If we didn’t see each other face to face at the Threads sexy talk event back in July (I wrote this about sexy times ahead of it), there are a couple of opportunities coming up. Next Monday I’ll be at the fantastic Greenbelt festival on a panel organised by dating aficionados Christian Connection. We’ll be debating ‘Has online dating changed everything?’, kept in order by the lovely Kate Bottley, Googlebox vicar. There are hundreds of hours of brilliant programming at the festival covering arts, faith and justice, so if you’re coming along, try to say hello. Good chance to meet lots of interesting people too – and it’s supposed to be sunny. Perfect bank holiday outing. Especially if you’re a camper.
On the subject of love and dating, a very big thank you if you’re one of the nearly 950 brilliant people who’ve completed the Real Life Love survey already. So grateful for all the thoughts, opinions, experiences, and ideas you’ve shared. If you haven’t yet, there’s still time. Spare an hour (or less) for an in-depth vent or happy reflection on all you know about how Christians talk about relationships between men and women, love, dating, marriage, family, and all that jazz. I’d love to get as wide a perspective as possible so if you haven’t already, are there people you’d be happy to share the link with? Of course there are. HERE IT IS!
And, if you like planning ahead, we can also look into each other’s eyes (from something of a distance) at the Premier Digital conference in November. It’s a fun and interesting day, covering all things online, followed by an awards ceremony (there’s still a week to nominate people and things for great faith-based online engagement). I’m doing two sessions: chairing a debate called ‘They all hate me! How do you cope when the web turns against you?‘ and then an exciting seminar in the Thinkers stream (I know…) about art and death in the digital age. ‘Reaching Beyond: Bowie, Prince and the new eternity‘. This year has been a shocking one for much-loved artists departing without warning. I am intrigued by two in particular: the clever, carefully planned exit of David Bowie, and the unexpected, accidental death of Prince, and how these were captured, manipulated, and became global events because of digital technology. How does this interact with the Christian view on the eternal and life after death? You can see the full conference programme here.
Hope to see you somewhere along the way (and don’t forget the survey…)
When I was at University a few years back now, studying history of art before it was the way to meet a future king, and grants were available for the non-monied, I was introduced to the concept of CRASH. Standing for Class, Race, Age, Sexuality, and Handicap, it was a basic tool for beginning to think about who had advantages over who and why and what impact this might have on life chances and the art a person might produce. As a young, straight, white woman it was likely I would have fewer obstacles than an older, wheelchair-using, black, lesbian, for example (cue political correctness gone mad tutting and all the eye rolling). All should have been well in my world – aside from minor issue of the list of risks women face for being women. I did have a black partner though. A privately educated young man from a respectable family, training to be a lawyer. Spoiler: that counted for little in many situations.
That one R variable made a ton of difference. Over a few years I lost count of the number of times he was stopped by the police for suspected involvement in a crime, even ones he’d been nowhere near. A citizens arrest, in one case, as he walked home at night from his shift at the call centre we both worked in during holidays. A pregnant woman had apparently been mugged and he was literally the nearest black man. The reason given by the white men who grabbed him was Continue reading
Huge thanks to all you lovely people who’ve completed the Real Life Love survey so far. Your responses are invaluable to what will be my new book, looking at romantic interactions between men and women, how these are affected by faith and church experiences and how we find healthy ways through no matter what. So I’d love to know: what are your experiences of Christian teaching on how men and women should meet, date, marry and live with each other happy ever after? Where do you go for advice? What books helped or hindered? What are you concerned about? What about staying single? What is off limits for you, if anything?
Over 700 of you wonders have shared your experiences and thoughts so far. Thank you! I would love to hear from more to get a really broad range of views. So, if you haven’t responded already, please do. If you have friends of any age, marital status and church experience, I’d be really grateful if you’d ask them too. If you’d like to be totally anonymous, you can. Only a small number of questions are compulsory; the majority are optional. You can spend 20 minutes or a couple of hours (or days…) on it, and click past anything that isn’t relevant!
LGBTQ people are really welcome to respond too if you have experience of this element of Christian culture – there is space for comments if questions don’t apply. While the scope of the book won’t extend to LGBTQ relationships – rather focusing on how the church teaches about the area of men and women attracted to people of the opposite sex – I would welcome anyone who would like to to respond with their thoughts and stories on how Christian culture talks about this.
