(Almost) Three Years Happy

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It’s a little early to be celebrating this anniversary. Really it falls in the autumn, the anniversary of the day that the dark clouds vanished and the game of ‘depression Snakes and Ladders’ was over. But I feel like now is the time to celebrate it because the ‘lockdown’ was as close as I’ve come since then to getting lost in the gloomy underworld again. I have clung on to my happiness by my fingernails, and with the support of my loved ones. ‘Lockdown’ started three years, almost to the day, from when I left my husband and the life I’d lived for 15 years in what felt at the time a last-ditch attempt to make a life that would satisfy me and make me happy, a life that was worth living. In those three years I’ve travelled, volunteered with amazing projects, seen myself reflected back to me by strangers, and worked hard every day to nurture and maintain the green shoots of that life, and to grow them into a fulfilling present and an exciting future, to be honest with myself and others, to be free of my past.

It seemed that 2020 was going to be the best year I’d had in a long, long time, and the future shone bright before me. ‘Lockdown’ squished that present and future, with the loss of a whole season of live events that I and a friend had spent many months planning, booking and organising. The whole performing arts sector now exists in this state of uncertainty, indefinitely. And it was the third time in three months that an opportunity to move on and move into my own home fell through, after three years of living in other peoples’ houses (or a tent!). It knocked me sideways. I floundered. I stepped on a Snake and slid downwards several levels in the game. It was very hard not to become ego-centred and hopeless at first, to avoid the feeling that ‘the Universe doesn’t want me to be happy and fulfilled’. Spoken word and poetry became too painful for me to watch, read, or even think about. I keep finding little sad, lonely and hopeless poems from that time that I don’t remember writing scribbled in odd pages of my notebooks.

There were times when I and my new boyfriend found ourselves living together in very close quarters, there were times when we had to social distance again and I had to cleanse all traces of him when he left after a visit sitting metres apart in the garden and I wept. Home was fraught with everyone’s anxieties. I worried about the safety and well-being of loved ones in care homes. It was sunny almost every day, so as a person with super-sensitivity to sunlight and warm temperatures, I had to stay indoors.1 Social distancing and even the emptiness and peace of the ‘lockdown’, although pleasant to my Asbergers’, did not really do my mental health any good.

I felt frozen and bereft and I fell into Twitter, often spending the whole day in there. I found stories from all over our world, stories that, for the most part, horrified or enraged me, and made me feel powerless against an ever-expanding soul-less and psychotic system that steals from the poor to give to the rich, that lies to our faces outrageously, that simply does not value life or believe in fairness. Like millions of us around the world, I wanted to be out on the streets holding these bastards to account. Instead we were all indoors, looking after ourselves and each other, as we always end up having to do since the ‘representatives’ we ‘elect’ to look after us actually want us gone. I began to feel that the contribution I had been making to my community was not enough, that nothing ever would be, that my own life and ambitions did not matter in the face of this crisis, and simultaneously, that I was powerless and incapable.

I watched every documentary that Adam Curtis has ever made. I understood the concept and progress of ‘hypernormalisation’ and it helped me get a handle on, and see through, the endlessly confusing, contradictory and downright false and ridiculous statements and actions of our government and others around the world. They are designed to create that feeling of fear, horror and powerlessness, so that we just give up trying to unravel the Gordian knot of bullshit and corruption and instead buy ourselves some sense of security and autonomy from Amazon or a mortgage advisor. So that we choose EastEnders over the real people that live in our real community and the hard work it takes to interact with them meaningfully and co-operatively.

My beloved and I did some small ‘actions’ that helped us feel less powerless, that we were raising our voices outside of social media. I began to write again, and managed to surmount my fear of being on video to share some of those poems with my creative community. I started playing the guitar very very badly again, and singing songs that helped me express some of my thoughts and feelings. But still, I felt paralysed and simultaneously responsible for changing everything bad happening to us: isolation, death and disease, untrustworthy governments and corporations extending their surveillance of us, billions funnelled into the accounts of the super rich and the corrupt while people starve and get evicted in the middle of a global pandemic, legislation that enacts draconian and ill-defined powers for states and their police forces, environmental disasters, indigenous peoples encroached upon, brutalised and murdered … I could go on and on and on. What on earth could I, a single, deeply flawed organism, possibly do to change all of this? And then my health, and my right knee (the one I took for George Floyd), gave way entirely.

