when blossoms run
in high winds
from the tree’s pink fists
It is then I think of you. San Francisco five years ago, when you began to disappear. The breeze blew across to the bridge, its stunted red ladders climbing out of the water. We had argued about something or nothing and you would not take my hand. Staring out at Alcatraz, a little rock from here, I remembered reading about the Harts family who lived there until the seventies. Their mail was delivered by helicopter from a US traffic reporter. Perhaps we needed our own island. Acres of space between us to fill with our noise. Or mine, as a year from then you would stop talking completely. I shiver in the heat of the day.
I wanted to hold you up to the light to reveal more than your pale skin betrayed. Unlike a leaf, in which a network of secret veins is illuminated, you were transparent. I tried to drag your tongue into conversations, laying out breadcrumbs of shared memories. Your voice did not sound like it used to – it was as if you were underwater, or calling from afar. How long had it been this way?
Yosemite. We walked together amongst the trees, the tallest in the country. Trunks older than we’ll ever be and six times the height, at least. But even they could not inspire any roots to ground you here, or elsewhere. Alien body on foreign soil. Where do you belong? In something you cannot have. Perhaps that is what you sought. Transient as a scrawling in the sand, destined to be swept out under the surf of tides.
In the evening, we sat around a fire with old friends and I realised they were as wonderful as I never forget they were. The neighbours in our forest, who pass us messages through the tips of branches with underground fingers that stretch. We laughed so hard we disturbed a flock of birds. A feather fell and I placed it in your hair. Poor little pilgrim with a runaway horse.
It takes a lot to severe these connections, those that grow as we do. But you were bent on becoming rootless. Alive through some unknown miracle.
Old as tree rings. The rings that once bound us together, marriage, chains, chainsaw. These details that could not hold you to the world, spider’s strands so delicate and almost unbreakable. Now, when people ask me how you are they find it hard to remember your name. Or anything about you. You have wilfully erased yourself. Your shadow flickers over me now and then, like seconds of static in the radio.
I received mail stamped in bold red RETURN TO SENDER. There were almost twenty letters and I don’t remember sending any of them. I opened envelopes of dead air packed in between lined pages. I stopped after the first three and tore up the rest, fed them to the fireplace. There’s snow outside the window of the cabin. Lake Tahoe looks like a dark iris.
In Canada, the forest burns. The trees scream silently under the blaze. Cars drive on the black tongued highway, walls of fire flanking their sides. Perhaps you were never really here.
Years later, the phone rings. I question hello into the receiver. I wait, an exhale on the other side followed by a whisper. It’s nearly inaudible, but I know it’s you.
I clutch the receiver until my knuckles burst white. At first I’m too embarrassed to speak, but then a dulled rage is unearthed and I yell why now? Why did you disappear? Loathing the effect you still have. I wipe tears away with the jumper full of holes from that Yosemite trip. You say nothing, of course. I stop talking, my quiet removing the words I said in surprise. I listen harder. Waiting for you to begin.
Image credit: A giant sequoia in the New Forest, Hampshire.
Clerkenwell London presents Anna Laurini
155 FARRINGDON ROAD, EC1R 3AD
“If you take the time to listen to your own creative pulse, one does not need to look too far to find inspiration.”
Soho is a maze to me. Despite the many nights I’ve wandered up and down, I’ve never been able to retain directions. I get to where I want to be by accident. When I turn around a corner, I’m never quite sure what I’ll see.
One such night, Loverboy’s Corinna Tomrley and I were walking down Berwick Street looking for a place to eat. I halted my Google mapping as we stopped to see a slight, curly-haired woman at work. Could it be? It was! Anna Laurini, who’s bold-lined faces are stamped across the city, was painting on a boarded off enclave. After excitedly interrupting her, she turned back to her painting, saying “I’m not tall enough to reach the top” of the board she was covering with a patchwork of pink, blue and yellow-green, the signature face peering out from a bottom corner. She kindly invited us to her show and we left her to paint as the sun went down.
