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.

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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.

Lampenlicht

Another twilight, another moss-covered wall; another lampenlicht walk, under a sky threatening to split with the weight of its thoughts. Conflict, my dear friends … it is the word of today, tomorrow, forever. It doesn’t seem to end, so much as stir from one ripple to another. To another, to another.

We have slipped beneath its dark surface again, tinged by the reddening sky; and in all my fanciful dreams, all those silent-screaming thoughts of the night (only a handful of months ago, and somehow another time, another place already), I could not conceive of it all. Such sights. Things I, and other unfortunates, will never be able to erase from under the eyelids. Such white-out times of pain and loss, for those hounded across ancient diamond teeth.
And the long fingers of evil stretch further, and further across the walls of the land, slipping between the cracks of history, to rear up

– sudden and swift

against your own tomorrows –

Into today.

I dislike using the word “evil.” It is too easy, too sweeping; it does not allow for coherent debate, for the flip of a double-sided coin. No positive argument to make, though, for a head on a pike. For a child, spilt like a misspent word into the sand, into a timeline. Into the world, passing from one to the next, until the life is an image of itself.

No, I won’t forget you. I won’t, and never want to; because for all that your identity was stolen away in blood, your innocence, the new light in your eyes … You were a life, and you were someone’s beloved.
No, I won’t forget you. I wish we had met under any other circumstance but the baseless, senseless defilement of that symbolism, for all that the perpetrators had to go upon. Religion is not theirs to keep; the flame goes out in hands too cold to know life, reason, and love.

Oh my friends – we hold each other in these white-out times; we keep our minds cradled in the lap of knowing the other’s despair;
And oh my foes –
I know your shadow-name, and I know you for what you are.

beetle black

I fear for this world, and am trying to find myself ready for it. Insofar as anyone can be ready, setting their face to the sky, to the watchful sun; to the circling pen-mark of rooks on the wind; the haggard trees, the lampenlicht nightwalk, and my old comrade-in-arms; the Lady Cathedral.

cathedral girl

lampenlicht

Tonight, I listened to the piping sweet-bell language of the bats, and knew the changing of the watch. The leaves are burning up on the buildings, scarlet as the mornings and ragged to their tips, like the wings of the rook, like the frayed ends of my hair.
It is almost blonde again; that brown-gold colour of youth. Combined with a near-normal body, I am slowly coming back around to what once was, while keeping these gentle lines about the eyes, these freckles on my nose; this somewhat yellowed laugh, like a papyrus scroll unrolled, filled with spider-black lines.

Uncover our heads and reveal our souls; we were hungry before we were born.

The past catches us up in the end. Run as hard as you might, and you run only from yourself.

I am quitting this blog tonight. It is too full of last year, which was painful, and still aches to the touch. There are places in town, across counties, which I still cannot enter, for the ghosts that run past me, trailing thoughts and feelings in their wake. Each time I think myself known in this new life, I am somehow only my own shadow, crawling up the wall.

You, Nosferatu; you long fingers, you smiling-abuser, you – with your burning touch, who would not let me go. Who still find my dreams, and riven them all around with brambles, choke me in mud of the past, until I am fighting awake and screaming for air –

And it will not end, until I turn and stop running. Stop running, and turn, turn about again, and find the light in all places, the one which will never go out. It has been here before, has come again; a different intensity each time. It is life, and love, and knowing that these claws sink only so far; that the nightmares will die in the day, with the dreams.

One coin, two sides.

I am wondering at the validity of this therapy. For all that I used to come awake and know myself frayed, frail, parched in the throat, dying a little more inside, but still alive – now, I find it difficult to feel anything at all.
To connect one thought to another, to find the patterns that were constellations. Or perhaps this is end-game after all, and I am walking ahead.
I see nothing but darker days, as yet. Anyone could tell you that, I suppose. You only have to look at the pitfalls awaiting the Eurozone; at the blue winds rising over Russia and Ukraine; at the red-rimmed eyes of the sun, the morning that fades a little more with each breaking heart.

