Lighthouses, Ships & Norcadia

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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.

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A vegan ‘Bring and Share’ buffet at Anastasia’s house.

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. octblog31

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 boundaries 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.

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Lorenzo Quinn’s Giant Hands sculpture emerging from a Venice canal to make people more aware of climate change. 

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 wear myself out so much it’s overwhelming and I need to take special care not to burn out. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed, I have to shut down and introvert.

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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. octblogg2It’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.

sociopathNo 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 you’re 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. Or selling everything to go and live in a cabin 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? octblog3

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: lighthouse 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. Or 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?

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Dissent as the Grand Emotion

tukiI’m sitting at home in Exeter writing this in what I can only describe as a nest with a blanket wrapped around me, pillows hugging me, my feet up, Tuki next to me and a steaming mug of coffee by my side. The caravan is back in storage and the holidays are over. A grey drizzle has replaced the last of the summer sun and an autumn chill is in the air. It feels like we are home after a long adventure and it is time to take stock of all that has happened this summer. It’s like we’ve had a love affair with Wales only to come away wondering whether it was real love or infatuation.

Life is still orange but the tone has been darkened as if this summer has had a seventies sepia tone laid over it; the feeling made complete last week with the purchase of a new (secondhand) electric bike. With a basket and a rear pannier. I am nine years old all over again and with the cadence sensor it’s like I’ve the energy of a kid again too, zooming around Exeter trying to remember to smile with my gob shut so I stop swallowing flies.

It feels good to ditch the car and although we have only been home a few days, we have been zipping around to our allotment, the cemetery and down to the riverside on foraging and harvesting adventures. The corguettes doubled in size while we were away and were well on their way to becoming marrows they were so fat. After each bike trip, we’ve sat at our kitchen table chopping, preserving, cooking and generally marvelling at how simple things like eating our home grown corguettes or making jam with foraged damsons can give us so much joy.

I’ve started hoarding food as if the whole Brexit thing is the precursor to the apocalypse. Despite the slightly sinister undertones of prepping, there’s something really wholesome about harvesting and storing food ready for winter. I used to find Autumn depressing as it hailed the start of dark winters that always seemed to go on too long, but now it’s been reborn as the second spring for me, the abundance of food and medicine from nature certainly goes some way to making this an exciting time rather than a dreary one.

Since I last wrote, we have hosted two ‘Vegan Eco Village Networking’ events, and spent several days at the charity owned smallholding in Wales trying to work out a plan for how the land and premises could work for our vegan eco-village.

We had a gruelling six hour interview with Hugh, the founder trustee of the charity and agreed that we would stay for a few days and draw up plans for him to look over, and that we would host the first of our ‘tribe seeking’ meet-ups there. Hugh is a little older than us, (but not by much) and is a successful business man turned benefactor. He isn’t vegan but he believes vegans resonate at a higher frequency and are generally kinder people than most. I don’t quite understand why he isn’t walking the walk himself, but acknowledging how lovely most vegans are seems a good step in the right direction. septblog14

He was most welcoming to the idea that a group of vegans could bring his own vision of an intentional community based on kindness to life at his rather unloved and uninhabited smallholding. With only two volunteers struggling to run an Airbnb in dwellings that haven’t been updated since the seventies, hold the fort and keep it from going to seed (and with both leaving within the month) I had expected a little more enthusiasm at what we were offering rather than having to convince a suspicious interviewer that we’re lovely. All in front of several people we had never met before, the majority of whom were not vegan. It was painful for me, either making smalltalk or trying to explain in front of carnists why we were vegan. Talk about feeling like a lamb in the lion’s den! I doubt he had any real idea how terrifying being interviewed over lunch at a table of at least eight people is to someone with autism.

