Saturday, 30 July 2011

A Moment of Brutal Honesty

I want to take one moment out of our busy internet schedule to pause on the pretence expected of us in this modern world.

Today I went to this course that teaches women how to create change. When we split into groups, two of them said that I was confident and outspoken.
Confident. Me. They clearly had missed the dozens of tears streaming down my cheeks a mere half an hour later when the women in the course, as part of an exercise, waxed lyrically on how much they admired their mothers or, in one case, daughter.
To these women I appeared to have it all together. Even though there is nothing “together” in my life. And I really mean nothing.

There was this girl at work, last year. She was beautiful. She appeared on the local newspaper because her A levels had been so good. She was friendly, and appeared to be loved by everyone.
Apparently, she was also needy and had no self esteem.
She told me of her sister once, how she had social phobia. I met her in person: you couldn’t imagine a more confident looking woman.

Today in the course one woman told us the story of her daughter. She was told, by Atos, no less, that “she didn’t look depressed”. Her mother remarked to us that the one thing you can know about depressed people, is that they are really good at hiding it. Not that Atos could ever care.

I met up with a friend last Saturday, and we talked about the reality of student life. Everyone appears to be having a gay ole time, and yet. And yet, she and I struggled a lot. Gay ole time? More like rotten misery to me.
I remember when I was a student, how wealthy everyone else looked. You wouldn’t believe they were students, required by law to be permanently skint.

Last Wednesday a new acquaintance told me of her friend, who is 30 grand in debt, and has nothing to show for it. Small loans here and there, to pay for shopping sprees and lavish holidays. 30 grand. A life of luxury, shame it’s make believe.
We also discussed her sister, a fully functional adult with husband, children, good jobs, mortgage. Struggling just to get by, because the children “need” all these things… like blackberries and ipads.

And I look at everyone around me, and then look at myself and I wonder… are we all struggling, suffering, and hurting but keeping up appearances? Is our society so shallow that we cannot own up our real life in public for fear of… of what? Social stigma?

Would it feel too much like bursting the bubble of mandatory positivity to admit that, hey, I am actually struggling here. In a world where intimacy and connection have been replaced by “statuses” and “tweets”, would it be an act of rebellion to stop the friendly banter for one moment and scream “I am in pain, I am scared, I am in need”?
What would happen if, just for one day, we all put down our masks and revealed to the world the ugly truth: that we don’t have it all together, that we are barely making it, that we are, in actual fact, falling through the cracks.

We would probably have a revolution the next day. How are we supposed to build solidarity, the hallmark of revolutionary struggle, if we all look confident, perky, positive and wealthy?

That’s the reason why we are fighting. Because things are getting, in the words of a communist friend, “ridiculously sh*t”. For everyone, not just ourselves.

Would you join me? Would you admit to the big internet out here that you may, in fact, be finding it slightly difficult right now? I’ll start.

Hi, my name is Mary and my life is a bit lousy at the moment. Minus the “bit”. I am terrified of the future and can’t imagine things getting any better for me or young people like me. I am afraid I’ll never know security or happiness. That comfort will forever be but a distant memory. That I’ll reach the end of my days studying but having never had a “proper” job. I feel unwanted, irrelevant. I feel like my dreams have been and continue to be ruthlessly exploited by a system intent on making everyone believe that the Universe lies at their fingertips, while at the same time bent on denying everyone access to the most basic needs. And I fear my generation will forever disappear out of history having offered nothing to the world outside desperate complacency to a system that is crumbling around it.
I need new glasses and I don’t know how I’ll afford them. If you know of a job I could do, please let me know, I’ll greatly appreciate it.

I know there are plenty of people out there bursting through the bubble of make believe positivity. And I am grateful for every one of them.

Mark Fisher, author of "Capitalist Realism" and the blog k-punk, has admitted to have struggled with depression, while doing his PhD. You can listen to a talk abouthis book here. I warn you: there will be so many insights flying at you that you may need pen and paper at the ready.

