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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Post Category : Dear Diary : Page 1

Typecasting

In which Caitlin is at risk of acquiring a new hobby

One stereotypical nerd gadget I’ve never seen the point of, that I always assumed was the nerd equivalent of hand-woven gold hi fi cables, was the mechanical keyboard. I assumed they were, as the phrase goes, fidget spinners for IT geeks. Something that is expensive and makes lots of fun clicky-clacky noises, but doesn’t actually change your computing experience by one tiny bit.

Well, reader, I was wrong. I admit it. Completely, absolutely, 100 per cent wrong. Switching to a mechanical keyboard has been one of the best productivity improvements I could have made to my workplace. Since I started using one, my typing has speeded up enormously. It’s definitely not just a toy. Having a decent length of travel on each key movement somehow genuinely makes it much easier and quicker for me to type; and also makes my typing a lot more confident. I’ve never learned to type properly, and I still make a lot of mistakes, but in general I’m finding my fingers skip across the keys much more freely.

This first started last summer when I was already tempted by the idea, and saw that a fairly cheap model already had been reduced quite a lot on sale. So, I bought it. And, if nothing else, it was pretty. It glowed, with rainbow light. It came with a choice of beige or purple keycaps, so being contrary I naturally changed just half of them over, trying to get a dithering kind of effect from beige on the left to purple on the right. It kind of worked. Tying, though, was excellent.

The mixed keycaps of my first mechanical keyboard, with shine-through legends on the keys

I felt like I was typing much better than I ever had on laptop keyboards, but there was something wrong. Still, I resisted the temptation to be a keyboard nerd. An enthusiast. One keyboard would be enough for me.

The problem with the first keyboard was that it was only a 60% model. In other words, it only has about 60% of the keys of a “full” PC keyboard; just the core letters and numbers really. To get all the other functions, you need a modifier key. A lot of laptops do that to access extra functions or squeeze all of the keys into a laptop case, but this was using it for fairly basic functionality like the four cursor keys. When coding, I find myself moving around with them a lot, so having to chord to use them quickly became annoying. On top of that there were other little problems: the Bluetooth connection would sometimes glitch out, particularly if the battery was low. When the battery ran low the only warning was one of the modifier keys flashing, and then when you charged it up there was no sign of how charged it was. On the good side, its small size made it nice and portable. Overall, it was a good starter.

After a few months, I’d decided it was time to think about buying a full-size mechanical keyboard. And why not go all in and just buy a “barebones” model. A barebones keyboard is, well, not really a keyboard at all. It’s the core of a keyboard, but it doesn’t have any keys. You have to fit it out with keyswitches and keycaps for it to work. When it arrived, it was very nicely-packaged, it felt very substantial, solid and heavy, but I couldn’t actually start using it.

The new barebones keyboard, a Keychron K10, without any switches or keycaps

It’s a Keychron K10 model, and all you have to do to get it working is push switches into each of those sockets. You get to choose the brand of keyswitch you want, though, and switch manufacturers publish complex charts of the response and movement of different types of switch, describing them as “soft”, “firm”, “clicky” and so on. I just went for a fairly soft switch from a well-known brand, and set to work plugging them all in. It was quite a therapeutic job, pushing each switch home until it is firmly in place.

Plugging switches into the keyboard.  If I'd been planning to blog about this I'd have done my nails first

All the switch sockets nicely filled in

The harder part is choosing the keycaps: harder, because as well as how they feel, they have to look pretty too, and there are an innumerable assortment of manufacturers who will sell you pretty keys. And in the end, I just couldn’t decide, so went with a set of plain black “pudding” keycaps. “Pudding” keycaps have a solid, opaque top but translucent sides, so the backlights on each key shine nicely through. I’m not sure they are the right keycaps for me long-term, but they were a nice and cheap “first set”.

