Gods Are Not Just Good to Worship, They Are Good to Think

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Recently, an eight-year-old student of mine asked me if I believe in God. I said I don’t (well, I mostly don’t), and she said she doesn’t either, and dismissed God as “just a fluffy cloud”. I replied that, for some people, God can be a useful idea for thinking about things. I hope that I got across the usefulness of a concept of God to other people, even though she doesn’t find it useful herself, and that God as an idea has value even to those for whom it is not a reality.

Later, I did some more thinking about this. Much like Claude Levi-Strauss’s famous statement that “animals are not just good to eat, they are good to think”*, a concept of [a] higher power[s], God[s], or deity[ies], can be a useful metaphor allowing us to think in ways we may not otherwise be able to think without that concept. Much like watching the function of an anthill can help us towards a concept of a co-operative society or the similarity in the way we feel when we meet, say, a tiger and a potentially abusive member of our community warns us that both are to be feared, the idea of — eg — a judging, benevolent, loving, or vengeful deity can help us to make sense of a moral dilemma, or decide what to do in certain circumstances.

Reflecting on how and when my fleeting belief in a God shows up, it’s very much present as a metaphor to help me with my thinking.

*Totemism, 1962.

Adventures in Cursive and More Zines!

Eight days into February and I’ve been prolific in my zine-making: the sequel to Food on the Move, Hot Food on the Move is ready. It contains three vegan recipes for hot food to heat before you leave and eat as you travel, put in a Thermos flask or heat at your destination. There’s a soup, curry and chilli recipe. They’ve all travelled well with me.

 

 My other zine finished this month is a 27-page A4 tome entitled This Zine Was Hard to Write because it was hard to write! I started writing it in August and finished on 1st February, so you get the idea…

  
This Zine Was Hard to Write is a collection of writings reflecting on consent. It’s really personal, so I’m only selling two copies for now. Here’s an extract from the intro…

In these pages you’ll find some personal reflections on my experiences with consent and its absence. I have written about times when people have behaved well or badly with my consent, but also about a time when I did some things I’m not proud of. It’s helpful to reflect on these things, as I would be deceiving you if I didn’t give you the whole picture.

I found the process of writing all this down very helpful, and I hope you can use my experiences to help you make sense of your own.

 
As well as the reflection pieces, it includes a list of resources and support organisations. There are trigger warning at the top of each piece (I hope I’ve covered all potential triggers. Apologies if I’ve missed anything).

These two zines, a couple of others, and some knitted bow ties are available on my  Etsy Shop

Now, to the cursive: hopefully, you’ll find in the photos above that my handwriting is now legible and beautiful. My handwriting was [is] terrible and not especially legible, and I hold to pen too tight, so I can’t write for a long time. I thought I’d go about trying to fix it, so bought a good fountain pen cheaply on eBay and a pad of nice writing paper, and found a children’s handwriting tutorial, and got on with practicing. Here are some photos of my practice writing…

   
 
I really like the way capital J looks and feels to write, as well as lower case r.

Contrast with my old handwriting on the front of Food on the Move.

  

I’ve since found this cursive tutorial for adults by the same people who wrote my children’s tutorial, which might be better.

Pomegranates: a reminiscence

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Every Wednesday my Grandma would walk into town for the weekly market. With her list and bags, she visited each stall: a paper bag of wine gums–she called them joobjoobs–pulling out fat rolls of fabric for a dress for a grandchild; a bit of cod–bump into a friend and stop to chat–scouring pads; and shampoo. Then came the fruit stall–I remember it being near the mini roundabout, in front of Quick Save, but I don’t think the market was a that end of town, so I must be mistaken–“Hello, Linda,” the stall holder calls. Oranges–she had one on her muesli every morning–kiwis; lemons–for the homemade squash my Grandpa liked–grapes–for the muesli again–and, in winter, round, dark pomegranates, bigger than a fist.

