to the children affected by it, and to the people closest to them, and let’s just say it was bad.

They are committed to *never* doing the same to their own families, and so they never, ever drink, even though they probably could, and they wouldn’t actually become alcoholic or do any of the things their parents did. Even though society pressures them to do it nearly every day, and after all what’s the harm? Aren’t they missing out on a key life experience? Nonetheless they simply refuse to have any part of it, because they’ve been permanently scarred.

I am the same. I was raised by neglectful parents, which badly affected me, continues to affect me and people close to me, and let’s just say it was bad. I am resolved to *never* make that mistake with my own kids. Having reviewed the literature, it’s apparently quite hard not to make the same mistakes that your parents made, especially when you’re under the kind of pressure that having kids puts on you, and so the only option for me is to not have them.

But even if that weren’t a factor, I am resolved to have no part of it. I want the risk of scarring my own kids to be zero, and the only way to achieve that is to not have them. Despite the pressure that society puts on me on a near daily basis to do it, to have the experience, otherwise I’ll be missing out, to explain exactly WHY I’ve made this RADICAL choice even though I’d probably be a good parent etc. etc. I simply strongly believe that the only option for me is to not have kids at all, because I’ve been permanently scarred by my own experiences.

There are also a bunch of other factors.

Other factors

Climate change is one (yeah, yeah eat me). It’s becuase I personally am scared for my “retirement years” because I believe we may be in for a very rough time due to climate change, even if we mostly avert it, and the worst part is that I’ll be old when it happens, and may die before my otherwise healthy full lifespan because of it. My kid will be decades beyond me when it’s time for them to be old and die and thus are more likely even than me to grow old in the after effects of it. I don’t want them to suffer from water shortages or looting or refugee crises or anything else, like I will.

When I thought about my future children, I wanted to be a youngish parent, because I enjoyed my parents being close in age to me, compared to some people I know whose parents were entering retirement age about when they left school at 18. Having old-ish parents when you’re a kid seems rubbish, and having infirm parents in your 20s sucks big time, so I resolved my maximum age to have kids would be 28, or not at all.

I used this resolution to run a science experiment on my self to figure out if women really do get more broody as they get older. I also wanted to see if placing my personal cutoff age much earlier than my reproductive cutoff age would have any effects.

I’ve definitely had some changes over time, but by far the biggest change is to be way more horny and want to have way more sex, but not so much with the cuddling babies. When I turned 28, then 29, I was no more mature or settled than at 18 or 19, and I knew then I would probably not have children in this life.

Why I’ll be ok

I’ve had ten years to reflect on this arbitrary, made by 15-year-old-Jess cutoff point. I didn’t want kids at 18, I didn’t want them at 28, and I don’t want them now at 38, even though in this last bracket I came to love kids dearly and enjoy interacting with them.

What I *do* want is to be in the lives of children, and be a neutral adult for them to relate to in ways that would have helped me very much when I was as a child. Having someone responsible to talk to, who they are very close to, who are NOT their parents is a very good thing for kids to have in my opinion, especially when a teenager growing to adulthood. I have a nephew and a goddaughter, and I hope to be around for all my other friends’ children when they come and maybe even be within a polyamorus co-parenting situation in the future. I figure there are not many people who want to parent other people’s children, but I do, so HMU.

I am also playing my part in parenting or re-parenting the adult people I meet in life, including and especially myself and my own parents. This takes effort and time.

Practically everyone is fucked up in this world, and many people need all the help they can get in this regard. I’ve already played a role in helping a few “adult children” as I like to call them grow and heal, and I will do this for many, many adults thanks to having the time available, because of not being a parent myself. This impact on others seems far greater than having my own one or two children.

During the ages of 28-38 I have been blissfully free of the baby mania that other women seem to go through, the tragic desperation of the people who want kids but for whatever reason it hasn’t worked out, and they are approaching the end of their repoductive window. To be able to not even think about it all, to have no emotions about the topic whatsoever, has been a true blessing, and I’m grateful to all the past me’s for living with integrity to myself on this issue (and giving me a decade to change my mind).

For all this time I have been actively thinking about how to fill my life with the same sorts of experiences that being a parent gives you, AND the sorts of experiences that being a parent prevents you from doing, and I’ve come up with some good options to try. I am quite certain that I’ve thought about it all far more than your average person does.

I’ve been careful to find friendships with other people who chose not to have kids who are older than me, and to ask them about their experiences. I’ve also considered projects and life goals that have the same kind of weight as having children would have, and fill my life with those.

Finally there’s plenty of side benefits to not having kids which I don’t even need to list, but having a fully intact vagina and clitoris for the rest of my days is chief among them.

Thank you

To sum up, thank you for your concern my dear, dear friends for checking, but I’m not having kids this time and I think I’m going to continue to be fine with it.

Help me write Ingroup Zine

I’m really into zines. Homemade low tech magazines. Zines. Get it?

I’ve made zines before. Collaborative efforts that don’t exist anymore, and solo efforts like this one:

Cross+Pollination Zine

The Principia Discordia is a zine. It’s full of esoteric-sounding, totally nonsensical prose, poems, illustrations and madness. A bunch of hippies wrote it in the 70s but were so committed to the bit that the religion it invented has a mostly-serious wikipedia page dedicated to it, and Robert Anton Wilson is listed as a “philosopher”. Lmao.

Here’s the pdf:

http://www.principiadiscordia.com/downloads/Principia%20Discordia.pdf

And here’s some pictures for those of you who are too lazy to click a link and scroll for 20 seconds:

In more recent years Alan Moore made a magazine from 2010-2013 called Dodgem Logic and it is a work of both art and genius. I wrote up articles from it because it is not available anywhere on the internet, except for this useless website:

https://www.dodgemlogic.com/

Here’s my links to the article on magic and a picture:

Magic, Running in the Gutters Like Lightning

Alan invited all his crazy cool friends like Steve Aylett and Margret Killjoy to write articles for every issue, and it’s a magical mag that nobody has ever heard about.

Further inspiration: Aleister Crowley

It is a table of magical correspondences … based on the Hermetic Qabalah.
Who wouldn’t want to write a table of magical correspondences based on the Hermetic Qabalah? That’s what I want to do.

I want to create an occult compendium of everything that we as ingroup have learned.

I believe that in my parts of Twitter, something incredible is happening. Knowledge, theories, methods, language and art from throughout history and from throughout ourselves are being mixed, performed, fed back and mixed again on a continuous basis. We are surfacing knowledge and creating new metis in a distributed, networked way and on a new and unknown scale. This is knowledge-maxxing in an unprecedented time, known as the Weirding.

I want to document this time, which has never been before, nor will it be again. I want to make a magazine of everything we’ve discovered, everything we know to be True, dressed up in esoteric stream-of-consciousness language and not bothering much with editing because that’s boring, and pretending it’s not incredibly True and Real knowledge so that vulnerable ones can bounce off of it easily but for those who come after us looking for breadcrumbs in the sand they will find us and benefit from our knowledge.

This is a call for Twitter friends, moots and pack mates to send me their written babblings, their esoteric tweets, their nonsensical graphs, their napkin scribblings, their auguary drawings, their hypersigils, their bad poems, their favourite passages lovingly plagiarised, their vibe drawings, their manic mandalas and conspire together to make a thing of wonder and also silliness.

The digital construction of these properties can happen any time, and be released or distrubuted in dribs and drabs. It can be remote collaboration with my remote friends, digitally disseminated. And I’m actively taking input on what forms we use to make available this pile of information.

But there is something to be said of vibing irl together to create the stuff in the first place. I have no formal way of sorting that out right now but hopefully we can have an irl physical component to this project, likely in Berlin, where a small team can collaborate, collate, typeset and layout the magazine and then physically, literally print the thing into hard copies for small-time distribution, creating scarcity and rareness. This is our only hope of irl for now. OR, if you dig it, let’s arrange to hang out mfers.

Either way, any and all are invited to submit to the magazine, tentatively named Compendium Spectaculum for now, and allow me the pleasure of collating our knowledge, our jokes and our art into a beautiful beacon from the present to the future.

DM me on Twitter for an email inbox address to send your stuff.

L. F. G!!

God

A few weeks ago a number of friends and aquaintences were describing their non-dual meditation and / or hallucinogenic drug experiences to me, and I’ve been playing Elden Ring for months so I’m quite keyed in to the color gold right now and I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarities in all the stories. Both friends described no distinction between themselves and the cosmos. One was on drugs but the other was fresh off a retreat and about to bite into a taco.

At the same time these stories were popping up in books as I was reading.

Here are some excerpts from Jung’s autobiography where he is clearly talking about the same thing. The first two describe him wrestling with a terrible thought about God’s cathedral, and experiencing grace once he let it come:

“there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who enetered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos”

What strikes me about these (and his childhood phallus dream) is that God seems to be similar to the Christian God, but not quite. This God is like the God that tests Abraham, and Job, and so behaves confusingly for a creature that is supposed to be all-good. It also seems to gel very well with God as Cosmos, God as Glory, God as Power, or God as Enlightenment (or accessible via enlightenment).

Hanjo used to say God was scary. That he was more or less like the Christian god, but not quite. He’s great to call on for dispelling demons.

These childhood experiences of Jung seem very similar to other child experiences I’ve heard of that are considered psychotic, and that become inaccessible after childhood/miedcation is over.

Speaking of which, in the same week as reading Jung and hearing my friends’ stories, I discovered this tidbit about Dostoevsfky:

It’s as if Dante’s epilepsy allowed him to also touch this Grace, this Truth, associated with God and harmony.

It’s this kind of thing that I mean when I’m talking about an indisputable feeling, about truth, about God. Is there a there, there? This is a common human experience, so it seems like it.

An Energy Story

These days, if I suddenly change my beliefs – like that time I became bisexual – I look back on my life for evidence of things that I was previously unaware of, things that were there the whole time but I couldn’t yet see.

One such story comes to mind with energy body stuff. The event struck me profoundly at the time, but I had to put it in the “ok, wtf was that” box in my mind and move on.

Here’s what happened:

I walked into my friend Mark’s bedroom one day, perpahs in the early evening of a summer day. I would often make a little pilgrimmage to his room which was along twisting corridors and up a bunch of stairs in the least re-developed part of the house, just to hang, have tea, see how he was doing.

On this particular day I was surprised to see an impromptu party was happening in his slanted-roof room and there were six or seven young hippies crammed in there listening to music and sniffing hash fumes off a pin head. It seemed very jovial so I eased my way into the room, in that way a housemate is bold enough to do, entering and trying to sit down in a room that is already too full for all the people to sit comfortably.

I found a tiny corner of a couch bed on the oppsite wall to Mark and started listening in to the conversation. Presently, a boy in front of me turned around to look at me and I just about caught what he said as he turned his face, even though the comment was directed at no-one in particular.

He said, “who is this energy that has just sat behind me?”

I said hello and he looked at me kindly but a little quizically. He asked me a few questions I think, such as my name, where I grew up, that sort of thing and finally he said, with the same narrow-eyed slightly quizzical look,

“You’re going to do great things, that will affect a lot of people but, ah but,” and he paused and narrowed his eyes even more, “Not yet I see. Not yet”.

Then he turned back around and slipped back into the conversation of the room.

I never saw him, nor anyone else from that day again. I don’t remember what he looked like or what he was wearing, just that he delivered this cryptic comment which left me stunned for anthing to say (rare for me in those days) and so I simply quietly accepted his statement and returned to the main conversation myself.

Later, I obviously considered the fact that someone could say random profound-sounding things for no reason, or to mess with people, and thefore nothing about this interaction was true or real. That’s what the mind grasped onto after putting this event into the “wtf” box.

But the memory stuck with me, and at various points in my life I have wondered if he really could sense anything about me, and whether his prediction had come true that I’m affecting people. Do I have more of this noticeable energy? Has the future time when I do stuff finally arrived? Have I started yet? Is “yet” now?

Obviously I have no solid answer to that question, it’s mostly just fun to ponder how I see myself, although lately it does feel like “yet” may well be arriving.

Anyway, his first comment, where he turned around, having sensed something through his back when I came into the room, him possessing a sense that does not require eyes, and him saying “what is this energy behind me?” Seems like something my previous worldview would put in a “wtf” box, but my current worldview absolutely embraces as normal. For me now, it’s a thoroughly expected part of the world.

Haha once again I’m simply telling a story about how I’ve changed.

Reflections 2021

“Is it the end of 2021 then? I thought, sitting down to write these reflections. 2020 Part Two seems to have passed quickly in some ways and has also contained so many worlds in other ways.

I’ve managed to have a delightful, surprising and activity-packed December which has crowned the year in the most beautiful way, including peeing in the wide open middle of Hampstead Heath, listening to carols, carrying a Christmas tree and having some very good sex. I almost don’t want to jinx it by talking about it too much.

Housing

On 2nd January this year I moved in to a room in a hostel, by myself, to figure out what all this “spiritual shit” might mean for me that kicked off a couple of months earlier in the previous year. It meant the collapse of my household that had made all that effort to get over to Portugal in the first place, but I felt I just had to have some time on my own. As it was, lockdown was in full swing and even got more severe before it was finally released a little bit on 1st April, and a little bit more in May. There wasn’t really all that much better to do than stay in my room and meditate, which was wonderful because that’s exactly what I wanted.

I treated it like a self-guided retreat, and it was also pleasing to know exactly what to do in order to befriend the inmates of the hostel and get comfortable with being in a shared kitchen with strangers. Life experience is now a soft pillow of comfort in what would previously have been difficult cirucmstances, but which are now much more known quantities, allowing for relaxation. I also dealt pretty well with the crippling cold in the unheated building, still seeing the friends that really mattered, and avoiding the ones that were bad news.

For three months I meditated, got high, and danced all the way through to the end of April, with a brief stint in a new hostel when my flights out of the country were repeatedly cancelled in the spring.

Then in summer, I came back to Portugal looking for my own place, and by way of a wonderful month in Barrio Alto with new queer Brazilian friends, I found one. It’s cosy and cheap and full of art and plants, thanks to my housemate and a little ingenuity from me. In the late autumn I was feeling a little stuck, and dreaming of a future where I also have a flat in England, and perhaps have access to all my old belongings and tools. That idea hasn’t come off yet, but I think I’m ready for a more accumulated life again.

I’ve also gone back and forth on whether to buy a house, and for now I’m back to “no”, partly due to separating out some bundled concerns re: long term savings, a home, divided loyalties over what country to live in, etc.

Relationships

Romantic

In spring, gaining a partner irl sort of put paid to my intense partner online, and the two did not overlap for long.

How to talk about an intense spiritual-sexual relationship ending? It was very good, will have more impact on my life than I can ever fathom, I suspect, but it was also the right thing to end it, before it became a burden rather than a joy.

The irl relationship was good, a time for me to practice metta and unconditional acceptance of being with someone as they are. Also he was black, a first for me, it was awesome, especially when he made jokes about being hard to see in the dark etc. The whole thing was was wonderful and the sex was good too. He ended it after a few months, I was quite crestfallen at the time, as I didn’t fully understand his reasons, but people have to be people and make their own choices.

