Dear 15 Year Old Me

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As I happen to be in Johannesburg for South African Women’s Day I thought I’d post something in keeping with the day. So I’m posting today to raise awareness of a campaign a friend of mine has set up to combat depression amongst teenagers. Her idea is to invite no-longer teenagers to offer a bit of advice to their younger selves, so that teenagers of today can read through some of the issues the seemingly confident adults around them experienced at their age, and feel a little bit less alone.

This is not an exclusively women’s related problem but I think it’s appropriate for the day as I am a woman and I was a young female once upon a time. But I’d invite anyone who wants to take part to do so, you’ll find no gender discrimination here!

If like me you think this is a great idea and would like to get involved you can add your own advice to the Tumblr page http://selfesteemat15.tumblr.com/, where the words of advice to many a younger self are swelling the archives on a daily basis, or you could create your own blog entry and link to the twitter feed #SelfEsteemAt15‬. If you want to see what other people are posting follow @SelfEsteemAt15.

If you’d like to share your words of wisdom or a link to your entry here too, I’d love to know what 15 year old you and 15 year old me might have had in common.

Below is the advice I quickly scribbled out to younger me.

Dear 15 year old me

I will give you a quick piece of advice because I am currently taking a quick break from a job I am passionate about. So it is possible to make a difference in the world and to ‘be the change you want to see’, even if you currently have no clue what to do with yourself. I can’t remember who said that but even at 15 you had the internet so you can google it.

There are two pieces of advice I would like to give to you. Firstly, be true to what you know is right. Sometimes we all get led astray and it’s easier to join in with the crowd mocking others than to be the one who is mocked but you know this is wrong so if you aren’t yet brave enough to defend those lone rangers at least don’t add to their misery and maybe throw them a little bit of kindness now and again. It will help them and it will help you more than you can realise.

Secondly, don’t be afraid of failure. Yes you have always been pretty good with the smarts and I know you embarrass easily and are currently afraid to try new things, unless everyone else is already on board, but don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes they will work out amazingly well and you’ll wonder why you were so worried in the first place, sometimes you’ll fail a couple of times before you get it right and sometimes you’ll just fail. But there is nothing wrong with that.

Finally, I know that sometimes you will reach points when everything seems so terrible and you want to curl up into a ball and disappear, but trust me, these hurts and pains you experience they will heal and you will be a stronger person and know yourself better because of it. So don’t be so hard on yourself and when everything really seems so terrible then just trust me and just keep putting one foot in front of the other because these times will pass.

Oh and very quickly, as for what you look like, give yourself a break and stop comparing yourself to others, you are you and that’s damn awesome.

Love 30 year old me xxx

p.s. life doesn’t get boring as you grow up, I’m excited to meet 45 and 60 year old me, I think we are going to be great 😉

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Liebster Award

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So  a week or two back, I’m not so great of keeping track of time these days (must be the old age kicking in). Niina, over at Northern Chapters, was wonderfully kind enough to nominate me for the Liebster Award (sorry it took me a bit longer to respond than planned).

I know that some people like these awards and some don’t but as I’m far from the point of Award saturation, I feel pretty darn chuffed at the idea that someone likes my blog enough to want to recognise that. Plus, most of the new blogs I discover are through recommendations/links from other blogs so I think it’s a good way to broaden the old blogging horizons.

Also Niina came up with some really cool questions that I’d like to answer. I do so love a quiz, particularly those buzzfeed type know-thyself kind where they try to guess what kind of Disney Princess you are (would love to think of myself as a Mulan but I’m clearly more of a Belle, bit of a geek, do love a good book and have a tendency to take pity on sad lonely creatures; which is why I feel no love for ants, they have way too many chums for me to feel bad for them). I digress anywhere here goes:

Anyway here are dem rules:

  • Once you are nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you.
  • Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too.
  • Nominate some other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the ten questions asked to you by the person who nominated you
  • Make ten questions of your own for your nominees.
  • Lastly, COPY these rules in the post.
  • ALL THE NOMINEES ARE FREE TO ACCEPT OR REJECT THE NOMINATION

1. How many books have you read so far this year?

I can actually answer this one to the letter, whilst I am not cool enough for a Goodreads style online recording of my literary adventures, I am gloriously old-fashioned and delight in keeping a proper, would-burn-in-a-fire-paper-kind of book journal. This is primarily so I can recall what I’ve read, memory, goldfish, what? It’s also so I can smugly flick through and count up how many books I’ve read. Wow, what a long-winded way of answering: 20.