I had thought myself paled into Forever, and had all but decided to disappear, back up into the tower of clicking needles and spinning thread. Those red-black stones called; the brambles lashed against the sky, filled with an everlasting storm made of torn angel wings, and a man’s blood on a knife clenched in her hand. That was a story and a song of long ago, when I was … about thirteen, I think. I had forgotten it, until now.

“You should never run from anything immortal, it attracts their attention.”
or indeed –
“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”

Shorn wings, and the silver-fire cage of an Ever-Storm; that angel learned what it is to love a mortal, to feel the chillness of steel on bone, marking her as one like him after all; while forgiveness and punishment found her still, huddled into the rain-fretted mud, as one of His own. No love goes unacknowledged, no tear is forgotten. Silver and white, and blue and black; red as the life on the long thistle-song.
Jealousy reaps its own rewards.

barnes elias

But then came this, the lark’s rising song in the voice of Vicky Beeching; and I found myself able to cry, and to know colours again, and – while still alone, without touch
(which comes closer to a feather-trail of memory, every day)
I was awake and aware, and feeling what should be. Rubbing my cheek, and drinking a black-hearted coffee, and going on with a smile.
Such bravery in the writing, you would find in the heart of a unicorn, for all its ageless pain and wisdom; the ability to touch so many, to lift them from the dark place where we may go, from time to time.

Oh Robin. If only I had such words as these, by the inimitable John Underwood, to set the last bar. You were a dear childhood friend, known on a soundtrack to my RAF youth; found in a film for the rough-ready teens; and a summer sun of adulthood, which will never die.

apola sun

Keep the streets empty for me, Liebe.
Now I know your face, and I know your name
(the one you will learn; we are roles reversed, through the clock)
May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
My King of Swords. Cut which-and-every-way, the song remains the same.
Dreaming of Mercy Street.

“Netherlands”: Guest post by Joe Hefferon

My friend talks about the perfect cup of coffee. Compared to what?, I wonder.

Compared to what?

Compared to nothing; maybe it’s just an assessment a grown woman should be permitted to make, without a question. That’s what.

Will she remember it forever?

No, but she might remember how you made her feel about it, if you keep on about it.
(I let it go.)

I had the near-perfection experience in a B&B outside Donegal in 1987, on a post-card misty morning, pastoral as the lap of Jesus. Served with warm scones by a silvery woman accustomed to a thinner hot drink: “I know you Yanks like coffee.”
It was perfectly delicious, just black, just hot enough to make you wonder if it would burn going down, a flirt with danger. Exciting, for Donegal.

Yesterday’s coffee, not so much; nothing memorable about the taste, or the rhetoric borne of the caffeine, nothing and nothingness, that’s what I’ll remember about it. No words ready at the ready to describe what I watched on the television.

I’ve never seen an entire country cry before.

C’mon, you’re a Yank, what about 9/11-hey, 7/7?
Yes, yes, but there was also so much anger, vitriol in the news parlance of the day – let’s get ’em back, we said, in a voice that carried out across the cannons.

But this? It seemed different from behind the camera, our view from the living room. These were the images of collective disbelief. Shock and anguish. The Netherlands was watching a hearse, or lay inside one. Watching with their hands over their mouths, afraid of what would come out. The small caskets are the worst.

The coffee was nearly gone. I wanted to lean back and pour it into my eyes, but it wasn’t hot enough to blind me and anyway, regret always follows action when action is preceded by melodrama. A writer’s curse, unshaken by our awareness of it.

“Well, I wish I were blind, when I see you with your man.”
Bruce Springsteen.

It’s not melodrama when you can play guitar.

I wish I was looking at those cottonwood blossoms right now, instead of this. There’s no one to talk to about how sad I feel for the other ones; they’re all hurt, all broken a little bit, some much more, all sinking in the loam. An entire nation in tears. It’s among the half-dozen saddest thoughts I’ve ever had about people I’ll never meet. I’ll never meet them. It won’t break my heart when they hold onto me to keep from falling away. What if I’m not strong enough? I’ll never meet them.