I was right back to three years ago, in a bed, in a room feeling powerless and hopeless and alone. So I got out of that room. The four walls and the closed door, so precious to me; my privacy, my space and my control, which help me stay sane in good times, are also my nemesis. Just like three years ago, I had to get out of my room and the energy that I’d created and experienced in it. I moved in with my beloved, and it took three weeks of sleeping and eating as much as possible, of avoiding social media and calling people for conversations instead, of taking slow little walks in nature and foraging in the verges, for the knee to recover and my teeth and gums to stop hurting, to get some energy back and to move out of a place of fear and loneliness. During that time the hits kept on coming and my frustration was no less. For every square forwards I moved on the board, it seemed I paid with having to sit out a round or two. Snakes snapped around my heels and Ladders were snatched away. There came a crisis, triggered by a sad event.

I sat one night a few weeks ago, unable to sleep. My head, my heart, my belly were full, were churning. It was 1.30am. I got up and dressed and went to sit in my car, the only place I have all of my own. I knew a poem was brewing within me and I had to be alone to write it. I had to be near the sea to write it. Serendipity finally intervening, I found that my knee was recovered enough for me to drive, and that travel restrictions had been relaxed enough that I felt that I could drive somewhere. What happened is this poem. And that night it all began to change, to move again. I am wild, I am free, I am loved. I have choices. I’m lucky, privileged, blessed. It took another long drive a couple of days later and a long heart-to-heart with my beloved for me to relax and really feel all of that.

We understood that the world has changed. And that it’s not for a few months, but indefinitely. That you might make plans, but that the ‘lockdown’ might well come back, and scupper them again. That the social issues that upset us the most are not going away, but will in fact worsen. That the soul-less are inexorably devouring the world and everything living on it while we fight each other in the streets and the supermarkets and online and bombs keep dropping like a rain that no amount of sunshine can drive off.

And we understood that we have to create our freedom inside ourselves. That, horrified as we both are by this new world, we have to make spaces within it to love, to enjoy, to connect, to play, to laugh, and to tell the truth. That if we can’t, then the virus of hypernormalisation has infected our minds and the soul-less have power over us. That if we can, we might be able to share that freedom with others, and help them feel it too.

Because actually nothing has really changed at all in this new world. No matter how much security you think you have, it is all an illusion, which could be blown away in a hurricane or even with a sneeze. The future always is and always will be unpredictable. Change is inevitable. Shit happens.

Snakes and Ladders.

And in the face of this, the answer too remains the same. Get that egg boiling! Resilience is going to be the key to avoiding the Snakes in the post-COVID 19 universe. Resilience and critical thinking. And critical thinking has to start with ourselves. Before we can truly assess with an open mind the tide of information the modern world bombards us with, we have to aware of our own biases and habits of thinking and feeling. We have to work to free ourselves from them, to respond to things as they happen, as appropriately as possible, rather than to react to things out of habit, fear and ignorance. Learn how to shine the light upon yourself and then turn that light upon the world once it is bright enough, and you will see further and more clearly. It’s not easy and it’s not work that’s ever really over. It has to be done every day. All the time. Relax and accept that you are changeable, along with the flow of life itself. That you are enough, as you are, that your unique combination of genes and experiences and tastes and quirks and talents have never been seen before in this universe, and never will be again, so express them in a pure and unpolluted way. Build compassion towards yourself and then shine that, too, onto the rest of the world. We are all flawed. We are all perfect. No-one knows what’s ‘really going on’. No-one. And that’s how it’s always been.

Let’s fight the power. Love each other. Build free and truthful spaces and share them with as many people as we can. Become as self-sufficient as we can, spiritually, emotionally and practically. Let’s divest ourselves of the old tired divide-and-rule power games and see that only if we have a revolution of the heart can we bring down this soul-less Snake and stop it from dragging us down into the underworld that we create with our own minds. Let’s find those bloody Ladders, and help each other up them, into the sunshine and fresh air.

Silent Spring

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When, years ago, we heard Rachel Carson speaking

Of how one day would come a silent spring

We couldn’t know that when it did take place

The silenced ones would be the human race

It’s likely that we’ll never see again

A spring like this with all the wild aflame

Hedges, verges, lawns all gone unmown

No cars gives animals the right to roam

And as they window-shop the empty malls

I wonder if they think it’s worth it all?