In the second half of the year, I spent much time with my friend and housemate. Earnest, honest, amazing time, but also somehow hard, confusing and anxious time, with lots of unexpected waiting around for him. I don’t know what the future holds there, but detangling from him has been consistently rewarded in the past weeks, and I think that that may have to continue.

Then I had my magical December. I met someone who seemed to be offering intimacy, emotional bravery and physical pleasure as the most obvious way to go about life, and so what could I do but meet that with surprise and joy? Haha yes he is wonderful and I told him so and now we’re dating. Our Christmastime together was a like a segment from Love, Actually and also involved the entire plot of Robyn’s song “Call Your Girlfriend”. I don’t know where this will go in the future, especially because of distance and polyamory, but for right now it’s wonderful and I’m so grateful.

And all the way through this, my old faithful relationship of 7 years now. I offered to break up in the summer, since there was so much distance between us and not much contact, but he wouldn’t let me! And I’m glad. On my trips back to UK particularly he’s been a warm and cosy presence, and a host for all three of my Covid Vaccine jab recovery days.

Friends

As mentioned in housing I moved out from my former group house, and have not maintained ties with everyone from that. One person in particular seemed to really run off the rails regarding me for no discernable reason. It’s still tense. Others merely drifted, as happens, and I’m still close with one or two, which is nice. I’m starting to miss group living, but can’t imagine how to start all that up again without becoming the knackered petty dictator that I was before.

I made a few friends in the hostel, they were very nourishing during lockdown, but without that hostel context, they didn’t really last. No, my lasting friendships irl in Lisbon are those from Twitter, much love to those two. Plus a friend from far in the past, back in uni days, who I have really enjoyed catching up with, especially over spiritual stuff. What a joy!

Also, I met or hosted a whole bunch more people from Twitter and it was uniformly fabulous. They were: Bird, Matt, Mi’sen Lulie, Snav, Silvia, Tasshin. Who am I forgetting? There are a few who didn’t stay at my house that I’m sure I’m forgetting. Well, it was great to meet irl, and I’m organising a meetup in Feb where I’ll see most of them again, I’m looking forward to that.

Work

I have done no paid work in 2021. For the first part of the year I was posting pictures of my feet, which lead to basically zero actual income. My Theories ebook, a compilation of everything you can find on Theory Engine netted me about £70, and the paid version of my substack, where I typed up my childhood diaries and that I started in the autumn, also achieved about £30. All of these money-making schemes are on hold right now, while I figure out my still very anxious relationship towards money.

The biggest “work” achievement this year was writing a sort-of novel based on my diaries of 2008-2010 encompassing my journey towards becoming bi and polyamorous, and ending my long term-relationship of the time. I received professional feedback on the 43k first draft just before Christmas. Once again I’m not sure if I should be pursuing a financial aspect, ie of getting the book published. If I do, it will need to be significantly changed again, even though it has grown and morphed a lot over the months already.

Anyway, writing it was intense and instructive. I had to explore and exorcise every aspect of that time in my life, and by having to write the other characters, I had to reflect on the people from that time, and understand them. This lead to a bunch of insights, both excruciating for me and in defence of me. I hope I also more fully understand the people in my life back then, even though they are mostly lost to me now.

It occupied my time while flights back home were cancelled and while it was particularly rainy in Lisbon. It was and is my friend. I think I’m glad I wrote it, although from the perspective of December 2021 I wonder if I was once again “forcing” the activity rather than actually wanting to do it. Oh well. It was the one thing I could talk about that was legible when people asked me what I’d been doing in Portugal all year.

Lastly, I met someone who told me all about the field of Developer Relations; a field previously unknown to me, but a good match for my tech and volunteer experience. I applied to a (full time! Permanent!) job at the end of 2021 in that area and I hope they actually get back to me soon. If I do get it, I’ll have a lot of disposable income which I can’t wait to make use of.

In between times I tried to get some dev contracts and that didn’t work. I suppose my heart wasn’t in it, or the unverse made sure every opportunity I applied for went mysteriously silent for some as yet unknown reason.

Spiritual shit

Phew, well what the fuck can I say, really? At this point, at the end of the year, it’s clear that metta meditation is something that I love and has opened me up profoundly, and brought me a happier, more connected and more spiritual life. Thanks to my reading I actually practice all of the Brahama Viharas, of which metta (lovingkindness) is only the first (the others are compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) plus forgiveness, gratitude and humility.

This line of spirituality has brought me back to loving Jesus, to following the morals of Buddha, to praying before sleep, to wishing blessings on every person I see, to forgiving and appreciating people, most especially my family, to loving myself, to not looking away from pain or suffering, indeed to be much less drawn to distraction at all. I’m starting to feel for realsies that “love is our True nature” might actually be true, and has always been true, at least for me. How incredible.

A close second in terms of impact is my weed-facilitated energy body exploration. “Energy”/”Chakras” has given me a frame to be interested in and peacefully excited about all that I can sense in my body. It’s a beautiful antidote to the anxious paranoia I used to have about the sensations in my body, which I developed a few years ago in the ihop, while I was in the grip of crippling panic attacks that went hand in hand with intense digestive upset. I had come to ignore my body and distract myself, in order to not trigger another attack. It’s truly a gift to be able to now lovingly explore every tiny bodily sensation I have. In terms of progress, I can feel my blood circulating, can make my leg muscles spontaneously twitch, can release a full heart and fill up an empty heart. There are deeper vibrations that I still don’t know what they are.

I think evening weed and night-time dreams have set up a very productive process, though its workings are a little opaque to my waking mind. I frequently wake up feeling accomplished, thrumming with energy, like I’ve achieved something. Well done sleeping Jess!

Both loving kindness and energy work have necessarily lead to insights that are physical or emotional rather than spiritual and I’ve been very mindful of working on these things as they come up, as being part of my practice. I strongly believe in an interleaved style of personal development with this stuff, meaning that diverting into massage, dance or therapy as a result of spiritual insight is necessary and important. In this way the spiritual label is kind of merely a container to describe a transformation process that is happening to me along several axes.

I’ve been especially inspired by Rosa Lewis’s thoughts along these lines, especially that awakening can and must be something not only our minds do, but also our bodies, hearts and souls. Thanks to this I try to put meditation methods into practice when I’m doing daily life, and especially around people, and I don’t worry too much about how much time I have on or off the cushion.

Speaking of enlightenment, is that something I’m going for? Not particularly, but there have been moments where it may have been upon me, and I said yes to it. However it wasn’t it, to my knowledge. I am still commited to it happening in my bed, instead of in a freezing cave on the brink of death! For now I’m content to be removing blocks to acceptance, freeing up energy and experiencing being alive more profoundly, which is quite a lot to be getting on with already. I’ve also had the privilege of speaking with more enlightened people this year, both before and after their enlightenment, which has been a blast, let me tell you.

As for other spiritual methods, I have also tried: insight meditation, compassionate sex, excavation of my past, taking my friend’s advice, random Carlos Castaneda shit and shadow work. All of these have been painful, and now in the context of finally feeling a subtle but strong good feeling, when I’m doing what I want, I think this shows me that if they continue to be painful, I don’t really have to go back to them, unless it becomes the right moment.

What I really want to say

I’m bisexual for Lisbon and London. I can’t choose between them and I love them and I want to live in both of them and I think that’s a-ok. I need to stop “stopping” myself from being fully in each one, in case I return to the other for good, because actually I don’t have to choose! And perhaps I will be in both for good!

I have felt like I’ve been waiting a lot this year. Waiting for housemate to come home. Waiting for job interview results. Waiting for novel feedback. Waiting for the weekend to pass. Waiting for contracts to be exchanged. Waiting for people to finally realise things I realised months before. Waiting for the painfully slow postal service. Waiting for lockdown to be over. Waiting to find out what I want.

Equally, what I’ve been doing all day this year feels vague and opaque to me, even though it has felt important and I’ve (finally) been seeing good results.

I’m nowhere near as stuck as I was in 2019 and 2020. Well, I still feel motionless on the job front and the “general activity to fill my days” front but in the last month feel like I’ve finally got an inkling of how to feel what I really want in the moment, even if I’ve yet to stand nearby to opportunities that might seem like life activities in order to smell them out. Well, actually I am having to reluctantly accept that other people seem to really value my skill of organising events. They do seem to like it, that’s for sure.

I’ve been to the beach 7 times, on 6 different beaches, eaten a lot of pão de deus with coffee, had a bonfire, slept with three people, dated two of them, seen my nephew and my goddaughter, hugged many trees, visited almost every park and miradouro in Lisbon, met twitter peeps, made friends, lost friends, joined a guild.

I visited the UK three times and had three Covid vaccines. I’ve felt so grateful for the friends in the UK that remain close to me, in the scattered wreckage of the Covid Alignment problem. The first quarantine with family stretched me to my limit, but my subsequent relationships with my family seem to be going well.

I’ve meditated for perhaps 100 hours, and contemplated for quite a lot more. I feel different, and people who know me confirm I’ve changed. It’s been a very difficult year, but at the same time I feel more heartful and able to connect than ever before.

I’ve confronted a lot of old hurts in 2021. Let’s see what can get healed, and what joy can get activated, in 2022.

Litany Of The Heart

May I

May I be peaceful and at ease.

May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be happy.

May All Beings

May all beings be peaceful and at ease.

May all beings be filled with loving kindness. May all beings be well, in body and mind. My all beings be happy.

May all beings forgive others. May all beings receive forgiveness.

May all beings be compassionate. May all beings receive compassion.

May all beings be loved.

May all beings flourish. May all beings receive care. May all beings achieve their goals. May all beings experience abundance. May all beings get their needs met. May all beings receive what is owed. May all being satisfy their desires. May all being be content.

May all beings be healthy, happy and at peace, including me.

May We

May we all see our cares lessen. May our worries reduce, may our problems dissolve, may our troubles recede.

May our successes increase, may our satisfaction increase, may we find contentment, may we feel joy on behalf of our friends and may all of our happinesses ever deepen.

May we meet what is currently happening with courage and an open heart. May we have equanimity for our present moment. May we welcome what is happening with a warm and steady acceptance. May we understand that the world shall be exactly as it is, here and now.

May Everything and Everyone

May everything and everyone be filled with loving kindness. May everything and everyone be peaceful and at ease. May everything and everyone be well. May everything and everyone be happy.

We wish these things to all the gods and light beings of creation, approached through Jesus Christ, with the mercy and blessings of Allah, remembering the example of the Buddha and in the holy spirit of King David,

Namaste, Peace Be Upon You, V’imru Amein, Amen.

Ways of Being in the Present: Emotions Ending

“Stay present” or “Be present” or “The present is all there is” is a relatively common notion these days, one that has escaped its (I think) Buddhist context and filtered into mental health circles and culture more generally (as Buddhist themes are wont to do)(well done Buddha)(smashed it out the park) and recently I’ve been noticing the different ways in which “being in the present” can feel, or ways in which it can be useful, and many of these are actually quite surprising.

This time, let’s talk about: needs/wants/desires ending.

Noticing sensations starting and ending is mentioned as an early-ish stage within Insight meditation (I got the idea from Daniel Ingram ‘Mastering The Core Teachings of The Buddha’). I’m going to talk about desires and emotions ending in particular.

Apparently, psychology agrees that emotions don’t actually last very long (maybe 30 seconds tops)(I read it somewhere), however it’s possible to re-experience an emotion, and prolong that emotion far beyond the 30 seconds.

I don’t recall where I read this but I think that’s all they said and then I added my own thoughts as follows: how does one “extend” the emotion? I assume it’s with thoughts.

For example if you say to yourself over and over a little monologue of what made the emotion emerge in the first place you can make it emerge again, and it therefore feels continuous. Perhaps you can call up memories of the good/bad thing and that reinforces the emotion. I think this can feel like “processing” an emotion, but actually perhaps it is more like conjuring it.

Interestingly, this process is what we do when we’re starting metta, IE use words and thoughts to conjure sensations in the heart.

So, the background principle of “Being present” is an interesting one because if you’re being true to the principle of observing what’s happening right now, it becomes a way to observe this tendency to prolong emotions, then if you don’t do that “prolonging” thing, a way to observe the length of the initial bloom of the emotion. And crucially then to observe the fading away and end of that emotion, or the absence of the emotion moments later.

“Being present” means observing that an emotion, or a desire or physical sensation has ended and the “present moment” field has something else in it now.

In Ingram’s schema this stage of insight can make people experience a Dark Night of the Soul, because of the sadness related to the idea that everything ends. For me though, I find it comforting because it also means that (bad) things end too. I feel like I already knew good things end, that seems part and parcel of the ennui of life, but getting to observe bad things ending is a huge relief and enables equanimity.

The practical consequences are really interesting to me because this start/end process happens FAST and it seems at times hard to keep up, but at other times seems fun and funny.

I find myself stopped in my tracks as I go about my day and I think to myself “oh, I’m feeling sad” and within a few seconds I glance at an object then return to looking inwardly and notice the emotion has gone again. I think to myself, “oh, it’s gone again, lol” and move off once more.

Movement anti-pill

I’m mega anti-pilled on movement/exercise at the moment. I’m very non-coercive with myself in life right now and that includes “exercise” [shudder].

When I feel like it I dance, walk, stretch and swim in the sea, but none of those are “for” movement they’re for fun / for the body. I really want my day-to-day life to put demands on my body, rather than go to exercise classes, run, hit the gym, or whatever. Sadly modern life doesn’t have much call to moving a lot, but I try to move “for fun” whenever I am called to.

However, it’s good to remember that any type “doing exercise” that we do is to plug the gap between the ideal amount of movement needed for an ex-ape versus the amount of movement we as moderns actually get. But plugging that gap need not be arduous!

Then there’s “movement” when lying still. When bodyscanning I can encourage my muscles to be extremely twitchy or relaxy. Attention/imaginal/intention makes them move all on their own even though I look like I’m lying still.

I’m pretty sure I read a study that if you get athletes to “imagine” training instead of actually training, they experience 70% of the expected gains compared to the control group who are actually training.

Also I think part of this scanning work is about the importance of being energetically aligned and being breath-aligned. [I’m not great at this yet]. Exercise without this might actually harm, not help.

I basically think movement practices are a cope if they’re using up valuable coercion capacity, and somewhat not needed if you’re doing bodyscanning/imaginal/fun.

Reflecting more: I do a lot of “practices” but none on a schedule. I sit on the floor alot, I am playful with my body, I’m not sitting still all the time, although I sit still a lot. Perhaps I’m saying I have tried to go FULL non-coercive with every aspect of movement.

One more thing: inspired by the idea that the chemical reaction in muscles by default means they STAY contracted, and that this is what rigor mortis is…. and that a separate chemical process needs to occure to un-contract them, I’ve come to think that exercise is being taught wrong / ineffeiciently and that you should have intense movements followed immediately by shaking/breathwork. I’m not sure if this is repeatable within a very short time frame but early tests on my body suggest yes.

