RIP Dominic Raoul Lucas

In memoriam immortal of MSN, and the genre of ‘adult alternative rock’ with quarter speed scrubbing and Dave Matthews ‘Crash into me’, the best album ever*. *Alongside the rise and fall of Ziggy, and other great albums.

I would like to share some words of a dear friend, and my response, some  six years late, to them. Before I continue, I should put a trigger warning for depression, suicide, and caring for those who are depressive and/or suicidal.

The person in question is Dom  Lucas, someone I liked greatly from when I met him in my first philosophy class in 6th form. It was apparent at his funeral, that a deep and lasting impression was a response he often evoked, even in those who had counted him only as an acquaintance. Continue reading

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The life-changing magic of tidying: book review

The Life-Changing-Magic of Tidying up: a book review

Marie Kondo is the most endearing guru I have ever had the pleasure to read, and ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ is her bible. Cathy Hirano translates from the Japanese for Vermilion books (pub 2014). Her Capitalisation Of Every Word in the contents does not come across as trite and patronising,  instead it prefaces Kondo’s direct, clear style.

Honouring the teacher is a widely acknowledged Japanese value, and Marie Kondo quickly convinces that she is an expert and an individual worth listening to. There is no Gilian Keith style pseudoscience, rather Marie notes an observation and proposes an explanation. Her ideas come from her childhood passion for housewifery, which developed into a ‘serious’ pursuit of tidying aged 15. This is not just another inbred descendent of Lakein’s 1973 classic ‘How to get control ofyour time and your life’ with a thread of softeness from Brene Brown’s ‘Gifts of Imperfection’.

In a nutshell, the Mariekon method consists of handling each possession, and considering whether it is a positive or negative emotional relationship by asking the intuitive question ‘does this spark joy?’. Joy is not widely used in contemporary English, which I think is fortunate, as it asks the reader to define for themselves what ‘joy’ may be in this context. My mind goes to Alice Walker’s ‘Possessing the secret of joy’ and considers what breadth and complexity of feelings may inhabit long disused objects.

I was evangelised on Marie Kondo by my sister in law while I lived in a house with a horrific ex-casino carpet and chronic damp problems under the bed. I bought the book, and read it with an initially skeptical eye before leaving for the summer. In the autumn I descended on my childhood bedroom with a vigor I have never before brought to tidying. Before, the end point was always a clear floor, which I could hoover, and a clear desk that I could wipe. This time it was to resolve my tortuous relationship with objects, and spring clean my soul.

One aspect of her language grated with me: her use of the term ‘feminine’ to designate a life lived elegantly. This is a knee jerk reaction on my part as an individual dedicated to queering gender concepts, and resisting all binaries. In act her book is based entirely on binaries, which are all connected to the replacement of mess with tidyness. This book is a manifesto for correctness from chaos. My family slogan was ‘Nature (and my family) abhore a vacuum’ and this was used to justify the absence of clear surfaces as a constant of life.

Looking around my room right now, there aren’t so many clear surfaces. But I am wearing a jacket that was disused by my friend, as it is a funny linen shape ‘Well, it’s good for writing in, but not really practical’ they explained as I handled it at their house-clearing party. And I am writing  on an impulsively downloaded app called ‘calmly’, and I have written an appropriate length of text that is roughly coherent, and it is now time to get breakfast before I tidy my room properly, for the sake of my mental health.

And it appears that light jazz is the appropriate soundtrack. Actually, scrap that, I’m putting on First Aid Kit. Or maybe I’ll do some gardening.

 

 

 

Head Down Days

I hear the alarm, and start to extract myself from dreamt scenarios,

wash off the clinging images, oats down my throat, notes into file, into pannier, arms into hi-vis and bike out of door, down the road and

Peckham Lodge

up the hill, lock it up, roll down trousers, wipe off sweat and into staffroom.

Eight timetabled hours and two more,

then I’m coming home past Peckham Lodge again.

I push aside a stack of undistributed No Borders zines to shelve my ringbinder.

As I check my email media laments that a ship has sunk off Lampadusa, as if it is news.

The thought rises up of my gentle friend

who cooked rice, who rode a cement mixer in silence, who let his companion make the boat, whose head is scarred by an interrogator, who shrugged at the wait for his papers and his roommate’s nightly phonecalls,

and each time I clamp it down before it opens the floodgates.

And I strengthen my doors, to focus on this one thing.

