The locust of evaluation

Last week, sitting at the back at the second session of my diploma course, the woman next to me (who was straining to see the screen at the front) leaned over and whispered, “the locust of evaluation?!”

It got me thinking.

The locus of evaluation, the place from which we make our value judgment, seems to be an ever-increasingly tricksy location, especially over these last few months as we’ve collectively, officially, lived through some Strange Times. We were discussing, in that class, about how the aim is to come from needing permission from others to make an assessment, to a place where one can make a decision based on our own balanced core values. Balance, though – it’s a funny thing at the moment, isn’t it? It feels like so many of us are trying very hard to hold everything in balance in a world which doesn’t really seem to have any rules any more.

We look around us to check for feedback, to validate what we’re doing, and…nobody else seems to know, either. The people who are supposed to be leading us seem to have lost their way, and in the absence of clarity, the monster-shouters are coming. Have you ever read The Stand, by Stephen King? Just after the deadly, communicable, flu-like plague (sound familiar?) wipes out a vast proportion of the global population, one of the protagonists is in a deserted Central Park, listening to the enraged, terrified, maddened shouts of one of the few people left behind, alone. “Monsters coming!”, he shouts. “Monsters coming now!”

So I find myself wondering, how do we achieve balance, when nobody really knows what to do, and the monsters may indeed be coming? When the locus of evaluation becomes the locust, and starts nibbling us down to the stems? I mean, don’t think I’m saying I have the answers here. But I do know for sure that we are going to need to stick together and hold each other up more than ever. It’s not about raising your vibe, positivity only, love and light and nothing else. Things are really fucking scary. We are going to need to hold space for each other in order to allow ourselves to figure out what we are doing. When things are uncertain, we have the choice to let go and paddle along with the times, or to make decisive choices and forge our own path. I think it’s a balance. I wrote before about how, when this all began, we would have to just tie our rafts together and start bobbing along, and that’s fine when we’re all doing that – but what about if someone comes along and starts yelling that that’s the wrong idea and actively starts cutting the ropes, overthrowing the rafts, and pushing people into the water? At the moment, so many of the people forging their own path are forging one based in fear – anti-maskers, conspiracy theorists, COVID-deniers. And I do get it; it’s really scary and I can see how it’d be easier to make a conscious, denial-based choice that this is not happening. But the reality is…that it is. For once, it is very apparent that the wider picture is not in our control. It never is, really, but we usually have just enough of a grip on the edge of things to kid ourselves that we’ve got the upper hand. I suppose I’m just thinking about the fact that we still don’t really know enough about how things are going to go to make these big proclamations, and decisions, when there’s a very real risk that peoples’ lives will be put in danger. The most powerful man in the world is being treated in hospital right now, having sworn blind that it’s all lies lies lies, and nothing to be afraid of.

Maybe finding the right way forward needs to come from the collective, and not from one or two. Perhaps there’s no single person right now who can decisively lead everyone forward. Perhaps it’s the tipping point and it’s time that we allowed everyone to have a say – certainly rich white men don’t seem to have done a very good job, or at least, not a good enough job for everyone else. It’s just a thought. Just a thought. But perhaps, if enough people have a thought, and light their own little fires in the dark, and invite others to come and share the heat and warmth, to be included and say their piece, and contribute, and be valued, perhaps eventually there’ll be space for everybody. Who knows?

One thing that is real, and true, is that we are 100% experiencing this together, but I can’t write that we’re IN it together because some undoubtably have more access to support than others: privilege, money, location and blind good fortune. But there is going to come a point where nobody will be untouched by this, if that time has not already arrived. I think that originally there might have been some thought that this might be the great leveller, but it seems that even when a literal deadly plague is still quietly slipping past our best efforts at slowing it down, the biggest danger is still each other.

That was a cheery ramble, wasn’t it? I might just post a photo of my new t shirt next (it’s a good one).

How can it be normal when we don’t know what it is?

I was thinking earlier today about a conversation I had just had with a very close friend about how we’ve hit – I think – a bit of a pivotal moment in the proceedings. This is the week that many people have tried to go back to ‘normal’ – either voluntarily or because they’ve felt obliged or because they’ve just flat out been told they HAVE to. And I think it’s worth noting and holding onto the fact that just because we are all trying to do the same thing, it doesn’t mean we are all succeeding, or even that all of us want to do it.