Is JD Sports worth poisoning the rivers?

For the catalogue of Argos will the animals forgive us?

Or will they, puzzled, wander round the towns

And wonder why we’re chopping forests down

To have new lines in Zara every week

I bet it leaves them feeling pretty bleak

Oh rejoice in this silent spring my friends

For we will never see its like again

The humans will all soon come out to play

And all the animals will hide away

And all the parks and verges will be mown

And birdsong be drowned out with traffic drone

And late at night their young will gather round

To hear the animals tell how they once went into town

‘Those humans are a funny lot for sure

Let’s just hope that they evolve a little more’

 

Video here: https://youtu.be/OTjZVSgB68E

The Magical Heart

atisha2When my heart is full of pain

and fear and righteous anger,

it can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning.

If I am feeling wise that day,

I will remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

When the world is full of pain

war, hunger, prejudice and sorrow,

it can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning.

Atisha’s transformation meditation

is the key

 

When my heart feels all alone

full of resentment, failure and regret,

it can be overwhelming.

Instead of drowning,

I try to remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

Build compassion:

I breathe in – and with that air,

I breathe in all the hells, the miseries,

of all the creatures of the Earth,

including my own.

I breathe in all the darkness

into my aching heart

 

The heart is a magical crucible

heated with the heat, the light of love.

It con-fuses all things in the Universe,

distils life to its purest essence

 

Build compassion:

I breathe out – and with that air

I breathe out all the love, the bliss

the joy and benedictions

I can muster

to all the creatures of the Earth,

including myself.

From my magical heart

 

When we lose heart, lose love, compassion

that’s when we fail. We fail each other and ourselves

When we use heart

the eyes of love reveal another world

Every face a friend, every tree a sister, every bird a sign

And the air that I breathe in, so dark,

breathe out, so light,

surrounds me like a mother’s arms.

It can be overwhelming.

It can feel like I’m drowning

in love.

If I’m wise enough that day to remember

Atisha’s transformation meditation

 

https://kadampa.org/buddhism/atisha

Four Walls

painI don’t usually write about this sort of thing, but I decided to try. Perimenopause sucks a big one, but it is getting better as I get stronger and fitter and if I eat and drink and sleep enough. Love and good wishes to everyone going through this too, I hope you find ways of managing it that work for you.

 

 

I lay trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

The world is narrow

On a day like this

My body calls the shots

And shapes my whole reality

 

It doesn’t matter what I want

What I plan

Whatever my intentions

But I must lie

First one way, then another

Sometimes there’s no way

That doesn’t hurt

 

I eat I drink I take the tablets

And I try for the relief of sleep

Another sunny day gone by

While I lie

Trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

 

On other days grief overtakes me

Or hopelessness or rage

My whole psyche is so sensitive

I can’t bear even the gaze

Of another human being

 

I wish to be both far away

Alone on an island

In a storm-tossed sea

The blessedly cold salt spray

Caressing my hormone-hot skin

Or else wrapped up in total love and care

Someone to cook my eggs for me

And hold me

 

Inside the four walls

Migraine lays me low

Every joint and cartilage inflamed

Hot hot pain at the base of my skull

I press my knuckles hard, hard

Into my eye sockets, my temples

And pray for the pills to work

 

A hand has taken hold of my womb

And squeezes it, squeezes it

And I’m gasping, dumbfounded

There’s nothing to be done

But let it rush through me

Like the incoming tide

Is it better if I breathe?

Or if I don’t breathe?

 

I have to change position again

Sometimes there is no way

That doesn’t hurt

And I’m scared and alone

Trapped in the tunnel of pain

The four walls

The box sets

 

And all the pills and hot water bottles

In the world don’t help

Reassure me that one day

This will all be over

And I will be set free

To enjoy the sunny days

Outside of these four walls

Shhh!

