It’s Not Dark Yet

“It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” (Bob Dylan)

Whatever your personal belief system, everyone acknowledges that, at this time of year, many folk are gearing up for celebrations of some sort or other in about four weeks’ time. These might relate to Christmas, they might relate to the Midwinter Solstice (in the northern hemisphere), they might relate to nothing in particular: celebrations of birth and rebirth, or just for the hell of it, to bring light to the darkest time of year.

And, increasingly, it does feel like we are heading for dark times. Though many of us, in our nests of cosy privilege, might not feel the economic pinch of the current political times in which we live as keenly as do some of our fellow compatriots, nevertheless the ever-looming background of an increasingly right-wing political environment in the west is unsettling. It creeps up on you when you least expect it, and only then do you realise it was always there, causing worry and stress, rotting at the back of your mind.

Worse is knowing how many who walk among us are actually celebrating the discord that has been sown because they (ironically, given the background of many of the ringleaders) want to shake up what they see as a faceless and entitled autocratic juggernaut of an establishment. In some instances, those supporting the upheaval include some of the most privileged of all, whose personal circumstances mean they will never be affected by an economic earthquake; in others, this includes a raft of those apparently ignorant to the fact that even the slightest economic tremors will deeply hurt them or many of those they know. And that is without considering the rhetoric used by such people: without analysing the hurt that is done, the divisions which are encouraged and driven through communities, the baseless fear and hatred of the other.

Yet, through all this, the season offers hope and a chance to focus on the good of the world: on giving and sharing, and on respect and love for one another, regardless of background or belief. As we head towards the shortest day of the year, and the world seems to slip further into darkness, there is hope and the promise of light. Not just around the corner, but right now, among us: we just need to keep reminding ourselves to look for it.

It’s one reason why – even if decorating early is not for me, personally – I’ll never criticise someone for putting up their tree and trimmings several weeks before Christmas. Or for sneakily listening to carols before the end of November, or for wrapping presents or writing cards early. Especially in these darkening times, there is something so delightfully innocent and refreshing about celebrations – whatever they may be – which are predominantly based on selflessness and are focussed on peace and new beginnings.

I don’t disagree with the many who believe the commercial aspect of this time of year is off-putting: it is, certainly. But commercialism is simply a crass symptom of a cause which is much more pure. An inevitable capitalist consequence of our twenty-first century society.

So, whatever reason for joy you’re celebrating over the coming weeks, feel free to do so loud and proud. Don’t listen to the naysayers or the grumblers. Enjoy sharing the tidings of the season. Let yourself feel the hope and promise of good things to come. Because we need to believe – and I truly do believe – that this dark time will pass. We just need to allow ourselves to unashamedly celebrate the strength and power of humanity at its best.

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Leisure (with apologies to William Henry Davies)

By: Lydia Crow

 

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to sit and stare.
No time to sit before machines
And stare at phones and tablet screens.
No time to see the latest shows,
Messages draft, or emails compose.
No time to watch the latest memes,
Refreshing timelines and news streams.
No time to turn away from trolls
Exploiting social media loopholes.
No time to wait, with pressing workloads,
For stuttering connections and slow downloads.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to sit and stare.

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Farewell, Facebook

By: Lydia Crow

 

I’m not sure when certain developments started to change how I felt about social media, but it was certainly several years ago now. Whereas once it was something which brought more joy than not, now it seems its primary function is to offer us platforms upon which to stand and watch horrific or terrifying world events unfold in slow motion. Worse, these very platforms are providing the opportunity not just for amplifying the negativity, but for global events to be manipulated and shaped by those with ulterior motives. It is not true that the world is worse than it has ever been, and it is not true that every hope raised is shattered by social media; but it is hard not to feel some degree of those sentiments as we watch helplessly from the sidelines.

Only, we’re not stood on the sidelines. Whether we like to think of it like this or not, we are in the thick of it all: not just absorbing but participating in all this activity.

Increasingly in this day and age, don’t we need to start to consider at which stage our use of certain platforms for our own personal convenience or gain mean, in effect, we are complicit in the wider substantial moral issues surrounding the platforms in question?

