Today marks a significant confluence of anniversaries. It is 90 years since Maya Angelou was born and it is also 50 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated. Two dates, two greats. Both worked for human rights, dignity and respect. Indeed, they worked together in the 1960s when Angelou worked as a coordinator for MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Maya Angelou became a poet and writer after a childhood rape, teenage pregnancy, and sexuality doubts, indeed her range of occupations is rather enigmatic and curious: “Angelou drives cable cars, cooks, pimps, does exotic dancing, turns tricks, and sleeps in abandoned cars, all the while poring over serious literature.” – New Republic
She was a touring cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess and through hooking up with a South African freedom fighter moved to African becoming an editor-journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the early 1960s, the years of decolonisation.
She had a life of adventure and yet seemingly overcame adversity at every turn by luck, love, and self-belief. Nonetheless, she seems to have spent a lot of time in her life and her writing still searching and exploring herself.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Her words, worn of experience and yet polished to be poetry, if not a little preachy, remain timeless, and she is one of the most oft-quoted people on motivational memes.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”.
She lived with many loves, had many lives, and published no less than seven autobiographies. The most famous, remains, her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom”
In 1972, she penned the first screenplay written by a black woman.
Receiving dozens of honorary degrees in her lifetime and a full-time professorship, despite no college degree, she was someone who succeeded irrespective of background and didn’t see “can’t” as a word in her extensive vocabulary.
From her time in the 1960s with MLK and Malcolm X to 2008 when she witnessed the inauguration of the first Black President in Barack Obama, though she backed Clinton, equality made limping progress. Angelou uttered then, that:
“We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism.”
Growing up, but not yet full-grown or mature. We have a way to go.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King was ever the optimist, preaching love over hate, peace over war, forgiveness over resentment.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
It was a belief that may have cost him his life, and not a little opposition from other members of the civil rights movement. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, King said to his wife, Coretta:
“This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.”
Five years later, he did indeed suffer the same fate. Fifty years ago today.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
United in their attitude to hate
Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou, alike, defied their haters. Their responses of love, resilience, and determination, remain inspiring after their deaths.
“You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou
Maya spoke about being a blessing, of being a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. MLK’s words I take as inspiration every time I speak about our response to hate, violence or bigotry:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King
There’s still much to fight for
We don’t live in a post-civil rights era, we are still fighting for equality, still needing to celebrate diversity and be welcoming and not merely tolerant of difference.
We still need twenty-first-century visionary leaders, pacifist in intent, passionate in expression, powerful in action, and political in achievement.
To the Martin Luther Kings and Maya Angelous being born today we celebrate you. To those being cut down in their prime (two teens yesterday in London), we commemorate you.
Whether you live to 39 (MLK) or 86 (Maya), make a difference, and be memorable by removing the word “can’t” from your vocabulary and choosing not to be limited by your education, sex, colour, age, or any other social categorisation. You are the difference, you are the change.
Stephen Hawking, a fellow alumnus of my adolescent alma mater, St Albans School, has just died, over 50-years after he was forecast to by doctors upon his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. Stubborn and resilient to the last, he also added humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges.
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” – Stephen Hawking
“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humour.”
Even in his older years he still regarded himself as a “child, who has never grown up”, maintaining his curiosity till the end. Best known for A Brief History of Time – on many people’s shelves but less often read, we were lucky to have had his challenging mind and courageous heart on this planet and in this universe for so long.
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
Hawking was a profound thinker who found women more complex than the universe, questioned religious and scientific views alike, but for all his deep wisdom and intelligent theories, I like his saying that –
“It matters if you just don’t give up.”
At school, apart from traditional studies, he messed around manufacturing fireworks and building computers, the latter inspired and aided by his British-Armenian Maths teacher Dikran Tahta, of whom Hawking said:
“…behind every exceptional person, there is an exceptional teacher”.
Although intelligent, Hawking was initially not very hardworking nor academically successful and used risky tactics in both his studies and when coxing an Oxford University boat crew resulting in a few scrapes and crashes. Too busy “enjoying himself” rather than working, he spent an average of just an hour-a-day on his degree.
“I was never top of the class at school, but my classmates must have seen potential in me, because my nickname was ‘Einstein.'”
He described himself as essentially an introvert yet needing the stimulation of others. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, Stephen Hawking said:
“I need discussion with other people to stimulate me. I find it a great help in my work to describe my ideas to others. Even if they don’t offer any suggestions, the mere fact of having to organise my thoughts so that I can explain them to others often shows me a new way forward.”
He did not see progress as inevitably leading to utopian improvement, instead, he cautioned that greater inequality could result.
“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” – Hawking on Reddit
Given that the announcement of his death came on the same day as the reigniting of Cold War tit-for-tat expulsions between Britain and Russia, and sitting alongside the incendiary dialogue between North Korea and the US, one hopes that Hawking was wrong that:
“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.”
To most people, it is Stephen Hawking’s mind that inspires or his positive attitude in overcoming disability. To me, it was his attitude to life and his mental health that encourages me.
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
His changing health being the biggest adaptation he had to choose to deal with. He recognised that you could not be angry with the world and be a part of educating it.
“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”
Focus on the good, on what you have, be a glass-half-full person:
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
Not only intelligent but wise Stephen Hawking used humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges, his legacy is his spirit as much as his mind. He chose Je ne regrette rien, on Desert Island Discs, and that is as inspirational an attitude as all his writing.
As New Year 2018 breaks, and on a bright light January mid-winter dawn at that, I realise that 2017 has been a year of two halves or even four quarters, much like the seasons. I’ve diaried most of my non-married adult life, including the last 11 years. Along with an insomniac’s sleep spreadsheet and a bipolar mood diary, I’ve a fairly good idea of my moods and their seasons.