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I wish that those men in my life would shut up
Keep on telling me, telling me, telling me stuff

Telling me how to keep my car clean
Telling me how to smoke my sweet green
Telling me how to paint a wall!
As if in my nearly fifty years
I’d closed my eyes and stopped my ears
And done and learned nothing at all

Oh, I wish that those men in my life would shut up
Keep on telling me, telling me, telling me stuff

Telling me how to do my job
Telling me how I should love
Telling me how geology works…
Perhaps they think that I’m impressed
But, no, it just makes me depressed
That the world is so full of jerks

Yes, I wish that those men in my life would shut up
Keep on telling me, telling me, telling me stuff

Telling me how to chop potatoes
Telling me what my mental state is*
Telling me how to write my novel
Why won’t they ask, or ever listen?
Coz probably I could give them tuition
On health or design or Greek myth or fossils

See, I know lots of things as well
That I don’t feel the constant need to tell
And when you bang on, and on, and on
Telling me things that are often wrong
Your superiority is what you’re proposing
Your insecurity is what you’re exposing

Yes, I wish that those men in my life would shut up
Keep on telling me, telling me, telling me stuff

Telling me I should try a Mooncup
Telling me that my hormones are fucked up
Telling me that I’m unfulfilled
Go on, assume that I’m incurious
Very few things get me more furious
They’re lucky they don’t get killed!

I love to exchange anecdotes and ideas
And I can keep talking for years and years
But I’m not out tonight to hear you lecture
Conspiracy theories and wild conjecture
The facts in your brain are a meaningless stew
Inspired and genius only to you

So I wish that those men in my life would shut up
Keep on telling me, telling me, telling me stuff

Telling me things that I already know
Telling me things I disproved years ago
Telling me all your urban legends
YouTube videos and pomposity…
No longer will I curb my ferocity
Mate, you’re coming across as a bell-end

Can we not have a conversation?
An exchange of information?
We might both learn something new
You from me, and me from you
Because, my dear, I think you’ll find
That’s the mark of a truly intelligent mind

Until then those men in my life can shut up
And stop telling me, telling me, telling me stuff

 

  • ‘state is’ and ‘potatoes’ actually do rhyme in my London accent, so there

The cost of dying

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With the average cost of a funeral in the UK now £3,757, and the average debt taken on by families to pay for a funeral reaching £1,744, the funeral poverty crisis is worsening every year. Funeral costs have risen steeply (up to 30%), as simultaneously the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 and the government’s crushing ‘Austerity’ policy have tightened the screws on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. It’s a bitter irony that up to 200,000 deaths may be linked to ‘Austerity’, with a combination of food and fuel poverty, cutbacks to health, social and mental health care services, and suicide all contributing to this estimate. So many of us are now too poor to live, and also too poor to die!

Today it was announced that the cost of a death certificate has risen from £4 to £11. It may seem a small amount, until you consider that up to ten death certificates may needed to release the body, arrange the funeral, and access the estate. It’s yet another pressure on grieving family members already struggling to provide a funeral that reflects their love and celebrates the deceased’s life.

While it’s possible to apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment from the DWP if you are claiming certain benefits, the payment will only cover an average of a third of the costs, can take weeks to arrive, and if another family member is in work, or considered next of kin and is ineligible (e.g. if the next of kin is a child), the claim will be rejected. Desperate people on zero-hours contracts, living hand-to-mouth with no savings and no spare money for life insurance or pre-paid funeral plans, will not be eligible. Up to half of all applications are rejected.

So what’s the alternative? There’s been a steep rise in crowdfunding for funerals; in the first nine months of 2016, 2007 crowdfunding pages for funerals were launched, raising an average of £1,300 each. In the same year it was calculated that 1.2 million people in the UK had borrowed £576 million from payday loan companies to pay funeral expenses, landing themselves in a serious cycle of debt. More people are choosing ‘garden burials’ – literally burying their deceased loved ones in their own back gardens, which eliminates the costs of buying a plot, conducting a funeral service and digging the grave. While this has always been an option chosen by those with large estates, or those who want to keep their dead family members close, it’s still not an option for the poorest – you will need to own your own home and the land you intend to use as a grave site and fulfill certain environmental health conditions.

So, as usual, already hard-pressed and underfunded local authorities are being relied upon to provide thousands of Public Health Funerals in the UK every year. There are sad echoes of the ‘Pauper’s Funeral’ of the Victorian era here: burials (costing an average of £700) can be in shared plots with no headstones, these may be re-opened to inter further corpses at a later date; after council cremations (costing an average of £1000), ashes are often scatted in the crematorium’s garden of remembrance, and it may or may not be possible for the family of the deceased to take possession of the ashes. It’s not the send-off that most of us would wish for for those we love, adding guilt and shame to grief. Although councils can attempt to recover some of the costs from the estate of the deceased, in 2015 some local authorities were paying up £250,000 for Public Health Funerals, and these costs can only have been rising since.