We had already heard tales from our networking about why things hadn’t worked out for previous pioneers/caretakers/volunteers, but we decided to hold back judgement, as gossip is not to be trusted. I thought perhaps we had discovered that it was just a series of unfortunate placements with the wrong people which had plagued the project from ever really taking off, and this didn’t in itself sound any alarm for us. We had also heard that Hugh did not visit often and we would be left to our own devices for the most part should we decide to be one of the pioneers he was appealing for. So we sat gazing at the lake imagining that we would be setting up permaculture projects and planting an edible forest alongside fellow vegans and Stanley the twenty-eight year old resident swan that can no longer fly.

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Love heart made by Claire at our meet-up

Being autistic means that most human interactions are fraught with anxiety for me. Did I say the right thing? Did I offend anyone? Do they like me? Am I being paranoid, or can I feel them hating me? I think also, because it’s so exhausting for me trying to navigate my way through social interaction it means I am not always able to hear the alarm bells I should be hearing. It’s why sociopaths have been so able to manipulate me in the past. I also assume the best of everyone when I first meet them (which I think is a rather lovely thing) so I am more likely to be an enthusiastic puppy greeting new people and projects with passion and excitement, only to come away later and realise I hadn’t quite seen the signs. But because I hear key phrases repeated from most conversations at random times in my head,  I often have ‘aha’ moments much later than the event and then I can agonise for days, weeks or even years on what I should have said or done. I have real problems letting it go, but like Greta Thunberg says, that inability to ‘let it go’ can be a super power when it’s for something grand like dissent for a culture that is destroying the planet.

The first alarm bell I actually noticed with my interactions with Hugh was shortly after posting the Welsh meet-up event on my closed group (‘Vegan Eco Village Networking’ Facebook page). Despite having permission directly from Hugh to host our event at his smallholding, I got a text message from his P.A demanding I cancel the event and remove it from Facebook immediately.  I replied by saying that I will not be cancelling my event, nor will I be removing it from my Facebook page, but that I will find a different venue if they are withdrawing their offer for me to host it there. Immediately Hugh called me and apologised saying he hadn’t realised it was a closed group and he had visions of hundreds of travellers turning up in their caravans all having seen my posts. We laughed about it but my telephone chortle did not relay the physical reaction I had of being sucked into a dark void when I got his dictatorial demands via text from his Greek manservant.  Hugh reassured me contritely that he really wanted us to host our event at his smallholding and told me how much he wanted to meet everyone so I allowed myself to be charmed back into the idea once more. Whether it was the desire to be there living the dream or just my forgiving nature, I am not sure, but I put the stroppy text message to one side and organised our return a week later.

Oliver came to stay with us while we were there, and for a while the romance of the place led us to think that this would be our home soon. We walked every path and boundary in the 80 acres, drew maps, talked obsessively about little else for days. We worked out a scheme by which the transition could happen while still maintaining an income from Airbnb guests so that the founder trustee wouldn’t have to put his hands in his pockets but rather let our enterprise ideas fund a full refurbishment.

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Oliver, the fruit of my loins enjoying the lake.

Despite the idea of another refurbishment so soon after completing this one at home not being my dream, (and not even being on property we owned) we offered to undertake the majority of the work ourselves, and although Paul was thinking of applying for the paid caretaker position available, I offered my services for free, just to have the pleasure of bringing our project to life in a marriage of shared visions. I showed Oliver our plans, typed up a full report and even watercolour painted the map Paul drew of the place with my infamous colour coded key charts of all the exciting things I could imagine there.

The current volunteers, a lovely young vegan couple who had wisely kept away from the politics of the place were enthusiastic about our plans but before we left, we also showed everything to a chap called Andrew, Hugh’s trusted business advisor. He was so extraordinarily negative about everything (whilst also casting aspersions on Hugh’s character, abilities and his vision) that a defiant determination set in that I would prove to this idiot of a man that we could do it.

