PERSONAL BLOG: Quietly disappointed, 2021 begins

The accompaniment to a very strange NYE.

It’s that time of year again: the time for reflection and for the sincere, albeit misguided, art of resolution-making for the year ahead.

Has this worked in the past? Not really, but then again, I’m not in the habit of ritualistically practicing what I preach or staying motivated for consistent periods of time. The problem is more likely to be with me than it is with the spiritual practice of reflection and setting manageable goals for the year ahead, so, with that in mind, I’ve decided to give it another go, if only to get my affairs in order and truly gain some closure from what can only be described as the never-ending shit-show that was 2020.

It’s a tough exercise: lamenting the mistakes and shortcomings of 2020, as well as looking back fondly on the few things I’ve managed to achieve in spite of the global pandemic, which has essentially pulled the rug from beneath my feet, not to mention millions of others. This is because there has been overwhelmingly negative events to look back upon and because a lot of the memories I would have created with loved ones were wiped out by the virus (thanks again, COVID-19).

I’ve never felt like this at the beginning of a new year before.

Usually I can find a way to focus on the parts of life I’m most grateful for or the positive attributes of the world. However, I realised last night, on the cusp of 2021, that just I don’t feel very good at the moment and it is especially hard for me to be receptive to gratitude or positive things happening. I would love to decipher why that is, specifically, so that I could try and fix it. Only, how I feel is complicated because it has no sole cause and is more likely due to a combination of various factors such as: Sertraline withdrawal, underlying depression/anxiety resurfacing in a Sertraline-free body, hormones, having no personal space and the big one, COVID-19. The destroyer of dreams, the taker of good times.

NYE itself was no reassurance. Like countless others with no option to go out or be with loved ones, I stayed in. I was generally okay in the company of my incredible friends, but the evening culminated in me crying at midnight, not the good type of crying, and having to take a moment to check myself. Even though I was in a situation where literally dozens of friends and family were virtually plugged in and trying to celebrate with their heads held high, my instinct was to crawl into a dark hole and be alone, because alone was exactly how I felt. I couldn’t feel their joy even though I really wanted to.

I fought through this and made the effort to stay sociable for a while, knowing that cutting myself off would likely make everything worse, before spending a considerable amount of time thinking dark things and toying with the idea of calling Samaritans, all while dressed up and drinking a bottle of champagne in the dining room on my tod. Eventually I decided that the best way to not feel so lame, aside from having my stomach pumped, was to go to sleep in order to turn the bad thoughts off. I ended up sleeping for about 12 hours and waking up this afternoon feeling even more deflated.

I have learned that as a person, I am very good at burning the candle at both ends and taking on commitments with a vivacity, as if I’d die without inhumane amounts of stress on my shoulders. As of recent years, I am excelling at also being so burnt out and incapable of positive thought, that I am immobilised completely by anxiety and can spend long periods of time literally doing nothing. It seems I am good with extremes, but severely lacking with the ability to balance.

Being at home for the last 9 months, left to my own devices in an environment with 4 other strong personalities, has been challenging. It has meant that I am neither progressing nor deteriorating in measurable terms: I’m just not moving at all, which has actually felt even worse. For a person who is so used to being really high or really down, the prospect of repetition, routine and static has been a massive shock to the system.

Presently, my living situation leaves much to be desired. This is not because I hate my family or I’m ungrateful for all that I have, including this roof above my head, but the reality of the situation is that I am now a grown adult living like a responsibility-less child in a place where personalities clash all the time, and with about the same seismic impact as a bout with one of the Klitschko brothers.

It was once a haven, when I was really poorly last year, but it’s now a nightmare for me: I sleep in a bunk-bed in a room I share with my sister, and overhead is an over-heaving loft of disregarded artefacts, weighing down upon the house, which has clutter crammed into every possible cranny. We have not one of everything, but dozens of spare duplicates, lost in the ether and about as much use to us as a Tory government during a global pandemic. As a person who is eager to transition into a plant-based diet with cleaner, more eco-friendly modes of living and a minimalistic space of my own some day, my main instinct is to gut the whole place out and start afresh, but sadly, I am fighting against very stubborn and dark forces, which makes this an impossibility.

On a less dismal note, and accepting that there are some things beyond my control, I think I would like to work harder at focusing on the things which are in my control.

Firstly, there’s the realisation that this isn’t my house to change and everyone here has their own issues as much as I do. And as much as there may be evident signs of trauma up in my grill every day (girl, we hate to see it), it certainly isn’t my place to diagnose or assist in other people’s journeys to better themselves, particularly if they have no desire whatsoever to embark on that path and are content living in oblivion. It may be an inconvenience which has an impact on me, but it is truly not my problem.

