Four months without a post is long even for me and this very irregularly updated website. It wasn’t intentional and normally I probably would have at least filled the gap with a couple of playlists or something, but the fact is I’ve been experiencing something like writer’s block and I’m starting to get weird about it, so this is something at least.
I say ‘something like’ writer’s block because technically it really isn’t that; this year I’ve written thousands of words for various places (Zero Tolerance Magazine, Record Collector and some but not enough for the fantastic Echoes & Dust) and at the beginning of the year I had my usual burst of new year productivity and optimism that seems to have fizzled out.
It’s not that I don’t want to write, even less that I don’t have things I want to write about, I’ve had half-formed, half-alive ideas squirming around in my brain for months, so far stubbornly refusing to take an actual writeable-about shape, which is always frustrating. Normally my strategy (okay, not as organised as an actual strategy) would be to just write about something else. Change direction, clear the head, just write something – a playlist seems to be one of my go to things, because they are fun to write and to think about, but although I have listened to a lot of music, both professionally (so to speak; ie as a reviewer/music journalist) and for my own entertainment they haven’t inspired me to write any more than I had to for work purposes; not the music’s fault.
That said, I’ve put on some records and started writing. So why this mental state? There are various reasons, internal and external, for this. One obvious external one is (tempting to say *everything*) the current political climate. There are people who love to write about political turmoil and make gripping reading out of it; I am not one of those people it would seem. I feel engaged with current affairs up to a point, then swamped by and eventually numbed to them (for instance, I used to watch BBC Breakfast while getting ready for work, but the reinterpretation of impartiality to mean finding someone who holds an objectionable view on every topic has made the show feel a much less light way to start the day and now I usually put on whatever old sitcom Channel 4 is showing – within reason, obviously – or an old film. I’m not quite at the Good Morning Britain stage of mental fragility yet).
I think this numbness to current affairs is probably quite common and also counted upon to a degree by people in government. There are so many movements among people to close off, to separate, to create little pools of alike-ness; basically the opposite of how I feel, but although this kind of zeitgeist has the (one would think positive) effect of making those who oppose it more vocal, it seems ironically, like ‘Tortuous Convolvulus’ in Asterix and the Roman Agent, to breed a very isolating kind of discord where, despairing of any kind of broad agreement, the temptation is to avoid becoming entangled in debates at all and taking refuge in the comfortable and familiar – ironically playing into the spirit of the time after all.
And there’s Brexit. I have my own thoughts about Brexit, but only one I’ll share here because god knows there’s enough stuff about it everywhere. To me, the whole situation demonstrates one of the vulnerabilities of the UK’s particular version of parliamentary democracy (and perhaps parliamentary democracy in general; I don’t know enough about other countries to comment confidently). The particular vulnerability I mean is the way the system can essentially be hijacked by small groups of people within it, who have an axe to grind.
The referendum result and its legitimacy can be argued about ad infinitum, but the fact is that I am old enough to remember people protesting and/or marching about many things pre-2016 (war, taxes, air strikes), but EU membership wasn’t one of them. And had the referendum not been called, people wouldn’t have been rioting in the streets demanding it. But a small number of MPs were able to pressurise the situation within parliament to make the issue into a national debate. A similar group could just as easily (and I would guess just as divisively) bring debates about things like the death penalty or drugs or abortion to the public realm – and I imagine they will, if they get the chance. But the EU was the issue that at this time affects their business interests and inflames their xenophobia, so we’re stuck with it.
I am tempted to blame the Conservative party and UKIP for the situation simply because I detest everything they stand for; actually, I’ll just do that; it’s their fault. The very prevalent narrative that the days of entities like the EU are numbered also comes, not by and large from the voices of “the people” (and how would we hear it if it did? Yes online and in places like this; ie blogs that nobody reads – but except in extreme cases like riots etc, the voices of the people only become amplified after being filtered through politicians and governments before being heard internationally), but from the exact same kinds of self-interested parties as those who pushed Brexit onto the national agenda in the first place.
None of which is not to say that the views of pressure groups within parliament haven’t been foisted on the public before – and they certainly will be again. As far as I’m concerned though, the role of government is purely to represent the views and interests of the electorate and not to foist its own views onto it, but as Brexit shows, when that does happen the people are essentially at the mercy of the party in charge, even ludicrously denied a say in events as they unfold because what they may or may not want now can’t be allowed to undermine what they wanted at a previous date; when that was the thing the party in charge was seeking at least.
What is the solution? Well, some kind of serious parliamentary reform, which I imagine will eventually happen whatever the outcome of Brexit; but more than that, it would be nice if the idea that we are led or ruled by parliament could give way to the truth – or what should be the truth – of it: that we are represented, by people who work for us and are paid to put the views and interests of their constituents forward. As long as people talk and think about ‘Westminster’, or ‘Holyrood’, or ‘Brussels’ (forgive all the inverted commas; obnoxious) as if they are entities beyond their control that act in their own mysterious interests, it won’t change. Holding people to account isn’t a radical idea, it’s what democracy is supposed to do. Also, I think we should pay MPs “the average” wage, whatever that is and not more, but that’s another issue, so enough about all that.
In the wider world, I felt liberated by the realisation that, after watching every season so far, I had no interest in what happened next in Game of Thrones. The same thing happened to me years ago after reading the first eight or nine(!) volumes of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Game of Thrones is generally very Wheel of Time-ish and I think the problem – my problem, I should say, I have nothing against either the show or the books – is that if you read a lot of heroic fantasy fiction at an early age, it all becomes very familiar; the girl who resents being treated like a girl will become a great warrior, the underdog will get revenge on the cruel tyrant etc etc; nothing wrong with that, if genres weren’t generic they wouldn’t exist. But still.
I did watch the Avengers movies to the bittersweet end though, and liked them, though I feel that the series peaked with the intelligent and genuinely morally complex Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War and then dumbed down considerably (though I liked Captain Marvel a lot, despite the fact that what I wanted was a film of Chris Claremont/Jim Mooney/Joe Sinnot’s Ms Marvel, set in the 70s). I mean, is it just me or is there (*very mild spoiler alert*) something fundamentally uninteresting and a little bit annoying about the concept of villains (and heroes, up to a point) who think that the world could be improved by just killing lots of people? It reminds me of the ridiculous bad guys in films like Saw and Se7en (which I also detest) who sadistically punish people for what, not appreciating their lives or something? Because, like Thanos in Avengers (and Hawkeye too, in Endgame), somehow violently killing people isn’t itself one of the bad things in the world, it’s a way of making things better. Hmm. 10 year old me loved it though.
Otherwise, I’ve read (and more to the point, re-read; comfort reading is an effect as well as possibly a contributory factor to my general stagnation writing-wise) some good books, listened to some good music (again, old favourites, though I’ve heard some great new things too – Vivankrist’s Morgenrøde, the new Phantoms vs Fire, a compilation of Finnish post-punk & new wave music from the great Svart records, Gaahl’s Wyrd’s new album). And I’ve written this. Finally.