Marching for our future

Two themes mingled on the streets of Paris today. In the photographs and reports pouring in, I saw hope and hypocrisy: both will shape the future of this world. Crowds marched in defiance of the terror waged against them in the past week. Leaders went arm-in-arm in supposed solidarity for freedom of expression, after the recent attacks on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket … while back in their home countries, those who stand for freedom of speech and democracy face persecution and imprisonment.

I don’t suppose any of this was far from the minds of more liberal leaders but then, within the context of the march – honouring the fallen – it’d be difficult to speak of other things. I must admit, I found myself hesitating before calling attention to the brilliant research by Daniel Wickham (@DanielWickham93) on the unique abuse of human rights / freedom of expression by many of the world leaders in attendance, if only because I didn’t want to dampen the moment. But then, there are so many moments in time, and they all add up to Change – or not. I thought of Tracy Chapman’s song, “If not Now…”
Then when? One voice among many.

With responsibility comes the shocker of having to give up a lot of what you might believe in. For the greater good, etc. Belarus, for example, is allowed a lot of leeway when it comes to human rights, just so the Lukashenka regime doesn’t kick up a shit-storm between the EU and the loudly-snarling bear, Russia. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

“The Lukashenko administration gives the EU chills from time to time. Belarusian officials make claims about Belarus’s exit from the Eastern Partnership. Belarus threatens to redirect its cargo transit routes from Lithuanian and Latvian ports to Russian ports. Belarus also promises to deploy Russian Tactical Ballistic Missile Systems against Poland. The message is clear: The West must turn a blind eye on the human rights violations in Belarus in order to cooperate with Lukashenka.” – Rethinking the EU Policies Towards Belarus, Andrei Liakhovich.

The world’s internet freedom is falling, with Turkey and Russia leading the descent. In Azerbaijan recently, the US-funded Radio Azadliq was ransacked by the Azerbaijani authorities, with twelve employees arrested and others threatened with the same if they chose not to comply with questioning.
The reason?

“The office raid and forced questioning come as prosecutors are investigating the Azadliq office as a foreign-funded entity. RFE/RL and its bureaus are funded by the U.S. government.
Siyavoush Novruzov, a high-ranking member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, defended the raid as a national security issue.

Speaking to local media, he said it was necessary to close the bureau to prevent espionage, adding, “Every place that works for foreign intelligence and the Armenian lobby should be raided.”

And still.

I found the scenes in France heartening for a number of reasons – most of them pointed out by other people, tweeting as they watched with me, or attended the march themselves. Jamie Barlett (@JamieJBartlett) of think-tank Demos, put it most aptly:
“In 20 years, there will be a new wave of fearless journalists, cartoonists, writers – who as children were moved by the events of last week.”

We can only hope, for this is what and who will stand against the hypocrisy seen today. We all of us have a common enemy, exemplified by the extremists who would like to stir up trouble between Muslims and the countries they call home, or those who would have online dissent (AKA freedom of expression) flogged into silence, or those who would brainwash a populace with disinformation about external persecution, while quietly raiding the home piggybank.

If we’re marching for something – in our minds on social media, with our bodies in the multicultural cities – then let it be for change. Real change. Not words produced today, in the pathos of the moment, but for all of our tomorrows, because we still have to live among each other, every day, and our lives are as intertwined as they have ever been. What comes next, will count the most.

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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.

Living the Dream

When we are small, one of the first questions we are likely to ask of ourselves and others, is “What will I be when I grow up?”

The answer might seem elusive as a bubble for some (like me, easily distracted), chased by a skittish kitten across a slippery floor. For others, ambitions are set early, solid and immovable as the stones found in a riverbed.

I have clung onto only two ideals in life: Writing, and Travel. Both have played their part in my learning experience, as I evolve at a stumble-trip pace, from that child wandering off down a sunstruck Mercy Street, to the frail waif who sought to claw back control in her life and almost lost the latter in the process, to the woman I am now – still a bit unsteady on her feet, but racing to catch up with the world, while the natural order of things seems to be coming apart even as I watch the sky dialling down.

The best we can do, is to seek out what makes us happy and brings us peace, as I did today, wandering through the park and watching the wiffle of tiny fish in the glassy water, where the sun seemed to sleep in its riverbed.

Sun in bed

We are all of us allowed days off from the world. I openly admit to having an obsessive personality, to getting strung up on details, while missing the bigger picture. In this case, it was the fight for a world I have recently rediscovered, grown to love and wish to maintain in its peace, while actually forgetting to stop and watch the glitter of sunlight through new leaves.

Bridge

The best we can do, is to follow what brings us freedom and fire to the soul. I’m still trying to strike that balance.

