It’s been a while

I saw the ghost of my four years gone, my past in a shadow of white-blonde hair and wide-shy smile. That smile; the dip of the head, slow slump of the shoulders which belonged to a bird, lost in flight. I knew from the moment I saw her – we watched each other with the careful appraising eyes of the remembered, the lost and found, the sufferers and the perennial recovering. Her open words might come across as forthright to some; I heard the dry and tired laugh, saw the premature lines about the beautiful eyes, and knew the world had somehow hurt her, so that frankness can be the only way forward. It had made her bow her fair head and cry until her eyes bled at the corners, until she fell to her knees, but still eventually got back up to walk for hours on end in the rain, because to stay still too long was as sinful as the thought of rest, of care, of nurturing and nutrition.

Fourteen years, and one moment more.

We knew each other, without the word being raised until fifteen minutes or so had passed in conversation. I’ve had this pattern before. First it is “I was ill… I dropped out …” then it becomes “enrolled again” and “boyfriend” and, the faint wet shine of hope in the eyes. The lowering smile, and this time I had to put a hand to my chest because it hurt. Because I remembered how it all felt.
Daring to try again, at being human.

I’ve taken to listening to songs from 2007 again; to a time out of relapse, out of college, post-A Levels and fresh dropout from university. A lost cause, so it felt. I listened to a lot of Snow Patrol then, and Aphex Twin, and – wait for it – the Steve Jablonsky score from Bay’s wonderfully awful Transformers franchise. Don’t get me started on the faults of those films. Suffice to say that the score is an entity all its own – soundscape of ping-heat metal and scything instrumentals, billowing brass and cathedral choral echoes, with the incongruity of pale hovering woodwind to evoke the more peaceable nature of the Autobots (“Optimus” is a beauty.) That being said, “Scorponok” is such a thrill race that it’s almost impossible not to watch the clip from the film, rife with the ugliest plane in existence (to my mind at least) – the dear old Warthog, gunning the living daylights out of the eponymous Decepticon.

I listened to this soundtrack while cleaning my former landlady’s house. She works the sort of hours that require a multifaceted mind, and I relieve her in whatever ways I can by doing what she can’t always find time for. The added bonus is Saturday night’s treat of rum and sushi dinner paid up, cash in hand. I’m not exaggerating when I say the weekend has become my cherished time. With two part-time jobs, spread out over six days, Saturday night and Sunday are all about lying on my back and staring at thoughts swimming past in a medley of colours, listening to this and that, experimenting with new hairstyles and scratching out lines on the pages of a novel which wants to take flight, albeit on weighted wings. It’s coming along. I’ve taken to using Scrivener, as a sort of Pensieve for this fuzzbox mind – it helps me deliver some lines for each session, when I sit and attempt to concentrate for more than fifteen minutes. This is becoming increasingly difficult. Whereas in school and college I’d indulge myself by jamming a book of poetry or manga between the pages of a curriculum text, now I force myself to focus.

She says, while losing the thread of her thoughts. I did laugh at myself, there, and went to pour myself another coffee and a rum. Not together, no. I just like the tingle of hot and cold; the combi of caffeine and alcohol will probably kill me at some point, but let’s not get our hopes up.

So while cleaning the house, this fragment of my past and another future stepped forward, delicate and fine-strong, ancient as seashell, new as a daisy on the lawn. I see it, time and again, and we always acknowledge each other. Those who’ve known cold fingers on the shoulder. We reach out, in a way I can’t seem to (at peace) any more without a passing comment. My driftaway thoughts, this random heart, now stark and angry in its silence, in the absence of a forming picture. I wonder when I’ll see the stars unclouded again. When anything will make sense.

Underneath the stairs
remember all those worlds
we waves the sky to white
as the light rays flickered in
but the time it drained the colour from your skin.

We gave up enough to each other in the space of an hour to fill one of my old pocket journals – laughed over things thrown and said Inside, while shuddering at the memory of violent thoughts and an alien side, the feeling of restriction and prevention and Oh I Can’t! and, When will it End? And grimaced over calorie drinks, the foot in the bathroom door and the prohibition and taking tentative steps forward, in remembering real Hunger, as opposed to Starvation. Or in my case now, Appetite. This is the trickiest part, dear reader. Learning that “normal” does not belong to anyone, and it’s part of us all the same. We make our own lives, because we live them in ways no one else can. My needs and wants are mine alone, and if I want a Doubledecker I’m going to fucking have it, but believe me I won’t go pacing the night away to be rid of the damn thing if I can still hit the gym, and know that dinner will be something Else. The rigidity of meal plans and timed eating is just and right for those still out of tune with their own needs and wants – when the stomach is a numbness and the mind is an echoing tunnel, branching out forever without answers. Except the one Driving Force, which can push you towards the centre or the Exit.

Me, I lay low in those tunnels for years and a day. I am the Procrastination Queen. But the smallest, slowest steps still take us onward, even as others remark upon features and flesh, or make pitiful pleas for the secrets to Losing Weight (she mentioned how her mother longed for the dedication …) And I’ve known it myself with others, dear Reader, enough to know when to cut loose those toxic people, even as we’re bound by blood. Because no one stands in the way of recovery, if they can’t understand and won’t try. No one. I would rather live a lifetime alone, than be held down and back again for another day.

Inside we’re all ugly, one way or another. Beautiful in our minds, and appalling in the discovery of ourselves, in others.

Beckoning me on.
Oneness of blood, four and a year,
On the eve of my eye
And here we go again with this
Pain, and the wings a-wide, and
No one knew what to say.

I think it’s time to sleep. There hasn’t been enough of that recently.

She’ll be fine, I think. My former landlady is the sort of person who will know where lines are marked, won’t cross and won’t smear, but she’ll watch and wait all the same. She treats food not as medicine, nor yet as a comfort blanket, but as nourishment and friend. She cooks and eats for taste and for textures, making each meal an adventure of colour for the kids. I found myself under her roof in late 2013, shivering after the turbulence of losing home and partner in a stone’s throw, clinging to my job with both hands, knowing every shadow from the corner of my eye.
(Didn’t look hard enough)
And became, in my own creep-crawl way, the person you know of today. Full of flaws, as we all are, and a little older, not so much wiser but aware, perhaps of things I have no right to know. But by and by, they might come in handy. If ever I needed a sign of the changing times and the world, it came with the blood of a year.

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Foundation stones

The wind was warm, lulling my skin into a sense of security that may yet prove to be false – this time of year is prone to change, to deceit in its budding fingers and icy pavements, its wide-eye skies that retain a burnished bronze at the horizon line… and the silky darkness of blue above, when the stars make a cold fire.

The tombstones were warped in a hazy red glow from the lamplight. Unnatural, almost hellish, and I had to bite my fist against the hard laugh in my chest. I’m prone to inappropriate thoughts and giggle-fits, which is one reason I can’t be trusted in important corridors and silent rooms.