Finally, hospitals may be having to cope with storing bodies indefinitely, if the family is caught in the bind where the body cannot be released without a fee (£1000+), but the social fund will not pay out until the funeral is underway.

It’s an emotive issue that most people don’t want to think about. It’s hard enough dealing with bureaucracy and arranging a funeral while you are shocked and grieving, without adding a lifetime of financial pressure (and a reminder of bereavement with every loan repayment) and the guilt of only being able to provide a ‘Pauper’s Funeral’. Those who incur debt to pay for a funeral will likely be unable to pay for their own funeral, either, meaning that this crisis will worsen in the future. If you are facing this issue, there is help and advice available online, or at your Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

‘Austerity’ is not over, it was never about reducing the deficit. It will never be over because it’s an ideology, not a fiscal recovery policy. Reducing our dignity, our sense of social security, and performing a sneaky and despicable holocaust of the poor, sick and vulnerable is what it’s about. If we cannot perform as tax payers/consumers then we are expendable. The ‘Victorian Values’ that Thatcher asked us to return to have indeed returned and it’s horrifying.

http://fairfuneralscampaign.org.uk/content/funeral-poverty-alliance

https://quakersocialaction.org.uk/we-can-help/helping-funerals/down-earth/how-it-works

https://www.royallondon.com/media/press-releases/2018/september/buried-in-debt-mourners-borrow-1700-to-pay-for-loved-ones-funerals/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34943805

Caring for your eggshell

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Something a bit different today, but something I’m really keen on: natural cosmetic recipes. A cautionary rule of thumb: do not put anything on your skin that you are intolerant to in your diet. It may very well irritate. Keep all of this stuff away from your eyes. Don’t ingest any essential oils.

I’ve always had super-sensitive skin which gets more and more fragile as I progress through my perimenopause (a common symptom). I use Weleda Baby products day-to-day, but I make my own skin treats and bath-time indulgences.

The simplest (and best) moisturising bath is a good cupful of milk and some lavender essential oil (if you are lactose intolerant or vegan, almond or oat milk is good). A handful of salt or a couple of capfuls of cider vinegar help to balance the skin. I like to add essential oils (rose and geranium is a mixture that I like, but everyone has their own favourites). I usually exfoliate with a cotton washcloth but for an extra, soul-deep clean, I use this recipe:

Take 1 teaspoon oil (olive, almond, coconut, etc.) and mix in a cupful of brown sugar until all the grains are coated. Finely grate square inch of fresh ginger and mix in. Add the juice and zest of half a lime and stir. You can apply the scrub by hand or on a washcloth. Use it within a week.

Face masks of honey or honey and yogurt work well for me, being moisturising and calming. A recipe I saw many years ago had you smooth honey over the face, and then gently pat with flat fingers all over to stimulate circulation and draw out muck. Chilled white tea is a lovely skin tonic. You can whip coconut oil and aloe vera (go for a pure-as-possible aloe vera gel, lots of them have alcohol and other additives) together with a hand blender to make a good general moisturiser for dry or rough skin. Although I often use pure rosehip oil on my face these days, for many years I used virgin olive oil with rose, lavender and tea tree essential oils (5-10 drops of each added to about 15ml of base oil). If you have oilier skin, olive may be too heavy and almond or jojoba will be better.

A nice cooling spray can be made thus: pour 30ml of witch hazel into a 100ml spray bottle, add 5 drops of peppermint oil and shake well. Add 30ml of aloe vera gel and shake again until mixed (if the aloe gel is very thick it may be best to mix these ingredients in a bowl). Top up with distilled water. It’s great for when you’re overheated, on any part of the body, but close your eyes if you are spraying your face! This is similar to a very easy room spray recipe: 30ml witch hazel in a 100ml spray bottle, 5-10 drops of essential oils, shake, top up with water. I react badly to artificial air fresheners (they can trigger migraines) and find these natural ones much better. Lavender is supposed to be good for relaxing, I find lemon and mint refreshing (only use a couple of drops of mint, it overwhelms all other fragrances), rose is calming, citrus oils are a good pick-me-up. But again, you will have your own faves. If you don’t yet know what oils you like, you can research online, ask at a good health food shop, or just go in and smell a few to find a pong that suits you!