2. What’s your favorite holiday?

Has to be Christmas. I’ve been lucky enough the past few years to work places where pretty much the entire operation shuts down between Christmas Eve and the New Year and I really love having so much time off at a time when other people also take lots of time off so you don’t have that mad rush you get with holiday taken during the rest of the year, where you work your pants off before you go on holidays and then you work little buns off (pants already lost in pre-holiday work) when you come back catching up on everything. Last Christmas was also the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time, as the fella and I stayed in Geneva had a couple of days with chums and then the rest of the time doing diddly-squat, without feeling remotely guilty. Wouldn’t want to do that every year but was pretty nice this.

3. If you could only recommend one book, what would it be?

This is a tough question, I have books I adore but am quite reluctant to recommend to others, because if they don’t like them I’ll take it really personally so I tend to only recommend things I quite like, but won’t be devastated if not everyone feels the same way. So I’ll cheat and just answer with the last book I recommended to someone, which was ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Moshin Hamid. I liked how the book was written as a one-sided conversation with a shadowy stranger, the throw away comments that leave you wondering what’s really going on and just the really interesting approach of how a Pakistani in America fell out of love with the country he had longed to be a part of. I won’t say any more but it’s well worth a read and if you find the narrative style annoying at first (I did) keep going, it’ll completely draw you in eventually.

4. Congratulations, you just won the jackpot in a lottery! First thing you do?

Book a holiday somewhere beautiful by a beach and enjoy looking out at the sea whiling away my time as I calculate, to the digit, exactly how to spend the rest of it!

5. Would you rather go 200 years into the past or into the future and why?

Well the future scares me and I think going into the future and finding out how the world and your destiny ends up is probably going to be pretty unhealthy. If you go back in time, you can really connect with history and look super clued up, with loads of smart ideas you could pass of as you’re own. Having said all that, I’d go into the future, at a run, so as not to really think about it, the danger factor of the unknown would be too exciting to miss.

6. If you could choose one person (alive or dead), who would you want to meet?

I want to cheat again. If someone dead, I’d pick Siegfried Sassoon (First World War poet, novelist and king of the pointless rebellions), he undertook a protest against the war, which resulted in his being sent away to a mental hospital and taken about as seriously as the ribbon of the medal he tried to throw in the river and sadly just bobbed about on the surface. I like the standing-up-for-what’s-right-even-if-you-get-dismissed-as-a-nutter attitude and I’m currently reading a great biography about him. If someone alive, I’d pick Simon Pegg, have been a fan since Spaced and love the cornetto trilogy movies. I just think he’d be a great person to have a pint with.

7. When was the last time you were excited about something?

I get excited pretty easily about a lot of things, but most recent was riding my new (second-hand) bike to work last Wednesday. My old bike’s saddle couldn’t be adjusted and was far too low so riding had ceased to become pleasurable and was taking it’s toll on my knees. Being able to whizz down that hill on the way to work again, and manage to get back up without too much trouble on the way home, was awesome!

8. Describe yourself in three words!

Normally I’d be lost but did a whole blog post on this recently. I aspirationally went for ‘Counselor, Polymath and Humanist’, you can check out why I came up with those here.

9. At what time of day are you usually most creative?

Regrettably between the hours of 10pm and 2am. This is not conducive to a 9-6 Monday-Friday job. I really wish I was a morning person.

10. What’s your next blogging related goal?

To plan more. My posts are usually a bit slapdash, inspired by an occurrence of the day before in order to meet my self-imposed, if loosely interpreted deadlines. Would be great if I could produce a little stockpile of pieces I could wheel out for rainy days.