The finished keyboard with pudding keycaps

Am I going to turn into a keyboard nerd? Well, I’ve already tweaked it a wee bit. I kept hitting the “Insert” key by accident, not being used to having a key there, so I’ve already changed the switch on that specific key to be a much firmer, clickier one, so that at least when I do hit it by accident I notice I’ve done it. I’ll probably change the keycaps for something prettier at some point, something a bit more distinctive. I’m not going to go out and buy a lot more keyboards, because I already think this one is very nice to type on. It has a sensible, useful power lamp that flashes when the battery’s low, is red when it’s charging and goes green when it’s finished. But, overall: I admit I was wrong. This is much, much nicer to type on—I’m writing this post on it now—than a standard laptop keyboard is. For something I’ll use pretty much every day that I’m at home, it’s definitely worth the money.

Becoming visible

In which we talk about Transgender Day of Visibility

Today, March 31st, is Transgender Day of Visibility. This year, 2024, it’s fifteen years since the event first started. Event is maybe a big word. It’s a marker, a day in the calendar for trans people to stand up and be loud about who they are.

The calendar sometimes seems full of queer-related events nowadays. Aside from TDoV there’s LGBTQ History Month (February, in Britain at any rate); Pride Month (June); Transgender Day of Remembrance (November); and probably more that haven’t immediately sprung into my head. It sometimes feels like there’s so many similar events in the calendar that they are coming around every week. Nevertheless, they are still all important. Transgender Day of Visibility was started as a celebration, a reaction to the only trans-specific day in the calendar being one of sadness and hurt, a reaction to the medical establishment’s position that the ultimate goal of all trans people should be to become invisible, and a reaction to those who don’t think trans people should be included under the queer umbrella. A day for us to stand up and be proud of ourselves.

Yes, ourselves.

This blog started in its current form in August 2005, getting on for nineteen years ago. In all that time, I think, I’ve not once referenced the fact that I am trans. There’s a reason for that.

I’m not just trans, I am a detransitioner. In 2005, I had just detransitioned. I went into deep, deep denial, about who I was and who I am. So, here, it was never mentioned.

I started to transition again in 2021. One of the first things one of my close friends said was: “Welcome back!” It touched me more than you can imagine. I scanned all of the content on this blog for anything that gendered me, and scrupulously removed them all. I wasn’t ready to talk about it here until now.

Transitioning, like coming out, isn’t a single event. It’s a lifelong process. But an important part of my second transition, coming out to my work colleagues, coincidentally happened two years ago today. Not specifially because it was TDoV, just because we happened to have the quarterly all-staff meeting that day and HR thought it would be a good idea to make it as face-to-face an event as possible. I didn’t mind. I had to do it three times, with separate groups of people. Each time I told them the basic facts, and each time everyone around me was as caring and supportive as possible. In general, that has absolutely been the case. The first time I came out, over twenty years ago, I did lose friends. Not most, but some. This time, everyone in my life who matters to me has been completely and unequivocally supportive of me.

There’s never a right day to come out. Just like being gay, though; if you’re trans, you’re still trans whether or not you come out. Detransitioners are still, ultimately, trans, even though they are used as a political football by the queerphobic—one reason I always kept very quiet about being a detransitioner. I was born trans, I always will be trans, and I always would have been even if I had never transitioned.

As I do transition, too, I’m becoming less visible. I look like any other middle-aged mum now. It’s not immediately obvious that I’m transgender, not at all. That’s one reason, I think, why days like TDoV are still important. Even though I do enjoy looking like any other middle aged mum, I enjoy no longer having to fight for my gender to be perceived, I will still always be trans. Like many middle aged women, I rely on HRT now. Even people who know I am trans forget that I am; a colleague recently was slightly surprised to discover that I have changed my first name. Before too long, people will only know if they go back and read things like this, or if I stand up on days like today and say so. It matters, though. In some ways, I want to be visible.