It’s thanks to him that I just found out about Ivor Southwood’s, author of “Non Stop Inertia”. He has a blog or two, and I’m only too happy to have found out about them. He writes about the crude, cold reality of unemployment, precarious work, jobseeking, and the general misery of it all. But he also dishes out a powerful, compelling, original and creative critique of the whole system. How can someone so knowledgeable and capable be unemployed?

Last but by no means least, there’s Sue Marsh’s “Diary of aBenefit Scrounger”. Sue’s occupation: sick person. She writes about her daily struggle with her illness, sheds light on the reality of disability benefits and puts up a fight against the welfare cuts. 

As part of my journey to finding an alternative way to do "politics", I'm intent on covering the personal lived experience of actual people, their stories, their journeys and yes, their struggling. Because, to me, political activism needs to be motivated, at least in part, by the desire to help ourselves and others. And in order to do that, we must start by admiting that yes, help is badly needed at the moment.


Anonymous said...

As always, I love your writing. You're on the other side of the world from me, in more ways than one (about 4, that I can think of). But you have a realness that I haven't seen much of, since I've been reading radical blogs. I wish I could meet a 50 year old Mary Tracy one day, to find that you'd found ways to be genuinely happy while still keeping real.

For many people, the reason that they get happier as they get older is that they get better at it (living) - better at connecting to their spiritual self, better at interpreting things in optimistic ways rather than "catastrophising", and better at being realistic about what they can change, and accepting the things they can't. And caring for others. And examining their own life. And delaying gratification to focus on the longer term. And understanding and accepting the realities of others. And engaging with activities, groups and individuals which have real ongoing meaning to them. And ....
Michael Biggs

Robert said...

Great article Mary.

My name is Robert and I am also struggling, I'm on the soon to be abolished Incapacity benefit because I'm crazy, I'm black in deeply racist country and I have no qualifications, my future is of course bleak, I feel completely hopeless.

Humanity is on a train heading for the edge of a cliff in my opinion and the driver at the front is criminally insane and is holding down the accelerator.

The people who run the world are sociopathic addicts. They are completely addicted to the accumulation of wealth they don't need they can't stop and they wont stop. They own the media, which means they can fool most of the people most of the time, and they own and control the political parties too.

In addition to that humanity has pumped so much Co2 into the atmosphere and done so many other destructive things that the environment has started to collapse and will very likely reach a tipping point and then unravel quickly. The developing world will be decimated and famine will probably reach the "first world" in our lifetimes.

We've also reached peak oil. "Oil discoveries peaked in 1964. US discoveries peaked in 1930, and 40 years later production peaked. We are now 44 years after the global discovery peak."

"World production of conventional crude has been flat for the past four years, even as prices have increased by 140%."

"Oil and gas are essential to modern farming. The most obvious use is to run the tractors and machines. Car drivers can switch to public transport, lorries can move their goods (partially, at least) to railways, but the only option for a tractor or combine harvester is a horse or an ox. Clearly modern agriculture could not switch to an animal-power-based system and hope to continue with modern yields. A tractor can plough in an hour an area that a horse would take a day to (0.9–1 hectare)."

"There does seem to be a consensus forming that last year's financial crash was precipitated by the spike in oil prices last summer, when oil briefly touched $147/bbl. Since most things in a fully developed, industrialised economy run on oil, it is not an optional purchase: for a given level of economic activity, a certain level of oil consumption is required, and so one simply pays the price for as long as access to credit is maintained, and after that suddenly it's game over. Fran├žois Cellier has recently published an analysis in which he shows that at roughly $600/bbl the entire world's GDP would be required to pay for oil energy, leaving no money for putting it to any sort of interesting use. At that price level, we can't even afford to take delivery of it. In fact, at that price level, we can't even afford to pump it out of the ground.

And so, the actual limiting price, beyond which no economic activity is possible, is certainly a lot lower, and last summer we seem to have experimentally established that to be around $150/bbl, which is something like 6% of global GDP. We may never run out of oil, but we have already run out of money with which to buy it, at least once, and will most likely do so again and again, until we learn the lesson."