Jessica’s Diaries Being Posted On Substack

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve begun transcribing and posting my younger-self diaries to substack.

I started writing a diary at age 10, and reading back on my diaries has been informative and often hilarious over the years. When I started transcribing my diary to turn it into a novel (that one is from around age 25), I realised that other people may enjoy reading the secret diary of someone, even if that someone is ordinary.

And so I began to transcribe my first ever diary, from age 10, with the intention of transcribing it weekly. I think I’ll continue through time for as long as I like. There are plenty of years to cover before I reach the time of the first novel!

To read the diary head on over to:

https://diariesofjessicajane.substack.com/

A Day In The Life Of Spiritual Jess

Update for posterity on Jess’ life in 2021.

On 4th January I moved to a hostel with cheap bedrooms and shared facilities. I wanted to do my own thing as independently of others as possible. This means leaving my friends from London, and I did.

I switched out my first room which was kinda small to a bigger one with a private bathroom and a door to access the fire escape. By far my favourite feature of the room.

At first, in January, I was reading some buddhist books that are recommended in another book that I have (https://www.mctb.org/) The book says to start with Metta, so with Metta I started. I was simply saying “May I be peaceful and at ease” and the other three phrases in a vaguely undisciplined way during quiet times. I would also get stoned and observe my closed-eye visions, and my energy body. Something I still do now. Most of that month though I was easing in to the rhythms of the house, the kitchen and trying to stay warm.

In February, in the new room, I eventually decided to move on to Insight meditation practice (also known as mindfulness). I’ve gone from occasional 30 minute sits to 2×45 minutes every day. I also did an online weekend retreat of Mahasi noting, which I crashed out of it when it got hard several times.

This leads us to a “day in the life of”

I get up between 10am-12noon, just in time for the sun to reach my stairs.

I eat breakfast in the sun, and sometimes take my rug out to read down there. I am always reading one book on Buddhism/meditation of some kind or other, and cycle through them.

Usually, pre-lunch, I do a 45 minute mindfulness meditation sit on the rug just inside my room.

I eat lunch, trying to avoid other people as I make it. At some point in daylight hours, after lunch, I do a second 45 minute sit. Sometimes I do a guided video instead, occasionally later than dusk, to switch it up.

Sometimes, at some point before curfew at 8pm, I go out and get food, do laundry or other chores. In the park on the way to the supermarket I take photos of the wildlife.

If I don’t have chores but do need a little walk, I go and hug trees on the main street of Lisbon.

Once it gets to dusk I do a variation on having a nap, having a “special” cigarette on my stairs, and having a dance. Mostly all three. All of these involve imaginal experiences, paying attention to behind-the-eyes visions, my energy body, my physical aches and pains, and dreaming.

Afternoon nap time

At dinner I sometimes see my friends at the hostel, and I’m not always avoiding them, which seems good, even though I want to devote more and more hours to spiritual stuff.

Almost every day I consider writing, but after the first mindful sit I feel very different. I don’t know what to write, or have any sense of feeling like writing. One day in every 10-20 or so days, like today, I write first and meditate later.

The desire to write is sometimes for its own sake, and sometimes because I would like to switch to that as a career, and I’m concerned with gradually building up enough words to one day make money with it.

During Jan and Feb I did in fact work most days on an ebook of my pre-existing blog posts (find it here: http://ssica3003.com/book.html) which was more mechanical than writing new things, and easier to do for short chunks per day.

At night I eat dinner and watch a film. Typically I have a late-night call with my partner, then fall into bed to sleep around 2-4am. I’m normally disturbed by early morning hostel noises between 7am-9am, then I dream weird dreams for an hour or three before it all begins again.

My world context is of Portugal in a strict lockdown (curfews, no movement, nothing open except for food, no delivery of goods that are not food) but I don’t think I’d live my life much differently if I could move around more. I’m starting to miss English friends though, would have flown home for a visit soon, and my birthday will be a corona-birthday once again.

There’s nothing to do except get awakened, which was true before I left London, so here I am, doing that, and sometimes it’s sunny 🙂

All Seats Are The One Seat

I recently, with encouragement from a deity, admitted to myself that I am a spiritual person, and on a spiritual path. I am finding it extremely hard to talk about.

We’ve already seen that my contemplative practice can be unusual, and I find it hard to say that something is explicitly a spirirtual practice, when patently all of life is.

To me, meditation is a sort of brute force method that should work for almost everyone, given enough time, and that’s why it is so strongly encouraged. It’s the “5 fruits and vegetables a day” of spiritual practice. However, I have none the less started doing what looks like “meditation” from the outside, and is absolutely a spiritual practice from the inside. The more spiritual contemplation I do, the more I crave what a monastery can provide: plain food, easily aquired. A narrow bed for a little sleep. And a safe place with plenty of time to reflect.

In his book A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield recounts a saying from his teacher, Achaan Chah: “Take the one seat in the center of the room… and see who comes to visit”. Jack reminds us in this chapter to commit to a practice, and to actually do it. “Take the one seat”. He tells us that the inner and outer aspects of the one seat unite on the meditation cushion.

Good advice, but I don’t use a cushion,. For my first month in Lisbon, I’ve been sitting on a concrete block, and I thought I’d share it with you.

A local square with construction works

The concrete block is in a local, tucked away square that seems to have been under construction/repair for some time. The trees seem dead and the fountain at the back is shuttered and dry. I like to put my back against that fence on the left hand side. The afternoon sun shines down from right.

A concrete block next to a fence

Here’s my one seat. It’s just high enough to cross my legs slightly lower than my hips, opening the pelvis just a little. Sometimes I lean on the fence, sometimes I don’t. One day the fence was moving back and forth strongly in the wind.

I sit here in the sun and meditate. As the earth moves, the shade from the building opposite travels slowly towards me, from the left in this picture, towards the block. (The shadow on the right here is a morning shadow that receeds as I meditate – this was taken before the start of my meditation).

When the shadow of the building touches my face, the meditation can end.

The conrete seat after the shadow has arrived

I chose this place because I can be warm and comfortable enough to sit for extended periods. The street is a quiet one, but it links two major roads, and noticing my social unease as people walk by is a part of sitting cross-legged here with my eyes closed. I like using the sun as a marker, which removes having undue awareness of my phone. I still sometimes peek at the shadow, noticing what part of me it is that wants me to get up and stop. And it illustrates for me that the one seat can be any seat, since this place is somewhat distant from even the comforts of an austere monastery.

This is just one seat. Every seat is The Seat. The bus seat. The lounge couch. The smoking balcony seat especially. You don’t even have to sit to be in the seat. Any delay in daily life of a few seconds or more is the seat. The bus queue, the supermarket queue, the gap between the receptionist welcoming you and your 10 o’clock collecting you from the lobby.

Recently, sitting on my bed, collecting myself before a phone call, I reflected that even 20 seconds in the presence of Buddha is a refreshing swim down the river. Just sit back, lift your legs off the bottom, and float.

All seats are the one seat, especially concrete blocks on broken down building sites.

Reflections 2020

2019 was so shit I didn’t even finish my reflections post. 2020 was better than that!

Writing

The second half of 2020 saw three blog posts on Theory Engine and two here. Posts that roused people in different ways, that I’m proud of. I also wrote an article for a magazine, which was published in April. That’s not much writing for me, but that’s because I was Fucking Busy this year.

Fucking Busy

I took my own advice and got busy in Janaury organising a week-long irl Salon for Philosophy people, an event which ultimately drew the most important new people in my life towards me over the rest of the year.

After that I had to work, money had run out.

Managed to squeeze a funeral, a wedding and a festival into 2020 before the great lockdown in March, and was lucky enough to work a lucrative contract from home for the whole spring and part of summer, giving me more in savings than ever before. The downside was being desperately bored and inhaling sugar while playing videos games and thinking about precious little else.

Come the summer, I noticed my flatmate managed to take his family holiday as normal, thanks to restrictions being lifted in July. I consequently got out and about in the summer as much as possible, reconnecting with Bristol and my friends there, as I had been meaning to do for eight years.

I also met my goddaughter Poppy 🥰 the most gobliny of the Covid babies but now the most beautiful and the most precious!

My friends remain as wonderful and trollsome as ever ❤

And finally my end of summer trip to Lisbon had even more consequence than the-already-laden-with-meaning aspects that I was aware of. (Reader, we moved there)

Relationships

As soon as I’m busy I don’t quite have as much sex as I would like (which is not loads, actually). Sad face. But still, not too bad this year, and I started a major new relationship in October. Thank god they were willing to break the rule of the law to see me in person twice. We’re mainly a video-call relationship, which I’ve never done before, and it’s pretty awesome.

They are something else though, I can’t even write about it.

My household went ahead with our traditional “private” party in the summer, where we throw a party for ourselves and intimate guests, rather than get exahusted as hosts. It was very sexy and awesome. Added 3 people to “the list” that night 😉

I’ve stayed in alot of hotels this year and it’s been awesome to be a tourist during such a quiet season.

I’m also in love with someone. Mostly just sitting with that one.

We arrived in Lisbon on 10th December, and were at a cuddle party two days later. Ditto New Year’s. People are amazing, the internet is amazing. It’s good to immediately meet like-minded people in this new place.

I’m now as close with my digital friends as I ever was with an irl friend, I love them dearly and can’t wait to be in realspace together.

Spiritual stuff

What do I even say? I got my wish to not be bored anymore, that’s for sure.

For a couple of months now I’ve been exploring something new. It’s incredibly hard to talk about. It involves Jesus, and Buddha. I’m still a baby.

It’s kinda the crescendo that has built on other kinds of change that I began this year, like trying to be truly in explore mode, hold myself much wider open, while also trying to step back, humbly, from over-effortful control of my living environment.

I think being wide open really worked, ha.

Work

I started the year as a web developer and ended it taking donations for writing and posting pictures of my feet :::shrug:::

Lisbon

A wild idea (move to Lisbon) with a wild timeline (9 weeks) came off without a hitch because I live with the most competent people I’ve ever met. All six of us moved out, arranged for our stuff to go into cheap storage, and picked up certificates of residency in Portugal before the end of December. My housemates are my heros.

Now I live here, and I love it. I have the money to stay here for a long time without working much and I’m about to move into a place nominally on my own. I could not be more ready for what I know is coming next.

Reflections 2019

***this post sat in my drafts all year.Publishing the unfinished draft now before we advance too far into 2020***

Reflections post delayed by a month because I stacked up a giant project for myself in January 2020. Well done Jess.

January 2019 feels, predictably, very far away in memory.

Paid Work

A year of two halves. I started the year continuing the longest full time contract I’ve ever worked in London and I finally got off that gravy train in mid-June because writing/the Twitterverse were calling to me. In a satisfying twist, the rest of the contractors on my team were let go two weeks later because the company decided to outsource the whole department.

In the second half of the year I mostly didn’t work and had lots of time to write, tweet and scheme with the philosophy types in Twitterland. Nonetheless I did do a number of tiny contracts in the autumn right up to Christmas and for the first time ever, I have savings.

Home

Early in 2019 my household was given notice to leave our beloved warehouse. We lost two months of our lives and a large chunk of money exiting our home and finding a new one. My birthday was abruptly reformed into a goodbye party, which was well attended and we had several “break down/waste removal” weekends which were very poorly attended. It was gruelling. The experience left me closer to my housemates and pretty distanced from the community that the warehouse had served for the last seven years.

We managed to find a new house all together and spent the year settling in. It’s less space for more money, but this is London, dream properties can’t last. At least we have a bath now.

Twitterland & Writing

I took a two-week trip in March to San Francisco which was an oasis of awesome amongst the work/moving house shitstorm. I met several people I only know from online chatting in real life and it was great. I also visited my mentors, David & Charlie. I had time to read, time to think and time to go dancing at a lesbian bar in the Mission.

In many ways that trip defined the rest of my philosophy year. I’ve kept on with the “let’s meet IRL” thing, to the point of setting up a private club for just that. In 2019 I met half a dozen Twitter friends, either in SF or at my house in London.

I wrote eight Theory Engine posts, including a new egregore I was super proud of and four major posts on this blog, including leaving the cult, class and gender stuff. I joined another semi-private Slack for “memetic mediators”, was a guest on one podcast, was a guest on two video livestreams, made a youtube channel with one lonely video on it and started a new business venture for IRL philosophising called Sensemaker Workshop.

I also started doing something I’ve never done before: video calls with Twitter friends.

Sex & Romance

I wrote in my diary on December 17th 2018 “still no-one to have sex with”.

On the sleeper train to Lake Tahoe in March I made out with some random dude who had been flirting with me for hours. It was extremely hot and one of the most daring things I’ve ever done. I was consumed by passion the whole rest of the trip. That week I resolved that my number 1 priority in 2019 was to have more sex.

Because I’m a good drone, I made my goal somewhat SMART: I would attempt to have sex at least once per menstrual cycle, or 12/13 times in a calendar year. Naturally building up a few partners that I can regularly shag and/or bootycall would all be part of the process.

Things started slowly. In the early part of the year I dated a guy who I’d met in January at a meetup.  It was nice, we had some sex, but ultimately it wasn’t working as a relationship so we broke up and we’re still friends. Around the same time I managed to pin down and sleep with a boy I’ve fancied for literally 4 years, and managed to bone on two occasions. The number of times I tried to have sex with someone, but then they couldn’t because they got too drunk or whatever, was disappointingly high. I need to work on fancying more stable people.

It was fun to make a few unusual decisions to try to have more sex. I went to a few parties that I might not have attended otherwise, I dressed slightly differently and I bought the premium mode on a few dating apps.

I managed to find one new person to sleep with from okcupid, amongst a crop of more cringey okc dates, and my private bar membership came in very useful for that!

I also resumed sleeping with someone I live with, and that has been truly lovely.

In all, I managed to have sex on 10 occasions between March and December. I feel it’s a win! Will I have the same priority next year? I’m not sure. It seemed to only work if it was genuinely my overriding goal, and any half measures will not have much impact. I’m curious to deepen the relationships this year, because at one point in December I noticed I was feeling big emotions while having sex, and that felt really quite novel. I think I’d like it to happen more.

Other stuff

I read 12 books, saw 27 movies at the cinema, hosted 4 sexy parties, started smoking we’ed again after several years teetotal, which I’m super chuffed about actually. I also got into yoga over the Xmas break.

How To Become A Tech Contractor

The end, myths and tips

Here’s my story of becoming a tech contractor in London, followed by myths/truths I found along the way. Your circumstances are different to mine, so your mileage may vary.

I want to put the end at the beginning. I only became a tech contractor because it was the first grift I found where the numbers finally added up.

All my life I’d been contemplating dream jobs based on a few factors, such as: how much I like it, how much I need to train to get a starting salary for it and how good I need to be to get a big salary for it. Until recently all the jobs I’d liked enough to care about failed on one of these factors. Either they were paid very poorly (writing/journalism), or if not require unlikely levels of excellence to be paid well (photography).