There’s a museum I’ve taken The Children to a few times, that often has the same person either behind the counter or working as a custodian in one of the rooms. They have long hair, and a beard. They appear to be male. But…every time they see me, even though they are a stranger, their face breaks out into a broad, broad smile as if they are incredibly happy to see me existing in the world as a visibly trans woman. I’ve seen that look a few times, on the faces of strangers in the street, on the faces of teenagers, even on the faces of work colleagues. They’re probably also trans people, trans people who for now are still in the closet, who haven’t been able to transition yet. Maybe they never will. But in moments like that, I know it’s good to be visible, it’s good to be able to show people that this is possible. At least one friend has told me that my transition inspired them to come out too. I hope I can keep doing that—I hope I can keep inspiring people and showing them that is possible to be out in the world as your true self. I hope all of them, everyone who sees me and feels that urge inside, is able to find themselves eventually.

Beside the sea again

Or, resurgence from the waves

Regular readers might remember that two or three years back, I visited the Buck Beck Beach Bench, a strange and delightful bench built up from driftwood on one of the remoter stretches of Cleethorpes Beach. I haven’t been back very much since that visit, what for one reason and another, but I did keep following the Bench and its creators on social media. Because of that, I knew that twice since, it had been completely destroyed by storms; and then, rebuilt. After all, the Bench first started as a ramshackle, makeshift affair for dog-walkers to sit on whilst they waited for the tide to turn, and it was created by slow, organic growth rather than some grand plan. When it is destroyed, it comes back, recreated with the same impulse to create something, build something, and create a record that people stood in a particular spot and stared out at the ever-changing ocean.

A view of the Buck Beck Beach Bench

The bench is smaller now, much smaller than it was before, small enough that it can almost be captured in a single photo. The bench-builders still aim for everything the bench is made from to be safely degradable, something that will rot away harmlessly when it is washed away, as it inevitably will be.

A view of the Buck Beck Beach Bench

The new bench has moved a little from its previous spot which can still be identified from fragments of the previous bench lying about and projecting from the sand. It is on higher ground, now, higher above the waves. This does give it a more commanding view, but I doubt it will last as long as its previous incarnations. This is because it stands on top of a dune, close to its edge, and before very long that edge will have eroded away. It will erode quickly, both from the action of the sea at the spring tide and the footsteps of people climbing up and down from the shore to the bench and back to the shore again. I only give it a few months, before it is undermined and topples down into the water.

Closeup of the Buck Beck Beach Bench

But when it does, it will be rebuilt. And I’ll go down there again, take photos of what its latest regeneration looks like, at once the same but entirely, completely different. And then I will turn, homeward and landward, picking my path carefully back through the marsh.

View from the Buck Beck Beach Bench

How to cross the same river twice

Or, returning to the scenes of your youth

They say you can never go back again. Never cross the same river twice. The past is a foreign country, as the famous quotation goes. Sometimes, it can’t be avoided. Sometimes, though, it can be worth doing just for yourself.

When I was small, our summer holidays followed the same pattern, from when I was three through to when I was about 14 or 15 or so—I can’t rememeber the exact year it stopped. We would go camping for a fortnight, either two weeks in Sussex, two weeks in Kent, or more often than not, one week in each. The amount of equipment and comfort changed over the years, from smaller tents to larger tents, trailer tents through to caravans, but the destinations were always the same, the same two campsites in the same two parts of England. Wherever else we went, every holiday would include at least one day trip to Hastings, the south eastern seaside town that feels almost like a genteel resort, a noisy arcades town and a West Country fishing village all rolled into a single ball and mixed together. Here’s a photo I took when I was eleven, of the cliffs in Hastings Country Park, looking towards Fairlight Glen.

The cliffs east of Hastings

And then, in my mid teens, we stopped going. We had a couple more family holidays, where I asked for Gwynedd to replace Sussex, but I never again went back to Hastings.

Until last week.

I took The Children away for a summer holiday; and where better to go than a classic seaside town that has a beach that’s great for paddling, arcades, a miniature railway you can ride on, castles, caves, cliffs, the lot. OK, you can’t really build sandcastles, but building sandcastles is something The Children really enjoy in theory far more than in practice, and at least the sea never disappears to the horizon, the beach being steep enough to let it merely retreat a respectful few yards from the prom and the arcades. And: they loved it. I took them around all the same places I’d been taken when I was a kid myself: the miniature railway, the crazy golf, the cliff railway, the castle, and they loved absolutely all of it. We barely even left town for the week. The Child Who Loves Animals would have had us go to the aquarium every day if he’d had his way. I just enjoyed the chance to walk around and practice a bit with my new camera.

