Tag Archives: Light

Maya Angelou & Martin Luther King anniversaries. What can they teach us?

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

Maya Angelou - You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I'll rise. 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”.

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969

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.

“We must confess that we are the possible.”

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.

New Year Reflections on Light and Darkness; Health, Wealth and Madness

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

Light falling on darkened tree branches
Light falling on darkened tree branches

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

Faerie lights dancing in the relfections of the lens
Faerie lights dancing in the relfections of the lens

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 would 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.

 

 

Those 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. 

 

Bastille Day Reign of Terror in Nice, France – Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Terror claims 84 lives in Nice, France

During Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, a French-Tunisian has used a 19-tonne lorry to mow down revellers and civilians, and to shoot at police before he was killed himself. This is France’s second large-scale terror atrocity in 8 months since Paris’ Bataclan and third since Charlie Hebdo. Whilst Liberté, égalité, fraternité (ou la mort) was the cry of the French Revolution and last night’s revelries, life and liberty have been taken from many, including 10 children, due to someone’s lack of belief in equality and fraternity.

French flag 3 terror attacks, Charlie Hebdo, Paris Bataclan, Nice
Three terror attacks in 18 months: Charlie Hebdo, Paris Bataclan, Nice

It is time to assert our common humanity and not ideological differences, although the exact motivation and any affiliation of the heinous act are not yet known. Neighbours described Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as a divorced loner who was not evidently religious, nor had any known terrorist leanings according to security services. Yet, people are jumping to condemn Islam, Muslims, immigration, rather than the possibilty of his being a ‘lone wolf’ attacker or disturbed individual.

French prime minister, Manuel Valls, said in a statement:

“We are facing a war that terrorism has started against us. The objective of the terrorists is to instil fear and panic…Times have changed and we should learn to live with terrorism. We have to show solidarity and collective calm. France has been hit in its soul on 14 July, our national day. They wanted to attack the unity of the French nation. The only dignified response is that France will remain loyal to the spirit of 14 July and its values.” – Manuel Valls

President of the Nice region, Christian Estrosi, has held a press conference, in which he said:

“This is the worst catastrophe our region has seen in modern history. We now have to mobilise all of our services, all the psychologists, volunteers who are trained to help fellow human beings. We will work with the imams, priests and rabbis who will also join us to help the victims and families who are suffering and will probably never heal their wounds … I want to thank people who welcomed passersby and those people who show us tonight that hopefully, solidarity still exists in a world that is too egoistical and individualistic.” – Christian Estrosi

Jump to my personal response.

National & International Responses

Kneejerk responses have followed, with not a little emphasis on the ‘jerk’, coming from Donald Trump, “declaring war on terrorism” – we are here in part due to Bush’s “war on terror” and the criminal targeting and bombing of countries not individuals and ideologies. Trump also called for “extreme vetting”, a ban on immigration from terrorist countries and when challenged about home-grown terrorism, such as Orlando, said that “second generation” immigrants were “very bad” too.

Front National‘s leader, Marine Le Pen, speaking to Le Figaro called for “the closure of salafist mosques” amongst other right wing responses including this: “The war against the scourge of Islamic fundamentalism has not started, it is urgent now to declare”, all that before any evidence it was extremist Islamist.

Meanwhile, President’s Hollande’s threat to scale-up French intervention in Syria and Iraq, is incendiary and not helpful.

Germany and Italy have ordered tighter border controls with France.

Theresa May said a similar attack in the UK was “highly likely” and called for new police powers. She said that “The United Kingdom stands shoulder to shoulder with France”, well shoulder to shoulder in the future from outside the European Union. What a time to be leaving. The European Arrest Warrant applies to all 28 EU nations plus Norway and Switzerland, but obviously not Canada – the Single European Market model that David Davis, Brexit Minister, is in favour of adopting.

Jeremy Corbyn, on behalf of the Labour Party said this:

“Those killed yesterday will doubtless have been of different religions, ethnicities and nationalities. It was an attack on us all, attempting to set people against each other. That is why instead, we stand together, now and always, in defense of tolerance, peace and justice.” – Jeremy Corbyn

Jump to my personal response.

Social Media Response

Social Media was using numerous hashtags to stay up to date with the attack and offer support: #NiceAttack, ‪#‎JeSuisNice,‬ ‪#‎PrayForNice,‬ ‪#‎PortesOuvertesNice‬.

I have to admit to having a problem with #PrayForNice. Prayer doesn’t stop hate, indeed some prayers – Jewish, Christian and Muslim, incentivise it. Loving action stops hate. Loving acceptance, prevents it breeding in the first place.

Newspaper Headlines

Torn between “Tour de Farce” and Tory reshuffle headlines the newspapers couldn’t pull their first editions quick enough. Headline writers were regretting their already gone-to-print titles that ran with Brexit bloodbath or Cabinet massacre, etc. Political careers cut short, would seem so facile by the second editions which carried details of the actual bloodbath and massacre in ‪#Nice‬.

Sports pages ran with “Tour de Farce” and described Froome being “forced to run as crowds cause Tour farce” meanwhile in Nice crowds were running for their lives from a lorry and its driver intent on running or gunning them down.

“We left just before the truck came and then I looked out of the window and saw a river of people running and crying. It looked like the apocalypse but I didn’t know what was going on.” – Leila Pasini

Business paper City A.M. ran with an image of sniper’s crosshairs describing Theresa May’s “taking aim at Whitehall departments”

The Daily Mirror initially had a Coronation Street storyline about the death of Kylie Platt on the street’s cobbles – rather too close to people lying dead on the streets of Nice. Beneath that, it had Jeremy Hunt boasting about rumours of his (political) death being greatly exaggerated.