But dammed up and directed the pressure inside me makes me immobile, paralysed,

and then in the classroom I can do nothing while a boy takes his painstakingly scrawled label that the group rejected, turns it into a spaceship, and flies it around the room.

The hope that I can be better, that I will not allow eager learners to be humiliated and sink into passivity, calcifies into grim obligation, as I follow this well-trodden path where my humanity must be administered in strategic doses to nourish my allotment of 30 thirsty young souls to grow and yield a harvest.

I hope at least that I can help them grow wild, interplanted, co-existant, joyous, and I will do this even if the yield is less orderly than that grown in rows.

And I will come back to the rest of the world.

This is from the first term of my PGCE. From my struggle to reconcile myself to my tunnel vision on my workload, and to hope that it will lead me somewhere where I am able again to have worthwhile engagement with people in the world. Returning to this as I stew in the process of regurgitating experience as a neatly packaged learning experience for the consumption of the academy.

tree for me

I say “You there, bumpy, you may be the tree for me

may I lie at your roots and bask, to get off task?”

 

I drop down and a weight lifts, my mind can drift

sun warms me and my eyelids fall closed, my limbs repose

it’s a sunny summer evening and I’m free to be,

so I let go nagging thoughts, let the world wash around me.

 

there’s wind and laughing chatter and beyond the urban sea

the eb and flow of engines, that muddle of realities

it’s chaos and it’s peaceful

it is war and it is order

 

or war and chaos and peace and order, chaos, peace, order, war

order and chaos, peace and war

I’m not gonna split em up, I’ve tried before

it gave me hours of inaction and my head got sore

 

reality’s not simple, it never will be,

we’d better get on and accept that, take responsibility

to do what we can with what’s around us, ‘cos perfection is illusory

and meanwhile I gotta take time, yeah take a bit o time

to remember all I can really know is me.

bumpy tree

 

this is a song. wrote it in a park at the end of a day, sometime in early summer 2013. I wrote it quickly in the first draft, and musiced it over a few days – I was in a highly active stage, one where I was feeling quite effective, and so I was recognising my need for downtime and giving it to myself: this song is good for me to help revisit that need when I’ve been neglecting it. I’ve sung it to friends, but not performed it yet. I am intensely self conscious of my songs – they have always been a product of starting with an emotion that I can’t quite pin down, and poking and prodding phrases of chords, melodies and words until there’s something that feels coherent.

I fear.

I fear I will grow up to prop up the crumbling staircases in the castle of capitalism and I fear that I will beat my knuckles to blood and bone against the castle’s walls.
I fear that the fuel that flames in us now will burn out, and its ash will leave us smothered before our fire catches on to sturdier logs.
I fear that over the staffroom tea machine I would recognise no trace of the sparks that are in me now, and I fear that I will burn alone as I watch the blazes in those around me be smothered.
I fear I will straighten out and live orderly between the lines, and I fear my scrawled life will never become intelligible.
I fear that I will grow small in fear of the storm and I fear that I will grow weedy and weak and be flattened as the gusts grow stronger.
I fear that I will find myself rolling without brakes to an unknown destination and I fear that I will wander in the woods so long that when I find a path I will have no strength to follow it.
I fear that I will bury down into my microclimate, and I fear I will grow no roots as the topsoil all around me washes away.
I fear to hope that we will be the fungi, the mycorrhizal network which helps the tree grow strong in the cracks, that our scars will make our knuckles stronger, that when our flames die down we will rekindle them, that our ash shall be fertile, that we shall flourish before we rot, and then we shall shoot up again, and that together we shall make our paths to the destinations we will create, and our roots shall mesh together a habitat where we and all who join us can flourish.
I fear that I will lose hope, and I hope I will not lose my fear.

********

edited and pulled together from rediscovered jottings from a year ago that emerged from a workshop at The Spark, a week of workshops for social change which will be running again next week. in these precarious times, sitting with fear, and accepting it as a flipside of hope is something I neglect too long, and then rediscover, and feel refreshed.

sustaining ourselves and our dreams, for resilient activisms

Alice B Reckless wrote a post on activist burnout. It’s really great. Read it now. I read it a few months ago, and it gave a way in to talk about my relationship with ‘activism’ and some of the strategies I use to navigate political activity and communities.

We need to talk about burnout, she writes.

It’s there physically in a lot of us. Our skin’s pale, there are bags under our eyes. We’re fatter or thinner than we habitually are, or were last time we were happy. We lose our tempers really, really fast. We talk to people with moderate politics as if they are evil or as if they are stupid.