But at the age of 29, I contemplated front end web development. Front end web development was something that I liked well enough, was easy to train in, was well paid from the start and due to supply and demand, did not require any excellence to command top salaries. Contracting offered far better salaries than a traditional job, it was more flexible but it also (apparently) had higher risk. The risk/reward ratio was so favourable however that it was a no-brainer for me.

(One week of salary was equivalent to 3 month’s rent & bills)

With numbers like that, I was going to do whatever it took to become one. You should consider whether you feel this way.

Are you kidding yourself

Most people dream of being a contractor the way everyone thinks they want to write a book: it’s not something they’ll ever actually do.

They say that “if only” whatever obstacle wasn’t in their way, then they would be able to do it.

If they actually tried to write a book they would quickly realise they can’t write one. They never will try to write one, because that’s not the point of this dream. The point is to have a fantasy where their lives and themselves are different and better.

Such a fantasy needs some plausible excuses as to why the person isn’t acting to fulfil their dream right now, so the person makes some up. Not enough time, got to pay the mortgage and so on and so on. This excuse shields them from the reality that they could never write a book, because the reality is that being different and better takes a lot of hard work. Much easier to just fantasise.

So too with freelancing. I have heard every excuse under the sun for not yet being a freelancer: lack of experience, mortgage, kids, sick mother, everything. And I have also met successful freelancers with every single one of these burdens that other people use as an excuse. This tendency to make excuses is often a sign that being a freelancer is actually an escape fantasy.

Are you doing that?

If you think maybe you are, congratulations on your self-reflection! You can probably stop reading and maybe enhance your non-contracting life now that you know you’ll never really be one.

If you’re still reading… I’m sure you want to know the details of how to make a go of contracting life. Well I can only tell you what worked for me and it won’t translate to many other kinds of circumstance, but maybe I can help you think about it differently.

Everything you know is wrong

Let’s start big and abstract: everything you think you know about freelancing is wrong.

I’m sure you think your fears, which I have just labelled “excuses” are legitimate worries, but they are the product of a mindset that is ill-matched to the task at hand.

They are ill-matched because you’ve been trained by the “perm” (permanent) world to be fearful about what gets you jobs, because fearful employees are easier to keep in line. You’ve also been dazzled by meaningless rubbish to keep you in your current job, because it’s good to keep a healthy dose of carrot mixed in with the stick.

But that’s what all your knowledge about jobs is: it’s a never-quite-reachable carrot-on-a-stick that is an illusion to keep you under the thumb. None of it is relevant to finding your own work over and over again.

If everything you know about freelancing is wrong, then the details of your fears are wrong too. You should stop worrying about those. You should be way more worried about other things, things you don’t even know yet.

Myths

Let’s look at some things you’ve got wrong, and unseat them.

Myth: “I don’t have enough experience”

Most people think that technical skill level is the biggest factor in becoming a freelancer. Most people think you need lots of experience (coincidentally, it is often about a year more than the person currently has, no matter how long they’ve been a dev or what experience they have).

This is absolutely wrong. You don’t need any experience, and as a freelancer it is by far the smallest factor in becoming successful.

On my journey, I spent 2hrs/day for 1 week on codecademy learning CSS, with my friend answering my questions. Then I spent 4 hrs / day for a second week constructing a website from scratch. It was one that I found that I liked the look of. I built it with almost no peeking, and my friend was still there answering my questions.

On week 3, I was working on my first job as a developer. My friend took the work on and handed it to me so that I could get some experience. I did most of the work, and he checked it over. We split his fee 50/50. The client was Adidas.

I had two weeks of informal part time experience and then I worked for Adidas. Experience is not what matters.

Myth: “Permanent jobs have a lengthy interview process, contracting interviews must be even worse.”

This is wrong. The opposite is true. Hiring managers bizarrely just assume that the recruiter has done a thorough interview process and so they don’t need to. After all, that’s why they’re paying through the nose for a recruiter!

This seems strange at first, because recruiters do not carry out technical interviews with you – they can’t! But they have done something much better.

They have transmitted to you a sense of what all their clients want to see on the cvs of contractors, then you have brushed up and put that very particular thing on your CV, and then they have sent you out to do a quick interpersonal interview to a bunch of clients. Eventually, one of them likes you (often for no good reason) and you’ve been accepted at your first contract.

When your first placement is a week or two in, they sought feedback from the client. Obviously, the client won’t mind trashing a contractor they thought was shit. In fact, they’ll be very honest.

If you don’t get trashed, clearly you have the technical skills! They’ll also hear all about your “fit” in the team as well. Your social skills. So the recruiter listens to all this and sends you in to another client and repeats the process. If you keep getting ok reviews, they’ll keep sending you to places.

This method for placing people in jobs is actually far better than technical interviews, and subconsciously, everyone involved knows it.

Myth: “How much you charge relates to you technical skill level.”

This is wrong. How much you charge relates to how badly the market needs your skills. These are 50% technical and 50% social. Maybe even 40 / 60.

Myth: “The more you charge, the more you are screened in the interview process.”

This is wrong. The opposite is true. The more you charge, the more respect you get and the less they put you through humiliating coding tests and interviews. This is so laughable, but it’s true.

My friend who charges £800/day hasn’t done an interview for years. He also has a great story from back in the days when he was cheaper. He refused to do a coding interview unless they paid him for his time. At first they said that wasn’t possible, and sent him the code test. He never did the test and didn’t send them anything back. A week later they phoned him to offer him the job.

People assume you’re the real thing if you charge high because it’s actually not a bad heuristic. Fakers get found out quite fast and so in fact the people who charge more do send out a true signal that they take themselves seriously, and therefore so do their employers.

It’s perm people who are the chumps that can’t be trusted without interviewing them first.

Tips

Ok, enough myths. I think I made a few wrong turns in those early days, so I’m going to switch to “tips” to highlight what I think is important and what retrospectively I think worked.

The biggest factor in becoming a freelancer is not any of the myths above, it is having the balls to do what it takes.

Risk

You have to take risks. There are some ways to give yourself courage when dealing with risk. As I mentioned above, I simply did some math.  I worked out that for just one week of freelance work could pay my rent for 3 months, if I could keep my costs low enough.

With that kind of math, there was no way I would do anything else but whatever it took. Every time I wobbled and got worried I just remembered the math. I remembered that one hour of looking for freelance work was worth two weeks in a coffee shop job.

I think having a sense of bloody mindedness about the whole thing is important, and I’m not sure taking a frightened, softly softly approach will get you anywhere. At some point you have to go all for it. It’s an emotional commitment. You have to be happy to take the risk, and be able to deal with it.

See the world as it is

An important factor in my story is about noticing imbalances in supply and demand and cost of living versus wages. It’s costly to live in London, but if you win the income game, you can win big. So I pretty much blindly moved to London knowing that anything I did would have a good chance of advancing myself upwards economically.

I fairly quickly realised that basic web development skills can command a salary much higher than other basic skills (admin, coffee making etc) This is simply because the skill is in demand. It is not because the skill is difficult.

Noticing this requires seeing the world in a certain way, in particular understanding how market economics really work. Most people assume “harder” work is better paid, but if you’ve ever been in a caring profession you will know that is not the case.This is true in the reverse direction – well paid work isn’t necessarily hard.

Tech work also has a mystique of “rocket science” around it, implying that the skills are difficult. This is also not true, and I’m not sure how you’d know that was not true. I noticed that the job specifications did NOT always require a computer science degree, so that’s one way.

People often think that they need to be as good as other developers out in the market. This is not the way the world is, the truth is you have to be a better developer than an empty chair. Which is what the company looking to hire currently has available to get their web development work done.

Lie

I think you should lie.

Obviously, having no portfolio or CV in tech is a problem. So I lied. I said I knew javascript when I didn’t because everyone kept asking for it. I took a chance that people didn’t really need it, they just asked for it by rote.

I got a friend to give me a client and the way I presented it, it seemed like they were my client and I had done all the work for it. I knew I had done a significant portion of the work (with help) so I felt ok about it, and I banked on no-one checking too closely or caring that much, and it worked.

Get information

Get information and notice patterns. It’s important to find all the sources of jobs and test out which ones work well for contracting and which ones don’t. Recruitment fairs are bad for contract jobs. Meetups on technical subjects are also bad, although they are good for feeling part of the “scene”. Some websites like o-desk are bad. One website called Work In Startups was ok and I found my very first jobs there.

Ultimately, I found that recruiters are good for contract jobs. Recruiters are a valuable source of information when you are getting started and you are valuable income for them, so it’s mutual, but only if they can place you. Recruiters will ask you a bunch of questions about your experience, address, day rate etc. Don’t be intimidated, recruiters have to deal with people like me who have been in the game for years, we’re fussy and charge a lot. Then there’s newbies with no clue. They need to figure out what kind of person you are and believe me they are good at it. They don’t care which you are, they just need to know so that they can try to place you. So that’s the source of all their questions.

If you talk to enough recruiters they’ll end up asking you for the same things on your CV, and if you don’t have it, you should try to realise what it is they want that’s missing, and get it (or lie about it).

If you notice the patterns, and of course you can just outright ask them, recruiters can tell you how busy/empty the market is, the going rate for each tech skill, the job title the employers are asking for, the location of the jobs and the skills they expect to see on a CV or portfolio. I noticed that everyone was asking for HTML, CSS and JS. I hated JS, found it too hard, and couldn’t do it. But I realised that if I didn’t put it on my CV, no-one would hire me. So I lied and put it on there. I soon started getting interviews (and most of the time I didn’t need js anyway! It was just jargon).

This won’t be the same for other tech stacks. But the technique is the same. I noticed that when my friend who is a Swift developer was on the phone to recruiters they always asked him if he had an app on the App Store. He didn’t, so they were hesitant to offer out his CV to their clients. He needs to work somewhere that has an app on the app store, so he can put it on his CV (or make his own) (or lie).

Don’t Think Like a Perm

A word of warning: my friend above is in a perm job now. Originally it was to get experience on a live app in the app store, but six months in he began gunning for a Senior Developer title. Recently I asked him “why?” He gave me vague answers that involved the words “roadmap” and “experience managing people”. Is this what his contract recruiter kept asking him for? No!

Titles like “senior” are to keep permanent people enthralled, to keep them working in the company. It’s an illusion of advancement that is meaningless. Companies hint that these titles will get you a raise, but believe me it would be a far smaller raise than if you switched jobs to work elsewhere.

It’s far less common to see titles like “Senior” for contractor roles, because the day rate is the true indicator of someone’s skill level. Always be laser focussed on what recruiters/the market really want (or are saying they want).

Make People Love you

If you find people offering work, you have to be attractive to them. Find out what they like.

I get my work through contract recruiters. Recruiters love two things: LinkedIn and Being On The Phone.

They are sales people, they need to make quick deals (especially short term contract work) with reliable people. Always, always, always answer your phone. I hate talking on the phone, but I learned that I had to do what it takes, and using the phone is what gets me jobs.

They also need to “sell” you to their idiot clients. They need a flashy portfolio, a filled out LinkedIn and a buzz-word heavy CV to send to their clients. The hiring manager and the recruiter themselves are unlikely to be techy, so just fill in all the words and wait until the interview to see if the job really needs the skills they say it does.

At the interview, there is almost nothing you can do to make people love you. It will be pure chance at first. Since it is pure chance, you simply need volume. Be persistent. Keeping going to recruiters. Keep going to interviews.  I’m pretty sure I got my first ever contract that was through a recruiter because in the interview the lead designer saw I had hairy legs and felt I was a kindred spirit. You never know what’s going to finally crack the nut, so just keep hammering it.

One Last Story

One last story about figuring out what you really need to do, rather than what you assume you need to do:

My website was hand-coded (and designed) by me when I first started out. Years later, I looked through my bank statements one day and I noticed a trend. Lots of small amounts were going out, nothing going in. The occasional £500 for some pitiful two days of work at a shitty startup.

Then a small fee for “theme forest” went out (a website that sells pre-designed and coded website templates). I had bought an attractive theme for my website that I didn’t code myself.

The very next entries were a series of £1,500 being paid in. Loads of them. That theme helped me to get a long contract with a real company.

I call this “Chefs don’t cook at home” – you don’t have to code your own website. You DO have to look good to a non-technical person.

Everything’s Going To Be Ok

So stop whining and just do it.

‘Magic, Running In The Gutters Like Lightning’ by Alan Moore

I am a huge fan of Alan Moore, and I am one of the few readers who eagerly purchased his magazine, Dodgem Logic, as the issues came out in 2010. One article in particular in Issue 3 had a profound effect on my thoughts at the time, and contains a couple of concepts that are so useful I want to be able to reference them in my own writing.

Two years ago, Dodgem Logic content was not available anywhere on the internet, and so I transcribed this piece for reference. I now see that some Dodgem Logic content is available on Scribd. I hope that Alan and the other authors are the ones controlling that account and are getting paid for it. If so, I hope this transcription inspires people to seek out the rest of the Dodgem Logic content on Scribd and drive revenue to the authors, but if the existence of this article is a copyright-infringement-too-far Alan is welcome to contact me on [myhandle] at [gmail] and I’ll take it down.

Until then, enjoy:

‘Magic, Running In The Gutters Like Lightning’ by Alan Moore in Dodgem Logic, Vol1 Issue 3, pp 2-9, April-May 2010

Here amongst the body-bags and melting icecaps of the modern world, magic is surely no more than a comfort-blanket for the dopey and the deluded, or perhaps a lucrative and proven movie-franchise means of separating miracle-starved children and nostalgic, disillusioned adults from their pocket-money. Alan Moore thinks otherwise.

Magic is something that should not be mentioned in mixed company or, come to think of it, in any company whatsoever. It will kill the conversation deader than Houdini and evoke a silence at once horror-stricken, pitying, and uncomfortable, like suddenly announcing you’re partial to incest or Morris-dancing, practices that might have all been perfectly acceptable when we were medieval, but which modern science and common sense assure us we are better off without.

This is particularly true at present, when the science and rationality that dragged our species up from a quagmire of ignorance and pestilence is fighting for its life against a horde of pulpit-pounding, reality-phobic fuckheads who think the planet was, in only seven days, assembled like IKEA furniture a mere six thousand years ago by some kind of talked-up local volcano deity who could apparently have used a course in anger-management and who then planted lots of several-million-year-old fossils just to test the faith of 19th century palaeontologists. It isn’t simply Darwin that’s endangered here: Reason itself is under threat, along with every last advance in human thinking back to Galileo and beyond. Given the stakes, it seems counter-productive to make any sort of case for magic, seems like muddying already bloody waters to dredge up an idea that is equally despised by those on both sides of this increasingly brutal and bare-knuckled argument.

And yet, what if inside the bottomless top hat of magical ideas were some means of conceptually resolving the dispute, some arcane and discarded worldview broad enough to readily accommodate two seemingly irreconcilable realities, the scientific and the spiritual? After all, magic is older than both science and religion and in many ways is parent to the pair of them, with religion being only tribal magical traditions and creation myths that have been organised on a more formal basis, while science is itself built on foundations of hermetic scholarship and alchemy. Who better to sort out a brawl between the kids than Mum and Dad?

