Tag Archives: cynicism

Defiant Hope

(this is my contribution to a community creative project called 20one17, this time with a loose theme of defiant hope. If you are reading this before 5pm GMT on 20/1/17 then feel free to get involved. Contributions can be as simple as a photo. For more details see 20one17 Defiant Hope ).

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion just as effectively as bombs. Kenneth Clark

I am by nature something of an optimist. I tend to assume the best about people (at least when it comes to others). But yet there is this constant pull towards a glass mostly empty approach. Cynicism and disillusionment draw me like an old armchair, comfy and cosy and far easier to sink into than get out of. 

By contrast remaining positive feels like trudging up a hill with a heavy pack on my back. Each news article read adds a stone to the bag. Each friend going through a difficult time covers my shoes in sticky mud.

It would be easier by far to just rest a while in ease.

But that will not do. Because one of the untruths I choose to believe as I sink into that armchair is that I will not be changed. If I spend my time assuming the worst, pointing out all that is bad in the world, do I really think that my heart will not shrink, that my eyes will not be downcast? And if my eyes are downcast, then how will I be able to see the good? Especially when the bad is often louder, brasher and more in your face, while good keeps a lower profile in the shadows. 
Is it any surprise that nothing changes, as I spend my time pointing out ills from my chair?

The thing with cynicism is it sucks all the joy out of life. Disillusion paralyses.

So today I choose to lift myself up out of that chair. To stretch muscles that have not been worked for a while, to lift my eyes and peer into the shadows. Because the more bad, the greater the shadows. But there is more good there than I think if I choose to look and to see. 

I want to live with naive optimism, doggedly determined idealism, and most of all, defiant hope. Hope is more than just wishful thinking, or denial of reality. Hope is choosing to believe there is inherent good in people, that systems can be changed, that the world can be better. Hope is the power that will clean the mud from my shoes, and grind stones to dust. It will strengthen my muscles, so though the walk will still be uphill, and there will still be stones and mud, it will be achievable. Hope is the strength to keep my head up, my eyes looking towards the horizon, and hope is the faith that for all of the effort, for all of the trials, the views at the top, and on the way up, will be staggering, full of beauty and wonder.

It’s best not to confuse optimism with hope. Optimism is a pyschological attitude towards life. Hope goes further. It is an anchor that one hurls towards the future, it’s what lets you pull on the line and reach what you’re aiming for and head in the right direction. Hope is also theological; God is there too. Pope Francis


I Used to Write Stories

[This was first performed at Bow Storyslam in April 2015]

I used to write stories. Great sweeping epics, at least in my mind. ‘George and the dragon in the playground’, that was one of mine.

And plays; I loved writing plays. I guess I particularly liked formatting them. Making sure it was clear who said what, when and what everyone is meant to be doing and where they’re meant to stand. Says a lot about me I guess, that need for order.

I dramatised a whole novel. I got onto the second draft, though I hadn’t learnt the art of editing at that point so it would have been an epically long play if it had ever made it to the stage.

I wrote my own play too. Many a long physics lesson was spent scribing lines. Maybe that’s why I struggled with science- my mind was elsewhere, in another land.

I don’t think they were necessarily any good. My play was the classic boy meets girl, families don’t approve (though there was a talking tree involved). But the stories and plays gave my brain space to fly, lands to explore. Something a bit out of the ordinary, a different way of looking at the world. Space to dream.

But gradually the sheaves of paper with script and storylines on got replaced by page after page of class notes, book summaries, dates and facts to remember. Facts, dates and hard data. No room anymore for frivolity or fiction: “You’re growing up Caroline. You need to knuckle down, take life seriously. You’ve got a good mind, use it well; reason, think scientifically, work hard, get a good degree, get your dream job”.

So I did. I worked hard, got my degree. But it’s hard to write a story with empirical data and academic references (open brackets comma Butler comma 2015 close brackets). I got my dream job too, as an archaeologist. Only it turned out to not always be a great dream. Digging holes doesn’t take much brain power (who’d have thought?!). Honestly, my colleagues and I would find ourselves having debates over whether a ditch fill was mid yellowish-grey sandy-silty-clay, or mid yellowish-grey sandy-clayey-silt. (Important distinction don’t you know!?).

Between the tedium of yet another blank trench, the threat of redundancy, the mind and bone-numbing cold, it felt at times like the words were leaking from my head. Somedays I’d go to use a word which I used to know to find I’d forgotten it and my vocabulary had…dee…something beginning with di-. You know, ‘got less’.

You can’t write a story with a flow chart or a formula. They aren’t scientific or reasoned. I’d stopped writing stories, on paper or in my head; and the world had got a little harder. Lines a bit sharper, colours more muted or just turned to grey. And with them my heart a bit harder and my soul more cynical.

I wonder what I’d think now if I dug out those old stories and scripts? They’re still tucked away somewhere, in a box or under a bed. Would I be embarrassed by their childish naivety or entranced by the different world I see there? The freedom and colour.

Maybe I should write stories again. I don’t know if I’d write about dragons or talking trees now though. I don’t know if my imagination stretches that far for now. Maybe I’ll start with reflections of sunset in skyscrapers or grass piercing concrete. Real, measurable but also containing something ‘other’. Hope and colour to thaw a cynical heart.