 

Blogs I nominate are all ones I’ve discovered relatively recently, don’t think I’ve nominated before, and really enjoy for one reason or another so I’d recommend you check out:

  • Would you rather be a zombie or vampire?
  • Do you prefer cats or dogs and if you pick dogs do you think that’s because you just don’t really get cats?
  • Why did you decide to write a blog?
  • Which Disney Princess would you be?
  • How early in the day would you a drink a mojito/screwdriver/other cocktail of your choice?
  • If you were helping to tidy out a colleague’s desk and you spotted a winning lottery ticket they had clearly forgotten about would you tell them or keep it and pretend it was yours?
  • Would you rather go to jail for a crime you didn’t commit or have someone else go to jail for a crime you committed but they were blamed for?
  • If you could go any place in the world right now, where would you go?
  • Who is your favourite author?
  • If you could change history, would you do it and what would you change?

Well that’s a really long blog post (so many words…) so thanks to everyone who managed to read the end of it!

The Daydreamer Award

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I have been nominated for the Daydreamer award by the lovely Edwina of EdwinasEpisodes. This is an award for blogs that are inspiring, creative or funny.
Here are the rules:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award.
2. Complete the challenge they set you.
3. Select a blog or blogs that you want to give the award to.
4. Tell them about it and set them a challenge.
(Please include the rules in your post).

 

1. Thanks Edwina for nominating me, I’ve really enjoyed reading and engaging with your blog and witty episodes on the world around us.

I’m really really pleased you nominated me for this. As a blogger it’s nice to know that anyone out there is reading what I’m writing and even better that someone (particularly someone whose writing I enjoy so much) actually likes the words I’m committing to screen. Being nominated as a blog you find inspiring means a lot to me.

This award is a bit like a chain letter of the blogging world but as the aim is to recognise good blogs and spread the love of other good blogs, rather than enticing people into financially-dodgy pyramid schemes I don’t see anything not to like about this.

 

2. The challenge I was given was to describe my dream destination.

I spent several months in Cambodia in 2013 and loved everything about the people and their beautiful country, even if there are deep-rooted human rights and political issues that led me there in the first place and despite my few months of activism are still ongoing (surprising I know, that I couldn’t change a country’s fate in just a handful of weeks!). Nonetheless I would endorse Cambodia as a place to visit with all my heart and find it hard to imagine a better holiday destination than that. But as I’ve already been there it’s not currently in my dream destination list of contention

Not Japan but CambodiaI love Cambodia, and have a fondness for Thailand, so am firmly convinced that I love Southeast Asia. Although I’ve only discovered a small part of it to date I hope to get round to exploring the rest of it someday.

So, still hung up on that part of the world, but unsure how to pick my next top choice from the enticing options available in that region, I’ll go a little less South and a little more East and pick Japan as my dream destination for now. My fascination with Japan has been growing through an onslaught of arts and literature pushing me in that direction.

Whilst in Cambodia I finally got around to reading my first Haruki Murakami book, “Kafka on the shore”, which seemed so magical and wonderful I knew that I’d discovered a new favourite author from this book alone. Since then I have been desperately trying to resist the temptation to read up everything he’s ever written immediately. It’s nicer to know there are still a lot of his works out there yet to be savoured than to panic that I’ve almost exhausted his library.

On the plane back from Cambodia I watched a great Japanese film by Kiyoshi Kurasawa called “Real”, which, more-or-less, tells the tale of a young man trying to connect with his comatose girlfriend through meeting her in a dream reality. If you get a chance to see it I’d definitely recommend it, unless you don’t like science fiction, films that make your head want to explode or foreign films as a matter of some weird principle.

Shortly after I returned from Cambodia (“before Cambodia”, “in Cambodia” and “post Cambodia” is apparently my new concept of time) I read “The Garden of Evening Mists” by Tan Twan Eng and although set in Malaysia a large part of the story focuses on a Japanese gardener and the gardens he creates.

