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).

Darker months ahead

Here in the UK, coronavirus cases are rapidly increasing again, and as a result it was announced last night that more restrictive measures will have to come into play once more. I was talking about it this morning with my partner as I tried to choke down my anxiety with my coffee and get off my arse and into work.

Quite honestly, I’m struggling. When we went into lockdown in March, we all retreated to our homes, closed the doors and waited. Together. Collectively, we battened down the hatches, and we waited – some with more good grace and patience than others. Both my partner and I are counted as key workers as he writes and maintains software for food production, and I work in education, but for six months we both carried on doing our jobs full time at home. My stepchildren were also with us (as well as my first born, the cat) and although there were moments of frustration at not being able to get out and about quite so much, and I missed seeing my parents, for the most part, in our home at least, it was a pretty happy time. It was safe. My panic attacks and anxiety dwindled to almost nothing – a revelation in my adult life.

This week, I had finally reached a place where, on Monday and Tuesday this week, I managed to regulate my fear at going out of the house all day and being surrounded by people to the point where I wasn’t actually in tears before going out to the car. And now it’s Wednesday, and although we are back up to high alert and there are stricter penalties and rules, my working situation will remain as is: I need to be on campus every day. In theory I’m in quite a low risk setup as I’m in a static office, but fear isn’t rational or easily reasoned with. I know I’m far, far lower risk than frontline health and care workers, teachers and PAs. I am in constant awe at the stoic, steady courage in the face of a threat still largely unknown. I’m still scared, though.

I am planning to look at an online circle in the next few weeks, so watch this space. Time to light the fire and scare the horrors away ­čÖé

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?