Slack Cutting

Slack Cutting

 

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.

Advertisements

Swings and Roundabouts

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.

Fear
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…

Disgust
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.

Anger
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.

Sadness
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.

Joy
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

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.

Smugglers

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:

Eurostat

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.

Cultivating kindness

NewYork

Cultivating kindness

I write from my bed in a painkiller haze surrounded by several bouquets of flowers. I am in and out of myself. When I read, sleep conjures images to dance amidst the printed words before my eyes. Real and projected worlds conjoin until my eyes close, drawing a heavy black curtain over the page.

Awakening: my face fills the small round mirror. Eyes dimly aglow with muted purples and yellow bruises less beautiful than the natural flora spilling over the surfaces. Neat black stitches sit on my lips and below my right ear – practical and piratical. Stretching out before the shower, dull sticky rings betray where a machine suckered my skin monitoring life signs. Anaesthesia is the pause between life and death; a forced unconscious state. I remember nothing after the injection.

***

The world presents a sequence of landscapes from arctic to ocean, country to city, suburbs to sub-Saharan. Humans navigate these terrains, influencing and being influenced by the vast biosphere. Throughout this journey, each individual possesses a unique state colouring their outlook. The relationship between the world and self is forever in flux. Change is the only constant, manoeuvring the external and internal scenery, creaking new backgrounds into place.

Many have written about the effects of place on people and vice versa. Imagine the body as a large town, one that is fully functioning, controlled and full of components that contribute to its characterisation. Every neighbourhood, like you, has its desirable and undesirable elements. Your sunny disposition is the bubbling fountain in a park square where children sail paper boats. For every delayed bill payment, a company avoids filing taxes. When you give a gift, a new statue is unveiled of a prevalent historical figure. Each time you make love, the city twins with another and international relations flourish.

Within that corporal/geographical relationship, personality is like a private greenhouse. We are each the gardener of our own world. You will reap what you sew, whether planting seeds of kindness or animosity. A greenhouse of vibrant flowers, fruit ripening, plants bursting into life, bees humming to pollinate a microcosm of oxygen or a shaky frame of broken panes, glass tinkling underfoot as the wind rustles through weeds and dry soil. People visit Kew Gardens for a reason. Talking to plants helps them grow, nurture yourself and you will too.

***

Look around and see players in a domino effect of affect that you too are part of.

Example A: Someone bumps into you; you both curse and wish the other a bad day. In a microscopic emotional shellshock, you radiate anger from the encounter, mentally damning the inconsideration of others. This negativity trails you like a tiny black cloud and permeates the next situation you enter.

Example B: Someone bumps into you; you smooth the forming frown, apologise and continue to your destination. This may not have been your fault, it doesn’t matter. There are bigger things than this. You are fine.

Of course, not everything is as clear cut as the hypothetical. The possible combinations of social situations are infinite; there is no ‘one size fits all’ response, but kindness is a good one.

This is, after all, the basic teaching that underpins all major religions. Christianity’s Golden Rule is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Islam teaches, “That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.” Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Taoism preach the virtues of karma, the law of moral causation, which crudely means immediate actions not only affect the present but the likelihood of good/bad things happening in the future.

No one is a perfect person. I can recognise the importance of a little rain in helping plants to grow. There cannot be sunshine all the time, global warming is bad enough already, but trying to stay bright is a good option – especially in British weather.

Allure of the nude

Allure of the nude

The scent of coffee, chai spices and incense drift in a mellow breeze through a room jumbled with mismatching chairs, taxidermy and crumbling books atop a piano. An old, disinterested dog ambles between tables, raising his head to oblige strokes of his salt-and-pepper coat.

Anticipation hums. The tables filled up rapidly, sandwiched together to seat the sketchpad wielding clientele who await their model. We try to guess who she may be. The tall girl with long dark curls and a crimson pout. Perhaps. Or her? The petite blonde fidgeting in her woollen layers. We are mistaken, as both extract art supplies from their bags. We depart before the model arrives, taking a final glance at the pencils poised above a blank sea of pages ready to be filled with bodies.

If the nude body is given a space to exist within (an art gallery, photography exhibition, performance art, etc) and deemed as possessing artistic merit, any hint of indecency is removed as the image functions under a higher purpose.

When the nude is seen outside of these spaces, problems arise. Last week, The Sun seemingly removed its archaic page 3 and later reinstated it, joking of a “mammary lapse”. At a time when Nuts has closed, the Co-Op refuse to stock Zoo and Front, Stuff and Loaded dropped its cover girls, the Irish Sun removed page 3 in 2013, we must ask – however rhetorically – is a naked body news? With the internet offering more images, videos, webcam chats, and GIFs than ever imaginable, surely it is unnecessary in a national ‘newspaper’?

With the work of #NoMorePage3 and Lose the lads’ mags, among other groups, the conversation is rightfully in the mainstream about the presentation of women in media. This is spreading. 2014 saw a rush of feminist hashtags, fuelling global debate about all manner of issues including Boko Haram, domestic violence, street harassment and more.

Though activist groups are aiding to change outmoded perceptions, women are still not equal, even in our supposedly forward-thinking countries. How can the West support women’s rights worldwide if it cannot do it on its own doorstep?

The page 3 debate has an easy solution, though one that may not be implemented for some time. Although it could be seen as a small step in the grand scheme of the problems women face, it could be the fuel to fire further change on the media playing field.

Image credit: The Woman in the Waves by Gustave Courbet via Wikipedia

Meditations

DSCF0491

Meditations

The same sun will set and rise around the earth until years are no longer counted. This is a new beginning, though less immediate than the helium orbs and overflowing goblets that herald in another crackle on the universe’s infinite radio.

A realisation that the hours stretched ahead, as yet empty in a page-a-day diary, can be filled with anything or nothing. Feelings of being a raindrop falling into the ocean are neutralised by elation and hot air balloon headiness of possibility.

As the calendar slopes forward, the media bombards with predictions for elections, terrorist attacks and climate change. When those who rule are not engaged in televised sparring, a modern coliseum, they are planning possible takeovers playing battleships with social issues, ‘Public hospital privatisation to F6’, they postulate, ‘You’ve sunk the proposed mental health funding’. These games happen worldwide, the board is changed but the rules remain in the hands of the few to distribute to the mouths of the many.

Information is power, but is often passed down through channels that manipulate and anticipate public opinion. Read as much as possible, pick your sources and change them frequently. Across the world, there are temples and tribes founded by years of tradition alleviated from print and paper. Sacred beliefs are handed down from mystics, shamans, holy men and women, healers. They too offer predictions. Based on the ways of the past, using the earth as a guide, ritualistic rites of passage. So much unknown.

There are vast oceans and jungles that our eyes may never see. Creatures that will not evolve in this lifetime. In an ever-developing digital age, we can explore the world around us through screens in varying degrees of size. The world is a beautiful, troubling place.

Now, more than ever, it seems Italo Calvino’s cautionary tale Daughters of the Moon is unfolding. The fall and regeneration of New York. The major city is transferable, easily substituted. Any metropolis can be inserted to gain the same effects of overpopulation, depleting resources, the mass production of goods designed to break and prompt to buy more goods. The cycle rolls on. Until the moon. The sun’s sometimes sister ripe in its natural cycle, dragged down by life on earth.

We call it space because there’s so much of it. To explore, to realise, to learn.