Anyway, these creative types have stirred up a dormant longing to go to Japan, which has yet to be satiated. You may note that I am quite impressionable and think it odd that it’s words on a page or shots from a film rather than anything more substantial that draws me to Japan, but hey-ho. The idea of Japan as seen through these worlds is enough to instil a huge passion for me to go there.

The country is also appealing for being a land of contrasts: it has huge modern cities, an astonishingly rich history, beautiful beaches, temples with mountain gardens and the magic of cherry blossom. Japan may be nothing like I imagine it to be but I want to go and find out.

In an ideal world it’d be my honeymoon destination of choice for when me and the bearded one finally get hitched. However, as we haven’t currently got money for the wedding, let alone the honeymoon, that might be a trip to be taken a little further down the line, when I stop making financially irresponsible choices like fleeing to Switzerland or constantly starting one expensive course after another.

Oh and Japan also has a Cat Island, where strays outnumber the population, for that reason alone it has to be worth a visit.

Cat Island

 

 3. The blogs I’d like to nominate are:

Cecilia in the Rain Swedish lass stranded in Scotland

Confuzzledom Brit in Germany, although now moving to Switzerlabd

Just a Blog Rambling On Entertaining rambles to be found here

Inventing Real Life Talking to herself in a crowded room, amusing the rest of us along the way

Blunderdad Full time husband, dad and tree-trimmer

Most of these are blogs I’ve discovered fairly recently and they are a varied bunch but all really enjoyable and worth investigating. The last three I discovered through one of Opinionated Man’s Meet and Greets for bloggers that he holds on a pretty regular basis, if you haven’t already discovered his blog it’s worth checking out but be warned he has opinions and he’s not afraid to voice them.

 

 4. The challenge I’d like to set to you all is to describe your perfect rainy day.

The fight against fear

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In the light of the atrocious attack at the office of Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on 7 January, where twelve died and others were seriously injured, I have been thinking about fear quite a lot.

All of us have different things we are afraid of, though I acknowledge that I have the luxury to be afraid of lesser things, like falling off my bike or not having enough money to buy lunch as often as I might like. My fears are a world apart from those of someone living in a war zone or receiving death threats for their work.

The journalists at Charlie Hebdo knew their lives were in danger but didn’t let fear of this prevent them from continuing their work and expressing their commitment to freedom of expression. Tragically these fears were realised when armed gunmen stormed their building and took the lives of so many, devastating the lives of even more.

I have been thinking about what it was these violent fundamentalists feared so much about that magazine that they felt compelled to carry out this attack. Yes, the magazine was well known for its frequent displays of irreverence, irreligiousness and indecency but if those killers were so sure of their faith why should something they found offensive frighten them so much?

I have also thought about the fear that those who lost their lives and those who survived must have felt as the attack took place. I thought of Stephane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, and the interview he gave to Le Monde in 2012 where, when questioned about death threats he’d received, said ‘I am not afraid of retaliation, I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than living on my knees.’

Whilst it isn’t necessarily the case that these murders were orchestrated by a well-known terrorist outfit this was an act of terrorism, designed to bring people to their knees by instilling an overwhelming sense of fear.

Of course people are frightened by what happened, that’s a perfectly natural and shameless response. Yet in spite of this, support for the murdered cartoonists and others has been overwhelming. Yesterday evening, even though the fanatics who perpetrated this act were still at large with their deadly weapons and deadlier mindsets, thousands of people did not let fear prevent them from coming together to express their solidarity with those killed at Charlie Hebdo and affirm their commitment to the principles that publication upheld.

What frightens me most about acts such as these is that some noxious groups and individuals would take the seed of fear sown by these unwarranted attacks and intensify this into a frenzy of terror that would enable political parties to increase racial and religious prejudice and to curb the rights of their citizens*. Whether deliberately or not, they try to achieve what the terrorists have yet failed to do and bring us to our knees.