Happy indulging!

oils

Solus and the City

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I’m very happy to be a part of this event via Degenerate Space

I’ve contributed this essay, which will be displayed in the structure that they are building. It can be seen from the 1st of June as part of the London Festival of Architecture at Greendale Playing Fields, just off Dog Kennel Hill in Camberwell, SE London. The themes were solitude, sanctuary, women negotiating urban space. Some of it is based on a previous post, Doing Identity

Here’s what I wrote:

On the Street

Growing up as I did – a ‘weird’ kid with undiagnosed autism, a unique dress sense, the oddest parents in the neighbourhood, and indoctrinated as a good baby revolutionary, was pretty lonely. Sometimes I had friends to pal around with, but more often, I didn’t. But, since home was not always comfortable, either, I walked the London streets alone a lot from the age of about ten or eleven. Often, I crossed and re-crossed the street to avoid other children, from whom I always expected, and often received, a hostile reception. I walked in a state of constant paranoia and tension, trying to remain alert to any possible danger. At home I got rubbish advice: try to be more like other people, because dressing my individuality was attracting the hostility, or to just punch people who bullied or physically harassed me. But as far back as I can recall, I have been a pacifist and an individualist. So no help there. At the age of twelve, I did try for a while to dress like everyone else at school, and I cut my problematic hair (curly, bushy, frizzy, huge). But I felt so miserable in my ‘normal drag’ that I decided the trouble it caused me to dress as I pleased was worth it; I returned to my own tastes.

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McEntee school, Walthamstow, which I regularly absconded from

That was the year I discovered, during the chaos of a teacher’s strike, that truancy was a thing. Rapidly I learned to take advantage of the fact that I was often mistaken for my mother on the phone: I rang up the school in the morning and excused myself, changed out of my uniform, then spent the day walking around London. Sometimes I wandered far, as far as the British Museum or National Gallery, where I swooned over Egyptian artefacts and Tudor paintings; sometimes I walked around and around closer to home, weary and driven, not enjoying myself at all, but unable to stop. The city streets are hard, they blistered the soles of my feet. I got lost in the maze of streets and had to retrace my steps. Sometimes I saw groups of truants in the shopping centre, where I would only venture on rainy days. They were having more fun than me. But I never went to speak to them, and I often saw them being questioned by authority figures. I didn’t want to get caught. In the backstreets of ‘Theatre Land’ I saw drunks on the streets, urine trickling away from them in streams that stained the tarmac. I kept walking, never stopping. Once an older boy, brother of a kid in my class, followed me for a couple of hours and tried to chat me up. I knew I had to be jaunty but firm, and to keep walking, just keep walking, to fend him off without making him angry.

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Me aged 16

As I grew older, leaving school at fourteen and spending a year travelling the world with my family cemented my individualism. I returned to London (sans parents), aged fifteen, did not attend school, and embarked on a year or two of constantly changing my appearance and hair colour. It called even more attention, not always hostile, but often it was the attention of men, in cars, on scaffolding, just walking down the street. Now I had sunglasses to hide behind, and a fierce image which I wore as a shield. I told the men to get stuffed if I was feeling confident, or just blanked them, hot, angry, humiliated on the inside. I cultivated what I like to call ‘fuck off-vibes’ and insisted that I would walk where I liked, when I liked. I would not take up the cultural burden of fear that society tries to drum into the female body. I drew on my anger about the fear culture and projected that outwards, striding along. I’m not physically brave, but walking through London at 3am, perhaps dressed as a punk, perhaps as Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan, I felt that I was willing to risk anything in order to feel free, as free as a man might. No-one ever approached me then, even in Soho, even in the 1980s ruins of Docklands – I must have looked pretty angry.

