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Tag: essay

LUCK AND COURAGE; An Essay by Jonny Domino

jonny

The following is the latest in the current series of guest essays, this time written by Jonny Domino, latterly of Uniforms and long-time member of the MTAT collective. Jonny is one of my best friends and am grateful to have had him by my side during some of the most difficult periods of my life, even when he’s been on the receiving end he remains (mostly) a paragon of zen-like calm. One of the true believers, I’m very pleased to share Jonny’s essay concerning punk rock and mental health through WYAZ.

As ever, all comments/shares/discussion welcome.

 

LUCK AND COURAGE

For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the piece that mental health plays in the creative process. As much as it’s more prevalent in punk rock, and in my time in the punk scene I’ve noticed that issues of mental health can be as much an inspiration for musicians as punk rock can be a tool for confronting a variety of mental health issues, there is a long-standing relationship between the arts and mental health. I should preface this by saying that I count myself lucky to have had a very plain sailing life mental health-wise, but I have watched some of my closest friends and family try to cope with various problems in their own ways and I’d like to think that my position, outside looking in, has provided me a chance to look at things in a more unique way.

At this point it’s hard to avoid being derailed because I could vent all day about how I feel that frontline healthcare professionals are almost universally not doing their part. At the time of writing, the NHS remains one of the finest healthcare systems in the world but it definitely has its failings, and one of the main problems I have with it is this – in the winter of 2010 I broke my collarbone in a snowboarding accident (the “accident” in question being that I said ‘yes’ when the guy in the hire shop asked me if I knew what I was doing when what I actually meant was ‘I’ve never done this before and I hardly even know which way up this goes’, if you’re curious). I got treated by some very nice people in Accident and Emergency very quickly, I grudgingly went along to Fracture Clinic appointments fortnightly for the first 6 weeks and I grumbled my way through follow-ups at my GP for 3 months after that. The point of this story is not to sound ungrateful for the help I got but this – up until very recently there was no maximum waiting time limit for mental health referrals within the NHS. I have seen friends wait months, bordering into years, to see a psychologist. I knew what I was doing was dangerous and I did it anyway. I got all the help I asked for and more straight away while people who were desperate to see someone for something that they have no control over were left hanging on for months. To this day, if an NHS administrator had stopped me in the A&E department and asked if I could never darken their doorstep again so they could use the time and resources they devoted to me to try and clear some of the backlog, my answer would’ve been an unequivocal yes. It still would.

The lack of time to devote to dealing with referrals is something there’s no control over, I get that, but I also think that in the first instance people who raise concerns about their mental health are poorly treated by the healthcare system. The prevailing method seems to be for a GP to write a script for the hottest anti-depressant and get people out with the quickest turnaround, which I have always thought does more harm than good. It’s a short-term fix which, like all drugs, all too often becomes a long term problem. Increasingly people who have never wanted to rely on anti-depressants long term find themselves doing exactly that, purely because they know they can go back to it and it’ll work, plus it’s much easier than getting any other help. Even once you’ve been through the wait for a referral, getting any kind of treatment or therapy from the NHS can be an uphill struggle, and quite often the people who need it most are not equipped for the fight. Again, if I need medical assistance and I think the person delivering it isn’t up to the task, I would have no problem saying “take this doctor away and get me a real one”, but someone who has mustered all their courage to overcome the anxiety they feel about just going to their appointment in the first place is much more likely to just accept whatever calibre of help that they’re offered, and more often than not they’re drastically undersold.

The difficulty in obtaining professional help for these issues, I guess brings us to the idea of how the creative process is so appealing. From Van Gogh to Cobain, there’s nothing more exciting than the idea of the tortured artist, and for some reason the punk scene has always seemed to have that in spades. Maybe it’s the idea that you’re encouraged to speak your mind and share your feelings, the fact that no-one has any hangups about just being themselves, or the raw energy associated with the scene, but punk has always grabbed the attention of people struggling to get comfortable in their own minds, their own bodies or society at large. It’s one of the things I love about the punk scene, but I’ve come to realise that it can sometimes be dangerous. There’s a feeling building recently that it’s almost like a great last hope, that there’s some kind of all-or-nothing approach to punk rock and that it had better work. This has never sat well with me and I’m glad that anyone who I hold dear has so far managed to avoid this kind of attitude, but it’s punctuated with sadness as more and more frequently we see people who subscribe to that idea and come back to earth with the hardest of bangs when they don’t find the salvation they expected.