“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino
Light and Darkness
I’m going to pepper my reflections with random quotes about light and darkness, which diurnally deliver some of the starkest contrasts of daily existence, but which are at their hardest to endure when the nights are sixteen-hours long and the days excruciatingly short. And particularly hard, when one’s mood is low, insomnia debilitating, leaving one drawing the curtains at midday and getting up as the sun sets in deepest winter. I long for the lengthening days of 2018 as it progresses to June’s summer solstice.
“Every human being is a mixture of light and darkness, trust and fear, love and hate.” – Jean Vanier
MAD, BAD, and SAD
For someone who is or has Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD), with an annual accretion of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it’s only appropriate that I confess to also being MAD. Whilst calling someone mad is deprecated, it is thoroughly modern to have a Mood Affective Disorder including various depressions, bipolar disorders, and anxiety disorders – yes I have a GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) too. My OCD seems to be collecting three-letter mental health acronyms!
“Where there is much light the shade is deepest.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The low moods are so deep that you feel your world is going to crush you like suffocating under a mountainous avalanche of rocks and soil or at the depths of the ocean as the air runs out and the pressure crushes your lungs.
“The sunrise and sunset shows us that in life there are ups and downs. There is light and darkness.” – Debasish Mridha
Whilst many of these seriously affect my wellbeing I also regard them as part of the range and spectrum of personality and psychology. So whether one has the clinical diagnosis or not (I do), one is not one’s label, or doomed by it, since we all experience anxiety, low mood, and the seasons, to varying degrees. The difference is the degree to which we suffer and are immobilised in one’s ability to function in life, hold down a job, pay bills, or maintain a healthy functioning loving relationship.
“Light isn’t always buoyant and shadows aren’t always despair; yet both, I believe, are limitless in lessons that they share.” – Carolyn Riker
Housed but feeling temporarily not at home
The last quarter has been one of my worst in some six years. Brought low by overexertion and exhaustion, insomnia, arthritis, whiplash, chronic anxiety and panic attacks over benefits renewals and appraisals, and a near six-month long house rewire that upended my comfort nest, I became uprooted, homeless within my own home.
“The most precious light is the one that visits you in your darkest hour!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan
Yet, I appreciate that I have a roof over my head, just enough flexible work to meet the difference between housing benefit and rent, enough security from family on months I’m short, to avoid a past history of extensive rent arrears and three eviction notices and an unsecured debt-pile equivalent to a middle-class mortgage without any house to show for it.
Others, in worse situations, have seen a doubling of people living rough since 2010, alongside a 50% cut in homelessness funding, a rise in food bank use, people losing their DLA/PIP assessments, being stuck on six-week Universal Credit delays, and seeing mental health services in crisis and special measures as they fail to match ‘service user’ needs. Austerity has worsened our wellbeing and failed in its fiscal justification.
Suicide Safety Net
My own darkness arrived at a time of maximum therapeutic support. I’d just managed to get a second package of 6 therapy sessions within a few years. The first took 3 years of asking and the second, around 6 months. But even with weekly therapy (extended to fortnightly for a longer period), bi-monthly care team support, regular mental health team check-in calls, a loving longterm partner, and a veritable army of support cats – I still suffered 4 days in 3 months where I was suicidal.
“Always surround yourself with friends that have plenty of light in them. That way, you will always have candles around you when days are dark.” – Suzy Kassem
Getting through the immediate seemingly life-threatening panic or manic anger or the aching raw bawling sadness has taken every ounce of my energy, and drawn on the understanding of my lovely partner in ways that I never wanted to. I nearly broke my girlfriend! She is, however, heroic in her ability to separate my needs (without being needy) from any responsibility to solve or salve, only to be a supportive companion and a candle in my darkness.
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” –Anne Frank
Fortunately, due to my most serious past suicide attempt five-and-a-half years ago, I’d ensured that my house was empty of the means to take my life (via pills at least). It didn’t stop me from feeling my fragility and emotional rawness of having the same suicidal ideation but a better safety net in place. Driving is dangerous when one feels the power to take one’s own life beneath the foot pedal on an angry with the world day.
Not so Superman/girl
My superpowers have more than once met their psychosocial Kryptonite. I say psychosocial because I’m well aware that it is my psychological wiring and emotional responses to social and financial situations that trigger my darkness, anger, and powerlessness.
Surviving rather than thriving is a temporary reward and respite. Living to face the terrors and panic attacks of another day. That is why dying feels like such a tempting relief, the only way to take a day off.
“And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” – Mad World
I have good days too, and in-between average days, that are nonetheless relief days. Being bipolar I’m never far from depression, nor elation. So I respect both. I can swing from scarily suicidal to aesthetic appreciation of art, beauty, food and kittens in just hours. Sadly, my rapid cycling rollercoaster can look fine, be engaged, and yet hours before or later be considering suicide or lying in the bath wondering what it would be like to drown in nihilistic comfort before the warm welcoming water got cold.
“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.” – Anthon St. Maarten
Life is full of light and dark, morning and night, summer and winter. Contrasts that make the extremes, well, more extreme. The highs are ecstatic and the lows are the end of the world.
“Life isn’t just about darkness or light, rather it’s about finding light within the darkness.” – Landon Parham
Yes, company, compassion, communication, the comfort of friends, are a solace though not a solution during those lonely days, weeks, months, and sadly, years. I’ve been anxious for 45 years, depressed for 15, bipolar (officially, at least) for 5. But, I’ve been alive for 50 years, continually by the thin thread of tenuous determination to live another day – despite several attempts, and many more close calls to end it.
“Why not dare yourself to become a shining positive light where darkness is the only thing known?” – Edmond Mbiaka
Getting through the night
Closing the curtains in winter at 4pm and waking at 4-5am some 3-4 hours before sunrise, leads to hours of wakeful darkness, and how to endure it. BBC iPlayer Radio plays are often an answer or cricket match commentary from Australian timezones.