I looked around at my colleagues this week as we came back together for the first time in many weeks. We were relieved to be together, I think, but worried about the consequences. Excited to be sociable, but having to be antisocial. And for those of us who are still fearful – and I am one of them – it’s been particularly difficult to match up our reactions and responses to some of those of our peers, friends, and loved ones.

Is someone being callous, deliberately ignorant, foolhardy or selfish to be desperate to get back to work, kids back to school, back out to the pub, planning a cheeky getaway at Christmas as a reward?

Is someone being stubborn, lazy, paranoid, a hypochondriac, gullible if they’re feeling anxious, not wanting to launch themselves out there, keeping their mask on, continuing to distance as much as possible?

No – not for either. The reality is that we still don’t know. I fall into the second camp, but yearn to feel brave enough to participate with the first. Really, I do. I miss my friends, I miss hugs, physical intimacy, cosying up with my friends, kisses, grabbed hands. I miss going to the cinema (I’m still too scared). I miss leisurely shopping (I’m still too scared). I miss it, I miss it, I miss it all.

But none of us are wrong, or right – we are all just humans. This isn’t something we should apply moral values to as long as we do no harm. Those of us who are scrambling frantically to get back to normal are likely feeling overwhelmed by this prolonged liminality, and those of us afraid to jump back in the saddle and push back to how things were before are afraid of making things worse. They are all valid fears and they don’t make us bad, good, or anything else, but they might just cause hurt feelings and dents in loving relationships where they don’t need to.

So as we wane gently away from the crazy of the full moon this week, maybe we could take a deep breath and try and remember the old adage that everyone is carrying their own burden, even if they don’t care to admit it. Let’s carry on loving each other and saying what we need to say. Boundaries are going to change and need to be redrawn. Pressure will get put on in places we don’t expect it, and it’s okay to ask for it to be taken off so you can gather your thoughts and say how you’re feeling. We still need to look after each other as much as we have through the prolonged period of lockdown and isolation, so let’s try and do it.

To everyone who went back this week and loved it – I’m glad for you. To everyone who went back this week afraid, I see you and I know. For everyone who just wants it to be OK again – I know, I know, I know. I know. Let’s hold each other up. Things will be OK, but only if we are all as OK as we can be, which can only really happen if we’re still able to rely on each other. Hold steady.

Incandescent

Yesterday, my friend shared a post from the local paper on Facebook, detailing the anti-mask protests taking place in the city centre over the weekend, talking about her sadness at the fact that this was taking place. I couldn’t even get my words out articulately, I was so enraged – not with her, of course, but with those at the protest. So I shall try harder, here.

Here’s the thing. I support everyone’s right to their own opinion and I believe in freedom of speech. But I also, passionately, deeply, furiously, believe in compassion, and doing no harm.

I am not a doctor; I’m not clinically trained. I don’t have some magical knowledge as to when (or if) COVID-19 is going to go away, or expert insight into how it is transmitted, prevented, mutated. However, I do know that there are a lot of actual doctors and clinicians who are saying that they firmly believe that masks may very well help – and after all, they wear them for their work all day long, so I think they’ve got a better idea than I do. So I’ll go with that.

But more than that, and I find myself feeling more and more angry and more strongly about this all the time, I find myself coming back to this basic, rage-inducing point. I have a medical condition that means my immune function is shit. Repeated, chronic, life-threatening infections are my jam, so I know that I’m at risk. But more than that, I know that because I’m at a potentially higher risk of catching it, I’d then also potentially be at more risk of passing it on, so on the off-chance that I do pick something nasty up on my infrequent ventures out of the house, I will wear a mask, in an attempt to reduce my chances of passing it on. Do I like wearing one? No! A thousand times no – I hate it. But I would hate, even more, to be part of a preventable chain of infection that could lead to someone become seriously ill and possibly dying (including me). Do I look good in a mask? No. I have a fat face and I breathe heavily when anxious so I constantly look like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet (if you know, you know).