Daily Mirror 15 July 2016 front page first second editions
Daily Mirror 15 July 2016 front page first v second editions

Sailing By & Shipping Forecast Calm

My own reflections on Nice went through a distant relative grief process, as I feel a European more than a Brit and spoke at a Charlie Hebdo memorial in January last year. After the sadness and anger,  needed catharsis – and for that I turned to writing and the shipping forecast!

My first response was to keep up with the news barrage, mainly over social media and the Guardian live updates which trumped the BBC for immediacy. Sucked in like a Stockholm Syndrome victim it became hard to pull away from the uncertainty of whether it was over or was it only the beginning of multiple attacks. After several hours and the final midnight news broadcast, I ended up listening to BBC Radio 4’s “Sailing By” and the Shipping Forecast for their mundane reassurance that the world hadn’t gone mad, or had it? At least with the weather, a storm blows out, a flood abates, but the escalation of extremist terror seems to just keep coming like an undead zombie horde amidst a Game of Thrones winter.

Blame brought no resolution, nor is revolution and fresh invasion of the axes of evil. Evolution, on the other hand, is. Not a survival of the fittest, the ones with the biggest guns, cruelest views, etc, but an evolution of recognition of our common humanity, fellow human rights, freedoms to coexist, communicate, collaborate, learn from and love each other, irrespective of creed, colour, gender or sexuality.

A month ago, I spoke at an Orlando vigil and quoted MLK whose words remain as true as ever:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King

Pulp‘s Jarvis Cocker chose “Sailing By” as one of his Desert Island Discs, saying for many years that he’d used it “as an aid to restful sleep”

After the sadness and the solace came the guilt that I couldn’t pull away from other people’s pain, that what was real and terrifying for them was a distance news addiction for me. That each individual loss or injury was just a journalistic bean counter increasing and updating as the night dragged on. I had also begun writing and reflecting upon Baghdad’s worst ever post-war atrocity and not been able to post it or a #JeSuisBaghdad update as I’d done before because I was embedded in the outcome of the EU Referendum and pro-EU and anti-hate rallies ever since.

How do I go outside tomorrow and look at the sky, the birds, a flower, and regain my faith in humanity, in human nature? I don’t believe in a biblical Fall anymore, but are we not fallen, flawed?

Fortunately, my faith in humankind is renewed by acts of love and community, as when people rallied round the arson-attacked Eastern European shop on Magdalen St in Norwich, when 200 lovebombed the store, when 400 showed up to support Norwich migrant communities this week, when 2000 peacefully countered and overwhelmed an EDL demonstration in 2012 here.

Like as morning follows night, so my hope will rise anew with the dawn, well perhaps a little later, around coffee time…

Je Suis Tous Le Monde

What is happening in Nice happens nearly every day in Iraq, frequently in Syria, increasingly often in Turkey, and worryingly 3 times in 18 months in France.

National Poetry Day – “First Light”

National Poetry Day – “Light”

The theme of National Poetry Day this year is “light”, and so, living in a wood, where dawn creeps up through the trees until it bursts forth through my windows, I attempted a poem – I am not a poet!

I could sit and improve its scanning – which like my musical and non-musical timekeeping may be distinctly lacking, dig deep into my befuddled brain for more graceful and curious words, use less lustful alliteration, or just enjoy the creative process. And so, it will suffice. Writing as a process, especially the cathartic and therapeutic, is often best enjoyed imperfect and half-constructed like just being present and watching, rather than trying to capture, a sunrise before it is gone. I enjoyed writing it, that’s the important point.

Fear of Poetry

More than that, it helped restore a fear of poetry had since school. I know I can write, non-fiction that is, I even have a sketched out dystopian fiction I’d like to write – but don’t yet trust my ability. But, poetry – that was killed off in school. I’ve written only one other in 30+ years.

It sounds best – as all poetry should, read aloud – with a dictionary on hand afterwards to look up the stygian definitions of Cimmerians, caliginous and crepuscular if they are new to you!

I was inspired listening to a BBC Radio 4 recitation in Middle English by Kaiti Soultana from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Just beautiful.

I now want to spend the day listening to Dylan Thomas. Poetry, like rugby, seems to be best played by the Welsh!

First Light

Night’s obsidian obscurity
Draped in its sable cloak
As a necromancer’s nefarious
Theft of yesterday’s sun

The dark Cimmerian conspiracy
Inconsistently lunar lit
Stolen illustrious illumination
Swift to flight, slow to return

Just as Stygian stealth enveloped
Sun’s setting the night before
Swirling caliginous clouds obfuscate
And bury its subdued disc

Sleep inconveniently intervenes
Sending all to slumber
Except the stars that puncture
Night’s indistinct ink

Yet dawn’s crepuscular creep
First blush of orange and pink
Painting pastel perimeters
Drawing forth pre-dawn

Light leaks, dispels darkness
Night’s mourning veil withdraws
Dawn declares its intent
A new canvas is prepared

Twilight tweets its birth
Nature’s nests peep forth
Panes of windows warm
Rivulets of moisture drip

Aurora invokes sleepy sunrise
Calls to creation’s creatures
Awake, shake off the night
Day’s divine design awaits

Sunrise during Paint Out Wells, Norfolk
Sunrise during Paint Out Wells, Norfolk

The photos were taken by me at dawn during the Paint Out Wells sunrise ‘paint out’ at Wells-next-the-Sea Norfolk. I’m better at photography than poetry!