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On Uncertainty

It’s been nearly a year since I posted anything. That’s probably Indicative of Something, whether it’s the distractions inherent to a relationship, the stress of working temporary jobs and looking for something permanent, the addictive and photocentric nature of Tumblr and any number of other things.

I live in London now. It hurt to say goodbye to Brighton, although it was probably time. It was a strange feeling, leaving my new flatmates behind, like moving out of my parents’ house for the first time and going off to uni. Relinquishing my comfortable and familiar home for a strange new place. It’s not so bad. I have a cosy house and a little garden to look after, and it is admittedly nice not to be woken up at 3am by seagulls.

It seems my life since I came back has been a constant tug between the desire for stability and a comfortable little sanctuary and the awareness that there is always something threatening it. The alienation of wage labour, capitalist consumerism, racist and classist immigration laws, burgeoning fascism and the question of what, if anything, I can do about these things. When I’m not railing against these problems I’m wondering how on earth I’m going to resolve them in a way that doesn’t sacrifice my integrity or lead to exile.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid there is no workable compromise between preserving my mental health and fighting for what I believe in. I’m afraid of returning to a country that takes two steps back for every step forward. I’m afraid that this country is irreversibly trudging towards fascist dystopia. I’m afraid that everything I’ve built, everything I’ve fought for over the last three years will be for nothing. I don’t know what to do. All I know is that my urge to escape, physically and mentally, will not save me from it. I wish I knew what would.

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On Protest

I went to a protest today, the first one in a long time. Predictably, Trots showed up with their meaningless, banal chants and their newspapers and their megaphones. Equally predictably, they proceeded to babble incoherently about how shit it is that people are being forced to work for free or lose their benefits. Somehow the actual issue got lost in a mess of rambling and stammering. The cops, apparently bored beyond belief, decided that my friends had to censor the word ‘fucking’ on their banner as people might be ‘distressed’ by it. I wish I was making that up. Unpaid labour = okay. ‘The F word’ = alarming. This is the society we live in.

I’ve been considering my hiatus from politics for a while now, weighing up my anger about the government forcing people who are dying of cancer to find jobs against my experiences with political involvement in the past. On the one hand, I feel guilty for not doing anything– despite the fact that I’ve only just got my life in order after a year of misery. On the other hand, I’ve been there. I’ve seen what these half-hearted protests achieve, and unfortunately it isn’t much. I think if nothing else we made a few more people aware of what’s happening, but I wonder how many other people just felt alienated.

One of many things that struck me this afternoon was when one nutter in particular was babbling into his megaphone about ‘the idiots who shop at Tesco.’ Everyone seemed equally embarrassed and annoyed by him, but no one actually asked him to shut the hell up and stop making us all look stupid. Well, I did, because that’s just the sort of person I am. And it’s part of the reason I had to get out of politics. Because not every Trot shuts his piehole when you ask him to.

There are other things too, like the absurd waffling the left does when it comes to organisations like the NUS and the Labour Party. Neither of these groups has our best interests in mind, and they make that clear on a regular basis. Yet Trots persist in seeking their validation and their approval, because at the end of the day Trots don’t seem to be able to conceive of a movement that doesn’t rely on existing (oppressive, capitalist) power structures to succeed. Trots may hate their parents, but they still need a ride to the school dance. The moment they can justify it to themselves, they cosy back up with the same people they were vilifying a few months before. They don’t seem to realise how silly and hypocritical it makes them look.

If you criticise the (patently ineffectual) practices of Trots and their parties, you’re being ‘sectarian’ and not trying to ‘build a movement.’ That is to say, you’re not playing ball, so they want you off the pitch. To torture this metaphor a little further, the Trots are Charlie Brown and organisations like the NUS are Lucy. No matter how many times Lucy pulls the football away and lets Charlie fall on his ass, he still runs at it and tries to kick it. When will he learn?

I guess my point here, if I have one, is that I’m not convinced. I know capitalism is crap, and I think it needs to be demolished. I think it’s obscene that anyone is ever expected to work for free. I think our society is seriously sick (but not for the same reasons the Daily Mail does). But what are we supposed to do about it? Join another march? Sell a newspaper for some party that is more or less just another group of people who want to exploit my time and labour? Go to interminable meetings? I want to do something that makes a difference. I wish I knew what that was.

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I’ve started a new job. It’s difficult. Now that I’m into my second week, I’ve reached the point where think I know what I’m doing, only to find that I’ve fucked something up– sometimes something really important. This is doing wonders for my anxiety disorder, but I am trying my best not to let it drive me insane. I can’t, really. I need this job, I need to do well at it, and what I really need is to focus.

My boss said to me the other day, “I know you’re a bright girl, so you’re not used to getting things wrong.” I didn’t have a response to that. She’s right, of course. This is the first job I’ve ever had that really challenged me, and I’m kind of terrified that I won’t be up to the task. I want to do everything right. I don’t want to make mistakes. The problem is that I’m so fixated on not making mistakes that I, predictably, make mistakes. I need to focus on doing the particular task at hand right.

This is partly an issue of attention span. The internet has destroyed my ability to focus. In the midst of writing this I’ve jumped to other tabs and other programs at least a dozen times. Words make connections in my mind, so I leap to the next thought without finishing the first one. My system of thinking is not linear; it’s a web. This is all well and good, but it presents problems when I follow a thread somewhere instead of anchoring it where it needs to go.

So. Focus. This applies to my work (as opposed to my job) as well. I know I’m capable of doing this; the problem is that I get sidetracked with new ideas and possibilities and oh look a butterfly so that I lose the actual thread of what I was doing. This creates confusion. This confusion is a smokescreen for what’s really going on under the surface of my thoughts, and that is this: I don’t wanna do this it’s haaaaaard.

My habit of allowing myself to be distracted, of demanding that I get everything right the first time, in the end comes down to my own laziness and my own desire to be right. I was a really smart kid. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know and didn’t learn until much later is that being smart isn’t enough. In school I learned to rest on my laurels. I took the easy way out. I saw that being smart gave me the opportunity to do less work, and being lazy, I took it. I’ve spent the last ten or so years of my life paying the price.

But the time has come, the Walrus said. I’ve had enough of being a slacker. I’m thirty years old and have just now got my first proper job. I’m deeply in debt, and as of writing this, I’m still a hobo. I haven’t published a novel. I don’t even have an agent. I’ve got to sort myself out.

I have to focus, and part of this focus involves precisely what the title of this post describes. Instead of letting my mind flutter all over the place, I need to figure out what’s important and fucking let everything else go. One thing at a time. One task at a time, done correctly, equals everything done. This goes as much for my work as for my day job.

I’m proud to say that for the last four paragraphs, I did not open another tab or look at another program. I did not allow myself to be distracted. I resisted the little imp that’s tired of focusing and doesn’t want to think too hard, and as a result, I might have said something coherent.

One thing at a time.


Postscript: I’ve just seen a tag in my cloud called ‘talent envy.’ What I think I still fail to take into account very often is that what we mistake for talent is actually that habit called hard work.

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