I fell in love with the city’s cathedral at first sight – those tall turrets, so elegant and poignant against the sky, surrounded by lean-back roof lines and the echoing colour spirals of a rose window, the largest kaleidoscope I’ve yet seen. Trembling rose stems, twining about the black iron fence of the graveyard, and the weather-etched stones themselves, centuries past and names long melted into the face of tomorrow. Dear reader, we all end up in the same places, at the end. Whether marked or not, we go through the same channels of decomposition and leave behind those who once called us Friend and Foe, Lover and Life, Stranger and Oppressor, Comrade and Colleague.

You can go your own way. I’ll take mine.

The shadows etch themselves onto the cathedral face in wrinkles of time, backlit and forward thrust until the entire building lives and breathes contentment under the stars. At other times she is jumpy and hurtling towards the storm, set against the sky like a livid mark of every worried thought and hideous fright; sharp black and gunmetal presence. I love to walk straight into the teeth of the wind that endlessly circles her stones, feeling its fingers tear through my hair and making my eyes water. Tonight, those fingers caressed. Tonight, for the first time in a long while, I felt something close to myself again.

The fretful, arrogant, innocent, fumbling woman-child who is, the storyteller with a real problem of getting to a point, because she’s not entirely sure where it is she’s going to or who she is supposed to be…. except in a long form narrative. It’s just how we roll. It took me until age seven to fully grasp the English language and its numbers; age nine until I could handle money and time. To this day, I find myself going cross-eyed in trying to arrive at where I am supposed to be, perhaps through a reluctance of commitment (ever the nomad) or a latent fear of laying claim to what is Mine. Because then it is responsibilities. It is adulthood and a release of ideologies.

Or so I once thought. As it turns out, approaching 30 has at last brought about the inner peace my Nanna once extolled, which I heard and could make little sense of at the time. 17 is no age to try and foresee/feel the future, especially when you’re slowly dying a little more each day with anorexia. But now I know it – this sense of, well, these are my opinions and I’ll tell you because I have nothing better to do, you have yours and that’s fine … but I’m going to shy away and lean into a smile like a wary fox, a weak waver on the wind but a strong back, and walk where my thoughts and feelings go. And that’s that. I’m also now more open to change in the way the sky pales into spring. Black and white are no longer prerequisites. To leave a place is not to say it vanishes forever – I can return, the cathedral will be here for me to walk around its grounds and vanish into the light of the unicorn for a moment or more, knowing myself hopeless and helpless in the face of Time and fate and whatever else, so strong a hand at my back right now. So it seems. Less a boot up my arse, at least, than in 2013 when life unravelled. But things happen, and we go with them and it’s not the end of the world, only a series of events that perhaps propel us to –

Others. Places. Nostalgia has its place, and I still know its sepia tones in the fading light of the sky, on the hair of the twins as they grow, in the lines deepening around my eyes. The little boy wept downstairs the other day, when he learned I was leaving. The girl came upstairs to tell me, and in her solemn eyes her voice came out like the future bell –
Everyone moves on to other places.

She’s six years old, going on Eternity. They have souls made of stars, come out with things that shiver up my skin, watch empty places in rooms like the cats I once knew. I won’t say Goodbye to them in that way that feels like forever; it’s only down the road, this new home of mine. And even if it was the other side of the world, well, there is social media now. There are connections that were once only possible while sifting through the minds of sci-fi authors. There’s symbolic interaction, which has become the beckoning hand of the future, while I stand at the crossroads scratching my head in that way of the wanderer who holds a map she can’t yet fully read or understand.

There are certain things that go beyond words. We all know it. Given the option between an image and a set of lines, I’m ashamed to admit – as a writer – that I’m more prone to hold up the former, while trying to whittle down the latter into something that will get across what I meant to say. We’ve been here before, I know, but it’s worth remembering. A song, a picture, a video, all bear a salience that more formulaic prose can’t improve upon. When nothing else will do, there’s symbolism – with all its fault lines and misinterpretations and layered meanings. A curse and a blessing. Once you see the world for what it is, there’s little else to do but accept what is, will be.

Somehow, I am still alive. Somehow, I’m moving to a flat that I will furnish to my own tastes, funded by a new job in a research centre that I hope will allow me to move sideways in employment, if not up. Every bit on the CV helps. I’m not old yet, not middle-aged, not so bitter that I’ll break as all blades that have gone wrong in tempering, do. I’m here, and this is Now. You can come along, if you like.

Golden leaves and rustic walls. A lady cathedral that will stand beyond my days and nights, and I’ll see her again soon. Nothing really ends, nothing lasts forever. These are things I wish I’d known as a child, when it seemed that to walk out of a room would have it – and the people within – disappear, walk away, move on, leave me behind. My greatest fear. And adolescence, when it seemed the shaking of the world as it changed would knock me off my feet, when too much happened at once. How funny, how odd, that now I relish the speed at which things progress – if only because it means I don’t have time to stop and Think.

Hurt. Feel. Wonder if I’m doing the right thing.
Of course I am. But the sepia tones light my mind all the same, because I’m that sort of person. But now, I know not to stand still and Wonder for too long. Life has a habit of shifting with bubble evanescence until a completely new scene appears, and I must run to catch up. I’m doing all of this alone, you see, and can’t afford to let go or be afraid.

And as that little girl said, Everyone moves on. But we each of us take the stages of our lives with us, as chapters for others to fall into and read – backwards to move forwards – if they so wish.
I like to bookmark the best bits with a song, a picture and a smile at once was. They complement what is to come.

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Which for now, for tonight, is another chapter of a novel that – as mine invariably do – began life as a shortie, last year, as a collision of thoughts and emotions while brushing my teeth. I keep trying to start a blog entry on Russian propaganda, on the urgent need for the west to combat this with specific channels in the face of a rising (dis)information war… It’s a different front-line altogether. But I’m hopeless at starting most things without preamble, and am having trouble drawing the necessary lines between stars. While my voice falters each time I hear it, breaking on glass, on a mirror I’m not entirely sure I should be stood in front of to see myself, with a shadow close behind.
I know my own mind, its fault-lines and its high tides and buried burdens. We all have a story to tell. It’s just, mine are getting stuck in my throat at the moment.

Or perhaps my own excuses are a dull pain yet to be mastered. That fear of putting my name to something that might turn out to be an Even Bigger Cockup (I could spin you a few.) But I’ve fallen already, and got back up, and still trip over my big toe for no reason whatsoever while walking barefoot (there’s a useless factoid for you.)
This is my personal blog, after all. I make no claims of faultless accuracy, though I’ll do my best with what little I have; and I too often set myself up for failure by forgetting that I began this blog (and the old one, CelenaGaia) primarily to loosen up my mind and to offload, to talk with friends, in that inimitable way of bloggers with time on their hands and too much to do, and the protraction of emails and the disengagement/re-engagement of social media and offline life… and writing.

