After having a suitable break at home in Exeter from searching for the ideal location for our vegan eco-village, we headed back to Wales last week. This time visiting friends as networking was our priority, not house hunting. It’s become more and more important to us to get to know the lovely people we could end up buying collectively with. Plus, not everyone is ready yet to buy land – some still have houses to sell like us or are waiting until Christmas and winter are both out of the way.
We took our electric bikes hopeful that the rain would stop long enough to go for an exploratory ride around Cardigan or the coast roads, but it was relentless and our bikes sat in the cabin unused. Fortunately I like the rain and we took sanctuary in a small log cabin we rented through Airbnb in a woodland holiday park. We played the guitar, made and ate wonderful food, canoodled like teenagers, played our favourite board game Carcasonne and donned our raincoats for some muddy walks. I couldn’t get internet and I think it broke the spell many of us are under with our addictions to our screens. We grounded ourselves. And then we went to a vegan lunch organised by a wonderful lady who has just moved to Cardigan and also reconnected with other fellow vegans we already knew. We networked.
There’s a price to pay for spending time with people – particularly strangers and the effort required trying to find connections with them. In fact it was so exhausting, I had to then cancel the plans we had for the the next day to see other friends just so that I could recover. I probably need to adjust my expectations to incorporate this and not be overly optimistic that I can do it all. It’s okay to visit an area and not necessarily see everyone that lives there.
There’s something about the smell of British woodland in Autumn after rain that is so earthy I find it seductive. Like sipping a hot toddy or a slipping inside a heavy velvet cloak and feeling instantly calmed by the weight of it. Sitting with the doors to the cabin open listening to the rain and breathing in the crisp air felt soul cleansing. The woodland birdsong spoke into my heart and healed much of the negativity I had come away with.
I had come away with a heavy heart over what has been happening in our personal lives and also how this has been mirrored on a massive scale with people globally. The divide has never felt so great; splitting families apart and creating a disquiet between us. This last week or so has seen a bizarre wave of anger aimed at Greta Thunberg – even climate activists saying she is a no more than a puppet for capitalists who have decided to invest their billions in more renewable energy sources and profit from the climate crisis. People have commented very unkindly on her looks, made judgements on her ‘acting’ skills and been so cruel I feel ashamed to be part of this species.
I found myself embroiled in debates online and then it struck me that much of it feels manufactured – that perhaps climate crisis skeptics and oil billionaires have been funding new trolling algorithms so that we get so busy arguing with each other we stop trying to save the planet at all. Therefore I’m going to try to resist arguing online with the eejits that think it’s okay to crucify a sixteen year old trying to change the world as it can profoundly affect my well-being. It would seem that even my armchair activism may well be too triggering for me, and as it forms just another distraction from what I should be doing, I really ought to limit my time online. Otherwise I’m just a zombie, floating around on a lilo in the ocean not noticing the tide pushing me further and further away from being able to achieve anything at all. It feels like this is the zombie apocalypse, with the majority of us hypnotised, brainwashed and controlled by power hungry sociopaths. It’s so easy to lose three hours trawling the internet. Plug in and zone out.
It seems to be a disproportionately high number of white middle aged men challenging what Greta stands for and she has hit back by telling them they are clearly threatened by her and this shows that change is coming. And it is. I feel it and whilst it’s easy to get caught up in the waves of grief that come with waking up and seeing how stupid, selfish and lazy most of the world is, I also know that just by being the change, we are at least doing our bit. More and more people are waking up.
Artists are showing us the truth, musicians are singing it, and if the amount of corporations jumping on the vegan bandwagon is anything to go by, we are changing things. We watched a bit of terrestrial telly while we were in the cabin (we don’t watch it at all at home) and were stunned by the amount of vegan products being advertised. Even if it’s supply and demand profits for the capitalist vultures, we are changing things. So to the climate crisis skeptics, I say this: if it turns out we were wrong about climate change, we will have created a cleaner, kinder world to live in, but if we are right and yet do nothing, we could be heading for mass extinction. Doesn’t it just make sense to do what’s right anyway? I find it astonishing that there is all this information out there – so much knowledge about how to live sustainably and how to reduce our impact on the planet yet so many of us still choose tastebuds and convenience over these fatally important issues. But the movement to take responsibility for our actions is growing. I have non-vegan staff making announcements on Facebook that they are going to try going vegan for a month because ‘You can do nothing, or you can do something. We want to do something.’ (I cried when I read that). It feels like our cunning plan to infect the world with kindness is working. And by ‘our’ – I mean the people choosing the right side of history to be on. The side that are evolving into kinder people. The side that embraces empathy as a well needed trait in a world currently run by sociopaths and psychopaths.
