Fire in the hole

anger

It is an uncomforting truth that the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States isn’t really affecting me as an individual.

For one, it doesn’t make the fact any less terrifying with regards to the global geopolitical balance.

For another, I have countless friends and loved ones who will be affected as individuals because America is their home. Most of them are women, which makes it all the more horrifying that the greatest nation on Earth™ has just elected a man who’s been accused of raping a 13 year old girl.

In a way, that opening statement is a lie. This is affecting me as an individual, because it brings home the truth that the world is run by white people who’ve never had to deal with any significant issues but feel like “the other” is taking away their right to be… I’m not sure what. Entitled dickheads?

To be fair, I am white. I’m heterosexual. I live in a safe place where I don’t have to worry about drones or people mugging me when I step outside.

And it makes me so angry. I hate that I am one of the white people as much as I hate that I am a man, because both groups do really terrible things to a lot of other people who aren’t white men.

For a while, my anger was primarily aimed at baby boomers. They still deserve a significant amount of hatred. They were born into economic prosperity and a peaceful world; all they could think to do with that was amass ridiculous amounts of wealth, blow it all up in a devastating financial crisis and vote for (far-)right policies that have already ensured that their children are the first generation since WWII who are worse off than their parents.

But it’s not just generation X that has turned out to be a self-entitled bunch, it’s also my own generation. When you look at the results from the American election, a lot of white young people have fallen into the alt-right trap.

Alt-right… it sounds like something that could be a reasonable choice, but it’s just a fancy word for misogynist racists.

And there’s a party for these populists in pretty much every Western country, whether it’s UKIP here in Britain (as well as the BNP, though they’re far less relevant), or AfD in Germany or, it pains me to say, in my former homeland Luxembourg, where ADR is waving the far-right banner.

Tellingly, the A in both AfD and ADR stands for “alternative”.

Don’t bother telling anyone though, because they will shout back that [insert populist party here] is really just looking out for the little man. Have you noticed how it’s never the little woman?

All of this isn’t news, of course. Neither is a white man with a laptop writing an angry blog post about the fact that the world isn’t working the way he would like it to be. I’m aware how privileged I am.

And this isn’t about that anger. Not really. It’s about the fact that I feel profoundly powerless.

I’m angry on Twitter because I don’t know where else to focus it. But I want to focus it. I want to make a change. I don’t want to be the voice of reason but I want to be a good person who cares.

I don’t want to join a political party because none of the options are even remotely close to the ideals I have – though there is a certain irony in the fact that the Lib Dems of all people are somehow becoming the only electable party.

I want to donate more money to charities but thanks to the sheer amount of nightmares that are happening in the world, I feel overwhelmed when it comes to making a choice about which charities. I still donate (and you should, too), but it just doesn’t feel enough.

What my generation – what the world – could really use is a leader to get behind. I don’t necessarily mean a political leader, but someone who stands up to the right-wing propaganda machine and makes a difference. Someone who manages to take this frustration and focus it.

Someone who will keep reminding us that this is not normal. It’s not normal that Stephen Bannon has entered the White House. It’s not normal that newspapers call judges “enemies of the people”.

History might be shouting at us what will happen next, but for some reason the vast majority of people refuse to listen. Just like last time.

So what do we do now?

Belonging, once

bridge

I am, for all intents and purposes, in a privileged position. I have a job that enables me to pay rent, buy food, put a bit of money aside every month and occasionally treat myself to take-away, a night out or drinks with friends without worrying about breaking the bank.

I usually pass for a native English speaker. I’m Caucasian. I’ve been here for over a decade and – for now, at least – I have a legal right to live in the UK.

Once, I even belonged here. I’ve lived in a variety of places that could not be more different socially and historically – London, Cardiff and a small town in the Welsh valleys that probably doesn’t appear on most maps.

A few months ago, I ordered the book to study for the UK citizenship test, a process that costs over £1200. A sum that is ridiculous and provokes an incredulous stare whenever I mention it to British friends.

But I wanted citizenship because I felt Welsh. I’d never felt Luxembourgish, so it was a strange feeling to have found a place that seemed like somewhere I could spend the rest of my life.

Not that it was an easy journey; to be honest, I didn’t feel all that much at home here for the first year and a half. That initial period, from what I’ve been told by friends who’ve also emigrated, isn’t all that unnatural though. It takes a while to build a life for yourself somewhere you’ve never been to before and where you don’t know a soul.

I even tried learning Welsh, though the course was such a clusterfuck that I didn’t continue past the first year. I can say a few phrases, such as “dwi’n gallu siarad Cymraeg”, but obviously there’s not much truth to that sentence and it is thus entirely useless: it means “I can speak Welsh”.

Once, I had a Welsh flag on my wall. It was there for many, many years. On June 24th, around 8am, I tore it down and threw it in the bin.

That sense of belonging, so strong for all those years, had been ripped away from me. Has been ripped away from me. I don’t know if it’ll come back.

What I’ve come to realise since June 23rd, more than anything else, is that I’m European. I am deeply and utterly European. I’m much more European than I ever was Welsh and I certainly am more European than I am Luxembourgish.

Ironically, of course, it might just be my Luxembourgish heritage that has made me European. I went to a high school named after the father of the union, Robert Schuman. I filmed a documentary in his birth house for a school project. I’ve been to the parliament in Brussels, sat in various committee rooms and in the assembly itself as part of a project to bring together students from all over Europe to learn more about the institution.

I wouldn’t be living in the UK now if it wasn’t for the EU. The only right I have to live here is as a European citizen.

I’m perfectly aware that the EU is not perfect. There are a lot of things I would change, but at its core it is the world’s biggest and by far the most successful peace project ever undertaken by humanity.

What I came to realise on June 23rd is that the place that had become my home didn’t want me to be here.

I know that when people talk of foreigners they don’t necessarily think of me. They think of muslims. Indians. Africans. Chinese. The Polish with a strong accent who can’t pass as British despite their whiteness. The non-Caucasians who are visually easy to pick out of the crowd.

I know that, yes, they really do also mean me when they want to kick all foreigners out.

The British people have turned themselves into the worst of humanity. The sheer scale and efficiency at which that happened is almost admirable, in a “I now understand how the Nazis could rise to power” kind of way.

Mentally, I’ve been slowly moving to Dublin for a few months now. It’s a city I definitely fell in love with when I spent some time there during the summer last year. Arguably, it’s a fantasy escape to a place where everything would be okay. Perhaps.

And yet.

I didn’t belong in Dublin. That sense of belonging might come after a while, but it wasn’t there.

And truth be told, the thought of leaving behind Cardiff saddens me beyond belief, perhaps even more so than the result in June.

I don’t belong here anymore because here doesn’t want me to belong. I haven’t had a day in months when I haven’t worried about my future.

The constantly looming threat of the pound crashing even further and making my student loan repayments (in euros) completely unaffordable is driving me insane (it’s already become several thousands of pounds more expensive, so don’t tell me that nothing has changed yet and that nothing will until Article 50 is triggered).

I haven’t slept through a single night in… I’m not sure how many weeks. I honestly can’t say if it’s related but the constant worry can’t be helping.

May and her cronies are using me and my fellow immigrants as a chess piece in a political game that will, sooner rather than later, destroy this country.

The truth that no Brexiteer wants to acknowledge is that, of course, the UK absolutely must get a significantly worse deal from the EU than the privileges it enjoys currently. Anything else would bring about more exits and the collapse of the union.

Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t belong here anymore. Here is a burning building with firemen standing outside having a pint and shouting “you’ll be warm in winter!”

But to be so powerless is anxiety-inducing, rage-inducing, madness-inducing. I might pay my taxes, speak fluent English and be white but that doesn’t matter.

I’ve been displaced because of a stunningly shortsighted move by a man who once fucked a pig and forgot his children in the pub.

Today, I don’t belong. Increasingly, it feels like tomorrow I won’t either.

John. Forever.

It’s been a decade since my grandad passed away. He was the first person in my life to die and, perhaps because I actually saw his remains, the death that has stuck with me most.

He was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of my exam period and died shortly after the end of that same academic year. He also died just before I left Luxembourg and moved to the UK and, even though much of it is a hazy memory now, his death gave me a profound sense of loneliness during my first few months in this country.

It didn’t help that the people I shared a flat with in that first year were all people I really didn’t get along with. It didn’t help that I was unhappily in love at the time. But most of all, his death left a void that I’ve since come to accept will never be filled yet back then had me crying in my room on more than one occasion.

A decade is a really long time in a human life. Arguably, the past decade has been the most transformative in mine so far: I moved to a new country where I didn’t know anyone, I fell in and out of love a few times (though that happened in my teens as well), I graduated, I achieved a postgrad degree in London and I moved back to Cardiff first to work as a self-employed writer and later as a full-time journalist, which I still am now. I met and fell in love with my partner (though we danced around each other for a really long time), we moved in together and now we’re saving towards our first house.

My life is profoundly different from what it was ten years ago in every single regard. That’s a good thing not because I hated who I was back then but because change and progress is an important part of the human experience. I like who I am now all the while looking forward to what I might become in another ten years’ time.

However, the existential sadness I feel about not being able to share who I have become with my grandad is undescribable.

One of the last things my grandad said to me (it may very well have been the last thing but all of those weeks have since merged into one really long day) was: take every experience you can get with you.

The truth is, as much as I’ve tried to live by that mantra, it’s not something I’ve always been able to achieve – something I am still working on and probably will for the rest of my life.

He wasn’t perfect. Who is? But he was a good man. He cared about us and he cared about the world around him. He was a great animal lover and even managed to befriend a crow that came to visit time and again (I have since learned that crows do indeed remember humans so this isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might have seemed at the time).

He loved his music, even if he still needed sheets for the same songs after years of playing them. He loved collecting coins and stamps, much of it worthless though the monetary value shouldn’t be a reason for a passion anyway. He was an avid lottery player so much so that when he died, the newsagent’s where he’d always bought his ticket sent their condolences.

He took my brother and me swimming twice a week when we were younger and stayed with my grandparents over the summer. That pool has since been torn down in another sign that nothing remains forever. He spent countless hours playing football with my brother.

He worked hard, strenuous outdoor jobs for the council to feed his family. He gritted roads at a time when that meant standing on the back of a truck and shovelling salt onto the road while the wind was biting into your skin.

He bought his childhood home and lived there until being moved into the hospital. The house belongs to a new family now, who quickly made exterior changes (perhaps interior too) that almost felt disrespectful at first but really, that’s how the world works and it’s their home now.

He touched so many people’s lives that at his funeral the church was literally too small to fit in everyone who came to pay their respects. You can never envy the dead, but what a legacy to have.

I haven’t been to his grave in many years – not since my grandmother passed away and was put to rest next to him. But that grave always felt strange – there is nothing about him there save for his ashes, no memories, no echoes of the past. I prefer visiting him in my thoughts instead. He’s there not every day but many of them.

He cared. He wasn’t perfect, but he cared. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is what I remember about him and what I want to be myself: not perfect, but caring.

I love you.

Liebster Award

Joël, the world’s most renowned/infamous captain of the soulzeppelin, has given me a “Liebster Award” – it’s one of those chain thingies that you might remember from ye olden days of blogging, but because it’s an award for your favourites (that’s what “liebster” means) and I get to make up my own questions by the end of this, I’m giving it a go.

It’s not like I’ve been throwing out content here anyway, so it’s as good an incentive as any (despite the fact that he nominated me a month ago).

The deal is this: I answer 11 questions that Joël has asked me (and two other bloggers) and then I come up with 11 new ones and nominate three bloggers of my own. Cool? Cool.

Up until which number do you spell it out?
The style guide in work forces me to spell the numbers out from zero to nine, and then switch to 10, 11 and so on. So that’s what I do most days. I don’t exactly have a personal preference, I switch around fairly randomly.

What memory would you want to relive again and again?
About eleven years ago, I sat on a balcony at a hotel, in one of those hot Southern countries where you can sit outside all night, with an ex-girlfriend. The night had come to a relatively shitty end thanks to someone else’s actions, so we decided to keep each other company because neither of us particularly felt like sleeping. We didn’t talk much and stayed up until dawn, before deciding to go have breakfast.
We hadn’t been dating for a while at that point and we were both interested in other people, and I liked that safety. I also liked how we somehow managed to be closer as friends. I realised then that I loved her in a platonic way, something I’d not felt for anyone before.
I don’t see her nearly enough anymore these days, thanks to living about ten timezones apart. But I think about her often.
It was a bad night that turned into a fond memory. I’d like to revisit those hours, make all the same choices but with the benefit of knowing what was to come.

If you have a newspaper or magazine subscription, which page do you open first?
I only have one, Scientific American. It’s a digital subscription on my iPad, so it automatically opens on the first page. I usually read the cover story first, though.

Which drink makes you properly happy?
It really depends on the mood I’m in. I love the first cup of tea of the day. I also love a glass of Yamazaki 10yrs or a nice cocktail. Sometimes it’s just a glass of coke or a nice beer.
Last weekend, it was a latte from Brodie’s Coffee Camper, because they’re a really lovely couple who know how to brew a mean cup and I hadn’t seen them in a while so it was nice to catch up. It’s also a coffee shop in a VW Camper van and how freaking awesome is that?!

If you were a supervillain, what would be swimming in your giant aquarium?
Easy: a little clownfish called Nemo who could never go home again.

What is the last song you listened to on repeat?
Paper Girl by July Talk

How do you motivate yourself to write?
I don’t. That’s pretty much my problem at the moment. I tried my hand at NaPoWriMo this year but I stopped after 15 days because… I don’t even remember what the excuse was. My creative drive is pretty dead at the moment and I’m not entirely sure how to get it back. It’s driving me nuts.

What is the last thing that really broadened your horizon?
I went to Blaencamel Farm last week, which is the place where I buy much of my fruit and vegetables from. It’s a carbon-neutral, organic farm that’s been going for about 40 years and it was amazing being shown around by the farmer and being told about all the cool stuff that happens on such a farm: I never thought about, for example, the process of removing weeds when you can’t use herbicides.
How many people these days can genuinely say they know where their food comes from? I couldn’t until a few days ago and it’s definitely opened my eyes and reinforced my views that local, organic produce is the way forward – not even so much for the “I only eat organic kale from Whole Foods because it’s a superfood” bullshit, but because organic food is really about respecting and preserving an entire ecosystem that you may not consciously see but that definitely impacts all of us.

What would you protest for/against, even if you were the only person on the streets?
I’ve only ever protested political causes. I remember protesting the Iraq war in 2003 as my first demonstration. Privacy is something I care about very deeply and the Tories’ absolute nightmare of a civil liberties destroying Snooper’s Charter might just make me go protest.
Saying that, I lost all of my political energy post-Brexit and am just filled with utter despair, so I might just bugger off onto my own little island. Not much left worth saving here.

Do you have a routine to fall asleep?
I usually listen to an audio drama or a panel show on iPlayer to drown out all my stupid thoughts that have this tendency of appearing as soon as I lie down. Right now on my list are shows like Polyoaks, Heresy, The Leak and The Now Show, among others.

Who should draw the comic adaptation of your blog?
I jokingly told my OH that I wouldn’t choose her but obviously it would have to be her. We’re already doing a webcomic together, in case you didn’t know: Flëpp & Greg.

Time to come up with questions myself and nominate a few people.

  1. What is your favourite line from a novel and why?
  2. Would you rather put up an impressionist or an expressionist painting in your home?
  3. What is your favourite cheese?
  4. What would you do with $10,000?
  5. You swap places with your alter ego in a parallel universe and have to pretend you’re them. What are they like?
  6. Humanity finally invents a time-machine but the only possible destinations are 1866 and 2166 – which period do you choose?
  7. Which time period do you choose if it’s a one-way trip?
  8. What’s your go-to breakfast?
  9. What does your perfect weekend look like?
  10. DC or Marvel?
  11. If you could find out when and how you are going to die, would you?

Nominations:

  • Jenna, because out of all the Jennas I know (one), she’s pretty okay.
  • Joël, because Luxembourg is big enough for two bloggers called Joël.
  • Lee, because she doesn’t blog much but when she does it’s worth the wait.

113

Look at us now: splinters on the ground,
we look the same but we’re parts broken
off two different wholes.
A crack in the mirror chips your face,
reminds me of your injured beauty thence:
a porcelain doll with a thousand stories to tell.
Look at us now: you spin me around,
jolt this tired heart, wake this wrecked soul,
and you in perpetuum…
it will always be you I regret.

