I should be in South Africa, but I am here.
I should be in Devon, but I am here.
I should be anywhere, but I am here.
And it snows.
And I am here.
Part of the high wire act that is resilience, relies, I believe, on the ability to carve out a new alcove for the bad stuff that happens to us. Bereavement, bankruptcy, broken-heartedness and other traumas cannot be simply shaken from our pelts as a wet dog might do; rather we must process our feelings and thoughts through over time, until they come to rest, somewhat uneasily, on a pale cold stone lintel in the back of our brains.
Yet there are some things which are such an affront to our natural natures, to our compassionate hearts, to our generosity that we must not make internal space for them. Outrages we must not learn to live with and unethical acts that we must resist.
Trump’s executive orders are such acts.
Yesterday’s spilled ink, coming on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, signified a travesty. Closing America to people who are already on their way there. Closing America to people who already have status to remain. Closing America to people with the wrong kind of nationality, or dual nationality. Closing America to refugees… this is an act we cannot accept on behalf of every single person who finds themselves turned away from an airport, detained at an airport, put on a plane away from the United States.
Those people cannot resist the beast. But we must.
I was reminded tonight that my grandmother was a refugee in Malta in the First World War. Fortunately for her, the Red Cross were there on the island to assist. My grandmother told me once, briefly, something of sleeping in tents and having little to do in camp. On the wall in my sitting room there hangs a rudimentary tableau, sewn from sacking and scraps of cloth that my grandmother’s fellow refugees who were Armenian, created. It is an Egyptian scene, with pyramids,a snake and a line of mules, overlaid with the suggestion of coercion, represented by a raised whip. It was made a hundred years ago, yet as I look at it tonight I can almost here the cracking sound.
It is a familiar artefact to me. It has hung on the wall for long enough that I barely notice it anymore. But tonight it concentrates my mind, in order that I do not make space in my head for Trump’s vision of hell, whatever comes next.
Right now with:
Theresa May fawning round Donald Trump in colour co-ordinated outfits
the government’s White Paper on triggering Article 50 consisting of half an A4 page
the Labour Party about to pull itself apart (again)
every single thing the President of the United States of America has done in the last week
There is nothing more I’d like to see in my rear view mirror than this.
Here’s the thing: I should have gone to London today to march with the sisterhood. Here’s the other thing: I didn’t.
I didn’t for a number of reasons, all of which sound a bit pathetic when typed down, but when you bundle them up and experience them all in one go, are enough to keep me in my bed for the majority of the day (barring the part where I had to walk the dog briefly for the purposes of respecting animal rights… oh and buy chocolate).
So I’ve kept abreast of events (pun intended) on Twitter and the news and I can see that women (and men) are turning out all over the world with banners and placards and a whole lot to say about women and Trump, and women and Trump. And, you know, I am with them in spirit.
And this is a spirit that is seriously weighted down this day. I have to get something finished, it’s well overdue. The reason it’s not finished is because I feel both triggered and oppressed by the patriarchy who are in charge of the thing I’m doing that’s overdue. Like most of the patriarchy, I suspect, they would be completely horrified to hear that this is the case. They would not, I suspect, recognise themselves in my experience of them at all. My experiences would be dismissed and the patriarchy would reinforce itself and its view of the world, as it so often does that it doesn’t even notice when it’s pointed out.
As a woman in the world, I know how it is not to have power. I know how exhausting it is to tread the line to being heard and being judged as not worth listening to. As a mother I know the balancing act in society: be a good mother BUT don’t let get in the way of the world’s plans. As someone with a mental health diagnosis, I know how dangerous it is to be a mother, and a woman, an employee, and to stay sane. I know how risky it is to mention any of the above in public to a world that wants its women one way only.
As the parent of girls I watch my daughters try to navigate their way through a society saturated in manipulated images and false expectations and slews of advertising designed to get them feeling the lack of themselves and their worlds as soon possible. As the partner to a black man I watch his own oppression in the world, that he has internalised to the point of oppressing himself without even noticing.
So, yes, today patriarchy, I should have marched, but you won that battle.
As for the war? I’m already preparing the ground.
In November I woke up with an odd feeling in my shoulder blade. I decided that it must be something to do with having slept in draught – the dog had nicked the covers again. Somewhat unusually for a Sunday, I had plans. To meet family in Margate and stay the night in a Georgian guesthouse, which had been on my to stay list for a while. My dream home is a double-fronter with modest Palladian pillars you see and this was the real deal, set on a town square.
It was not to be. The pain persisted, and on getting out of the shower, and after some deep breaths kicked up sufficiently that I had to sit down and wonder how I might get out of this one. I did not call 999, instead conservatively dialling (how much longer before that verb falls out of usage altogether?) 111, for advice. The operator sent an ambulance which arrived in minutes.
My not panicking plan was working quite well (I thought) until that point. There is nothing like a pair of green suited paramedics barrelling through your front door in short order to raise the old heart rate. Predictably enough, that’s what they found when they took an ECG in my front room: tachycardia (heart beating too fast) and not a lot else. I was not transported to hospital, spent the rest of the day reclining, in some discomfort, (having gained a stiff neck along the way) binge watching The Crown – which I found far better than expected.
