The Great Discontent




You can listen to a recording of this piece here (6 mins)





The Great Deconstruction

There is a turning in the air in what seems like more ways than one. Summer has begun to shed its coat, as September enters into us with the fall of leaf and berry. It brings to me the notion of abandonment, not the withdrawal definition of that word, but the act of engagement, of recklessness. With complete abandon.

As the back to school momentum pushes the busy dial, it is easy to fall back in with the uniform, the quotidian. It may be that we place expectations upon ourselves without questioning their origin or authority, and we may fall into routine out of habit rather than belief in valency.

I think, in general, I’ve become an advocate of pause. It is not a pause as in stopping fully, but a pause to make room for abandonment, and to figure out what is worthy of our attention and time; what is to fall into.

I’ve been reading a book back to front. It’s a copy of Nan Sheppard’s ‘The Living Mountain’ with a forward by Robert McFarlane and an afterward by Jeanette Winterson (with those as bookends it must be a treasure). The afterword appealed first. Winterson has always held a place in my own canon, and once again, I was blasted.

In a few brief pages she speaks of what she calls, ‘total time’, at odds with linear time; the chronological ticking. ‘Linear time is exhausting’, she says, ‘Life has never been more rushed. This present way of being is not a truth about life or a truth about time; it is propositional. We can disagree.

It may take ‘falling into’ to be convinced however.

Ever fallen in love and felt like time was stretched, until it reached the skin of your affection?
Ever been so absorbed in an act of making, that you felt an eternity knock on your sense of being?
You’ll know that the clock is malleable.

As I am writing these lines, Milly, my dog, is dropping her toy at my feet and insists on play.
I give myself over to her for a few minutes, finding myself on the floor and tugging on a rag. The game is in the chase. Once the object of the hunt is caught, she just wants to play again. It could go on for a very long time but I return to the page, knowing that art is antidote. Engagement is antidote. The game we choose to play can be our medicine. But we must choose to abandon ourselves to the pulse.

So back to Winterson. And books. And reading. And art making, in the broadest sense, and with particular emphasis on making.

‘Books work from the inside out’, she says, ‘They are private conversations happening somewhere in the soul. And later she adds, ‘You need not believe in the gods to believe in your own soul. It is that part of you that feels not obliged to materiality’.

Which takes us back to disagreement.

I believe we can disagree with the given notions of time and our demands on it. And I think it is also to do with deconstruction.

We build up stories of who we think we are, how we should spent our time. Some are cultural narratives, some are constructs. And many are destructive. Capitalism is a narrative. So too is patriarchy. So too the materiality which is keeping us from our soul. Equally there are built and carefully constructed narratives of what it means to be successful, worthy, beautiful, and winning at life. And I want to tell you, I think it time for mass disagreement.

We disagree by questioning the stories we are living by, and abandoning the ones which are not fit for purpose.
We disagree by falling in love with the multiplicities of enchantment.
We disagree by giving ourselves back our art, our words, our language, our poetry, our bodies, our pluralities
We disagree by not building businesses which places profit before the very earth which sustain us.
We disagree by not handing our antidote over to power which insists on making it smaller or less potent.
We disagree by building bridges rather than walls.
We disagree by attending mass protests or we disagree by moving into conversation with the stranger in ourselves; we get to choose our own scale
We disagree by pausing.

OK. Rant over. But I am tired of being nice girl, good girl, not speaking my mind girl. For what? Fear of being liked? Or fear of rejection?
We disagree by not running our lives by fear.

So, it is understandable that I find myself turning to writers who have always blended lines or refined the margins. Most recently I have been finding refuge in Virginia Woolf, Michael Cunningham, Maggie Nelson, Joy Harjo, and as of today, Ocean Vuong.
(We disagree by reading novels in the middle of the day, on a Monday, when one really ‘should’ be thinking about official business)
But it is because I want a literature of representation as much as a society of representation. And I think we can build new worlds with our words.

It starts with our inner language. What is the story we are telling of ourselves? What is the game we want to be in? What is our art? What our antidote?

Honestly, I’m tired of advice. I think we all need our own space to discover our paths. We need allies along the way, for sure, and mentors and mirrors, and tools, but to pause, to listen inwards, to trust in the deep currents of our souls, below the noise of materiality and obligation. Can we make room, if only for a few moments each morning, to listen. Inside us all is a story of infinity. Once we meet each other there, there is nothing but enchantment. And I think we could all use of dose of that.

So before you pace ahead into the busy dial of your day, may I invite you to write your own list of disagreements, and begin the great deconstruction, in your own reckless way.


Books mentioned or motioned to above:

The Living Mountain: Nan Sheppard (2011 Canongate edition)
How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems. Joy Harjo
To the Lighthouse: Virginia Woolf
The Hours: Michael Cunningham
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: Ocean Vuong
Bluets: Maggie Nelson
The Argonauts: Maggie Nelson


(lead photo taken my Mari Kennedy)