I suspect I am not alone this week in sitting down, tapping away and somehow channelling frayed emotion into words.
I had no intention of commenting on the result of the EU referendum. I had been tempted before the vote, as I did before the independence referendum up here in my homeland in 2014, but I withheld my thoughts. Why? Perhaps the best answer is that I simply was not sure the world needed yet another opinion piece.
I am still not sure. I am not sure whether to share this, whether it is simply a cathartic process for me, something to roar into, then feel the calm settle after. Or whether I need to do it for others too. Tell them, remind them, that they are not alone in feeling alone, that they are many, that they have beautiful voices and we should all raise them, together.
I am not ignorant to the fact each of these first four paragraphs has begun with “I”. Perhaps this is fitting, that I share with you how I feel, maybe it will help you to realise there are many “I”s out there, each feeling lost, rudderless, adrift in a storm not of their making (or, in increasing numbers, precisely of their making). We are lucky here in the north, we have a leadership who, yet again, have proven their worth, have shown strength — fortitude when we need it most. I feel so bitterly sad for those in other regions of this Disunited Kingdom, those whose leaders have evaporated like the smokescreens they rely upon. Blown away into history, so many dandelion seeds on a wind they themselves fanned. Fools — and history will not be kind. But…
But, that does not help us now, does it? Blame gets us nowhere.
And I have to interject here, into my own train of thought, for the sake of full disclosure. Years ago, when I was first learning to cope with debilitating depressive episodes, the feelings of worthlessness, of having no place in this world, of feeling so small as to be easily discarded — these feelings forced me to look for a way out, to hold them up and scrutinise with every ounce of concentration I could muster. Eventually I realised that I needed to take my greatest strength and use it to share thoughts, to describe beauty and help others see there are a thousand thousand reasons to keep fighting, each shining, each tied to the other in a web of complexity that is constantly reweaving and strengthening itself. For me, I knew my strength lay in my words.
I have a curious worldview, different to many, in that I can somehow step outside the picture, look at humanity as a whole whilst also being aware it is made of tiny building blocks, called people. I can look backward, to a time before we left Africa, I can look at the art we created tens and tens of thousands of years ago, see parallels with now, with different cultures and places. I can take these things and look forward, see this whole projected into an uncertain future and CRUCIALLY, I can envisage a world where humanity has destroyed itself. And this does not worry me. It should. Yes, absolutely it should. But if we fail ourselves, then who do we have to blame? Instead I can see a time where we have done our best to shatter the world and only manage to rid it of the human menace. Nature, perhaps not the nature we know (and some of us love) now, will find a way. She always does. No matter what we try, we will not be able to completely destroy this planet — there will always be tiny building blocks, those Lego bricks that are so small they disappear as if by their own volition, yet can be added together, over and over, strengthened, great things appearing from the mass. So, no matter what happens, I can’t see it destroying the world. And that is a peculiar relief. It took me a long time to realise that this feeling is not a bad thing. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism? Perhaps it is foolish, perhaps I should place humanity above nature? Maybe — but I don’t and, whilst I shall listen and respond politely, I don’t really mind, or care, if you disagree. This works for me. It’s my ultimate safety blanket.
I am angry. Like so many others I have cycled through emotions, shock, disbelief, sadness, despair, anger just some of them. We are living in times unprecedented, a political crisis not seen in decades, whilst our self-nominated leaders play cricket or disappear from view entirely. It has brought a wry smile, to see English political commentators surprised at the strength and sense on display up here in Scotland. Independence has gone from being a crazed unstable thing in the eyes of certain factions, to perhaps the best, or only, option.
If I go away from my twitter feed, from the news sites, for more than twenty minutes I come back to find something new, something changed. It is extraordinary.
Yet, the problem I am personally wrestling with — as I know so many others are too — is this: what can I do? How can I channel these emotions into something good? How can I fight back against intolerance, hatred, bigotry and the misinformation peddled by a traditional elite allied with media barons with their own cruel agenda? How can I make sure love, sense, kindness, and hope win?
After a weekend spent swinging from being glad I am still planning on seeing more of this globe to wanting to man the barricades, I came write back to where I always do. Yes. Write back. See what I did there? (At this moment in time I’ll take any little sliver of amusement, as I see so many others doing — we in these islands are very good at gallows humour, even when we are about to swing.)
Words are my weapons of love. They can destroy hatred, they can level bigotry through story and education, they can wipe away fear through damn-fine-characterisation. Etcetera.
I tell stories, it is what I do — whether true and honest accounts of my own adventures or pieces of fiction, I can craft to brutally force a thought down your throat and into your heart and mind, without you even knowing. And, if I do my job particularly well, with no realisation I’m one of those awful social justice types, who actually cares about everyone — yes, everyone — far above the pursuit of wealth. After all, as I have said before, when you know you can find water, food, shelter and make fire through the knowledge of nature and bushcraft, your perspectives are forever altered.
So, this morning, when I should be finishing off another of my Thirty-Nine Steps series to share tomorrow, I am instead writing this. It won’t make much difference to the whole, I know that, but it makes me feel a little better. It won’t make many people sit up and take note; the chances are, if you are reading this, then you already feel similarly. But it has served to remind me and, I hope, a few others, that there are things we can do already, things we are strong at. We can talk, we can paint, we can share our own experiences of love and kindness and hope — in whatever way we feel best. Sometimes that is projecting a part of ourselves outward unto others, sometimes it is embracing our neighbours, letting them know they are not alone. Perhaps some of us are activists, willing to march, to wave those banners high, to stand across the divide and build bridges woven from all that is good.