I tend toward these micro-epiphanies that snap me into another frame of mind, pray for them I think, on the darkest days. They’re in a better place now. They are with God now. Don’t you want to punch people in the face when they say that? I do. Is that an American reaction? I don’t give a fuck.

(Well, that certainly was. You can make me laugh at the strangest times.)

We don’t even know who to get back for this, or if it would help. It wouldn’t. The violent death, the sunflower field, the baby’s toy, the mother’s credit card, the vodka bought to rage against an enemy he can’t define, could hardly, could never, in this or any human universe, make the picture of endless hearses on a warm Netherlands hillside, rest more kindly in my brain.
The little caskets are the worst.

But her cinnamon hair, the knots, she calls them; they’ll help. They’ll squeeze my fingers when I touch her, to press her eyes against my lips. Follicle kisses.
Is there such a thing?

Don’t mess with my moment, I’m an angry American. We’ve a well-trained militia, dontcha know, drums and flags. We can cry and fight at the same time.
Want more coffee?
Only if it’s perfect.

By Joe Hefferon (@HefferonJoe)

Finding Constellations: Symbolism in Social media

People use different ways to convey their thoughts and emotions to the world, with some methods more easily identifiable and interpretable than others. Humour can be used as a subversion of pathos, as the light sparkles from a dark river to illuminate individual ripples of meaning; passive-aggression can fill the air between two people with an iron-tang tension, their mouths curled into wire smiles. I’ve always had a secret admiration – and yes, envy – for those who are able to come straight out with an intended meaning, with little to no subtext involved, while maintaining the dignity of manners that are the preservation of other’s feelings. The latter is a gift, woven into careful lexical choices and diplomacy.

My means of expression lies with figurative language. The weather becomes a mood; a song becomes a colour becomes an emotional reaction, behind the eyes. I find the world through metaphors and symbolism, and in trying to take control of / make sense of my part in it, I paint with words. Much of the world can be rather dull: grey-on-black-on-white, filing cabinets and coffee-stained carpets, absent faces drifting to and fro, bills and wet shoes. Chores and drinking, fucking in your own bed or someone else’s; collecting deliveries, and wrapping up presents. Visiting and shopping and … So far, so very human.

Since humour, wit and openness do not come easily to me, it’s through symbolism in particular that I make my presence, and intentions known. It’s also a bit more enlivening for the soul to create a running narrative of images, than stating plain old facts – though for whoever is on the receiving end (depending on their level of patience for this prevarication) it can be a delight or a chore to slog through.

There is also the element of concealing, rather than revealing my nature. When a subject becomes too intimate, controversial or uncomfortable for clear definitions, there’s the fall-back of figurative language to represent what I mean, with interpretations left wide open. It is the riddle-speak of the cat, and can bail me out of trouble or land me in heaps of it. A relative once told me that I trod a fine line between honesty and cowardice, in not speaking my truth upon serious matters with anything more than plain facts; a thought and assumption which I am still turning over in my mind, wondering if it was an accurate statement. As I grow older, and gain confidence in my own opinions, I’m working towards being more open and direct with meanings – if only to save time.

Then again, on less important matters – in everyday conversation – imagery can set free the mind from the mundane. This is particularly true on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter (my prevalent platforms), which allow for a symbolic dialect that is otherwise unavailable in the kinetic world, unless you carry a pack of Post-Its around.

On Twitter, I can tweet an image of a blue rose, or describe one, to convey the sort of multifaceted emotion which transcends plain definition, and enters a symbolic spectrum of meanings. I’m relying on symbolic interaction theory to get my point across, whereby the flower and its colour are interpreted in accordance with the subjective associations each individual audience member has with them. While the colour blue may lead one reader to think of the unending sky, the fathomless sea, the eternal mutability of the natural world, another person may find sorrow and a wistful longing attached to the shade, for the rose genus cannot naturally produce the pigment delphinidin necessary for blue in the petals, thus rendering the image as symbolic of a love that is as mysterious as it is unobtainable; beyond the reach of reality.