The constant onslaught of dark days and anxious early mornings is like being pelted with a slinger’s stones or archer’s arrows from an infinite quiver where each one won’t kill you but like a death by a thousand cuts will make you weaker and even less likely to get up and face the next day.
My 50 years, which feel like 500 at times, have taught me a healthy respect for mental wellbeing and to take pleasure in the little things like the fact that I woke up well today, and that it wasn’t raining. The longest night is past and longer days are around the corner, the light is returning, spring is coming.
I guess getting through the night is my daily version of other people’s getting through the winter. My rapid cycling mood means I experience the seasons on a quotidian basis. But I also learn from nature, that as sure as spring follows winter and morning follows night, so too will my mood lift or circumstance change.
“I restore my book to the bracing and buoyant equilibrium of concrete outdoor Nature, the only permanent reliance for sanity of book or human life.” – Walt Whitman
Today, I walked among the trees, chatted with my partner, ate simple but tasty food, and stroked cats – lots of cats. I’ve survived another day.
Carrie Fisher will be mostly remembered for being Princess Leia in Star Wars as the Space Western princess with a gun and rapid riposte to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo when he needed a put-down. It didn’t stop them having a recently revealed off-screen romance. Also, off-screen was her battle with the darker forces of addiction and bipolar mental health. Her website records her in the way she’d prefer to be remembered as an “actor, author” and shamelessly, a “mental health advocate”, her site listed mental health resources, and she was active in promoting mental health awareness.
For the record, she starred in 44 films from Shampoo (1975) to Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017), wrote 7 books, and well over half-a-dozen plays, scripts and screenplays.More a signature action than her Leia buns and Avenger/Charlie’s Angels-style with
Even more a signature action than her Leia buns and Avengers/Charlie’s Angels-style gun-aloft pose, her middle finger was often shot up at the press. She was a hero for her honesty, humour and heart, the media needs to treat mental health better.
As someone who battles and “sur-thrives” with Bipolar Affective Disorder, aka manic depression, myself, I find so many echoes in her statements on mental health, and her activism in helping others through honesty and sheer guts – or clitzpah, female “courage bordering on arrogance”, as a friend puts it.
RIP Carrie Fisher 4 fighting the patriarchy, sexism, #bipolar#mentalhealth, addiction & Darth Vader, may the force be with her in death
A fitting tribute is, therefore, to remember her in her own words:
Carrie Fisher Quotes – In Her Own Words
“I really love the internet. They say chat-rooms are the trailer park of the internet but I find it amazing.”
On Writing as Therapy
“I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there’s something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it’s not something that you’re in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience.”
“I always kept a diary – not a diary like, ‘Dear Diary, we got up at 5 A.M., and I wore the weird hair again and that white dress! Hi-yeee!’ I’d just write.”
“Writing is a very calming thing for me.”
I can echo those thoughts, totally! Writing slows my racing pacing thoughts down, coming up with the language that accurately and emotional reflects my thoughts on myself, life, the universe and everything, is a process that is cathartic, creative, and better than CBT.
Whether scripted stand-up comedy or unscripted ad-lib, Carrie was quick witted, sharp, funny and could turn the tables on an interviewer. A vital skill in the harsh world of Hollywood and media criticism.
“I brought along Gary” (Carrie Fisher’s dog) “because his tongue matches my sweater” … “I think in my mouth so I don’t lie” … “what music makes [weight loss] worthwhile?” Not to mention some beautiful flirting with “DNA jackpot”GMA’s Amy Robach!
The humour, the jokey OCD matching, the flirting, she was my kind of inappropriate unboundaried, humourous getting-into-trouble, woman.
“There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed” via Twitter (2014)
“I googled myself without lubricant. I don’t I recommend it.” on David Letterman (2009)
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve got my nose pressed up against the window of a bakery, only I’m the bread” – Postcards from the Edge (1987)
“I am a spy in the house of me. I report back from the front lines of the battle that is me. I am somewhat nonplused by the event that is my life.”
“I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.”
Again, one feels like an actor in one’s own drama, there is sometimes a feeling of distance from the actions one takes, as if one were only playing a part, however grand a role.
On Body, Weight and Aging
“I don’t like looking at myself. I have such bad body dysmorphia.”
“I think of my body as a side effect of my mind.”
“I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say ‘Get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is.”
“There were days I could barely struggle into a size 46 or 48, months of larges and XXLs, and endless rounds of leggings with the elastic at the waist stretched to its limit and beyond – topped with the fashion equivalent of a tea cozy. And always black, because I was in mourning for my slimmer self.”
“…when I do lose the weight, I don’t like that it makes me feel good about myself. It’s not who I am.”
“Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human.”
On Mental Health & Bipolar Mood State
“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)
“I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)
“Anything you can do in excess for the wrong reasons is exciting to me.”
“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital.”
“Drugs made me feel more normal.”
“I went to a doctor and told him I felt normal on acid, that I was a light bulb in a world of moths. That is what the manic state is like.”
“I have two moods. One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs… Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.”
The manic mood ride that is Roy and the pessimistic panic that is Pam, is very familiar. I’ve not heard anyone else echo my experience of drugs making one feel normal. I tried weed, ecstasy and minor drugs like that, even smoking and drinking, but they didn’t do anything for me, indeed ecstasy made me responsible, hyper-sensible!
On Surviving and Thriving
“Ive [sic] stopped trying to take things a day at a time. I now take 2 or 3 days at once—hoping it’ll cause a blur effect & I might look younger.” via Twitter (2015)
“I don’t want to be thought of as a survivor because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift…”
“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That’s my word for it.”
“The world of manic depression is a world of bad judgment calls.”
“I’ll never be known for my work with boundaries.”
“Mistakes are a drag, because you get in the area of regret and self-pity.”
