Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Hope Beats Fear 3 -2- 1 - (a piece written and performed at Edgelands Flash Conference, Forest Fringe, Edinburgh on Sunday 21st of August 2011)

I was invited to be one of the Provocateurs at Forest Fringe’s Edgelands event - a flash conference - designed to allow people to engage in the flesh and on the Internet. The organisers Hannah Nicklin and Andy Field wanted to open up a space for everyone in the arts to be able to come together and reflect upon where we are in the world and how we are engaging with it. There were 4 starting points explored during the day:

What is digital innovation in the arts and why is it important?

Artists. Audiences. How can we do this better?

Why have we failed to convince people the arts are important? Are the arts still important?

And finally, the question I was asked to engage with - How can we stop making Capitalism?

Which is quite a question to find yourself facing.
Below is the text of what I came up with. If you’re interested in finding out more about all the provocations / conversations that came out of this quite wonderful and extraordinary day you can go to Flash Conference or search #Edgelands on twitter.

Hope Beats Fear 3 -2- 1
How Can We Stop Making Capitalism?
I have 5 ideas to share with you but admittedly only one sentence of certainty. To keep your attention, I have saved it till last:

Thing 1: If we slow down we may stop killing time.
Lets stop rushing. As the urge to ‘do something’ about capitalism tightens in our gut, lets not have a rapid, robust response. Instead, as often as we can, lets slow down. Because to know what to do, first we must know where we are. When we move so fast isn’t movement all we know? If we slow won’t we begin to know and be known? I think. What do I think? I think this may be the first step to creating a life that is not acquired, consumed or styled but present, authentic and inhabited. That feels like a foundation to build from.

Thing 2: Birds and Electricity cables.
Why don’t birds die when they sit on electricity wires? It turns out it’s because while charged, they are not earthed. They touch but they do not make a circuit. They are one with electricity but they survive because they are not it’s conduit. Or the little ones aren’t. Big birds fry all the time. It’s a dangerous game. But still, it’s possible. And so, could it not also be true for us? Can we be in this world and of it, but find ways to stop making circuits with capitalism?

Thing 3: To help us work that out, lets ask ourselves ‘What would Harry Potter do?’
Because, Harry and chums know a dark time when they see it and they don’t worry about depressing their friends at parties. Hermione would not be frightened to say the word ‘capitalism’ in a social situation? No way! Those Hogwarts’ kids not only name their foe they fight it. And they never give up. And neither do we!
Only… Actually.

Thing 4: Sometimes we give up.
Because we all know we are at an apex where neo-capitalist fiscal insanity, zealous religiosity of all flavours, growing populations, peeking oil, disappearing water, bio genocides and climate change are building a holistic-hell-fire-gauntlet that we will all at some point have to face. We all know this. We know it even if we are in denial. And it makes it hard not to give up and give in to linguistic footsy instead of real conversation, nihilism instead of love and self for selfism instead of all for one and one for all...
Even so. Despite this…

Thing 5. Today we are here, together…
Via flesh or the interweb. Today we did not give up. We came. Today we are not killing time or making work we don’t believe in. Today we are not worrying if you know, that I know, that you know, that I’m a player too? Instead, we’re doing the unspeakable thing of slowly considering the word capitalism in public.
We’re not saying I am too tired. We are not saying ‘I just want a fucking laugh. Or actually? No… A fuck… Ok a fuck and a laugh’. Because everything else seems so pointless and fast and over there. Everything, always over there. And if we had more time?.. Because isn’t over there always better? Hurry up. Lets do this, then…
That isn’t us today. Today we are breathing in and out and time is with us. And because of this we may find it in our head and hearts to speak and feel a truth instead of our fear. And we may notice that in this space, time morphs and an hour becomes a minute and a minute an hour, ebbing and flowing to buoy us, not reprimand us. And flowing in this time, the things we do may become energised and real. We may find a new kindred spirit or make plans with an old friend. We may. We may have a conversation that comes from love. We may change a mind or have ours changed for us. We may find people and inspirations which lead us to make something new and true, and through this we may find a strength to face the fear. And perhaps that will be the time when our work stops making the circuit with capitalism?
Because I think, what do I think? I think the power for good in fearless work is exponential. I think a thing done with love and truth and fearlessly (even if we are scared) shines 3-2-1 brighter than all other known brands. And in this way we may make hope. Which feels important, since the only thing I am certain of is this. There is no hope in capitalism.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Reflections on ‘Making It Up’ – An Improbable Theatre Workshop – Between 11th and 16th of July 2011