Gandhi said ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’. It seems we are at the fighting stage then and I take comfort in that. ‘Change is coming whether you like it or not’ as Greta has been reminding us. I personally do not care if greedy capitalists are jumping on the Greta bandwagon and paying for her yacht to get her to the states to show Trump what the future looks like. If they are promoting change in order to profit from it, or attempting to groom a genuine icon to further their agenda I care not. Let them help our cause with their greed! When we have averted the ecological disasters we will be stronger and the revolution to end capitalism won’t be radical at all; just the next step.
Next week is the start of the next Extinction Rebellion take-down in London. I wish crowds didn’t trigger me, or that I wasn’t so empathic I can feel the dark emotions of the haters to the point of making me feel ill, or that noise and chanting didn’t make my heart race like a hunted gazelle. I’d like to be there in London supporting the brave people prepared to be arrested. I wish I could be there on the front line and know how to respond lovingly to Tory commuters who are so greatly inconvenienced by the rebels trying to save the world that they spew hateful diatribe at us. To me, even the verbal assaults are like hurling curses that I feel in my chest like an air blaster hitting me with a sonic boom. I’m autistic. Or highly sensitive if that helps to better understand how these things affect me. I’m deeply empathic. In fact everything is deep for me. Too deep sometimes. I often wear myself out so I need to take special care not to burn out. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed, I have to shut down and introvert.
Networking is difficult for me. Whilst I met some amazing people who I look forward to spending more time with, I also met an emotional vampire who insisted on finding my profile on Facebook in front of me, and demanding friendship. I used to get the urge to befriend every lost soul and think perhaps I could help them, but I have now learned I have to conserve my energy and be selective about who gets my time. I thought it through with some anguish as I do not take rejecting someone lightly, but in the end I had to ignore her friendship request. There was a time when I would have been flattered by the attention and honoured that someone so charming should feel so strongly about me they will insist I must go and see them when I’m next in their town, but I am realising with more and more certainty that I cannot be around people like her.
I had hoped perhaps my initial instinct over my aggressive new ‘friend’ was wrong, but when I looked at her Facebook profile and the endless pouting selfies, ‘Kardashian’ style bodycon dresses, false eyelashes and body building poses I had to admit I am still attracting narcissists and I simply can’t cope with them anymore. I’ve been a magnet for people like this all my life and whilst this woman may well have been a good hearted individual, and I have judged her far too harshly based on her profile – the image she portrays acts as a red flag for me now. It triggers me as one of my sisters is also of the same ilk. I am very grateful that I am no longer subjected to anymore of her pouting vanity, and more importantly that I am no longer under the spell of any charismatic, yet shallow narcissists that use charm when they need you and drop you when they don’t.
I realise of course that many people are like this because they are products of our sick society and the constant need for approval is a symptom of the damage it is causing. Trying to work out whether insecure souls are really manipulative narcissists playing victim is exhausting, however it turns out you can spot these people quite easily as they turn into nasty aggressors very quickly when challenged. And they never back down or acknowledge a nasty outburst and apologise for it.
Whilst I have spent my life assuming the best of people until they prove me wrong, it’s perhaps time I also acknowledge that I just can’t tell with some people. None of us can if someone has crafted their fake persona well. It’s how the charismatic sociopaths get into power – they trick and deceive with fake smiles and false promises. They claim to be the new prophets and that they are here to save us, but really all they do is split us apart so that we compete against each other instead of sharing. People do not feel like they are part of a community anymore, and getting ‘likes’ on a pouting selfie and having people comment on how fabulous you look is what support looks like these days. It’s tragic. Kindness is the only way we are going to survive as a species now and that means thinking of others. Kindness doesn’t mean accepting someone else’s darkness. I’m trying to find the balance between helping those that are lost and not absorbing their negativity. It’s almost impossible when you are autistic; I feel the pain of others like it is my own.