So. We’ll see. There’s still a lot to read and to learn (backwards) and I’m doing this a little off the cuff, but I’d hate to lose myself in study at the expense of speaking out on what crawls up my back and occasionally makes my mind turn pale.
I’d like to say, of this year, that procrastination did not get a look-in. I took the jump for a new job and a new home, in a week. I can do things I once thought were impossible.
Now, I’m more prone to a shrug and a tired-defiant smile in the face of others’ doubt and my own (chronic) sense of self-defeat. This is one of the fun parts about getting older. One of the less fun parts, is finding you can no longer make it to midnight on a Friday. I woke up at 11.30-ish to find my cheek plastered to the keyboard, with an assortment of winking numbers on the screen (thankfully having missed Delete.) Long hours at work, time spent online, going through life as a perma-pedestrian and a gym fiend and a fuck-up and friend … there’s no time for boredom. My worst enemy.
But life is realigning itself, as it should post-anorexia. I find my priorities changing. This is no small thing, but I couldn’t really explain it all in a way that your eyes wouldn’t glaze over.
The world gets a bit bigger, each year.

The moon was a yellow and ragged thing tonight, rising through the clouds like a bell-chime. It turned gold in passing, grew stronger in the lines. I watched its course with interest, past the silent windows with their thickening darkness, across the tan-purple sky, over the flickering lake. The water was a beetle’s back, a sense of Tomorrow; the cries of the birds split the brooding quiet.
The stars went on with their feigned indifference, their watchful eyes. As above, so below.

We mark our own roads

I revisited an old place last night, a thought and a memory from long ago, when I was a person… on the ebb-tide of Europe. Five years old, and recently returned to the UK to start again. I already missed the crisp mountain air and the silence around snow; the lean-dark nights and echoing silence beneath the pines.

Austria. Germany. Norway (sleeping with the blinds drawn against the pale light, with eye masks soft over our noses.)

When Dad left the RAF, we had settled in a small English town at the end of a railway line, an hour or so from the capital, a mile and many from the places I had once known as Home. I took to wandering off down the twisting paths, with their sun-cracked tarmac and aching sepia shadows.

I already missed that wider world.

It revisits me in dreams, which were once memories. They bleed into one another until I can’t tell what is false and what is real, as with everyday life. Some things I know for sure, with photographs in faded albums to back up their facts in a glossy sheen of my father’s deft camerawork. He carried that heavy thing slung about his neck on a strap, took it wherever we went on our holiday-travels in the car, which was all we could afford. I still, to this day, don’t know how much of those travels were to do with his work.

But we were a family of four. Climbing hills and camping beneath mountains made of dark glass and rock, under skies you could shatter with a pinprick. My mother wore her champagne hair in long curls, and carried me on her back. My sister’s hair was attempting to grow out from the rugged crop she’d got around age three; those straight pale locks were never the same again. We trudged up and down the white Austrian slopes with our steel-shod wooden sledges, which would never get past Health and Safety tests now; I wore a Michelin-Man suit of red and blue, with pink mittens and snow boots with white kid lining. I was so proud of these – they had been my sister’s, until she outgrew them. I got most of her hand-me-downs, unless we were “gifted” with identikit outfits by our grandparents. They loved to see little girls dressed in gingham and plaid.

I beg to differ.
But those dresses did stop me being mistaken for a boy all the time, with my short-cropped hair and skinny frame.

We’d race each other through plumes of silver breath, rolling and skidding, while our parents slid gracefully past on their skis. It was another world, another time, full of very straight roads with sharp right-angle corners, elegant steel ‘n stone infrastructure, mixed up with beloved architecture that told their own quiet tales of tradition. Soft gingerbread rooftops and quaint gables, gothic spikes and dark-eye windows. A world of Germanic and Slavic fairytales, forests and fate (lots of death) and magic.

Last night, I watched an old favourite film, firmly bound up in childhood but vague in terms of my full appreciation of it. I hadn’t seen An American Tail since I was eight, though it was often played at my Nanna’s house when we went to visit. The historical and political themes had gone quite over my head (as I’m fairly sure they would for most kids.) I had to blink and look again when it came to the stinging truth of the dangers and difficulties facing Jewish immigrants from central and eastern Europe, bound for America. Stuck among the singing and dancing, it all seemed a bit …
Well, you can fill in with your own words. I did laugh to recognize where “The Giant Mouse of Minsk” had got its name. But my skin riddled up to finally understand the opening scenes of violence that drove the Mousekewitzes and their human counterparts from Shoskta, as part of the anti-Jewish pogroms. I hadn’t known because no one had told me, no one in my family thought to mention it, though they couldn’t possibly have failed to notice the connections. Likewise, on the one occasion the film was shown in my old primary school, there was no mention of the protagonists being Jewish, or of the persecution they had faced.
It would have made a difference to know.

The film aside, this appears to be a recurring theme in adulthood. So much is missing in mind and memory – whether through daydreaming in class (likely) or the subjects being entirely omitted from each year’s history curriculum. Important dates have come up, I’ve been well enough to acknowledge them, but have found myself with empty holes where details should have been.

It’s true, we never stop learning. It’s only in recent years that I’ve managed to piece together more complete and complex pictures and timelines: of the First and Second World Wars, the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, the Cold War and the Soviet Union … among many other things, across the world.
I could have told you about spits and spots: about Egyptian hieroglyphics and Stone Henge, about the Victorians, how to use old teabags to brown-up paper to make “papyrus scrolls.” I could have told you about the war poets.
But I didn’t know about the significance of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, or Yalta, or the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. I learned about the Holocaust mostly through my own research (with a lot of help from Art Spiegelman’s Maus) and about Weimar Germany and hyperinflation from A Level Film Studies – where it was necessary to have a grounding in the historical context of the Expressionist films we were studying.

But is it possible that I fucked around so much in classes that I missed some rather crucial points in human history? Were they even taught then – should they have been? Are these subjects the preserve of further and higher education? (I lasted nine weeks in University before dropping out. Health reasons, as ever.) I wonder, because they seem to be more relevant than ever. And, I’m getting well enough to look backwards as well as around, and forwards; at other people’s lives, rather than my own.

I study, taking time away from faces and noise, to read; to absorb what I can, to make more sense of Today. It’s also possible that whatever I might have learned in school has been burnt out of my brain by years of anorexia and malnutrition. I still find it difficult to retain key facts above the constant white noise, though there’s been a definite improvement in the past couple of years. Never underestimate the links between physical and mental health.

The past few weeks have shown as much. I’ve lost about a kilo, despite a serious increase in food and fluids (it only came home to me how much when I saw a friend’s tweet about his calorie intake for a marathon – it near enough matched my own. But I’m not training for a marathon. I just work, and work out.) I’m reduced to an insomniac with a constant low-grade burning appetite, a short fuse, lowered mental cognition and weaker muscles. My emotional state is a trip-hazard. This is another reason I’ve taken time away, so I don’t inadvertently start WWIII.

I’m going for blood tests next week, to rule out anything other than a long-running aversion to change (we’re slowly starting to pack up at the Nick, with some departments closing to move on), and stress.

The haunting strains of the violin call to a past that leaves an ache at the back of my throat. I once walked barefoot in snow without pain. Even then, there was the tingle of Bigger Things in my spine, and they came most often in dreams.