I read back over old journals from time to time, to remind myself of where I have come from, what I’ve seen and done. Not for a martyr’s song, but to ground myself in the reality of still being alive, after over a decade of anorexia nervosa / athletica; and to help me decide where I am going to next (in a will ‘o the wisp way.) While the experiences gave me a different take on the world, they were bare, blank years, and not something I would wish upon anyone or would readily repeat.

There are too many minute cracks in the crystal for me to tell you where the real split came from, allowing depression to pour itself into my soul, thick and dark as well-bottom water and rot. But one particularly deep cut runs through my writing career, which began – ended – began again, as an emotional outlet. It was the loss of singularity which was my undoing; a feeling of being (yet again) inadequate in the face of society, when I had precious little else going for me.

Upon returning to the UK from Germany and the travels across Europe with my family, I was so far behind my peers in all subjects that it was required of me to attend extra tuition, just to keep up. In particular, there was a special reading group, held by a gentle lady with pebble-glasses and iron-wool hair, and the sort of stoop some tall older people wear, when their spines begin to fade.

It was through her careful persuasion and tutelage that I managed to get past the frustration, to continue picking up the books which others seemed able to skim over like swans on the lake water. Whenever I feel left out, the first instinctive reaction is to stomp off in the opposite direction (I’m working on a more mature approach of standing my ground, though the hot angry tears still occasionally come if I cannot comprehend something which seems perfectly basic to others. Hence the hatred of Maths.)
It wasn’t long before the school library became a quiet haven of stirred pages, a refuge for a developing mind.

The realization of writing as an emotional outlet came with watching a class video about brick-work children, in the factories of Victorian England. I can still remember the feeling at the back of my throat, at the sight of those wide white eyes staring out of dirt-blackened faces, the little chapped hands and the stooped backs. Though of course these were characters played by actors and actresses, the stories were based upon the country’s historical context, as the teacher had told us before the video began. These had once been real lives, real suffering.

The thought of children my age (six years old, at the time) not having the same simple privileges of life which I enjoyed and took for granted – playing outside with friends, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired – was a shocking dart between the eyes. I felt very still and quiet inside, in that way of walking from the cinema after seeing a film that stirred the soul, leaving you in dire need of the emptiest night-streets.

Normally, after watching such videos, the class would then go outside at break-time and re-enact in games what they had seen. I didn’t feel up to it. The company of my peers felt cloying; I couldn’t shake off the weird nimbus-mood.

When I got home, I asked my mother for a few sheets of blank paper. Keeping in mind what I’d seen a teacher do, I asked her to fold it over and staple the edges, to make a “proper book.” This would be the first of many; I still have some knocking around in old files, scribbled dark with biro and pencil. The pictures usually took up much of the page, with the narratives captioned beneath.

That first story took the brick-work children out of their scraping-by environment; away from the flames of the kiln which burnt their skin, and out into the countryside – all via a convoluted map, of course, with contemporary enemies thrown in for good measure (I’m pretty sure there was an electric gremlin somewhere en route.)

In the only way I knew how, I gave those kids a shot at freedom, to take their lives into their own hands – though of course, it all balanced against my developing suspension of disbelief, for I was all too aware that the Victorian children were long gone. But still, that creative outlet somehow worked to appease my sense of morality, a little.

The rest of the story lies in the ebb-flow of this writing career.

Anorexia worked its claws in, around the time when I discovered I was not unique as a writer. There were others who, to a lesser or greater degree, were saying much the same things I was – using the same terminology, tapping into the same ideas, putting up their hands in class to give the answers I would have spoken, had I dared to bother to open my mouth first. More and more, the words What is the Point? ran through my head, a whistle-rush loop to throttle out all creative impulses. Someone would have inevitably done it before, and better – why should I waste my time?

With the loss of identity, anorexia was all too happy to step in and fill that echoing space. But since I wasn’t keen on death, and the grey place I was stuck in didn’t seem to be making me happy or peaceful, the only other way was up, and out. And though my brain was fried for a while, I never stopped writing – even if it was only to do a crossword or four, every day, to keep my mind ticking over; albeit, teeny-tiny ticks, inching about the clock face, counting out the days and the years that were becoming one and the same.

Time is something I wish I had more of – don’t we all? – while it is forever escaping from these pockets, to go rolling off down the street. I hate to feel as though I’ve wasted a moment, especially after leaving hospital. There is so much to catch up on. Once something has caught my interest, it will become yet another crystal for me to look into and through, multi-faceted and in equal parts beautiful and deadly, depending on how self-destructive I am feeling.

