Grief lives in my house
like dry rot infesting the timbers.
It has taken up residence
in the cellar, where I do not go.
I pretend there is no such space.
But he sits there, smoking coltsfoot tobacco,
and brewing a bitter tisane of rue
and wormwood, hyssop and dill.
Too much indulgence, he says, in sweet things
like joy and kindness, all the fruit
of sunlight and fresh rain, have done me harm.
It is time to take my medicine,
time for a purge, a cleansing.
Hell mend ye, he says. And hope.
Oh, the news, the news. It looks as if we have hit the point of no return in so many ways.I have been in despair, over politics, race, feminism, the climate, the state of poetry (don’t even ask), and I know I’m not the only one. And yet.
I came across this site https://www.lowimpact.org/ . It was a very cheering read, full not only of good ideas (those are ten a penny) but accounts of people and groups actually doing good things, making real changes, getting real results. It reinforces experiences I’ve had before, that there are plenty of people in the world who are better than the stories we see in social media. People who protested in their thousands when the Windrush scandal happened, demonstrating that the government cannot simply rely on us being as racist as the newspaper headlines. People who save their local green spaces. People who are creating new ways to work, teaching people new skills, adapting our houses and technologies to be less destructive. Scottish people who responded to the Westminster ban on our parliament paying the settlement fees for EU residents by volunteering to crowdfund it themselves. Housing associations who responded to Serco’s treatment of asylum seekers by withdrawing their licenses to manage those properties. New online magazines to give platforms for groups who find themselves marginalised in mainstream publications.
There is good stuff happening all around us, but we don’t hear it so much, and there are some good reasons why not. One is that anxiety is important for survival, so bad stories always need to make more impact. But there are two others more substantial. One is that none of this is enough. We are close to irreversable on many bad fronts, and the trends are really not encouraging overall. We need to do more, all of us collectively and individually, and we can’t afford to let ourselves off the hook.
But here’s the killer. The stories all focus on individual responses, whereas the big problems are structural. You can’t reduce car use if you can’t afford to live near your workplace. You can’t use public transport if there isn’t any, or if flexible working and childcare arrangements don’t fit in with what services there are. You can’t reduce your plastic use if manufacturers won’t make things without plastic. You can’t reduce your heating use if your landlord won’t put in an efficient heating system or double glazing. And there are vested interests in keeping us guilty and apathetic, rather than informed and proactive. If they believe we don’t know or care, they will be able to avoid making the large-scale changes we need, and lay off the blame on us. And we’ll be able to tell ourselves we can’t make any difference anyway.
But here’s what we can do. We can become better informed. We can seek out local initiatives that are making things better, and support them with time, money or votes as we are able. We can spread the news and refuse to back off. And we can hope.
And in this spirit, here are my tributes to some of the people and groups who have given me hope this year
- @seraphima who has tweeted the whole of the Grenfell enquiry, reminding me that this iniquity might so easily be swept under the carpet, and won’t because of people like her
- @CaptainKim who alerted Scotland to Serco threatening to lock asylum seekers out of their homes with seven days notice
- https://noserialnumber.org/ who are making a genuine attempt to tackle the anomaly that artisan-produced sustainable products have to be priced out of the reach of ordinary people
- https://www.thewillowherbreview.com/ providing a platform for diversity in nature writing
- https://theselkie.co.uk/ a magazine for those excluded by gender, disability or mental health issues
And on that note, we can go into the longest night, shortest day and holiday celebrations of all sorts, with a glimmer of hope that maybe next year some of this will bear fruit. Have a very happy Christmas and New Year!