This isn’t to say that music, art, film or any other outlet that anyone has isn’t an overwhelmingly healthy idea – sometimes screaming down the walls and a punk rock show can be exactly what you need. Sometimes a quite night of doodling can have the same effect. A much wiser man than me (my dad actually, so maybe not that much wiser…) likes to say “extremism in any form is not a good way to live” and it’s something that I have always thought is a very reasonable worldview. When you let something take over your life, you are often setting yourself up for a fall, and that’s something that’s always dangerous. Ever since my early teens I’ve always been a part of the punk scene, but I’ve always been able to remove myself and I never expected it to be able to solve every single problem I encounter. Maybe some day I’ll find something that can, but I doubt it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no “magic bullet” that can solve all your problems, be they anxiety, depression or something else entirely, but that doesn’t mean stop trying. You might (you probably will) have to fight tooth and nail to get the help you deserve from the professionals. When you get it, it might not even help. Don’t be disheartened by that, don’t stop trying. Shouting until your hoarse at a punk rock show or in a punk rock band might help you for a night, or a year, or longer. It might not though, and that’s okay. Filling in a whole adult colouring book (or a children’s colouring book, I bet you love the Turtles) might relax you for long enough that you can think clearly about something that you couldn’t focus on all day and that’s great, if it doesn’t though then something else will. Find what works for you and do it, if everything works then do them all. I hope that punk rock helps for everyone though, we’ll see you all down the front.

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AGAINST IMMISERATION; An Essay by Dom Kaddish

WYAZ presents the second post-EU referendum essay by Dom Kaddish. Please read, consider, respond and circulate as you deem necessary. Discussion and discourse is actively encouraged.

End, As In Aim.

So picture the gravest fear and dread.
Here hope is the lie that keeps its head.

Say you’ve got a hope.
Say you want an end to fear.

An end to fear.

Say you’ve got a hope.
Say you want an end to fear.

Photo by J. Cumiskey

AGAINST IMMISERATION

What’s the fucking point of playing in a band when your body is ageing and your hearing damaged? What’s the fucking point of going to gigs and chatting, on the level, to people of different ages, genders, colours, cultures, and backgrounds when the media constantly chastens us with images of violence, and enjoins us to hate others and be suspicious of them? What’s the fucking point of voting in a referendum where the crunch matter appears to have come down to an entitled Tory elite masturbating over how to convince one of their female members to reheat the tired ghost of Margaret fucking Thatcher?

Here’s a suggestion: couldn’t it be that the deluded little spaces in which we play, chat, act, think and commit ourselves are more political by a long shot than the black hole at Westminster that awaits the next bunch of careerists perverse enough to get sucked into it? The fucking point, then, would be that our whole conception of politics has to change. For example, what created the current constitutional crisis in the UK was misplaced faith in an out-of-date form of representative government centred on individuals as well-informed agents, capable of making rational choices in their own best interests, and of acting in the best interests of others when presented with a crude either/or choice on an issue of massive complexity. This model was co-opted by greed, self-interest, stupidity, lack of information, and a giant dose of the negative affects of shame, fear and hate. Given the fallout, perhaps it is now time to try to do something paradoxical, different, and more excitingly difficult: to try, at one and the same time, to think and act both above and below the out-of-date model of politics.

By ‘above’, I mean this: we have to aspire to have the courage and the temerity to look the complexity of our world straight in the face. That is, we have to aspire to a culture, not where no-one is an expert (à la Gove), but where everyone is. This would be a culture in which everyone aspires to learn something about such heady things as economics, statistics, as well as big data patterns in demographics and human geography, and where an understanding of the role of nonhuman actors in politics would be encouraged (e.g. the role of such actors in the current UK crisis as mobile computing, agricultural and fishing yields, the English Channel, globalisation, the ecological crisis, etc. etc.). This would not be a culture where knowledge of such things was used to baffle and belittle; rather, since no one single actor could feasibly claim a knowledge of the whole, it would be a culture where everyone takes some responsibility for educating themselves and others, and where each is empowered and encouraged to do.