I’m sitting on the long bench in front of Grandma’s kitchen radiator, listening to her and Mum discussing the day’s best market bargain, or some bit of news. Grandma is cutting open the pomegranates, their dark juice running down her fingers–there’s an opulence about it–pulling out the pith, and scraping the seeds with her fingers into three bowls. Occasionally she pauses in her cutting and chatting to wipe her sticky hands and knife on a juice-stained tissue.

I watch the seeds fall from her fingers. Most a deep, dark red I can imagine whole worlds inside; some a smaller, translucent rose-petal pink; and a few tiny, almost colourless. I remark that they’re like jewels, and Grandma quotes a line from The Terrible Turk, where the titular character threatens to turn his wife and ten daughters into pomegranate seeds.

Daughters. Pomegranates have long been associated with women and fertility. I dig my spoon in, breathe the tangy pomegranate scent, and crunch down on that first sweet-acid, refreshing taste, as I listen to the intimate chatter of my mother and her mother.

The complexities of being out, semi-out, and not out at work: some experiences of a nonbinary peripatetic music teacher

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very belatedly, but I’d forgotten about it until now, the wonderful Rainbow Teaching published an E zine for and by LGBT+ school staff in the UK back in September, including a piece by Yours Truly on navigating the complexities of being out or not at work. You can read the zine for free online.

More Shameless Self Promotion: My Dick Wins — A Zine

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So, I made another Zine. This one’s called My Dick Wins and is Available on my Etsy shop.

It explains how to play the game “My Dick Wins” in which cis men are invited to pit their mere flesh dicks against my Ourple Penis of Queer Silicone Glory and–inevitably–lose, painfully and with plenty of humiliation. There’s also a smut interlude.
It’s a bargain at 75p. What are you waiting for?

Policing the Line Between “Worthy” and “Umworthy” Music: a Raw Twitter Rant

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Earlier today I ranted on Twitter about how the line is policed between “worthy” and “unworthy” music. It got a bit long and eventually I stopped tweeting and noted it down to put here later. Here are the collated tweets (with corrections to typos and missed out words) with the extra end bit in an easier to read format, but it’s still essentially raw, unedited, rant…

Music and racism/classism rant coming up…

The way the imaginary line between “real”, “serious” or “worthy” music and “that other music which has little value” is policed by (mostly) white European and North American formally educated middle class musicians and audiences is damaging not only to musicians who fall on the “wrong” side of that line, but to those who fall on the “right” side too.

One of the ways the line is often policed is through how repertoire is passed from one musician to another: if it is notated it’s probably “good”, “valuable” or “worthy” music, if it’s passed on aurally it’s probably “bad”, “worthless”, “frivolous” music. The way it’s notated is a factor too: 5 line stave = “worthy”, guitar tab, lyrics and chord symbols, or notations such as Ethiopian meleket or notation in the Jewish liturgical tradition where marks are written above or below text to show which tune it should be sung to = “unworthy”.

Obviously, this creates a problematic “us and them” attitude between different groups of musicians and casts some as a lesser type of musician and others, but it also holds back those on the “worthy” side of the line too: I learned, from the age of 5, in a pedagogy that always centred around notation, and all my musicianship came from reading then doing. Consequently, there wasn’t much listening involved for me, and when it was there it was a secondary thing to the reading and doing, and I never quite played in tune. I went through learning with my local music service, to a specialist music school (considered one of the top in the world), and two and a half music degrees without learning to play in tune. I did a lot of ear playing in this time and really got into a musical tradition that is passed on primarily by ear, but I was still wedded to notation and reading and doing before I listened. It was so ingrained in me it was too hard to undo. Then I started playing professionally and got notes every performance that I had to play passages X, Y and Z in tune, but I just couldn’t do it.

Fortunately, a few years ago, I started teaching for an organisation who teach with a focus on the western classical tradition but use notation as it should be, to compliment what we hear, and the ongoing and high quality training I have as part of that is slowly turning me into a listening-first musician. I can’t say I *always* play in tune now (I frequently don’t) but when I don’t I am much more aware of it and able to fix it.