Laurini is a Milan-born, Central Saint Martin’s graduate whose work is inspired by the metropolises she has called home – London, Milan and New York. Her medium is acrylic painting and collage; the latter can be explored on her Instagram page as she paints over newspapers, books and her studio windows. Her work integrates abstract impressionism from New York’s 1950s art scene with her own instantly recognisable style.
In all their simplicity and adroit, uplifting messages, Laurini’s paintings have a seductively elusive quality. They could be painted over any moment, but carry an eternal message of outward positivity. Of the many I’ve encountered, two in particular stick. One face, nestled in the space between upmarket stores on Regent’s Street, peered out with the message ‘Don’t be a snob’. The other, on temporary panelling, staring out saying ‘Stay human’ on the evening the government was voting to take action in Syria.
A week later, The Keep unveiled a spacious basement full of those faces on large canvases and smaller framed paintings. The flyer invited gallery goers to ‘celebrate the eccentricity that is Anna’s world through colour, disillusion and hope’ and it did not disappoint.
Unlike the images that can be found all over the city, the exhibition offered larger and uncaptioned canvases full of new perspectives. The faces were fuller, multiplied, with some paintings containing many people in silent conversation – their gaze remains far off, the messages subjective.
Laurini is having fun. Her colours are more explosive, playful, and threaten to spill out their canvases. Backgrounds of vibrant blues, reds and yellows dripped, frozen in flow, with wavy haired women emerging out of them. Their features are always oversized, full red lips and black-lined eyes. Two variations emerge, femme with flowing hair, or angular, more masculine figures with cropped hair whose face is never completed – the former of which is explored in many of the pieces. The smaller framed paintings evoked forlorn starlets with waves of rainbow or dirty yellow hair; others featured couples and groups loosely defined in their gender with square chests or curved breasts.
Her figures reclaim the monotony of the mirrored cities, offering a chaotic, yet controlled alternative. She asks viewers to stop and consider their captions and arresting stare – be it on the street or in a gallery.
I caught up with Laurini post-exhibition and asked her a few questions.
JB: When did you first start street painting?
AL: I started about 3 years ago for fun, but then it became an addiction!
JB: Your figures are instantly recognisable. How did you form these penetrating faces?
AL: I’ve been practising for years.
JB: The show features a lot of characters in the same frame. Crowds, couples, most seemed to be female. Is the gender intentional? Or not a major focus?
AL: Gender is not a major focus. My favourite is the couple – the woman and man. This is the ultimate symbol of love to me, the completeness between them.
JB: Some of your paintings have instructions to the passer by, often upbeat messages. Do you find art a good way of communicating positivity?
AL: I just like truth and beauty.
JB: New York abstract impression is an influence for you, along with major cities. What else inspires you to make art?
AL: Everything from music and people, to writers and philosophers like Albert Camus, Seneca and David Icke. As well as Palestine.
JB: What do you love most about London?
AL: My Studio.
JB: What’s next for you?
AL: I’m going back to New York! 🙂
For continually bold and intriguing work, Laurini’s pieces can be seen at The Keep throughout the summer and, for those who know where to look, in and around London.
Click here for a condensed version of this article.
Image credit: Anna Laurini at work, via my phone.
The day has folded up the corners of its picnic blanket and parents are brushing crumbs off their children as they pack them into the car. With skin darkened in the sun, they are exhausted by its heat slumped together in the backseat. Crusts of sandwiches not eaten are crumpled into the cool bag. Up front, the mother fans herself with polaroids of split seconds that will come to signify an idyllic summer. Theirs is the only car on the road as streetlamps blink on.
The older child awakens and holds her hand out in the cool breeze. She opens and closes her palm, catching balls of air that aren’t there. The younger one wakes up and quietly starts to cry. His large sniff attracts his mother’s attention, “What’s wrong, honey? Are you feeling unwell?” He wipes his nose with his hand, solemnly shaking his head. The older girl puts her arm around him, she knows. It’s over. He’s already missing the ballgames and warm lemonade.