Fortunately, it’s not all bad boundaries and manic mistakes, and the following day come-down into reality and realisation that one has overstepped, overdrawn, overdone it, and occasionally overdosed. Manic can be fun, or at least hypomanic can, with just enough awareness to feel empowered, energied, extrovert and not yet into the territory of relationship, finance and employment self-destruction.
“The manic end of is a lot of fun.”
She was the brightest, funniest, bravest, kindest, cleverest and sweetest person I ever knew. A crushing blow to lose @carrieffisher
“One of the great things to pretend is that you’re not only alright, you’re in great shape. Now to have that come true – I’ve actually gone on stage depressed and that’s worked its magic on me, ’cause if I can convince you that I’m alright, then maybe I can convince me.”
“Stay afraid but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
“I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day.”
She is free now, “drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra“. Whilst she was “nonplused” about her life, we are far from nonplused at her death and feel the disruption in the force in 2016, which has been a traumatic year of loss. RIP Carrie, Princess, Queen, General and very human being, “May the Force be with you.”
Postscript: Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain, died aged 84 of a stroke within 24 hours of Carrie.
The enigma that was Prince Rogers Nelson, whose African-American family hailed from Lousiana originally burst onto the pop scene as a 17-year-old teenager, in the late 1970s. Aged just 20, in 1979, he performed his first gig with his band, who became, ‘The Revolution‘. His death, this week, leaves behind dozens of songs, lyrics, statements, and beliefs, that not everyone understood.
His own path navigated 3 engagements, 2 marriages and divorces, and the death of his only child. In 2001, he became a Jehovah Witness and said he was turning to monogamy after prior romantic links to Kim Basinger, Madonna, Sheila E., Carmen Electra, Anna Fantastic, Sherilyn Fenn, Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles, Susan Moonsie of Vanity 6, and Vanity, herself, another singer who underwent a Christian conversion and also died this year.
Prince, the Genderbending Rule-breaker
“A strong spirit transcends rules”, Prince said in a 1999 interview.
Steven W Thrasher, writing in the Guardian, writes of Prince’s genderbending and gender-busting allure:
Prince broke all the rules about what black American men should be. The musical genius captivated both men and women with his high heels, tight butt and playful sexuality – and he refused to be anyone’s slave…
…letting go of all those rules he seemed to have dispensed with? That purple clothing, those high heels and ruffled shirts: was he proudly feminine, or so secure in his masculinity he didn’t mind others questioning it? That small frame and that tight, small butt that seemed to leave him “shaking that ass, shaking that ass” for men and women alike?
Prince was a paradox in that he expanded the concept of what it meant to be a man while also deconstructing the entire idea of gender.
It was, in retrospect, the first time I experienced someone refusing to live under the oppressive binary regime of gender, or to submit to the dominant power’s rules.”
In 1982, Prince said that “What’s missing from pop music is danger – there’s no excitement and mystery”. Well, he certainly provided that mystery, much as David Bowie did.
I wanna be your lover
Wanna be your mother and your sister too
“Prince brazenly blended rock, R&B, funk, pop and jazz like few artists before or since. He pushed the envelope on sexuality and androgyny in music, dared to take on the corporate music industry…” – Star Tribune
Freedom and Fascination
From a rare interview in 1996 with, among others, NME, on the release of his ‘Emancipation’ triple album comes these quotes from Prince on freedom, life, experience and people:
“I find freedom sexy. I find freedom so sexy I can’t even explain it to you. You wake up every day and feel like you can do anything.”
“Everyone has their own experience. That’s why we are here, to go through our experience, to learn, to go down those paths and eventually you may have gone down so many paths and learned so much that you don’t have to come back again.”
“I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than by anyone else’s.”
Prince, Mystery or Madness?
“America still believes Prince to be mildly insane…’Why does everyone think I’m mad?’ he once asked his British press person. ‘Because,’ the PR replied, ‘you do weird things and you don’t explain them.’ Prince does do weird things, but he also performs live with a stage presence and a charisma that’s unrivalled in American entertainment.” – Guardian(2006)
His refusal to bow to the corporate line of either the music industry or journalists meant that he came across as ‘odd’, but his response was that he didn’t care:
“I don’t really care so much what people say about me because it usually is a reflection of who they are.”
“Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”
Being yourself and not worrying about what others thought was one of the ways he inspired others to break out.
“Cool means being able to hang with yourself. All you have to ask yourself is ‘Is there anybody I’m afraid of? Is there anybody who if I walked into a room and saw, I’d get nervous?’ If not, then you’re cool.” – Rolling Stone Magazine
Prince, Song Lyrics
Stand up everybody/This is your life
Let me take you to another world, let me take you tonight
You don’t need no money, you don’t need no clothes
The second coming, anything goes
Sexuality is all you’ll ever need
Sexuality, let your body be free…
I’m talking about a revolution we gotta organize
We don’t need no segregation, we don’t need no race
New age revelation, I think we got a case…
No child is bad from the beginning, they only imitate their atmosphere…
Stand up, organize
We need a new breed, leaders, stand up, organize
– “Sexuality” (1981)
Whenever I feel like givin’ up
Whenever my sunshine turns to rain
Whenever my hopes and dreams
Are aimed in the wrong direction
She’s always there
Tellin’ me how much she cares
She’s always in my hair
Firstly, I did not know there was a UN resolution for me to be happy today on the International Day of Happiness, nor that there was an International Society of Happiness Professionals! Perhaps their job is to help me pursue it, attaining it is another matter, a goal, not a right. However, in a UN Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 28 June 2012 it decreed:
“Recalling its resolution 65/309 of 19 July 2011, which invites Member States to pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of thepursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies, conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives, recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples, decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness!” – United Nations
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” – American Declaration of Independence
Revolution to bring about change, overturn a government, to better “effect…safety and happiness” now that’s radical!
The 17th century English philosopher and liberal John Locke, said to have influenced the US Constitution, wrote in his ‘Essay Concerning Human Understanding‘ that “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”.