At this point we need to put aside, for a moment, the issue of those who abuse social media platforms for their own nefarious ends: not for any other reason than the fact that, in most cases, they’re not actually abusing platform functionality. They are merely taking advantage of poorly considered or defined ethics in order to make use of the soapboxes various platforms provide, or to tap into the big data these platforms offer.

This is something I have been thinking about more and more in recent times, especially since the revelations came to light throughout 2018 relating to how personal Facebook user data has been used for various political purposes. The revelations themselves would not surprise anyone who was keeping half an eye open, but the sheer breadth of their reach was, and remains, outstanding. And I suspect we’ve only just scratched the surface.

And, yes, here I think we need to single out Facebook. That’s not to say that it is the only platform which is allowing these kinds of activities to take place, but it is certainly the largest platform that has allowed this kind of activity to this extent, and whose very algorithms, structures and business remain opaque or outright suspect to a large degree. Above all this, there is clearly an unwillingness on the part of Facebook to take real, honest responsibility for the damage that it has inflicted on the world at large.

So, after much debate, I’ve decided that the time has come to #DeleteFacebook once and for all.

The reason it has taken me this long to decide to make this move is simply because of how much inconvenience it will cause me, and what I will miss due to deleting my account. I know there are people with whom I will lose touch, and this makes me sad.

I have had three personal Facebook accounts over the years, and, whenever I have deleted an account, I miss the updates from those friends I only seem to keep in touch with on Facebook. I miss the photos, the merriness, the daftness. However much I’ve tried, I have naturally drifted away from some people when I haven’t had a personal Facebook account – only to be back in touch when I started a new account. And this is how they ensure we stay on the platform: because Facebook has convinced us to believe that, in some instances, not only is it the primary way to communicate, it is the only way.

I have also had two more accounts for work and research over the years, meaning I have not been altogether without a Facebook account at any given point since I set up my first personal account in 2006. As I have said, it would actually inconvenience me to delete my account, but isn’t that also sort of the point? I’m not doing this as some kind of impotent protest, though, I am doing this because I don’t think I can any longer be associated with a platform and company which operates as Facebook chooses to. Recently, researching various issues and developments relating to social media, I have been forced to pay attention to all the evidence I was turning a blind eye to: not to say I wasn’t aware, but there comes a point when we have to ask ourselves to what point we’re happy participating in a culture which represents the opposite of what we consider to be some of our most dearly held values. Given events happening and creative ventures planned for later this year and early next, it would suit me to have access to Facebook as a platform. In fact, it would probably disadvantage me not to have access to Facebook as a platform. But I am increasingly finding myself reluctant to show any form of support for Facebook’s business model and the way in which it approaches ethical considerations relating to the (unprecedented?) level of personal data it should be safeguarding.

It is one thing pretending I am happy with how my data is used (face recognition, anyone?), but there are increasingly wider concerns at stake: not least, how reliant upon the platform so many people have become. Have you ever considered what would happen if Facebook ever went offline completely, or held your data and networks to ransom, demanding money for you to access them? Just think of all the relationships which would be affected: because ultimately, you have no power over any data which you input into Facebook.

I can see a situation whereby it is soon required that people have a Facebook account to access certain services: already, when logging into various sites, this is the preferred and default method. Potential security issues relating to logging into third-party applications across the web has recently been highlighted in the latest (publicly known) substantial data breach.

Isn’t it funny? I wonder how many people who insist of having their landline ex-directory (or did, when they had one) are quite willing to download and utilise various applications on their mobile phones. The sheer breadth of the data we merrily hand over to applications so we can access them at our fingertips is reckless at best. Again, we make our peace knowing it is a lesser evil for the sake of ease: but where might that lead us – where will that leave us – in the next few years?

As part of my research focussing on social media data, collated and analysed over a period of five and a half years in total, I have been paying particular attention to the development of the platforms of Facebook and Twitter. I have ensured that I am sufficiently aware of key changes and data implications (oh, the joys of the ethics of analysing and discussing online data freely available in the public domain!). Now that my thesis is complete, though, I no longer need access to Facebook as a platform per se. My last moral justification to maintain an account (or two) has now expired.