Since then, I’ve had the odd twinge, including now which is probably why I am writing about it, but nothing like before. Last week I had lots of tests, and one more to come this week, and I await the outcome. The cardiologist I saw last week said he was ‘ruling things out’ and I was glad to hear it. I was less glad to hear that it ‘might have been’ this or that and indeed we would never know.
The funniest thing has happened since then though… it’s like my mind has switched off a bit. I still have thoughts of course, but they are not coming in the way they used to. My thoughts used to grip me, drive me on, make stuff happen. Now I feel detached from them. Less happens. I’m not sure I like it. I am used to being highly and some may say relentlessly productive. Since November it’s looked like a day’s work, no more no less. I’ve not wanted to do more in the evenings or weekends particularly. I’ve not had the thoughts that would compel me to do so. I realise whilst writing this as a bit of a reflection on low productivity, since the ambulance visit I’ve managed to write an article for the TES, applied for a few jobs and written a couple of funding bids (all on top of the day job) but in all honesty it doesn’t feel like it used to do.
Maybe it’s just coincidence. Maybe it’s the winter thing that happens to my brain which is that it goes slightly into hibernation. Maybe. This does feel different though and I’m curious to see what happens next.
Probably nothing. Fingers crossed.
Happy New Year! At least, let’s hope it is.
2016 probably doesn’t need any further publicity but one recurring theme was that it was a pretty good year for the rip it up and start again brigade: not just in global politics but in the social sectors, too.
One of my particular favourites was the conveyor belt of swashbuckling business leaders explaining that current approaches to doing good were rubbish and that charity, government or both should be replaced by people more like them.
Suck it up
One of those change makers most prominently featured on the social investment circuit was Iqbal Wahhab, founder of restaurant chains Cinnamon Club and Roast.
He published a book, Charity Sucks, as part of Biteback Publications ‘provocations’ series and turned up at the Good Deals social investment conference in Birmingham in November to deliver the message in person as part of a conversation with Big Issue Invest Chairman, Nigel…
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A poem by the poet Michael McCarthy, a friend of my mother’s.
It is one I love, the last poem in the collection ‘At the Races’.
Last Will and T.
And to you my high horse, I leave
This original saddle, the stirrups thrown in
for luck, as well as the rest of the tack.
And after you have galloped off, I leave
the echo of your hooves to the heather
and what’s left of the morning air
to the ducks in the water-lilied lake.
And I leave the ring of my doorbell
to the empty room, to the stained carpet
where Charley knocked over the soup
when he got drunk on emptiness
until he was full of light. To the rest
I leave the benefit of the doubt
Now and at the hour of my death
I used to bash out a blog daily.
I used to ride a horse whenever and wherever I could.
I used to hop on a plane and fly more or less anywhere given half a chance.
I used to do these things.
Now, not so much.
Fear crept into each of these activities, taking up residence in my gut brain, chucking out whatever chemical cocktail it is that makes your palms damp, your heart flip out, your intestines clench and gurn.
This year, on the shortest of hops to Jersey, I cried. I cried there and on the way back with only 45 minutes in the air. I flew to Bordeaux too, crying there and back. I put my sunglasses on and tried not to sob too much.
Perhaps that might work with this lonely, anxious-making typing words shizzle.
You see, as things stand, if I write something and then step away from it for too long, I can’t bear to read it again. I call it the dead squirrel syndrome: you know you killed it, but you can’t bear to look at it again. Step away from the corpse for too long and it’s almost impossible to return. Either you can’t locate it, or the stench of rotten flesh makes it impossible to concentrate on anything, let alone resurrecting the kill.
Or worse, you simply can’t be certain now that it’s even your dead squirrel at all.
Editing the dead squirrel. Don’t even try.
I have started to ponder (lately) where I might be (in life on the generally accepted space-time continuum) had I concentrated my efforts in one sphere. As it is, I have scattered my energies far and wide, seen much, achieved (by certain widely accepted standards) little.
Oh, such dissipation, dissolution and dishevelment I have known over the years.
And still I am here, almost but not quite boring myself, not quite to death.
I admit, I should not be over here On Wishes and Horses. I should be over on jessicamrussell.com where I should be writing about being the biographer of Louise Little, mother of Malcolm X. I should be building the platform, from which to launch a book into the world. I should for the purposes of the above both hyperlink this post and tag it to within an inch of its scrawny life. I should pick a photo that matches my well-chosen words and the comments should flow, like I was on goddamn Facebook.
I should play the game.
I shall too.
But, not just yet.
I still, despite all the terrible odds and notwithstanding appearances, like it here. (And if not best, then surely most.)
Not the Casio calculator I was so proud to get for my 10th birthday you understand – that is long since lost – but mistakenly trying to call someone using the calculator function on my smart phone…
Is my phone smarter than me? Not yet, as I am the one that has to eventually notice my error. You’d think that any self-respecting phone of today could figure that what I really want to do is call someone…
What’s more worrying, however, is that it is an error I have made more than once.
That preamble is because I am still thinking about the role time plays in the human experience. Is it a concept, an experience, a reality, or (as I suspect) just a bunch of numbers that do not help us to understand our subjective experience any better at all?
Is this a mid-life crisis?