Once, I climbed hand-over-foot on hot stones the colour of sand, under a blazing blue sky; though I never reached the top, there was sight and sound, the burring whine of many insects, the pulsing heat from the overhead sun. Across the years, that element of wandering-away from familiar places to unexpectedly stumble upon a great looming presence – a monument, a temple, a building – has never died. But I didn’t link them all together until last week, when the latest rendition of the dream came with a lowering night sky, pale smudges at its horizon, as of storm clouds obscuring the dusky rose. The monolith rose up in glittering darkness like a fallen spaceship, with panels and a size to silence anyone. Silence all around, and no way in. I wandered about its hulk, feeling the ping from its cooling metal, seeing the faint swirl of beetle-back colours; that toxic beauty.

It was the jungle temple, all right. The same location, accidentally found, as ever, but changed. No way inside to find the cool darkness and the echoes – now, they lie without.
I am always leaving home. I always return, empty-handed, with bare feet and an aching heart.

Reflections on responsibility: Charlie Hebdo

You don’t need me to tell you any more about the horrific and tragic events of Paris. You’ve probably read enough, and formed your own conclusions about those dark moments, when freedom of speech and humour took the blows of extremism. The satirists’ pens of Charlie Hebdo were deemed by the perpetrators as too deadly to be allowed to continue sending up their version of religion.

But then, the employees of Charlie Hebdo had a habit of sending up other religious and political figures too – as well as your average, everyday Brit. That’s what they do.

A cartoon is a bloodless weapon. Its barbs lie in ideas, in putting pressure on inflated opinions, on stereotypes – on the fanatical oppressors who would like to silence those that stand for liberalism, for the freedom to interact across cultures.

The weapons that these murderers used, do not stand for Islam. They are not held up by every Muslim alive, and I’ll challenge anyone who says otherwise. Right now, Muslims across the world are condemning the atrocities that took place – though, as Alex Massie rightly pointed out, they have no need to do so. But somehow, silence has become synonymous with complicity. I’ve seen and heard enough gross generalizations and mudslinging in the hours that have passed since yesterday’s events, to know that once again the names of 1.6 billion people will have become tangled up with those who, in fact, actively seek their destruction more than anyone else.

There are days when social media is a gift, a weapon of information-dissemination for the greater good. When flight MH17 was brought down last summer, only minutes had passed before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were flooded with screen-grabs of text and pictures taken from the profiles of Ukrainian separatists, to be used as evidence of what had taken place. The original posts were (as expected) subsequently deleted, but by then, there were already too many holes to plug. One tweet can become hundreds, thousands, within an hour.

But then there are what I’ve come to know as the spin-cycle events – when something kicks off, and events are carried forward through the arteries of social networking by the instantaneous decisions of those handling information thrust under their thumbs.
I’ve been there. I know how it feels, to react to something – pressing down on a tweet or retweet – before the little voice of conscious reasoning has had time to pipe up, to ask – “Reconsider?”

Given that yesterday’s horror took place as a direct blow against freedom of speech, I know this talk of self-censorship isn’t going to win me any favours. But it’s my opinion, based upon about 18 months’ worth of experience.

Last year was a shitter, on that I think we can all agree. One tragedy after another, with the summer in particular seeing some of the bloodiest and most mind-numbing events possible, spread out across the world, and thus onto social media. If these taught me anything about myself, it was that my reactions to breaking news – and the reactions of those around me – matter as much as the news itself. There are consequences, because there are lives behind every screen.

Yesterday, I picked up on the ongoing scenes in Paris via tweets from journalists, who in their turn had caught eye-witness accounts from the scene, or from various channels. It’s easy enough to get sucked into something when scrolling through a list or timeline. I felt that familiar chill in my fingertips, the tight nausea in my throat, and a desperate pressure behind the eyes. It was utterly essential that I get out what I could to my followers, to share what I was seeing –

– pressing down –
– until an image of a bullet-riddled police car landed on my timeline, and I pressed Retweet. And stopped.

I work with the police, in a civilian staff role. My colleagues are friends, people I sit beside to eat, drink with in bars. I know their families through Facebook.
I also follow, and am followed by, police officers on Twitter, albeit with less personal relations – but the fact is, they live through events such as this. Sometimes they die by them – as did Ahmed Merabet, the officer tasked with protecting the people who poked fun at his religion. Not that this meant a thing to the cowards who, brandishing Kalashnikovs, put him to death while he lay on the ground, unprotected.
I wonder if it will mean anything to the likes of Nigel Farage, with his “fifth column” theory on how extremism somehow equates with multiculturalism.

Looking around at my Twitter feed, at the lists I keep, I saw yet more and more disturbing images arrive, as reports filtered in. Most tweets were kept within the character limitations, and the words alone were enough to strike my mind silent, cold.
Experience. It’s taught me that at times like this, it’s best to back away, to keep still for a bit – to process, to mourn, to rage, alone. To allow others to do the same, or to follow and pass on as they wish … but to give them that freedom, too. Not everyone wants to have a graphic image arrive in their timeline, out of context.

In truth, it’s taken me this long to write about it because I had to wait to calm down. Yesterday, I was trembling with anger. The hypocrisy was astonishing – we managed a media blackout when it was the Islamic State beheadings, so how on Earth was the slaughter going on in Paris any different? The propaganda machine was in full swing, and we were throwing our weight behind it. I saw the clip of officer Merabet’s cold-blooded killing, turned into a Vine. Retweeted.
How is this humane?

The sad fact, social media has given us a double-edged blade. We’re as able to keep in touch with each other, with the world, with information that might otherwise be prohibited or inaccessible, as we are able to darken each other’s minds, and diminish the last moments of helpless people, by turning ongoing events into a cultivated drama for our feeds.

Graphic content. It has its uses: to imprint an image or scenario on the audience’s collective mind and memory. To shock us out of everyday  complacency. To leave an undeniable mark. But with its use comes the responsibility of acknowledging how singularly inhumane it is to reduce a person’s death to a blurred and bloodied frame. Their last moments caught, held, then spread out across a vast network of tweets and retweets, news channels – all for the gratification of…what? Who?
Only the bastards that began the atrocities. The ones who want to see us in fear, panic, discord. I saw plenty of people fall out on Twitter yesterday, over this and that detail. Meanwhile, people died. And their deaths were shared and witnessed countless times.

As we saw again with the print papers. Many front pages were dedicated to the cartoon satire that upheld freedom of speech, the right to josh anyone and everyone on this planet. Some went for an improvised version of this, in muted tones, to channel the aching sorrow, the outrage. And still others have chosen that final, barbarous image – the photograph of Merabet lying prone, defenceless, with his last moments slipping away.

Held on a front page, to then line a bin. A street. A cage.

I’m sorry. I know this probably an old argument, or it’ll seem out of place, among all the other more nuanced writings on this subject. But that man was somebody’s child, loved one, friend, colleague. Above all, he was human. The fact that he was a Muslim shouldn’t matter, really, but it has to be taken into account, because vacuous idiots want to drive the same nail through all those who follow the Islamic faith, nailing them to the same wall.

My beloved friend Nillu is a Muslim. This isn’t exactly the first thing to cross my mind whenever we talk. I know her for the person she is, the unique individual and writer. I’m sickened to say that I’m reminded of her faith more often when in defence of it, at times like this, when I fear for her right to exist as a human among others, rather than be talked about as a collective murderous whole. Which is what I keep seeing at the moment. Names, faces, lives, are being blurred out, just as surely as the satirical cartoons made at Charlie Hebdo were blurred out by certain news agencies yesterday, in tweeted pictures. Already appeasing.

