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.

Fluidity of Lines

You know how something comes along to take your mind out of its grey haze into a place of stillness – where the next breath is your life, recharged? No, I’m not talking about A&E, but those sharp moments of clarity when the kaleidoscope twists, and your sense of Self makes sense again.

Walking in the door tonight, I found my landlady sorting out her kids’ books. She was weary and apologetic, having a need for the whisky I keep to offset the blue edge of a mood. We borrow from one another all the time, it’s an interchangeable relationship not unlike mother and daughter, sometimes friend to friend, sometimes boss to employee. A slow surge of emotions (from various pressure points) had left her reeling; her losses have created a diamond, but still, the diamond is multifaceted and stands alone. I do what I can, and it’s never enough, but she is one of the few women in my life that I understand.

We share an enthusiasm for nurturing the physical form. As an osteopath, it comes with the territory, but I get the sense that her upbringing and shadow-rimmed life experiences, have had a profound effect upon her appreciation of what true health means, inside and out. She cooks for her children in the way a painter adds texture and layers to a canvas; their activities take them beyond screen-absorption (TV and computer use are carefully monitored) and their bedroom carpet resembles that of my childhood home, in a jungle of animal toys and books. The little lad is defining himself with a wick-slip humour, and has already mastered the art of getting under his sister’s skin; she in her turn, knows how to draw him out from the dark little place he sometimes goes to, curling inward like a leaf in frost.
Night and Day.

Not so long ago, she introduced them to dance – specifically, ballet. Gender stereotypes have little place in this household, and the boy is as entranced as the girl (though he’s more prone to break-dancing on the lounge floor than attempting to heft up on tippy-toes.) Watching their faces shine in the light of the screen, I was taken back to the first time I saw Swan Lake, at Christmas in 1993. A slight snobbishness has prevailed since; no amount of patriotism can bring me back around from regarding the Royal Russian Ballet company as the axis upon which the world of dance spins. There’s a ghostly elegance in every performance I watch, which riddles up my skin – yesteryear and tomorrow, silence and fine faded curtains, solemnity and real fervour crystallized in posture.

Seeing the tired lines ease in my landlady’s face as she described a video she had watched earlier, I had the sense that she’d found something within herself to feel calm again. To feel alive. We all need an emotional adrenalin-shot like that, now and then.
She left me alone in the kitchen to watch it on her laptop, with only a snippet of information – “He was the youngest dancer to go principal [lead] in the Royal Ballet company, then quit out of the blue.”

That was enough. I knew exactly who she meant, and to get some perspective on his talent, there’s this from the artistic director of the Stanislavsky Ballet, Igor Zelensky: ‘Talent is very rare. Margot Fonteyn is a talent. Maya Plisetskaya is a talent. Baryshnikov is. I don’t want to go on too much about Sergei. But it is inside him. He is unusual. Unbelievable.’ Which is one way to sum up Sergei Polunin, born of Kherkov in Ukraine, whose career has taken him through significant highs and lows that have nothing to do with his talent, and everything to do with his sense of Self. In an 2013 interview with the Daily Telegraph’s Sarah Crompton, he described the personal troubles that beset his experience of the company: “I was not able to put things together. Dancing-wise I didn’t feel I was in charge of anything… It had been an amazing place, and I had worked with amazing people but you pay a price of not being in charge… I moved up quite quickly so I didn’t make many friends. You are on your own in that sort of place.” After his abrupt departure from the company, with the following months spent adrift and out of sorts, Sergei was taken under the wing of Zelensky, who settled him into the Stanislavsky Ballet in Moscow. From here, he had the opportunity to explore guest performances around the world with Zelensky’s mentoring: ‘You can call me anything you want: director, father, brother, friend… But I really worry about him, what he eats, where he goes, what he is doing. Because he needs a shoulder.’

The video, directed by David LaChapelle, is clean-cut and filled with white and gold lines, like embroidered silk. Skilful editing makes full use of the interior of a beautiful structure filled with life and light, unmistakable in its resemblance to religious architecture, and standing in contrast to the darkness of Hozier’s “Take me to Church”. The central themes of denied love and oppression are reinterpreted through Polunin’s facial expressions and sometimes agonized contortions (which still retain the supple grace that defies gravity and defines dance); there are those rare moments of synergy when sound and sight form a seamless atmosphere that social media sites like Youtube are made for.

I simply cannot stop watching this young Ukrainian throw, loop, leap, bound, tear himself through a dance that is less choreographed routine than a fluidity of lines. The look on his face goes beyond the process – he’s somewhere else, translating and sketching the lyrics over the air for us to see. Try to comprehend how a human body can send itself down to its knees on a stone floor; how bones can arc in seams of gold through careful camera angles and sunlight (if we want to ground ourselves and get prosaic about this. But what the hell, it’s as stunning an image as you’ll see this week.) Assess the worn and blackened soles.

It might not be for everyone, and that’s fine. But, coming from a background of dance, I can only say that “effortless pain” just took on a whole new meaning.

Anyway. Enough of my waffling – watch it, and decide for yourselves.

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.

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.

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.