This last one is something that I have often focused on as a huge problem in the activist community. Do we intend to be a minority? Do we not hope to recruit from those slightly more moderate than us? This last one is often a conflict between wishing to engage with those who are oppressed and inactive through their sense of powerlessness in the political system, and so are alienated by the prospect of insignificant change within the system as an end goal, and on the other hand to engage with those who believe that small change within the system does have at least medium-term if not short-term tangible benefits.

When I say we lose our tempers fast: I mean, really REALLY fast. And I’m pretty sure by now it’s not just me. The slightest indication that someone can’t see that the situation is fucked and that ordinary people are being aggressed against, and that suicide among the more precarious members of society is a direct effect of government policy, that we are therefore actually being killed at present, is a massive trigger, quickly producing tears, shouted insults, incoherent rage.

This person who is indicating that they don’t think of the situation as fucked . . . do they recognise it but take a realist stance that does not inspire them to fight at the systemic level? Have they had a lack of experience of the oppression of government policy? Or are they aware, and choosing not to take an activist from of action?

It’s hard to know. Which should we suppose?

there are times when we see in each other’s faces the bright and beautiful spirits that dreamed another option –

I am drawn to those bright and beautiful spirits and the dreams that we dare to dream. But I always feel that it is inevitable that those dreams are fleeting and momentarily. The anger and the hurt which drives activism is a precious resource. There is only so much emotion that a person can feel. People whose immediate communities are flopped over have already got most of their capacity taken up. To choose to plough energy into dreams of systemic change is an endeavour that few people choose. If we were all to choose it then those dreams might be far closer to reality. But everyone would have to engage in balancing care for themselves, and immediate mutual aid, and care in our immediate relationships, for that energy invested in the big picture to be sustainable.

In the last few years we’ve fought an increasing number of losing battles. (…) it’s also about the feeling of having given everything for a long time and having failed. It is psychologically hard to recover from repeated, consistent failure.

How do we define our battles? What would it mean to win? If we are fighting against the tide then a realist view is to acknowledge shelter for a few fleas on the beach as a victory. When we fight something we may position ourselves with a belief that we will vanquish the thing we fight. A belief that our dream will manifest. But if we speak about what we think will happen, among ourselves, our expectations are more modest than our dreams.

We chant that Palestine should be free from the mountains to the sea. Among ourselves we hope that our contribution to the international discourse will reduce the magnitude of the atrocity that will be committed against the Palestinian people before Israel is meaningfully sanctioned by the international community. And it’s grim, to keep an awareness that the changes we affect will not match up to what we dare to dream.

What is the resistance we want? How can we keep visions of what might be possible alongside the realism that are immediate ambitions should not set us up for continuous failure.

How can we balance high expectations with realistic goals in the optimum balance for what they call ‘rapid and sustained progress’ in teaching jargon.

And we’re really creative and imaginative people, and plenty of us have begun to take our balls home. I wrote previously about preparing to go on the last big march against university fee hikes. I didn’t write about the run-ins that I had with the police, the way that I was manhandled for WALKING DOWN A STREET or the subsequent night that I spent in my friends’ arms shaking and crying. Like, disintegrated into bits. No more capacity to keep a handle on my emotions. It is frightening to feel like that and it is probably unhealthy to pursue situations that will make you feel like that again. So I, for one, have looked out alternative spaces where I can be creative and imaginative and which are in no intrinsic way radical, which are doing nothing to change the exterior situation, but which let me feel like I have sometimes felt, glimpsing the best of all possible worlds. And I’ve gotten stronger and started to cry less and to be less filled with rage.

I turned to teaching. I hoped that a single occupation that would fill my days would keep me from beating my head alternately against different systemic brick walls, whilst not daring to smash it so hard that my head would break or that I would lose my ability to paint those rules or chip away at them using other means. Teaching sucks. I didn’t know before what a 70 to 80 hours week felt like. And I am emotionally drained and torn by the conflicts between how I want it to be and how it is in the classroom. The idealism which burns me out as an activist also drains me as a teacher.

