I have to say my recent experiences with English conveyancing have made it much clearer why all of you English persons have seemed historically happy to live in a country run by posh boy sociopaths and to have an established church which appears to embrace praying for people in order of social importance as a virtue. Your spirits have been broken by conveyancing. I understand. Ned Ludd, Wat Tyler and the Levellers were worthy exceptions, but mainly you just want to join queues, invent regional dishes and be left alone. Really, I do understand.
I am currently typing in Borrowed Flat Number 5, having lost the flat I was supposedly buying – the owners didn’t own it, the solicitors didn’t notice – and I am now perhaps almost near owning another, but I hold out no great hopes. I rely on the kindness of strangers – and friends – and cannot overstate how much support and talking-down-off-the-roof that has involved. My faith in human nature is all silky and shiny and may never quite collapse again. And I would recommend to anyone the experience of flat hunting during something of a heat wave and two consecutive major sporting events in an already crowded city. At least, I would recommend it to anyone I didn’t like at all in any way.
Having spent my last blog extolling the virtues of focus and of somehow maintaining a tiny eye of peace in life’s storms, I have had to live up to my pronouncements while a fair amount of sand has been blown into my tiny eye and it has occasionally been poked with a stick. I’ve tried to keep on, but serious writing has slowed. I’ve managed one short story since we last spoke. Among other things, this has reminded me again how much I genuinely, deep-down enjoy writing fiction. I not only miss it when circumstances prevent me from accessing the keyboard in a meaningful way, I actually start to feel quite peculiar as a result. I think this stems from a blend of frustration and professional/financial anxiety and something rather more profound: a sense that without writing, I am mainly at the mercy of my often toxic interior monologue. Writing creatively is so intensely involving that for hour after hour it can completely remove the standard torrent of doubts, fears, gripes, resentments and rubbish which my unattended subconscious delights in manufacturing. After only a few days, I really do long for the kind of meditative absence of self that building fiction can provide.
But I’ve had more than that to remember and prise me out of my own head. Like many others, I had all kinds of ethical reservations about the Olympics: the sometimes graceless behaviour of Locog, the associated social cleansing of Newham and a number of the Games’ chosen sponsors. I watched a little on telly and was only delighted that the multiple, firm decisions of people largely held in contempt by our politicians and large corporations transformed something grasping, paranoid and shoddy into a generous joy. I was shown the effect of excellence, something we’re rarely allowed to associate with everyday people, or long-term effort – and, of course, always kept as far as possible from the arts. Then, despite the vilely inappropriate intrusion of Atos, I spent rather more time watching the Paralympics. Many commentators have mentioned how exciting and beautiful it was to see dedicated sportsmen and sportswomen with disabilities being treated like dedicated sportsmen and sportswomen. Which is to say, how great and surprising it was to see our media treating human beings as human beings and allowing them dignity. And how lovely it was to see a new generation of sensible, enthusiastic, well-informed and un-self-obsessed presenters with disabilities appearing in an environment which generally has a problem with such deviations from “normality” as mild cellulite, humility and being over 30.
More specifically, I remembered the first 10 years of my career as a writer, during which I earned my living by working with writers who had what were termed “special needs”. As I tried to wrestle my own words on to paper in the evenings and at weekends, I spent my days with human beings who were elderly, who had mobility difficulties, learning difficulties, or visual impairments, who had physical and mental illnesses, who were very young, who were addicts, or who were very poor. At that point, all of them were being punished for their vulnerabilities by the government they could not, in some cases, even have a say in electing. They were often housed in horrible environments with poor resources; they were patronised, ignored and sometimes abused. And yet all of them had – among many other qualities – depths of understanding and words to say: beautiful, funny, troubling, wonderful things to create and offer others. I was young, self-obsessed as only a budding writer can be, and generally panicked about running effective workshops, or trying to overcome the technical difficulties of people with varying barriers between them and the wider expression of themselves. Even so, it was impossible not to notice that something as simple as being heard, being respected, could change someone’s life. It was impossible not to realise how much I was being taught while I flailed my way through “teaching”. It was impossible not to realise how very tenuous anyone’s grip is on “normality” and how briefly any of us will be considered as fully human by the authorities and individuals who are supposed to serve the public. It was impossible not to be disgusted by how often I couldn’t really talk about what I did for a living because even the idea of a disabled person troubled those listeners who believed themselves to be without significant handicaps. And it was impossible not to be electrified by how quickly and beautifully writing and the arts in general could release power and status for those who were meant to be kept very far from both.
I’m glad if the Paralympics coverage and its athletes have changed perceptions of people with disabilities. That it was necessary to change those perceptions is profoundly disappointing. And I’m happy to say here – and anywhere else – that disabled writers made me the writer I am today and gave me a faith in words and their potential which doesn’t shake, even when everything else is in disarray. They are a way to change worlds. Onwards.