For me, I will be keeping a close eye on this nation of ours, whether I call that the United Kingdom or, increasingly more accurately, Scotland — if it comes to a need to campaign for independence, I shall take this opportunity to nail my own colours to the mast now, so you know where I stand. Yes, I’m still yes — more so than ever. Scotland has proven herself (again) a place of love, a place where tolerance and progressive inclusivity are stronger than they are in many places south of the border. When I woke on Friday and saw what we, as the UK, had done, I felt pride in Scotland. Then, when I watched Nicola Sturgeon give her speech (whilst sweating over a HIIT workout — me, not her!), I felt a sense of calm and strength, a knowledge that, perhaps, some good can come of this.
No man is an island. We are all a part of a whole. And now, more than ever, we all need to think how best we can stand united, how best we can play our own role. For me, I shall be spending much of this week on editing the novel. I think, perhaps — and it can sound conceited to say it — I owe it to others to get it finished, I need to share a message of love and the best way I can do it is through a damn good story (note: the love bit might at times be rather subtle, or buried under other emotions and circumstances, but it is the principal core theme — a love for the world and how different people try to save it, even as others destroy…).
Story, words — these have always been our greatest strength as a species. Our ability to communicate is a wonder, sometimes a terrible one — if you don’t believe me just look at how the right-wing press drip-fed the disillusioned masses a twisted message of hatred. We are in this mess because of words — The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and others — and I’m determined to fight back in the same way. Tell a good story and people will listen to the message, perhaps without even realising. Warn them through fiction, show them terrible images, make them wonder, make them question their own — and others’ — beliefs. If we stop questioning, if we stop fighting, we have lost.
I will not surrender my arms, they cannot take away my weapons, there is no separating me from the power of the sentence, the paragraph, the page, and chapter. If I see injustice in the street I will stand up against it but I know I can take the gift of writing and spread it far further than I can a one-on-one discussion or debate.
I do not hate, hatred gets us nowhere. Art is a magical thing, often, along with education, the first thing to suffer when one group is trying to control another (tuition fees, library closures, “we’re fed up of experts” — sound familiar?), but the most magical thing about art is that it cannot die. It is an outlet for our species in a way so many fail to understand, as essential as air, as water. We do not pause to think about why we breathe, nor do the majority pause to think why they like a book, or a painting, or the latest episode of Game of Thrones. It is art speaking to us, and we hear without even always listening.
The biggest mistake the bigoted minority can make (and, yes, they are a minority — I refuse to believe all who voted to leave the EU are bigots, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of blaming some group or another) is to underestimate the quiet masses. I honestly believe we are at a turning point now, more than at any other point I remember — we have had years of recession, of those wealthy elites telling us we are all in it together whilst laughing and cutting our public services — not even behind our backs, but in plain view. We have had decades of agendas designed solely to make money from those who have the least to give. We have been bullied into positions and places we never thought we would return to, so many others are already drawing those parallels to dark pasts that I need do no more than mention it in passing which, in and of its own, is terrifying.
If you learn a martial art, or practice self defence, then reputable teachers, trainers, sensei (at least in my experience) will explain that if you can run from a fight, do so. If you can talk your way out of it, do so. Walk away. If someone hits me I will try to turn the other cheek, but if they threaten those I love, or someone who cannot defend themselves? Well, fortunately this has never happened to me, but the memory that keeps coming back to me is being told “put them on the ground, make sure they do not, and cannot, get up.” This idea also terrifies me, as it should all decent people. But sometimes a fight cannot be avoided.
This is such a fight. The peaceful, those who advocate love and togetherness, who can see that we are all one species, no matter what divisions others try to make, who take differences and celebrate rather than condemn or fear them— these are the people who I have seen stirring in the last few days. For so long they have been silent, doing the right thing, voting, joining political parties, maybe — but so many are now looking to do more. I do not know the answers for each one of you, how can I? But I do know that it is right to look into ourselves, ask whether we should sit back whilst those bullies trample over everything we hold dear, or whether we should each fight as best we can.
I personally believe the world is at a juncture now, where our species will soon have an opportunity to move forward as one, in a way we have never previously been able to. I also believe that those who have orchestrated this giant mess have done so because they know they are losing their grip. Newspapers are becoming increasingly hard-pressed, as is traditional television — new ways to be, to live, are appearing, and it is up to us to grasp them, turn them into something good, to listen and hope.
This morning I had an opticians appointment. May the 27th, 2014 was my last eye exam (free up here in Scotland). Back then we had not had the independence referendum, the general election had yet to vote in a right wing, Tory government, or the almost clean-sweep of SNP Westminster MPs. And, of course, we had yet to have the EU referendum. A lot happens in two years. A lot. I find myself trying to look into a future, wondering where the world will be (as well as where in the world I shall be). The US election? The UK out of the EU. A second Scottish independence referendum? Scotland out of the UK, still in the EU? A hard border between the two nations? Theresa May or Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt or Michael Gove or… Despair. Misery. Horror.
But, above all, I know that good people will do good things. They will talk, they will listen, they will teach. Love is the way, love has always been the way, kindness is our greatest gift. And I will not despair. No one needs feel they are alone — we can group our voices, be heard, do the right thing.
I will be a lover, and a fighter. And I know I will be standing with others who feel the same.