Hastings seafront seen from the pier

Bottle Alley, the covered promenade linking Hastings and St Leonards

The town? As a child your priorities are naturally a bit different to those of a middle-aged adult; but, even I could see that it has changed in the past thirty years. It has improved, a lot. So many places to eat out in the evening! So much craft beer everywhere. So many Pride flags flying, even from the flagpole in the castle. But it was still recognisably the same place, the same old shape, new flesh on old bones. The 1930s railway station might have been demolished and replaced, but the walk from it down to the beach was still unchanged. The art deco promenade by the pier has artwork now, but still the same concrete lines. The miniature railway might have nicer trains, but they still go between the same two spots, past a boating lake now cleared of boats and pedalos, but to a crazy golf course that still has its windmill and watermill obstacles and where hitting the bell at the end still scores you a free round. It’s hard to say, but I’m fairly sure the fish and chips is better.

The main thing that’s changed, though? Probably me. And it made me quite emotional. The last time I went there, I had a fairly good idea of the sort of person I wanted to be as an adult. Going back, walking down the promenade, I almost drew tears as I thought about just how much of my envisaged self, the me I imagined back in my early teens, is present in the woman I am today. Even if it does mean that I have to walk along the shingle in heels now.

Because the East Hill Lift was closed for major track repairs, we didn’t go up to the Country Park so I could replicate the picture at the top of this piece. Here, though, is a view of the town from the West Hill, the castle site, still the same odd little mixture of holidaymaking and industry that it was when I was a preschooler.

View of Hastings from the castle

Sunset at St Leonards beach

Oh, I said we barely did leave the town, but we did go for a couple of days out, to Battle and to Hythe. Here’s a couple of photos of Hythe railway station, one I took age 9 (I think) and one from last week, just to show you that in some ways I haven’t changed that much at all.

Hythe railway station in the mid 1980s

Hythe railway station in August 2023

The flutter in the dusk

Bats are flying round Symbolic Towers

At this time of the year, when spring is firmly established, the day has been warm and lots of insects have been buzzing around the garden—as dusk falls, just before nine o’clock, there is still life in the garden.

If I’m still at my desk, working away on some crafting or one of my side projects, and the curtains are pulled back, then I start to see a flutter out of the corner of my eye. This is the time the bats come out.

When I mention the garden bats to some people, they’ll say “you’re so lucky! I’ve never seen a bat.” I think, though, it depends if you know what you’re looking for. They’re quick, faster than birds. They dart to and fro, changing direction apparently at random. It’s dusk, though, and unless you spot the outline of their wings you might mistake one for a small bird heading off to their roost. I’ve been stood outside a friend’s house and seen bats flying around us. I recall, years ago now, going on a camping holiday in Cornwall with H; walking back to the campsite after a lovely dinner in the nearest village, up a steep ancient lane lined with tall hedges, and with bats flying around above us constantly the whole way. I’m not sure that anything quite beats, though, the idea that bats are fluttering around my garden every spring and summer night. As the moon rises—as it is now, waxing and almost full—I stand at the window, and watch their silhouettes flicker.

I should be proud, really, that they choose my garden because my garden has enough insects for them to feast on. There must be three or four regular visitors at the moment: if you watch them, if you are quick, you can see more than one in your line of sight at the same time, or one disappear off to the left just as another swoops in from the right.

A few years ago I went on a bat walk with my friend W, for his birthday; the tour guide gave us all “bat detectors”, pitch-shifters that lowered ultrasound to audible frequencies. If you twisted the knob up and down the dial, you’d occasionally hear snatches of bat, a bit like trying to tune a shortwave radio to a Dutch or German station. Each species of bat has a slightly different voice, so if you leave the dial in one position you might miss something; equally, turning the dial makes you wonder if you’re going to be on the wrong frequency at the wrong time. For all the noises we heard, we didn’t really see very many bats. Here, though, I see them nearly every fine night. No need to listen for them when I can watch each wheel and turn. At this time of night, at this time of year, you’ll find me at the window, watching the bats.