We’ve got our wires crossed, here. Are we fighting the extremists, or doing their work for them, by turning on the people they claim to stand for – who want nothing to do with them – while giving idiots like Farage and Marine Le Pen access to our doubts and fears about being killed, to use for their own twisted ends? Printing stark images of murder, while stepping back from publishing the brave images of Charlie Hebdo?

Can we take a moment to breathe, and remember that there are real lives at stake here – real people, with families? They are our colleagues and friends, their children go to school with ours. No, we don’t have to support or even try to understand anyone’s religion that is not our own – goodness knows, there’s enough death and persecution and blaming to go around, in the name of any faith, just as surely as there is among those without any faith at all.

But we do have a responsibility to appreciate and support their rights as individuals with connections, voices. Pressure points. Hopes and dreams and secrets.

They are us. We’re taking care of each other, on and offline.
These are the things that extremists fear, more than anything.
That’s what I believe, anyway.

Speak Up

At 29 years old, I still have a hard time giving opinions. Forming them is difficult enough – trying to work past the white fuzz upstairs (though significantly quieter nowadays) to piece together bits of information. Even with all this reading and research, most of my thoughts go unvoiced; I’ve lost count of the drafted and deleted tweets, the scrapped blog posts. I can’t pin the blame wholly on a fear of upsetting others. It’s more a case of, “Have I learned enough? What are the chances that I’ve missed a vital detail, and will end up looking like a twat?” I admit to being a bit of a people-pleaser, and a perfectionist; not in the “humble brag on the CV” sense, but in the way a sword cuts the wielder if mishandled.

There is, at least, some improvement on the mentality of teen years and early twenties. Anorexia nervosa is the equivalent of ice forming over a lake, with every thought and emotion locked down below. I didn’t believe my opinions were worth enough to break through. I have the ability to rationalise now, to think more clearly. Communication breakdown occurs when thoughts try to leave my mind, and fall into the gap where self-esteem should be.

(Working on that.)

This week, I broke past the dread of stepping in where uninvited, to offer an alternative view to a Twitter user responding to a ComRes opinion poll. It showed the hypocrisy of a large proportion of the British public, who believe that their right to live and work in other EU countries does not extend to those citizens that wish to do the same here.

“What’s good for the goose, is not always good for the gander. My case and point.”

This only seemed to highlight the vague simplicity and arrogance of the results found in the poll. What works for me doesn’t work for others. When I sent him a link to the excellent Jonathan Portes article on immigration, it wasn’t out of snark or any wish to be condescending. I felt he might benefit from it. Portes, as director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, is someone with the authority to speak on such a hot topic as immigration, with researched and valid facts. I also advised reading up on the EU itself, since freedom of movement is one of the four basic principles enshrined in the treaties, running parallel with the freedom of goods, capital and services, for a functioning single market.

He didn’t want to know. The blinkers went on, as he pointed out that “i don’t read the papers and besides. i think my point is valid.” Well, fair enough. But when I pressed him on this – adding that, besides newspapers, there are facts on immigration and the EU to be found in academic papers and think tanks – the response was equally curt. “you can be intellectual w/out reading the papers. i would recommend not appearing to know my intellect w/out knowing me. blocked.”

I wasn’t angry. Actually, I laughed, but it was a sad outburst, and caused several of my colleagues to think I had finally lost it.

Reading across a range of views is something I’d recommend to anyone. Data can be presented differently to suit a political agenda, sure, but it doesn’t come from thin air. Research centres and agencies – many of which publish their findings for free on social media and official sites – give access to anyone willing to learn about the topics they want to discuss, or simply know more about for peace of mind. If they felt like, I don’t know, taking on a bit of grey.

I’m not talking about self-censorship. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and god knows, I’m still working on my own projection. In the past 18 months or so, I’ve read enough to set off a new trend of wavering fear in myself, just because there is so much to process. Often, I don’t speak up at all. But this time, a combination of frustration and the belief that I held concrete facts over vague opinions about a very pertinent subject, overrode fears of rebuttal (which came anyway, but hey.) Whether he took it or not, I guess went interlinked with the satisfaction of knowing I’d at least tried to do something, for a change.

In the run-up to the GE, with the parties now apparently vying to show who can be the most pro-active on a public sore spot, surely the least we can do as individuals is take the responsibility for measuring opinions against facts, balancing our views against others. We’ve never been so well-placed to do so, with the rise of social networking, and various points of analysis to make the raw content more accessible.
What’s the worst that could happen? We are informed by the experiences of others – say, immigrants themselves?

It’s not about surrendering to a higher will. If anything, it’s about strengthening our personally-held truths by allowing them to be made fragile, perhaps changed and reset, by what we learn. It’s about giving others the benefit of the doubt, to form a more complex view of the world.

Anyway, that’s my opinion.

Mirror, Mirror

On a lampenlicht walk yesterday, talking with friends Jo and Drew, I mentioned how we are the generation that “gets” Facebook-candid, knowing full well that they would indeed understand what I meant. While the tiered levels of security inherent of that platform are often tedious to negotiate, they’re useful for monitoring who knows what. Facebook can be credited for actually bothering to present such options, while Twitter – like most social networking sites – is, by and large, a public affair, unless you choose to lock down your profile. This is understandable in an internet-age where random trolls and cyber-stalkers are a sad fact of online life, but it’s also inhibiting for those who wish to engage more, voice their opinions and be heard – particularly if their “real-time” life doesn’t allow for such in-depth interaction, due to internal or external forces. I won’t try to list everything here. Humanity has more than enough ways to both curtail and elevate its people, from gender bias to gay pride; then there are physical and mental impairments to consider. I spent most of 2002-3 indoors, wound up in anorexia and depression, rarely speaking to anyone but those people I knew on the Something Fishy website, who provided encouragement for recovery; they were also forthcoming in the “ordinary stuff”, with whole threads dedicated to things unrelated to eating disorders. It was a narrow sliver of light.

The internet has provided the gift of communication to those who might otherwise have no voice, or limited contact with the wider world. We know of the plight of citizens caught in global conflicts via conventional news channels; but on a more immediate (and often personal) scale, by the images and information posted on social networking sites by eye witnesses, and the dispatches and on-the-ground footage of foreign correspondents. This has its faults, of course. For me, the summer of 2014 will forever be synonymous with online symbolic interaction, the push-pull of individual censorship v.s raising awareness, and the words “viral graphic content.”

Speaking of censorship – the State Duma in Russia are proving a little overzealous (surprised?) when it comes to handling the personal data of the country’s citizens. Recently accelerated plans to force foreign companies like Twitter, Apple and Google to “store the personal data of their Russian account-holders on Russia-based servers” by January 2015, would effectively provide the state with the means to “monitor all private communications of its citizens around the clock,” (Sarkis Darbinyan of the independent Internet freedom watchdog RuBlacklist.net.)

Of course, the Kremlin would never openly endorse such a move, which is why it has been fast-tracked and dressed up as protection from the big bad foreign servers (the internet, don’t forget, is Putin’s idea of a CIA-pet project.) This would require networking and communications companies like Google’s Gmail and Facebook, to “register as organizers of information dissemination.”

