Don’t get me wrong. I like blue as a colour. But there was a moment yesterday when I seriously thought about throwing away anything I owned that was blue. I realise it was intemperate and that our life shouldn’t really be that colour coded. I stopped as I realised that the Saltire is blue and that should be a symbol of hope. At first I couldn’t even bear to look at it. Then I realised it was pointless to resist the clouds, they are part of the picture. When you have turn your face to the wall, blue becomes black.
Yesterday, at least for me, the bright, sunny, hopeful corner of the North East of Scotland turned overnight to the deepest, most mournful ‘true’ blue. It was the tories on the rise. I heard the dull tones of StarWars in my head as Darth Vadar strides into view. Over-dramatic I know, but that’s what it still feels like.
I will not give them a capital letter. It’s a small act of resistance. I will not privilege them with a capital. I do not even want to write about them. I’m sure you don’t want to read about them. We have to live with them, but please…. We must, as soon as possible, get back to our own, more positive narratives. A way to balance reality of the conditions we are living under with the reality of our personal experience. Escapism isn’t the answer. Being a bird in a gilded cage, or lying back on a beach soaking up a foreign sun, isn’t the answer.
I am kept going by Milton who, if my schooldays serve me correctly ‘was of the Devil’s party without knowing it’ when he wrote in Paradise Lost ‘What though he field be lost? All is not lost, the inconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate. And courage never to submit or yield.’ These words were given to his ‘heroic’ version of Satan, and sparked many a controversy and yards of writing about form and content, narrative and politics and what indeed ‘heroism’ actually is. They’ve stuck with me over 40 years and sustained me through many a dark night.
But there are other stories. My gracenote is ‘words that do not match deeds are unimportant.’ This is the mantra by which I try to live. I have learned that even in narrative (perhaps especially in narrative) we can be subjected to slavery. Things we take for granted – like the concept of the hero – can (and are) used to promote socio-political ends. I’m a big lover of 19th century fiction, but I have learned to see it for what it is – and much of what it is, is an attempt to convince people of a ‘world view’. I’ve learned not to buy into it wholesale. I’ve learned that how we write is at least as important as what we write. The pen is many, many times mightier than the sword, but it is also a pliable, soft, sop of a Lotus root which can dull the senses. Reader, you have to engage and interpret. Eyes must stay firmly open and brain must match. Don’t just buy into the ‘story’ – question everything. Live and learn.
My latest ‘discovery’ – which might seem worlds away from Satan’s invective, but actually is the way I deal with ‘courage never to submit or yield’ these days, is Barrie’s ‘Shall we make a new rule of life: always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.’ It is bizarre (but true) that these days it is an act of resistance to be kind. It is a powerful tool in the face of all that hate – and yes, I feel the hate too, especially as I watched the sun being ripped out of the sky to be replaced with the dark sneer of a cold blue dawn. Being kinder than necessary – and understanding the Scots humour therein contained – and understanding that it is an act of powerful resistance but only if the words and deeds match – is difficult in the extreme but it is a more positive way to live life.
And it occurs to me as we revisit 1983 (with another 1984 just around the corner) that living our lives the best we can, in the face of a God who not only doesn’t exist or care, but wants to crush us both spiritually, intellectually and economically, is the way to arm ourselves. #itsourworldtoo.
I’m a writer so words mean even more to me than colours. Words are my currency and my way of making sense of the world. They are my way to resist. And dealing in words like ‘strong,’ ‘stable’ and ‘certain’ is not a currency I feel comfortable with. None of these things in and of themselves suggest or even require decency, equality, social justice and none of them suggest a life well lived to me.
So what to do when the words and the colours conspire to create a picture that I cannot accept? Find a new palette. Be different but be true – do you understand what Vincent van Gogh was trying to do now then? I think so. Starry nights, wheatfield with crows, blue face and chopped off ear… here was a man exploring semiotics, accused of madness. I suggest that the world was madder than Vincent. And still is. Now, of course, he is simply commodified. His value is far greater than money.
The message I take from Vincent is don’t sit on the sidelines of life. Don’t just play at it or be kept under the yoke of silence. Resist. In whatever positive way you can. And mean it. Emotion is a good thing. These days we have a desperate fear of sentiment. Not just sentiment, any emotion. How many times do you hear someone say ‘It was quite emotional’ as if that’s a) not a good thing b) something to be embarrassed by or c) something to apologise for? Without emotion we are not human. It’s what we do with the emotion that matters. We need, I suggest, to harness it and to use it positively as a conduit, a mediator, a way to connect with other emotional beings. There is no place for the stiff upper lip in my world.
It is times like this that McRenegades was really conceived for. It’s a space, a place where you can resist. Where you can ‘be’ yourself and hear your own voice spoken.
Social media tends to curtail speech (free or otherwise). People want to shout but not to listen. When they come across an opposing view they try to bludgeon, to crush, to bully. So those with more sensitive dispositions leave the room. Their voices are never heard – even by themselves. We have truly entered the sounds of silence prophesied by Simon and Garfunkel. And yet ‘it’s the words that we don’t say that scare me so’ as Elvis Costello noted. That’s why I write – speaking through the keyboard. But you have to choose your space carefully. Here at McRenegades we tend to fall under the radar of the vitriolic world of mainstream social media. We like to offer a platform for those who genuinely want to communicate from between the lines of the text, or who feel that they live in some marginal viewpoint. Maybe you won’t get loads of comments (but on the up side you’re unlikely to be ripped to shreds as you would on FB or Twitter) but, if you have a positive and genuine thing to say, you can ‘put it out there’ with less fear of being ripped apart. We’re a ‘listening’ place as well as a talking space. Mostly, we are a virtual space for you to explore your emotions. You may feel like you are writing into silence but I can assure you, you are not. It may just be that those reading don’t yet have the confidence to respond. We have all had the ability to engage critically in a positive manner beaten out of us over the years. This is not a place for the beautiful or popular kids. It’s a place for those who see through all that – for those who may not be ‘in touch’ with their emotions but who don’t just want, but somehow need, to try and communicate their experience of the world. It’s a place to build your confidence. To be allowed to shout your mouth off. To paint the sky green and ‘vaunt aloud, racked in deep despair.’ But above all, it’s a place to learn how to engage with the world on your own terms.
Perhaps now there’s a few more Scots feeling blue who might want to take us up on the offer to become McRenegades. We’re happy to welcome folk who have the ‘courage never to submit or yield’ but who are equally comfortable with the idea that ‘being a little kinder than is necessary’ is a powerful tool in the armoury. Work through that anger. But don’t be consumed by it. Don’t wallow in the depths of ‘the blues’. Today, and tomorrow is raining in my heart but I’ll follow the sun!
Our name is not legion, for we are few. But ‘here’s tae us, wha’s like us? Damned few an’ they’re a’ deid.’ Even in the silence – we are here. We write from the heart not from or for the wallet. We’re McRenegades.
And you know what the best line of resistance I’ve ever found is? always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.’ I’ve found it seriously pisses ‘them’ off. They want us angry and desperate. Change the context. Draw a new picture. Write outside the lines. Be happy Be good. Be a new kind of hero. I’m working on a novel about a new heroism where the individual is not pitted against his society. That’s my contribution. Watch this space. – No – don’t watch this space – start working on it yourself. ‘Be the change you want to see.’