So, you might reasonably ask, if magic’s so important historically and potentially, what is it? Although a straightforward enough question, this has a variety of answers which depend on who is being asked. A five year old will tell you with conviction that magic is something that a witch or wizard does to conjure up enchantments or to fly the moonlit skies of Halloween. A Christian fundamentalist will tell you much the same thing but with greater emphasis on satanic orgies and eternal hellfire, while a scientific rationalist would describe magic as a system of belief that has exploited human ignorance of how the world works to prop up or justify an endless system of scams, tyrannies and slaughters, almost since that world began. There may well be more than an element of truth in all of these opinions, and yet if we wish to understand the subject on its own terms before we dismiss it then we might be better off, rather than consulting outsiders on the issue, in asking how magic has defined itself.

This question will admittedly elicit just as many different responses if considered across a few thousand years of diverse magical philosophies, but a halfway-modern definition after the important 20th century magician and alleged Great Beast Aleister Crowley would see magic as the act of bringing about changes in reality according to one’s Will. Will is capitalised deliberately, to stand for the intentions and the actions of one’s highest self, the wisest and most noble part of us, the part that watches out for us and tells us that pissing in an electric outlet isn’t such a great idea. This carefully makes a distinction between our true Will and all our wants, desires and impulses. Running amok at our place of employment or school with a samurai sword or AK47 would certainly bring about change in reality, for both ourselves and for our victims, but these would be changes that only a self-obsessed emotional and psycho-social cripple could find interesting or satisfying. This would be contrary to the whole central concern of magic, which is to connect the individual to his or her highest self and thus transform them into someone much more balanced and empowered, more capable of managing the powerful currents of their life and circumstances that swirl all around them; someone for whom plans succeed and difficulties melt away as if by magic.

Wonderful as this might be, if all there is to magic is some sort of woolly, new-age self improvement program, then what’s all the fuss about? Where are all the demons conjured hissing into pentacles and all the supernatural powers, the flying through the night on broomsticks? Do these ‘changes in reality’ we’re talking about include changes to the laws of physics, such as those which pertain to gravity, for instance? Pretty obviously, the answer to that question would be ‘no’. Does that mean, then, that all the claims made on behalf of magic are no more than a collage of madness, fantasy, fraud and misunderstanding? Given that to say as much is to dismiss the basis for the biggest part of modern science and culture then, again, the answer must be in the negative. This leaves us with an apparent contradiction. Are we saying magic is real, or unreal? Or are we saying that it is somehow both these things at once? The resolution of this puzzle gives us the key to understanding magic, but before we can unpick it we must first sort out our terms of reference. Before we can decide of magic’s real, unreal or somewhere in between we must first make it clear what we mean by reality.

The first thing we can say about reality from a human perspective is that we cannot experience reality directly. We have photons bombarding retinas. We have vibrations in our inner ear, in our tympanums. The cilia in our nostrils and the buds upon our tongues transmit impressions of the chemicals comprising everything we smell or taste, while the minute electrical impulses racing through our nervous systems tell us whether we are touching silk or sandpaper. Moment by moment, we somehow compose these signals into a grand, shifting tapestry we call reality. It isn’t: It’s our sensory impressions of reality, with a direct experience of the thing itself being impossible. Effectively, to practical intents and purposes, reality is in our minds.

The second thing we can say about human reality is that we seem to be perpetually experiencing two very different kinds of this elusive quality or substance. Firstly, there is the material world with all its complex and unyielding laws of chemistry, biology or physics that our mortal bodies exist in and interact with. In trying to comprehend material reality, our human consciousness developed an exquisitely precise tool, science, whereby we could measure, study and perhaps eventually understand most of the cosmos that surrounds us. And then, secondly, we have the immaterial realm that our minds seem to be suspended in, the shifting and ungraspable reality of human consciousness itself… which, as observed above, is the only reality that we can ever truly know directly. This ‘inner’ reality is utterly impenetrable to the scrutiny of the scientific method, which requires empirical proof and phenomena that are repeatable under laboratory conditions, thus excluding thoughts, emotions and the rest of our internal landscape. It’s ironic, but the only blind-spot in our scientific understanding of the world is consciousness itself, the very thing that science emerged from.

Science’s inability to handle consciousness (or even prove that it exists) presents a problem in that if we want to know how our minds work in order, say, to stop them getting ill or maybe to improve them, in the same way that we know things about our bodies, then we have no one to turn to. Consciousness, of course, also presents a major stumbling block for science itself. Science can quite justifiably claim credit for the countless insights into our existence that is has delivered down across the centuries, but one suspects that with consciousness being very probably the most extraordinary, rare and precious item in the universe, the failure of science to provide an explanation for it must surely be irritating.

From science’s point of view, consciousness is what has been called ‘the ghost in the machine’, a vaporous and elusive spectre that is inexplicable and which thus messes up our otherwise detailed and comprehensive clockwork scheme of things. So vexing is this gap in scientific understanding that some areas of science have tried to paper over it by claiming that consciousness doesn’t really exist, that it’s some manner of hallucination caused by glands, by chemicals, by something science is capable of measuring, despite the fact that this flies in the face of all human experience. It also offers us a model of our inner workings that seems limited, impoverished, and functionally all but useless, most especially if we’re in any line of work that calls on us to be creative. How are we meant to aspire to the literary heights of Shakespeare or musical composition skills of J.S. Bach with all mental activity reduced to a mere fart of the pineal gland? A richer and more helpful model of awareness would seem to be called for, perhaps based upon more flexible ideas as to what constitutes reality.

For instance what if rather than denying the reality of consciousness simply because it happens to be outside the parameters of what science can discuss, we instead take the stance that both mental and physical phenomena are real, albeit real in different ways? If we accepted that all thinking creatures were amphibious, in the sense that they have a life in two worlds at once; if we accepted that the phantom world of consciousness was just as real in its own ways as the hard world we bruise our shin on, wouldn’t we at least potentially have a new way of looking at our own awareness, and perhaps a different means of interacting with our own minds that might turn out to be more productive, fruitful and, frankly, exciting?

The idea that we exist astride two worlds, both the material and immaterial, requires examination, though it should be said that this examination cannot be scientific because, as explained previously, consciousness and science go together like milk and uranium. Is there, then, any evidence for the reality of the two planes we are discussing?

Well it could be argued that the definite existence of two such realities is, as the saying goes, as obvious as Lady Gaga’s cock: There is the world in which physical things like, say, a chair exist, and there there is the different, immaterial world in which the idea of a chair exists. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the idea of a chair must come before a physical chair can exist. The same is true of the whole man-made world around us, with our clothes, our homes, our advertising jingles and the language that we sing them in all starting out as ideas in someone’s mind, in someone’s consciousness. Looked at in this way, the world of awareness, far from being unreal, is the solid bedrock upon which a major part of our material world is standing. Also, it bears pointing out that immaterial ideas are much more sturdy and enduring than their physical manifestations. If, for example, every solid material chair were suddenly to vanish from the world (and no, I don’t know how that would have come about, except perhaps in Dr. Who where there’d be some variety of mucous-dripping aliens for whom “our Earth chairs are a kind of drug”), then as long as we still had the idea of chairs, it really wouldn’t be that big a setback. Ideas are immortal, or at least as long-lived as the culture that comes up with them, whereas the objects, monuments and even empires those ideas inspire are transient by comparison. Considered from this angle, which of our two worlds seems the least flimsy and the most important, even the most real?

In this light, we perhaps begin to see how many of the more extraordinary claims made on behalf of magic may have a firm basis in reality, although not the hard, physical reality that we most usually mean when you use that term. We possibly begin to understand that saying magic only happens in the mind or the imagination is potentially a very different thing from saying that it isn’t real. Importantly, if we can accept that the insubstantial medium in which our consciousness exists is just as much a world as the more solid medium in which our bodies, furniture and scratch-cards are all situated, then we can at least try to explore that immaterial world and determine its properties, just our species has so rigorously and rewardingly explored the other realm that our amphibious human breed inhabits, that of matter. Even by simply considering awareness, metaphorically, as being somehow like a world or landscape, we are opening up a family-sized worm-can of fresh possibilities for interacting usefully and interestingly with our consciousness.

What might such a purely cerebral territory be like, compared with our familiar physical terrain, and governed by what different laws? The laws of space and distance, for example, would be different in a world made not from dirt and rocks but from ideas: Land’s End and John O’Groats, famously far apart in the material world, are often mentioned in the same breath and therefore are right next to each other in conceptual terms, are side by side in the peculiar geography of consciousness. The laws of time might well also be different, given that we seem able to travel effortlessly into the remembered past or the projected future in our memory or our imagination, in a way that we cannot accomplish in material reality.

Perhaps the most intriguing question with regard to this world of the mind that we’re hypothesising is whether we each have our own sealed and private mental world, or whether it might be more like the way things are in the physical reality, where each of us has our own private space… our house or room… while having the ability to venture out into the world beyond our door that’s mutually accessible by all, and where we can meet up and interact with other people. If the landscape of ideas were common ground to all of us, this might provide a way of understanding those occasionally reported instances of knowledge-at-a-distance or telepathy. It could also provide an answer to the question asked most often of creative people, which is ‘where do ideas come from?’

If consciousness was actually a mutual environment and if ideas were like physical features in that landscape… like pebbles or landmarks, say, depending on their size and their importance… then we’d have to suppose that since everyone has ideas good or bad, then everyone must be connected with this immaterial world of concepts all the time, whether they be aware of it or not. Some ideas, such as the idea to stick the kettle on and make a cup of tea, are commonplace and could be seen as the equivalent of sand-grains on a beach, in that they’re everywhere, are of such little value and so easily in reach that anyone could have ideas like that without the slightest mental effort. Genuinely original ideas are much, much rarer and will take more of a mental journey and a lot more work to track them down, being less like common sand-grains than like a newly discovered species or lost Aztec city. This is perhaps why new ideas are found most often by artists, philosophers or scientists; creative people who are struggling to establish a much deeper and more exploratory relationship with their own consciousness. It may seem strange to think about awareness as a landscape and ideas as landmarks in that space, distinctive rocky outcrops that we sometimes stumble over in our mental wanderings, but if this were indeed the case it would explain such otherwise improbable coincidences as James Watt’s invention of the steam engine at the exact same time that several other people were inventing the same thing, having had just the same idea.

Of course, so far we are considering our mental realm only in terms of its geography. However when we first set sail on explorations of our physical reality we learned that other areas of the material world were already inhabited by different kinds of people, unimagined animals and unfamiliar vegetation. It might be to our advantage, then to consider the potential biology of our proposed landscape of consciousness, its fauna and flora. Journeying into these further reaches of the mind, what other life-forms might we possibly encounter?

Well, if it’s a landscape that is mutually accessible, we could perhaps expect to make contact with other human minds that happen to be travelling in the same zone of consciousness, as we suggested earlier with regard to a potential basis for claims of telepathy. Furthermore, if it’s a landscape that is indeed timeless, then it might conceivably be possible to meet with human minds that are from our own point of view located in the past or future, which might offer us an explanation for phenomena as various as ghosts from bygone eras or prophetic glimpses of events yet to occur.

Then there’s the at first startling possibility of life forms that aren’t human, that are instead native to the immaterial meta-territory that we’re describing here, creatures made from the insubstantial stuff of thought in the same way that our physical forms are made from flesh and blood, ideas that have evolved to such a level of complexity that they can at least seem to be alive, to be intelligent and independent entities. Living ideas: surely there’s room in such a notion that’s sufficient to accommodate all of the demons, angels, gods, grey aliens, Smurfs or leprechauns, all the imaginary creatures that we humans have made claims for the existence of since the beginnings of our species, back before we had a rational, material worldview which informed us that the things which we experienced in our minds had no legitimate reality.

In our prehistory, before we even had the concept of a mind, we would presumably have taken our experience of the world to be a single, undivided whole, unable to make any separation between mind and body: between external and internal reality. It would seem natural then, in our stone-age attempts to understand a baffling and sometimes hostile universe, for us to vigorously investigate the farthest limits of our territory, both the world that was available outside us and the world that was available within. In these primitive attempts to engage with what we would come to call our consciousness, we have the origins of magic, and also, coincidentally, of science, art, philosophy and indeed almost all contemporary culture. The first Palaeolithic witch-doctors or shamans or magicians patiently developed a whole range of different techniques by which they hoped to interact more deeply and productively with the mysterious underworld that was somehow inside them. By studying these primordial practices, we can get a much clearer picture of the altered state of consciousness that they believed was necessary in order to practice magic, and perhaps also a deeper and more useful understanding of what magic really is.

In our comparisons of commonplace ideas with sand-grains and of rarer ideas with more distant items that would take more mental effort to locate, we seem to be suggesting that some people are prepared to engage much more energetically and deeply with the world of consciousness than others. It was this deeper engagement that our stone-age sorcerers were seeking, or at least this would appear to be the case given that most of their recorded magical techniques seem to be methods of inducing trance-like states in both themselves and their observers. Their otherworldly costumes, in which are the origins of all film and theatre, were designed to shock those watching into a new zone of consciousness. The chanting and the ritual drumming, from which all music commenced, are still still well-known as means of bringing on a state of self-hypnosis, with the same being true of dance, as any hold-outs from the Rave scene would most probably affirm.

And then, also in common with the Rave scene, there are all the psychedelic drugs that shamans are associated with, whether that be the preparations of Ayahuasca or Yage used by South American rainforest sorcerers, the spotted Fly Agaric mushroom favoured by both Lapland shamans and Viking berserkers, or the common “Liberty Cap’ so-called ‘magic” psilocybin mushroom which we may suppose was the most readily available source of a visionary stimulant for the witchdoctors of both ancient Europe and the British Isles. The point is that whether we speak of drumming, meditation. dance or drugs, we’re talking about methods that are only useful as a means of penetrating the internal landscape, which would seem to be a world that the magicians of antiquity thought just as real and important as the physical domain around them, if not more so.

The musings above hopefully present a way of understanding rationally how magic might be seen to work, at least by the practitioner: By using ritual or drugs or drumming or some other technique for inducing altered states, the shaman or magician travels further into our suggested realm of consciousness than would be possible in other circumstances. Moving through this realm they may encounter what seem to be immaterial entities with which they may communicate and from which they believe they can glean useful information. In a sense, it doesn’t matter if the entities concerned are actually ethereal, independent life-forms or just facets of the human mind and personality that we cannot usually access by other methods. Whether we’re communicating with an actual god or with some previously inaccessible part of our own awareness, it would seem to be a thing as marvellous and of as much potential use in either instance.

As we trace the course of magic’s evolution from its Ice-Age origins, we are constantly reminded that what people think to be the literal truths of magic are in fact misunderstandings of what are in fact purely internal mental processes. The standard image of a witch astride her broomstick flying through the night air to the Witches’ Sabbat (or, for that matter, off HarryPotter playing Quidditch) provides us with a splendid example of this over-literal approach at work. From what we’ve come to understand of medieval witchcraft, two of the accoutrements often possessed by genuine practitioners were ‘flying ointment’ and a ‘flying harness’.