It is through the language of Twitter – its trends, its retweets, its favourites; its words, images, memes and videos – that we may convey meaning in symbolism. It has opened up channels of communication for those who, like me, tend to find the vocalisation of intentions, ideas and emotions, more stilted and awkward than in lexical form. Introverts can flourish, without the exhausting addition of physical presence and paralinguistics (though I still need to take time away every now and then, to let my head be quiet); writers can bend the minds of a wider audience with their imaginations; hobbies and professions can become the central theme for communities, which in turn may overlap one another, as occurs in everyday life. This is an integral part of the social networking experience, and strengthens its continuity, for we tend to proceed from the kinetic world to the cyber, for two main reasons: so that pre-established interpersonal relationships / connections can be maintained, and to interact with others of a similar mindset, to engage with them and share content. If interaction and microblogging of information are the running threads that pull people together across the fabric of Twitter, giving it form in the minds of its users, then the symbolism of shared facts and opinions, the retweeting of others as an extension of “voice” (to endorse or inform), and the various media formats available to enhance meaning, are its embroidery.

In cyberspace, the limits of physical proximity and distance are broken down by the immediacy of the internet. Time-zones permitting, two people may interact in such a way that was once unimaginable. Bonds are formed across nations, cultures and societies are experienced and learned about on both academical and personal levels. World travel is, for the moment, not a physical reality for me – but on Twitter, I am granted the freedom to walk through the minds of friends and acquaintances, with the content of tweets acting as both their voices and as guiding lights, while moving through unknown areas. As a friend put it to me yesterday, it is rather incredible when you stop to think about it – people are not really standing with us, talking to us; they are tapping away on their phones and computers, often with no one else in the room. It this suspension of disbelief that we have accepted as the norm – great streams of information flowing past, and static profiles that we have come to accept as personalities, with the profile picture symbolic of a person – even when it does not actually feature their visage.

Friends have told me of visualizing Twitter as a large open space – typically a theatre, room or hall – with a constant flux-flow of information roiling past in all directions, as though standing at the crux of a highway. I tend to see that vast space filled with slanting bars of different shades of pale light, with a high ceiling and small, dark alcoves along the walls for more intimate conversations; there is a harlequin of sound coming from an ever-changing multitude of people, standing and sitting in groups, or alone and apart. This image is not so much an actual vision as a sensation, such as you would find in dreams, or in the colours which appear behind my eyes when listening to music. Less form, more presence.

At the same time, I am aware of that information constantly rushing past, to the point where – if I am tired or not feeling well – it is enough to bring on giddiness, and there is the need to step back and say nothing at all, to log off and leave well alone. This “channelling” aspect may arise from the use of Twitter lists, which collect people into easily accessible “communities.” This has the advantage of saving time – rather than pin-balling across the main timeline to gauge an atmosphere relevant to a situation, or to find information on a particular topic, I can skim across tweets and links holding key words which, in turn, form patterns. There is less of a need to clamber over many disjointed tweets, which all have their own relevancy, but are not a part of the constellation I seek.

The main appeal of keeping such lists, though, is when I stumble across a conversation between friends, which has grown legs and run on for hours, across nations and time-zones. I can choose to engage, or to sit back and watch it all unfold, thus learning more about the lives and personalities of people who I may never meet in the “real world”, but who have become so dear to me through almost daily interactions, our sharing of miscellaneous and personal information, and something which goes beyond words, but is often found in a single photograph or song.

Angel Olsen, “White Fire”
(courtesy of Ansh @lightnarcissus)

Who are we as writers, without words? We are bad tempers and blue-black moods; we are irritability found in crumpled paper and deleted files. We are frantically-stirred coffee, and empty bottles. We are red-rimmed insomniac eyes, or the lowest level of sleep, difficult to dredge for dreams or to wake from. We are …
Finding other outlets.

I have thought on this quite a bit, in light of recent events: a maelstrom of global disorder, and tragedy spanning nations. The past few weeks have been rough, and my voice has paled and faded to the back of my throat and mind, like the first frost-rimed leaves of autumn.

