I have been dipping in to twitter a little of late – I was challenged to try to do a bit of twitter poetry, and so have been dropping in a few lines each day. It is perhaps a futile pursuit, which I may not do for long, but for the first time in my life it has put me in regular contact with the vast seething mess of the twittersphere.
And what a place it is. So much anger. So much righteous indignation. The delight taken in the shaming of other people. But you know all this. You probably stay away for all of these reasons, and I salute you for it.
Of course, even if the platform has an unfortunate way of highlighting the worst of us, it is not all hate and vitriol. Yesterday I read a tweet from author and activist Alistair McIntosh. Here it is;
This, on #TheoryOfChange. Vaclav Havel describes “the pre-political” zone, the work of artists, musicians “or simply ordinary citizens” who refuse to live in the lie and insist on living “within the truth”; the “theatre of the spirit” that transfigures social consciousness.
McIntosh was quoting from a 1978 Havel essay, entitled ‘The power of powerlessness‘, which you can read in full here.
It his me like an arrow, because I needed it to. I have been feeling very low recently – as I examine myself to try to understand why, I think it comes down to a feeling of pointlessness. I started a spiral which began with seeing myself as over, failed, unsuccessful. This felt true both in a personal sense and more generally, as if the ideals and passions I have lived my life towards are over, done.
At the same time as feeling like this, I was trying hard to look for hope. Perhaps the hold of right wing ideology was starting to crumble? Perhaps we were finally starting to turn towards climate justice and economic justice?
The problem is that for every tiny ray of hope there is so much looming darkness. It can be almost impossible at times like this to dream of things getting better; a lonely and broken place to be; a dark well with few hand or foot holds.
I do not share this account in order to wallow, or to seek sympathy. Many of us go through these times, particularly creative people because the sensitivities we bear are often related to woundedness and this makes us vulnerable. Add to this the overarching historical and cultural context and it can be very hard to keep going, to keep creating, to keep hoping.
Perhaps these things are cyclical.
Every year I plant seeds early in spring, riding the crest of spring optimism. I till the ground, mulch it and trust in future fertility. I thrill to the emergence of green shoots, then carefully and tenderly transplant them to beds inside and outside the polytunnels. I water them and wait in hope and expectation.
Then there are the crops that fail, through slugs or birds or some other mystery. The rain never falls just when we need it, the sun scorches. The cold nights nip and curl the leaves. Weeds start to choke out new growth at just the time when I am busy with something else, so that when I come to pull them out, damage has been done. This year, bumble bees have nested in the best patch of spuds so that I do not harvest them. The big squashes seem slow and the second planting of carrots have not germinated. It all seems hard work and I wonder if it is worth it. The supermarket is not far away, after all.
Then I start to question why I am doing this. I accuse myself of pursuing some kind of middle-class fantasy, preening myself with a coat of green virtue whilst in reality living fully within the norms of an overconsuming and unsustainable society. In the words of Ecclesiastes (ch 1);
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
My recovery from this kind of cynicism is never complete, but I was also greatly helped by listening to this man again. Brian McLaren was talking about his new book Do I Stay Christian? over on the Nomad podcast. You can listen here. McLaren has been one of the most important thinkers/writers in my life, so it was lovely to hear him speak again, in that way he has, skewed towards kindness. The book deals head on with the problem that many of us have with Christianity- an inability to see ourselves part of what the whole thing has become, alongside a deep yearning for what it might be. McLaren actually says that some people, for all sorts of reasons, need to leave, but he also hopes that those that can will stay and try to be part of the change.
(As an aside, I’m not sure where I fit in to this. Did I leave or did I stay?)
In the middle of this conversation, McLaren made some comments about change, which reminded me of Havel’s comments above. McLaren said sometihng like this; most of the work for change happens before hope has arrived.
In other words, those who work for change do so in spite of hopelessness, and in the very presence of suffocating futility.
It happens in what Havel calls th ‘pre-political zone’, before ideas have become solidified. Before disatisfaction has colectivised into protest. Before fringe activism has beome a movement.
Long before ideals have been made into policy. Long before any solution can be visulised, let along laid down in law.
I have been thinking about this idea of artists, poets and musicians who play within the ‘theatre of the spirit’, and how these murmurings might become the seeds of change.
It sounds fanciful, in the absence of hope.
But that is the point.
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