I don’t know what it is we teach classical musicians when we train them to turn off their ears and glue their eyes to a page, but it’s certainly not music.

Obviously, the majority of my teaching goes sing->play->read, sing->read->play or read->sing->play. There’s some read->play because this is a skill we need as musicians, but only when I’m certain they’ve internalised the singing part and the notes on the stave mean sounds they can hear in their heads first, and instructions for what to do with their bodies and instruments second.

To explain (but not justify) one of the reasons “notated music is best” is perpetuated: when musicians who have always read without playing from ear are put in a situation where they have to learn aurally, they find they don’t have the aural skills to do it and, rather than admitting they have a weakness, they write off the style of music that challenged their musicianship as “not real music”. I know this because I’ve done exactly this.

It’s the same with teaching: to teach through listening first requires excellent aural skills from the teacher; music teaching is often funded by public money, which is limited, so teachers are told by managers to teach in a way they don’t have the skills or confidence to do, and there isn’t the money to train them properly to do it, so they just revert to what they know, which is teach the kids to read notation and do all the other aspects through that. If the kid struggles with reading they’re either written off as “not musical” or the teacher continues to beat them round the head every week with reading notation instead of getting on with the music and everyone involved gets miserable.

(FYI, this rant in no way contradicts or negates my rant [on Twitter] a few months ago about teachers dumbing down 5 line stave notation for kids.)

It can be hard to challenge the notation-first approach in teaching bc teachers most likely to do this are usually from the older generation when classical musicians who got as far as teaching or playing professionally were overwhelmingly white & often male, and it’s harder for younger teachers to challenge older white men, and new teachers coming into the profession work alongside these older colleagues and mimic their notation-centric approach. Coupled with inadequate training and the isolation of peripatetic music teachers, we wind up robbing generation after generation of classical musicians of their musicianship, as well as teaching them to hide their lack of musicianship behind the attitude that classical music is the pinnacle of musical achievement, far more important than all other genres.

Another problematic way the “notation over listening” approach is perpetuated is that some musicians who teach see teaching as something to do when you don’t have enough playing work and they don’t value teaching for itself, so they take the easy approach of putting a sheet of notation in front of a child and haranguing them into playing it. Again, this can only be addressed with better training and less isolation for peripatetic music teachers, alongside better pay and conditions (which have been significantly eroded in recent years in the public sector with a move to self-employment and 0 hrs contracts) to attract the best teachers.

All this is fed by racism and classism: can’t-be-bothered teachers can only get work with local authorities strapped for cash, desperate for *anyone* who can hold the violin the right way up, and wind up recruiting teachers who have the attitude that their students are “just inner city/Muslim/black/Traveller/whatever kids who won’t get anywhere with their instrument so don’t need to learn proper musicianship anyway”, while the teachers who do care are attracted away to affluent areas with offers of better pay, conditions, training, and support to teach in a way that challenges and improves their own musicianship as well as their students’. How do I know this? Again, it’s because I’ve done exactly this.

I appreciate this rant may piss off other music teachers and musicians. I don’t care: it needs to be said, and if you have a problem with it I suggest you take a long hard look at why it makes you feel uncomfortable.

I Made a Zine!

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So, I spent this weekend making a zine.

It’s called The Dapper Queer: a zine about ways I am queer (not a prescription for how anyone else should be queer) and you can buy it from my Etsy shop, QueerKnitWriter for £2 + 50p postage.

It contains writings, recipes, pictures and a knitting pattern.

     

FCKH8 Steal Queer Woman of colour’s Intellectual Property, Pass it off as their Own, and Use it for Profit

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The theft, and general shittery, by commercial clothing company FCKH8.com has been well documented, but today I want to talk about their recent theft of a quote from a queer woman of colour, jaythenerdkid. 

Back in March, Jay tweeted “don’t ever compliment me by insulting other women/that’s not a compliment, it’s a competition none of us agreed to”.

