A sad few days

I’m staring at a screen, wondering if there’s a point in even writing this post. Which is fitting, considering how apathy and general mistrust of politics is why we are in this position in the first place.

Let me reiterate, in case you are not up to speed with recent developments: on the 23rd June, the UK held a referendum to determine whether to leave the European Union or not. The Leave camp won with 52% over 48% Stay. The Parliament now has to vote as to whether they will follow through on the people’s decision. David Cameron, the country’s PM, resigned on the morning of the 24th, and stated that it would be up to his successor to implement Article 50 of the European Treaty, thus starting the formal process of the UK leaving the EU.

At the time of this writing, there is still a lot of uncertainty on whether or not the UK would actually leave the EU. There is a petition to launch a second referendum, as less than 75% of the population voted and the margin of winning was so slim. Political analysts describe how an actual leaving of the EU would be a disasterous political move. Reports of “buyer’s remorse” from Leave voters flood my Facebook timeline. A lot of people are calling for “keep calm and carry on” attitudes, cooperation and tolerance…

But at the same time, racist and xenophobic attacks are on the rise. People may have voted to leave the EU because they genuinely want the best for their country, but they have also legitimized the attitudes of a scary faction – one that doesn’t shy away from hurting others.

As an EU citizen in the UK, I have a lot of feelings about this. Right now, it’s near impossible to write objectively about the situation, because all of it – the campaigns, the vote, the follow-up – it feels like a giant kick in the teeth.

“It’s not personal,” said the Leave voters who presumably weren’t racists and xenophobes. “Besides, it’s just a vote, it doesn’t mean anything.”

You’re wrong. It is personal, and it does mean something. It means something to the Polish families who received threats in their mail. It means something to the EU citizens getting harassed on buses and trains. It means something to the British citizens of color who are being stopped on the streets and told to “go home.”

It means something to me, to know that 52% of this country would sit back and let me be harassed, bullied, threatened, assaulted. “Treated as collateral” as Jennie Stevenson put it on Facebook. 52% of this country thinks it’s okay to legitimize the views of racists and xenophobes. 52% of this country rejected me and everyone who is like me. If they saw me being attacked on the street, they walk on and let me fend for myself. How am I supposed to not feel frightened and rejected? How do I not take this personally?

The real icing on the cake is that I, and every other EU citizen that I know living in the UK is here, contributing to the economy in some way or another. My parents paid for me to go to a UK university. I worked for UK firms and organizations, paid taxes, and now I do research that contributes to the wellbeing of UK citizen and makes my UK institution more competitive on its respective market. I don’t claim benefits. I volunteer and fundraise for the NSPCC, and give money to Cancer Research and Unicef every month. To my knowledge, there has never been a time where a British citizen had been passed on for a job in order for me to be hired. The same is true for everyone I’ve ever met – we are not a burden to the system, we just want to exercise our human right to work and live good lives.

And we had no say in the referendum.

We did not get a vote. Our voices were drowned out by racist rhethoric. The leaders of the main political parties never stood up for us – instead, they kept saying how we needed to talk about immigration, discuss immigration, reconsider immigration. Nobody tried to humanize us or dispel the fearmongering myths about us. Nobody addressed the issue head on, even when it was at the heart of the referendum debate.

We cannot say anything now to defend ourselves. We know that 1 in 2 people at least in this country would sit back and let us be abused, or worse, attack us, if we dared complain that we are being treated unjustly.

And yes – I get it why some people voted Leave. We live in scary times and we are all scared. We don’t like the EU and how it’s being run. We have barely crawled out of the recession and now it seems like we’re ready to plunge right back in.

But before you tell me how we all need to “work together” and “stop being negative” and “think about the future”, check your damn privilege for a second. You’re not the ones getting hate mail and being harassed on the street. You’re not the ones who have to reassure your children that you’re not getting deported. You’re not the ones wondering what’s going to happen to your family if the borders close up. You’re not the ones living in fear of what the next day will bring.

It’s been a sad weekend. I cannot yet see the light at the horizon, and I’m tired from navigating my boat in the dark. Don’t deny me the right to pull up my oars and rest. From what I can tell, I’ll be rowing against the tide a lot.

