Personal Writing

Cutting the Throat Without a Knife

When it comes down to poetry, I never know what to say. When I focus on writing, even when I pick a random topic, I find I put a lot of myself into everything I do. I suppose everyone does. Poetry is an issue though, as there’s a certain rawness that seems pretentious when it’s down in verse form, and I as a person tend towards writing in a sprawling fashion because I’m poor at articulating things briefly (woe to anyone trying to listen to me tell a simple anecdote, always getting distracted fashioning all the minor details that I believe help set the scene – they never do). My stories and essays I write and keep locked up close to me, but I have far more faith in the tone and lyricism of those pieces; poetry is something I can share, but also something I share reluctantly because it never quite feels as genuine as I was hoping it to be.

Letting go of that feeling is something I’m working on. I’m at a stage in my life where leaps into the unknown seem necessary. At this moment I don’t want to exist in a realm of vagueness, where my “potential” is more tantalising than finding out the true limits of what I can accomplish. So I’m writing again, all sorts of things, and trying not to let what I think perfection is define what I try to do. I’m sending out work and finishing off tiny things that I thought I couldn’t write, but most importantly I am sharing that work, even when I hate it.


I’ve been thinking a lot about things I haven’t said yet – I guess the poetry connection is there in that it seems to be a strong theme that I’m playing off at the moment, in my urge to make more emotive creations. And, I guess, that the poetry itself is in a way unsaid since it isn’t out there in the ether (all in good time I suppose I will have to say).

When you’re young you develop this rough idea of what kind of person you need to be. There’s a keen awareness that for most of your life you will be expected to both create and maintain a veneer of normality in order to properly function. There is a narrow corridor of what is acceptable to operate within – this linear narrative of human development that pushes everyone towards monthly salaries and marriage and all the other signs of successful adulthood. All the things that seem just too safe and boring on some level, but are filled with less fear than the alternative. It’s hard to decide to do something when you are aware it will look so alien to everyone else, and you have pressures of rent and food conjuring up images of disaster should you choose to veer off-course.

For me a lot of the structures I grew up around encouraged a denial of the self in favour of illusion. It was immodest to boast so I don’t like to say what I am good at. I certainly worry about disappointing or inadvertently asking too much of people and to avoid coming across as wanting I learnt to simply not ask for what I wanted. When it came to thoughts and identity issues, the best thing to do was say nothing. This way of raising children means that even now I hurt people by not fully opening up with them, and it’s something I recognise and am working to change.

In many ways we are a generation that are restricted socially in similar ways to previous ones – we like to think because we can say “sex” and be a bit wilder than those repressed BBC dramas that we are liberated. That’s not quite true. If anything the form has just shifted – sex is cool but emotions are weakness. And we all still worry so much about what the parents or the bosses will say that we often don’t express ourselves truly, we don’t dye our hair, or get tattoos, or piercings, or tell colleagues about our multiple partners, or our same-gender partners, because that will affect our chances of this ideal life that has been carved out and labelled our own. Even our thoughts and political views are fair game to be hidden away, locked up for our own good.

True, we might get to say some of that stuff some of the time, but we can’t be truly open in a casual way with everyone. We have to weigh up these concerns knowing that there is a risk of acquiring the label “deviant” and dealing with the subtle discriminations that may occur as a result. So we often make omissions, which are not lies but sting just the same. We monitor ourselves, and blame those who fail to do so for their shunning, rather than the society that cannot accept.

I mean, in this country judges ask asylum seekers why they can’t just pretend to not be gay, and on some level many people agree with that sentiment, even if just a little bit. It’s messed up that we can see the point in that.

I often wonder what would happen if we just let people grow with the idea that they can figure out the boundaries of normal without this framework we make. Would society in general be different – would we be freer in whom and how we love? Would I feel so fearful at leaving the security of a monthly salary to try and get involved in a field I truly love?

Upon reading ‘The Bell Jar’ when I was 15 I plunged into a melancholic phase. I could properly identify with the feeling not fitting in the culturally defined role of womanhood and that made me reflect sadly on all the possible futures I might have which were marred by this fact. I realise that I’m drifting back there again at the moment – mainly because I can’t articulate all those little things that make me different to everyone. I’m not saying that anyone in my social circles would have hostile reactions, but it’s a strong fear and the idea of risking your livelihood or support networks just to say something private is terrifying and has been reinforced as unwise through years and years of upbringing.

I’ve spent the past month writing out letters to different people, each asking for different things. Essentially though they really all just spoke of me wanting to be heard and seen as who I actually feel I am. I’m going to persevere with them, even if I’m not the best at opening up, and it helps that I am trying this fresh start with a new career. It becomes a clear beginning where people can actually know me as I am from the moment we meet. The truth is you can hold your tongue till it bleeds out but eventually something should break, and I am now breaking in the best possible way.

General Politics Islam Political Debate

Charlie Hebdo: Freedom to Defend Nuance and Anger

I don’t know exactly what I will say when people speak to me over the next few weeks about Charlie Hebdo. I know they will lean in, head cocked, as they do each time something like this happens, and ask me what I think about it. I will begin with ‘It is a terrible tragedy’ and, jumping in, their eyes will light up as they discuss the backwardness of certain groups. It always feels like an awful talk segment titled When Muslims Attack!, where the conclusion has be set and I am merely the speaker drafted in for “balance”. To defend nuance makes you an apologist for murder.

When I was in high school I ran the Model United Nation’s club. At the beginning of each session we would discuss the top news stories. It was an Islamic country and, by extension, most of our members were Muslim. One week we discussed the Danish cartoon controversy, an incident that I now mainly remember for the months we were unable to buy Lurpak butter.