Ongoing projects

As soon as something finishes, I start two more

The crafting project I mentioned in my last post is finished! Well, aside from blocking it and framing it, that is.

An actually completed cross stitch project of a Gothenburg tram

Me being me though, I couldn’t resist immediately starting two more. And then, of course, there’s the videos still to produce. I will get to the end of the list, eventually. In the meantime, here’s some photos of a few of the things in progress.

An in-progress Lego project all set up for filming

An in-progress crochet creation; this photo is from a few months ago but I still haven't produced the video about it

Frame from another in-progress Lego build which will probably be the first of these to hit YouTube

At some point, I promise, all of these projects will be complete and will have videos to go with them! Better make a start…

Crafting starts again

Or, a new project is embarked upon

It’s been all quiet on here for the past month, and all quiet on the YouTube front too. I do have a couple of projects waiting to be turned into YouTube videos, you see, but that means putting all the video footage together, assembling it, writing the voiceover, recording the voiceover and then cutting the whole thing so that the one fits the other. It’s a surprising amount of work if you do it like that, and I’m not sure my degree of anal perfectionism will allow me to do it any other way. Those videos will make it to an Internet near you, but not until some time in the middle of March at the earliest.

What have I been doing, then aside from that? Sorting out The Late Mother’s paperwork for one thing, naturally. But also, picking up another craft project that arrived for my birthday. I do have a massive cross-stitch project that I bought myself a while ago waiting to get started on, but this was a little tiny small one. A palate-cleanser, I thought it could be, before I start on the next big thing.

The start of a cross stitch project

It doesn’t take long, with a small project, before you start to see recognisable progress. A cross-stitch kit too, because it contains floss that’s been pre-cut into small, manageable lengths, is always very more-ish. Using a whole length only takes maybe twenty or thirty minutes, so at a weekend or in an evening, it’s always very tempting to just do another.

Further cross stitch progress

If it keeps catching your eye, then within a couple of weeks, you have all the cross-stitching itself finished.

All the crosses stitched

There’s still all the backstitch to do, to give it all some outline. This particular kit has three different shades of backstitch to put in, and I’m not convinced how well some of the very pale backstitching will show up against a background that is, frankly, mostly in shades of medium-grey. Watch this space and we’ll find out.

The great year

Looking back, on reflection

The year turns, and the seasons change, as has happened many times before. Tomorrow evening, if you’re in Europe, is the winter solstice, and the days start turning back towards spring. Right now, as I write this, the sun is well below the horizon and the moon is a thin misty sliver behind dark and rain-filled clouds.

This site has been quiet since I posted about putting The Mother’s body in the ground, back at the start of November. Since then…there has been too much other stuff on the horizon to have space in my mind to assemble words into sentences for here, or for that matter, to add video for things to go on YouTube. When you’re dealing with a death in the family, there is an awful lot of paperwork to do, correspondence to answer, and many hours spent on hold to banks, energy companies, everyone she had to deal with. I’ve even had a few letters to answer from organisations who now suddenly think my dad has died, three years later, because The Mother never cancelled all of his direct debits.

Tomorrow, though, is Yule. The end of the year and the start of that time between this and the next, the strange unofficial intercalary weeks that we all somehow seem to obey. Everyone is wound down, yet still tense. Everyone needs the light to change and the sun to move backwards in the sky; and so we have candles and glitter and the warmth of a fire.

At the turning of the year, albeit not the Great Year, it’s worth looking back at what has and hasn’t happened. I’ve made huge strides in life, even if it feels like I haven’t. I’ve taken massive steps, even though I feel I haven’t moved for a long while now.

The other week I was at the beautician’s salon and she asked if I was seeing any difference in how I looked. “It’s hard to say,” I told her, “because I look at myself day to day so I never notice a tiny daily change. You’re more likely to notice a change than I have.” I’m sure, if I were to go back to photos of myself a year ago, I’d see a massive change, even if I feel right now that no massive changes have happened. Hopefully at the next Yule there will have been more changes, even if I feel there haven’t been still then.