I am fortunate. I can delete Facebook knowing that it will not substantially alter my quality of life (possibly even, in many ways, improve it). I have other platforms upon which I’m more comfortable conversing (none of them perfect, either, incidentally: but I can make my peace more easily with their approach to management of data). This isn’t the case for everyone, and here I must stress that it is important for everyone to base their own decisions on the platforms they use on what they personally gain from certain communication methods because, above all else, it is important – now more than ever – that we continue to communicate with each other. I have no doubt there will be others who look askance at my preferred platform of choice (Twitter) and wonder how I can continue to use the platform given its inability to respond to serious complaints about some of the content posted there (incidentally, I don’t use the standard Twitter timeline – I have a saved search function showing me the real-time posts of those I follow, without any advertisings or algorithmic monitored content: life on the platform has been infinitely more pleasant since I started using this technique).

I also predict – whether it happens next year or in several years – that there will be some form of watershed moment, not just in terms of Facebook, but in many of the larger (social) media companies that run our society (and yes, they really do run our society in many ways). I’m keen to develop, while I can, my own contacts that will survive any version of a Social Media Armageddon. I will be blogging, and I will be starting my own mailing list with recaps and updates. And, though I’ll likely be changing my personal email address and mobile telephone number over the next few months, I’ll do this in a staggered way so I can get in touch with everyone to let them know (if you think this is overkill, you should read up on the planned linkages between Facebook’s various companies, including some of the targeted advertising plans expected for WhatsApp using blended data).

It’s exhausting living in the twenty-first century, and each and every one of us needs to make our own decisions about how we survive in this brave new world where social media dictates so much.

And in some cases, it will be those decisions which personally disadvantage us – those decisions we don’t really want to have to make, because they’re a nuisance or would make our lives that little bit harder – are the ones where, maybe, we should be seen to make a stand. It’s too easy to retweet or share or like something in this day and age and feel like we have done our part. But we need to do more. We need to draw our lines in the sand.

For me, I have finally decided that this means deleting my Facebook account. I have already deleted (or set to delete) all my Facebook pages – one of which has been live for many, many years – and will leave my account live long enough with my forwarding details for anyone who is interested. By the end of the year, I’ll be gone.

This is it, Facebook: my final farewell. It’s been emotional.

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Be Counted

By: Lydia Crow

 

I’ve been here before.

Back in May 2017, I relaunched my #OurGirlOnTheOutside column on ShiverWriggle, with a reflection of how far the western world had come (not in the best direction) since my previous poetic musings.

“And maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage more than eight posts in five years. No promises.”

I have now managed eleven posts in nearly seven years. This is my twelfth. Not great (though there were extenuating circumstances, to some degree).

It’s not surprising, though, that gathering one’s thoughts long enough to appear coherent and measured in a world gone mad takes so much effort. It’s all so exhausting, and it so often feels futile to resist the inexorable march of nastiness that seems to grow every day. But resist it we must, now more than ever.

A year and a half ago, I wrote this:

“But something in me says it is important to capture something, in some form or other. More and more, it seems like we’re living in a world where political haggling is the norm. Throw out an outlandish policy, then take a step back with a faux apology, and many people won’t realise that the planned concession has nevertheless shifted the state of play that little bit more. We spend so much time being outraged at the outrageous, that we forget (or are simply too exhausted) to stay saddened and angry at all these less seismic developments.

We don’t just need to stay incensed at the eradication of basic human rights and dignities, we need to remind ourselves of where we were yesterday, so we remember how far we have progressed along this path.

So Our Girl on the Outside is about to change shape a little. There will undoubtedly still be poetry at times, but it will now take the form of a scrapbook. A few observations and snippets of thoughts, or the occasional essay. Perhaps this is auto-ethnographic navel-gazing, but it seems important not just to try and record, but to try and reflect on these times in which we find ourselves living. I genuinely want to understand how we’ve arrived at this point because, though I can follow the path back, I still can’t quite believe we’re here.”