I just feel that this isn’t about masks. It’s about being a decent human being. If there’s the slightest chance that our actions could help someone, then I really genuinely feel that if we dare to count ourselves as halfway decent humans, those are the actions we should take. Even if it’s not guaranteed, even if it might not actually turn out to make the slightest bit of difference, at the end of the day, if there IS a tiny chance, I think it’s just our collective responsibility to take it. To try, for each other. Let’s just try. Who cares if your mask looks a bit shit? I regret to inform you that none of us look good in them. It’s not like we’ve got to get everything right first time or we’ve failed somehow (and this is something else I want to talk about, soon) – this just feels like a fear of looking stupid, a fear of losing…something. Losing what, though? Genuinely, what is it that people are fighting so hard against? Looking out for each other? It’s a grim thought. A grim one. Haven’t we gone through enough?

Tie on: COVID, conflict, resistance and resilience

A few weeks ago, when we were a few weeks into lockdown here in the UK, I had a text conversation with my friend Amy, the wisest wise woman I know. Because I’m one of those people who texts like machine-gun fire and neglects punctuation, I’m including Amy’s original message (with her consent), and then I’ve compiled and punctuated my rambling responses, as well as editing out the “mhmm”s and “EXACTLY!”s, for reading ease.

A: You know Gill, I’ve been on my phone all day with women. I’m wondering if there is something going on in the universe about conflict and resolution.  I mean that.. all day with issues and troubles and resolutions

I think that this global situation we find ourselves in is unprecedented because suddenly, everywhere, we are no longer living in a linear time of certainty. We are in a liminal mutable space, and that does not sit well with our socially accepted non-cyclical linear progression where we go day to day to day moving along – we are having to become used to ebbing and flowing.  And women do that a lot more easily, I think, because we can be less target driven – we have to adapt more. We are the moms and the listeners and the people who have to scramble the family (and community?) along.

We are all kind of mothering each other at the moment – well us listeners are; we are listening and ebbing and flowing, and pulling each other along and finding a lot of strength in our fellow paddler-alongers.  But it’s tiring because there are a LOT of people who are desperately trying to cling on to something that’s not there any more…so, OK, it’s like this:

Let’s get on our boats and be paddling .  There’s a lot of us paddlers, and our boats are tied together. We tie each other on, and we go in a group in whatever direction the tide takes.  None of us know what exactly is going to happen, but we know we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing, so we hold on to each other and share the watch. But there are so many people DESPERATELY trying to swim in one direction, and hold onto the riverbank.  And the riverbank- it is not there. The tide now comes in all directions.  We have to look in all the directions and go together and hold on.

I am a reluctant paddler but I’m getting better because I see all my other paddlers coming and tying our dinghies together so we don’t blow away.

We’ve all been jettisoned out to sea, haven’t we – that’s what it is. We’ve spent all our lives trundling along the neat waterways that we can move along in nice straight lines going from A to B to C and all of a sudden we are all in the fucking sea with no shores in sight! GOODBYE RIVERBANK!

I been thinking about it a lot these last few weeks to be honest. About how we are and have been in this state of not-knowing, and how to we adapt to that to make it bearable? How?

It’s just easier to try and ride it out even if you’re scared, because I think we all are, a bit, but I think the panic is lifting as some folks learn to bob and then hold others so they can learn as well. I’ve been talking to my students a lot you know [I work with neurodiverse young adults, some of whom have learning difficulties and disabilities], and a lot of these very rigid thinkers are bobbing.  Just forcing themselves to take a big breath and bob a bit and say okay: I’m alive and I can see other people doing this not too far away.  Let’s bob towards them, I’m not drowning, I’ve got it!

The thing is, we don’t know how long this will go on.  What we do know is that even the virus isn’t linear. It comes in waves, and it’s evolving all the time. We can’t just power our way through in a straight line – we have got to be flexible, all of us, and it’s going to be really hard because we have built our empire on going in a line.  And at the moment it’s like the line’s been rubbed out, and some of the destinations aren’t where we left them. If ever there was a time for everyone to step up and show each other the way, it’s now. Everyone has something to offer in this new landscape, and it’s all valuable – we need to start recognising the things we can offer each other, and honouring the power of diverse communities.

Aiming to please

Earlier on, I was in the kitchen preparing to start serving the lunch. My partner came in and said, “that smells nice!”. Automatically, I said, “well, I aim to please”, and then I had a flash of righteous feminism and said, actually, no. I aim to NOURISH AND CARE. Take that, fuckers! (I probably need to work on doing that for myself more, as well as for my feral stepchildren, though.)