In the preparation of the former, a variety of common drugs were combined with fat to make an ointment. These included Henbane, Deadly Nightshade, Angel’s trumpet (all of which are psychedelic at some doses and horribly poisonous at others) along with soporific drugs like Mandrake root (from which comparatively modern sedatives like Mandrax are derived) to make the user sleep. Taken in combination, it might be supposed that this would not be any ordinary state of sleep.

This brings us to the so-called ‘flying harness’, a contraption made of ;eather straps in which the wearer could be comfortably suspended as though weightless from the ceiling of a hut or outbuilding warmed to a constant body-temperature and kept in total darkness, muffled to eliminate all outside noises. This would appear to be an early version of today’s sensory deprivation or flotation tank, with the would-be witch hanging weightless in the dark and silence, neither too warm nor too cool, feeling both disembodied and adrift in their own consciousness. It was at this point that the flying ointment was administered, smeared one of the body’s mucous membranes that would rapidly absorb its heady mix of psychedelic drugs and sleeping potions.

Though I’m loath to be indelicate and spell this out, the body’s most accessible and most absorbent mucous membranes would be those found in the anus or vagina. That’s how suppositories work, after all. In the case of the flying ointment, it would be applied to the suspended witch by means of a convenient applicator, such as, say, a broomstick. When the ointment took effect, the witch would be propelled upon a disembodied psychedelic flight through the landscape of the imagination, a flight only taking place within the mind of the practitioner (although as we have pointed out, that isn’t necessarily the same as saying that the flight’s unreal). It isn’t hard to see how the above could easily be misinterpreted and end up as our cliched ‘image of a hag swooping through darkness with a broom between her legs. Best not to think of Harry Potter in the changing rooms at Hogwarts, getting ready for a match.

As magic became more sophisticated in its practices and theory down across the centuries, we still see the same trance-inducing techniques being used and still see magic taking place almost entirely in the inner landscape of the mind. During the 16th century, Elizabeth the First’s official alchemist, adviser, scientist and astrologer was the astounding Dr. John Dee, a man whose abilities with mathematics, navigation and encryption were the basis of the British Empire (a concept that Dee himself invented) and yet who devoted himself to communications through the medium of a black mirror or a crystal ball with startling entities that he described as angels.

His angelic invocations, chanted in a channelled or invented language called Enochian, function in the way that chanting did for prehistoric sorcerers, allowing the practitioner to slip into a trance state where they’re liable to be receptive to imagined visions in the blurred depths of a crystal ball, used here as a blank screen upon which the observer’s inner visions are projected much like pictures seen within the dying embers of a fire. Despite the fact that all of these drug-induced broomstick flights or crystal ball angelic conversations can only be seen by science as worthless delusions, can we easily dismiss the ideas of a great mind such as the one possessed by Dr. Dee, a man without whose scientific work the later work of fellow alchemist Sir Isaac Newton would not have been possible?

Admittedly, great minds occasionally say or do things that are stupid or misguided, and even an open-minded sceptic who was willing to accept that there might possibly be some truth in our theories about mental space could reasonably ask if there was any practical or useful point to these imaginary exercises. After all, putting potential therapeutic value to one side, what is the point of talking to hallucinations? By their very definition they are mental things and thus cannot provide us with real information. This is a good point and, on the surface, a persuasive argument. However, it avoids the fact that science itself has no idea where a great deal of human knowledge comes from. The debate’s still open, for example, on how we arrived at the most fundamental concept in the whole of human thinking, which is language. As for mathematics, which turns out to be a perfect system that allows us to examine our mathematically-ordered universe, we as yet don’t have a convincing explanation for how we came up with it. This obviously doesn’t prove that immaterial spirits must have gifted us with language or mathematics, but it also doesn’t prove they didn’t.

Let’s consider the specific case of one small part of our vast arsenal of medical knowledge that of the vegetable drug curare, used routinely in the west because its paralysing properties are useful in those surgical procedures where it is important that the patient doesn’t move. Curare is one of the many drugs that we have borrowed from the herbal remedies and medicines used by the natives of the South American rainforests, and in his excellent book The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, ethnobotanist Jeremy Narby investigates its origins. Curare, used by the rainforest natives as a poisonous tip for their blowpipe darts, will paralyse a treetop monkey so that it cannot cling to its branch but will instead fall to the forest floor where it can be recovered. Better still the meat will not be tainted by the poison. Now, curare is a compound drug, and the rainforest natives have no concept of scientific method.

Even so, they somehow manage to select the right plants from amongst the estimated millions of separate species to be found within the rainforest, and they somehow know enough to boil the plants together and reduce them to a pulp without inhaling the sweet-smelling but instantly lethal vapours. Then, some-how, they know that the resultant mush will be inert unless it is injected in the subcutaneous tissue just beneath the surface of the skin, as is accomplished by a blowpipe dart, for instance.

Narby felt dissatisfied to all these somehows, and decided to ask the rainforest people natives where the’d got their complex information from. Their reply was that the knowledge was imparted by their snake-god through the medium of their local witchdoctors or wise men, the Ayahuasceros, or ‘the men who drink ayahuasca’.

Contacting these sorcerers and taking part in their hallucinatory rituals, Narby experienced a meeting with two large fluorescent talking serpents whom he understood to be the gods that he’d been told of by the natives. He went on to speculate that these ‘gods’ might be some sort of icon or avatar projected by the snaking double helix of our DNA, if DNA were actually a conscious entity. Whether this is the case or not the point is that a substance we are happy to use in our rational and scientific western world would seem to have its origins in processes that are beyond the limits of what science can usefully discuss. Without a magic worldview, even if that worldview is anathema to any scientific rationalist, both science and medicine would lack a number of incredibly important tools.

The notion that things of tremendous use or value can be gathered front the insubstantial entities that are encountered in the crystal ball, the psychedelic episode or simply in our wandering imagination hasn’t ever been in doubt for the innumerable practitioners of magic throughout history. During the nineteenth century, elaborate magic brotherhoods such as the Order of the Golden Dawn did much to organise some several thousand years of wildly diverse magic theory into a coherent system. Meanwhile, brilliant mavericks like infamous Aleister Crowley or the transcendentally unnerving Brixton artist and magician Austin Osman Spare were introducing the idea that the best magic systems were perhaps the ones that you’d discovered or invented for yourself.

In light of all of the above. where does that leave us? Here in 2010, beleaguered as we are by our increasingly invasive and controlling governments, with our material environment and our economies collapsing, should we even be discussing such a thing as magic? Won’t that just make God more angry?

On the other hand, if as a species we are circling the plughole of existence then it could be argued that we really don’t have anything to lose by just considering a different worldview, and indeed might have a lot to gain. One of the major benefits of the internal magic landscape is that it cannot be penetrated by police or government. In its environment of ideas, much more durable than our own physical environment, it maybe that solutions to our current eco-problems can be found… it’s fairly obvious that we need to get new ideas from somewhere, after all… and as for all our economic difficulties, as a resource magic is entirely free and doesn’t seem to have a carbon footprint.

But, even if we accept that magic might be beneficial, how are we to go about it? Well, we could do worse than looking to the ancient universal principles of magic, as described above, to find our answer. It would seem, for instance, that in order to engage more deeply with the magic landscape of our consciousness, some means of entering a trance-state is required. This could be repetitive and rhythmic drumming, chanting, meditation or a psychedelic drug, depending on the individual’s tastes. Before immersing ourselves in our preferred trance, however, we should have in place some method of controlling and directing our hoped-for experience. This is where magic ritual comes in.

A magic ritual, which might involve a lot of different elements, can be seen as a way of programming our minds towards the area of consciousness that we are hoping to achieve or contact. For example, if we wished to contact a symbolic entity like Mercury, the Roman god of magic and communication, we would decorate the space where we’ve decided to perform the ritual with things that are associated with that god. A good book of magical correspondences like Aleister Crowley’s 777 will provide complete and useful tables of associations for whatever entity you hope to get in touch with, but in the specific case of Mercury you’ll find that among those associations are the number eight, the colour orange, the perfume storax, the vegetable drug hashish, the precious stone fire-opal and a host of other things. So, when it comes to tarting up your ritual space for your Mercury ritual, you might want to have an orange cloth draping the tabletop or altar, with eight candles lighting the appointed space and some storax gum smouldering in an incense burner. You might want to have an image of the god in question in some central place, either a statue or an image clipped out of a magazine or, best of all, an image that you yourself have created. The combined effect of all these things is to create a mindset that’s conducive to the type of magical experience you wish to have.

Some unobtrusive music that adds to the atmosphere and seem appropriate might complement the ritual, and some sort of spoken invocation would provide a focus. You could probably find some already-written invocation to the Roman Mercury or similar Greek Hermes somewhere, but again it would be a lot better to write something of your own. Magic and the creative arts have much more than you’d think in common with each other, and with Mercury as god of writing and communication you might think that he’d appreciate all the creative effort that you’ve gone to. Write something that’s as lyrical and strong and as poetical as you can make it, something good enough to please a god, or at least your idea of a god (which is, after all, all we’re talking about here). When you have all this preparatory work in place, that would be a good time to induce your preferred trance-state by your chosen means, and then sit back and wait to see what happens.

This basic and simple methodology can obviously be adapted to whatever sort of magical experience one happens to be seeking, with a little use of the imagination. The above example deals with conjuring some being in to your awareness, but could just as well be used if you desired to travel mentally into the world associated with that entity, just as the witches travelled in their minds to their imaginary Sabbat. This technique for mental travel…basically a strenuous forum of imagining…could also be used to explore the zones mapped by some magic systems such as the Hebrew Kabbalah or John Dee’s Enochian realm, or with a bit of thought and ingenuity could be applied to whatever experimental magical procedure the practitioner might like to try importantly, at the commencement and conclusion of the ritual or experiment, it is a good idea to cam out what’s known as a banishing ritual, to symbolically seal off the experience and keep whatever forces may have been called up from having an unwanted effect upon your ordinary life. Banishing rituals are readily available in numerous books on magic, or once again you can invent your own.

The reason banishing rituals are necessary is that magic is a subject not without its dangers. Foremost amongst these is the very real possibility of going mad or losing yourself in this new and unfamiliar territory. If one’s reasons for approaching magic are for entertainment or for a secret advantage over others or just idle curiosity, then one is probably better off avoiding it, the risks being considerable. Practiced magicians speak of the importance of keeping your four ‘magical weapons’ with you constantly, at least symbolically. These four symbols… the wand, the cup, the sword or dagger and the coin… are the four suits seen in the Tarot deck.

The represent the four classical elements, fire, water, air and earth, and also represent the human qualities that those elements stand for. Coins or discs that stand for earth remind us that in our approach to magic we must make sure we are grounded and that our material circumstances are sufficient to our needs. Swords, standing for the element of air, are symbols of our intellectual faculties, the cutting edge of our intelligence that helps us to discriminate between a good idea and a bad one and which helps prevent us sliding into mere delusion or perhaps full blown insanity. Cups, representing water, stand in human terns for our emotions and above all our compassion, without which all of the magic power in the world won’t stop us turning into arseholes, brutes or monsters. Finally, wands stand for fire and represent our spirit or our soul, our highest self that should be in command of our emotional, our intellectual and our earthly circumstances if we wish to be balanced and fully realised individuals in control of our own lives.

It’s this harmonious and empowered state that is perhaps the most important goal in magic, turning yourself into someone capable of leading an enjoyable and useful life while having a benevolent effect upon the world, bringing about changes in accordance with your Will. This is the gold the alchemists were seeking, being much less interested in transforming metal than in their own personal transformation. There’s a lot of work entailed, admittedly, but the rewards are unimaginable and more likely to improve your life than winning several million on the Lottery. Of course, there are some people who were hoping that magic would be a way of getting what they wanted without working for it. There are still a lot of would-be magical practitioners who think of magic as a way of, for example, making someone fall in love with them, or conjuring up cash, or punishing somebody who’s offended them with a demonic curse. This, in the current author’s own opinion, is just lazy, cowardly, manipulative bullshit. If someone’s offended you then sort it out yourself, assuming that you can’t just, y’know, move on and get over it the way a grown-up would. If you want money, then why don’t you magically-get off your magic arse and do some magic work and see if money doesn’t magically arrive? And if you want someone to love you, do the necessary work upon yourself that makes you somebody-worth loving. Trying to coerce someone’s affections through the use of sorcery compares unfavourably with simple rape, where at least you’re not trying to involve eternal spirits in your wretched, verminous activities. Generally, the rule is that if there is something that can be accomplished by quite ordinary material means, don’t bother magic with it. On the other hand if there’s some immaterial demon messing up your life, like anger or depression or addiction, then magic maybe the very thing you need to give your problems both a name and face, to banish them or at least to negotiate with them and perhaps see them in a different and more useful light.

Magic isn’t there to turn us into gods, although that’s certainly what it has been mistaken for. Instead, magic is what can turn us into complete human beings, fulfilled in their lives and in control of their own destinies. Even if all the above is no more than misguided speculation and if there’s no more to magic than an over-active use of the imagination, think about the benefits that a better relationship with your imagination might allow you, maybe that job as a writer or an artist that you’ve always dreamed about, if only you could work out where such people get their ideas from. It may not be the bolts of fire from the fingertips that Gandalf led you to believe it was, but I’m reliably informed that it can still be a productive and incredibly enjoyable existence.

Science is a perfect tool to measure our material universe, but it is only consciousness, beyond the reach of science, that lends that universe its meaning. Without meaning, this is just a random, accidental world and all life is an ultimately unimportant fluke of chemistry and physics. If, however, you chose to see your existence as ablaze with meaning and significance, then magic is a worldview and a faculty that’s free to everyone, part of their birthright as a conscious human being. All that’s needed is a shift in how you see reality and you can change reality itself, at least as far as you’re concerned. With our environmental, financial and personal resources at an all time low, it might be that the most abundant human energy resource of all is right between our eyes, just waiting to be tapped and to transform the battered matter of our world with its endless new possibilities.

We could have magic, running in the gutters like lightning.

Books of 2019

Started but didn’t finish a bunch of books this year, including A Joyce Carol Oates novel that was too hard to read before bedtime and a Lynne Reid Banks novel that had too much mono-melodrama 🙂

Dune took ages to finish but at least I did (on my second try)

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That time I became a man

NB: I am a cis woman, assigned female at birth, and I’m pretty happy about it. I have never felt a need/desire to transition, so this is not that kind of story. It’s a different kind of story.

Background

When a girl-child acts and dresses kind of like a boy-child she is called a tomboy, and that was me. I liked to climb trees, hang out with boys and play with gadgets. I favoured trousers and pockets and came home with grass stains on my jeans.