My views have not changed; in fact, my prior resolve has only been strengthened. Following Chuck Wendig’s recent firing from two Star Wars projects, apparently due to his behaviour on Twitter (which was public knowledge before he was hired: ringing any bells?), one writer posted some misjudged tweets pitching for the job. Apparently, this was meant in jest, and the offending tweet was later deleted (after initial attempts to justify it) once enough people in the industry highlighted the distasteful crassness of it all. What was interesting, though, is that the author in question initially used in her defence the fact that she did not know who Chuck Wendig was (fair enough, though she did describe herself as a life-long Star Wars fan, and he had written for Star Wars before) but, worse, that she prided herself on not being publicly political in any way.

This is what it has come to in these dark times: that people believe it is a good thing that they do not stand up to be counted against the relentless negativity that permeates our communities and societies. Some people believe it is a good thing to keep their heads below the parapet and hope it all passes by (presumably because of the actions of those who dare to put themselves on the line). There is a degree of privilege in being able to take this stance.

There are ways and means of making a stand, and social media platforms certainly aren’t tools known for their ability to be nuanced and encourage respectful debate: but to be proud, when challenged, of being silent in the face of what is happening across the world right now is altogether another thing. And it may not be too long before we all look back and wonder why we didn’t make more of a stand when we still could: if not for ourselves, then certainly for those around us whose rights and freedoms are under greater threat.

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Heathland

By: Lydia Crow

 

A fire scorched
the heath last night.

A burst of flame
cast a shadow as far
as the eye could see;
leaving a changed land
in its wake.

A numbing, a pause.

But even as we looked,
hearts hollow,
buds appeared again.

There was no struggle
to grow and heal.
They did what they always did,
flourished, despite.

Defiant,
they pushed on through;
petals bursting open,
every colour more vibrant
than before.

The blackened earth
still lies beneath,
but now there is a meadow
to soothe the scar;
a proliferation of love.

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Nurse-Bashing and Avocado-Smashing

By: Lydia Crow

 

May-Go-Round

No sooner had the Conservative manifesto been published, than there was a retraction – sorry, a clarification – of policy relating to our more elderly nearest and dearest. Even some of the more right-wing newspapers paused in their left-bashing to report on the #DementiaTax. At the point of writing this, it looks like there might be a retraction of the retraction; so it’s anyone’s guess what the Conservatives’ actual policy is. Theresa May: everyone’s (least) favourite merry-go-round.

 

Nurse-Bashing

I have an enormous amount of respect for those who work in our healing and health professions: doctors, nurses, everyone. Having said that, though, I’m not in the camp which believes we all need to bow down and worship them. I don’t think it gives them a free pass at opinion any more than anyone else gets a free pass (note, we all get free passes in Britain: though the way the country’s going, you should probably make the most of your free opinion pass while you still can). They are humans, just like the rest of us; they deserve respect, just like the rest of us.  (At the other end of the work scale, I have a similar reaction to those in the Armed Forces: more than one of my friends have had to listen to my reasoning that the concept of ‘Help for Heroes’, while being utterly admirable, is linguistically flawed.)

Regardless of all this, Twitter erupted last night in some pretty disgusting nurse-bashing after the #LeadersDebate. I didn’t watch the debate (I was finally getting round to watching Star Trek Beyond), but I was aware of the fact that some watchers thought there may have been a suspect nurse on the programme, within seconds of logging into Twitter later in the evening.

I don’t personally care whether she is guilty as charged of visiting a foodbank whilst in possession of a horse (legal possession, that is, though Twitter wasn’t entirely clear on that: I presume she didn’t turn up to the foodbank with a horse). If anyone abuses the good faith of those who contribute to and run foodbanks, that’s on their conscience. I care, though, that people have to visit foodbanks in the first place (regardless of whether they dye their hair or have the audacity to go on holiday). That, I care about a lot.