Such strange, sensitive children. They grow up, inevitable as a snow used to be in winter. Wind chimes ring. Crickets. It’s now many summers later with hot nights, sultry in Plath’s Bell Jar, a copy of which peeks out beneath the older girl’s bed. Their parents are out for the evening, so they have a party. They invite just under two handfuls of friends and set up the rec room with cushions and bowls of pretzels and M&M’s. They smile occasionally at each other as the boy puts candles on the table and the girl sifts through her parents’ LPs, putting her favourites to one side. Looking up he asks, “Is Sam coming?” She shrugs almost imperceptibly, “Maybe. Is Lucy?” He mirrors her response.
July’s skies do not darken. The pale light hangs through the window casting squares of dusk on the shag carpet. The sister puts on the first in a long line up of albums. Her brother sits on a cushion near the open sliding door staring at the birch tree’s branches swaying. The doorbell rings ushering in a spatter of hellos. Bottles clank as the guests stroll into the room, the caps unleashing a fizz as they’re passed around between the older kids.
“How’d you score the beer?” asks Sam, shyly picking at a loose thread on his plaid shirt. They’re all under eighteen and don’t dare get fake IDs. “Older brother. Got us this too,” says Robert, throwing a tinfoil square onto the table they are sat around. A freckled girl wearing an oversized men’s shirt leans forward to discover the contents. “Sweet!” she says and brings out crinkled papers and tobacco.
The younger brother watches as she grinds the green leaves and rolls a long, slim cigarette. Lucy hasn’t come yet. His best friend Marcus is standing next to him. They both sip from soda cans near the glass doors. Marcus is awkward in the presence of such ‘cool’ kids. He hasn’t grown into his limbs yet and tries to contort himself into the smallest shapes possible. The boy recognises this and tells him Robert is saving up for a Fender guitar. Marcus’s pale eyes meet his. “Talk to him, tell him you play. I think he’s forming a band.” His body relaxes slightly as he goes to sit near Robert.
Records crackle with the electricity of as yet unknown sexual abandon. The girls dance together in the middle of the room, jokingly trying to pull Sam up. He shrugs them off, busying himself with the album sleeves. The girl half closes her eyes, arms outstretched skyward, dark brown hair hangs down her back. Her paisley summer dress grazes her thighs.
You see us together,
chasing the moonlight,
my cinnamon girl.
The doorbell rings again and the boy runs to answer it, content to leave Marcus now he was opening up. Robert’s an easy-going guy, relaxed in the leather jacket handed down from one his older brothers. He’s the one that introduced them all to Bob Dylan’s music. An unpretentious linchpin who somehow made everyone the better version of themselves. Even the jealousy Sam once harboured was sated in his tranquil presence.
The boy opens the door to reveal Lucy under the porch light, its glow painting her skin chestnut against her pale blue dress. He is unsure whether to hug her or shake her hand. He plumps for the latter and she giggles, putting on a mock business demeanour and takes his hand with a firmness that surprises him, “A pleasure to see you, Mr Newman.” He tries to regain himself and shows her to the kitchen, “Do you want soda or water or… something?” “A soda is fine,” she smiles, tapping her heels on the linoleum.
They enter the rec room to stand beneath the hanging cloud of smoke and incense. The night is a still one. Even the open doors do not dissipate the air. Sam flicks the light switch off in favour of candles. The small spark of the lighter flickering wicks into life illuminates his face. He pushes thick strawberry blonde curls out of his face and begins to talk to Molly about the effects of mushrooms on memory in this article he read. Robert and Marcus are discussing Simon and Garfunkel, the latter nodding eagerly and shyly giving his opinion in between Robert’s lulled sentences. His sister is half-dancing, slipping in and out of the conversations between swigs of her almost empty bottle.
Sam leans over to Robert, “She’s really something.” Unlike Molly, sharp tongued, round and smiling, she was unobtainable. Dancing around her own spiral. A dream they had both woken up with physical signs of. Not just lust, but the desire to share that freedom. The brother saw them gazing at his sister. He was not embarrassed, but proud of how cool she was. Even Lucy seemed to think so. Those two shaded wallflowers inched their hands towards each other in the near darkness, watching the dancer in the middle of the room. They interlock their fingers. Lucy turns to him and smiles, her teeth gleaming.