“The pursuit of happiness lies at the core of human endeavors. People around the world aspire to lead happy and fulfilling lives free from fear and want.”
Does pursuing happiness annoyingly aid its very escape, making it elusive rather than an elementary state that can be taught and caught?
Happiness – All in the Mind?
Yes, we would all like lives free from fear and want, but in this world, is that any time soon? Or can we follow the optimists and Abe Lincoln and think ourselves happy, despite outward circumstances:
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
Will a positive outlook overcome those fears and wants? It certainly won’t feed us, unless we believe in some kind of positive law of attraction that by being happy we will attract to ourselves good things.
Is it as simple as clicking on www.wikihow.com/Be-Happy and following the simple steps for “How to Be Happy”? I certainly wouldn’t suggest it to anyone who has suffered from depression as I have, yet paradoxically, I have also felt an inner happiness even amidst the powerlessness and chemical low of depression. So is happiness about acceptance, contentment – even in poverty, insecurity, and challenges to mental wellbeing?
“in my darkest depression and suicidal, I, also, ceased being an optimist. Indeed, as someone who suffers from a bipolar disorder…it is all I can do to stay on top of my mood swings, and near impossible to influence them, just manage them. I do believe that, at times, one can think oneself happy – or content, at least, despite the surrounding circumstances. For, whatever may be done to the body, the mind is our last refuge and sometimes the greatest place of anxiety and attack. Yet, if we can calm that, then we may find peace amidst the storm, and internal/eternal sunshine in the darkest winter.”
Wealth and/or Happiness?
Studies suggest that a certain minimum level of wealth aids happiness but wears off with future income increments (hedonic adaptation) and lottery wins do not a happy person make. Indeed, with both wealth and poverty comes worry, worry you’ll never have it and worry you might lose it. To have money without worry would be nice. Whether you are rich or poor, being compassionate and generous can make one happier and the poor often give more than the rich, proportionately.
“Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night.“, according to psychology professor Norbert Schwarz. Similarly, “differences in reported sleep quality are associated with a very large difference in reported enjoyment during episodes at home.” – Having been both in chronic eviction-worthy debt and suffered for 44 years from insomnia, clearly I was not worried about money at 5 but I was at 45. I’m still an insomniac, but $60k might reduce anxiety further.
Just be Grateful
It is commonly suggested that being grateful can help, it puts things in perspective, and allows you to focus on the positive amidst the doom and gloom, and may lift you and turn your vision outwards and upwards. All happiness and depression can be relative. Relative to another’s better or worse condition. But the words are just words and often of little comfort when told at least you have your health, when your lack of wealth means you are fighting off debt collectors or losing your job or relationship. Indeed, your health may ungratefully quickly follow the loss of other things.
Albert Camus said, “To be happy we must not be too concerned with others”, constant comparison, pressure to conform, following the crowd, keeping up with the Joneses. Being yourself takes less energy and improves your sense of happiness.
“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus
Can Happiness be Measured in an Index?
Today may be the International Day of Happiness but the reality of that is hugely personal, cannot be dictated from on high, whether by religion or politics – the UK government even attempts to measure a happiness index but there are many ways to measure it. Whilst it cannot, to my mind, be enumerated, feeling and experiencing it, are of immeasurable worth.
Dr. Seuss would be 112 today, and certainly the non-conforming characters in his books never felt like acting their age, or following conventional wisdom, instead they offered sage advice for breaking out of the box, and being yourself, without limits.
Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote some 60 books, selling over 600 million copies, whose challenging quotes still resonate today. His birthday, March 2, has become the annual date for National Read Across America Day and comes the day before World Book Day.
“The more that you read, The more things you will know.
The more that you learn, The more places you’ll go.” I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)
Theodor Seuss Geisel, author, illustrator, cartoonist
Geisel said he was saving the name ‘Geisel’ for the Great American Novel, instead he began to use his pen name ‘Dr. Seuss’ during his time studying at Dartmouth College and continued whilst studying for a PhD in English Literature at the University of Oxford (which he did not finish, though in 1956 Dartmouth awarded him an honorary doctorate). It was at Dartmouth, as editor of a humour magazine, that he was caught drinking gin with friends in his room, during the time of Prohibition, and so with encouragement from his Professor of Rhetoric he continued clandestinely under his nom de plume. He once described himself as “subversive as hell”.
From 1927 he worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair, Life, and other publications, including as chief political cartoonist for the New York newspaper, 1941-43. At the latter newspaper, he produced some 400 political cartoons such as this one:
America First, “and the wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones but those were foreign children and it really didn’t matter”.
Perhaps, as relevant now under Donald Trump’s presidency as during the 1940s.
During World War II, he joined the Army in 1943 as a Captain and was made commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces.
His first children’s book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street did not appear until 1937 and his most famous, The Cat in the Hat, only came out in 1957.
Top 12 Best Dr Seuss Life Lessons Quotes
Or perhaps just 8, given that some are of uncertain attribution, even though they are Seuss-ian in nature and intent.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Happy Birthday to You! (1959)
“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen Hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regrets. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.”
“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” – Oh, The Places You’ll Go!(1990)
“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!” – Oh, The Places You’ll Go!(1990)
“Don’t give up! I believe in you all
A person’s a person, no matter how small!
And you very small persons will not have to die
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!” – Horton Hears a Who!(1954)
“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” – The Lorax (1971)
“Only you can control your future.”
“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” – actually Robert Fulghum,True Love (1997)
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – of doubtful attribution
Dr Seuss (originally pronounced Soice) wrote and illustrated subversively to open minds, encourage liberal reading and adventurous lives. Horton hears a Who! was allegedly an allegory of the Hiroshima bombing. Thomas Fensch describes its ideas as “universal, multinational, multi-ethnic. In a word: Equality.” – Fensch, Thomas, The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss, (2001).