By ‘below’, I mean this: the UK referendum of 23 June 2016 was a coup for a reactive form of politics that traded on affects and gut reactions, instead of on concepts tied to the out-of-date model of politics mentioned above (e.g. the concept of the transparently well-informed and rational voter; or that of a ‘minister’ who is ‘prime’ in the sense of being the first and most powerful person to look after the needs of all the people in his or her polity, when the then incumbent was exposed by events for an incompetent beholding to the interests of Tory bigots of depressing resilience and longevity). What was far more effective than concepts and reason in swaying the campaigning in this instance was the propagation of the aforesaid negative affects of shame, fear and hate. Faced with these affects, the fatal mistake of left/liberal sections of the media/social media/the Twitterati was a retreat into the echo chamber of fatalistic intellectualism (consider the typical Brexit crisis moves made by these sections of the media: black humour, condescension, introspection and soul searching, cod philosophy, historical musings, irony, droll memes, the attempt at agonised liberal ‘understanding’ of what could have driven the dispossessed and disenfranchised to it, etc., etc.). The result was two modes of political address that comprehensively talked past one another: one employing the ‘post-fact’ logic of icons, hates, and anxieties; the other employing a form of reason that had become too clever and self-reflexive by half.

One solution to this impasse, I am suggesting (the one that goes ‘above’), is to aspire to better education, in terms of better concepts that have a better purchase on the complexities of our interconnected and interdependent world. Here’s another solution for how we might simultaneously get ‘below’ the impasse: first, let’s give up old concepts tied to the values of liberal/humanistic education and grand parliamentary politics; second, let’s avoid propagating negative affects in their place; third, let’s focus instead on the creation and nurturing of positive affects, such as joy, love, and openness. If such an agenda seems liberal, Christian, ‘new agey’ or out of step with what I said above about the necessity of arriving at better concepts, then you have simply missed the point. This is because what is at stake here is not how ‘good’ or ‘wise’ you or I might be, nor how much right we might have to the moral high ground, nor how much we might like the recourse to safe, comfortable, and ultimately hopelessly out of touch old political categories. Rather, what is at stake is what should be termed the ‘ecology’ of our mental health, well-being and fellow feeling, and by ‘our’ here, I mean the mental health of everyone with a stake in the issues of which the current UK constitutional crisis is symptomatic, including everyone else in the world right now, and all future generations.

The ecology of mental health concerns how one’s mindset, mood, and general sense of affect relates to the world in which it finds itself. This ecology has not, we should admit, been in a good way, globally, for some time now, and its problems predate the 2008 financial crisis by some way (in fact, they feed into it as conditions of its possibility). Here’s a suggestion as to what has eroded it: spaces of immiseration. Under this concept, we could group any number of environments that go into shaping the character of the contemporary globalised world, including, but far from limited to: factories in China; Coltan mines in the Congo; sweatshops in Turkey and Bangladesh; battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria; Social Security offices and dole queues in any ‘developed’ country; all that urban sprawl that was so ripe for sub-priming in the US pre-2008; open-plan offices; bookies; grey and ill-equipped classrooms; call centres; slaughterhouses; Amazon depots; police cells; and the countless situations in which way too much solitude is frittered away in front of a TV or a computer. Here’s a suggestion as to what might act as the antidote: spaces of possibility. Such spaces, to start from the highly dubious base of idealising what I personally know and esteem, might include: live music spaces; classrooms where participants are encouraged and equipped to learn from all others present and not simply shut their mouths and act as consumers of information spoon fed by the guy mansplaining at the front; parks; wilderness; sports pitches where moments of team creativity emerge; seashores; long walks through places either familiar or unfamiliar, with or without guiding thread; art galleries, studios, and workshops where you might actually stand the chance of speaking and interacting with artists and craftspeople; book shops, record shops and libraries; day centres, drop-in centres, and clinics where you can bump into people all too burned out by the state of it all not to speak themselves honestly, with heart.