Please don’t think I expect everyone in my life to be all good. If you have issues but want to change, I’ll save up all my spoons and go to hell and back to rescue you if you need me to. But if you don’t want saving, or you think I’m wrong about what is important then I’m not going to waste my energy. It’s too precious.
There’s a divide between us and it simply comes down to this: you’re either ready to face yourself and all the ugly truths about who you have become in order to address it and change, or you will refuse – for whatever reason that is; perhaps you are a sociopath or a narcissist, or perhaps (and I hope and pray this is the majority) you’re just asleep. You’re a zombie floating around on a lilo not realising the planet is dying. Not realising the pain and suffering inflicted on your behalf. It’s time to wake up, and to try and wake up everyone else around you! If you are hated and persecuted for this, move away. These people are not ready to see who you have become yet.
My life is immeasurably better since cutting ties with my biological family. We as a society should stop tolerating narcissists and sociopaths full stop. No more gratuitous fawning over celebrities. No more falling for the glib flattery of sociopaths.
No more voting psychopaths into power. It’s all connected – accepting the bad behaviour of a family member is not far removed from accepting the sociopathic behaviour of a prime minister. Gentlefolk with kind hearts are constantly being manipulated by people who seem devoid of a conscience. Let’s stop that please. It starts at home, so look around you and set some boundaries that protect you from anything that isn’t born of love and kindness. It’s time we started measuring success and love differently. It’s time we make kindness our priority.
Like the grand emotions I spoke of in my last blog post, I am finding that the bigger picture and focussing on the mission to create a kinder world helps me overcome feelings of guilt or fear at rejecting a friendship request from a potentially toxic influence.
Over the past few weeks, someone from Paul’s family has been regularly taking umbrage online with his vegan and far left political views on Facebook. A couple of times it briefly triggered Paul into someone I barely recognised. It was as though their darkness infected him while he allowed them to antagonise him. I tried to help him respond to their vitriolic rants and spiteful emojis with love but it just made it worse. In the end I found that they reminded me too much of the narcissistic traits of my own family and then I too was triggered. When both of us are triggered, it takes me to a place that doesn’t feel safe. I found myself yearning to belong to a tribe who could support us through these times. To strengthen us as we fight this battle. We all need a family, but perhaps it shouldn’t necessarily be the one we are born into. We need to surround ourselves with kind people and if your family is unkind, it is only social conditioning that tells you that you have to put up with it. You don’t. If we refused to turn a blind eye to cruelty and named it, talked about it and found solutions to deal with it think about the different world we would be living in.
When I came to think about my triggered angst later, I realised I had been quite specifically reminded of both my mother and my sister with Paul’s family member trolling him, and also of all the many sleepwalking zombies who are angry at me for making them feel bad. In my autistic inability to let go of my past pain, I relive my abusive childhood and all the painful rejections from my family every time I am triggered. It means all these people meld into one caricature of something very dark and ugly. They, like so many others have taken against us. Against me personally, for what? For being good? For being truthful? For being different? For feeling things too deeply? For being ‘over-sensitive’? For being ‘too much’? For making people feel uncomfortable? For choosing to live more conscientiously? I think most of them choose their ‘side’ based on fear, and like so many humans facing the dilemma of whether to evolve, self reflect and face the truth about who we are and what we are responsible for, they have chosen denial and hate. Some people will never see themselves, or who you are as they can’t see beyond their own false reality. It’s cognitive dissonance. It’s a pity, but make no mistake, this is war we are in. If you are not with us, you are against us. It’s empaths versus sociopaths. Perhaps these are the end days like some religions will have us believe – perhaps this is how the meek inherit the earth? While the narcissists and power hungry capitalists are all fighting with each other, we gentlefolk will build a garden of Eden quietly in the background. It’s what we are trying to achieve with our eco-village, with my kindness course, and with our determination to live by example even when we are persecuted for it. I may not be able to rebel in London with my fellow XR activists but Paul and I will be rebelling everyday in our own ways.