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Art on the street in Bristol

I also became a ‘tagger’ for a while, writing my graffiti tag as often as I could on every available surface. Our tiny crew walked everywhere, as much as we could, because that was how you found the newly-cleaned-of-graffiti bus shelters to ‘bomb’ (entirely cover with graffiti), and at night was the best time to tag post boxes, phone boxes, any kind of signage, billboards, etc. It was another kind of urban freedom – we claimed the space as our own by marking it, and we became part of a network. The first time I went Kilburn I was paranoid until I saw a familiar tag. I felt reassured – I was not in entirely unknown, unexplored territory. ‘Care’ had been there before me. So I still feel at home in areas covered in tags. I know they are not the acceptable face of street art. They are often poorly penned, poorly executed, and seem to me to be poorly chosen (a ‘tag’ is like a single-word signature that you don’t change often. If you come up with a good one, you may keep it for years, even decades. The word you choose may be misspelled in order to make the artistic flow of the letters better). A good tag is a beautiful example of the calligrapher’s art, executed at speed, often on an uneven surface and with felt tip or spray can. So I’m often, when in cities, caught standing in front of a wall of tags, looking for the good ones, laughing at strange word choices, by young people who may well wonder what the hell this middle-aged white woman is doing. If I lived in a city now, I think I would engage in street art again. It makes a city yours.

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Burnt-out taxi

Nothing makes me feel more liberated and powerful than challenging those societal fears that my female body might be violated if I am alone, or where I ‘shouldn’t’ be. I have experienced just as much – or more – violation indoors, in domestic settings, where I should have been safe. And in other ways, I like to play with urban space and feminism. Although I never ‘man-spread’ when space is tight, if the bus or train is fairly empty and my clothes allow, I will sit with legs apart, arms resting along the seat backs, just taking up space in the way I see men do all the time. It garners a lot of surprised looks (I admit, I relish those looks), but it makes me feel that I belong in the space and the space belongs to me. I will stick out my elbows and square my shoulders and muscle my way through a crowd, and only step out of someone’s way if they are also behaving politely. I’ll sit on the steps, on the ground, climb over walls and railings, dash across the road. Because the more you let the conventions of civil behaviour rule your body and where and how you negotiate the city, the more you ingrain obedience into your psyche. I do not advocate rebellion against civility itself – I am considerate, helpful, polite, always making room for people who need a seat more than I, offering help with a bag or a pushchair, holding doors open and trying to spread good feelings in my wake. But I won’t submit to rude, pushy and aggressive people. Nowadays, having lived out of London for sixteen years, I no longer generate my ‘fuck off-vibes’ all the time, I have slowed my pace, I can walk without being driven by paranoia as I was when I was a child and a young woman. I talk to people in shops and on buses like the bumpkin I’ve become. But something of the streets will always be in me, something of the rebel who jumps the gate instead of going all the way around, and the woman who enjoys messing with preconceptions about how to use space and where and when and how we can be in the city.

Lines and borders

 

Many years ago, I shared a place with a friend. We got along well, accepted each other’s quirks and complied with each other’s domestic foibles, since none of them were excessive and we were both quite clean and tidy. He never complained if I spent two hours in the bath; I never minded him spending two hours on the phone. We never expected each other’s company, but always enjoyed it. We subjected each other to our crap weekend telly preferences. On occasion we slept together; we had dated for a while several years before and it happened after a few beverages, I think.

My friend suggested that what we had going was a good basis for a marriage. But I knew without any doubt that reclassifying this relationship would ruin everything. If he’d been my boyfriend, his quirks and foibles, mannerisms and politics, moods and wanderings and phone calls and crap TV choices would all have made me nuts, or paranoid, or angry, or impatient, by turns. I would have taken them all personally. I’d expect his attention and company, not just enjoy it when it was there. I’d feel I owed him the same. Now, why do I do this in relationships? Does everyone else do this, too? I know that for many people, just the sexual contact would be enough to transform the relationship; for me it’s not, but calling it a ‘relationship’ would.

I’d like, in my next turn on the merry-go-round of love, to remain in that friendly state, and not concern myself with my beloved’s habits and behaviours as long as they have no negative impact on me. I’d like to not take moods and quirks personally. I have lot of work to do to avoid this: I am egomaniacal enough to think that I am responsible for the happiness and comfort of those closest to me. Perhaps it seems to some of you that this would be no kind of love at all, or impractical, or cold. But I just want to enjoy my beloved as I enjoyed my friend, with all his funny little ways.

People power

freedom

The word ‘anarchy’ has long been misconstrued as meaning ‘chaos and violent disorder’.

anarchy
1. a state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems.
synonyms: Lawlessness, nihilism, mobocracy, revolution, insurrection, riot, rebellion, mutiny, disorder, disorganization, misrule, chaos, tumult, turmoil, mayhem, pandemonium
2. absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.
The word has, since the 1660s at least, always carried both of these meanings.