I found myself feeling protective towards Hugh and wondering if Andrew was one of the reasons the place hadn’t blossomed. In my frustration at every suggestion having the response that it wouldn’t work, I told Andrew the ancient Chinese proverb: ‘Those that say it can’t be done should stop interrupting those doing it’. And I also told him he was the most negative person I have ever met. I left the meeting trembling and feeling just like I did every time I saw my old neighbours up the road. I hate that every time I have to deal with the likes of these venomous people it stirs up all the previous times I’ve battled with others like him too. But if I’m entirely honest, I’m also glad that my reaction to him made me feel ill. It feels like my spidey-sense is really starting to tell me who the baddies are. I’m not as easily charmed by sociopaths like I used to be and if I stop and listen to the reactions in my body rather than my ego I will become a much wiser person I am sure. I used to think I was paranoid, but now I have Paul to talk through our experiences of people, it’s helped me to realise that I’m actually a reasonably good judge of character these days. septblog29The fact that I cannot work Hugh is disconcerting, but I also know that we all go through dark times and it doesn’t make us bad people if we apply survival strategies to living. It’s a common thing in Western society and I believe the reason there are so many people suffering from depression. We need to show people a different way. That’s our form of rebellion.

During our stay, we weeded the allotment, pulling up vast networks of bindwind that had twisted like rope creating a blanket over everything – suffocating the raspberries and garlic, tomatoes and rocket. It pulled up with such satisfaction I barely minded that stinging nettles got me while I saved the vegetables from their bindweed doom. We worked out why the chickens weren’t coming out of the coup and we spoke to the farmer next door (who Andrew had also slagged off but turns out to be most amenable). It felt like we were already coaxing the place back into life, so when I sent the plan to Hugh it was with confidence that the next step would just be to work out the finer details. I had listened hard to what Hugh’s vision was, coupled with what the volunteers told me me about the existing Airbnb business, and what skills the people I could invite to join us would offer. I put together something that met the brief for all concerned and could be a reality by Spring. I emailed it to Hugh before we left.

On the drive home, we discussed at length the things that Andrew had said about his boss and I realised what a tricky position I had been put in. Should I tell Hugh the terrible things that his employee was saying about him and his ideas of housing co-operatives or social impact enterprises? My reaction to Andrew’s negativity was so strong that I wrote a poem about him. I wonder why is it that it takes brushing up against evil to inspire me to write poetry.

The Advisor

The green of the hills and the kiss of air upon my cheek

bracken and river

balsam wood and clover

dappled shade and burning bright sun

birds twittering and brooks babbling.

I was won over.

But as silence crept around the place

I felt a chill of something.

A history of darkness

sitting around the buildings

where no-one emerged from their homes

and even the chickens hid in their coup

refusing to come out and cluck and play.

And then we heard it.

The piercing shriek of the buzzard

I looked up and saw it circling

the hens heard it too and buried their heads

into their wings and edged into the corner,

climbing over each other to get away

until even my soft tones were no comfort.

There’s safety in the crook of the coup.

He came and perched on the strut overlooking the coup

and shat on the floor.

A big messy green and white poop

filled with the DNA of those he’d eaten.

We heard him on the telephone

vocal in his lack of loyalty to the founder trustee

shitting in his coup and blaming him

for all the failures yet still invoicing him.

A wolf in the sheep pen. Mosquito larvae in the fish bowl.

A snake in the grass.

A buzzard in the chicken coup.

***

I had expected some positive feedback on the plan we sent, but instead Hugh sent a curt reply telling me that The Farmhouse was fit for purpose and did not need renovating and then wrote a strange bullet point plan of what he saw happening over the next few months. It was like spilling your heart out and sharing your dreams with someone to have them ignore it all and ask you what’s for dinner. At least that’s what it felt like. Not once did his plans mention permaculture or biodiversity or anything that suggested he was a fellow eco-warrior trying to live conscientiously. That added to the other alarm bells, it was the final straw and we decided to withdraw our offer.