And recently, across Europe, there has been a large swing of voters to far-right-wing parties and increasing evidence of intolerance to others. There has been an increase in active support for anti-Islam groups in Europe for those too lazy to take the time to acknowledge that not all Muslims are terrorists. However there are also people, like those at Charlie Hebdo, who wont give into this acceptance of intolerance and hatred. For every anti-Islam or National Front march there are usually a sizable bunch of counter-protestors.

It is easy to look at the world around us and despair at the acts of violence and evil that are committed across the globe, to smaller and larger scales, on a daily basis. It is easy to look at the faces of strangers and find ourselves questioning whether or not they pose a threat to us. It is easy to give in to the fear that these acts of hate strive to generate and scaremongers muster for their own ends.

What is remarkable is that most of us chose not to. That in times of tragedy people gather together to share their candles and overcome the darkness. The global reaction to what happened has, on the whole, been a wonderful show of resilience and love in the face of evil. It has been a positive reinforcement that people are essentially decent and will not stand for such acts of violence against individuals and against principles that they hold dear.

Hate is ugly but rather than allowing the fear it engenders to breed it into something insurmountable it’s much more effectively held at bay with love and with laughter.

“I love you so, I have no time to hate
Even those wolves without. The great winds move
All their dark batteries to our fragile gate:
The world is very strong, but love is stronger.”

To Olive V – Lord Alfred Douglas


*UK Conservative David Davies MP has claimed that the Paris attacks call for repealing the Human Rights Act

The Blog Hop

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I have been nominated to participate in a blog hop by WA Woman to World, which entails answering the questions below and then nominating two other blogs to share their responses.

Firstly, thanks Michelle for the nomination. I met Michelle at my very first Geneva International Book Club meeting. The club is a lovely(ish) group of people whose warm welcome to Geneva, where every comment is welcomed and valued if not necessarily agreed with, made me first feel at home in this strange city. And Michelle was one of the first people here in Geneva I really connected with. I was delighted to discover her blog and get to know her better through this medium as well as regular book club meets and to discover what a warm-hearted, funny and inspiring woman she really is. I loved her blog so much that it motivated me to start my own and her words of support were really encouraging.

What are you working on?

That really depends on how you want to define ‘work’. If we are going for the traditional sense in terms of societally-defined gainful employment for which I exchange skills for the money to pay rent and eat, then I am working for an international NGO for the advancement of human rights.

Human rights has been something I’ve been passionate about since we had a talk from a representative of Amnesty International when I was in secondary school. I felt a pull to do something about the global inequality where the rights I take for granted are denied to so many others. This started with my joining a local Amnesty group, later I undertook a Masters Degree in Human Rights, an internship with the Cambodian Centre of Human Rights followed in 2013 and now I’m here in Geneva hoping to put my organizational skills to use for something I care about.

In terms of the broader sense of ‘work’ well, I now have this blog but, my biggest non-work-work is ‘me’. It’s an ongoing project to try and be the best version of myself, not to let myself be held back by fears and to open myself up to new experiences whilst at the same time learn to appreciate the here and now. It’s an ambitious challenge I suspect won’t be finished anytime soon. At the moment, to provide slightly more specific examples, it includes learning French, enjoying a healthier version of me through improved diet and increased exercise, practicing drawing and trying not to be so darn addicted to social media apps on my phone and at work.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

In terms of the blog writing, I wouldn’t say I have a unique voice or perspective, because I doubt whether there is any such thing as a truly original thought or piece of work. Even if you think you are being radically different from everyone else there are probably loads of other people with exactly the same idea, which may or may not have been put into practice or vocalised yet. Or perhaps I’m just not original enough to accept the concept of originality in others.

I started my blog thinking what I was saying was revolutionary, that no-one would have heard anything of the like before. I was quite astounded by the amount of people who came back to me saying this is exactly how they feel. At first I felt a little put out by that but actually I’ve realised how great this is and now I love the idea that through opening myself up on the blog others may find things they can relate to. Through doing my part to create a little interconnectivity I hope we can all feel a little less alone and a little stronger.