Oh, and if any part of the video below resonates with you, I’m sure you’d find the survey very therapeutic…
Let’s face it – I’m a terrible blogger. It’s a good job I didn’t set out to be one. Months pass and I get one of those ever-so-slightly needy prompts (from WordPress, not from sad, wannabe readers) that I haven’t broadcast my thoughts to the world. But actually I have. If you’re interested here’s where you can find them all. My scattered thoughts, for your consumption, some with voices and moving pictures too. It’s like Christmas come very, very early / slightly late. With that in mind, if it’s snowing or about to, you’re allowed to pretend the festive season is right here…
The festive special of The Gallery was all about ‘The New Christmas Storytellers’. It’s an hour of conversation, music, performance and more from artists interested in new ways of looking at Christmas. Legendary writer Michael Morpurgo joined me for an extensive, exclusive interview, and you can watch a clip of that here.
The rest of the show has a splendid array of talented people from around the world including Over the Rhine, A Capella wonders The Swingles and lots more. You can listen to it here, and there’s a whole page of extended interviews if you want to hear more from War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, or any of the other artists featured.
I’ve been involved in raising awareness of the on-going issue of domestic violence, and you can read the full piece here about what the church could do to become a safe place for women being abused: “I became friends with Linah in a church, and since her murder I’ve become aware of how many relationships that seem happy and healthy on a Sunday mask terror and pain the rest of the week. There’s something about hearing someone else’s story that makes those who are suffering dare to speak out. I, and many who work with women abused by partners, discovered that quickly. I wonder how many churches are ready for that. Society tends to stand back, bought into the myth of the ‘abusive relationship’ that holds both parties responsible for the dynamic, rather than the reality that one person chooses to abuse the other.”
I’m also quoted in this piece about the murder of Sian Blake and her children. While the risk is still there, I will keep talking about this. I realise how alien it can seem if you haven’t been personally affected, and how much people like me can seem to go on about it. It’s likely you do know people going through this, or who have been affected during their lives. It’s on us all to become aware and to act. I try to add this at the end of every piece, so the abused know where they can find help, and abusers know change is possible:
The National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247) is a 24-hour freephone service for women experiencing or concerned about domestic violence, their family, friends, colleagues or others calling on their behalf: nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk. Respect works with domestic violence perpetrators, male victims and young people. If you are concerned about your own behaviour, or the behaviour of someone you know, it can be contacted on 0808 802 40 FREE, by email at email@example.com, or through its website, respect.uk.net
And just to prove I’m down with the so-called kidz, here’s something about Adele and the brilliant sketch where she infiltrated a group of Adele impersonators and passed herself off as ‘Jenny’: ‘Why Adele was like Jesus for ten minutes last week’. “The Adeles are supportive of each other. Despite taking up the same space, and offering the world the same marketable skill, they are kind to each other. They operate as a team. When ‘Jenny’ misses her cue on stage one of the Adeles breathes deeply in empathy. When she fakes nerves and leaves the room, they share sympathetic glances and one whispers “Bless her…” They feel each other’s pain and joy. Rather than competing, they share their big moment and celebrate their time with their hero.”
If you’ve ever dreamed of the perfect proposal – a wonderful, heart-stopping thrill ride of romance, imagination, daring and flash mobs, well, you probably won’t like this: ‘Indecent Proposal’, for Funny Women, on the rather cynical proposal industry. “Lovebirds, take note: a betrothal Cinderella would envy is now compulsory. A whole industry is forming around the bestowal of such trinkets, before the wedding roller-coaster even sets off. A simple tale of love shared with a close few is no longer enough; this filtered, curated world requires fireworks (literal, if possible).”
I thought I was ahead of the game. Five minutes early to walk rather than jog (unwillingly) to the station, as usual. Be a little bit leisurely, even on a Monday. Instead I spent those five minutes watching a man assault his girlfriend, in the street, out in the open. I watched her apologise, try to protect herself, persuade him not to hit her again. I spent those five minutes conspicuously standing across the street, making sure they could see me, asking if everything was OK, waiting in the silence for a response. Yeah OK, they said eventually, first him, then her. Ceasefire, waiting for me to leave. I didn’t leave. Five minutes early, remember, time to stand and wait. He started again, vocal aggression, ridiculous accusations, leaning in, intimidating her. “There are people here, you know,” I tell him, “people all around. People can see”. I am relieved to be proved right, to see a woman and child appear from an alley nearby, a man pull up in a council van. “People can see,” I say again. I look at the girl, “If anyone needs to walk away.” Continue reading
Somehow it’s August. Though I haven’t written anything just for here in quite a while (er, did someone say January…?) I have been busying around elsewhere. Here’s a few of the things I’ve been doing…
I made a radio programme! The Gallery is a show exploring culture and the arts through the lens of faith. It’s half an hour of performances and interviews with talented, interesting people talking about their work including painter Charlie Mackesy, comedian Jo Enright, award-winning poet Michael Symmons Roberts and TED talk slam poet Harry Baker. Have a listen, tell me what you think and if you like it, tell your friends (#TheGallery). There are extended interviews online too so you never have to be starved of insight and loveliness ever again. Listen here.