I’d love that on my CV, or a name-badge. “Member of the Information Dissemination ranks.”

Twitter, Youtube and Storyful have proven priceless when it comes to verifying information uploaded (and often subsequently deleted) to these and other platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, in relation to the Malaysian airlines MH17 tragedy – the coverage of which by Russia Today forced reporter Sara Firth to resign in protest. RT’s replacement of news site RIA Novosti, which “tried hard to produce balanced coverage for Russian and international audiences” and “reflected the views of the opposition and covered difficult topics for the Kremlin,” means that factual and neutral coverage of world events are increasingly hard to come by. Never more so than with the Ukraine conflict, with the state-controlled media weaving a webbed view for the public of “western chaos and Russian order”:

“You will recall the news reports in January when the really bloody events took place, the rapidly changing images of flames, burning tires, running people, alarming music,” [referring to antigovernment protests in the Ukrainian capital.] “What do you think it’s for? For dramatic effect? No. There is a much bigger meaning behind it.”

“Chaos is the key word… All of it is done to create a stable association in our minds: Ukraine is chaos. It is an old mythologem — Chaos as a protoplasm from which the gods will then create the world. And what is Russia then? Russia is Cosmos, it is order, and it is the foundation of peace and stability.”

“If you watch Russian TV you will see that Russia has no problems other than the adaptation of Crimea. We have no inflation, no decreasing incomes. We don’t have any of the typical big-city problems. Russia has none of that. Everything is alright in Russia. What is it? It is called the manipulation of the agenda.” – Valery Solovei, at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).

The internet provides alternative views, for those still willing to look. Disinformation in altered images can be picked apart and commented upon in live streams of tweets, Facebook posts, blog entries. It’s for this reason that the Russian government would rather see “popular ‘political’ bloggers” that are demanding a say in how their country is run”, stifled, along with human rights activist and Putin-opposer Garry Kasparov, whose website was blocked in Russia earlier in the year.

“I have spent my life thinking about thinking… and I find many others are as interested in the field of improving human performance as I am.”

This view probably doesn’t sit well with the Kremlin.

While this is bad enough for the atmosphere and mindset of the country, with fewer outside influences now permitted in the state-controlled media, the implications of a law to create Russian-based personal data could be just as detrimental for the Russian IT industry, and the country’s economy.

The primary objective “is to force Western Internet giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple to allow Russia’s security services unfettered access to the personal communications of Russian nationals”, with any company’s refusal to comply in relocating servers or to rent local cloud storage, providing the “legal vehicle to block their services.” This could well flashback on the government: as lobbying group the Information & Computer Technologies Industry Association wrote in an open letter, the move would force most companies to “put their operations on hold, inflicting untold damage on the Russian economy… Russia simply lacks the technical facilities to host databases with users’ personal data, and setting up the infrastructure within the remaining three months is impossible.” The cost and trouble of all this jiggery-pokery could put off foreign companies, who will simply take their business elsewhere – leaving Russian citizens stranded with nasty lifestyle changes, given that many indirectly-affected services will include “ online travel services, airline ticketing by foreign carriers, Internet commerce, Internet payments and even online visa application services at foreign embassies.”

Russia is already on a downward economic spiral, due largely to top-heavy internal corruption and tit-for-tat sanctioning for its involvement in the Ukraine conflict. Those who have the means to are getting out while they can, seeking improved housing conditions (Latvia is a favourite), education and welfare. They leave behind an older generation who will suffer physical and mental pressures, because their government has a bit of blind spot when it comes to “GDP expenditure on national defence.” That’s in stark contrast to, say, the crucial upgrading of infrastructure, and healthcare reforms. The purchase of the Mistral warships from France were a shining example of this little military weakness.
Someone should really warn Putin about houses built on sand.

What’s most interesting (and refreshing) to note, is how the smoke always finds a way of escaping through vents, to warn of the fire. Ahead of the potential 2015 crackdown, resourceful bloggers are sharing “advice on how to use proxy servers in order to access social media sites that, in their view, are under threat of being closed”, while seeking innovative ways to “cheat the feature that counts page visits and keep their daily unique visitor numbers just under 3000, or to make sure that the statistics are hidden altogether.” This is in relation to the “bloggers’ law” set down in August, which forces bloggers with 3,000+ daily readers to “register with the mass media regulator, Roskomnadzor, and conform to the regulations that govern the country’s larger media outlets.” On the personal data law, Anton Nossik, an influential Russian blogger, wrote on LiveJournal that while it does not “threaten individual bloggers directly”, it will provide “legal grounds to block popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal and Google.”

I was thinking of this while reading Jo’s musings on her personal life, strung out in a composition of articulate tweets. I enjoy a well-plotted thought process, particularly when it’s as honest as the heart of a diamond – faceted, clear-cut, direct. I tried to imagine a situation in which she could not openly vocalise her feelings, and gain feedback from friends across the world – not out of personal inhibitions, but because the basic right to do so had been denied to her. And what if, as a more in-depth way of connecting with online friends, she had gone to write a WordPress blog entry about her life – perhaps to have a bit of a moan about work, the government, her family, all things relevant to us as people – only to find her account inaccessible. Trying to speak out, as many of us do, in that singular way which can feel damn-near impossible in real-time life … and finding yourself trapped on the wrong side of the wall.

“Sometimes I feel on here I should always be upbeat. I don’t know why. I like upbeat maybe that’s why. But sometimes… when you’re on your own a lot, Twitter can be a place just to throw it out there. Whatever it is. Sometimes you’ll get chat about it, other times not and both are okay.”

Which comes down to choice. Freedom of speech. Feelings, opinions, ideas, worries, delights, all built up inside, waiting to be shared. This is what social networking and blogging sites have been created for, to provide us with the access to each other’s lives that was once unimaginable. As a new friend put it yesterday in London, “ten years ago, Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t even factor into conversations. Now, it’s commonly accepted to say “did you see such-and-such”, and no one thinks anything of it.” Which incidentally, is how the best sci-fi stories work – when the technology is so well-integrated as to be background noise. Just another conduit, or an extra sense.

I find it very difficult to articulate myself as it is, on and offline, and often resort to symbolism, or (worse) projecting my feelings onto current affairs. There comes a point when I must knuckle down on my own “musings”; correspondence with people like Jo, and others scattered across the world, is of incalculable value. There’s a delicate wash of relief in reading the thoughts and emotions of people who, even in different contexts and circumstances, seem to hold up a mirror and reflect what I can’t quite face up to.

For the Russian people, such personal benefits could soon be cut off, along with much else they have lost since 2011 with the start of the internet crackdown. The new law will allegedly “ensure faster and more effective protection of Russian citizens’ rights to telecommunication privacy and personal data safety.” But the state Duma appears to be doing a rather good job of hollowing out these key features of free speech, all by itself.