But even if we share the same ideas with others which ideas we have in common, how we voice these, how these affect us and shape our own understandings is unique to all of us. I’m trying to hold onto the thought that I am both nothing more than a snowflake in a blizzard and nothing less than a one of a kind snowflake. It’s a dizzying vertigo effect of trying to balance one’s own sense of self-importance with the realisation of one’s insignificance.*

Perhaps my work is different in not trying to be different and not really trying to be anything more nor anything less than mine? Or perhaps it’s the same as everyone else’s in this respect?

Why do you create what you do?

For some time I’ve thought there is a novel or two inside me but it occurred to me that I wouldn’t become a bestseller anytime soon unless maybe I started writing a bit more frequently. I then met a couple of inspirational bloggers and I thought I’d start my blog as a technical challenge to polish my writing skills. However I completely underestimated the effect that blogging would have on me and this developed into a passion in itself.

I wasn’t sure, and still aren’t, exactly where I wanted to go with the blog and what I wanted to say. But I did know that I wanted to write honestly about who I am and how I understand and interpret the world around me. Through trying to truthfully address my sense of self and then put it out there for others through this blog it’s actually helping me to understand myself better.

The concept of the blog was to spell out my life philosophy and how I’m applying that on a daily basis. Since starting the blog I discovered my philosophy isn’t as concrete as I had imagined and is constantly evolving, so this will continue to be something to work on.

How does your creative process work?

Deadlines are pretty essential to how I operate. I’m very good at wasting time and can spend whole weekends doing nothing more than flitting between television, books or perhaps having a little wander outside. I blame my dad, he is king of the procrastinators and passed that particular talent on to me.

So I imposed a weekly deadline on myself, which I’ve actually managed to stick to reasonably well, and try to avoid the trap of thinking ‘oh well it doesn’t matter this week’. I know that sort of thinking will be a slippery slope for me because if I start to make excuses it gets easier to keep on making excuses and before you know it months will have gone by without a single new post.

Knowing I have the weekly deadline means my inspiration drive is pretty much always whirring away in the background looking for ideas for the next post. Sometimes it’s obvious and I’ll see, experience or feel something that moves me to write and sometimes I have to work a bit harder to try and find anything worth expressing. I’m starting to develop a little store of rainy day blogging ideas to avoid moments of panic about what the heck I’m going to write about next, which has happened a few times.

Book club has also been a useful muse by pointing me towards reading books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, thinking about books in greater depth than I used to and most importantly from getting insights into others on how they have interpreted the same texts I’ve read. We all have the same material but our brains make quite different work of it, proving humans are pretty amazing and providing plenty of food for thought.

My nominees

I have chosen to nominate the blog ‘Lori and the Caravan.’ Lori is a truly inspirational person who is not afraid of a challenge and shares her experiences openly and honestly through her blog. Amongst other things she is a loving mother, a historical geek, a passionate vintage promoter, and, obviously a blogger. I worked with Lori in London and then our lives took us in different directions and we drifted, but I’ve been able to reconnect with her through her blog. You can also check out her shop and start thinking of little people you can buy Lori’s great vintage finds for.

My other nominee is the brilliantly insightful ‘Self-styled life’. This was one of the first blogs I discovered when I started my own blogging adventure and it really resonated with me. Despite the fact Jean and I have never met, live on different continents and have very different lives I have felt a connection with her through her writing. When first starting out it was really encouraging to find a blogger that could entertain and move me (my last blog post was directly inspired by one of hers). Her blog was the first stranger’s blog I dared to comment on and I have really appreciated her warm and thoughtful responses to my random comments. It’s nice to know the internet isn’t such a scary place full of trolls under every article.


*This is starting to sound either a bit profound or super self-indulgent and poncey, sorry if it’s the latter.

Is the world mad or is it just me?