Even if it’s small rebellions like sprouting our own beansprouts instead of buying them wrapped in plastic from a supermarket, or choosing a delicious plant based diet instead of eating sentient beings. We’re taking it to the next level and selling everything to go and live in a cabin with nature and without all the trappings. We hope that doing these things inspires others, not angers them but ultimately that’s not down to us. So if you hate us for trying our best to be good people, I suggest you look at what it is we are triggering in you. Is it time you chose to do something too?
It’s no good making excuses anymore like “Oh, but I can’t give up cheese’ or ‘Some of us have to make a living’ or ‘I haven’t time to shop locally’ (I could go on) because this is an emergency and I have stopped worrying quite so much if my goodness is offensive to those who refuse to wake up. My family is anyone who chooses kindness – every day and in every way that they can. My tribe consists of people who would never separate a mother from her baby because it’s milk tastes nice.
Or that thinks that other species are here to be our slaves. The family we choose isn’t toxic, isn’t self serving, isn’t determined to put us down and doesn’t hate us for trying to be better versions of who we used to be. Our family is your family if you want to leave behind the lies and the brainwashing and instead of being self-serving, choose to serve each other instead. There’s an enormous amount of joy to be found in helping others. So much, it makes me a little sad I didn’t learn this twenty years ago.
I feel like I’m a lighthouse now – shining my light like a beacon so that ships can see their way. I may not be able to set sail quite as bravely as my XR comrades or Greta, but my light is strong. I will not apologise if it also shines a light on the ugliness I keep encountering. Until it’s brought into the light, we can’t deal with it. And deal with it we must.
At the risk of taking my lighthouse and lilo analogies too far, plagiarising other authors, and using far too many cliches this is how I see it: Most of us are ships. But we sit resolutely in our docked harbours and do not set sail for distant shores because it feels safe not moving. (I think I stole that from ‘Women That Run with Wolves). Some are ships with huge beacons on them like lighthouses at sea. Some are fleet leaders. Greta is one of those – complete with beacons, armoury and a fleet behind her. I see her autism as a super-power driving her to achieve justice for the planet. But you don’t need to be autistic to want to save the world. You just need to be more empathic. We all have skills. we all have choices. Many people have forgotten they are ships and instead their vessels have been weakened by society until they have become deflating lilos, carelessly floating about – manipulated by the media and brainwashed into either believing everything is fine or that the new iPhone is all that matters. They are unaware we are heading towards disaster, and do not want to hear the bad news from those that have woken up. Then there’s Norcardia. If you don’t know what that is, it’s that soapy looking scum that sits on the top of the water. It behaves like a fungi with it’s branching filaments, but is actually a bacteria – one that can make you sick. Tories are Norcadia. Boris Johnson. And Trump. Dare I say it – even Brexit supporters. They surround and infect the lilos until they all dissolve in a jellified soup of filth. Even hearing their voices or seeing their stupid Facebook updates is like catching a spray of it in a sudden unkind gust of wind. It’s up to us to decide what we are, and to also decide who we want with us in our brave new world. So. What are you? Lighthouse, ship, lilo or Norcadia?
May is by far my favourite month of the year, not least because all the blossom is out and the birds are nesting but also because my birthday falls in May. I love the lushness of dappled sunlight filtering through bright lime green leaves and birds chorusing while the brook babbles at Pi Acres. It’s the best time of year here in particular; bluebells and wild garlic scatter the forest floor and it’s before the midges come. I’m like a toddler stopping every few feet everywhere I go at the moment to examine a flower. The photo library on my phone is full to heaving of pictures of flowers and trees heavy with blossom. When you stop and look closely, and I mean really closely, it’s quite astonishing how exquisite even the tiniest curb-side weed is. Stop and look and see how exotic the flowers on a sweet chestnut tree really are, or how utterly perfect dandelion seeds are.
It’s this time of year I feel most inspired to take on a new special interest. The year I bought Pi Acres I was tree obsessed and barely looked down from looking up all summer such was my fixation. In case it isn’t rather obvious, this May it seems to be flowers. I’m learning all the time what plants are and also what they can do for us. I recently discovered that Himalayan Balsam Wood is edible!