Secondly, I am in control of my fitness and clean-eating habits, of which I currently have none. On the plus-side, I literally have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the moment I pull my finger out and make a conscientious effort to try, in whatever capacity I can, on a day-to-day basis. Amen hallelujah, brother.

Thirdly, I would like to convert my frustrations at this current, temporary living situation into a real, tangible effort at making my vision of my own future home into a reality. There’s much saving to be done, many decor mood-boards to be made, dog shelters to be perused and other logistical obstacles to be overcome, so I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied, on that front.

Fourthly, though my mental health is pretty good at making this feel like it isn’t the case, I am in control of how I talk about myself and how I view myself as a person. In this moment, I would like to give myself kudos for actually just being alive right now, as there have been several times over 2020 where the black dog has pushed me into that dingy corner and made me seriously question mortality. I’m going to go full Snoop Dogg mode and thank myself for getting here, because ultimately, it’s all on me.

There are many more to note, but I think I’ll keep those in my notepad and perhaps this year, I won’t beat myself up for not hitting impossible targets by choosing not to make impossible goals and targets in the first place.

Disclaimer: In the time it’s taken me to write this, I’ve gone from feeling like a used Kleenex to actually pretty decent, which is a welcome change and a promising start to 2021, despite all the bad juju I’ve had in the last 24 hours. This is the power of writing and self-reflection. This was intended to be a private rant in a shelved Word document, but instead, it is my first statement to the world of 2021. It is an honest and tired account of a person who doesn’t quite know what she’s doing in life, but she’s come to terms with that and most other imperfections she carries, so I think that’s worth some celebration in itself.

I hope that whoever reads this is armed with the knowledge that struggle is inevitable and mental health is a rollercoaster that doesn’t necessarily correspond with what’s happening in the world. It could be the brightest day with the nicest encounters, but that doesn’t mean you feel it as such, if your head isn’t in that place. I am currently going through a bad patch, but I believe everything will be okay because it has to be okay and, even if you don’t feel this right now, know that I am believing on your behalf and that you’re never alone. Here’s to clawing our way through 2021 in the same way we did 2020 ❤

BOOK REVIEW: The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)

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Alice Walker, author of The Third Life of Grange Copeland

Just a note:

In my final year of university, I looked into slave narratives and the black identity (predominantly by female authors) in literature. I’ve plucked a short excerpt from some of my notes on one of my favourite novels, one that is often overshadowed by the likes of The Colour Purple, scribbled down before a conference paper examination I did towards the end of my degree. This is just a brief deconstruction as to some of the ideas within the novel, but I thought to share as it might be of interest to those looking for some new reads as an ally to BLM or as an individual who wants broaden their understanding/appreciation for black lives, voices and experiences. Please do let me know your thoughts on this book, as I’ve not come into contact with many people who’ve given it a read before and I’m desperate to have a chat about it!

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In my opinion, this novel eclipses The Colour Purple!

The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) explores the repercussions of slavery in Southern America as opposed to the first-hand account of the slave experience.

In terms of a rough plot overview, Grange Copeland is the protagonist, a failing share-cropper who resents the world and in particular, the white people who govern it for him. His ‘first life’ is miserable. The South is synonymous with stasis and the North is represented as the idyllic escape. With a promiscuous wife, a raging alcohol problem and no prospects in terms of building a life that is truly his own in the South, Grange takes off for the North to start his ‘second life’, shedding his family like old snake skin.

His son Brownfield sets off to find his father only to wind up essentially morphing into him, violent and angry at a world he feels he cannot change. As Brownfield descends further into madness, Grange decides to return home, dissatisfied with the offerings of the North. However, he must face the consequences of his actions.

Walker sets the novel in a world where slavery has already been abolished: she draws attention to systemic racism and how this is bequeathed from one generation to another, an awful legacy that is difficult, if at all possible, to escape. Though legislation should empower the black lives in this narrative, the characters still find themselves bound to the prejudiced power dichotomy which sees white folk as superior and black people as their inferior subjects.

The novel evaluates the relationship between the past, present and future. Walker dissects the trauma bequeathed from generation to generation in a familial context: for example, Grange’s hatred trickles down to his son Brownfield, who then in turn inflicts his wrath upon his wife Mem and his children, Daphne, Ornette and Ruth. The novel offers an authentic insight into the tensions within black communities and for this reason I would argue that it serves as a significant milestone in the contemporary female canon, preceding notable works such as Beloved, Roots and The Colour Purple.