I saw the blurb advertising this workshop and immediately knew I wanted to go.

For one, I’m a huge fan of Improbable’s work. Hanging Man and Panic have been really important inspirations for me. Also, I’ve been intrigued for sometime now about how a playwright might engage with the process of collaborating with performers to make a play. Earlier this summer I got the chance to try devising during ‘Transform’ at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was a tantalising, hectic, nerve wracking day… But it was also electric and I could feel the potential this way of working holds for me. Finally, I’m a big fan of Stella Duffy too. So when I saw she was part of the tutor team the decision was made. I paid my money and then sat back waiting to be turned into a devising diva.

As it turns out, I was in for quite a surprise.

But before I get to that… There were about 20 group members and 4 teachers (Stella Duffy, Matilda Leyser, Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson who were all amazing, bringing really different ideas, view points and ways of exploring material but finding a real harmony of vision too). We worked 10.30 – 5.30 each day looking at improv games and writing exercises. One of the key themes of the week was looking at how story telling (either through improvisation or writing) is simply the practice of making and accepting ‘offers’. The contention being that the most vital stories happen when we accept an offer from a place that is at the edge of our comfort zones. In practice, this meant that we were working in scary territory. In turn, I found it really hard to accept a lot of the ‘offers’ of the week. I found it hard to get up and ‘act out’ stuff. And I found it really difficult to accept that I wasn’t going to be given a clear road map of goals and strategies. Because the offer was founded upon us finding stuff out for ourselves. That was hard. But in the end. what I loved about all of this was that everyone (teachers and group members) worked to take risks. And because of this, extraordinary moments of generosity and discovery happened in the room.

Only this doesn’t quite explain what was happening… Here’s another way of looking at it:

Imagine buying a train ticket for a dream destination. Your thoughts are of getting on and going places fast. You’re expecting in-seat entertainment and a trolley service of snacks and coffee. Only as soon as you get on board, you notice that things aren’t quite as you thought they would be. For a start off you’re not in first class. Rather you’re sitting on the footplate with the driver along with 20 other passengers. And the driver is actually a four-headed creature with a multiplexity of ideas and experience… Its not comfy but the view is exciting and besides the four-headed driver has tons of ace stories to tell you as you start to move out of the station. So, you wobble but decide to give it a go… Which is when things start to really hot up. Because the train isn’t going anywhere unless everyone works to keep the engine going and even take turns in driving too. You wobble again and think about getting off but you find solidarity in the other passengers who are going through the same thing… And besides the view in the distance is getting extraordinary. You can see this ace, beautiful mountain up ahead... You stay on the footplate… Only now the train’s wheels disappear and wings pop up in their place instead, because, as it turns out, you’re not on the 6.45 at all. You’re on the magical mystery service and its now floating off towards the mountain top ahead. You crash into the side of the mountain then stumble out to find yourself in a huge playground with balloons, sharp things, a gym, a temple and a laboratory to explore and make discoveries in… WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING HERE!? THIS IS TOO STRANGE… BUT HANG ON… WOW. AND. THEN… FINALLY… OH and then you go YES. You just find yourself saying YES to the strangeness!

Anyway, here are some things talked about during the week that really resonated for me:

1) That it’s not about trying to be original –it’s about being honest, authentic and about telling the story that needs to be told.

2) That writing is not about being an expert or clever or a genius or special or hard working or brave or gifted or carrying the heavy weight of ‘being’ a writer… It’s simply about turning up, slowing down, noticing what is going on and then making honest choices (whilst remembering that any choice can always be altered in the next draft. Phew.)

3) That story telling is inherently human. So we can trust that we all carry the DNA of story inside us. We know this stuff. We just need to remember what we know.

4) That so often the problems we face with our story world are the same problems we face as creators outside of it. I.e. – we shy away from going to the edge of the problem and facing our greatest fears. Story happens when we take our characters to the thing that will test them the most. The same goes for us as creators. When we dare to deal with the material that we are most threatened by, we will grow most as storytellers.

And there was much more that I’m still digesting…

It’s fair to say this course didn’t give me any top tips about how to write a killer one-page outline or what font to use if I want to sell my script in Hollywood. It had little to say full stop about the mechanics of getting up the ladder. And yet, it’s probably the most beneficial thing I’ve done in a long time for my career. Because it reminded me that actually, career is a bi-product of creativity rather than the goal itself. We get the former once we’ve immersed ourselves in the latter. Or not! Maybe we don’t! But if we approach it this way round, whatever happens at least it will be a fun and authentic journey… And one thing I’ve learnt this week, for certain sure - screaming ‘Where is my fucking career?!’ to myself each morning isn’t a positive way to start a creative, enjoyable or productive day of work. From now on I’m going to whisper ‘What am I going to find out today?’ That seems a much saner and a happier way of going on.

It was a genuinely amazing week. I met fantastic kindred spirits. I got a colonic irrigation for my story telling internals and I got a massage for my soul all at the same time… If you get a chance to do this course in the future – my advice? Take a deep breath and accept the offer.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Leaping to conclusions: A tribute to Keats

Three things you should know:

A) Everything that follows is factual, though a few things have been altered to make them sound better. This is the truth.

B) The Town of Shipley lies within the metropolitan district of Bradford in West Yorkshire.

C) Shipley Pool’s diving board is 5 meters high. That makes it as big as a house.

Inspirations #1
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”
From Ode on a Grecian Urn - John Keats 1819

12th March 2011

I say

“I’m doing a reading. I’ve been asked… For The Keats House festival.”

She says

“Do you write poetry? I thought you wrote plays!”

I say

“Never mind that! I’ve already said yes… Tell me everything you know about Keats”

She says

“We did him at school… Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

I say

“That’s the title? Yes?”

But she can’t remember.

I must sound disappointed. It’s a phone conversation. There is a pause.

“It was a long time ago Emma!’

My First memory of Shipley Pool…

I am livid!

I think I am 4 or 5, so it’s 1973 or 74.

I have armbands, I’m proud of their oranginess.

I am running around the pool.

A lifeguard is blowing his whistle hard.

I don’t care! I don’t stop. I am not scared…

I am often scared now.

Monday the 23rd of May 2011 - She is adamant she wants to be anonymous…

‘But the whole point is that they’ll know who you are! It won’t make sense otherwise.”

“Alright. You can call me Mum. Just don’t use my name’

“But Mum” I say, “That is your name!”

Inspirations #2 - Jack Stillinger (an editor of Keats poems) writes:

“The accumulation of information from so many sources allows us [now] to know Keats better than most of [his] contemporaries knew him, even those who saw him every day...” From “Keats” by Andrew Motion p.xxi Faber and Faber 1997

Some accumulated information…

1) Mum is a retired spy. Or at least during the cold war she was a Wren, working at the Admiralty. And she refuses to talk about what she did.

“For National Security reasons Emma!”

I say

“Oh go on!”

She says

‘You’ll have to wait until I’m dead. I’ve left you a newspaper cutting…”

Like my Mum, I am excellent at keeping secrets. Though I am not a spy or keen on nationalism or Royalty. On these things we agree to disagree.

2) In 1939 when my Mum was 11 years of age she entered and took part in her school’s diving competition. Unfortunately, at this time, she couldn’t swim.

I say

“Why would anyone do that?”

Mum says

“The list went up. Everybody was doing it. I just thought ‘Yes I’ll do the diving’… I didn’t know you needed to be able to swim!”

From this I conclude that my suggestible nature and inclination towards foolish, romantic gestures comes from Mum and not Dad.

3) My Mum hates heights.

You’d think spies would need to be immune to all forms of phobia, but apparently not.

I take after her with this too. We both hate heights.

Which is probably why she said

“Oh God! Why?! It’s not right… I think you’re absolutely off your rocker”

When I announced to her my plan to try and jump from the 5-meter high board at Shipley Pool, as an experimental tribute to John Keats.

Subsequently, on the 27th of May 2011 at 22:10 hours my Sister sent me a text…

“Well I have just had hysterical laughter with Mum trying to describe to me you trying to jump off the top board at Shipley baths! What are you up to now you crazy girl?”

Inspirations # 3:

“O for a life of Sensation rather than of Thoughts!” John Keats in a letter sent to Benjamin Bailey on the 22nd of November 1817

How the ‘Big Board Obsession’ began…
By now its 1980 and I’m 10 years old.

I would queue waiting for my turn, standing with the big boys, listening to their talk of dive bombs and the girl who belly-flopped and ripped her tummy open.

I wanted to run. But I didn’t, because I knew that attaining greatness meant beating fear and jumping off the big board. That much was obvious.

And then it was my turn…

The sickening climb up the silver ladders.

The dithering dithery-do as I reached the top.

The blood draining from my face.

And then the freeze of fear.

No way forward, no way back.

Kids below would start to laugh.

Finally my sister had to come up to talk me down…

Once we were in the changing room, her exasperation.

‘Stop going up there!’

But every time I went to the pool, I would try again. Always hoping that this time would be the big time…

I don’t remember when I stopped trying. I was probably 13 or 14…

Inspiration #4: The Vale of Soul-making…

“Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school Intelligence and make it a Soul?..” Letter from John Keats to George and Georgina Keats 1819

Dormant but not gone…

It is now anytime between 2003 and 2007. I am in my mid 30’s. It is a period of many heartbreaks… A relationship has just ended…

I wake alone. I have a clear understanding that my life is doomed to failure. I think about how I couldn’t ever even get off that stupid board at Shipley baths, let alone hang on to a girlfriend.

It is a fateful day.

I get up. I decide I need to draw a line in the sand. The phoenix shall rise from the flames.

Which is how I find myself once again, frozen at the top of that big 5-meter board, losing the feeling in all my limbs. With no big sister there to talk me down. A dark day.

Inspirations # 5

“The purpose [was] not to embrace the rapture of ‘terror’’; it [was] to increase his ‘knowledge’. [Keats] does not want simply to enlarge his sensations; he tries to subtleties them.” Andrew Motion on the significance of Keats’ walking tour in Scotland. - ‘Keats’. p267

A date with destiny…

At 9 am, on Wednesday the 25th of May 2011, I went to Shipley swimming pool to attempt to throw myself off the top board. I entered into this experiment for Keats, for art, for glory, to experience sensation over thought and to face my fears.

Please break the seal on your flick-book and discover the outcome…
It took me 32 years, but I finally jumped off the top board at Shipley baths.

As an act it was awkward and ungainly. It was arguably unnecessary. And in staging it for you, it has gained a stink of attention seeking. And yet, despite all of this, it is one of the truest things that I have ever done.

It was awful. It took me 30 minutes. I cried at one point. At another, the lifeguard offered to throw me off. Worse, I had to do it twice; because Jane and Shari who came to take the photos for the flipbook said they didn’t have enough frames captured during the first jump.

“You want me to do it again?”

‘That way you’ll really own that board’ said Jane…

I will never own the board! What those two jumps taught me is that the board will always own me. But finally, I am happy to live with that.

I felt the shape of fear standing up on that board. So now I know: Fear is selfish, singular and uncomplicated. Fear only knows brute force and the tyranny of binary choices. ‘Yes or no? Do or Die!’ Living like this, fear can’t be undone. Not really. It just stays until a new fear replaces it. The two jumps I made only happened when my fear of failure briefly over ruled my fear of heights. Where is the glory in that? No, the glory lies elsewhere. Having stood and traced the outline of fear, I find all I keep thinking about is the depth of love. Fear should mean love can’t exist. But love does exist! Against all the odds, we persist in loving. Love, which has so many words, so many options and so many ways of teetering on. Love, that weaves through memory and thought to make a life. And still how we undervalue it! I can’t help thinking - what might happen if, as an experiment, we all decided to stop battling fear and instead put all our effort into facing up to love?

Post Script - Saturday the 28th May 2011 – 3 days after the jump…

I ring up to say

“I found out. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. It’s the first line of ‘To Autumn”

But before I can get that in Mum says

“I have been talking with your brother. And we wondered? Did you explain? I don’t think you did. Because I just don’t understand what jumping from the board at Shipley pool has to do with Keats? Can you explain that to me Emma?”

I start to laugh. She starts to laugh.

I say

“I love you Mum”

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A secret, a royal wedding and a daydream about how things could be different.

I am going to admit something that I think only my girlfriend knows. I never miss the Queen’s speech on Christmas day. As people I-don’t-know-but-who-appear-in-the-media-often-enough-to-make-me-feel-like-I-do go, the Queen seems like a good un to me. I like her. I like her distaste for false shows of emotion. I admire her determination and ideas about the importance of service. I pity her, her awful husband. I like her strange frocks and stranger hair. I like her because even though I disagree with almost everything she stands for, she seems to have integrity and that is something I can admire. And my Mum loves her and I love my Mum.

There, so now you know. I am a republican who has a soft spot for the Queen.


I’m used to it, so it doesn’t worry me any more.

But make no mistake I’m a republican and I believe she should be taken off the throne and then the throne should be thrown into a skip and we should have done with it.

Not that I mean her any misery.

Here’s what I wish for our Queen:
I wish for her a retirement in a bungalow near the sea with her dogs and if she must take him, her husband too. But I think she’s put up with him for long enough, so if she wants him gone, I say that’s fair enough. I wish for her peace and respect. I wish for her access to good health services. I wish for her advocacy so that she has a real say over the things and services that she requires. I wish for her enough food and heating to be comfortable. I want her to have some lovely things around her in her home, which are beautiful and bring her joy. I want her to have access to good public transport. I want her to have the chance to go on working for as long as she feels she wants to. I want her to be able to retire and stop when the time is right without the fear of becoming impoverished. I want her to be able to see her friends. I want her to feel safe in her home. I want her to have chances to connect with the community around her so that she gets to pass on all the stuff she’s learnt in her life. I wish for her love and when the time comes a decent, calm and as pain free death as possible.

In short, I wish for her no more and no less than I think every human being facing retirement should have.
Now you see why I am a republican. Not that I think republics make humans perfect. But at the very least, if we say we are all interested in equal opportunity then surely these things come a step closer to reality if we actually live in a society that bothers to enshrine those ideas in a constitution. Whether we then go on to make the constitution work is another matter, but lets at least give ourselves a fighting chance.

So there you have it, I like the Queen I loathe the concept of Royalty.

As such I won’t be watching the you know what. I won’t be listening. I won’t be tweeting. I will just be on a hill walking and having a little daydream that will go something like this:
William will be at the alter looking all nervous and then Kate will glide down the aisle and as she reaches him she will suddenly fling back her veil and grasp at his hand and say ‘Wills, I will marry you, but I’ve been thinking, look I can’t do this princess thing. You know, its wrong! It’s just a life of privilege in a world of poverty. That feels bad Wills. Besides, we have our lives to live and we can’t do it living under the microscope of this world’s crazy media fandango!’ and then Wills will rip off his helicopter pack and say ‘Kate I am so made up that you said that, because for years now I’ve been uncomfortable with this monarchy nightmare. I know exactly what you mean. It just feels like a kind of cancer. But I was scared to tell you because I was ashamed of hating this life. I want to give up the navy army whatever this military thing is that I’m in. I hate guns, they’re scary’ and then Kate looks into his eyes and starts to gently cry with joy. She can’t speak for a while and then she says ‘I love you so much’ and then Wills says ‘But will you still love me if I tell you that all my life I’ve dreamt of winning gold at the Olympics in trampolining? Kate? I can’t hide it anymore. I hate flying. I love jumping up and down. That’s what I was born for. Jumping Kate! I wish I could have told you before, only I was scared… Oh God, is it too late Kate?’ and Kate says ‘Darling man, it is never ever too late. I will love you forever and I’ll support you in whatever you want to do’ and the couple fall into each other’s arms and are just about to have a mega snog when the Prince of Doom AKA Philip gets up from his throne thingy and roars ‘Stop with all this nonsense! There will be a wedding here today and then Wills you’ll bloody well go home and impregnate this filly and make her give us an heir because we haven’t got anything like enough already and you’ll start acting like a bloody man or I’ll skin alive you little shit’ and a hush descends upon the cathedral and the young couple’s shoulders droop and all seems lost… But no… Just then. What’s this? The Queen stands up and throws her crown on the floor and kicks her throne over and roars ‘NO! You fucked up my children! You won’t fucking touch my grandkids you bastard!’ The Prince of Doom jumps up and tries to rugby tackle her but she’s too fast and besides Princess Anne puts a foot out and just as it looks like Phil is going to catch her, he falls flat on his face and for once not in a metaphorical manner. The Queen meanwhile is running towards the young lovers and she reaches them and kisses them both on the forehead and shouts out ‘Go children! Run now! RUN into the streets and live your lives and lets put this nonsense behind us. Wills, I have total faith in you. You’ve always been fandabydosy at the trampoline and I know you can do it.’ And with that the Archbishop sprinkles everyone with holy water and someone at the back shouts out ‘Liberte, Egalite Fraternite‘ and the Queen punches the air, the disco kicks in, the street urchins run over the pews and get given sweets and all is well and ever so as it bloody well should be. Forever and ever and

Well almost.

The next morning while Liz is moving her stuff into her bungalow and Wills is doing a bit of trampolining and Kate is pawning the engagement ring - there is a meeting between the Prince of Doom and Elton John in a bunker below the palace about how ‘Candle in the wind’ might be turned into a counter revolutionary anthem and perhaps almost as worrying, there is a meeting of the military elite near the cliffs of Dover, where such things as ‘Liz has lost her fucking marbles’ and ‘I was promised a knighthood if I kept my mouth shut about Iraq’ and ‘I’m not standing for this!’ are clearly heard to be spoken before a good deal of rifle loading starts to take place.
But that dear reader is another story.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A Response to the Arts Cuts

Today of all days, I am going to be spending my time working on a Grant for the Arts bid. I feel sick about it really. I'm not sure how I'm going to begin to think about it while my twitter stream is full of the most polarized emotions pouring out from Arts Organisations all over the UK... High fives and whoops of relief and delight one moment, and then quiet, sad tweets expressing disbelief... 'We didn't get it'... Of course I'm sending a huge smile of relief to many companies who I see have got their funding. I am glad for you, but today belongs to those who are facing up to being cut and my heart is with those who have lost out.

It's also with ACE staff who have been given the grisly task of implementing the cuts when the blame lies with our shortsighted and arrogant government. A government determined to enforce their intellectually unfounded, ideologically driven decisions against all good reason and sense. There is a word for these people and it is despicable. Despicable is a harsh word but just about the only one good enough for them. I wish for these people only their own reflection. I wish for them only what they would wish for the majority of people in this country. I hope they get everything they deserve.

It is hard not to see this day as a day of winners and losers. But I want to argue the point and ask you to reject this. It is such a widespread premise that life is founded on competition and yet there is so much that points away from this idea... Here's a bit I've lifted from a workshop I ran for writers about this time last year for the Emerge Festival in Leeds:

14 years ago specilised brain cells called ‘mirror neurons’ were discovered in Monkeys. They activate when a monkey performs an intentional action (picking up the banana) and when it sees another monkey performing that action (watching the banana being picked up).
In 2007 these cells were confirmed to exist inside human’s heads. Thus - What we see is not so different from what we do!
As Andrew Tuplin in his article in Adbusters The Whole Brain Catalog #90, says:
“The idea has worked its way into the zeitgeist and become a potent new way of seeing ourselves in relationship with each other. People have begun to wonder if mirror neurons could be responsible for language, culture, empathy and even morality. Where Darwinian survival of the fittest has… imagined us as the strong pitted against the weak in a fatal struggle for food and sex, the mirror neuron suggests (the) importance of social strengths: that we are hardwired for empathy, that we are naturally interested not only in our own needs but also in the interests of others

Perhaps life and art is not a competition after all! I am coming to believe this more and more.
Does that sound counter intuitive to you? If so, is that because it can't be true or because you've been told all your life it isn't true? That's a question. I think its something (baering in mind the huge challenges we have re our climate, human rights, our economy, etc etc etc) that we could all do with giving some proper thought to. It might in the end save some lives...

But back to today... How does this idea sit with what is happening today? What does it have to do with this day of the axe? This day of the cutting. This day of days. This moment when artists discover their fate. Good enough or not good enough? Admired enough? Up and coming enough? Sexy enough? Young enough? Old and respected enough?

I think even those who have 'won' today know somewhere, at some level that we are all reduced by this process. We are all poorer. We are now less diverse, less multi-headed and more cowed. We have all chosen to buy into a process, which necessitated us to think 'logically' and 'do the best in a bad situation'. I understand this. I am part of it. I am not a member of an arts organisation but I am someone who benefits from work with funded companies. My partner (and the main breadwinner in our household) works for a funded arts organisation (which incidentally did not get NPO status today)... So understand that, the implied criticism that I make here is as directed at myself as at anyone else. I don't like to admit it but as a point of fact it’s true. We have, in all our different capacities 'done the best we could all do, baering in mind that we have rent to pay and bills to pay and hopes of a career and, and, and...' But imagine if every artist and arts organisation had rejected the premise and as a point of principle had decided to stand together and refuse to bid for NPO status? If the Royal Opera House had stood shoulder to shoulder with Red Ladder Theatre Company? I suspect we might all be in a different position today. I suspect Jeremy Hunt would have had to back-track away from these cuts. I can’t see him wanting the demise of the ROH to have happened on his watch! I also suspect that everyone ‘winners and losers’ alike would all feel better about ourselves today. We would not feel cowed and we would not have the hollow, empty,directionless feeling of impotent anger in our bellies...

I also have a feeling, if we are in the end to ‘uncut’ our country and save what is dear to us (NHS, Libraries etc etc etc) that we’re all going to have to get our heads around this little conundrum. 'All for one and one for all' may yet turn out to be the only sensible option after all…
But while you think about that, I’d better get back to my funding bid. It's the logical thing to do after all.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

26th March – If something amazing happens but the media are only there to misrepresent it, did the amazing thing happen at all?

Yesterday I was in London for the March for the Alternative. Even as the day was unfolding the difference in what I was experiencing and what was being represented in the media was very obvious. Reports by the BBC of ‘tens of thousands’ attending were being re-laid on twitter… ‘How’ I thought ‘can the BBC be reporting such crap?’ It’s almost as if they were being wilfully misleading or something! I’ve been to big football matches and music festivals and I know what a crowd of say 40 thousand people feels like. It’s big and impressive, but that comes nowhere close to the amount of people who thronged the streets yesterday. I see today that the estimated figure of attendees has been revised up to 250 thousand people. I want to tell you that this is nonsense. There were comfortably 500 thousand people demonstrating in London yesterday. Singing, chanting, smiling… People of all ages, ethnicity, persuasion and gender! Librarians and firemen and actors and teachers and council workers and doctors and people in wheel chairs and people on homemade cycle powered crazy machines, and samba bands and dancers, and queers and straights and and and AND it was a 360 degree snap shot of our country! And for that reason it was not only fucking large but it was also fucking beautiful…That’s my genuine belief based on the experience of being in that crowd. Whatever figure you decide to believe in, I think its safe to say that what occurred in London yesterday was by anyone’s standards quite significant. And at the very least, not unimportant?