But, I also fancied boys and wore dresses and when Clueless the movie came out I fell in love with long socks and miniskirts, and I adored wearing shirts with a short skirt and heels. I played with dolls, kept a secret diary and devoured teen romance novels. I was obssessed with relationships and boyfriends.

For me, any behaviour that is normally gendered seemed to be theoretically on the table. I understood that people often divide down gender lines but I felt that you didn’t actually have to. Anyone can grow up to be anything, right? Such was the luxury of being a girl in the 80s/90s. So I happily sampled from both genders in terms of behaviours, clothes, thoughts & hobbies.

Context

The local context of this ‘when I became a man’ story is much the same in terms of gender. I was in my late 20’s, newly out of a long relationship, newly out as bi, and also quite newly polyamorous. I was a passionate feminist activist, and a menstrual activist. I talked to people about their periods, having completed my dissertation on it at university. My friends called me ‘the period lady’. I loved being female and was making more and more female friends.

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I was also deeply engaged with masculinity, what it means to be in the “active” role in a relationship with a woman, especially sexually, how to ‘get girls’ and so on. I was also curious more genereally since I’d always had such a strong masculine side throughout my life. I was reading radical feminist texts and hanging out with lesbians, while also trying to have sex with lesbians, and also feeling more kinship with men as my friends and lovers. Armed with awareness of how to deconstruct gender, I was exploring what being a man really means.

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I played around with lowering the pitch of my voice, I dressed in a masculine way, I already had short hair and a bit of swagger, I sometimes pencilled a moustache on my lip at parties. I was curious how much you could do without changing your body in any way. How much was masculinity a state of mind, and how much could you project that to others? How much does biology matter when it comes to being a man?

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Early mustache

I like to think I was quite successful. When feeling masc I was constantly ID’d for alcohol because I looked like an 18 year old boy. As soon as they looked closer they could see I was a nearly 30 year old woman, but the first glance had completely fooled them. I was also mistaken for a guy in shops or in bars, with people greeting me and my friends as “lads” and “fellas” until they realised I was clearly female.

I discovered how warmly men treat other men, when they think no women are around.

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Masc for a party

I sunbathed topless all summer that year with my guy friends, to see if I could trick people even when naked, by my posture and by being in a group of other guys. It worked. It would take people whole minutes to realise I was actually a woman with my tits out. I was never bothered about it or arrested, even though I was in public parks or in our front garden facing the street.

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I’m in the middle

 

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In the local park

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These pics are all on Facebook and have never been reported

I interanalised a lot of it too, fairly frequently commenting “come on, you can speak freely, we’re all guys here” or accidentally miscounting the number of men and women in a room because I’d counted myself as a guy.

I also had a friend where me and her joked that she was my “wife” and I was her “husband”. Here I am with a protective arm around her chatting away while she rolls me a smoke.

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Setting the stage: Makron

One of my best friends from this time was Makron (not his real name). Here’s us.

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Listening to drum ‘n’ bass in the local dive bar

Here’s me imitating him while we roll cigarettes.

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My t-shirt says “My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard”

Makron (and our other male friend Feo) never questioned my desire to act like a guy and were completely on board with me relating to them as a guy would. It wasn’t hard, we were all into smoking and video games and talking about women. Makron got me into drum n bass and we would go moshing together. Feo patiently played Halo with me on the Xbox 360 while I got the hang of analog sticks on the controller. We would fuck around yelling at people on the street and trying to slap each other as hard as we could.

Makron loved women and dated various people on and off during our friendship. I slept with three of the men in the house we lived in, including Feo and Makron, and slept with several women in our friendship group. Makron and I talked openly about our escapades and once he mentioned that none of his girlfriends had ever let him do anal, because even if they were into it, his penis was too big.

Another time, I asked him when he lost his virginity, and questioned him when he said he lost it “properly” at age 18. I had to drag it out of him but it turns out that while he lost his ‘virginity’ to a woman at 18,  he actually lost his virginity to a boy at age 15, back when he lived in Portugal. Him and this boy were fucking for about a year, so it was not just ‘experimentation’ or an accident at school. This was a whole thing!

He once mentioned that he’s mostly into women, but for some reason he starts to find men attractive in spring time. How awesome is that? Bisexual men exist y’all.

Another thing about Makron was that he refused to wear condoms. Not only was this bad for me because of diseases and being poly, I also had stopped using hormonal contraception years before, because of its negative effects. Between that and him having monogamous girlfriends, our sexual interactions were limited.

The time I turned into a man

One day, at a party, Makron was really horny and so was I. We really wanted some kind of sex to happen. He wouldn’t budge on the condoms but I told him that I was into anal and willing to try.

Anal is always tricky but after a bit of fumbling we got his cock in me and he started gently thrusting. Anal is an extremely intense experience, almost overwhelming at times. But me and Makron were very close by this time, I trusted him and myself, I felt super secure and horny and we could read each other really well.

Suddenly I tuned in to what Makron was doing as he fucked me. He was touching my hair. Delicately, maybe even nervously. He was also not touching my boobs or butt, rather pulling on my hips and touching my neck. He was avoiding the parts of me that were female. At that moment a bunch of different realisations hit me from different conversations we’d had over many months. In one huge moment I realised that he was experiencing me as a man.

He had lost his viriginty to a guy and had tons of sex with him, but only slept with women after that. None of the women he’d slept with had ever done anal with him. And I spent all my time relating to him as a guy. Now here we were, doing something he had only ever done with guys.

He was touching my hair and penetrating my butt, remembering what it was like back when he was 15 with that boy in Portugal. He was a guy relating to me as a guy, and for all intents and purposes, I was a guy too.

My masc energy was more than willing to rise up and meet that, I’d been practicing with my mind, my body and my voice for months. Hell, I’d thrown off a shirt, waistcoat and tie and left my “wife” downstairs to come up and do this. I was overwhelmed by the physical sensations of the sex, and a little drunk too.

I ran with it.

In that moment, for just a fraction of a second, I feel and I like to believe I “became” a guy. My biology didn’t change, but I experienced myself as a guy while someone else was experiencing me as a guy, together in one of the most intimate ways two humans can experience and witness each other. It was and remains the most transcendant moment of my life.

Nothing changed after that. We’re still friends, though separated by time and distance. I’m convinced masculinity is largely in the body-mind system and deeply influenced by intention. The meaning of my experience is, as with all things, a complex interplay of many factors.  I don’t know if there is some “essence” in biology that is required in order to be a man, and of course I will never know, but I’m certainly suspicious that it is required.

I’m not sure how to adequately sum up this story, but we’re all guys here, so maybe I don’t have to.

How I Left The Cult

I was raised in the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I stopped attending meetings and ceremonies when I was 16.

TL;DR I didn’t actively leave, my mum broke some rules and the family sort of drifted out. But I spent a long time, from ages 16-27 “de-programming” myself. If you’re wondering whether to leave something, you probably should.

Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a late 19th Century Christian sect, originally from the US.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Millenarianist in that they think an end time is coming, and  Millenialist which is an interpretation of Christ being installed in a 1,000 year reign over Earth, before the final “end time” occurs.

They hold a fundamentalist view on the Bible, meaning they take the words of the bible literally, rather than as metaphor. Their interpretation differs from other sects, partly because of their founding leader Charles Russell, and partly because they use their own translation of the bible.

Famously they believe in the Old Testament doctrine prohibiting the imbibing of blood, so they refuse blood transfusions, however they do not practice kosher eating. They also do not participate in birthdays, Easter, Christmas or Hallowe’en celebrations, considering these to be pagan festivals with no basis in scripture.

They refuse military service, do not vote, and are famous for going door to door preaching their religion. They reject the notions of an eternal soul, the existence of hell and the “holy trinity” doctrine.

They have strict social and interpersonal rules, mostly inspired by the moral values in the late 19th century US.

See the wiki link for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses

My History With The J-Dubs

There is a family photo of me as a 5 week old baby, taken “at Twickenham”, a stadium which is famous for rugby but which Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes use for their annual “district assembly”, massive weekend-long gatherings for JWs that occur in sports stadiums. They are primarily outside, with folks sitting on the concrete in the summer sun (and rain!) for three days straight. While comfort provision is made for members at the event, it is nonetheless quite an undertaking to take a newborn along.

This canonical family photo illustrates to me that I really was raised for my entire childhood in the JW religion.

Some time before, the J-dubs had knocked on my parent’s door, as so many people around the world have an experience of, and my Dad was the kind of guy to say to them, without irony, “hmmm, sounds interesting, please come in”. He found the religion appealing, and for some reason my Mum agreed to join as well.

I assume this is because her own mother and older sister had converted some years previous, and for a short time as a teenager she went along to JW events with them. She had grown up and moved out before she married my Dad at age 20, so presumably she’d left it all behind for those years. However when her new husband became interested in what the JWs had to say, I guess she found it familiar. The JWs place great emphasis on a wife obeying a husband, so the two of them became Jehovah’s Witnesses together.

A few years later my parents’ marriage broke down (I was 3 and my sister 2). My mother divorced my father. My mother continued to raise me and my sister as Witnesses after the divorce. I think she partly used his faith, and conviction that we should be “saved” at Armageddon to ensure she got custody of us during the divorce (my father was expelled from the religion, so could not make sure we were saved himself). But to her credit she made good on her promise to make sure we were indeed raised as JWs until we were adults.

We ended up living with my gran, who had been a devout JW for decades. My gran was my caregiver because my Mum worked full time. It went without question that all four of us would be JWs and attend all the meetings without fail.

My father quickly remarried and subsequently raised his children from his second marriage as Jehovah’s Witnesses too. (He had been expelled for the first divorce but when the JWs came knocking again in his new town they let him back in.) So myself and my sister, plus my half siblings (a brother and sister) were all raised in this weird Christian fundamentalist religion.

Being raised a JW

It’s very hard to describe what it’s like to be raised a JW. I will give at best a patchy version of my experiences here.

One of the major things I remember is that, because of their “socially separate” policy and their beliefs in general, I was marked out as different to everyone else literally every single day at school.

I was not allowed to attend the 5 minutes of morning assembly that was “religious” (all they did was sing a hymn or something), but I was supposed to listen to the school announcements etc. So halfway through assembly I had to slip in through the door at the back of the school hall. Every day, their would be this weird pause between the hymn and the notices and the whole school would turn around to look as me and the Jewish kid filed in at the back. Every. Single. Day.

Then there was the No Christmas, No Birthdays, No Hallowe’en, No Easter thing. This comes up a lot at school when you’re younger. Almost every week is one of these holidays and the teacher is taking a break by just having everyone make cards or decorations, but I had to be given some non-religious ‘alternative’ task to do. Either that or sit in silence when people sang happy birthday, or leave the room altogether if Christmas carols were being sung.

Couple that with being a teacher’s pet (grades were the way to get love in my household) and you have a child who is so unutterably different that I was bullied by absence. I was tainted, and to even speak to me was to risk contamination. The social isolation was profound.

The witnesses have a perfect circular reasoning trick for this. Somewhere in the bible Jesus warns his followers that they will be hated for spreading his word. So the more JWs receive grief, the more it confirms that they are on the right track, and following Jesus correctly.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a lot to say about sex. No sex before marriage, obviously, but some kinds of sex are restricted during marriage (anal), no masturbation for anyone but especially teenagers and of course, it’s not ok to be gay.

These points were raised explicitly and regularly to make sure everyone “stays strong”. These teachings contributed to me feeling guilt, anxiety and repression about sex both in childhood and in adult life.

The witnesses take a similarly draconian view on drugs, smoking, tattoos, sex or violence in the media and bad language. They also ban members from watching movies with too much magic in it (Harry Potter), or something that may be influenced by ‘demons’ (Lord of the Rings). They believe ‘demons’ to be invisible, and mostly don’t believe in possession, but nonetheless think they are very real.

We weren’t allowed posters on our walls (idolatry), or pictures of magical animals (demons), to have friends outside of the witnesses (bad associations), or to listen to certain music (bad language/demonic) or to celebrate birthdays or Christmas (pagan). The Kingdom Hall itself (the church building), had no decorations at all, but it was kept spotlessly clean. Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about how bland and lifeless the religion is.

The organisation itself acknowledges how hard it is to hold strictly to 19th century protestant moral values late in the 20th century and there’s a lot of talk of sacrifice and trials and the hard road and keeping on the straight and narrow, in order to stay true to God. I believe this created a strong anhedonia in me, whereby I restricted all of my thoughts and feelings by default, even for things that were “allowed”, because holding back, buttoning down and waiting were so valourised.

How I got out

Passive leaving

I didn’t, really. In the heady days of internet relay chat my mum met a man on the internet, then met him in real life and one day in the summer after I turned sixteen my mum told me the news that she was pregnant.

Having sex outside of wedlock is a pretty serious offence to the J-dubs and so my mum was temporarily suspended while they considered what to do.

Mum usually drove us to the meetings, but without her taking us, myself and my sister just by default didn’t go along either. Our gran’s faith was always a powerful force in terms of keeping us in the religion and attending meetings every week, but I’m not sure if she kept going during this period or not. 

Without any external drive to keep going along to the meetings, I remember clearly that it felt like a spell being broken. All my week nights and weekends were free. It felt like bliss coming from an absence, like the silence after an annoying noise finally stops. My life was empty and silent. Calm.

Later I would reflect that going to the meetings all the time, and it occupying so much of your life, is one way they keep members in thrall to the religion.

There was also an oppressive silence between all the family members,  like a held breath. It was very tense, but I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible and be with my boyfriend instead.

After about a month, I got back from a weekend at my boyfriend’s house to learn that mum had been in hospital because she’d had a miscarriage. Even though the weekend was dramatic and scary, it was obvious that this baby not existing was a huge relief to everyone. Not long later I learned that the elders had decided my mum could return to the Witnesses if she showed repentance, but we never went back. It was an entirely unspoken thing, as was always the case with my mum in those years.

At the time I barely mention these goings on in my diary, instead I’m mooning over the latest boy, but a bit later I repeat several times “I’m never going back to the meetings”.

So for my entire life I had been in a cult, which shaped my entire mental and emotional landscape from birth, attending three meetings a week, every week plus occasionally door knocking on Saturdays, and then suddenly I just… wasn’t. I got out of the cult passively, the spell was broken, and what remained was a void.

Active leaving

In my diaries a bit later I say “I’m never going back to the meetings” and I sound as though I’ve made an active decision. In my self-narrative nowadays, I normally tell people that I had my suspicions about the religion by the time my family left, but was sort of ignoring them, and waiting to be older to find out what it all really meant.

An ex-JW friend I met much later would describe it as the “after armageddon box” – a place where you put your doubtful thoughts about the religion and god ready to be asked later, when we might have access to god or Jesus after the end times have happened. Eventually his “after armageddon box” was so full that he began to doubt the religion a lot.

I normally say that if my family hadn’t drifted out when I was 16, it wouldn’t have been much longer before I left myself. My general goal with life at that time was just to hang on until age 18 and finish school, finally be an adult, and get out from living with my parents as soon as I could. Even though they practice famously severe shunning of any ex-member, I’m sure I would have left the religion behind too.