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I’m sure we have all had moments of shocked incredulity at a situation seemingly accepted by others but which seems totally incomprehensible to ourselves. But the acceptance of others might ask us to question whether this really is a mad situation or whether it is in fact us. When confronted with this madness what do we do: do we protest in the bewildered face of others or simply keep our heads down and wonder in silence?
This is a bit different to my usual postings (if after two months of blogging you’ve identified a trend) and it’s not really about me but is inspired by three men unable to accept the madness of the world around them and in protesting this perceived insanity earned the ridicule of others.
This week, whilst undertaking a spot of filing, I came across a number of letters from a Mr Garry Davis. He was a very public and active promoter of his cause, that died around this time last year, so I think it’s okay to reference him by name.

Mr Garry Davis

At first glimpse I thought these are just the ramblings of your average fruitloop. There was an excessive use of capitalization and exclamation marks, which I tend to interpret as a mark of crazy. (Let me just re-type that last sentence and you’ll see what I mean. There was an EXCESSIVE use of CAPITALIZATION and exclamation marks, which I tend to INTERPRET as a mark of CRAZY!!!!!)
But then I started to read his correspondence more carefully and did a bit of research (for ‘research’ read ‘I Googled him’) and what I discovered wasn’t as mad as I had first thought. In a nutshell Mr Davis was an American World War 2 veteran who, disgusted by the senseless killing he himself participated in, decided to renounce his US citizenship and declare himself a citizen of the world. He believed that lasting peace could only be obtained if nationhood and the accompanying violence of territorial wars ceased to exist.
Mr Davis was committed to his cause for which he was arrested, deported and probably subjected to more assumptions of crazy than just mine up until his death at the age of 91. He promoted world citizenship and produced world passports in the belief that there should be no borders and people should be free to come and go as they pleased. For many stateless refugees he was an inspiration and to this day the One World Vision has many hundreds of thousands of followers. He was a man committed to his visions in a world that didn’t want to listen to him.
Will there ever come a time a century or two from now when all the world citizens, devoid of nationality, look back at this part of history and question why everyone else was so happy to accept what is patently a very bizarre set-up in the form of statehood?

Mr Brian Haw

Next on my list of uncompromising protestors is Mr Brian Haw. I used to work at Parliament and as someone frequently subjected to the torrent of words spilling forth from Mr Haw’s megaphone it was easy to dismiss him as a nutter and nothing more than a nuisance.
In 2001 he set up camp on Parliament Square in London protesting against US and UK foreign policy in relation to the situation in Iraq. Parliament tried to get rid of him by enacting new legislation to prevent permanent protests in that area, but as Mr Haw’s protest was ongoing and established prior to legislation he became the only person legitimately entitled to camp outside Parliament. And camp there he did, through all weather extremes, until his death in 2011.
Mr Haw claimed he was protesting for a better future for his children. That’s probably not the only reason behind his actions and how happy his children, who he left behind to undertake the protest, were with this argument is another matter. But if Mr Haw genuinely believed his protest was the only means he had at his disposal to ensure a better future for his children, that it wasn’t possible for him to be quiet and accept the reality of war, was he really as mad as so many dismissed him to be?

Mr Siegfried Sassoon

Finally I come to my last of those champions of lost causes and my personal favourite: Mr Siegfried Sassoon. Siegfried Sassoon real life fox-hunter, poet and Great War Veteran reached a point when he could no longer not protest at the futility of war and the waste of life he saw all around him. Knowing full well the futility of his actions he threw away his medals and wrote a letter to a national newspaper protesting against the war. His actions earned him a spell in a mental hospital for shell-shocked officers.
(Regeneration by Pat Barker is a great book that blends history and fiction in exploring the madness of war and will tell this part of Sassoon’s story better than I can.)
In the mental hospital Sassoon encountered Wilfred Owen and encouraged him to express more forcefully the horrors of war in his poetry. So he may have failed to stop the madness of war but at least through his own poetry and through the encouragement of better-known Great War poet Owen, he managed to communicate the madness to others despite the heavy censorship both poets were subjected to. (Interesting piece on BBC news about censorship of Sassoon here)
Whilst the wastefulness of young lives during the Great War is now widely accepted, at the time Sassoon’s protest was not. Far easier to dismiss him as mad than accept the truth of what he had to say. Time has vindicated Mr Sassoon and perhaps it will also vindicate Mr Davis and Mr Haw in the future? Undoubtedly there will be many things we accept now that future generations will consider utter madness.