I moved to Edinburgh at the start of 2014, earning not far off £30k. I’d just moved in, paid a month’s rent and a deposit, and had used up the last of my savings. I was still settling debts due to a previous relationship, with payments that whittled through pretty much the rest of my spare cash. One of my younger sisters ordered me a surprise supermarket delivery because she knew I was tight for cash. A friend slipped £10 into a letter, “for emergencies”. We all have these friends and family members who do this for us, don’t we? No. Only if we’re fortunate. I use this example merely to demonstrate that assumptions are flawed: and nobody deserves trial by social media.

I get it, I really do: the media is biased, and it is frustrating when certain comments seem like a put-up job. But seriously? Take the moral high ground. Which means not descending into shaming people you don’t even know online.

 

Avocado Toast

From the far-from-sublime to the far-past-ridiculous. Ever wondered why you couldn’t afford to buy a house? Well it turns out it’s not the economic realities of living in twenty-first century Conservative Britain – it’s avocado toast. If you don’t believe me, ask Tim Gurner.

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A Change of Shape

By: Lydia Crow

 

I started Our Girl on the Outside some years ago; before the ShiverWriggle hiatus, and before I cut half the content from the site and subsequently emerged bleary-eyed to throw out a few more bobs and bits to the readership that had still hung around, waiting.

We were living in simpler times then. That was a pre-referendum time; a time before the slew of annual elections and votes which have haunted the UK since.

Miliband (E) had beaten his brother Miliband (D) to the Labour Leadership two years previously, winning by 1.3% of the final vote; but he was yet to eat a bacon sandwich. On a similar theme, Cameron, too, was untainted by potential porcine affiliations. Pigs have had a lot to answer for in these interesting political times.

Clegg was still Deputy Prime Minister, and was surviving as a fairly reliable equivalent for a calendar: the youthful party leader who had campaigned so optimistically – and effectively – in 2010 sported another line on his haunted face on a weekly basis; his eyes sinking ever-lower. Clegg, to this day, probably remains the only politician of recent years who outshines (if that could be said to be the right term) the political cartoonists’ illustrations of himself. Damn those pesky students, mad at broken promises, right?

The Government, though right-wing, hadn’t yet gone utterly and bollocking crazy and shot itself in its foot with Uncle Rupert’s vintage hunting rifle to prove it was, ahem, strong and stable enough to take the chance everything would all work out alright.

Farage was on the scene, niggling away in his usual rubbery fashion, but he hadn’t yet had to be barricaded in a pub in Scotland and escorted out by the Police (amusingly, to hide from people I would end up working with the following year). And, also north of the border, Salmond was still First Minister of Scotland; keeping the seat warm for the person who would later be termed the most dangerous woman in Britain.

And don’t even get me started on events beyond these shores.

2012: truly, simpler times.

Our Girl on the Outside was intended to be light-hearted:

“A headline here, an apology there, a half-forgotten addendum somewhere else: the inspiration might come from anywhere within the documented press and could take any form. Well, any form of poetry that is.”

But that was before, well, all this.

A while ago, I decided to tone down my political interaction on Twitter, mostly for reasons relating to personal sanity. Having now rejoined Facebook, the same will broadly go for that platform, too. Short of the occasional outburst when my typing fingers disregard the more cautionary pocket of my brain, I don’t stand to gain much by screaming into the echoing void about the same thing that over 90% of the people I follow are screaming about too; all it does is invite more drama with no clear benefits.

But something in me says it is important to capture something, in some form or other. More and more, it seems like we’re living in a world where political haggling is the norm. Throw out an outlandish policy, then take a step back with a faux apology, and many people won’t realise that the planned concession has nevertheless shifted the state of play that little bit more. We spend so much time being outraged at the outrageous, that we forget (or are simply too exhausted) to stay saddened and angry at all these less seismic developments.

We don’t just need to stay incensed at the eradication of basic human rights and dignities, we need to remind ourselves of where we were yesterday, so we remember how far we have progressed along this path.

So Our Girl on the Outside is about to change shape a little. There will undoubtedly still be poetry at times, but it will now take the form of a scrapbook. A few observations and snippets of thoughts, or the occasional essay. Perhaps this is auto-ethnographic navel-gazing, but it seems important not just to try and record, but to try and reflect on these times in which we find ourselves living. I genuinely want to understand how we’ve arrived at this point because, though I can follow the path back, I still can’t quite believe we’re here.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage more than eight posts in five years. No promises.