I’ve been writing too, mostly about culture, society, and women. It’s been two years since my friend Linah was killed by her ex-partner. I wrote about her life and death after the murder trial was finally over last year in The Independent (piece here) and to remember her again I wrote a piece this week for Cosmopolitan after an incident that reminded me how domestic violence is an on-going issue nobody should look away from. “If the pattern of the last decade continues, there will be another Linah every 3.5 days. Another woman killed by male violence. Another name kept alive through words only. Another headline fading into a statistic. Another funeral, inquest, and trial. It appears I can not walk by anymore, literally or figuratively. Though it’s painful for Linah’s death to overshadow her life, reminding the world she existed may help to change the outcomes of other women.” Read the full piece here.
Going back into my past life, when I used to travel the world visiting factories, I interviewed stylists, experts on ethical sourcing & buyers to find out if things have changed and how we can buy better: “Before that final transaction in a busy high street store, costs were incurred right across the world and the greatest costs landed with the people with the least power and fewest options. Our low price is someone else’s compromised life. We have privilege, we have choice and we’ve started to feel entitled, leaving the ethics to someone else despite evidence of exploitation.” Click here to read We all deserve a better high street.
I wrote about how images of war are used to sell products. This is Who is that boy? Faraway wars and western media: “A bedraggled, bewildered, toddler clutching a grubby teddy bear, alone in the rubble of an unnamed land. Not the latest news from Syria, Iraq, or Ukraine, but the debut of a new advert for an optician.” Read more here.
I write a lot about how women are represented in media, including this review of recent news: It’s been terrible week for women and yes, it matters. Covering an array of stories from the changing of the Tesco self-checkout voice to the deaths of black women in police custody, “Every time women are quietened or silenced, reduced to a transaction, commodity or prize, it reduces our value in the eyes of the world. To be considered more “interesting” dead than alive is not surprising in a media age that bombards us with images of glamourised violence and decorative sexuality.” Here’s the article.
In NSFW: Not Suitable For What…? I wrote about images of women’s bodies available online, ranging from pornography to beauty advertising. “From their early years, women hear how their bodies are useful, or not, to men. They will be told they are the cause of anger, frustration, lust, danger, and confusion… In church women’s pesky bodies have been stumbling blocks, Delilah-esque destroyers, Biblical seducers, property of husbands, that could be tested and cursed according to his whims, and an undermining presence for men’s spirituality and even identity, feminising men away from the church with our jiggly bits, and even from belief in God. Who knew hips really could lie?” Carry on reading here.
I’ve written a few words on love and relationships too. I always start by wondering, and here are a few places those wonderings ended up. I was wondering… if you’re attached explored how our early years experiences can affect the way we approach relationships as a grown up. I was wondering… why you’re hiding looks at the pointless pursuit of perfection and increasing pressure to hide our flaws and dismiss others for theirs, and I was wondering… how to have a happy marriage about just that. There’s a whole archive of thoughts and advice if you simply must know more.
And because the world is sometimes an amusing place, here’s a highly seasonal piece I wrote for the people at Funny Women back when we were all shivering under duvets. Have a read of Baby it’s cold outside here. Their revamped site is looking fancy and now links to other things I’ve written for them, about my nieces’ insatiable love of One Direction, and why wildlife seems to find me irresistible in a heatwave.
And if you’ve been writing, blogging, tweeting or anything else online this year you might be interested in a rare opportunity to have me judge you. What a treat! Find out more about the Premier Digital Awards here. Entries close on September 4th so still time to nominate your favourite people. Oh, and if you’ve always wanted to hear me explain BDSM to a woman from Canterbury, I’m delighted to oblige. That should keep you busy for a little while…
I don’t speak at Christian events in order to be famous. Promise. In fact they come at a cost. Working in the creative industries, writing words and stories, faith of any sort isn’t a badge of honour. I don’t really fit in the Christian camp either. I’m not the obvious choice to invite to your women’s event and I’m in nobody’s worst, wildest, dream a traditional preacher. Topics I’ve spoken on relate to what I know how to do – writing, creativity, publishing, culture, media and storytelling – and sometimes what’s required to see those things through if that’s where you’re called. The hard work and resilience needed, the importance of identity, discipline and persistence in the face of tough and unforgiving industries, how to make good choices and balance huge success (should it come) and abject failure (which definitely will) through a lens of faith. A man could speak on those topics too; if I’m asked it’s because on that occasion my version of events, observations and experience is the one that fits the bill. Continue reading