The beer supply ran dry quickly as the heat held. The sister grabs Molly and goes off to seek her parents’ liquor cabinet. They come back into the room with four bottles apiece and redrew the lines on the bottles in a clumsy attempt to conceal their consumption. Sloshing the barely there coloured liquids in martini glasses and any tumbler to hand, they chug back the ill-conceived concoctions with grimaces and burning throats.
The brother and his friends stand to the side, Molly sees and pours them a drink to share. She doesn’t condescend, telling them to add more soda if they don’t like it, “I swear adults pretend to enjoy this shit”. Both Marcus and Lucy sip and wrinkle their faces. The brother, in a show of bravado, necks the cup’s contents, “No big deal, I’ve drank worse”. Their cup is refilled, but he is the only one who drinks for second, third time.
Records are dragged off the player leaving scratched trails. The group has divided, stopping their close-faced conversations to sip spirits or smoke the joint floating around the circle. Sam is slowly edging his hand up the older sister’s leg as she talks about Jim Morrison. “I want to write with that wildness, Sam. Listen:
– Moment of inner freedom
when the mind is opened & the
infinite universe is revealed.”
Molly is resting her elbow on Robert’s knee, watching Sam trying to get lucky. She jibes, “So Robbie, gonna wow me with some poetry?” He pretends to think deeply, “There once was a girl called Molly, whose presence made everyone jolly. She was down on her luck and desperate to –” She pushed him off the chair before he has the chance to finish. They both start to play wrestle on the carpet.
Noticing the party’s bell curve is descending into physical contact, Lucy says she better go home otherwise her dad will worry. The boy starts to feel not so good and begs her to stay, but she kisses his cheek goodbye. He sees her walking out of the room but can’t muster the energy to get up. The smoke is becoming too much. He staggers across the room to the sliding doors and hits his knee on the table, knocking off some bottles. Outside, the fresh air hits him making the trees in the yard double. He falls to his knees and throws up. Sam starts to laugh at the boy and the sister pulls away from him so quickly, he doesn’t see her interest in him evaporate.
The boy tries to focus on the blades of grass when he feels a hand rubbing his back. “Lucy! You stayed, I… Sorry.” He tries to tell her all his feelings, but his words spill together. A carrot lingers on his chin as he looks up. It’s his sister. She shushes him, proffering a glass of water.
A car pulls up in the drive way as the boy vomits the last of his stomach’s contents. Robert and Molly quickly and quietly begin Operation Clean Up with mutual expertise. The sister half carries her brother to his room with Marcus’ help. She takes off his t-shirt and tells him to drink the water and take a shower. She’s authoritative, but loving.
The guests slip out the back door through the bushes and run down the road laughing. When they’re out of immediate eyesight, Sam turns back to the house and searches for the girl in the upstairs window. The light is already out.
Next morning, the boy creaks open the door to his sister’s room, “Hey, you awake?” She murmurs and rolls away from the window, “Come ‘ere”. He goes to the bed and she lifts the sheet like a sail. The sunlight dances over it as she wraps him up in a hug. He tries to turn and face her, “Thanks for -” “Shhh! Too early,” she replies and links her fingers with his.
Image credit: James Vaughan via Flickr.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!
First Fig, Edna St Vincent Millay
Eight years ago I became I tightrope walker. I inched high on fine wires that lasted from dawn ‘til sundown. In roaring winds I walked above a wailing sea, home to my own Scylla and Charybdis of despair and loathing – their sharp toothed offspring floating on the waves. They were the only audience in this damned circus. Open mouthed and ready for the drop, salivating a glitter into the black water.
Only twice has the rope snapped; emergency rowboats were called. Their flashing lights licked the ever present line I would walk again after recovery.
But it was a profession for the very young, fine swimmers with bones that bounce. Years went by as tattered slippers fell from calloused feet, the waves grew calm, the string wider. It was easy to cross from one side to the other. No danger or fear of falling. Naturally, stability does not make for good entertainment. The show was only billed once a year, if that.
Soon after, I bought a pair of giant silver scissors and sliced the rope in two.
We live in an age where everything is instantaneous. The ability to receive news alerts, share our innermost thoughts, book tables, flights, dental appointments and shop is all contained within the screens at our fingertips.