I said that it was dubious to start from what I personally know and esteem. You are therefore entirely free to take issue with the list I have just contrived, as too ‘male’, ‘romantic’, ‘liberal’, ‘hipster’ (God forbid), or whatever. This apart, however, let me extend two invitations to you that are centred on the concepts mentioned above, and not on what I have grouped under them. First, to reflect on the spaces of possibility that matter most to you. Second, and far more importantly, to reflect and act on how we might convert spaces of immiseration into spaces of possibility. The first of these tasks, undertaken collectively, would amount to an inventory of our weapons: a stocktake of the spaces that matter to us, and that renew our sense of health and possibility for the living of meaningful lives. The second task would involve using these weapons on the battlefields where the real politics of our lives get fought out (and not in exclusive, outmoded, rarefied political vacuums such as Westminster, where fractions of the battles of our lives get misrepresented and used as pawns in games played by self-serving political cadres).

Fear of the other. Fear of the self. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown. Fear of technology and the pace of change. Fear of not ‘being a man’, whatever that means. Fear of irrelevance and poverty in an age of celebrity and the ‘super rich’. Fear of being fat, stupid, old, or useless. Fear of gun and knife crimes, rape, and hate. ETC. FUCKING ETC. These are the negative affects that spaces of immiseration nurture like cancer. How do we take the love, hope, joy, respect, and sense of other possible worlds and horizons that spaces of possibility involve and use them to bring out the possibilities that spaces of immiseration keep repressed under the increasingly shabby and disingenuous veneer of consensus and polite society? And what makes this struggle both worthwhile and eminently doable, on an everyday basis, and from this very instant?

Consider whether something like the following might work for you (if not, invent your own tactic, as is your right and your want): the next time you realise you are in a space of immiseration (and the gut sinking feeling will be sufficient to establish it), think about how you typically act in a space of possibility, and insinuate one such way of acting into the space of immiseration. The next time after this, insinuate two acts. After that, insinuate three. After that, four. And so on, and so on, until new possibilities have reached such a pitch that they have somehow cracked open the space of immiseration in favour of something better and more liveable. The acts I have in mind here can be crude or sophisticated, and might include: making passionate music, for purposes other than consumption; being playful; thinking tangentially; daydreaming; humour; kindness; openness; interest in others and their stories and fates; acts that are revelatory of self and history without tipping into narcissism; expressions of wonder, weakness, and astonishment; recognitions of limitations and ignorance; the construction of a shared focus or creative goal between you and others that adds some measure of dignity to the space, however small; the vigilant attempt to keep the spectre of the profit motive to a minimum. And so on, and so on, etc., etc.

What’s especially funny about such acts is when they work subliminally – that is, when others within the space recognise that a new possibility has been introduced, but resist it, preferring instead the tendencies of immiseration as a kind of short-term comfy/long-term deadly safety net. Because the roboticisms of immiseration cannot recognise new possibilities, you can rest assured that there will be no immediate explicit reproach for the possibility you have introduced (that is, no shared recognition that the recognition has taken place individually within the separate actors in the space). What there might be, however, is a more or less collective implicit recognition – a seed planted that will grow with time. In this case, the words, actions and affects you use to make spaces of immiseration become spaces of possibility will take on the character of a sort of gentle and subtle guerrilla warfare: a thousand little harrying tactics intended to perplex and provoke others into giving up the dubious safety net of immiseration.

To sum up:
Stop thinking in terms of redundant concepts representative of a bygone age of politics.

Start aspiring to think in terms of the complex concepts that we all know are required to think the world in which we live.

Stop tolerating the poisonous effects of negative affects through inaction and resignation.

Start spreading positive affects in any practicable way you can, because they are sufficient to convert spaces of immiseration, however overwhelming, ubiquitous and monolithic these spaces may seem in the contemporary world, into spaces rich in open and positive possibilities for new forms of life.

***

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Kaddish play Conroy’s Basement in Dundee with Asthenia (Japan), Human Hands (eng) and Arkless (eng) on Wednesday 17th August.