So the global economy is on the verge of collapse and the end of the industrial age is imminent.

With all these different catastrophes converging on us at once, I believe that we are in short fucked.

I found out all this stuff by accident when I stumbled across this video on you tube.

Mary Tracy said...

@ Michael

Thank you for your kind words. I'm pretty sure 50 year old Mary Tracy will be much happier and wearing shawls.

I don't entirely disagree with you. What I am trying to say is that we get most of our urge to make the world a better place when we want to stop the suffering of others. You hear story after story of people putting up with a lot until something happens to someone they care about: then they snap into action.

So my theory is that if we all stayed true, showing others the good and the bad, we would build more empathy and the desire to improve our lot would burn far stronger.

Mary Tracy said...

@ Robert

I'm so sorry to hear you're struggling. I can totally understand being on the "soon to be abolished Incapacity benefit" because of being "crazy". Someone very close to me is in that very same place. It is very difficult and demoralising. You feel like nobody cares what happens to you. The world is quick to condemn, but slow to lend a helping hand.
You say you have no qualifications, and I just wanted to say this: I have plenty of qualifications and I can't find a job that pays a damn. I know my situation is not like yours; I just wanted you to know that nowadays qualifications don't automatically guarantee anything. And none of it helps if you are "crazy" anyway!

I have seen the movie "What a Way to Go". It was good, I should watch it again.

Robert said...

Thanks Mary I really appreciate that. :)

Yep I do feel like nobody cares what happens to me and I'm right! Well apart from my mother.
This world is so cruel that it is frightening sometimes.

The thing about having no qualifications is it seems to make you somewhat expendable to society. People's attitude is "it's ok for him to live in the gutter in abject poverty because he is an uneducated bum", which people also associate with being lazy and feckless. At least when you have qualifications people see you as a full human being worthy of respect and decent treatment.

I find it very frustrating because I feel like I was academically able when I was at school. Unfortunately I let being bullied, being a despised outcast and being a figure of ridicule interfere with my studies. I wish I'd known then what I know now, that the antidote to all that is success. When you are a success people hold you in high regard, want to be around you and want to be associated with you. Success also seems to wash away almost all sin, and many evil people benefit from that.

I suspected you might have seen the movie "What a way to go" since you recommended a book by one of the people that was featured heavily in it.

Anonymous said...

What you say is too true Mary! And one of my epiphanies over the past couple years is that people don't really WANT to know about my difficulties. My definition of friendship used to be that we had to be able to talk about the things that were hard; and I ended up with no friends. I am more popular now that I am keeping my mouth shut and a smile on my face and my prescription for antidepressants filled. It is a sad but real fact, at least where I live.

Everything you say is true, life is very hard for most people -- AND -- what I have been finding easier, paradoxically, is seeking out and finding the parts that are nice. No matter how small or insignificant. Waking up to sun coming in my window. A flower on a weed in a crack in the sidewalk. Things like that.

I think part of it is what Michael said, that seemingly one day I woke up 40 years old and much more fatalistic -- there is a lot of bad out there, and not much any of us can do about it. I would love a better future for everyone, but I don't have a lot of hope left that it will happen, or much will left to resist mostly on my own. And it sounds weird, but that makes it easier to "do" politics differently, in a way, because it stops FEELING so much like life and death. It still IS, of course, but my experience of it is not so difficult and traumatizing.

That's not meant, of course, as any kind of pablum for people who are truly in dire circumstances -- just that, for a lot of us who "do" politics, we do have the luxury to step back and say, wait, I'm not dying right this minute, there are some good things, some simple joys, maybe I can not torment myself so much, not spend every waking moment of my life focused on everyone else's traumas.

Oh, and check out Zenni Optical, online eyeglasses for cheap (depending on your prescription). Made in China, so politically completely horrible, but for me it was the difference between paying $300 US which I didn't have, and $12.95 US (which included shipping).