Mourning the day

 

Mooncaloon

Proto credit: me

It seems like the older we get, the more normal it becomes for us to express surprise at the passage of time. From the most private of journals to the most viral of Youtube videos, we are all exclaiming:

Where has the time gone?

And so here is my voice, joining the chorus. At least being a cliche is fairly easy to live with.

Where has the time gone?

It feels like I only woke up an hour ago, with greasy hair and hungry. How did I manage to eat, shower, and put my make-up on seems unfathomable enough. That it’s past 5 PM already is mind-bending. Yet so it is. I seem to have gone through an entire day, where the most useful thing I did was going to get my windshield wipers fixed. (Because the shop didn’t change them before handover of the vehicle.)

Where has the time gone?

Of course, there were other things. I signed up for another half-marathon (I know, I know, I’ve got a problem), submitted some art for consideration, practiced my driving (badly, I’m sure.) I thought about my upcoming birthday and how I need to appreciate all the accomplishments that I have made. I thought about celebrating myself as I am, even if my writing probably makes me sound like a teenager instead of someone in her mid-20s. I thought about all the ways we devalue ourselves, big and small, day in and day out. And I still feel like crap.

Where has the time gone?

Does time go faster when you’re feeling sorry for yourself, or just when you’re struggling with a task?

Or is it the other way around? Does struggling with a task make time go slower and make you feel sorry for yourself?

The latter does seem to make more sense.

 

Writing through burnout

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_5.jpg

Source: Death to the Stock Photo

Sometimes I like to dress up, put on the music, pile on the make-up, and tell myself that it’s okay, that I’ll get through the day and it’ll be awesome.

Other times I change from one set of pajamas to the next and spend my morning staring at the screen, while bemoaning the state of my hair.

And then there are the times when I just stare out the window, wondering what the fuck am I doing with my life.

Sometimes, I rotate between those three states multiple times during the course of a single morning. On the whole, I find that I feel better if I can get out of the house and take my work to another place, although not always. And I definitely cannot say that writing always helps me through it.

As a person who experiences episodes of low mood and depression, I’m aware of the tropes surrounding artistic talent and mental illness. Artists are crazy. Are manias drive our genius. Our art saves us and it dooms us. We’re either blessed and cursed, never in between.

Yeah, no.

There are times when writing was helpful to me, although for some people,  it would not be for the “right” reasons. Growing  up, as a child and teenager, I wasn’t very much loved at school, my social life felt precarious, and while I got good grades, they were a source of stress rather than validation. Art, and writing in particular, were things I did for their own sake, and they rarely caused me trouble; but they were also a source of validation and comfort. Adults praised me for what I did. They encouraged my efforts. If all else failed, I could count on my stories and drawings to provide identification for me.

It wasn’t until later in life, when I started putting my back into it, that I realized art, too, could also be a source of considerable stress for me. (As privileged children sometimes discover when they reach adulthood.) Sure, when it’s going well, it’s well, fantastic even. But I don’t know what makes it go well. As far as I can tell, it has something to do with how the planets are aligned and if the sertraline is messing with my taste buds on a particular day, and also if I’ve been exercising and haven’t crushed any of my fingers with car doors.

As far as I can tell, burnout, anxiety, depression, they affect you the same way whether you’re an artist or not. You feel tired. You feel hopeless. You doubt yourself and anybody who has ever praised you in your lifetime. You wonder what you’re doing with your life. You try to push yourself to work just to prove that you’re not a failure. If it happens to be a productive workday, you may succeed, but there’s no guarantee of that. And if it isn’t a productive workday, God help you, you’re going to end up feeling like crap.

So here’s my advice on writing through burnout:

Don’t tell yourself that you will feel better once you sit down and start putting words and sentences out. You don’t know that. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But try checking your expectations for a second. Make a list if you want.

What are you hoping to achieve today?

Is it a realistic workload, or are you overdoing it?

Are all of these urgent, important things that you need to finish today? (If it’s a big list, you might want to take a moment considering how that list came to be – it may be that you said ‘yes’ to too many things.)

If you only achieved 50% of the tasks on it, would you still feel successful?

Is it possible to cut today’s to-do list by 50%?

This isn’t all compulsory – if  you have a system that works better, go for it, that’s awesome, and you rock for finding what works for you. If  you’re looking for ideas, it might be worth asking yourself some of those questions, though.

Depression, anxiety, exhaustion, they warp our perceptions of ourselves. They blow our faults out of proportion, diminish our successes, and make us feel like we’re supposed to “earn” our existence in this world by doing more and more and more, achieving extravagant tasks and finishing huge to-do lists every day. They don’t care for variation or nuance, even when those things are a vital part of life.

They make us feel worthless, when we’re actually not doing too bad. They will never be satisfied, even when we stop.

Maybe it’s time to call them out on that.

The Florence Photo Diary That Never Was

I crushed my thumb in a car door recently. Not deliberately, obviously, but the result is that I’m in a helluva lot of pain and the painkillers I’m allowed to take aren’t kicking in yet. I’m desperate for distractions, and I’m ruminating on accidents. How they happen regardless of how much we try to prepare for them, how guilty we feel when they do happen.

I went to Florence with my family at the end of April. I took some pictures. I took a lot of pictures, in fact. A lot of those pictures got erased from my phone when I thought I had downloaded them onto my laptop. Those pictures are unretrievable.

Such is life, or at least my luck on that particular day. I did have a notebook with me which I filled with drawings, so there’s that.

I really, really wanted Florence to be a lovely experience I can recount to my readers, but as it turns out, it was more personal (as are most journeys, actually). Probably less Instagrammable, but significant in another, more singular way.

We arrived well after dusk and came to our lodgings through a series of empty streets, the night before a Monday, when nearly all the local shops are closed. And while the heritage areas of the city were very much up and thriving – the streets around Uffizi, Giotto’s Tower, Duomo, Ponte Vecchio- the overall mood I associated with the trip was one of easy calm, one that I associate mostly with deep sleep and easy rest.

Like waking up in the morning before the rest of the world, and realizing that there is nowhere for you to rush to, nothing immediate to worry about, aside maybe from getting some breakfast.

I also seem to have picked the most gut-wrenching of holiday reads.

This little brick is a dangerous thing to carry around. Not only did I get stopped by security and had my luggage investigated because of it (true story, y’all!) it’s also packing quite a bit of emotional punch, to the point where I had to stop at times and jut breathe through the feels. I don’t think I’ve ever been so torn up about a book this year as I am over A Little Life. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to talk about this without spoiling the shit out for you, (maybe in another post) so all I will say is this: if it hadn’t been for the last chapter, I would have been recommending this book right, front and center.

The last chapter, however, left me far more devastated than all the graphic depictions of drug use, non-consensual sex, child sexual abuse and mutilation, as well as debilitating disability that struck too close to home, combined. I mean, goddamn it!

(Said everyone who read this, I’m sure.)

Though of course postcards were picked up, as well as other beautiful souvenirs, the ones that really stood out to me were this art print I got at San Geminiano (a small town about an hour from Florence) as well as this lovely bracelet I got at the same place. (Those of you who read Val McDermid will know San Geminiano as that town with the Medieval Torture museum,  although we didn’t see that.) It is very much an artisanal town, and if you find yourselves in Tuscany, my highest recommendation is to visit it. It’ll be the easiest trip back  in time you will ever do.

Once, museum tours were the defining point of any visit abroad, but in recent trips, I find myself less and less drawn to the paintings and statues. Uffizi gallery was the obvious exception this time, and not just for Botticelli and Leonardo. There are always one or two artworks in every museum that impact me more strongly than others – in this case, it was the statue of Perseus with Medusa’s Head that rules over the piazza outside, “The Slaughter of the Innocents”, and all of the works on display by Artemisia Gentileschi which were on display. Brutality and suppressed talent were probably not in tune with the idyllic, picaresque trip I had, and yet those were the pieces of art that resonated with me most.

Who knows? Perhaps it was just my state of mind at the time. Or perhaps, as I came out of the gallery and wandered the small streets with my parents, past artists, bakeries, and leather goods shops, my eyes were seeking something to offset the beauty of the place, to convince myself I wasn’t living a dream all week after all.