 

But What Do You Stand For?

There was a time – well, maybe there was a time; I like to believe there was – when politicians treated their opponents with a degree of respect and dignity. Opinions may have been divided, but the mud was slung under the table, at least.

Now, it is more about personalities than policies; and personalities are certainly important to some extent. Anyone who leads needs to convince others they are fit to do so.

But, for some politicians, it seems slurring others is more important than drafting policies which would benefit the populace.

Here’s a fun game: pick a politician, any politician. Whittle away from what they say all the negative campaigning, and focus on what they say they will do, and how they evidence this. What are their policies? What have they done, what will they do? And at what cost (there is always a cost)?

I still cannot understand how, with the economic demographic we have in the UK, we have a right-wing government who manage to chip away – hell, slice away – at benefits and freedoms without daily national uproar.

Benefits. Maybe it’s a linguistic issue. Perhaps we should rebadge ‘benefits’ as ‘equalisers’ or ‘levellers’. A benefit as we understand it politically in no way infers an advantage on someone, it just gives people a chance. It doesn’t help them hike Everest, it just drags them out the stream. And I’d personally rather my taxes went on lifebelts for those in need than climbing gear for the rich.

I’ll disregard UKIP for now, as they are dead in the water. They are more pointless now than they have ever been, and even their prior supporters know it. But to those who would vote for the current government to remain in power, I would ask this: why are you voting for a Conservative government when you’ve seen what they’ve done so far? The damage they’ve inflicted, and what they’ve taken away?

This is a genuine question because all I hear from the Conservatives are soundbites and bile. Of course, you cannot critique a party in a vacuum. You must assess the others, too. But, in terms of policies, does anyone who does not fall into an upper economic bracket really think they and their loved ones would be better off under the Conservatives? No-one knows what is around the corner. Be careful what you vote for.

I was born in Humberside, now North Lincolnshire. I have members of my family there who were vocal in their support of a party who have repeatedly developed policies that have directly affected their very family’s economic wellbeing. You just have to look at the European voting record for the area to see why we’re in the situation we are in nationally; Humberside-as-was is an interesting microcosm. One of the biggest errors that was made on both sides of the European Union Referendum debate was to make it binary. You cannot say anything political is one thing or the other; it is not. Ironically, it was probably Jeremy Corbyn who attempted to be more honest and nuanced about this than anyone, though it wasn’t exactly packaged in a reassuring way. And reassurance is what people are looking for right now; even if that reassurance is simply a lie to believe in for a while just to get through. Who wouldn’t want to be strong and stable?

Perhaps now we cannot afford to be idealists, and we must be pragmatic. But families around the country will live and die by the policies we support in this General Election. Be careful what you choose to be complicit in.

Look beyond the headlines (don’t even get me started on the media). Forget pigs and foodstuff. Tell me, what do you stand for?

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Brexit Gets Harder

By: Lydia Crow

 

Brexit gets harder
As the Spanish Armada
Scratch heads, befuddled.

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Punching Nazis (or, ‘Sorry Mum, It’s Hard To Know What’s Right Anymore’)

By: Lydia Crow

 

Do not resort to violence,
You must learn to understand.
Try to speak their language,
Don’t draw lines across the sand.

But when violence is their language,
Inciting fear and hate,
Interpretation falters, struggles;
It’s too little or too late.

They will choose their platform,
And I will choose my own.
And I’ll stand firm even as their words
Chill me to the bone.

Surely they will understand,
That I’ve heard their cry of war?
Now, across this broken battlefield,
We know what we’re fighting for.

I’ll try to take them hostage,
Exchanging words in peace;
I’ll try to rehabilitate them all,
Turn them in to the Police.

But if that fails I’ll think again
And, though I know it’s wrong,
I hope you’ll understand that I’m
Just speaking in their tongue.

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Completed First Draft

Completed First Draft

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