I am sitting writing with a satisfying glow in my body from a day out of Londres with Dr Guerrilla and friends. The autumn air and autumn colours were reviving and the company good. The last few weeks have been packed with projects and events and meetings and documents, so even being analogue and not trying to get anything done was relaxing. But anyway, there’s nothing so good for the mental health as getting your body and mind in the same space. We were however haunted throughout the walk by the A3, a highway so broad it was impossible to cross without a bridge. The roads around it were clogged with people who live in big houses driving around to have fun, or possibly not have fun. It was hard to tell.
On Friday I met the Scientist after work, not having seen him for some months. His life is working, children and running. He seems happy enough with it. He does not know his neighbours but does not want to. This is the Londres in which we will attempt to build renters power. I am under no illusion about the scale of the task. Yet building collective action in an atomised world strikes me as one of the most worthwhile challenges there is right now.
At the same time the oracle by the Tamesis still has me thinking about my motivations for taking the actions I do. It is not simple, not right or wrong, whatever the motivations. But there are moments when things I have chosen to do cause me tension or anxiety. It is good to think then about whether the rewards of the path you are on are worth the pain. But perhaps one could also consider that if a walk in the woods is enough to get rid of my stress, it isn’t hampering my life too much. Still, to be more relaxed in the everyday would be good, and that goal is one reason to continue my conversations with the oracle.
It has been a quiet day in Londres for me, which is to say I have had a little more mental space than the last few weeks. It was pleasant to have the time to bake and cook. Londres life makes it very easy to go days at a time without eating at home. I sometimes feel tension accumulating inside me, and realise that it is nothing pathological, but rather my body quite correctly telling me that I have been driving it to do a little too much. I try to listen to it a little bit more than in the past.
Listening to my body is made more difficult by my involvement in the renters power project, which can suck up effectively infinite amounts of time. It has its rewards, and I am enjoying in particular the chance to help structure a large organisation, but it would be easy to let it take over. And for what? Some drive for respect? Some need for attention? Nothing good, that’s for sure, despite the worthwhile end.
This afternoon I had to dig out some old documents, and in doing so discovered some old writing. What I have written about over the years has not changed a lot, but the approach has changed. I now try to write from my interactions with others, rather than from debates within my head. I am often surprised, looking at old writing, at how often it appears to me now that my focus was too narrow. I was too caught up in what was directly before me, or what was immediately inside me. Perhaps this is a common state, but I suspect I have been more afflicted by it than many. I have always tried to look outwards, but not always successfully.
Death, it seems to me, is fundamentally incomprehensible. A sentient mind cannot get to grips with the extinction of sentience. It is not what it was designed for. Even religion – the traditional attempts to come to terms with death – mostly evade the issue. Rather than face the extinction of consciousness, they pretend the extinction doesn’t happen. Likewise the reasons for death are similarly unreadable to us. The Universe is not here to give us reasons, let alone reasons for events we are incapable of grasping.
I am on my way back from Londres and thinking of this because on the Southern Coast, as the anniversary of the death of my sister approaches, some of my family are still puzzling over the riddle of it, as though it were possible to solve it. If the above acceptance of the incomprehensibility of death sounds morbid to some, I don’t find it so. The continual search for meaning where none can be found strikes me as more morbid.
I think it is a useful quality to have, to be able admit that a problem is insoluble, that the riddle will be with you forever, to recognise that you can only skate over the puzzle and continue onwards. This particular puzzle always comes back of course, which is why I don’t blame anyone for struggling with it, but it is rather like watching someone wading bravely through knee-high mud in a direction you know to lead only towards more and deeper mud.
Besides the theme of death, the weekend on the coast was fine enough. The sun shone, the hedges got cut, and the Silversmith and I found a patch of sloes large enough to unlock several bottles of sloe gin for Christmas. To top it all off, we all got an extra hour of time for free. They should give out time more generously every day.