People were angry but only a few admitted to actually seeing the cartoons in question; most relied on information and descriptions from news and social media which were not always accurate. In the interest of a factual debate I described the cartoons as best as I could. People were still angry, but this time their hurt was only focused on certain cartoons – those that seemed to set out to offend for no other reason than they could. The rest were bad jokes or just confusing. It was a heated debate about the moral right to publish such things. No-one was debating the legal right of a cartoonist to draw such things, nor was the protection of these people from violent reprisals in question. They were upset that in a world were there was so much miscommunication about Islam, newspapers around the world were declaring that the very essence of freedom was to perpetuate cartoons depicting it as barbaric, and then gleefully documenting the violent reactions rather than the dominant response of either silence or non-violent demonstration. They wanted freedom to also mean the freedom to consider treating them with respect by not publishing them.

Muslims, it seems, are not allowed to be angry. They are not allowed to have the nuance of opposing something they find offensive, protesting it non-violently, and opposing violent reactions. We celebrate the rights both to offend and criticise in general, but for a Muslim to be an active part of this system is to risk getting lumped in with those who do not believe in debate and engagement. The only correct responses to such a cartoon are apparently either unquestioning support or the acknowledgement that it is “just a bad joke”. Yet if we make it so that our definition of a good Muslim is one who believes only what “we” deem progressive then what does that say about us?

I know that I will spend the next couple of days dealing with people labelling those close to me, in the most thinly veiled terms, as animals because when they hear ‘Islamic extremism’ what they actually hear is ‘natural progression of a dangerous religion’. I know that I will get the joy of reading ‘Muslims and the West’ as if it is not possible to be both truly Western and truly Muslim. As if Western values are a separate entity reserved only for the non-Muslim (and let’s be frank – often white) amongst us. As if the many people sharing these cartoons now in a show of solidarity do not include Muslims in their numbers.

I believe that some of the cartoons from Charlie Hebdo I have seen in the past day, and the calls to reprint them everywhere, can make people feel like they are not part of our society. We are reacting to an event by being divisive – “fully support these things and prove you’re with us, or get out”. People may share (as they should rightly be allowed to) some of these cartoons, including the ones that shore up stereotypes of Islam as intolerant and violent, but in the small area I control I won’t add to that public perception. It is a path which can contribute to the escalation of looks I receive in airports. It means adding to that culture that has people arguing with queer Muslims about their ability to be queer Muslims, or dismissing the choices of women who wear head-scarves as being rooted in oppression. I practice the freedom I value in my choice to not add to this labelling of Muslims as guilty until proven innocent.

Let people be angry about cartoons – now and in the future – and let them make cartoons for people to be angry about as well. Recognise that people can deplore murder and deplore things that hurt them. People can and should be allowed to show their opposition to such a horrific attack in many ways. One of them is engaging in the freedom that enables Charlie Hebdo to be published and hopefully to continue to be published in the future (for press, even ones we disagree with, should not be stopped with the barrel of a gun).

People are people, and the press are press. They are all flawed. Let both be criticised through the freedoms we cherish, and let both be free from violent attack.

Personal Writing Resolutions

Yearning and Failing in 2015

Originally I said ‘kiss a stranger at midnight’ and ‘don’t have an orgy’, and we managed to only mess up the first part, so overall it was a reasonably successful New Years Eve. I was pretending to be comfortable in a short red dress that clung to my fat, and was thinking about all the ways I could be better.

I hate this about New Years. You spend each day leading up to it berating yourself and then, afterwards, you once again make grandiose plans you will not achieve. It didn’t help that this year I need to reorient my career trajectory lest I “waste” my degree –  something that is rather hard to do when you have no real idea of what would make you feel truly great and pays bills.

When I was younger I had a lot of plans for life that I was completely confident I would achieve (knowing it would be with hard work on my part). Now I’m an adult I end up thinking about health and roofs and the ability to get outside the house at least once a week.

So I get stuck on 1) be fitter, 2) have money to do fun things, 3) do something incredibly wonderful with my life. These are are not helpful goals in any way. These are goals I want to achieve merely to inspire fantastic amounts of jealousy because on some level I gage my success on how much other people go ‘ooooo’.

Which brings me to writing essays (because journalism in my lazed mind requires too much research), and making podcasts (about what I do not know) which I have toyed with for a very long while. Yet New Years resolutions are not truly about the small things I can do to help myself, but are centred about the inevitable success I think I will find from them. When I say essays and podcasts what I really mean are adoring fans and money and talks and prizes.

Yes, I will write essays, I say, and people will fix quotes on black and white portraits of me and share them on social media to show how wise they are. And then I don’t write because I feel I have nothing to really say, and I don’t write because I write in a terrible rolling style which needs actual practice to improve. You tend to reach a point where you want to be the focus of a painful event just so you can create something that plunges the depths of human experience. That’s what essays are – a powerful way to write humanity. I can’t claim that. My life has been far too good that even the bad things sound like the whining of Veruca Salt.

I want to be legitimate and fully-formed from the first moment. The fear of work, of proving that expectations of others are inflated, is so deep in me. Like most people with impossible desires, I decide instead to remember a single moment of genius from my high school days and hold it up as the sole example of potential – a great proof of possibility. New Years becomes worrying about how any move I make might transform my future historical record of serious, intellectual, literary work into something less than perfect. It’s what I do, I yearn for greatness. I want to make something that will last longer in your mind than the time it takes to read.

I could pretend I am having a great epiphany but I’m not. The difference between 2014 and 2015 is not really there. I’m still me. I’ll still think I can do better than I can. I’ll try a little more though. That should count for something.