Shutter down, Shining out

So here we are, on a day and in a time when the tears fall as rain on the mountains; when the sun is all the brighter in the sky, for our knowing it is still there. Coming in through my front door this evening, to the fragrant smells of wine and paella – my landlady is a great cook, and of the kindness that is bent around caring for others, so that I am always invited to join in at meals – I felt myself to be Home. The dog was curled up by the fire; warm smells of pine went trailing golden fingers through the house. Where others are not so fortunate, and have been hounded from the place of their birth, the land where ancestral bones lie deep as legends, I can claim this place for my sanctuary.  I know a newly-learned gratitude for all that I have, those seemingly small and insignificant things, as I once knew them after coming home from hospital. But it is too easy to forget, to become complacent again.

The wind is already turning blue on my side of the world, with a rawness in the pale arabesque of the morning. In these tumultuous days, we are leased into softer eyes and gentler smiles; our sharp shining edges are smoothed over by empathy. Shared sorrow, frustration, anger, fear. Doubt. Confusion. And still, more fear, as we wonder – with each click and scroll – what will happen next.

On Tuesday, 19th August, the world saw the face of its foe – what was revealed of it – hovering like a baleful moon above that of James Wright Foley, a US citizen and freelance photojournalist, captured in Syria in 2012. Though about to be taken by that most futile act called murder, for an even more futile cause, James didn’t flinch or try to pull away. He probably knew well enough where the contents of that video would end up, how it would be used for propaganda, as a shock of reality; for the awareness of the wider world, for the threat of the same fate meted out to others. Still, his face remained set as that of a clock, dialling down on its own time.

Perhaps the same is true for those who have watched the grim facts of that video in full. Perhaps they too, haven’t flinched. But, whatever their agenda, it cannot even begin to be measured against James’ own strength.

The perpetrators are more than willing to take the rest of humanity down with them, on their way to a faux-martyrdom. As James Kirkup of The Telegraph rightly pointed out, to call James’ death an “execution” is to give it more honour than it deserves. He was murdered, by hands and a heart too cold to know love and respect for another.

Walking home tonight, I found myself mulling over this, and other things that have come to pass. The blue-black cloud of inertia that had filled me up like ink sifting through water, slowly slipped away. In its place wove a silver thread of desperate hope, twined about with the pale green of worry … a thin petrol-rainbow of fear.

Passing through our local Muslim community, I found myself faced with the troubled faces and downcast eyes that are sadly reminiscent of other times. Such fear is palpable, like the wavering heat rising from a radiator. 9/11. 7/7. 22/5. Numbers that would be meaningless, without the context of death and tragedy, of atrocities carried out in the name of Islam; when it is the innocent followers of that faith who must bear the fallout. As though they had any part in it at all.

“We do not tolerate it, we forbid ISIS in Indonesia… This is a new wake-up call to international leaders all over the world, including Islamic leaders… [to] review how to combat extremism. Changing paradigms on both sides are needed – how the West perceives Islam and how Islam perceives the West.” – Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia.

I remember the face of my friend, who once walked the beat as a hate-crime officer, giving a sympathetic ear and trustworthy pledge of hope to those he served in the Muslim community; and his words, full of sadness, telling me of the young sons and daughters taken by shadows of fear; the mothers and fathers left behind, bewildered and terrified for their children. For each other.

I read the latest blog entry of my dear friend Nillu, who is a Shia Ismaili Muslim, and the fear becomes personal; it becomes a pale rim around my vision, half-thinking about what is best left unsaid, unknown. The future is what happens when it arrives, not what we try to foresee. She is Nillu, one of the loveliest and most empathetic women I have ever known, and the thought that anyone might think negative thoughts of her, based upon her religion, burns out my mind. She is the peace of her faith, personified.

I recall how on Monday, when our worlds met at the borderline of thought and dream, I had told my other beloved friend Amira that, while the little things matter in this life, the finer details, we cannot escape the Here and Now, how this affects us. When we hit those patches of black ice, nothing is so very important than to get the words down before the usual inertia of getting-by steers us back towards equilibrium. How else would we know, how else would we remember what had hit us hard? (Sometimes, it really is a case of diving into the nearest cafe or stairwell, to record a piece of existence that would otherwise go unnoticed, dropped like a coin into a well; a brief glitter, then blackness.)

To which she agreed, as ever she would, for we are alike as twins in mindset.  Her own blog entry wrapped itself about the anger and fear felt for Ferguson, a suburb in her hometown of  St Louis. While the tension has since begun to unwind, Amira’s entry – posted  in lieu of a literary article about fiction and publishing – told its own story of the immediacy of that situation, how it caught and affected her.

“Screw that blog post I wrote about literature and fiction – it can wait. There are more important things at stake right now.”

And yet, for all this – for all my waffle and whimsy in attempting to make sense of what I and others have witnessed, day by day, on rolling news feeds and carefully edited images – from the scene of James Foley’s last moments, and the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine – I find myself, at the end of this day, so full of dark thoughts … and somehow still willing to get up and try again. For a smile and a prayer, at least.

Entering the cathedral for a walk between those dark-wood polished pews, drifting with the dust motes that are like so many silver sparks, I spoke aloud the words and cried the tears held back all day. I commended his memory to whoever might have been listening, anyone or no one. I have no particular faith. I just walk where there is peace to be found, between cool marble columns etched over with long-ago dates and names, upon rainbow-glitter sprays flung from the stained glass windows.

cathedral girl

James, I didn’t know you, or your family. But you symbolized what I want to be, what I want to achieve, and it’s for this reason that I take your words to heart, more than most.
You had your romantic ideals discoloured by reality, and still carried on. For that, no act of inhumanity can diminish your memory.

Following an unpleasant encounter with an unedited photograph taken from a jihadist Twitter account – tossed about with the carelessness of a tennis ball, among people who ought to have known better than to give the perpetrators the notoriety they seek – I decided to find out more about graphic content, its origins and uses. The principle focus was on how this type of media fits into the growing scope of social networking, as an instantaneous publisher. With the rise of portable technology, we have nothing to fear in terms of missing a moment in the world. What we have to fear instead, is the decrease in ethical judgement when it comes to sharing what we have found – live, unedited, raw footage, often taken from conflict zones and scenes of tragic events, passed about to … what? Inspire retaliation? Instil dread? The lines grow blurred. What is useful propaganda to one party, is click-bait to another; and to still others, it is a symbolic vocalization of what cannot be described in words. Though I do wish more people would try. For that matter, Twitter has at least started cracking down on graphic content, and is actively suspending accounts which would use it for propaganda and intimidation.

For all that I am a writer, with words supposedly my weapons (and you would think, some kind of clarity), metaphors and symbolism are all too often my fall-back. Such is the delight of Twitter, with its reams of information-imagery and algorithms, that I am never short of those stars for a constellation of emotional expression. A picture can sum up far more than I could put into words. That being said, I pull up short before pressing any buttons on the sort of content that has become an unpleasant side effect of following certain topics, in order to learn more. I’ll confess now, my fingers have itched. Some images have sent my mind down into a blankness that only long hours of walking, and missing a meal – startling my body awake with hunger – could shred. For long moments, I pause, wanting to show those who follow me – “Look. Look at this. Look at what these people who are not people, have done to this woman, this man, this child. Did you ever think that blood could run so thickly, that it turns black?”