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I could list all the reasons why we decided it wasn’t for us – there were far more alarm bells in the end than I have mentioned here but instead I shall say it clarified our need to be creating our eco village with fellow vegans who share our vision. Despite my initial reaction that Hugh had grossly wasted our time, I’m grateful for the clarity. Our path is clearer now, and although we were tempted for a while by the ease with which we could have just ‘landed’ in Wales with no financial commitment, it taught us quite a lot about our choices.  And ultimately it showed us how much we do not want to have to liaise with people like Andrew, or try to work out the inconsistencies and reactionary nature of a fickle boss who is still very much a capitalist despite the generous nature of his charity. These are the people we are trying to move away from. Whilst I’m all for showing the wolves how we should all be living and being a beacon for love, we don’t really want to invite them into our straw houses. The planet is on fire, so the time to stop worrying about offending carnists, it’s time to all start making choices that save the planet instead of destroying it.

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As we had the meet-up planned for a week later, I was reluctant to burn my bridges entirely by being too brutally honest but I also wanted to be truthful, so I sent Hugh a kind email explaining that what he wanted wasn’t for us, but that I would be happy to introduce him to everyone else at our meet-up and he could network too alongside us.  I wrestled for days with anxiety about what I would say to him if he asked why we backed off. And my fears were realised when Hugh arrived the day before the meet-up and in earshot of new arrival fellow vegans and asked me very directly why it wasn’t for us. My autistic super-powers of imagining every scenario stood me in good stead as I had already rehearsed what I would say should that situation arise. I explained that ‘this isn’t the right time’ and that I am better at writing my thoughts so I would put it all in an email after the meet-up. And I told him I felt he should know what Andrew was saying about him, so I would put it all together for him after we returned. 

People camping and staying over at the meet-up arrived Friday night and although the official event didn’t start until the next day, the community kitchen ended up with the majority of us chatting, drinking tea and heating up suppers as dusk fell. Hugh and his assistant arrived in the kitchen expecting a meal but as the event wasn’t until the next day, there wasn’t anything for them, so guests rallied round – we offered some of the curry I had made for the ‘bring n share buffet’ the next day, and in the absence of rice (which was back in our caravan), one of the meet-up guests, Lorraine offered some of her pasta. His assistant had to cook it, and I very much got the impression that they were used to being served and not having to cook for themselves. If it wasn’t so overwhelming meeting and greeting everyone I feel sure I would have ended up cooking their dinner. It ended up with us all sat round the table with Hugh awkwardly interviewing people and asking people why they were vegan and what they could offer. He triggered one of our guests with his brand of suspicious interrogation into such deep introversion she didn’t attend the camp fire the next night. She confessed to struggling the whole of the next day because of it. It made me realise that for all the good deeds a person might do, if they wonder what every person can do for them instead of what they can do to help them, their presence is never going to feel like a kind one. Even if the project they are working on started off as an altruistic idea, if people then just become a commodity to make that vision happen then it’s like planting a kindness tree in poisoned soil. It’s never going to blossom.

Hugh and his assistant left at 7am the following morning, saying they couldn’t stay for the meet-up. I thought it odd that they had the invites, knew the date of the meet-up yet travelled hundreds of miles just to come the night before, but I was grateful they left too. septblog4We reestablished bonds with people we had already spent time with and met new fellow vegans who were equally as lovely. We shared all our lovely food, shared our stories and it was heart warming and nowhere near as scary as dealing with people like Hugh and his assistant. I know now that the location isn’t anywhere near as important as the people. Although it sounds so very obvious now, it took this journey for me to truly understand this.

A family I hadn’t met before that came to the meet-up fell in love with the place, so we shared our experience of Hugh and why we weren’t going for it ourselves. I think for someone that doesn’t have equity, or the choices we have, Hugh’s smallholding could be a dream opportunity for some, so it was with full knowledge of what they were potentially letting themselves in for and still being most excited, we recommended them to Hugh as potential pioneers/settlers/caretakers to start his intentional community.  My need for truth and understanding as part of my ‘special needs’ made it a potential nightmare for us, but for others who can compartmentalise, or play the long game it’s a sweet deal. We put them up for the night when we got back from Exeter so they could go and be interviewed by Hugh the next day in Paignton. By the time he interviewed them, I had sent my email outlining where he had lost us and how to avoid losing the couple we had spent the weekend with. I sang their praises and delivered some truths to Hugh that wouldn’t have been easy to hear. I felt he needed to know that in most of his interactions, he flitted from enthusiasm to flippancy and then made several dismissive statements that contradicted previous statements. As an autist who is very literal, this is very disturbing for me. For example, he said he understood my theory that you can’t have a village based on kindness and then endorse babies being taken away from their mothers so that you don’t ‘offend’ carnists (he currently offers cow’s milk) – so we were delighted when he said he could see why it had to be vegan but then he later did a complete U-turn saying he wanted the place to be inclusive for all that that was why it could be a planted based kitchen but not a vegan location ‘incase you alienate people’.

I tried to be as kind as I could, but sometimes truth is a harsh weapon and doesn’t feel kind. I said: ‘It’s easy when you are task focussed to forget the bigger picture which is kindness in all human interaction and making people feel good about what they are offering. You did not do this. Ask yourself, when you meet fellow pioneers, do you immediately wonder what they have that they can offer you, or do you wonder how you can help them? What did you think when you met us? Did you wonder how we could work together, or were you eyeing us up suspiciously because you don’t trust people anymore? Assuming the best of people is in itself an act of kindness’.

septblog9I hope I wasn’t too harsh, but I was delighted to discover after their interview, Lorraine and Chris told me that Hugh had cooked them a vegan stew, and that it was only him and two others interviewing them. And that they were gentle and lovely to them. They’ve since been offered places as pioneers and then settlers at the village and I’m very happy that I have been a part of that. I hope Hugh sacks Andrew and they don’t have to deal with him, but it’s not my affair anymore. It feels like I just passed a lover onto another single person because they weren’t right for me. I’m happy for them, but also disappointed that Hugh scared us off. Who knows, perhaps we will return one day, either as a transitional place until our tribe are ready to buy collectively or perhaps to help with an event that Lorraine and Chris run. We will stay in touch and see what happens.

We are focussed on the bigger picture, so despite the occasional pang that we let Hugh and his empty village go, and the fact that I always fear losing good opportunities, I also know from this experience what it is we are looking for, which is this:

  • To live with fellow vegans away from carnists.
  • To find a way to live in harmony with each other with kindness at the core.
  • To work towards the common goal that we want to live cruelty free, more simply, with less impact on the environment and achieve self-sustainability.
  • To be with nature and secure a forever home where we could plant and grow.
  • To set an example of a model that is transferable to the general population on how those with money can assist those without to create villages not based on capitalism.

A couple of days ago, Paul and I sat at the kitchen table chopping runner beans we had grown ready to freeze them, listening to podcasts and discussing a new theory I had read in someone’s blog. (Click here to read the full article). As a fellow autistic person she was ruminating on the idea that an autistic brain processes emotion entirely differently to neuro-typicals. To understand how deeply we feel things, she said one ought to consider that we experience grand emotions that neuro-typicals may not even call emotions. Things like mercy, longsuffering, labour, justice, solidarity, knowledge, reason, fairness, truth, dissent, and passion are felt as primary emotions.  Things like sadness, grief, jealousy, fear, shame, sympathy become secondary emotions. It’s not that we don’t feel them, (we do; more keenly than we let on) it’s just that things like justice and truth are more consuming. It means the bigger picture becomes the main experience and might explain why people think I am fearless. They see me starting up businesses, or moving to a new town or going back to university as huge scary things and think I do not fear change. Yet I’m massively fearful of change. Even changing the cutlery draw round causes me anxiety. But being autistic means I’ve had to learn to overcome my fears and try to get on in this nonsensical world. I fear everything; far more than I tell people, but as my main emotions lie in seeking justice and making the world a better place; a kinder place, I often don’t allow fear to stop me.

I wonder if that is what I have in common with Hugh. Perhaps his lack of empathy and the way he treats people as if they are assets or commodities and not people is a symptom of these grander emotions? Maybe he is so focussed on the bigger picture, he comes across as lacking empathy? People with autism are often accused of sociopathic behaviours and a lack of empathy when in fact the opposite is true. Often, we feel the pain and fear, and we also feel your pain and fear too, so it can be overwhelming. I’ve learnt to overcome that by focussing on the bigger picture. The mission is everything. It’s easy then to forget that other people do not have the same experience – that ‘work’ can manifest as a profound emotion that can consume us, or that knowledge is a deep pleasure. Or that being so passionate about a project succeeding, you lose your moral compass trying to make it happen. I hope I live alongside people truthful enough to tell me if I too start losing my morals I get so task focussed.

The second ‘Vegan Eco Village Networking’ meet-up was in Devon, held in the park opposite our house and then at our home for food. It went very well. I met another autistic lady just starting her journey into the idea of intentional communities. There seems to be a lot more autistic women in vegan circles. Perhaps it’s got something to do with those grand emotions. They make us eco-warriors and drives us to fight for justice. Conversely these very same grand emotions that make us feel like misfits may also help us in this neuro-typical world that doesn’t yet understand kindness is how we will save the planet and each other. We just can’t let it go. Perhaps this is how the meek inherit the earth?

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Chair £5 from the tip! Even the money tree is from the tip.

We’re back home now, and I need several ‘nothing’ days to recover. We’ve done a few runs to the tip (I love the recycling centre and often come back with more than I’ve taken!), played board games and spent time recovering. Peopling is exhausting. I can be entirely myself with Paul, so being with him is like being alone. Only better. My gratitude for him, for our lovely home (that still hasn’t sold), for our lovely life, my amazing son out there making his own way in the world now, our lovely manageress (who I recently promoted to Director and gave her a share of the company), for our sweet dear little pooch overwhelms me. I’m accepting that we are probably here in the city for the winter now, and I’m okay with that. I’m trusting things are falling into place exactly as they should.

And I’m also very okay with realising that my dissent for so many things is a grand emotion that is helping guide me to create something new.

True Colours

I once bought a cyanathus shrub that had a picture of what it would look like when colours1flowering on the price tag. It showed a deep indigo blue like this one from my garden now, but when it flowered it was a pale almost grey-blue and I was most disappointed. I felt tricked because I was specifically wanting this colour in my garden. This deep indigo blue is what I see when I am experiencing deep passionate love or waves of joy. It also follows that when I see this colour, regardless of what my thoughts were at the time of seeing it, I experience a wave of that emotion. It’s a form of synaesthesia and is a co-morbid (I prefer the term co-existing as there’s absolutely nothing morbid about it) condition of autism and my super-sensitive brain. I have an unusual relationship with colour and the spectrum I both see and feel seems to be far more expansive than most people encounter.

Synaesthesia is a condition where multiple senses become involved when processing information. The variations of this are numerable, and my particular variety leaves me deliciously unable to separate colour from emotion.  As a species we are rooted in this multi sensory reaction to stimuli – all children have it to some degree while the brain is still developing and it forms the basis of many words in our language. You undoubtedly know what I mean if I tell you my mood is blue, or I was so angry that I saw red, but for 95% of the population, the senses do little more than what is required of them by adulthood. Seeing red is a metaphor for most and not literal like it is for me. Genetics and the way we live today have dulled the senses so that all too often, we cease to have an emotional response. Might this be because sensitivity is often perceived as weakness? Society wants us to all behave the same way, have the same responses and be predictable. Predictable sameness is easier to control. Differences are not welcomed and diversity is feared. It’s why so many people bully the weird kid or think refugees are bad. We do not embrace diversity but instead ridicule, troll and bully those who are different. Having been shunned by neuro-typicals all my life, I feel this like the colour of forget-me-nots. Sadness is indeed blue.

Having tried for so very long to hide my sensitivities (there are so many!) in a bid to ‘fit in’ I can now say with absolute authority that it is quite the opposite of weakness to express them and is actually an act of courage to be openly sensitive in the world in which we live. How messed up is that? Surely we should be celebrating the more sensitive individuals who experience the world so very differently to the rest? These people literally open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to a different version of what we think is real. Think about Greta Thunburg or Chris Packham and all the good work they do trying to save the planet and our wildlife. And then read how the haters have trolled them. Chris has had death threats and dead crows hung on his gate. The ugly ableist comments on Greta’s pages make it hard for me to feel love towards the haters. Far right upper class toffs have resorted to bullying an autistic sixteen year old girl rather than get behind the truth. She must be quite the threat to them.

A post was doing the rounds on Facebook earlier where Greta is quoted as saying her Autism is her super-power. She wields the sword of truth like a super-hero yet is hated for it; a modern day Messiah being crucified by social media? And yet, there is hope. She has been nominated for the nobel peace prize. And today MPs voted to declare a climate emergency. It seems the ‘different’ people are standing up and telling the truth. The hippies and outcasts are getting organised. Extinction Rebellion is making change happen. We are making change happen. I hope the numbers that support the changes that need to happen to make the world a better place far outnumber the trolls and the haters. Never before have I felt such a strong ‘them and us’ feeling when it comes to listening to emotional people begging the world to stop destroying it and seeing the internet haters spouting their vitriolic rants in response like arrows with cursed tips. I feel the sting of it on humanity and the weight of it like a deep blood red velvet cape. But the rebellion training urges all anger to be met with love, so I’ve been considering how I can turn my rage into love. I’m angry with idiots that think it’s okay to tell me how much they are enjoying a juicy steak when I talk about veganism. Or argue that Trump is right and climate change is all a bunch of lies. Am I supposed to love those people? How?

I commented a couple of days ago on a smallholding page on Facebook where a woman asked what weed killer could she use in a field that wouldn’t harm her ponies or chickens. I said ‘Don’t use weedkiller’ and thus ensued various trolling statements some quite vitriolic about me being a vegan. I felt a spiky red rage rise up in me and I wanted to berate the trolls and make them look stupid but instead I tried the XR way. I closed my eyes, pictured the colour indigo and instead of arguing with the worst troll, I wrote ‘Much love to you’ and lots of flower emojis. I expected something hateful back; something that would show this brute’s true colours, but instead he wrote ‘same to you’ and hasn’t said anything nasty since. I’m delighted (this emotion is yellow for me, like sunshine) as I feel like it’s proof that the only way to respond to the haters is with love (or not at all if it can’t be loving). I don’t want to waste my energies arguing with idiots online. I need to be more indigo and less red.

I’m also aware that people take to trolling on the internet as a release for all the pent up rage they feel in their everyday lives. I know this rage (bright red and clashing fuchsia for me) so I can relate. When I’ve been unhappy in the past, strangers online have got the full wrath of my escalating rage, and I’ve belittled, chastised and put the idiots firmly in their place but it’s not won me any friends or left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I am trying to remember that I need to take a deep breath, think indigo thoughts and exhale love and happiness when faced with internet trolls. I try to remind myself that happy people simply aren’t mean, and their true colours might not have anything to do with the ridiculous comment they just made online. They are sleepwalkers angrily protecting their right not to wake up, smell the roses and see the truth. I’m here for the ones ready to wake up. Ironically the truth pill in the Matrix is the red pill, and blue is the illusion. But for me, truth is blue (a soft cornflower blue maybe) but if you’ve been hiding from the truth all your life (and especially if you ever had to realise you were a nasty internet troll)  then the harsh reality could be red for you. Like a warning wake up call. This is an emergency, and time for us all to show our true colours; to be the change and not just just demand change.