My ex partner was always trying to educate me in the glorious arts of Sitting Still and Doing Nothing; he can watch a fish tank for up to an hour before settling to write, while I must barge around like a walking hive full of bees before anything close to relaxation occurs, let alone a creative onslaught on a page. Evenings are my favourite time, when the body is weary enough to let the still-bright mind take over; sitting up in this eyrie-home with my back to to the wall, heart in my mouth and occasionally on my sleeve, watching the speckles of rain and the golden light that reflects off of gathered cumuli. A silence so heavy that the air itself shifts in colour, and it seems as though the world is holding its breath –

Until the thunder-clap and my heartbeat, a reminder that I had something to do or somewhere to be, something to read or write; another thing to learn and recall. I’ve given myself cluster-headaches recently, perhaps trying to do too much at once.
But I’d take it all, the newborn mind and the frantic energy, insomniac nights and the red-eye days, over the stagnancy of before.

So while at work, I allow my mind to wander freely. My job is high-intensity and very much blue-collar; there are some in my life who have made their opinions known, that I have “sold myself short.” It was their opinion that for someone who is holding three top-grade A Levels, I could certainly be doing better for myself; perhaps earning a better wage, driving a car, renting a bigger flat. Etc.

Should they ever read this, they will know who they are, and I hope that they will understand why I’ve included it here. I will point out now, as I did ten years ago when I took my first job after leaving hospital, that I am in work and I am alive. This is enough for me. I do tend to forget, which is OK in most circumstances, except when I grow complacent and/or rag on at myself for falling short of expectations.

I have few responsibilities and fewer outgoings, by personal preference. Even before the long spells of inpatient treatment, I was suspicious of all things long-term, of that which caused a commitment to be made, a responsibility upheld. When you’ve seen your life hanging by a thread, watching with dulled eyes as it was pulled taut, you become hyper-aware of Now.
Tomorrow, as they say, is just another day.

So I rarely plan anything in advance, and leapfrog from one project to another, with all the enthusiasm and naivety of a woman who has (and probably never will) grow up or grow old. My phone contract alone gives me a cold sweat. It’s probably the longest financial commitment I have to date.

Maybe one day, I’ll feel secure enough in myself and the turning of the world, to lay down roots.

This certainly isn’t the Be-All and End-All of life. The daytime job is just that, for all that I love the interactions with the personnel involved; it keeps a regular flow of cash coming in, and maintains my fitness in ways I hadn’t thought possible before. This is a particularly worthwhile investment for (allowing myself to break a rule) the tough times which may be ahead, if anorexia has a few latent “gifts” to give me when I am older.

The job allows me the freedom to come home and get on with the real career, the writing which sustains me mentally throughout the day; when not filtering through articles found online, researching this and that until my mind whites-out with weariness.

One day, I might actually know enough to write with a valid voice, about the things which engage my interest and are starting to redirect my concerns and priorities. The peculiar importance of the upcoming European elections; the actual benefits for education and global research, which our membership in the EU brings vs. the need for reformations; the rise-fall-rise of UKIP, and their consideration of an alliance with European far-right parties, to form a so-called Right-wing Eurosceptic bloc. Considering what some of the policies of these far-right populist parties are, let alone their controversies, I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with the idea.

I’m not a part of the so-called Metropolitan Elite. I earn just enough to stay alive, and try not to take more than I have earned. I’m only Me, a novice in this arena; but all I ask for, is to live in a country where everyone may go about their business without feeling persecuted because of their skin colour, ridiculed if English is not their first language, or unrepresented if the way in which they live differs to the social majority. It can’t be too much to expect, right? Heaven forbid if several individuals should happen to get together as a group, and to also be Romanian, and moving at speed into a house..

(Mr Farage has since retracted his comments, after a rather messy interview with LBC radio’s James O’Brien, in which I think it’s fair to say that the UKIP leader’s true colours were given an airing. Will it make a difference?
I’d throw a dart at a board. You’d have more chance of finding an answer.)
The Sun duly issued an example of deadpan assertion, just to ratchet up the pressure (via @pawelmorski / @jamesmanning4):

Sun newspaper

Sometimes, it really does come down to a dictionary definition.

I’m still learning as I go along. Still fucking up, backtracking, coming at things from one angle after another (hitting my head.) Always processing what others tell me, and what I witness on and offline. I’m not content with keeping quiet any more, and all of this waiting around, to find and validate my voice … it’s a bit boring. I guess it’ll happen when the train arrives.

To get back to the original point: I’m a writer. I make things happen with words. I may not always be writing what I know, but I know that I’m writing what I feel, what I fear and what I wish to talk about with the world.

Additional: On my school prom night, I was voted “Most likely to strap herself to a rocket in protest.”
Hope that helps.