He even wrote under a female pen name, Rosetta Stone, Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!! (1975). He remains loved and controversial to this day, but with some books still achieving half-million-a year book sales, he can definitely rest assured that he encouraged millions to read.
There is so much one could say about fear, one could write a book about it, indeed one is. So often fear runs, if not ruins, our lives. It did mine for 40 years. Learning to embrace fear, take the risks anyway, and have a walk on the wild side, was in part down to being ‘outed’ and then choosing to stay ‘out’ rather than retreat back into the closet of fear and self-loathing. I’ve been told I was lucky to be outed rather than face the fear of coming out! You learn to swim or run quickly when thrown to the sharks or wolves.
“fear is not something that I let rule my life, but gratitude is.” – Lana Wachowski
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
One of the most powerful books I’ve never read was the above titled volume by Susan Jeffers. Well I got as far as reading the front cover and never looked back. Nine years ago, in therapy, I paid approximately £15 a word to hear from my therapist at the end of each hour the two words, “Why not?” I spent each hour in fear and not a small amount of self-loathing, she responded, in essence, with “do it anyway”. Feed the fear – and you’ll end up paralysed and do nothing at all.
“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.” – William Jennings Bryan
The Power of Now
Eckhart Tolle’s book was also influential and similarly unfinished-unread. My ‘now’ took years to find and only a moment to nearly kill off. It took all my courage to attempt suicide nearly 4 years ago. I was “in the moment” and exhausted of surviving not thriving. Each day it took all my energy just to keep going. Albert Camus wrote that:
“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus
I’d given up trying to be normal, I had no energy left for the mask, vulnerability was easy, I had no defences left, and only one last resort.
Walk on the Wild Side
In 2015 Lou Reed was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a second time as a solo artist, the first time was as part of Velvet Underground. It was also the year that the “he [who] was a she” from his most well known Grammy Hall of Fame song -“Walk on the Wild Side“, Holly Woodlawn, died. From the appropriately named album, Transformer (1972), produced by David Bowie the song literally walked on the wild side, risking public outcry and censorship by referring to taboo topics such as transsexuality, male prostitution, colour and oral sex. Whilst British censors missed the references or ignored them, the US released an edited version of the single minus the oral sex reference. I want to live an unedited life!
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’
Candy came from out on the island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
The lyrics describe several of the colourful individuals who frequented Andy Warhol’s New York studio including transwomen and actresses Holly Woodlawn (who died this month after appearing as Vivian in two episodes of the Amazon television drama series Transparent about a family with a transgender father), Candy Darling (d.1974 aged 29), and Jackie Curtis (d.1985 aged 38). Warhol was an inspiration and mentor to Reed.
The title “Walk on the Wild Side” comes from a 1956 novel by Nelson Algren of which, he remarked:
“The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives.”
The New York Times Book Review said of it: “His hell burns with passion for heaven.” It was also the source of Algren’s “three rules of life“:
“Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.”
Rules to live by: Don’t be afraid of anyone
Lou Reed’s widow of a 21-year relationship and musician in her own right, Laurie Anderson, gave a speech on his behalf this year and quoted their three rules to live by:
Don’t be afraid of anyone
Get a good bullshit detector
Be really tender
“One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”
The Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss
So much irreverent wisdom comes from Dr Seuss, not the least of which is this:
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
The most important bit of which is “be who you are“, sometimes “saying what you feel” can be worth some discretion and discernment. A past girlfriend taught me a lot about authenticity and learning to be myself has been the best journey of my life, and I’ve travelled extensively, and not without the odd international incident in the Middle East and Africa!
Whilst mid-life crises often afflict us in our forties, it is said that life begins at fifty. “A massive 92% of women in their 50s say they’re happier than they’ve ever been“. At 50, we’re over halfway and have learned hopefully to let go of the things that held us back thus far. For me, having led a double life until 40, it feels like I’m having a second bite of the cherry. If football is a game of two halves, then I’m in the mid-match break about to kick-off the second half.
“What would you be like if you were the only person in the world? If you want to be truly happy you must be that person.” – Quentin Crisp
New Year’s Resolution, New Me
I turn 49 in 2016, I’ll have been on female hormones (my male ones never worked anyway) for 6 years and I’ve finally plucked up the courage to go under the knife (6 Feb 2016) for what some would erroneously call cosmetic surgery – for many trans people, it’s life saving surgery. It’s actually a labioplasty not the usually requested vaginoplasty, and it’s probably not for the reasons one may suspect.
It’s more about a letting go of something than gaining anything new. But it’s the letting go, that was holding me back, leaving me in a literal “no man’s land” limbo the last decade.
One of my several psychiatrists (I’ve been married to one, and had four, along with a couple of psychologists) once said to me:
“You are the most reluctant transsexual I’ve ever met!”
I’ve tried everything from Christian deliverance and healing, denial, suicide, to sex and body workshops, self-development work, and yet more therapy and therapists, to avoid being me. I’m not expecting surgery to change me, rather to free myself up from some unnecessary encumbrances, literally! I dealt with the emotional baggage some time ago, now for the physical baggage. I expect to be travelling lighter from now on.
3 Rules of Life: Be Real, Be You, Be Free
“Sorry for being me but I have great difficulty being anybody else” – Spike Milligan
As Oscar Wilde never said, instead it appears to have been some millennial advertising slogan, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. What Oscar did say was:
“One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead” (1882)
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” (1890)
Well, I tried the mask and he lied. Dropping the public persona and allowing the vulnerable inner me to step out and lead my real life. It has been undeniably scary but a ride nonetheless, and the journey is only just beginning. 2015 feels like it is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end of my old life. 2016 will allow me to move forward with a bit less of my body and a whole lot more of me.
After the death of Motörhead drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor last month at 61 and amidst rumours of the passing of guitarist Phil Campbell this month, frontman and founder Lemmy has lost life’s last gamble to cancer, aged 70. Over 50 years playing in bands, nearly 40 with Motörhead, he’d played alongside Jimi Hendrix and the Hollies, with the latter his “drummer succeeded in being a complete cunt and destroyed the stage under himself and fell into the hole!”