There are needle-points of heat behind my eyes, with each liveblog update and tweet coming from the most recent conflict in Gaza – and a silver-foil fear that lines my throat whenever I try to speak up about it, for fear that my lack of real knowledge and context will inadvertently upset someone representing either side. I find myself falling back evermore on symbolism, just to get across some kind of emotion that refuses to be turned into words. It often feels as though no amount of research can ever do it all justice, or permit me to understand what is going on, beyond the sickening lurch in my stomach each time I hear or read about yet more casualties and loss of life on either side. The grim reality of lives in war is pain, injury and death, and more often than not for the ones who take no active part in the conflict. Yet the very fact that we are willing to gather this information, to share it for the benefit of others so that we might come to a better understanding of a situation we are not part of but still feel wrenching sorrow and horror for, is symbolic of a wish to keep hold of the wider world. The pictures of shrines to the fallen, the videos of military advancement, all weave a complex narrative that allow us to engage on a closer, often very raw level. The image of one tiny, frightened child, sums up countless years of pain.

In truth, I had forgotten the power of pictures. I thought there would always be words to find, to portray an image of events and circumstances in the world. But how best to describe the silent-screaming horror and pale numbness which strung out so many on Thursday 17th July, when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down close to the Ukraine-Russia border?. Sometimes, only a photograph – the careful kind, symbolic rather than gratuitous – can encapsulate the pain and confusion felt on all sides.

flags half mast
Matthew Price (‏@BBCMatthewPrice)
“Half mast in Holland – waiting for remains of first #MH17 passengers to be returned.”

On that afternoon, when the sunlight seemed the same as it ever had, Twitter became all but audible in a seething wave of international voices, circling around and aimed at the perpetrators. Tweets spread with forest-fire speed, purporting to hold evidence of the pro-Russian separatists’ involvement in the plane crash. Even as retractions were made and tweets deleted by the DNR, the world took a great stride ahead, with information spread too far and too wide for recall. This may yet play a vital part in bringing the guilty ones to justice; a fitting example of solidarity on social media, drawing people together as a collective voice of humanity, in the face of tragedy.

And yet, at the end of it all, we are still left with this lost feeling; this sense of Where do we go from here? The world is currently in a state of upheaval, with many people feeling off-kilter. I know I have an itch at the back of my mind, wondering how to get on with everyday life while things stand as they are … and not still, for very long. We’ll see what the second half of the year brings.

In the meantime, we fall back on the voices and the minds of those around us. In seeking solace, we can look outward as well as inward, and pass on pieces of ourselves to the world – the things that matter, which have caught our emotions, and suit the circumstance. In bringing something to the narrative that will sum up what cannot be put into ordinary, plain speech, we leave our unique marks upon the community. There is solidarity in symbolism.

Song in Space
(via corrie_corfield)

Ugh.

This won’t do. My behaviour hasn’t been fantastic lately – nor my creative output – and for both, I apologise.

Long story short, I am prone to getting lumps in my chest. Usually a build-up of tissue, brought on by hormonal shifts related to menstruation (blah blah), which has only become a regular thing quite recently, with weight gain. The flipside of improved health, is I have to go for check-ups on some of the larger lumps, to make sure they’re only cysts or whatever, and not something more. The Big C runs in my family.

Had a biopsy on one yesterday (am losing track of days); waiting for results. I never was good at waiting for anything. Consequently, I am being a shit to just about everyone, intentionally or otherwise; and distracting myself any-way I know how. The flipside of this being, I am not good at doling out attention, close-hand. And tend to become ice-maidenish.

I’m still thinking of you. And it’ll prove to be nothing, like all the others. The constant ache (I hate having tits at the best of times) and hormonal fluctuations, only serve to fuel anorexia’s triumphant yell that I would be much better off down in the black ‘n white with it.

You get the picture. I’m not a nice person at the moment. Far too serious.
Normal service will resume soon, and I’ll give you all Hell, with a wire-grin.

Much love x