Because of this, we want everything done yesterday. The 18 to early 30-somethings populate the millennial generation rife with millennial disappointment. The cause of which varies from the impact of current government, high expectations at a young age and other external/internal pressures, meaning this age bracket is currently suffering a harsh reality kick, i.e. we may not get exactly what we had hoped for.
Social phenomenons like the ongoing battle of YOLO (you only live once) vs FOMO (fear of missing out) mean I, like many people, want to do everything at once. I over commit when I’m in a good mood, say yes to three plans on the same day and end up cancelling them all because I can’t face leaving my bed.
Occasional days like this are fine, normal and completely acceptable. But when it creeps into the everyday, pushing through and doing even tiny things will make you feel better. Like showering, working out, calling a friend, taking a walk in the park, being nice to a stranger, reading a book, buying yourself a slice of pizza. Anything. Embroidery artist Hannah Hill makes badges, with a feminist edge, to remind us of the importance of self care. Gemma Correll also produces rewarding stickers for adulting.
Because when you grow up, not many people say well done for doing minor things. Sometimes it’s only if you’ve really screwed up that you’ll get recognition. Not always, but it happens.
In a time when magazines prey on the void of confidence present in both genders, it’s near impossible to get on the property ladder, or do your dream job without ten months of unpaid interning, don’t worry. Among the adverts beckoning you to lose six lbs in 60 minutes, how to make a marriage work, finally get the <insert desirable thing> you’ve always wanted, the best advice you can remember is:
You are doing okay.
Always remember the importance of cutting yourself some slack. Of being yourself or sometimes saying no without explanation. Taking time for you. Going at your own pace and taking stock of what you have going on.
Despite the omniscient screens glued to our collective hand, you are not the sum of your likes on Instagram or how many followers you have on Twitter. Imagine if all of those people were following you in real life? That would be terrifying. Artists like Amalia Ulman are investigating the inherent social worth in being a successful online personality. The idea of going from a no one to a someone. This is hardly a new concept but the platform is, due to how readily accessible the internet has made image sharing and lifestyle #goals. Unsurprisingly, a lot of How to be Happier articles encourage the removal of screen time in favour of doing things that reconnect us to those in the physical world.
You may not be able to change the whole world but you can change your portion of it. Impossibility is a mostly mental construct. I used to worry so much about all the things I want to do and haven’t yet, about the gap year I’ve never taken, the instrument I haven’t learned to play, the long term relationship and accompanying partner and children I don’t have. But I do have time.
I am planning continually with a healthy dose of realism or slack cutting. I want to do the MA in Gender and Law that’s always on my mind, I want to travel around South America, live by a lake in Canada for a while, write a book of short stories, and more.
It’s never too late to do something you really want to do. Plan. Map it out. Achieve it bit by bit. Because, although the odds can feel stacked against you in Western societal terms, you have a choice to change things for yourself. I choose not to squander my options, I choose the opposite of the rut, I choose to do something.*
*Except on days where I’m really into a series on Netflix.
Image credit: Wonderful image stumbled upon from this guy’s blog.
Swings and Roundabouts
Last night I watched Inside Out for the first time. It quickly became my favourite Pixar film in the first ten minutes – big claim, I know, particularly when there are so many childhood and modern classics in the back catalogue like Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Wall-E. And Up! Oh, Up. Those heart-rending opening credits of young love blossoming into old age with an inevitable ending. It’s pretty hard not to be reduced to a weepy mess unless you are dead inside. But I digress.
In my first year of university, when everything was new and emotions pinballed into each other whilst climbing a never-ending reading list, one of my peers said, “Even when you’re old, you’ll never be mentally old. You’re so excitable. It’s fun to be around.” Disclaimer: I was sober, in Costcutters and had probably just got very involved with a pack of stickers or a funny shaped potato. The cynic in me thinks she may have politely been saying I act my shoe size. I choose to ignore that and think it was because I experienced happiness in its purest form, no matter how odd the stimulus.