The flowers are edible, but also the seeds which when toasted taste like hazelnuts apparently. Before the seed pods hit bursting stage (when they are still green) they can be harvested and cooked like mange-tout and are delicious in a curry – or so I’ve read. I also read wild garlic leaves make a great pesto, but to be honest without the capers, chilli and olives added to my foraged leaf pesto, it was very bland indeed. Still, it feels good to eat the plants from where we stand, as if I am somehow ingesting the land directly beneath my feet and it then connects me more strongly to it. If I’m not careful, I’ll start thinking I need to poop in the woods to help plant seeds! I’m foraging and growing more and more, choosing my planting according to what is useful as well as pretty.
I love a good cruelty free food experiment so any balsam left after our ‘Balsam Bash’ in July will be harvested. I’m organising a mass weeding of it to try to largely eradicate it and help restore the ancient woodland flora but we are unlikely to get it all. I might allow a small patch (as far away from the river as possible) to get to bursting stage and then harvest the seeds very carefully. You have to place a bag over the seed pod as the slightest touch will see it explode its seeds in quite spectacular fashion. I’m sure it’s why it’s spread so prolifically along the stream to River Torridge and I wish it wasn’t such an invasive bully because it’s so pretty.
The bees love it – so we are leaving the pull up until they’ve had a feasting and then we will swoop in on July 13th and remove it by hand – pop it in your diary and come and help! It pulls up satisfyingly easily with a just a little tug and seems to kiss the ground as it unplugs. No chemical weedkillers at Pi Acres, just graft. I’m looking forward to plucking this feisty yet pretty plant out the ground. Last year I tried drying the stalks to make bee hotels but they just went soggy. This year, I’m going to try drying them in the trees and see if that helps the hollow stalks go rigid. It will look so weird, I may go all out and do a Balsam wood art installation while they dry. We shall see – I have so many great plans and never seem to have the time to implement them all. We are growing veg this season (new raised beds in our secret garden here in Exeter). It’s another tie to the city, and the air isn’t as clean as Pi Acres, but if we want to practice self sustainability, it makes sense to do that where we live.
For my 50th birthday celebrations, I decided not to people. Instead, Paul and I went on a camping trip in parts of Devon we hadn’t explored yet in our new caravan. We found wild rugged beaches and secluded forests. We had campfires, played the guitar and sang. Like the sweet chestnuts pregnant with exotic blooms, I also blossomed. I belong in places like this.
We found ourselves at an incredible wild campsite set in 60 acres of woodland in Rattery, Devon. The owners of Ashbourne Woods planted the entire forest themselves back in the nineties. It’s now a mix of fir and broadleaf that has matured into a well established eco-system full of wildlife. It was like being in the middle of nowhere and off grid, yet a short walk and there were hot showers, loos, a washing machine, a kitchen area with fridge freezers and a kettle.
The more time I spend with nature, with plants and away from people, the more equanimity I achieve. I’ve been getting into the habit of starting my day with yoga and some mindfulness recently and it really helps with city living, but ultimately I don’t want to live in a city anymore. We want to live where our conservation projects are, and we are starting to wonder if this pretty part of England is where we are meant to be. The rest of Devon, the whole of Cornwall and Pembrokeshire are all places I would love to be. France is still an option. We are no longer tied here now Oliver has left home and we are free to go wherever we want. So how comes we are still here, trapped with DIY lists of what we need to achieve in order to leave? The bathroom isn’t finished. We need a shed. There’s decorating to do before we can rent out or sell this place and be free to move onto the next thing. But the boiler is tricky and there’s rising damp that needs sorting. It seems the more I strive to simplify my life, the more complex it needs to be first to get there.
I am fortunate enough to have an amazing manageress who runs my business, so we may yet disappear for the summer to play in someone else’s woods now we have the caravan. We are still thinking about our planning application to make Pi Acres into an outdoor education centre, and I’ve considered asking permission to stay longer in our caravan over Summers to be onsite to do our conservation work, and also thought about asking to build an eco house and live on the land, but there are so many other options. So many amazing things we could do. An overwhelming possibility of options if you strip it down to what really matters.