Another powerful element of this novel is Walker’s portrayal of the female struggle as the doubly oppressed. I use this term to describe the female struggle because I feel it represents two levels of oppression: race & gender. Female protagonists continue to be bound to violence and subordination, often taking the literal and metaphorical blows from both the emasculated black men within their local communities and the white fellows who continue to dictate so much of their “free” lives.

Of the motivations behind violence, E.L Birch suggests that, ‘In father and son, hatred of white oppression had been internalised to find expression in violence against the women they feel unable to protect.’ (Birch, E.L, 1994: p. 198). The crushing ideals of masculinity bind the men to lives of misery and rage and thus, their families are inevitably dragged to these depths too. We see this in Grange. Grange is resigned to his fate: after years of persecution at the hands of white people, including Shipley (who overlooked the cotton fields at which he worked), Grange resolves to remove himself from interaction with white people altogether. In a world in which he is powerless, Grange must reclaim his sense of power and manhood by belittling those within his own community.

Thematically, the notion of metamorphosis is recurrent in that many characters undergo significant changes. Titular character Grange evolves from a figure overcome with hatred to a dishevelled old man seeking redemption whilst his son Brownfield, initially determined to live a different life to his father, winds up filling the very same shoes.

In terms of salvation, Ruth’s existence in itself serves as a symbol of hope both for Grange and for the local community. The violence embedded in her past is the fuel for her ambition to destroy the divide between whites and blacks in the South.

Ruth Copeland is the youngest of three children. The reader comes to understand that from a young age, Ruth and her siblings are completely dehumanised. Collectively, they grow up in fear. After watching their mother being beaten half-to-death, Walker describes the children as falling asleep, ‘dreaming in chilly exactness of killing that would set them free.’ (Walker, A, 1985: p. 92).

Liberation in this context is only imagined with the death of patriarchal dominance. The role of Master/Slave is clearly established within the Copeland home and whilst Ruth’s older siblings are apprehensive in their approach to their father, the primary oppressor, Ruth is resistant. She stands up against her bully brother from an infantile age, one such incident is outlined: ‘She was the youngest, barely four. “You ain’t nothing but a sonnabit,” she said, and quickly covered herself with her blanket so she wouldn’t feel the first really hard blows Brownfield ever gave her.’ (Walker, A, 1985: p. 108). Ruth mimics the profanity she’s heard from her father since birth and arms herself with it. The expectation is for Ruth to accept a status of passivity but she challenges this from the outset, and represents a break in the status quo, becoming a beacon of hope for future generations.

Grange’s ‘third life’ is his return to the South. He seeks to protect Ruth from the very oppressive forces which have threatened him and considers this to be the fundamental purpose of his ‘third life’, his redemption. This implies that the hostility and hatred is cyclical, that the same fundamental narrative will be perpetuated. Yet, it’s Ruth’s inherently childlike attributes of sensitivity and innocence which provokes in Grange a sense of epiphany, he learns through Ruth, ‘an invaluable lesson about hate; he could only teach hate by inspiring it.’ (Walker, A, 1985: p. 137) and it’s this notion, that he may destroy any chance of Ruth’s future liberation, that Grange adapts.

However, the union between Grange and Ruth is not without its difficulties and this is evident when a discussion is had about Ruth’s ambitions for the future. Whilst Grange envisions her taking over his farm, she dreams of travelling up North. Ruth insists that, “I’d be bored stiff waiting for black folks to rise up so I could join them. Since I’m already ready to rise up and they ain’t, it seems to me I should rise up first and let them follow me.” (Walker, A, 1985: p. 196). Ruth still has the ability to dream and she is outspoken in her efforts to make a change whilst Grange is passive, tethered too much to the pain of the past. Birch implies that Ruth’s ability to foresee change is a direct result of developments such as televised marches, a generational shift in overcoming prejudice and claiming black rights. She states that, ‘Ruth can anticipate a political as well as an emotional liberation.’ (Birch, E.L, 1994: p. 202) and this is the very emancipation she seeks.

Alice Walker encourages the audience to consider the implications of oppression and prejudice upon all those affected, including the perpetrators themselves. She challenges the reader to partake in a complicated dialogue about accountability, activism and “real” change. As readers in the present day, with the momentum of the George Floyd catalyst behind us, it is worth considering that though much has changed, and we can plead ourselves products of a more “liberated” and “progressive” world, there is so much more to be done. For a book that was written in 1970, much of the thematic content and commentary on society is still as applicable in the present day, which is a disturbing reality-check for those who believe lynching, apartheid and racial prejudice are but memories of a distant past.

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Bibliography

Walker, A. (1985). The Third Life of Grange Copeland. London: The Women’s Press Ltd.

Birch, E.L. (1994). Black American Women’s Writing (A Quilt of Many Colours). Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf.