Tag Archives: hope

When despair helps

Generally I’m pro-hope as a way of keeping going, staying sane and emotionally viable, and being able to get stuff done. Sometimes though, hope traps us and despair sets us free, and I thought it would be interesting to ponder that a bit.

Hope allows us to imagine that things will get better, that we can make a difference, that time will heal and wisdom will prevail. Hope is what enables you, day after day, to show up to the nigh on impossible and keep trying to move mountains. Without hope there can be no epic changes, no wild innovation and all the people who say it can’t be done get to be right. With hope, that apparently impossible task can turn into that which you have actually done. Hope is a powerful thing.

However, misplaced hope is not a helpful thing. If we hold onto the belief that it will get better, and that our staying and slogging away at it makes a difference, we can give a lot of time to achieving very little, or to staying in spaces that hurt us. Maybe one day he will value me and be kind to me… maybe this job will be better next year… maybe the neighbours will move and I won’t feel so intimidated… maybe this government won’t sell us out to the corporations… maybe once they see the evidence they’ll be reasonable… and on we go.

Many things only work if you’re dealing with sane and reasonable people. When you’re not, then hope becomes dangerous. Hoping that climate change won’t happen… hoping that politicians will see sense and do something about it – this does not work. It is misplaced hope, and we need to invest our belief and energy in changes we can make for ourselves and become the tidal wave that changes everything.

Despair can give us the push to move on. In giving up, we can become able to shake off what’s restricting us, kick it squarely in the shins and get on with our lives. Giving up on ideas, beliefs, hopes and people hurts like hell. It is a loss that can be as profound as a bereavement, but without the wider support because nothing visible died. What died was inside you, in your heart, in your head. We don’t do funerals for the loss of political ideals, although I suspect there are a lot of grieving and betrayed Liberals out there who could have done with just that. We don’t have funerals when we realise our idea of someone was imaginary and the real person is totally different. Our ideal is dead, but we have no means to honour it.

These private deaths and personal losses are deeply affecting, and agony to go through. However, on the far side of the death of hope, is a fresh start. A chance to rethink, do differently and find a better place to invest our hope.

Knocked down, getting up

I start today tired, and wondering how on earth I’m going to manage the things that need doing – some of which are large and hard to make sense of. Some of which have floored me. Life is full of knock downs and we all get them. The rotten luck, the tragedies, the being crapped on from a great height. So here are the things I’ve learned.

Good friends are precious beyond words, and when you’re on your knees and life threatens to break you, friends are everything. Sometimes there’s insight, experience and perspective that can help turn a problem around. Sometimes it’s the sheer power of having people who believe in you and won’t give up and will sit with you and hold your hand and help you try to get up again, and support you when you wobble a bit. Friends who cheerlead. Friends who refuse to let you quit even when you’re so beaten it seems the only option. Friends who carry hope for you when you have none of your own.

Often what will keep me down once I’m knocked is the belief there is no point getting up again. That’s not always a depression issue. That’s for the days when three toxic things rolled in one after another and I can’t face another panic attack and there doesn’t seem to be any way of fixing things. There is no getting up unless you can work up some faith and hope things might get better. Belief like this can be wholly irrational – I’ve been through enough things I was told could not be done. Sometimes what it takes to get up is the skill to magic up irrational belief that it can get better.

I have to believe that I do not deserve the knock down. I do not belong on the floor. That’s been hard to get to grips with, and is not an easy thought to hold when things are bad.

Then there’s the decision about what sort of person I want to be. I don’t want to lie on the floor in a snotty heap, whimpering. I would rather die fighting. While there is breath, while I can act in any way, it is better to have the metaphorical sword or the actual pen in hand and to wield them. Thus far, every time I’ve thought I could not possibly bear any more, I have eventually managed to drag myself up for another round. I have taken beatings, emotional, psychological. I’ve been pasted physically by illness. I get up and I do it again. I won’t sit down, shut up and consent to being a victim. Never again.

Hope and Inspiration

The latest climate change report is grim. Faced with an alarming and uncertain future, we need hope and ideas more than ever. Those of you who have been with me a while will know that I fell over earlier this year – exhausted and demoralised. The things that need doing are so numerous, and overwhelming while my feelings of powerlessness have been growing. Turn on the news any day and the reasons to despair are many.

In the last few weeks I’ve been reading “Storytelling for a Greener World” (Hawthorn Press). Essays from many practitioners, exploring story, environment, action, community and hope. Most especially hope. Running through the book were clearly expressed beliefs that it is worth trying and that there is scope for hope. Methods for moving forward and reasons not to give up were abundant. In fact a big part of what this book is about, is inspiring and uplifting people, and how to reach out to others with story to create a vision of a better world.

The stories we tell ourselves and each other inform our life choices. The future we imagine, or fear, shapes how we live and the choices we make. Our beliefs shape the future we are jointly creating. This often leads to me feeling that I should keep silent when I’m struggling – no one else needs to be brought down by my anxiety, when up-beat, hopeful narratives would be so much more use. However, this book includes tales of extinctions. Not all stories have happy endings. Some are uncomfortable. If we can only tell each other happy tales of a lovely future in which it’s all going to be great, we risk creating a new framework for disenchantment and disbelief. Life after all, is never perfect and if we try to sell ourselves utopian imagery, we tap into our own awareness of how that begets dystopian outcomes.

The future is uncertain. We could make something better. There will be many challenges. We are going to need each other. It is quite reasonable to be afraid. If we share that we can overcome it.

There are no magical restoratives and no sure fire ways of setting the world to rights. What this book did, was to remind me of a most fundamental thing: We are story telling creatures. We build our communities, our cultures, our social systems and our futures out of the stories we tell each other about who we are, what we’re doing and what the priorities should be. We all get to participate in those stories, but, because stories are things we make up, reflections and interpretations of the world, there are always other options.

The big story passed round online for some years now is ‘keep calm and carry on’. We’ve got to ditch that and start making radical changes. Maybe we need to get angry with those in power, or at least cross enough to stop letting them dictate everything. We really have got to stop carrying on as usual, and start imagining other futures and different ways of life more consistent with what our planet can actually support.

The death of dreams

One of the hardest things to deal with in times of loss and grief, is the attendant loss of that which never was. It’s an issue when someone in our lives dies, in the breakdown of relationship, the loss of a home, a job, or any aspect of your way of life. All the things you imagined would be, all the dreams you wove around that thing have to now be dismantled, or rebuilt somewhere else. It’s a hard process, made more so by being invisible and difficult to explain. The more disproportionately you have invested in relation to what was actually there, the more it hurts, and the more silly you get to feel along the way.

I’m getting fond of blog posts with soundtracks, and for me this song encapsulates something about the secret grief that is a dead dream.

Life is not kind to dreams, and often we are not culturally kind to dreamers, either. To be a daydreamer is to be out of touch with reality, to be a fool, unrealistic and doomed to be disappointed. And yet, without dreams, without wild hopes and aspirations, without the triumph of optimism over experience, life would be thin and pale. It’s the willingness to dream that sets us on the path of new romances, takes us to new jobs, founds new organisations and groups, gets up and tries. You have to dream before you’ll make anything new. Some of those dreams are stillborn, or die young. It is part of the nature of dreams.

When pets and people die, it is obvious, and we have some idea how to grieve that. Dreams die slowly and quietly, slipping away without telling you. No one else sees their passing, there are no funerals for dreams, although plenty of poets will write them elegies. But poets are dreamers themselves, and wider culture doesn’t have much truck with that either.

There is deep, hidden personal tragedy in the death of a dream. It does not matter how large the dream was. Small dreams of days off, a little good, a small joy, are painful in their demise as well. It does not matter how crazy the dream was, all those abandoned ideas of fame, fortune, creativity and a life less ordinary. It does not matter whether you fed it with action, or cherished it as an idle thought, its death will still diminish you and take a little colour out of the world.

When enough dreams have died, it becomes easy to give up on them entirely. Dreams are foolish and ephemeral things, as the song says, ‘they just let you down’. So perhaps you stop dreaming them. Perhaps you stop hoping, daring and imagining. You don’t hold them anymore and you stop feeding the ones you were trying to make real. It is a bitter road to walk, wherever it takes you.

Afterwards, when you have buried the dream and grieved its death, the trick is to start over, to dream something new, to make hope out of whatever threads are left. So I’ll leave you with a second song, one that reliably makes me cry.

Don’t be misled by the first verse, this is not *just* a song about a ship. This is a song about not quitting, about love and determination, and refusing to give up on dreams and passions… though your heart it be broken and life about to end… no matter what you’ve lost, be it a home a love a friend, like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.

Good art and entertaining

“The list of 55 titles, drawn from 98 official nominations, is presented annually at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. The books, recommended for those ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens.”

That quote comes from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklists/ggnt/2013 and the Young Adult Library Services Association selection of Great Graphic novels 2013. There must have been thousands of potential candidates.
All on its own, that quote would make me very happy. The recognition that good quality creativity that is also accessible and entertaining, should be available, is vital. Dull if worthy books do not get readers excited. Vacuous books… well, I think we’ve established what I think about throw away content. It makes me grumpy. More time spent shouting out the good stuff, the stuff that has content and is also fun and enjoyable, is time well spent, so there’s a list of 55 things that it is well worth waving at teen readers, and people who like teen reads. Do give it a look if you like graphic novels.

We found out about this yesterday, and we found out because we made the list. Hopeless Maine only came out last November, we never expected anything like this kind of attention. It’s startling, and we feel profoundly honoured. We’re also delighted to see Rust and Cowboy – other titles from Archaia – also on that list. Archaia put out unusual books, they aren’t driven by market trends or assumptions about what is ‘in’ this year. They take risks – they took us – and those risks are resulting in kudos and sales. There are enough people out there who want something new and surprising after all. It feels like a huge victory. The comics industry is dominated by DC and Marvel, people in what looks to me like fetish gear, thumping each other. But evidently there is room for other stuff too, and that makes me happy. Diversity is a good thing.

A matter of weeks ago I had run out of hope. The whole business seemed impossible, demoralising, a bit… hopeless. To be recognised as both good art and entertaining is so important to me. I want to do both, be both. I don’t want to write the kind of stuff only a handful of academics could ever be interested in, and at the same time, I don’t want to write the kind of stuff I don’t enjoy reading. I was so close to quitting, because I kept feeling I just couldn’t do it on my terms. 5000 librarians and library workers apparently think otherwise. That’s huge.

I’m in a process of doing some serious rethinking about how, and why, I want to work. I’d reached some decisions that are, in many ways, reinforced by what happened yesterday. I’m not interested in ‘being a professional writer’ I need to do work that is meaningful to me. If I can do that with the writing, excellent. If not, then tutoring, workshops, editing and whatever conventional stuff I can find will be more in the mix. My terms, or not at all. Which leaves me asking the interesting question of what ‘on my terms’ means to me these days. In all the crap and fear and stress, I lost my way. Figuring out what I want is a big part of what I need in place to move forwards. I have some ideas –more on that soon. In the meantime, I just feel a bit vindicated, which was timely, and a lot encouraged, which is helpful.

The importance of hope

Life is full of challenges. Not just my life, looking around its obvious that most of the people I know get more than what seems like a fair share of crap. Life is just not easy. I’ve lived for more years than I can count in survival mode. Just holding together, keeping going, dealing with each new setback as it rolls in, and trying to make the best of the good things. Moments when the sun shines, the streak of electric blue that is a kingfisher. A not working weekend where I can snuggle with my bloke for a bit. The small things have been what I live for.

What I’ve not had, for a long time, is any real hope. Any serious belief that I could do more than survive, and frequently doubts that even survival would be possible. One day at a time, sometimes one breath at a time, I have pushed onwards, waiting for the thing that would finally put me down in a way I could not get up from. That hasn’t happened yet.

I’m getting feedback about the Druid books, and people, your words stun me. I’ve been awed and humbled by the words people have offered back in response to what I’ve written. It makes me want to go further, and do more and it gives me a sense that I can do some useful work in the world. In the last few days, the reviews have been coming in for Hopeless Maine, as well. It’s getting a bit unreal. Big comics websites talking about us. More importantly, people getting the work, grasping what we meant, and responding to all the little details. I never dared to imagine that we’d get to this sort of point. I start to feel that we could get somewhere.

A life of survival, a life without hope is not an easy or happy one. Even the most irrational hope is remarkably sustaining if you can hang on to it. Living day to day waiting for the universe to finish off and crush you properly – I can’t say I recommend it. Tom and I have held on to each other through the hard times, and to the knowledge that whatever else we might not have, we have what we feel. Bearing in mind that because of the international angle, we have not had the same guarantees of being able to be together or stay together that most couples take for granted. The tiny threads of hope that have kept us going have been hard to hang onto in face of some of the things we’ve had to deal with. And here we are, getting somewhere, watching the good reviews roll in and thinking that we can go further and do more.

We make a promise, one that we have made to each other repeatedly for years now. If this works, if the books sell, if there is money to spare, we will take that money and do good stuff with it, and try to share that goodness as widely as we can. I daydream about all kinds of things that I think would help brighten life for people, add to the good stuff, help the planet. I want a device that turns poo into burnable fuel, for a start. Bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘log pile’. I want to be able to reach out and enable other people to follow their hearts, to make opportunities. I swear, if this book flies, I will use that as a jumping board to make more good stuff happen.

Thank you, everyone who has come this far with us, everyone who has supported us with words of encouragement, and practical aid. And by buying the books.

Voices in our heads

Most of us hear voices. I don’t mean this in some kind of needing to take pills sense. It’s about the way in which we process, and often internalise the voices of other people. For example, a person who has grown up hearing that they are loved and valued, who has been treated with compassion and respect and encouraged to feel good about themselves, will probably hear a kind and helpful little voice. The voice that says ‘you can do this’. “You are worth it.” “You are lovely and you will pull through.” That kind of inner voice is incredibly sustaining, reinforces good self esteem and encourages feelings of hope even in hard times. It’s not proof against every setback, but it will give you a fighting chance. But what about the other voices? The ones that criticise and condemn. Now, we all hear plenty of criticism going through our lives, and we all need to be able to hear it, but every now and then, one of those comments gets in and sticks, and becomes part of the inner landscape. You are bound to fail. You cannot sing. You’re just an emotional blackmailer. You’re a waste of space. No one will ever love you. Things we fear may be true. Things too vague for us to readily disprove them. This kind of little voice can sit inside your head, eternally critical and demoralising. Forever undermining achievements, mocking emotions or otherwise eroding self esteem. Many people who seem compassionate with others, are veritable sadists when it comes to how they treat themselves. And it’s very much about what the inner voices are telling us to do. It’s worth taking some time to reflect on the voices you hear. The ones that turn up late at night, or that wait at the bottom of bottles, or that show up when things go wrong. The ones that snipe and destroy. Simply identifying them is helpful. Notice what they say and that this is not you saying it. The odds are you know perfectly well whose voice you have internalised. You may well remember when the words in question were thrown at you. What makes you think you’re so special? Why should anyone care what you think? It’s not your voice. It’s the voice of someone else. You’ve given it free bed and board. It may be that if you have the mental focus, you can tell it to pack and leave. Kick it out of your head space. Resisting the inner voices is otherwise a slow and painful process, and I think the only real answer is, keep recognising where it comes from, and keep resisting. Good criticism is helpful, it shows us something we need to know or learn and by acting on it, we have scope to grow and improve. “You got that specific thing wrong” is a door to learning how to get it right. The ones that haunt and hurt, tend not to be about specific mistakes, more a sense of being inherently a failure. The comments that suggest you are not capable of being good enough. The ones that say there is no hope, you might as well not even try. Save everyone the hassle, why don’t you? These will often come with the assertion that this is to help you, put you straight, save you from yourself. It’s hard to fight off someone who is convinced they’re doing you a big favour by knocking the illusions, pride, stupidity out of you. But that doesn’t make them right. None of us is made of fail. None of us is beyond hope of improvement. None of us is destined to cock everything up. If that sort of little voice has got inside your head, I’d like to offer you one magic word to use against it. It’s a potent word, and a powerful charm against that kind of destructive, abusive treatment. The word is ‘bullshit’. Try it. Say it out loud. Bullshit. When you hear the derogatory, rubbishing, unhelpful, you can never win comments, say it again. Bullshit. It will help.

Of Depression and Druidry

I know a startling number of Druids who suffer from depression. Actually, I also know a just as alarming number of non-Druids with the same problems. It’s increasingly common. In fact, at this rate it’s going to become normal to be emotionally ill. One of the implications is that the nature of depression will need far more understanding. What non-sufferers imagine depression to be all about is painfully wide of the mark. But, if you’re not enduing it, the odds are increasingly that someone close to you, will, or that you will. Understanding how it goes makes it easier to deal with. Both for yourself and other people.

I think many of us assume that depression is a form of melancholy. People who feel sad may describe themselves (often inaccurately) as ‘a bit depressed’. There’s often a sense that what depressed people need to do is pull themselves together, stop being whinging emos, and get on with it. I probably don’t just speak for myself when I say, I find myself wishing it was that easy. Faced with someone who is pale, wilting, claiming they can’t do things, it can be easy to assume you’re seeing a freeloader, someone playing up, being melodramatic, attention seeking. Now, anyone who tells you they are depressed and then starts telling you what you have to do as a consequence of this is, frankly, a bit suspect. Controlling behaviour, regardless of the excuse, is not a thing to support or facilitate. Most of the depression sufferers I know find it very hard to ask for help. Telling people that they have to do things, is hard to imagine. Depression is not something we seek or enjoy, it’s life sapping and a bloody nuisance. Some days I feel like the whole time I’m walking round in lead boots wrestling with an octopus wrapped around me, that no one else can see. Normal things take ridiculous amounts of effort.

Depression is not ‘feeling a bit blue’ or ‘being a bit down’ or ‘needing to pull yourself together’. Depression is a defence mechanism. It’s a way of coping with things that the individual cannot otherwise handle. From the outside it may look like melancholy, from the inside it’s a process of shutting down, climbing into a shell, putting up the walls to keep out whatever it is that the body can no longer endure feeling. Stress, anxiety, and physical pain can all contribute to this process. The person who is weeping over something can often be in a better sort of place than the person who is still and silent because they’ve gone numb. Depression can be all about watching the colours drain out of your world. All the hope, all the reasons to keep going, fade away, and it feels like dying on the inside. Which sometimes results in people thinking that actually dying might not be such a terrible thing.

Why are so many of us falling soul-sick in this way? I think the more interesting question is, why everyone else has not done so yet. We have unprecedented access to the horrors of an entire planet. Every really attention grabbing murder and act of abuse makes it to the media. There’s a daily diet of war crime, tragedy, political idiocy. Every day we see the triumphs of money and power over common sense and decency. We’re driving species to extinction. When did you last see an image of a sick or dying child? Recently, at a guess. When was the last time a news item made you despair for humanity? Probably in the last week, at a guess.

In making a dedication to the land, in relinquishing ignorance and trying to live ethically, Druids take a course that eradicates any real hope of burying the head in the sand, and ignoring what’s out there. And of course we aren’t alone. People of heart and integrity are bound to feel what is constantly presented to them. Of course the violence, cruelty and tragedy are nothing new. It’s just that most of our ancestors only had to deal with what happened directly in their own lives, without simultaneously being burdened with the griefs of the world. One of the big problems with the griefs of the world is that most of the time, individually, there’s nothing we can do. A sense of powerlessness will eat away at your capacity for hope like nothing else. And that, in time, will put you on your knees.

As a Druid I have to stay open and aware. I cannot look away, ignore my responsibilities and pretend that all is well in the world. As some ambling ape-descended biology, I can’t always sustain that and keep moving. I have good days, and bad days. My body has a finite capacity for coping with distress. I try and generate hope. I do not always manage this.

I saw a facebook thing the other day, the gist went like this. The media tells you what to think and what to do. You run round on the treadmill making money for someone else, to buy stuff you don’t need that is killing the planet. Your air, food and water are being poisoned. And still you shuffle along. You are the zombie apocalypse. Wake the hell up.

I think there’s an argument for saying that a lot of depressed people are that way because they are awake. Perhaps if everyone woke up, we wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore. None of us. We could just fix things. And we really could just fix things, if enough of us wanted to and we could agree on how to do it. Let’s not go there. Hold the positive thought.

Finding the good

There are days when my sense of all that is wrong in the world overwhelms me. From the small, everyday cruelties through to the epic injustices, there is so much to grieve over. I’ve had too much contact with sadists and sickos, people who hurt and use others, and feel entitled to do so. Any contact would be too much. The perception that the bad far outweighs the good, can be crippling. To keep going in any positive way, requires hope.

Looking for the good in things is a choice. It is about holding optimism in the face of experience, and the more crap life throws your way, the harder that gets. Refusing to be beaten allows me to stave off both cynicism and despair. Apathy and a defeatist attitude are not good tools to work with, even if lapsing into them may seem easier. Sometimes optimism is a full time fight, but the alternative is a loss of self, a loss of belief in the future, and a loss of belief in the humanity of others.

Sometimes you have to be looking hard for the good things, to spot them. The worst people I have known in my life had their moments, even. One, who went to prison, had a deep and abiding love of dogs. That doesn’t redeem him in any way, but I make a point of remembering that. Sometimes entirely selfish motives will push a person towards doing the right things anyway.

Sometimes the good in a day is small and subtle. It’s a burst of birdsong, or a smile from a stranger. It’s seeing the little plant that has managed to break through the tarmac, or the way the sunset catches the water. When you’re paying attention to these small things, they start to seem a lot bigger. Getting away from what is solely human to find the good in other things can be a great help. The trees are not thinking about the economy, only about budding and spring. The hills do not care for our laws and troubles, they just are. There are different perspectives to find, and solace to be taken from them.

Making a conscious effort to find the good in a day takes practice. However, there are aspects of misery and despair that are all about cutting ourselves off from everything, retreating deeper into the self. It may seem like a protective move, to disengage, but it also deprives us of the connections we need. Seeking the good is also about an attitude shift, because it assumes there is good to be found. Often it’s easiest to find what you’re looking for, and expecting the worst brings it into focus.

When you find something good, share it. Celebrate it. Even the smallest gestures towards making better, are precious. A kind word, a tiny gesture of compassion or friendliness, a joke shared. These are all ways of fighting back against the forces of misery and apathy.

When something or someone seems impossible, you can still change how you think about it. Every set back, every new problem, is a challenge to rise to. Every idiot and asshole making your life difficult gives you opportunity to be a better sort of person. Every difficult thing is an opportunity to prove something, and to shine. Often no one else will notice, but in singing your own triumphs you can get something useful out of the crap. And sometimes, when you voice the little wins, the things faced, the idiots well handled, someone else will share that with you in a good way.

Today I am ill, but when I looked up from my editing job, I saw an egret fly past my window, its form a magical, ghostly white against this dingy sky. It looked so pristine, like an emissary from the otherworld. And yes, it is cold, but I have a man who has brought wood in and made me a fire. I’ve lived in far harder conditions than this, having to build a reality out of crumbs. It can be done, and often there are more than crumbs to work with, especially once we start passing them around. Good things have a habit of growing and expanding, if they are given the chance.

This is all about belief. We can choose what we believe. If we choose to seek the good, to believe in the existence of silver linings in clouds, and frogs who turn into princess, and wool that turns into gold, then perhaps we can make it happen. The only thing I am certain about is that the person who keeps striving has a little hope of success, but the person who gives up, has none.


And it’s a bit of an irony, having written that this morning, and sat here the recipient of yet another slap from reality, and wondering how not to give up. But life goes on, somehow.