This is why Inside Out is such a wonderful film. It explores what goes in an 11-year-old girl’s mind anchored by a cast of five prevailing emotions as she moves town to start a new school. Since Riley’s life began, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear have helped to navigate whatever comes her way. They are in the business of creating memories and maintaining Riley’s well-being, all of which are shaped by the emotion at the mind console’s helm. Cue trouble beginning. Joy tries to negate Sadness, but their mutual quest for dominance causes accidental expulsion from Head Quarters. Landing in the realm of long term memories, they have to return with precious core memory orbs before Riley loses all sense of self.
While I may, at times, appear to have the mentality of someone half my height, I also am a Fully Functioning Adult with a point to make. Using the emotions explored in Inside Out to write a post reflecting on the year seems like a suitable strand of analytical thinking.
Dream: I’m at work. I’m proofreading and on track to meet a huge upcoming deadline. My computer spontaneously combusts eradicating months of work. My teeth fall out as I’m calling for help. Spiders start dropping from the ceiling. The lights go out. All my friends and family have disappeared. I’m in front of a faceless crowd who are all laughing. Oh, and I’m naked.
Reality: How am I doing? Am I good at my job? Should I have a long term partner? Why don’t I have one? Or a mortgage. Or a pet (you’re allergic, forget that). How about a baby? See three questions back. Have I killed my succulent? Is it possible to kill a succulent? If I can destroy something that requires little to no care how can I possibly look after another human being/animal/inanimate object without being locked away for accidental neglect? What if I die alone with only dead succulents for company and no one finds me until the smell starts to bother the neighbours and even then they’ll just chalk in down to vegetarian cooking or the incense I burn. Or what if –
And breathe. That’s fear. Continual anxiety about things that could happen whether or not they are rational or in the realms of the fantastic. Comparing life progress to another person’s, worrying your actions will never be enough, or you will never be good enough. It’s natural. Doubt is healthy, so long as it’s no crippling. I think (hope) the succulent is ok…
Lychees. Aren’t they the worst?
For a brief background, and a chance to show off my Psychology A-Level knowledge, much has been written on the difference between disgust and fear in relation to phobias. The most common cause of phobias is conditioning – a learned response associated with a stimulus that recurs whenever it is present. The most common phobias are based around animals, social interactions, water, heights etc.
Disgust, however, can be viewed as an evolutionary mechanism to avoid disease or death. Spiders, for example, are a common phobia because they are seen as completely alien compared to humans. This is, in part, due to their appearance, specifically the way they move and catch prey. It is these alien elements that cause disgust, meaning the ability to relate or understand the spider adds to the fear of it.
The disgust response is also influenced by a range of factors including culture, morality or personal experience. It can even be used as a tool to undermine social groups.
The media is a champion at dehumanising elements they deem disgusting. One only has to look at the way in which refugees were initially treated to see that ‘otherness’ is capitalised on to provoke a specific emotional response from the reader.
Stateside this same trope is applied, allowing the prevalence of inherent racism in the US police force to cause unnecessary deaths of minorities. Donald Trump’s hateful and dangerous opinions are big red flags of this behaviour. Yuck is too mild a word.
One tiny flame of provocation is sometimes all it takes to start a bonfire. Looking back at this year, so many things have enraged my itchy Twitter fingers and fuelled drunken debates.
This is why I try (and often fail) not to talk about politics or ideologies with people I’ve just met. I care a lot, about a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to meter passion and aggression. Being angry is tiring, particularly when you feel change is not in the hands of the majority and democracy is rapidly becoming outdated, but any engagement in methods aiming to induce change are not wasted ones. Next year will be the year of protest, not angry pub chat (sorry Ricky). There are many voices as passionate as mine, undoubtedly more so, and I want to stand with them.
A second skin, default state, square one, lowest of the low. Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.
The everlasting helter skelter. A slide that is impossible to get off. Spiralling down rapidly at the outset, until the pace slows and more inadequacies hop on for the ride. As time drips like molasses, unpleasant memories project from an unfeeling lens in the darkness. Still sinking, flickering passed the first argument with a best friend, a time when an unforgivable error was made, the loss of many loved ones. Today’s in-flight movie is sponsored by self loathing. Thank you for flying with No one Careways. If you ever alight, Rock Bottom will be your destination, population: you.
