Sometimes I feel very jealous of anyone over the age of 70. Perhaps if I'm sitting opposite an elderly person in a cafe, or watching a group of older women potter about the streets I feel quite strongly envious. Or maybe I just feel calm and I am jealous of their gravity.
Obviously I have no idea what their lives are like. I don't know how many people they've lost, I don't know their financial struggles, I can't imagine the slow malfunctioning of one's own body. But often I am just jealous of how long they have been on the planet, how many memories they have, of how grounding that must be. Perhaps they regret things, perhaps they look at me and wish they were young again. But I wish that I were them sometimes, I wish that I could replace the feeling of freshly painful memories and emotions, I wish that I could look back on my life and know what happened.
This is sad, maybe, that I think this. I don't always think it. Sometimes I am caught so perfectly in a moment of my life that all I can be is alive and present. I don't want to know what happens in my story yet, because it is too exciting discovering things.
I just wish that the uncertainty of youth wasn't so cutting, so frightening.
I am writing this because I know it is naive. I know it is childish of me to find older people calming, it is wanting to be looked after, to be taken care of. I am writing this because I know that my older self will laugh. I will laugh at myself for feeling so afraid of being young. I will laugh at myself because adulthood does not mean certainty for the rest of your life.
I'm going to be 20 soon. I wonder if I'll feel differently then.
Tuesday, 15 August 2017
I was speaking to a man, probably in his 60s, the other day and he was vaguely racist. He was nice enough to me because I'm white and educated and middle class. He would have been nice enough to someone from an ethnic minority, but I'm not sure he wouldn't have some reservations about it.
Maybe I'm being unfair, maybe he wasn't as racist as I thought. But I met him the day after Charlottesville and I wasn't in the mood for any form of casual prejudice. It was very subtle of course. He was reading the Sunday Times and every time he thought something was ridiculous he'd mutter and tell me the headline. One of them was something about non-English speaking students, or students with very little English, being admitted into English universities. "How ridiculous!" He said. In my mind I knew immediately to distrust the headline and the article, it was obviously going to be misleading and dishonest. I tried to explain that sometimes in scientific degrees, for example, excellent English isn't entirely necessary. His muttering that followed had the same tone as the muttering about the evil foreigners you hear from Daily Mail readers. Later there was Indian music playing and this man looked up the title of the song on Shazam. He was genuinely interested. But then he read out the title and said "that's enough to get me into university". Not really racist, not overtly awful, but just enough for me to wince.
I didn't say anything because I was at work and frankly it wasn't worth it. I hadn't managed to convince him that lowering the GCSE boundaries was probably a good idea considering the reform hadn't gone smoothly. I wasn't going to pick an argument with him about something maybe I had misconstrued.
Was I being over-sensitive?
It's not because I'm brainwashed by politically correct lefties, but because it is such an unfair sweeping judgement against an entire country of people. I wince because it doesn't sit well, it doesn't seem right. I feel guilty because I keep my mouth shut and smile meekly.
I would have picked it up if I hadn't woken to news of a bunch of Nazis in America doing actual harm. I would have picked it up, but maybe I wouldn't have thought about it for so long.
People always say that casual racism is for old people and old people will be dead soon anyway. I don't believe that this man would ever attend a Nazi rally, that he would ever cause that kind of violence and hatred. It would be completely unfair of me to equate his tiny comment to this incident of terrifying prejudice. I don't know the whole of his views, I don't know what he would have said if I had picked him up on it. Maybe I could have changed his attitude, made him see how inappropriate comments like that are.
But what about the casual racism that isn't actually casual? Why do we allow ourselves to brush bigger things off as casual, as unique, as some white guy with poor mental health? Casual racism becomes something much darker when you let it. A lot of the mainstream press call their casual racism news. Racism as news is dangerous. Who can tell you you're wrong when it's in the papers, right?
The incident in Charlottesville was an incident of terrorism, obviously. But it didn't happen by accident, and it isn't an isolated event.
When someone tells you that, say, not being allowed to tell a racist joke is political correctness gone mad, ask them why they want to tell it in the first place. Political correctness means not spreading that casual racism that turns into harmful racism. Casual racism is boring and outdated. Casual racism sometimes ends up with events like Charlottesville.
Sorry if you're racist and you can't just spread your hate.
Thursday, 3 August 2017
My whole life is centred around women. I am always talking about them, always reading about them, always looking to be inspired by them. I've noticed this a lot at uni. I tend to be drawn to female writers, to female characters. I have to actively not choose the 'Woman Question' every week for my essay just so I can include some variety.
Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for centring my studies around feminism, around women. Should I be doing something else? Doesn't everyone do the woman question? It's not very original, is it? - being yet another under-grad focusing her degree on feminism.
And then I remember that for a very long time absolutely no one did the woman question. Female writers got forgotten over time because no one bothered to study them. Feminist criticism is very, very new. It's about time that lots and lots of undergrads started to write about the women in literature, fictional and real, and from a new point of view.
One of my favourite lecturers said that people shouldn't write about female writers just because they are female; some female writers are crap, just like some male writers. But that doesn't take away from the fact that more crap male writers are better known than some brilliant female ones. I reserve the same judgment of quality of the literature I'm reading whether it's written by man or woman, there are just a lot more forgotten women to get through.
Of course I write and read about topics other than the 'Woman Question', of course *some of them* are just as interesting to me. Of course I value variety and difference, I wouldn't be doing a literature degree if I didn't. But I am so bored of finding it hard to research certain female writers because very few people have written about them. I am so bored of male chauvinism overpowering female thought in literature. I am so bored of every female writer being placed under the 'Woman Question' and that often I have to go to that question in order to access them.
This of course applies to the other brilliantly ignored sections of literature until very recently. For example the part of the British Empire that wasn't a white male is often conveniently under-appreciated, you have to search a lot harder to get to them.
So, yes, I refuse to apologise for writing about women. I refuse to accept that by studying and enjoying Woolf, Plath, Spark, the Brontes, Austen etc I am a stereotype. Men writing about Hemingway is a stereotype, or Kerouac, or Jerome K Jerome. But that's okay, because all these books are fascinating, all these books have new and different angles, and all these books are human. Women are human too, so I will continue to write about them - thank you very much!