I will sit back, imagine lighting a fire, imagine watching the log crackle in the flames, and drink a warming drink. Hopefully, a clear sky, and I can watch the stars spiral and turn. Here’s to one year gone, and here’s to the next just starting, the old gods bringing the sun back around to us once more.

Into the earth

CW: death. Another day, another funeral

It was a bright, crisp, autumn afternoon, the sun still high in the sky. I put my hand in front of my face to shade my eyes from it. Nobody else did, and I wondered if they thought I was saluting.

“Private committal”, I had said on the Order Of Service, so it was only a small group of us. Two of The Mother’s brothers, and their wives; the third brother was too sick to travel. A nephew, a couple of nieces, and my children standing by.

The Child Who Likes Animals was taking a great interest. “She will be buried next to Grandpa,” he kept saying, no matter how many times people explained that, no, Grandpa’s grave had been made specially deep so Grandma could be slotted neatly on top in her matching wicker coffin. When the funeral director had us, the mourners, stand well back by the hearse as the coffin was carried over the damp grass to the temporary trestles at the graveside, The Child Who Likes Animals had ignored him completely, had run circles around them and peered down into the hole. He was the only mourner who saw the bottom of the grave, before the coffin went in.

“Earth to earth,” said the priest, in her hard-edged New England accent. I don’t mean that to sound like a bad thing: she is a very good priest, but her public-speaking voice is firm, and clear, every syllable carefully divided and enunciated. “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.” She sprinkled soil from a small plastic takeaway container, finely-divided to be straightforward to sprinkle in.

“Take as long as you want,” said the funeral director, after the ceremony had finished. We stood, not really knowing exactly what to do, or how long to wait before leaving. I thanked the priest, and the director; the pallbearers, two old men and two young women, had drifted away discreetly as soon as the body had been lowered into the ground. We stood, chatted a little, said how nice the flowers were, and it was something of an anticlimax. When she had died, in a hospital room, it felt inappropriate some how to be the last one to leave the room and leave her body, on its own, slowly cooling. At the graveside, it felt the same.

This is also something of an anticlimatic way to end this post. When my father died, this blog was on pause, but I wrote about watching him die straight away. The Mother’s death was four weeks ago, and so far, I haven’t written anything about it, about what led up to it, about the sudden shift in realisation that a life will be ending, not in months or years but in a few hours or days. This, though, might be a good point to start writing about it: the end of the process, not the end of the legal and formal processes, but the end of the ritual part.

On whether birds have legs

Or, conversations The Mother has had

It’s been quiet on the blog for the past month, what with one reason and another. Work has taken priority; other writing projects have taken priority; and more than anything, I didn’t realise just how long videoing my crafting exploits, recording a narration and editing the footage into something at least semi-watchable would take. I will put a link to the YouTube channel over on the sidebar at some point.

I did think it would be nice to make sure I did have at least one thing posted here in September, though, and handily The Mother said something yesterday that I thought was worth writing down. “You probably won’t believe this happened,” she said, “but when I was in town today…”

When The Mother says “you probably won’t believe this happened,” it usually means she’s about to say something that’s extremely believable—much more believable than a lot of the things she claims as straight-up fact—but also unintentionally hilarious. I pricked up my ears.

“…you see this top I’m wearing, how it’s covered in animals?” she said, veering off on a tangent. She was wearing a horrible brown sweatshirt, the colour of estuarine mud, coveerd in embroidered birds.

“There were these two women in town with a pushchair,” she said, “youngish lasses, and one of them came over to me and said: ‘scuse me, can you come over here and show my friend your top?’ So I went over, and she said to her: ‘see! Birds do have legs!’”

I almost wish I’d heard the rest of the conversation, which could be settled most quickly by finding an old woman with the right clothing, rather than, you know, an actual seagull or something. The matter, though, had been decided. The Mother can’t quite get over it.