Daring to dare (but don’t dare to run a red light)

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“I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare”. In homage to Maya Angelou, who died just yesterday, I’m starting this blog with a truly inspirational quote from this truly inspirational person.
I love that quote and think that daring to dare doesn’t just apply to the big things like travelling the world, quitting your job to write a novel or moving to Hollywood to become a star. Daring to dare encompasses whatever grand dreams you have but also the little challenges that we all face on a daily basis. Those seemingly smaller things, insignificant to many, but daunting to you.
I think the idea of doing things which scare you can often lead to positive results that you never would have foreseen, even when things don’t quite turn out as planned. For example, this week I finally dared to get on my bicycle after having brought it across to Switzerland and then looked at it for three months being too afraid to take it on the road.
Here’s what happened: I went to the shops, I came back. I got a little confused and ended up in the wrong lane when I wanted to turn left. The lights went green but I couldn’t go immediately so carefully watched the traffic on my side waiting for a chance to switch lanes and cross. Unfortunately I failed to register that when the traffic on my side had finally eased up the lights had changed. I was completely oblivious to the fact I was running a red light until I was crossing the road with two lines of traffic coming at me in the other direction.
To add insult to injury I then got pulled over by the police and fined. Upsetting at the time, sure. But actually I am a little proud that I managed to have a conversation in French under stressful circumstances. I got to try out some new phrases such as ‘je suis bête’ (‘I am stupid’) and could give my year of birth without hesitation. So as much as getting fined and almost being run over was rubbish, it wasn’t wholly negative: I got to practice my French, I am now much more safety conscious when cycling and it makes a good story!
Cycling in Switzerland may have been a smaller dare than actually moving to Switzerland but for me it was a dare nonetheless.
The concept of daring to dare wasn’t something I was aware of when I first encountered Maya Angelou. I remember reading Maya Angelou’s I know why the caged bird sings when I was about 15. The first of her autobiographical works is not an easy read, Maya experienced things that no-one should have to, but in spite of all the difficulties she faced she didn’t let these define her but kept on trying.
What I recall most about the book was how bewildered I felt when she finally achieved her goal of becoming a tram conductor, a feat which seemed tremendous as she was the first black person in San Francisco to do this, but then didn’t want to just revel in this. My teenage self, still a strong believer in the fairytale, RomCom perpetuated, ideal of the happy-ever-after just didn’t get it. I thought becoming the bus conductor was her happy ending and at that time found that part of her narrative really hard to understand.
I continued to hold onto this idea of life neatly tying itself up into a perfect state and had this idea that I would reach my happy ending just as soon as I found someone to love/owned my own home/had the perfect job/reached the perfect weight…
But real life, and not the Hollywood illusion, isn’t like that and thank goodness! Imagine how incredibly dull it would be if everything had worked out as I’d imagined at the age of 15 and that by the time I was (almost) 30 I had achieved everything I’d hoped for in life and contentedly spent the rest of my life patting myself on the back. I think the smug satisfaction would have got a little tedious after the first couple of years.
Now I comprehend exactly why Maya Angelou wasn’t happy to be a tram conductor even until the end of the book, because I’m like her. I have a goal, I work to achieve it and then I start looking for something else.
I hadn’t finished my Masters before I’d signed up for Law Diploma, and as that came to an end I applied for an internship in Cambodia. The world isn’t going to stop turning because I achieve something and nor would I want to.
I still want to be learning and trying something new, still daring to dare, until the undertakers come to prise me away from the world of the living. That’s just part of who I am and I plan to keep on challenging myself as I get older, whether this be crocodile wrestling, completing a novel or learning crochet, it doesn’t matter.
As the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez said: “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”