My Name is Why, love by its absence.

After the age of 7, I admit to never feeling comfortable with teenage boys. I avoided them, especially at night. Today, in my imagination, I was 12 years old again, in an old homework room at boarding school. Hot tears were running down my face from painful homesickness for my Mum and the wild I missed, whilst hugging a 14 year old boy from a care home, himself lovesick for a loving family he never truly had.

Lemn Sissay’s fearless memoir My Name is Why is a book of love by its absence. Lemn is the name given to him by his birth mother from Ethiopia, and means Why in the language of Amharic. Read the book for why she left him in a mill town in Lancashire, but it wasn’t intended to be forever. 

An English name was super-imposed over his identity; Norman, Man of the North ~ and his  blood ties to the south were soon smothered. He grew up like a coral tree through the hardest floors and walls of the places of a State trying to box him in. The Baby home, the Foster home, the Care homes, an ‘Assessment Centre’ which was really a  cover for a borstal without trial. He reveals all in brutal evidence, printing the original letters and reports into the pages of his book ~ click click clack goes the typewriter ~ the documents slotted into four files were eventually surrendered to him years later in middle age.

Placed at just a few weeks old with a white religious foster family with their own unsoluble pain and enmity, this beautiful black child was expected to grow into a good Christian white boy. They collaborated with The Authority, as he describes those working for the State, to stop him from returning to the arms of his mother as she had wished. Not only was he separated from her, but from her culture and his roots. The foster family went on to have three children of their ‘own’, and the stresses of that would begin to tell in intolerance and un-lovingness. Just when he was entering a most vulnerable emotional time ~ puberty ~  they ejected him totally from their lives.

He was 12. That renunciation. The kick in the stomach. It would make anyone question whether love was ever real.

When I was 12, I was sent away to a boarding school, entrusted to Catholic Nuns by my parents to care for me, and they made me an emotional wreck. I began pulling my hair out with anxiety (now called Trichotillomania) and it is only since chemo last year that I have stopped.

I have not written about this before, and shared with only a very few people I know, but I’d been attacked five years earlier by a teenage boy when staying with relatives as my mother was sent away to a mental hospital to recover from a deep depression. I told no-one. As I read of Lemn’s teenage resistance to the callousness of his so-called carers, and the emotional turmoil they caused him, and the twisting of truth to fit a heinous racist steriotype, I think my imaginative hug was a yearning to feel that immense Lemn-strength, and at the same time quell my own rage. I was supposed to be cared for too. Care means the opposite of abuse. I wanted Lemn to feel the love he should have always felt.

It must have been traumatic for him, and also crystalised within me, like the salts formed from an evaporation. An evaporation of what we deem ‘secure’; what we deem ‘love’. I loved my Mum and she loved me, but she left me three times; to go away to hospital, to leave me in boarding school, and to commit suicide. Each time wasn’t her fault but I am scarred. Lemn survived the next few years by an incredible depth of resolve, knowing instinctively that things were just wrong. On each page of the book, he shares his hopes, and we witness them smashed, and then he rebuilds them again with enigmatic barefoot rebellion, night time wanderings,  Bob Marley, and an explicit trust in poetry. He had been searching for love and freedom, and found more than the sum of both within himself. He escaped to a life of passionate devotion  to the written and spoken word. And the story has not ended. 

I feel the Unity of Opposites have been at play once more, in the tension between what is love and what isn’t, and the point along that plane inbetween, where justice lies or does not. We all need love in full-blooded fury ~ healing love ~ and Lemn did not get it.

Love exists in changling forms, from eros to agape and especially in storge, the parent/child love that may also exist between those not blood related. Imagination is a part of love. We experience in the ‘now,’ yes, but we remember the past and imagine the future. We formulate how we express love both in private and in public.

Lemn’s book is of private and public love unsentimentally described by its absence in the past and search into the future. This is a wisdom harshly earned and generously shared. We all want a better world and My Name is Why is as loving as a book can ever be. I hope he has received true love since, and tenfold. 


Equinox and the Unity of Opposites

Autumnal Wye, by me.

It’s Autumnal Equinox in the Northern hemisphere, a point where night and day bridge equivalence like giant balancing scales. There is no opposition. All is flow throughout our annual voyage around the Sun. Yet light and dark are opposites.

Time flows constantly like a river, woven through life and death, change and recurrence: The sequence of days, the cycle of months, the rhythm of seasons ~ years pass.