I feel like I can’t talk about burnout because I’ve never been a proper activist. I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never – well rarely – bottom lined organisational aspects. I’ve always been drawn to the shining optimism of those who can lead activism, but rarely shared it. I am too much of a realist to be a driving force. Not for the sort of activism which sets itself up to lose. But is it worth pursuing dreams which if we were to gain them we would ask – ‘did we really only ask for this? this is nothing we are still being fucked over’. I prefer to dream the big dreams. That’s not true; I prefer that the big dreams be dreamt, but I lack the personal capacity to dream of them sufficiently strongly. I try now to stay aware of the big dreams, and to conceive of whatever I am doing in terms of a spectrum of action, of a diversity of complementary tactics, and I am finding that I am drawing together my fragments of dreams in projects where I can visualise potentials more than I used to be able to.

The sense of ‘not being a proper activist’ is something I’ve been able to reconceptualise as a chosen path, rather than exclusion on the basis of personal inadequacy over the past couple of years or so. When I found people who engaged in activism who were willing and open to acknowledging the chasm between our dreams and slogans, and our realistic hopes and beliefs about our impact, I found I started being able to cry about social injustice. Acknowledging the tension between the human empathy which must drive solidarity, and the scale of global struggles, linked up the political and personal in a broader way than before.

Trying to bridge many modes of action is something I have been drawn to, from when I first engaged in activism, trying to make the edges of radical anti-capitalist identified activism, and lifestyle activism and normal people giving a shit more porous. But, it is challenging and exhausting to try to communicate concepts from one community of shared political understanding in other settings. And to do so in an open conversation, which is open to the possibility of learning something from the other person’s perspective, means that every conversation risks upsetting your schema of the world and how you are choosing to engage in politics. Holding an image of a diversity of complementary tactics helps me here. The alternative, of conceptualising a single method of action as the only effective one gives a sense of despair if this method is failing, and it turns those who choose different tactics to the same ideals and values into misguided fools or enemies.

Thank-you for writing and sharing Alice B Reckless, you brave and bright and beautiful spirit.

Heavy today, better tomorrow

The world’s crushing in through the screen that I stare at,

my thoughts drain through my eyes slurping out a vacuum,

they leave some stagnant mush where my brain’s supposed to be,

and it fills with the weight of the world’s misery…

channelled through the internet, where what you think  is what you get;

if trouble comes along,  cropping up close to you

you find it echoed, repeated and magnified,  clogging up the view.

I left. To get some air

to let my brain try to care

now it feels it and my tears flow

tho being sad’s pretty pointless, yeh I do know.

I should crack on it’d be more productive

might do my jobs better if I stick to the positive

but while life can be joy it is also bitter

and I feel it slipping by, each day goes quicker

it’s passing me by when I feel like a stone

grey, impervious, surrounded yet alone

then I get words so heavy they choke me

when I feel broken words hover and crush me

words getting stuck where pure meaning flows

they’re the flotsam and the ripples in the river hard to capture

when you think you got them down, the meaning’s seeped away

the heaviness is gone to emerge another day.

well the world’s fucked now, but it’s always been screwed

since adam and eve there’s no time it’s improved

the best there’s ever been is slots of opportunity

and places and times to exist with impunity.

Optimism? Pessimism? I’ll stick with realism,

you just gotta do what you can.

And I need to draw my community around me,

surround me with bonds that make it feel more livable

survivable. We can make it through, we can stay true.

At least we know we care, that we give a shit.

And shit can help stuff grow, if you let it so.

So let’s chill in these cracks, gently push them open

’til everyone can see them, the signs of decay.

Yeah they might put concrete over, but we won’t go way,

the seeds are everywhere, and the concrete shows they’re scared.

When they are gone, we will push through

when they are gone, we will grow anew.

Ever present are living spirits and the struggle of life is beautiful

though hierarchies can give distance, to develop isms that let us demonise.

with empathy we can develop our power to realise we can rehumanise,

and then we’re ready to organise, to link up and  revitalise,

so freshen up what you see  through your eyes,  and spread that feeling til we recognise

that its this society that distorts us and we gotta make it better til we’re free.

IMGP0525

I wrote this over a few weeks. Starting when I’d been on a computer, drawn into the dark places of the internet, feeling down about the kids I work with who are too anxious, for good reasons, like family members  in prison, to go to sleep at night, and then I went out and sat by the canal, and got words out into my notebook, and cried. I carried on working through the words, talking through it as I cycled home from parties where I’d felt my community around me. I was stuck on the ending though, until I came to it refreshed from Nest, [the first official regional burn in the UK]. I’ve come back with a hugely increased self-esteem, and comfort around myself, from my contribution to the event being appreciated so openly and reflected right back at me. My thoughts, writing and creativity are all flowing, after being blocked for  a long time.