This one doesn’t need much explaining. The stimulus is wide reaching; the scale of depression is a large one and sometimes a good cry will make you feel better. But the weep of despair, when all hope is truly lost, is one I hope I’m lucky enough never to emit.
Recently, I took myself to the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood. Though I was the only solo adult there, I experienced a mixture of nostalgia, excitement and awe at the costumes, kites, magic lanterns and toys of yore. More recently, I went to an aquarium. Upon turning a corner, jellyfish floated in deep red and neon blue ovals. The luminous lampshades were in various periods of growth, from a polyp, to an adult Aurelia aurita. It was magical. I gasped so loudly, a family of four looked around in shock.
Now, at 25, I can just about get away with this behaviour (I probably can’t). But that’s not why I do it. Though I do know if I carry on saying hello to every dog I meet when I’m in my 50s, it ain’t gonna be cute. I think; if you see something that makes you happy, why temper your response? The world is full of truly unpleasant people who choose to make life awful for those around them. Of course there are degrees of negative actions, but it is that initial germ of displeasure that often provokes them. I really try to do one nice thing for somebody every day because life is too short to be a horrible person.
I’m coming to accept, and will continue to navigate, the need for balance. Not everything is black and white. Each shade of emotional make up plays a part in how one interacts with the world. If your body is telling you to take a run, or a pill, or pet a kitten to achieve internal balance, do it. Whatever keeps you going. Everyone has days when they don’t want to get out of bed, feel like punching a wall, or are so happy they could burst. It’s all part of the wonderful diversity that makes up the seven billion people populating this planet.
The brain is an infinitely complex array of chemicals and synapses and a Pixar movie is not a prescriptive one size fits all approach to the emotional spectrum. There are far more eloquent people than one cold-ridden writer to tell you why we feel what we do and how people act on their impulses, but the point is:
Inside Out. Watch it. You probably have. If not, you definitely should.
Image credit: Pixar, via Screenrant.
A Sea of Hands – thoughts on displacement
The current United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate for the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is 59.5 million. To put this number into context, it is the equivalent of Italy’s population having to flee their homes. Comparatively, at the end of 2011 42.5 million people were classed as refugees, internationally displaced people or asylum seekers. The number of people is significantly increasing and will continue to do so as wars ravage the globe.
On 6th September 2015, the UNHCR estimated that there are more than 4 million registered refugees or ‘persons of concern’ who have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011 – roughly a sixth of the country’s total population. This enforced exodus has led many to call the fighting and its effects the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, with the world witnessing the highest number of refugees since WWII.
Despite the longevity of the situation and continued suffering, the terminology describing those fleeing war torn countries hangs in the balance. The media, particularly in the UK, easily alternates between the words refugee and migrant. By definition and situation, the nouns are not readily interchangeable, despite what the public has been led to believe. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a refugee is defined as a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Whereas a migrant is defined as a person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions. For good measure, an asylum seeker is defined as a person who has left their country as a political refugee and is seeking asylum in another.
Following a successful passage, refugees are able to apply to governments for consideration to change their status to asylum seeker. Thus refugees can subsequently find work and better living conditions than those they have escaped from, pending the approval of their applications. At least, in theory.
For some this is the dream, for most a matter of survival with a heavy price tag. For Syrian refugees, the imminent destinations are those bordering Syria, namely Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon (these three countries being top hosts for refugees) Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. As these countries have tightened borders and faced a strain on resources in the past five years, Europe is experiencing a trickle-down effect.
Currently, Germany and Sweden are popular destinations. Figures scoured from interviews with smugglers or successfully resettled refugees indicate the cost can range anywhere between under €1,000 up to €10,000 depending on a person’s country of origin and route taken. The Migrant Files conducted extensive research to collate the costs spent depending on the route taken, confirming the disparity in pricing.
The Migrant Files go on to estimate that refugees and migrants spend a total of over €1 billion each year to get to Europe (€13 billion recorded since 2000) , and governments spend roughly that amount in deportation costs. The figures expended on detention centres, equipment for border guards and fortifying borders are much, much larger than this.