The unity of these opposites provide the tensions needed in nature for existence. Tension, in this sense, isn’t necessarily about identity or conflict. It is more like the taught string of the musical instrument called life process, to be played with exquisite results. Where the notes are in harmony we may find justice. Where they are not, then our place along the plane of tension is unjust.

One could take it further and express all things this way. Life itself, for example, flows from the tension between existence and non-existence.

It’s been a while since I have mentioned the wisdom of Heraclitus. Equinox seems a good day to revisit him, as his theory of a Unity of Opposites still serves us well. Born to an aristocratic family in the ancient Ionian city of Ephesus, Heraclitus came to dislike power and religious conformity; and abandoned fellow humans to spend time wandering mountains and rivers foraging for wild herbs. I’d say he seemed Thoreau-like, but Thoreau was most certainly Heraclitean. Both must have felt sanguimund in some order, and with great philosophical influence.

‘Upon those who step into the same rivers different and different waters flow.’

Heraclitus’s famous river fragment flowed, I contend, directly from the River Cayster, “Little Meander,” which rises from Mount Ida and flows westward through Homeric Trojan battle fields into the Aegean near Selçuk, now Turkey. It once traveled right into the Port of Ephesus but the coastal zone has advanced and the ruins of Ephesus now lie miles inland. The city grew up and through the DNA of earlier Indo-European settlements ~ the Anatolians and the Hittites buried deep beneath with the ghost-language that is the root of much of our own. One only needs to imagine Heraclitus as a small boy of this city; a bright and inquisitive child, finding relics in soils and hearing hand-me-down tales of Eastern promise, or cultures assimilated or subsumed by Ionians, and then by the great first Persian Empire. 

I also imagine the human landscape and floloca there, in tension, over space/time, tipping one way or another along that plane or string. The Cayster River silted at its mouth and out into the ocean, most likely due to agricultural practices upstream, eventually rendering Ephesus a distant memory. The river is ever dying and reborn; it preserves the form of ‘river’, one specific to its history, current existence, failure and future.

Within nature, we too are the same. In knowing, in closeness, what we can search for is justice and when we find it, hold on to it ~ the harmony.

Heraclitus must have known the Cayster very well, which is perhaps why the river fragment exists at all. The river was also key in Homer’s stories of the Trojan War, as backdrop to infamous battles scenes. The two men related to this river rather differently, yet it is the same river. The identity of ‘river’ remains in tact ~ it is known, familiar and remembered. But its structure and context is in constant flux. And this is the dialectic ~ The Unity of Opposites. 

As is the state of life itself right now, and as in love, we must change along the plane of tension to find that point of justice. It’s a natural justice ~ we’ll know it when we find it.

And it will be called the Symbiocene. 




Malbys, Maltrys, Catastrophic Extinction Event.

Barrels of oilIt’s enough to realise just how much money oil companies globally have made over this last couple of years, leave alone centuries, and have, generally, not equitably distributed it.

First, they facilitated climate change by producing and marketing the fossil fuels that were burned by industry, transport and buildings to release green house gases. Then they discovered the global damage and ongoing crises they were creating, and covered it up. Then they continued lobbying for species damaging drilling rights, subsidies stolen from the poor, and anti-competitive price rigging. Coups and wars have been instigated over oil.

But then there are other oil-based and oil-fuelled products developed such as pesticides, fertilizers, plastics, internal combustion engines (cars), roads and guns (yes, guns). The airline industry. Add in the forced migrations from land occupied, brutally destructive oil spills, tankers, more slicks, poisonings, explosions, and the backhanders, and in the corruptions of the arms trade. 

Second, the catastrophic effects of green house gases and climate change on all life and the ecological impacts on climate via the billions of gallons of pesticides sprayed. And the harm, and the suffering of all life.

And the funding of politicians who legislate, the universities who kowtow for funds, the construction firms that build the border walls that plough funds back to those who levy the cost of visas against those living in protectorates who are fleeing from the devastation caused by… you guessed it, climate change.

And now another catastrophic impact – an increase in human violence, largely male urban violence, but also suicides, as a result of increasing temperatures. Families, communities; the suffering.

I am calling two wrongs malbys (mal ~ a moral wrong and bys ~ double ).

Three wrongs, a maltrys. 

Multiple wrongs… and it’s a catastrophic extinction event. 

We HAVE to change. We have to stop using oil.