I have actually managed to pretend 2016 didn’t happen at all on this blog. I had a vague urge to write something just before Christmas when I could see the full twelve months of silence rising up to meet me. And then didn’t. The last post I started was on January 15th 2016 where I began talking about my lack of inspiration in the knitting department of my life (probably a symptom of the lack of inspiration in other departments of life) which I was attempting to dislodge with a purchase of expensive yarn for a very important time based project – a shrug for my bridesmaid outfit for a September wedding. The yarn was beautiful, the knitting inspiring but still the words didn’t materialise.
Long story short: 2016 was a year of ill-health, work related upheavals, moving down the east coast of Scotland to Dundee, more ill-health and eventually redundancy at the beginning of December. The wider world has provided a backdrop of political bad behaviour which has been galvanising as much as it has been terrifying but in our world of social media surveillance where the threat of being disenfranchised by your own party or being covertly deselected for job opportunities (or even social security payments) has been ever present and I have not felt the urge to share much of anything with other human beings (not in long form anyway and not spontaneously and deliberately).
And the social stakes have seemed so much higher, the difficult conversations so much more pressing, that exposing/exploding the implications of acquaintances’ briefly typed reactions to the editorial style news reporting from our warped media powers becomes excruciating emotional labour that no one will thank you for. This is something I am trying to do consciously – to thank people for their pains, for having the difficult conversations, for being kind to people and trying to consider the mistakes and slips of speedily thumbed words rather than vilifying people for them. Thanking people for taking account of the obstacles in our way when we use the flawed medium of tiny comment boxes and remote time based communication. Thanking people for not presuming to ‘understand’ some straw man of a position they take umbrage with without making the effort to communicate with people and work at understanding each other first. Thanking people for ‘calling in’ not calling out. But still calling it. Always calling it when the strength is there.
I have missed my philosophical peers this year – as many people I studied with at Warwick have been finishing PhDs over the last year and are being scattered around the world. These links with people now living back in the USA or Columbia or Iran or Germany or France or Italy or those who have stayed and are facing the shrinking possibilities within a Brexiting UK have enabled me to see flashes of their experiences of world events this year. And it is nice to dip back into spaces where critique is welcome. A shared culture of critique being a mark of respect – I respect you so I will give your position my time and attention through meticulously taking it apart; where no one presumes that critique is an attack and you can get on with finding out what everybody thinks and what motivates them, armed with the arrogant knowledge that none of us are ‘stupid’ or ‘irrational’, so we can (at least in theory) be polite and treat other positions with due philosophical charity.
The general hostility to intellectuals or experts and the individual sore and wary knee jerk defensiveness of the under-educated and over-indoctrinated is another silencer I feel in my isolated post-institutional world. And that hostility is something that has been made physical this year in a way that, as a (fairly ‘hench’) white middle class girl from London, I don’t have to deal with often (and I know I am lucky to be in this position and not facing the systemic violence and emotional fallout that for example the insane death toll from police shootings in the USA causes). The death of Jo Cox really shook me in a way that didn’t get voiced in the media response. The intimacy of the violence. The destruction of the body of such an obviously beautiful Yorkshire woman was felt by myself and other female friends I discussed this with as almost an honour killing style attack reclaiming and punishing the woman who had (in her killer’s eyes) betrayed her race and Yorkshire heritage through her charitable work and political service. So of course the assassination of an elected political figure is an attack on democracy and society as a whole but the cringing gut wrenching reality or inevitability that it would be a Jo Cox hit this feminist hard. It would be a young and beautiful woman. It would be someone who has worked fearlessly with high visibility in her own community. It would be someone who has been a moral champion and worked harder than so many of us dare to and with such dazzling integrity in spreading human rights and justice work in communities and spaces which aren’t ‘safe bets’. It felt like a warning against bad behaviour.
This warning tone has been swelling for a couple of years now. And the experience of the unrestrained misogyny that has been seeping throughout the media sphere is a near constant drain and anxiety. People used to talk about backlash when I was growing up and I (thankfully) barely understood it. Well the past couple of years have been an education. And this is all mixed up in my reluctance to communicate with wider audiences. I don’t want or need to dwell on the other election campaign but it goes without saying that the bullish swaggering of that farce of democratic process shocked me beyond rational response (although the UK leadership competitions and coverage have shown little grace when it comes to gender politics). Shock after shock until finally the hollow ‘ugh’ of knowing that this stream of abuse has been validated and amplified, even encouraged, by the media and that this spectacle of hate will be with us for the foreseeable future.
Life goes on. Things happened in 2016. Life goes on. Sewing happened, knitting happened, I started wood engraving via a wonderful class at the DCA (this is now an outlet for my lichen obsession!). Dundee was filled with giant painted ‘Oor Wullie’s. I climbed Snowdon on a beautiful day in August following my sister’s hen weekend. Maybe I’ll tell you about them some time…
The nicest thing that happened in 2016 was my sister’s wedding and I did manage to complete that shrug so I could wrap myself in a thunderstorm.
And even when you feel your very life force draining out of you with the fatigue of a painful chronic illness and the weight of collective despair it is important to dance.