What does really matter? I’ve been considering this while also learning what flourishes where in the plant world. My city courtyard garden is blooming; everything is either fat with flowers or about to burst open – all except one plant that withered and died.
I’ve now moved the dying plant to a sunnier place in it’s own pot now and it’s beginning to recover but it got me thinking. So far in my life, I have felt a lot like that that withering plant, trying to flourish in a world in which I do not fit. When a plant does not grow, you look to the conditions you placed it in. Not for a second would you think the plant is to blame. You wouldn’t expect it to ‘try harder’ (as so many of my school reports said in secondary school) or to grow in an environment that is hostile to it. You’d change its environment. And that’s how it is with me. I wither in cities and thrive in nature. The problem with being autistic is not being autistic at all – it’s the world in which we live that’s the problem. We need a different environment to the one we are being offered. But let’s be honest here, no-one thrives in this set up really – it’s just that autists feel it more painfully than most. Neuro-typicals have a way of compartmentalising the misery of being enslaved in this capitalist, fascist state that has somehow managed to trick over half the nation into voting for rich elite and believing joy can be found in the latest iPhone. The world needs to become more autistic to help save it from the demise we are heading to. It’s time to get back to nature and each other and stop squabbling like children. It’s time to say it like it is and stop pussy footing around with niceties. We were never meant to live this way. Animals were never meant to live (and die) this way. I feel the grief of it all like losing family to Alzheimers. The connection is gone yet the person remains. If people would only just stop and smell the flowers – literally. Just. Stop. There’s something about connecting with nature that changes you. It creates gratitude, and as Thay (a wise Buddhist monk guy with all the answers if only the world would listen to him) would say, people are ignoring the destruction of the planet because they are not connected to it anymore. Happiness is not consumerism. He says only love can change the world and he’s right. Love is kindness, joy, gratitude and equanimity, and if we all practiced it the world would not be in this mess. Our needs would be met through serving others. It’s so simple. Self serving, selfie taking, selfish goals don’t work – not individually and certainly not globally.
I need my environment to be a certain way for me to thrive. It needs to have birdsong and peace. It needs to be away from people. When I have a routine, like starting my day with yoga and I eat good food at sensible times and get outside, I’m so much more together, sorted and happy. When you strip away what really matters, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. It’s ridiculously simple.
Just stopping and considering what matters is in itself an act of joy. Unless you are utterly brainwashed and still believe joy can be found in material possessions or slimmer thighs, you will know that being outside in the spring sunshine, closing your eyes, listening to birdsong and shallowing your breath is a joyful way to commune with nature. And you don’t necessarily need to be in the countryside – even in my city courtyard garden, bursting flowerbeds and chattering starlings speak straight into my soul. We discovered a firecrest nesting in the cabin garden up the road and every time one of the firecrest parents visited the nest, the sound of the squeaks the chicks made my heart want to explode with joy.
I’m continuing my quest to lower my carbon footprint and it’s shocking how easy it is to forget and just buy a plastic toothbrush. Veganism and conscientious living doesn’t just stop with diet and plastic though, it’s a constant questioning of what matters – down to who you bank with, how much packaging is on your food, whether your bought compost contains peat along with all the obvious stuff like not eating meat. For me, it’s reached a stage of also being careful who I spend time with, what I watch on TV, and who I can have in earshot. I am so much happier now I can’t hear the simpering tones of Step-Heavy upstairs. We went to look at another house in Dolton last week, but when I heard the neighbours’ chatting in the next garden I knew I couldn’t live there. I’d be fantasising about shouting out the window that meat was murder when they had a barbeque or something equally as unwelcome to those who think they’re having far too much of a lovely time to questions their actions. They’ve found their version of joy through cream leather sofas, stone washed jeans and a good Chablis. Except it’s not joy, it’s a dead cuttlefish in a budgie birdcage. It’s not freedom. It’s not even pretending to be.
We finished my 50th birthday adventure )which included zip wires, my son visiting, pottery classes and beach trips) at Pi Acres. People came. People who have woken up. These are people I can be around. We all need to find our tribe, even autistic introverts who talk too much like me.