A direct translation from the original Greek αναρχία or anarkhos‘, would be ‘without (‘an‘) a leader/ruler (‘arkhos‘)’. And I think we can see the huge split in the two definitions thus: while an anarchist movement sees the second – the political ideal which elevates (and demands) every citizen’s participation and contribution and chooses an optimistic view of human nature and sociability, anyone describing anarchism from the position of the entrenched ruling elite will, of course, plump for the first – chaos, mutiny, insurrection.

It seems almost impossible for us in our large, centrally-controlled nation states* in the 21st-century world to imagine how an anarchist society might work. Indeed, I am new to anarchy myself (identifying as such only within the past 12 months) and still learning. But it unquestionably true that anarchism is the longest-running system of human organisation, the form of social organisation within which the human species evolved and grew up, and it continues to be the way in which mobile hunting-gathering-foraging peoples live. I guess that, if pushed, I would suggest a political system of local collectives which decide issues by consensus (predicated upon total freedom of movement and the choice to join together in whatever collective best suits your own inclinations), accompanied by a system of participatory representative democracy at a larger level, so that all citizens could/should take a turn in representing their communities.

An anarchist world would not be without problems and divisions, of course. So many, many people are unhappy, ignorant, lazy, mis-educated, and in order for us all to live and let live, we will need to address this. But community life breaks down a huge amount of barriers and heals a lot of wounds, as I know myself. Working hard together on projects that are larger than one’s own concerns is excellent at creating ties between people. Hunter-gather-forager communities do have to work to keep everyone equal. Typically this is accomplished with humour and love, gentle teasing, and practices such as ‘insulting the meat’ to prevent prolific or skilled hunters, for example, from getting too full of themselves. This is a lovely post about how this egalitarianism is sustained, and reproduced generation to generation.

Although we may think that such organisation is impossible in the huge nation states of today, if we stop to think about most of the movements and technologies that make major and positive changes to our lives, we can see that it’s always people/citizens that make the difference, make the change. A truly representative government should indeed always follow the people, but our governments, only having to worry about their remit every 4-5 years, often do so only when forced to by overwhelming public feeling. Universal suffrage, the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, the dismemberment of empires, LGBTQ rights, environmentalism; all of them started at grass-roots level, all eventually gaining enough momentum to force policy change in governments. The fight goes on on all these fronts and new movements begin all the time.

But does this not inevitably lead to the question: so why do we need the governments? They almost cannot help becoming distanced from the people, because they are corralled and given special status. While the hunter-gatherers make sure no-one’s ego gets over-inflated, our leaders are driven around in fleets of limousines with police escorts and wined and dined in palaces. They almost cannot help getting mired in corruption and graft because it costs so very much to become a leader. Because half of our MPs were privately educated, networks which link them to business and the judiciary are inherent to the system. A sense of specialness and privilege imbued since primary school is hard to eradicate (just go and have a look at some of the private schools and prep schools and try to imagine what it might have felt like, walking into one of those places every day, seeing other children walking into crappy comprehensives. There’s no need for the difference to be articulated, it can be seen and experienced).

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Westminster School
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McEntee School (my school)

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, 75% of human ingenuity, creativity, intelligence, passion, ability, talent, is languishing. It’s stuck behind gender and colour bars, wasting away in refugee camps and prisons, working in bullshit jobs or sweatshop jobs or slave-labour jobs. It’s scrabbling to feed its children and pay for medicine and school and housing while we pour oil on the land, plastic into the sea, particulates into the air. We have all drunk the Kool-Aid about anarchism. We don’t feel capable of dealing with these huge issues, making these important decisions. But it will take every single one of us getting involved in our society to change our society. Not just by voting – our representative democracies are at best a compromise, at worst a sham – but by acting, organising, communicating, taking responsibility. There are different things that all of us can do, from the utterly radical to the small and everyday. Try something. Take back power, a little at a time. Join a demonstration, educate yourself about some issues, give your plastic packaging back to the supermarket, volunteer, change your bank or your energy supplier, support a grass-roots movement or campaign in your area or globally. It feels good. It feels like being an independent, free, human being with a brain and a heart. Like being an anarchist.

*Gonna do a post about the origin of nation states another day – it’s a fascinating subject