But no. Because why should I be so selfish as to pretend there isn’t a sneaking voyeuristic pleasure-horror to be gained out of seeing others’ reactions? Or is it that I want to stand a mirror up between us to find the same emotions, the same words, to know that what I have seen is real, and not the darkest nightmare?

Oh, I still long to show you all, to make you understand how terrible the suffering was of those people … But I don’t know it myself, because I wasn’t there, and I didn’t experience it. I know nothing of the situation, but what I’ve seen from a tiny set of pixels in a frame, holding the last image of a person who was alive and breathing once, beloved, longed for, educated, born. That picture, that video, is but a fragment of who they were. Whatever the perpetrators of their death thought to gain in taking that last image, or allowing it to be taken, to be passed around on social networking sites, they can’t diminish these facts.

So why, then, should I have been so upset to see that image – the first piece of graphic media I had come across on Twitter – treated the way that it was, transferred from one user to another, to illustrate the point of the murderer’s violence?
Ah, there’s the paradox. I guess I would call it “dignity in death.”

This article from the Guardian, summed up what I have been trying to spit out for weeks about the perks and perils of sharing graphic content on social networking sites. Blogs such as this one, written by BBC journalist Alex Murray, and this on The Conversation, have helped me to see both sides of the flipped coin. Because I want to know how it feels to face that kind of reality, when it’s all caught in pixels on a screen in the newsroom, with only a hand to reach out and no way of changing the ending. I want to know, so I can better understand it.

“Whether or not a news organisation is right to use graphic material is a matter of opinion. But what this article has hopefully illustrated is that in certain cases the decisions to print or broadcast are taken with care and with a genuine desire to ‘do the right thing’. The mainstream media, if we can speak so generally, has its multitude of failings. But let’s not forget that when dealing with upsetting and harrowing imagery, journalists do not exist in a vacuum, unencumbered by the moral uncertainties that we all face.”
– John Jewell,
Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University.

We are all beholden to each other’s goodwill and ethical standards, on social networking sites – it’s a push-pull system of give and take. Each of us have a duty of care to our friends and followers, who come from diverse socio-cultural and religious backgrounds. In cyberspace, after all, there are fewer limitations on what can be seen; it is difficult to erase certain things from under the eyelids.
And we are not even on the ground as witnesses, feeling the whump of explosives and feeling the sting of heat, or handling raw footage for editing.

“That much of this material is shot point of view and handheld does have an impact. When this sort of video is edited, it’s pretty easy to treat it simply as ‘material’. When it is a single continuous shot, there is something about its unified perspective – as the point of view of a real person, not of a piece of a broadcast – that can be difficult to cope with.

This isn’t journalists trying to sort facts and report ‘the story’, this is people showing you what they are experiencing, as if to say: 
‘I don’t understand why this is happening. Why are they doing this to us? If I show you, then perhaps someone will explain what is going on.'” – Alex Murray, “The Hazards of war reporting from the other side of the world.”

While graphic media, submitted by citizens as user-generated content, can be used to raise awareness – drawing in a wider audience to the fracture-lines appearing in our world, and bringing to bear the reality of life under conflict – it is also known for its white-out effect of desensitization. There is the Long Blink of ignorance left in bliss – which none of us has the right to deny another, for our individual worlds are populated by enough troubles – or the self-propagating cycle of seeking out yet stronger content, more brutal scenes, to achieve the same effect. Then there is the consideration of safety for those with the means to produce such content.

“The temptation is to be out at the very front with them – where the fighting is more dramatic, more filmic. Front-line reporting – capturing and communicating the essence of war – is always a gamble, but one where we think we can set the odds… The further forward you go, the more powerful the pictures, but the greater the chances of being killed or injured. Our flak jackets and helmets are far from invincible. As a cub reporter I was always told never to become the story.” – Alastair Leithead, “Hazards of war reporting from the Libyan front line.”

“Journalists now constantly have to make difficult decisions about protecting the safety of people caught up in these events… But being aware of the need to do this doesn’t always come naturally if you’re not used to reporting wars from the newsroom.
What about the monitoring of phone calls or even email traffic?
What language can be used to identify yourself without endangering the contributor?
How do we introduce ourselves?
Is Gmail safer than Hotmail?” – Matthew Eltringham, Editor of the BBC College of Journalism website; “The new frontline is inside the newsroom.”

James Foley had the backing of the GlobalPost, based in Boston, but took no fewer risks than his peers. His death brings up again what freelance journalists face when reporting from warzones, “lightly resourced, laughably paid, almost wholly uninsured… often armed with little more than a notebook and a mobile phone.” There has been particular focus on Syria, where James was taken, which has been labelled “the most dangerous country in the world for journalists” to work in, by The Committee to Protect Journalists.

At least 69 other journalists have been killed covering the conflict there, including some who died over the border in Lebanon and Turkey. More than 80 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria; with frequent abductions, some of which go unpublicized, it is difficult to know exactly how many. CPJ estimates that approximately 20 journalists, both local and international, are currently missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to be held by Islamic State.”

I still have a petrol-rainbow trickle of an idea about what I would like to do in the near future. There are big decisions to be made. But more and more, with each turning leaf and golden bar of sunlight turning to brass, with each red-rim eye of a news story, I find my thoughts turning to my family. I see the bravery of the Foleys – read his mother’s words – and must now think on such things as consequences. For all that I have no further responsibilities or ties, other than my current job, there are still those left behind to consider.

There is only so much the human mind can take, before it must shutter down and shine out. I end my days now, after online research,by turning my phone off and sticking my head into an Alice Hoffman book. It’s this, or break under the heavy iron band stretched over my skull, leaving its tang in my throat, a soreness around my eyes.

There are always those sparks of drifting dust – our histories, our lives – to call us back. The beautiful smile of a friend, tweeting a picture of herself with family; the unique charm of a compliment for a posted story. The fluffed fur of a kitten with ocean eyes, caught in a noir photo; the lingering words of one who lies on the peripheral line where the sky meets the sea. The pleasant swatch of colours found in a tweet describing the morning-sounds of birds on the feeder, and bacon on the stove.

For all that the blood is a book, to be read over and again in the hopes of learning from our pasts … we live for the future, and it is Now. So while sharing the seemingly mundane, the cheerful, the cherished, we take our stand against those who would spread only darkness. When we speak of the dead, those taken from us in the most diabolical ways, let it be with images of who they really were – the people who lived, worked, spoke and fought for freedom, ours and theirs; for knowledge, for one more assignment, for one more day. In using hashtags like #ISISmediablackout and #StopPutin, we set our faces to the changing winds of tomorrow – denying the murderers and the liars the voices that would continue the fear and oppression – while remembering that today is for Us, and the memories of those who are gone.

It’s only when we stem the creativity, the playful tweets, the Good Mornings, the most wire-grin banter, that the perpetrators of that insidious fear have won.

Well, that’s me done. Hope I haven’t inadvertently offended anyone or left something important out; if I have, drop me a line and I’ll apologise. Otherwise, it’s

Guten nacht

from me.

If you want to continue following my work, I’m at https://lamplighthaven.wordpress.com now. Ta.