Not here, now

Brecon Beacons forest road

There are worlds inside of me that I don’t know. They’ve been there for a while, but I’ve been too busy looking for a map instead of getting lost.

I’ve always liked mountains, perhaps more than the sea. They’re both majestic and awe-inspiring in their own way, but that peculiar mixture of claustrophobia of valleys and agoraphobia of summits draws me in like the ocean just cannot.

I’d forgotten.

I’d forgotten it until today, driving through fifty miles of valley surrounded by the possibility to watch the world from up above, surrounded by humbling, crushing monuments of nature.

I’m sitting in a small pub with a selection of single malts behind the bar that would make any Scotsman proud. I imagine it would, at any rate. It makes me happy. Or perhaps that is the wrong word: it lets me imagine what it would be like to be a weary traveller, a novelist or a poet, who drinks his whisky and writes about the worlds inside of him.

There’s a bookshop around the corner, filled with poetry, so there might be money in it yet, if not in mine.

“Do a thing you love at least some of the time,” I was told last night. It might lead to money.

But if it doesn’t, I’m starting to realise – remember, rather – it might at least lead to happiness. I’ve not had that in spades recently, arguably because of exactly this.

Something is different in between mountains. I could be free here. I could be myself, whoever that is. Something is better. Here, I write. Here, I dream.

I could live here, like I could have lived in Stockholm, or Berne, or Dublin: not at all. Forever.

Ten

Today, this blog turns ten years old. I hesitate to claim that I’ve been blogging for ten years; it’s not exactly been busy here recently.

Ten years is a long time. Enough time to find a lot of the posts from back then cringeworthy (admittedly, sometimes ten minutes is enough for that to happen). When I first launched this blog, I had a co-author, Serge, who left shortly afterwards to write his own, separate blog. I still lived in Luxembourg – I’d only just finished school and joined University of Luxembourg. My grandparents were still alive, though that wasn’t true for much longer for my granddad, who lost a quick but brutal fight against cancer less than a year later.

I hadn’t met any of the people yet who are my closest friends now. I hadn’t met my other half yet (don’t tell her, but I am quite fond of her).

I hadn’t lost any of my closest friends yet. Most of the people I spent my days with ten years ago I haven’t seen in about just as many. I don’t really know why, apart from the significant distance that is between us but you’d think technology would solve that. It’s a natural part of life to leave people behind and to be left behind, I suppose, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

Ten years is a long time. Perhaps too long to sum up in a simple blog post without cranking out 10,000 words – and nobody wants that.

The important thing is: I’ve come out the other end lucky and happy in love, friendships, work and the place I call home. And I’ll keep stumbling, meandering, running, laughing and crying my way through this damned thing we call life because, wow, isn’t it amazing.

Thank you all for being part of the journey.

Postcards From the Edge

Norwegian Church

A group of children run like an improv group unrehearsed
and guide your heart out with candour:
there is a sense of wonder in this dark rye sandwich
in a paper bag on a public square
as you eat it like the last supper, or the first,
while tourists around you breathe the light air,
an old couple walks across without a care.
Hints of anguish still meander
but today you shall not pander.

pin sharp view on something fuzzy (or backwards)

the discolouration of your smile occurred
inconspicuously as if controlled by evil coterie,
altering memories – this bad blurred,
dripped retrospectively on lines of poetry

penned in your name, running down canvases
like oil from a brush, ink from a feather,
eroding the iridescent love of then.

and you,

you vanished and threw off all balances,
left heart and mind no longer strung together.
i tried to hold on to your eyes like they were when

my heart first roistered and my fingers burned.
all i see now is a stranger dance, notably
beyond black and blue as if transferred
to a past now containing only me, hopelessly,

while your mind stopped crying.

ن

Part your ways,
quarantine your compassions away for you will be
regents without mercy, agents of destruction
sent from god to free us all from the terror of
them, they, invaders of our homes,
usurpers of our homeland,
veritably powerful only in weapons but not in heart,
xenogenous and parasitical,
you will annihilate
zion.