The apocalypse came to Londres yesterday. The sky grew dark and red, and a mischievous wind followed it. Smoke and dust covered the city and people scurried around with glances upward as though in fear. Meanwhile I found myself caught up in the errors of others and the paperwork of groups I have aligned myself with. The apocalypse, for me, seemed like a never-ending avalanche of documents and forms and messages. In the last two days I have sent 26 emails from my personal account, and yet more in my role at the Tree Service. In addition I have edited four very significant documents, sent texts, messages, made phone calls. It was the written words that took up time.
I found myself thinking about why so much time goes into documents. It is as though they have a magical power. At the end of the world yesterday, it felt as though that power were sinister, overwhelming, trying to bury me. I thought about it again today going into work on my velocipede, the sky returned to its normal hues. Why do I do it? To my surprise, there was an answer, of sorts. A child, peering out from beneath a huge pile of papers, trying to establish relationships with people.
It is an odd feature of our culture that we would choose this method. I suppose it is something to do with the scale of our society. But not everyone does it, so there’s more to it than that. Here in Londres at the end of the world I appear to be in a section of society very keen on documents.
It’s another gloomy day in Londres, one in a line of gloomy days. The only relief from the gloom is shooting around the streets of Londres on my new velocipede. Yesterday I was so busy I failed to notice the time of an event, arrived late, and did not get in. The Red Flash had to leave early to re-join me but she didn’t seem to hold my uncharacteristic lateness against me. It was good to hear she has found a job.
Today in the offices of the Tree Service I had a conversation about democracy. Consulting residents about their trees, said the manager, is a mistake. It is our job to be experts and make the tough decisions. Asking people’s opinions is what gave us Brexit. QED.
This isn’t an overt authoritarianism at play, but a couple of things conspire to produce this sort of attitude. One is institutions that were not, in truth, built for democracy. The other is a culture that is not built for democracy. In institutions not built for democracy, consultation appears as an add-on, bolted on to a system of decision-making that pre-dates widespread agreement that ordinary people must have a voice. As for the problems of culture: to believe in democracy is to understand the need for patience, it is to see that right and wrong may be a matter of perspective, it is to subordinate the ego to a wider process. None of these are strong points of our culture. They are certainly not taught in school. Londres is formed by a combination of the institutions and the culture, and so it evolves undemocratically, beyond our ability to control.
In the meantime my week has seen a little anxiety about projects I am involved in or initiating. Nothing terrible or unmanageable, just a low level feeling of too much work needing to be done, of having to achieve things within hierarchies that make me uncomfortable, of time tick-ticking and a world moving on. But achievement is a strange thing – what does it mean? Is it sometimes not achievement we aim for but a desire to impress? Who are we trying to impress? Who am I trying to impress?
Asking these questions feels awkward and the answers aren’t simple. For the moment it feels like it is worth simply continuing to ask.
It has been a week of learning and researching. Good as it was, I have not had enough time to myself. I have been learning how to organise according to a particular school of thought, because I am interested in building active power blocs in Londres to oppose the landlords and financial lords. The problem with courses like this is they can’t help but propose a template. It isn’t immediately clear to what degree the ways of behaving apply to everyone. People interact in very different ways, and organising well on this model requires, I suspect, intensely outgoing people. I am only partly outgoing: more so when I have more energy, less so when worn down by work or lack of sleep. I feel I would only ever be half a good organiser as a result. This isn’t to do myself down – I have strengths elsewhere, I like to think.
As a result of conversations with the Oracle by the Tamesis I have been thinking a lot about how I see myself and my strengths and weaknesses. My confidence can fluctuate and it is interesting to think about the history of this, and the effect on myself. We all look for approval I think, but the question of how much and what type of approval we want is revealing. I am slow to trust people, and slow to want their approval as a result, yet there is some need for approval still, even with no-one to give it. Most of the time I’ll suppress it or try to hide it – who finds a need for approval attractive? – but it pops up in strange places, not willing to remain totally hidden. It is uncomfortable to be thinking of this when well into one’s thirties, but it is better, I think, to consider it now than never at all.
So I have had much on my mind this week. It makes me want to get out of Londres for a day on my velocipede, where for a while it can be all about my legs and what they can do. Legs have the advantage of being simpler than brains.