‘Ali Smith writes about memory and truth and belief and delusion and nature and protest and distance and disbelief and lies and the possibility at once for both hope and sadness.’ These are the notes I scrawled into my notebook in a coffee shop on Saturday morning. I was up early for a rubbish reason and had carried Winter around with me in my bag all week yet barely started it. I left later on having read it furiously to the end.
Let me start by saying that I am a big Ali Smith fan. If you met me at any point during my final year of university, you probably saw the anguish on my face as I told you about how badly my dissertation was doing or fell asleep as I raved on about Hotel World and There but for the.
(And yes, feminism is a lens through which we critique, not something that a ‘fave’ could necessarily ‘be’, but that’s not as snappy a title, is it?)
Rebecca Solnit’s ‘The Mother of All Questions’: On a particularly bad day, I sat down in a Waterstones, having picked this up from the gender studies section and read about 40 pages in one go. Solnit’s writing is immersive, flowing so steadily and yet always with a sharp wit. This comes through more in some essays than others; when talking about campus rape, Solnit remains persistently calm in her outrage, presenting the facts and the response, highlighting hypocrisy through mere juxtaposition. When talking about the ever-present white-maleness of the literary canon, she cracks jokes at the expense of writers and novels, knowing that this topic, however important representation in the media is, can also be picked apart for its sheer stupidity. ‘Men Explain Lolita to Me’ is one of my favourite essays I have read for the simple reason that Solnit writes about the Twitter users who tried to educate her on her opinion with the same kind of fascination that David Attenborough talks about polar bears in the Arctic.
An act of gross cruelty or injustice that occurs in Manchura or Dunzig is as much an Englishman’s concern now, as if it occurred in Nigeria or Cardiff.”
H.G. Wells wrote the manifesto, ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man’, in 1940 as a response to what he felt was the vacuum of reason as to why the Second World War was taking place. Urging authorities to make plain the rationale behind sending people off to fight yet another war, he and his cohorts set out just under ten clauses which all authorities globally could agree upon as the end goal, the ultimate society. These ideas would ultimately contribute to the Declaration of Human Rights by the UN in 1948. He also formed and support PEN, a society formed of international writers who were dedicated to the freedom to read for all, and the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty, an independent council that campaigns for human rights issues in the UK.
I’ll be honest, I picked up this book because Ali Smith wrote the introduction to the Penguin reissue in 2015 and I’ve apparently made it my lifelong goal to read everything she’s ever written. It was £5 and I bought it from Lighthouse Radical Bookshop in Edinburgh. It seemed like a good fit. But why, in 2017, would a text written in 1940 about human rights still be perceived as progressive now?
First off, I think I have to make a statement upfront as a massive Gilmore Girls fan. Having finished this film, I can safely say that its references in the revival episodes of Gilmore Girls completely undermined the emotional gravity of the story. (It’s not the only thing the show did but hey, that’s another post.) And I know that’s the joke, that all of these women turning up at the Pacific Crest Trail have just watched the film and suddenly need to overcome their problems by hiking too, but it just seems to kind of miss the point a bit. From that episode I’d think that Reese Witherspoon (for at the time I did not know who Cheryl Strayed was) was completely overreacting to her mild middle-class white girl problems and her hike was a bit of a joke.
How wrong I was. And maybe it’s because of the time in my life when I’m watching it – I started it for the first time like a year ago when it was still on Netflix and I got about five minutes in before I gave up. It wasn’t right for me then.
(This post could also be called “Something other people seemed to have already learned but it didn’t click with me for like 22 years”.)
I procrastinate. We all procrastinate. At some point in their lives, even the most productive of people will have stopped doing whatever it is they’re meant to be doing to watch videos of puppies for an hour and a half. It’s just a fact of life: dogs are too cute to NOT drop everything to watch them play with doors.
The man stormed out of the shop leaving myself and Bruce looking at each other in disbelief. Having been told in a very kind manner that, although we appreciated his donation of an old rounders bat that was falling to pieces and three tennis balls, we were in fact a bookshop, currently full to the brim with donations, and therefore it would be great if he could take it to one of our other shops five minutes away, the man became angry. He tried to get us to keep the donation, clearly not wanting to take it home but, in the end, told us we were ungrateful and left.
For some reason, this man’s attitude towards us stays with me. For context, for three years during my degree I worked at the Oxfam Bookshop in Aberdeen. During my time there I learned that there are plenty of misconceptions floating around about charity shops – the idea that they’re rubbish tips, that volunteers have it easy and just pile up whatever donations they get, no matter the quality, and sell everything for 50p.
Moment of silence this morning as I scrolled Instagram. Please allow me this sentimental post as I come to terms with the fact that I’m really not going back to uni this September.
This weekend is move-in weekend for eager-eyed, bushy-tailed freshers and the start of begrudged returns for everyone else to the University of Aberdeen. I thought I had already come to terms with my undergraduate degree being over but apparently there was still some ties left. Seeing pictures of the beach and Broadhill and knowing I won’t be going back there at all, walking past the football stadium, up to King Street, down Spital and following that hill winding down to campus is making me sad today.
It was my birthday yesterday. I’m not a big one for my own birthday to be honest, maybe intensified by the pressure to have this amazing day with balloons and cake and big parties. My day yesterday had none of those things but was strangely almost exactly what I wanted. A chill day, food, talking, sorting stuff out. It could have been any other day, really, but I was nicer to myself than usual.
This book made me cry on the train there and back again.
I’d previously read Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig’s non-fiction book about his own experiences with depression. Suffering from mental illness or poor mental health often produces more introspection, more obsession with both ourselves, but also makes us question why it is everyone around us seems content with trundling on, ignoring the end of all things and the fact that no one really knows the point of our existence.