Asked just weeks ago when he was going to die, Lemmy said he was sick of the question:
“Death is an inevitability, isn’t it? You become more aware of that when you get to my age. I don’t worry about it. I’m ready for it. When I go, I want to go doing what I do best. If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain. It’s been good.” – Classic Rock
He lived life full throttle, at speed, at times on speed or acid. He argued for the legalising of heroin to get the dealers off the street. He was “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” incarnate, for he never saw Motörheadas a Metal band, but a full-on Rock band.
“Very basic music – loud, fast, city, raucous, arrogant, paranoid, speed-freak rock n roll. It will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die“.
He played and sang in Hawkwind splitting over “pharmaceutical differences”! He then formed his own band so that “no-one can fire me again”, calling it Bastard before renaming to Motörhead – “US slang for someone who takes speed and also the title of the last song he had penned for Hawkwind.”
Motorhead, The Ace of Spades
Playing, touring and recording to the end, the band produced 21 albums including their most famous – Ace of Spades, in 1980.
Poker’s Dead Man’s Hand is reputed to have contained the Ace of Spades, Ace of Clubs and a pair of Eights, Wild Bill Hickok’s last hand as he died from gunshots. He was once described himself as “unchanging, unflinching- a gunslinger surrounded by mice“. The lyrics of the title song included the words:
“If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man,
You win some, lose some, all the same to me,
The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say,
I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is
The Ace Of Spades
Playing for the high one, dancing with the devil,
Going with the flow, it’s all the game to me,…
You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t wanna live for ever,…“
Lemmy played hard and fast with life, after drawing the cancer diagnosis card on Boxing Day he was dead two days later.
Once pressed the wrong button in assembly, played ‘The Ace of Spades’ to 100 primary school children, think #Lemmy would approve #RestinRock
Lemmy first performed in a band called The Motown Sect in Manchester then Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars dressed as a cleric, his biological father had been an RAF Chaplain and vicar, but he had no time for religion himself, indeed:
“the way [his father] behaved put me off religion for life. He ran off and left my mother and I didn’t see him for 25 years…[he was] kicked out of the church”.
He didn’t hold back on telling people the truth as he saw it, even if it upset people.
“The only interesting thing about religion is how many people it’s slaughtered. Communism and Nazism are religions as well, make no mistake about it.” – interview with Louder Than War
“Religion is stupid anyway. I mean, a virgin gets pregnant by a ghost! You would never get away with that in a divorce court, would you?” – interview with Radio Metal
Lemmy might have agreed with Kurgan in Highlander (1986), speaking to a priest and church congregation:
“I have something to say! It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”
RIP Lemmy Kilmister, and Motorhead?
Lemmy lived loud like Motörhead’s sound, “born to lose but lived to win” according to his bandmates. He had no regrets.
“If I have to die and be on my deathbed regretting decisions I made, I’m not interested in that…I don’t do regrets. Regrets are pointless. It’s too late for regrets. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? You’ve lived your life. No point wishing you could change it.”
During a Motörhead tour of Finland in 1988, he was asked by a journalist why he had kept going for so long, even back then: “We’re still here,” he replied, “because we should have died a long time ago but we didn’t.” He, and more than likely Motörhead, now have.
It seems everything is taxed these days, from bedrooms to tampons, oversized coffins and even death itself. Death and taxes, not the punk song by Kid Dynamite, nor the debut 1941 novel by accountant David Dodge about a tax expert and reluctant detective James ‘Whit’ Whitney, but those certainties first twinned by Christopher Bullock in his 1716 Cobbler of Preston, and no, it was not Mark Twain, either:
“’Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes!”
In 1724’s Dancing DevilsEdward Ward wrote of their certainty:
“Death and Taxes, they are certain.”
That devilish certainty was repeated by Daniel Defoe in his 1726 Political History of the Devil:
“Things as certain as Death and Taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.”
More familiar, perhaps is the reference by Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, in the year of the French Revolution, 1789.
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Margaret Mitchell added a third inconvenience in her 1936 book Gone With the Wind:
“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”
Will Rogers quipped that:
“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
Death from Taxes
Of the two certainties in life, death and taxes, there are as many curious taxes as causes of death, indeed some of the former may be brought about by the latter. Government austerity cuts, a kind of reverse taxation but cutting benefits, can lead to deaths too – suicides, illness, and accidental – as one listener to BBC Radio 4 pointed out this week, having a DWP fitness for work interview pass you as fit when you suffer from blackouts and then you get a job as a driver and plough down innocent pedestrians in a dustbin lorry, for example.
My favourite misguided tax is still the window tax, not the Windows tax – the cost of bundling Microsoft Windows with all new PCs. The 1696 tax is still much in evidence today by bricked up 17th-18th century building windows. Allegedly it is the origin of the term “daylight robbery”, and only repealed in 1851 after complaints that it was a “tax on health”, and a “tax on light and air”. Just like income tax there was a tax-free allowance of 6-8 windows. The origins of the first council tax, in fact, with property bands based upon the number of windows – so people cheated and bricked up their windows – when they could afford the bricks.
The Brick Tax
Thank god, not on Lego, but on bricks and taxed at manufacturing source on the builders during the revenue-raising needs of the Napoleonic and American Wars and after up until 1850. It was charged per brick so canny builders increased the size of them until the government of the day capped the maximum size of a brick by law. Clever tax avoidance is not a modern phenomena restricted to Amazon, Apple, Ebay, Google, Starbucks, Vodafone etc.
The Hat Tax
Another means of funding wars was the hat tax, which was essentially on the wealthy. Nonetheless milliners found ways round it, reclassifying their headgear leading to a legal definition of a hat in 1804, or faking the tax labels at great risk as hat tax avoidance could merit the death penalty – something to reconsider for Apple and Amazon?