However, that’s not what happened. We left when I was 16; when I was 17 I moved in with my Dad (mum had been threatening to throw me out for months) and he and his family were all still very much in the faith. Since I had never been baptised as an adult, I was considered a “prodigal son” and should be gently cajoled to return to the religion rather than fully shunned, so they were allowed to talk to me.

Despite being encouraged to go to the meetings for the whole time I lived with them, I stood firm that I wasn’t going to go back. That much was very active on my part. I “ran away” from living with them when I was 18 (my stepmother read my diary and point blank refused to talk to me again), just after I’d finished my school exams. I lived with my Mum again for a short time, and as soon as I saved up a few paychecks, I moved out forever.

Deprogramming

Some problems

When we first drifted out of the religion, I decided to sleep with my boyfriend. The moment my mum told my 16-year-old self that she was pregnant I had the crystal-clear thought: “you don’t get to tell me what to do any more”. I lost all respect for her, because of everything that her pregnancy implied, both secular and religious. So yes I had sex with my boyfriend (but I was sure to get on contraception first!)

That year I also had my first experience of celebrating Christmas with him and his family. In the few scholarly texts that mention Jehovah’s Witnesses, they say that ex members are often socially awkward around the giving and receiving of gifts, which I empathise with.

However apart from those two things I didn’t immediately deprogramme from the thoughts that the religion had inculcated. My life was a tire fire from ages 16-19 and I had little time or stability to do any reflective thought.

But as soon as I moved out and had a stable boyfriend at around age 19, I began deprogramming in earnest. I realised I needed to systematically check all of my beliefs, not just the ones about God. My boyfriend of that time helped by walking me through the more obvious things like creation vs evolution. He also helped me try weed and later, other drugs.

Then the problem was sex. I had huge guilt around it, and weird thoughts like I must intend to marry my sexual partner, if not actually be married, in order for it to be ok to have sex. I had a very low sex drive, partly due to repressing pleasurable feelings.

I also had very low affect, my emotions were numbed out, though I think that had as much to do with my family life as the religion. Relatedly, I still have issues with finding enjoyment in things, which makes decision making surprisingly hard.

I now think I was also developmentally stunted. I was extremely smart, but condescending, arrogant and dismissive with other people. I had no empathy, even with friends. My boyfriend had to keep reminding me “you can’t treat people like that”. In the terms of the psychological theory that I mention on my philosophy blog, I was still in Kegan stage 2 – a non-empathetic stage normally traversed in early teens – at the age of 19-20.

I believe the move away to my dad’s house is a pertinent example. My dad’s home was around 200 miles away from my mum, and so there was no possibility of seeing my old friends when I moved there. I left without telling anyone I was going, it all happened during half term.

I eventually heard through my mum that my best friend was very upset. I was confused by this, because we always talked about how we would like to move out from our mums to live with our dads (she was from a single parent household too). I thought she would realise that I had made it out and gone to a better place and be happy for me. I just could not understand why she would be sad or angry. I remember being confused and then not really thinking about it afterwards. I was 17 at the time.

It was only years later, in my early 20s, at the earliest, that I realised that of course she would be upset. She might miss me, or be upset that everything was so sudden, that I didn’t care enough to give her a quick message of some kind, or that she might be jealous that I’d moved away or indeed have any number of strong emotions about what happened.

Some solutions

Living with dad helped a few things. He and his kids were naturally more touchy-feely than my family, which I appreciated. He forced me out of my tendency to go silent when I was upset or crying. It was a revelation to me that he actually wanted to hear what was wrong, and actually try to help. I had to deal with being a snotty mess in someone else’s presence. An almost unbearable form of being ‘seen’ at the time. Being in a totally different family held a mirror up to some of my assumptions, especially around the “fair” distribution of chocolate biscuits. He also answered all my questions about why he and my mum got divorced. A classic case of there being at least two sides to every story.

Once I’d moved out away from parents, I read some self help books to figure the emotional and sex stuff out, and Oliver James’ ‘They Fuck You Up’ book was particularly useful for this. I wrote pages of self reflection on an A3 notepad. I also kept writing in my diary. I was a prolific poetry writer too.

I ferreted out cached beliefs one by one. Sometimes I did things just because JWs ban them so I went and voted (JWs are instructed to be politically neutral).  I carried a lighter in case anyone who smoked asked me for one. I placed a bet on a boxing match (gambling also forbidden). I took a certain joy in doing things that would shock JWs, or my parents in general. I still have that joy. I also tried to detect much more subtle discriminations. I occasionally caught myself being judgey about people, and asked myself: why? One example I strongly remember is disliking people who had tattoos, only because the Jdubs sneer at them. I decided to throw those thoughts in the bin.

I read a lot of books, absorbing how other people feel about life, which helped me to figure out the range of things that people can feel. I read Sylvia Plath’s diaries, Anaïs Nin stories, Henry Miller novels, a psychology of self harm book, Kathy Acker’s punk feminism, Alan Moore’s ‘Lost Girls’ graphic novel. I would read anything, especially fiction and science fiction, but I was drawn to books about sex and books about or by depressed women.

I read pages and pages of books. I also watched hundreds of films, got stoned every day and got into music. I have an enduring love for art that is bleak or nihilistic.

My life at the time was a continuous struggle with poverty. I never had any spare money, although I felt great because I lived in my own place. I worked at a library and got all my books and films from there. Being poor takes a lot of time and energy, so the progress was quite slow. Eventually, at age 21, I went to university.

At university I discovered equal rights and feminism. I also got into philosophy by the sideways route of doing an art degree with no prior experience with art. The art library had lots of philosophy books, because art and life inform each other. I wasn’t that great at making art, so I would read instead. I became a Sunday manager at the nearby public library while I studied, so I still had access to public library books too.

I had a tiny bit of NHS therapy during uni, because at age 23, after feeling I’d done so much work to deprogramme myself, I developed an acute anxiety condition. It was triggered by thoughts of death, a concept I had until then not really thought about, because the JWs believe in immortal life on earth. I also had wind: trapped air in the digestive system. It’s easily cured but it makes you feel short of breath and in pain when you eat. It is funny now, but it contributed to me having several panic attacks. I spent my entire last year of uni in a haze, feeling like I was watching myself on a screen, and worried I would have more attacks. I started to feel better after about a year. Over a decade on, my fear of death and the anxiety I get from that thought still haunt my evening times, because it’s not easy to rationalise.

My work as a librarian helped me to develop empathy. I’ve always been hard on myself to be true to my principles, and I really believed in doing a good job and in intellectual honesty. I had to work with people who were homeless, very old, very young (and unsupervised) and / or relatively mentally ill. I wanted to truly help them ‘fairly’ which meant I had to really pay attention to what they said and how they thought. Trying to teach a paranoid schizophrenic 50 year old how to use a computer is a humbling experience.

I was with the same boyfriend all through this time, he helped me a lot. He constantly scolded me for not considering how other people felt. It must have been because of him that I finally figured out my friend’s feelings about me moving away.

But my relationship with him is also a story of lack of empathy. I believed we had a great relationship and were mostly happy through our 7 years together. But I found out after we broke up that he felt a lot of pain throughout those years because of things I did to him. I’m not sure of the details because I heard it through mutual friends.

He never seemed to tell me about problems at the time, but maybe I didn’t hear it. Probably I dismissed things that weren’t expressed clearly and forcefully. I still tend to do that. But even if we allow for the fact that someone who keeps too quiet in relationships often ends up with someone who pushes forward and is decisive, it was a shock to me that he was so unhappy but I didn’t know. So even though I was developing empathy I clearly wasn’t applying it well in my home life and now when I look back I still think it was a shallow empathy, with not much mastery.

Completing Deprogramming

In my mid to later twenties I had a number of life milestones. I came out as bi (after reading a book, of course). I joined an active feminist group and did many activities with them. I founded my own bi group. I became polyamorous, at first with my partner of all those years and then I continued after we broke up. We had moved to a new city by then and I was trying to make new friends. Friends who were lesbians, feminists and weed smokers. ‘Bad associations’ indeed! After the breakup I moved out into a sharehouse of strangers; I was finally living on my own.

Around the age of 27, after living in that sharehouse a while, I realised I felt like I had reached a point of being more “normal”, by which I mean normal levels of fucked-upness, rather an extraordinary and weird levels of fucked-upness.

I had made a point of being more independent. I had had lots of life experiences, from uni to management jobs to rolling my own joints to storming police lines.

I’d examined and binned so many ideas. First from the JWs, but then I’d also completely overshot and was examining and binning conventional ideas from “normal” society too.

Binning the ideas from the J-dubs was helping me heal, but binning “normal” society was also helping profoundly. For example, a strange side effect of trying polyamory was that it unlocked my ability to do social touch with friends. I’ve no idea why.

So by around this time, I felt normal.

And slightly to my annoyance, I was starting to see that my experiences, knowledge and confidence were having an effect on others. The unusual ways I lived my life were intriguing to people. When I spoke, everyone would fall silent and listen, which never used to happen.

Without me really wanting it, people were looking to me for advice on how to be, wheras previously I had always been the student of that. It was ever clearer that my project of ridding myself of indoctrination was over. The work of choosing how to live had begun.

Lasting effects

It’s been 7 or 8 years since I reached “normal” and then completely overshot. I now live a life that is in many ways extraordinary and probably to most people, very weird.

But, I still feel the effects of things from childhood.

I still feel that relationships with others is my biggest weakness.  I have an extremely spiky personality, a defence against always being the outsider, never being accepted. Although acceptance is something I obviously deeply crave.

I still have intermittent anxiety, I still worry about dying.

Despite appearances I still have very conventional sex and not lots of it, but I’m proud I can have sex at all, considering.

I have an abiding deep suspicion of “knowledge” or “truth”, of people in “authority”. The study of how we know what we know will always fascinate me.

It’s very hard to disentangle the effects of the religion from the effects of my general family life. It’s tempting to think that actually perhaps most of my problems, if that’s what they are, would have come from family dynamics no matter what religion we followed, if any. A child with essentially absent and emotionally distant parents was always going to have trouble with empathetic relationships. In a way this post is merely about “how I left my family”, rather than how I left a cult.

However it’s kind of a chicken and an egg. The religious flavour is important. My parents were exactly the kind of people to be drawn to this particular religion thanks to their own traumas. They are the kind of people who want to be wrapped up tight by strict rules and be soothed by being told exactly what to think, from people who know exactly what is happening and know exactly what to do to make everything ok. If they were not scooped up by this cult, it would have been another one, or some other paternalistic system. The details may have been slightly different but probably the neuroses in me would have ended up exactly the same.

I was raised by people who can’t handle the world as it is, and that makes me very sad for them. Strangely enough for me, after being raised believing that humans are evil and our civilisation has reached a nadir so bad that god is going to smite it all away, I’ve come to find a great joy in the fact that humans are actually just apathetic or greedy or damaged.  And also creative, generous and joyful. I trust myself and my decision making. I feel I do understand the way the world works, and find that comforting, even though the drive to understand came from pathological roots.

Advice for others

If you’re wondering whether to do something that will really shake your life up, especially if you have to leave something, I would encourage you to do it. You can’t un-see whatever it is you’ve seen. The worry you’re feeling now is probably not actually about whether leaving is a good or bad decision, because you already have one foot out of the door. It’s more about feelings of grief, grief that you used to feel tightly embedded in something, and now you don’t.

No-one likes changing, but change happens to us, whether we like it or not. It’s a bit of a slog, but learning how to change, and not being scared of it, is a massive life skill that eventually brings a ton of its own comfort, and success.

If you feel you’ve been kicked out of a plane and are falling backwards, arms flailing, watching the plane get smaller and smaller in your vision and feeling scared, picture this: you might as well roll over and face the ground. You can direct the fall, watch the view, even go sailing around like a bird in the wind. Feel the rush, try to enjoy it. The entire world is literally in front of you, you might as well direct where you land.

Once you’ve left, you’re going to need information. Religious cults in particular restrict information, so read books (or listen to podcasts), read the internet and figure out how you think things really are. Lots of people just substitute one belief system for another, try not to do that. Instead try to figure out why you don’t trust your own intuition about what to think.

Three things:

Fiction is just as important as non-fiction, especially for emotional work. Art of all kinds is very important, and comedy.

While approaching at your own pace and using caution, you should definitely, definitely take drugs. See which ones call to you, any will do. Then don’t overdo it.

Finally, enlist other people. Cults are deliberately isolationist, to remove any chance of “wrong” information reaching you. Other people are a mirror and a support. Try to meet and get to know a broad range of people. Their example can help you figure out how you want to be.

Finally:

Everything is going to be ok. I promise.

Just run the numbers

One thing I’ve learned from the LessWrong/CFAR/SlateStarCodex rationalist crowd is the power of sketching something out with rough numbers. Indeed, there is a whole blog called Put A Number On It! in this space.

I’ve recently felt a divide appear between myself and my friends relating to increased ability with strategic thinking and increased future timelines, and I think sketching out rough numbers when making decisions has helped to precipitate this.

An example is my partner wants to switch career. He achieved a temporary job in an office, doing something other than what he normally does in offices. This is providing him short-term relief from his crap old job. But his real short-to-medium term goal is to labour on building sites for slightly more money. The office job is full-time under the normal tax system, which means higher taxes and lower pay but paid holidays and sickness days. While the labouring job would be self-employed, meaning higher paid and lower taxes but unpaid sickness or holiday and potential gaps in work contracts.

One day he told me that the labouring job would pay less per day than we initially thought, but had the “potential” to increase to the amount that we assumed initially.

I immediately grabbed a scrap of paper and ran some numbers.

  • yearly salary in office job – minus nothing for 4 weeks holiday and 1 week sick. Calculate total.
  • potential yearly salary on labouring job minus 4 weeks holiday and 1 week sick. Calculate total.

The difference between taxes is harder to do in a simple way so I decided that any reduction in tax when labouring would probably be offset by the loss created by a gap between contracts, where you’re off work but don’t want to be.

I  did quick check of how many working days there are per year (220) to get the daily rate into a yearly one. I then decided to check on a local job website for the yearly salary of an inexperienced office worker vs. an office worker in the same job with more experience – because we needed to check the “potential” figures as well for that job and we already knew the “beginner” and “experienced” numbers for the labouring job.

I then ran the same calculations as above.

The whole process took precisely 4 minutes with a pen and paper and one internet search.

The numbers came out very strongly in favour of the office job, both now and in the “potential” future. Which was a surprise.

This little exploration of the options available quickly using easy numbers that were already known was an automatic reflex on my part, it showed a very stark difference between the two options, and covered a time span of 1-6 years. It was incredibly simple and incredible clarifying.

And did not occur to my partner in the slightest.

In the rationalisty space, there are of course more complex extensions of this method that can involve probabilities, ratios, or deducing an unknown number from known ones (e.g. how much would I have to earn/save to make this plan viable?) however just the basic write-it-all-down premise is extremely powerful on its own.

So, this is short post to remind / tell everyone: put a number on it!