I’ll say that again.

What happened in London yesterday was by anyone’s standards significant.
We now know without a shadow of a doubt that vast VAST amounts of people wish to engage in a discussion about what the government is doing. They want this discussion to start with the idea that there is an alternative to the cuts agenda… Because its that conversation which needs to be had (not whether we should be having it or not). We can start to discuss the various ideas about what ‘another way’ might mean. Do we want to go down the UKUncut route and tax corporations? Could we introduce a Robin Hood tax to tax the banks… Should we cut trident and reinvest that money in green jobs… Others are interested in total system change… There are many many different ideas to be discussed. To be clear, the marchers yesterday were not all in agreement on what the ‘alternative’ might be. But you bet that yesterday was a huge and insistent cry representing a vast amount of this country’s people demanding a proper 360-degree conversation looking at all the options… And that is something the ConDems, and Labour for that matter, have been refusing to do…

So my big ask is why has the meaning of yesterdays march and direct action been wilfully ignored? And why is it that the media routinely sidesteps the meat and potato of an issue and focuses on the serviette? Why has investigation been replaced by a strange kind of personalised / blinkered desire to be seen to have been ‘embedded’ with the action. I suspect that journalists / editors have been just as affected by reality tv as the rest of us. So now we are a world of people obsessed with the mediated abstracted sense of experiencing the moment, rather than understanding that it may be our role (as outsiders) to think more objectively about what a group of people may (or may not!) be doing? Why for example don’t reporters ever ask the masked folk why they are smashing things? I would love for a reporter to ask an activist why they’ve just smashed a bank window. Or for that matter ask a van load of riot cops who’ve been waiting all afternoon to do some ‘riot prevention’, how it feels when they finally get the green light to get out of their van… I think it would be interesting. I think we might actually learn something. We might end up with a media that acts as a source of information for the people at large. A service, which might lead to a greater understanding of the world! How amazing would that be!

We live in momentous times. I said this at a creative writing workshop I was running recently and a young woman who was attending asked me why I describe our times as ‘momentous’ and I was frankly shocked. This young woman by the way appeared to me to be an intelligent and interesting person. So please don’t interpret that last comment as an attack on her. Rather, I found myself thinking, that we – the people who view ourselves as ‘radicals’ or ‘on the left’ or whatever - we have so much work to do! To be asked by a young woman, who has just graduated into a world on the brink of peek oil and climate disaster, into a world in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930’s, with youth unemployment standing at 1 in 4, on the very day our government announced that it was launching aerial attacks on Libya… To be asked by this woman why I think we live in momentous times was just incredibly shocking. But she asked because she doesn’t know, not because she is stupid. And with the media we have, is it really any surprise that people don’t know?

I am so glad I went on the demonstration. It was an amazing and positive thing to be part of. But I am left under no illusions. Just because we want the world to stop and take in the importance of what we’ve achieved doesn’t’ mean it will. So we all have to think about ways in which we can take the conversation forward. For me, yesterday has made me more determined to get more involved down the UK / Arts Uncut direct action route. But that is one route of many. What is important is that we build links between all people working towards furthering this debate and find ways to tell the story as we see it, because the media we have can not be trusted to do it for us.

If you want to be part of that conversation, here are some places you could try…

For direct actions - www.ukuncut.org.uk

For action you can take at home - http://virtualprotest.org.uk/

For information - http://robinhoodtax.org/ and http://falseeconomy.org.uk/

For Bradford and Leeds folk - http://anticutsleeds.wordpress.com/

For all of us - http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/