Aside from the substantial monetary cost, there is a higher threat to human lives. Many smugglers have turned the crisis into a cottage industry for human cargo, with little concern for their ‘goods’ once dispatched. The International Organisation for Migration estimates lives lost crossing the Mediterranean Sea stands at more than 3,000. This, of course, only accounts for one of the main routes into Europe, let alone civilian casualties in war zones, other lives lost in transit or people listed as missing.
There are a lot of statistics shared on the web about the capabilities of leading European countries to open their gates to those in need. The UK is far from bursting at the seams; the below statistics demonstrate that the UK processed/received the fewest amounts of applications for asylum:
Population size and land mass can be considering factors when governments quote how many people they will be able to host. Wired claims the UK “already has one of Europe’s most diverse populations and is set to become the continent’s most populous countries by 2060 due to fertility and immigration rates” compared to Germany, where the Federal Statistical Office predicts that by 2060 only half of the ageing population will be of working age, thus extra bodies will give the economy a boost.
One cannot help but feel that Europe’s numbers game approach is futile at this stage, particularly given the fact that 86% of refugees are hosted by developing countries (UNHCR Staff Figures) and the continent is not disproportionately affected by the crisis. David Cameron has pledged to take up to 20,000 over the next five years and has, thus far, pledged £1 billion to the refugee crisis. A more detailed outline of aid provisions can be found here. This figure pales in comparison to Germany preparing for 800,000 incoming refugees. Greece, too, has received roughly 235,000 refugees despite being in the midst of financial collapse.
Jean-Claude Juncker has since urged EU member states to take in a further 120,000 refugees (bringing the current total to 160,000), to be distributed on a quota basis. The draft plans redistribute nearly three-fifths of the refugees to Germany, France and Spain. The UK, however, has chosen to opt-out and is exempt from these plans.
The story of war and its impact on civilians is nothing that the world, particularly Europe, has not seen before. Older conflicts have displaced 1.1 million refugees from Somalia and 2.59 million from Afghanistan. I caught a snippet of a recent BBC broadcast that saw a number of Afghans in a refugee camp. The presenter asked one man about his journey and why he was in the camp given the previous amount of aid donated to his country. The man would have surely laughed into the camera had he not been so visibly exhausted. His comments were measured, reminding both presenter and viewers of the impact of military withdrawal, regardless of the amount of aid donated, “The Taliban is stronger than ever”. These destructive political situations are not in the control of those they affect the most.
As the situation continues to develop, EU states are becoming fiercer. Historic, haunting echoes of treatments of persecuted groups are conjured from Czech Republic labelling refugees with numbers, Hungary using tear gas and water cannons and detaining migrants in cages, throwing food parcels to a sea of desperate clutching hands. Artist and political journalist Molly Crabapple reminded us of the unfortunate familiarity, posting a quote from Hannah Arendt, a persecuted Jew who survived the Holocaust and migrated from Europe to the safe haven of America.
Given that displacement and persecution is something humanity deals with time and time again, what is abhorrent, aside from the unthinkable affects on families, is the media guiding and beguiling public opinion. When the heartbreaking image of Aylan al-Kurdi was splashed across front pages, a sympathy previously absent was invoked. The U-turn has been at breakneck speed. The New Statesmen was quick to point out this callous treatment by leading right-wing papers. Cameron’s biblical diatribe, and other media figures (Katie Hopkins’ infamous cockroach comment), against fellow human beings beggars belief. The Prime Minister is now touring refugee camps, urging other countries to increase aid provisions having seen first-hand that the conditions are “not great”.
As more refugees desperately need assistance, it is life-affirming to know that the public seems to be growing wise to the media’s manipulation and political ignorance. Many independent groups, in addition to big charities, are uniting to provide aid. Humanity shines through, despite the previous absence of this by those at the top. The internet has opened its arms with hashtags like #RefugeesWelcome, #HumanRightsChain and #SOSEurope.
We need more people on the ground providing independent reportage, without a whitewashing political agenda, to share the voices that cannot be heard. Victims should not be vilified; they are human and should be treated as such.
[All figures are correct at the time of writing.]
Image credit: Adriatic Sea.