The Hearth Tax
The late 17th century hearth and stove tax on heating and fireplaces served to take from the necessities of life to provide for the luxuries of life of King Charles II.
The Wallpaper Tax
Introduced under Queen Anne in 1712 but ran for 124 years on preprinted and painted wallpaper at least. This led to artistic ingenuity and spontaneous on-site stenciling on plain papers by creative builders and decorators.
The Soap Tax
The “mischievous and vexatious” soap tax raised as much as alcohol duty does today. It ran for 142 years until its repeal in 1853. It was levied upon the weight of soap not its quality or value and thus disproportionately affected the poor and prejudiced their cleanliness and overall health. It became a slave trade issue under William Gladstone who abolished it in favour of a less distorted market in African palm oil products.
“AMONGST our numerous taxes, this is one of the worst. It is levied on an article essential both to cleanliness and health; it is very unequal; for whilst the duty adds two thirds to the price of the coarse soap which the poor man uses, it becomes trivial when levied on the refined and scented soaps of the rich. It combines in itself, and that to a considerable extent, two of the most objectionable elements in taxation: duties are laid upon all the raw materials of its manufacture, and then a heavy duty, both mischievous and vexatious, is levied upon the manufactured commodity, the effect of the regulations under which it is collected being to encourage smuggling, and to shut out all improvement in the legitimate trade.” – The Spectator, 27 April 1833
A Beard Tax
A tax on beards – a surefire way to raise money today out of coiffured lumbersexuals – was apparently a myth. Razors and shaving items are, however, taxed at 20% which is actually a tax on non-beards!
A Tampon Tax
Yes, unlike beards but not shaving, they are taxed – albeit at a reduced rate of 5% rather than the 20% VAT on other allegedly non-medically necessary health and sanitary care products. That they should be taxed at all is a scandal, but it is a false argument to compare them to men’s sanitary products, despite shaving being a choice and bleeding, not one, since men’s grooming products are mostly charged at 20%.
Variations on this have been around since time immemorial. Censuses make it possible. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 opposed it as did the people’s revolt of 1990, i.e., the UK ‘Poll Tax’ riots under Margaret Thatcher. After the Black Death took out half the population there was a shortage of supply and increased opportunities for the surviving working population. This led to socio-economic upward mobility and a power shift towards labourers, something the property classes did not like. War with France needed finance and so repeated taxes on every adult were applied and raised. The second poll tax was actually quite fair based upon seven different English classes, and taxing the wealthiest upper classes the most. It was broadly evaded and avoided though and raised little, prompting a third flat rate tax on everyone, which was the one that caused the lower classes to rebel.
The Council Tax
Coming in as allegedly more progressive than the infamous headcount Poll Tax or Community Charge, the Council Tax is often raised for reform as the values of houses and banding have changed so radically since its inception and a review is well overdue. Adding additional higher bands would be an excellent tax on property, but it is the people with property that make the decisions and they are reticent.
The Bedroom Tax
Or “Spare Room Subsidy” as politicians on one side of the House tried to label it, but like the Poll Tax, the colloquial name stuck. It is a reduction in benefit, another tax by stealth, on housing benefit for having an alleged excess of bedrooms – leading to attempts to redefine the smallest room as a box room and uninhabitable. Of course private tenants, were already receiving reduced benefits for living alone as brought in under Labour. Council social housing tenants were not affected until the Conservatives applied similar but not identical rules to them. it cruelly and disproportionately affected the disabled and their carers, the elderly keeping a spare room for family, and families with those in the forces rendered unable to maintain a room at home for them.
The Inheritance Tax
This is at one at the same time the fairest and unfairest tax. It is a kind of tax on death itself, a double taxation on property acquired through previously taxed income and expenditure, since there is also a Stamp Duty Tax on property purchase. Whilst it is blatantly an unethical double taxation, it is obviously affordable, though the rich circumvent it and the asset rich, cash poor are most affected by being unable to pass on a family home without selling up.
Tax Evasion and Avoidance
The more you have, the easier it is to avoid responsibility and requirement. The irony of public ownership is the duty to shareholders to maximise profit and minimise tax on commercial enterprises. Artfully called tax avoidance or reduction, or even tax flight, only tax evasion is technically illegal. The rest, many regard as unethical. As Plato said, that avoidance is unjust.
“When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.”
Taxes are necessary evils, originally bought in to finance wars rather than the welfare state. Tax collectors and money lenders are oft caricatured as evil themselves. In some countries, Hijra trans people are employed to shame and embarrass people into paying their taxes.
A number of Middle Eastern countries have just bought in taxes for the first time with the price of oil at a recent low meaning that they cannot live off their natural assets.
Competing economists and politicians have argued for a low flat rate tax that is paid by all and encourages compliance and simplicity versus complex and graduated taxes on income and wealth which are often avoided. From Churchill to Thatcher many have argued that lower taxes encourage prosperity and allegedly raise more revenues.
“It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low, and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the tax rates.” – John F. Kennedy
“For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.” – Winston Churchill
The UK tax handbook runs to thousands of pages, wouldn’t a simple flat tax be better? Even if it were true, it would raise prosperity for all, in an uneven, unfair way.
Taxes on consumption of alcohol and tobacco, fuel and certain foods, are the easiest to administer but fall heaviest on the poor.
No tax seems fair and more of us want to live off-grid, bringing back barter and local exchanged trading schemes as alternates to taxable currency, income and purchases, until, that is, we use a road, call the police, or need the NHS and wonder how we pay for it? The better the life we want, the more we will need taxes to pay for it, and the less we can rely on diminishing natural resources to prop up the state. Taxes are about responsibility and being wealthy enough to be income taxed at least means being better off than those that live below the minimum income tax bracket. I’d love to be rich enough to have to pay a 40-50% tax on higher income levels!