  
A few days ago, FCKH8 tweeted an image with her exact words, without asking or crediting Jay. Their tweet has since been deleted, but here are some screenshots.

   
 

The tweet has links to their website and Instagram; the image includes their strap line and website. The purpose of this tweet is clearly to promote thier website and products, and to increase sales. Therefore, FCKH8 are profiting from Jay’s intellectual labour without her consent and without renumerating her.

Jay called FCKH8 out on this.

  
Others joined in to tell FCKH8 they were in the wrong, and some said FCKH8 had stolen their intellectual property too. As far as I am aware, FCKH8 have not responded.

Whether Jay’s words wind up on any FCKH8 merchandise or not, the fact remains that they took her words without her consent, used them without crediting her, and have offered no renumeration. FCKH8 used her words to promote their products, and have profited from them. This is unethical and illegal, but they are big and Jay and the others they steal from are small, so there’s not much they can do other than shout loudly about it. We can help by shouting loudly too and, of course, taking our business elsewhere.

Jay’s tweets reproduced with permission; FCKH8 can get stuffed.

When Adults Don’t Listen to Kids

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***Trigger warnings for child abuse, misgendering, and trans erasure***
There is an incident I remember very clearly from infants’ school (age five to seven): we were making yoghurt* and I piped up that my mum makes yoghurt in the airing cupboard (she did: she put boiled milk and some starter yoghurt in an insulated tub and put it into the airing cupboard for 12 hours or so). The teacher replied “no, she doesn’t” and I went home and told my mum how silly the teacher was.

The first time a child made a disclosure of abuse to me, I was a year or so into my teaching career, thinking “of course I won’t be that adult who tries to cover up child abuse when I come across it or doubts a child when they disclose”, but when a child told me they were being beaten with stick at a religious class many of their classmates also attended, my first response was a disbelieving “really?”. Fortunately, the child replied that yes, it was real; I told them I was sorry this had happened to them and that I needed to tell other adults and get it stopped; several children made statements to the police; and that person was removed from their post.

Today I walked past a child on the street who said “hello, That Man”. The adult with them corrected them: “that’s a lady”. The child was right: they’d noticed all the gender performances I put effort into that signal masculinity and deduced, reasonably for someone who has been told there are two, and only two, genders, that I was a man. 

Some weeks ago, I changed my hair style. As I passed a child I teach in a school corridor, they commented that they liked my hair. I thanked them and they followed it up with “you look like a boy” and I thanked them again. A teaching assistant overheard this, told the child off for “being rude”, and gave them a conduct mark. 

In both the above examples (and these are two of many involving children reading my gender correctly or near-correctly, or asking because they’re unsure), an adult corrected a child who was right, with their own wrong assumption. We teach children to misread trans people’s gender, we punish them out of their correct readings, and embarrass them out of asking when they’re unsure in favour of erroneous assumptions.

In the yoghurt example, the teacher gaslit a six-year-old child. If I hadn’t talked and laughed about it with my mum afterwards, I may have started doubting the things that happen in my family are real (I remember another incident with that same teacher telling me my uncle’s computer didn’t have a mouse). She’d never been to my house and had a look in the airing cupboard; and she’d never asked my mum how she made yoghurt.

And the disclosure incident: when I’d had my mandatory safeguarding training, and lived with a foster sibling who disclosed all sorts of unimaginable abuse to me as a kid, I still fucked it up, being so conditioned into thinking horrific things don’t really happen to people we know and that what children say is unreliable. If that child hadn’t been so persistent and had given up after my first reaction, saying they were just joking, many children could still be being beaten at that religious class.

Adults are shit at listening to and believing kids, even when those kids are experts in what they’re talking about. We need to do better.

*It was all a bit garbled… the teacher put some stuff in some jars and promised there would strawberry yoghurt tomorrow, but I don’t remember ever seeing the yoghurt. Perhaps it didn’t work and she quietly threw it away…

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