York Festival of Ideas

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been very busy!  It’s been the Festival of Ideas which is an amazing array of talks, lectures and workshops, the majority of which are free and accessible.  It’s my idea of heaven and came with a book stall…  What more could you want?!?!

There were many interesting topics and I thought an intriguing way to share my experience would be to share titbits from each lecture.

The Magic of Numbers
Children learn number words before they learn the concept and they learn the concept of numbers before the digital representations.  The step after that is comparing numbers but you can see that even just the initial process is quite complicated and I find it amazing that such young children are able to acquire the knowledge as quickly as they do.

Disposing of mass murderers
What happens when mass murderers die?  Should they be entitled to a funeral like everyone else?  Should their wishes be respected even if they violate the wishes of the victims families?  Are the remains of mass murderers toxic, and if so why, and who is toxic and who is not?

Whilst this talk did look at some specifics, the wider questions it raised were very interesting.

The Science of Sin
Why do we do the things we know we shouldn’t?  An interesting kick off example was that we don’t touch ovens because we get instantly burnt, we how many of us go without suncream and later pay the price?

On a smaller scale, each of the 7 sins aren’t that bad and can even be helpful, but anything taken to the extreme seems to turn out awfully… Take pride, it can be a healthy dose of self confidence, or it can be narcassism.  Envy can motivate you to raise yourself up, but can also lead you to tear someone else down.

Write what you wonder
Tackling the idea that you should write what you know, this workshop asked us to look at the world through a lens of wonder, of curiosity and of childlikeness.  Look at what is under the surface.  Be an explorer.  Be open.  Be uncertain.

Love Factually: The science of who, how and why we love
Laura Mucha turned to science in a quest to understand love it all it’s many forms, be it lust, romantic love or companionate love.  She unpicked the idea of love as an object – “the one” – and turned it into a skill that requires us to work at it.

The Gendered Brain?
The myth that there is a female brain was tossed out in this talk, in fact all brains are different and because they are plastic, they are always changing.  Our environment shapes our brains and our brains shape our environment.

Whilst there is no female brain, there are brains that have been moulded by society’s ideas of gender and what women are and aren’t good at.  If you give a girl a test and tell her that it’s ok if she doesn’t do well because girls are bad at the topic, then she will perform worse than if you hadn’t said anything.

This is important because society has scripts for gender and children seek to understand and perform these (on the whole).  They become aware of gender from birth to 2 years old, they detect gender and align themselves with their gender between 2 and 5 and from 5 to 15 they start to or continue to comply with this gender script.  With this in mind, it is so important that we start to unpick and break down the scripts and stereotypes and roles that permeate our society.

Nine Pints: The mysterious, miraculous world of blood
Blood is fascinating.  It is priceless.  And yet it is also disgusting.  Especially if it’s menstrual blood… If it’s blood being donated then it’s the gift of life.  If it comes from a vagina, then at best it tends to be considered dirty, at worst, toxic and contaminated.

Unseen, blood keeps you alive.  Seen, it signals a problem.

The Wonder of Trees
Trees teach us that everything is connected.  They teach us respect and cooperation.  They give and give and we take and take.  Not just the wood that makes their trunks, but the oxygen they give out, the food they provide, the medicines that they create.  And we take and we take.

We plant rows of trees, uniform, in plantations.  But these are not wild trees.  They will not talk to each other, care for each other and nurture each other like a wild forest.

In a naturally grown wood, the trees communicate, they share resources and they share warnings.  They give each other space to grow, they cross species boundaries and they sacrifice themselves for others.

Trees literally make us healthier.  The air around a tree is cleaner, as the tree absorbs pollutants.  Studies have shown that time around trees improves our attention span, our memory and makes us heal more quickly.

When you can, take the time to say hello to a tree, get to know it, and thank it.

The Relationship Escalator

I came across the phrase relationship escalator a while back and it really helped me reflect on how I think about relationships and how relationships factor into my life.

The relationship escalator is the belief that a relationship is not legitimate unless it is following the standard upward trajectory: dating >sex>exclusivity>moving in together>marriage>kids>’til death do us part. There is a deeply ingrained expectation that if a relationship is truly “serious”, it will automatically lead to these things.

-Dedeker Winston

I have found it such a helpful concept for self reflection and I hoping this blog post will also help me to solidify my own feelings and ideas and approaches to relationships.

I’ve never felt an urge to be engaged or married.  I am, despite what this blog might suggest, a fairly private person.  If I am in love with someone then to a certain extent that’s pretty much just about the two of us.  I have never yearned to stand up in front of people and declare my love.  So this instantly takes out two stages of the relationship escalator; engagement and marriage.

And I’m not going to have children so that’s a third stage removed.  And if we stick with the escalator metaphor, society starts to ask what the destination is.  If I’m not going to get married and I’m not going to have children then where is this fictional relationship going?  What is the point of it?

Add into this my decision that I will not share a bedroom with someone in the future (I need to be able to turn my audio book or kindle on any time of night and I toss and turn and go to the toilet about a million times, I make a terrible sleep time partner) and society starts to freak out.  What is the point?!  Where would any relationship go?!

My lack of interest in marriage, my inability to have children, my sexuality (bi) and my disability all make it considerably easier to get off the escalator.  I’ve removed three steps, I’m self aware about sex and relationships through years of coming to understand my sexuality and my disability means that a lot of people don’t see me as sexual.  For some people, I’m not even going to be able to get on the escalator (which is probably for the best, wheelchairs and escalators get messy…).

This is a bit scary in some sense but incredibly liberating at the same time.  I have a clean slate, free from some of society’s expectations, to create my own road map for my relationships.

For years I’ve been pondering monogamy and my personal feelings about how it fits with me.  There was a moment I remember very clearly. I was walking along a particular pavement and I was thinking about polyamory.  At that time, my thinking was that I can see that it would be good for some people but wasn’t for me.  At the time, jealousy, attachment issues and lack of self esteem all meant that I could not healthily enter into a relationship with more than one person.  At that time, I had assumed I would always feel that way.  This was a long time ago, pre disability, pre latest mental health breakdown, and things change.

At that point in my life, I was following the script which said that you had to find someone you wanted to be with all the time and they would meet all your needs and you’d live together happily ever after.  I knew I wasn’t looking for my other half – I was already whole and I was quite stubbornly vocal about the use of language which suggested otherwise.  And I wasn’t expecting a disney prince or princess to whisk me off my feet.  But I had still bought into the idea that the mystical person I would be in love with would be everything to me.  And that folks, is utter crap.

No one can be everything for someone else.  You have different friends for different reasons.  The friend you go wild with.  The friend who loves nothing better than a cup of tea and to watch a film on the sofa with you.  The friend who you pour your heart out to even though you haven’t seen each other in ages.  So why do we expect our romantic relationships to be different?

Whilst my imagination has drifted towards open relationships, it wasn’t until a year or two ago that I realised that this was actually an option.  So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and pondering and learning.  Whilst I feel like polyamory might well be the path for me, I want to know that even if I decide that monogamy is best for me that it is a conscious choice, not default behaviour.  Which is very much in line with my entire ethos.