On non-submission

Today is the deadline for submissions to the third Dark Mountain Journal. I’m choosing to not submit. I’m choosing to say what I want to say, here, instead – to say what I want to say rather than trying to work out whether what I’m saying is sufficiently Dark Mountainish to merit approval, rather than trying to meet criteria, or to follow the rules or the expectations of anyone else but myself.

I didn’t submit any writing to the previous two journals either. For the first collection, assembled in 2009, I wouldn’t have dared. I agreed with much of what the DM manifesto had to say, and felt instinctively that I belonged among those who recognised the futility of pursuing the impossible contradiction of endless growth, those who were questioning the dominant cultural narratives. But I didn’t think of myself as one of the writers that the project had invited to participate. I didn’t write, despite having enjoyed writing very much, once upon a time. In my family it was my brother who was the writer, my brother who was acknowledged and feted as ‘the creative one’. All the talent had been handed to him, and it was his exclusive territory; it became his identity and his career, while I had a different assignment: be quiet and polite, keep yourself to yourself, and look after everyone else.  My mother set a good example.

The next call for journal submissions was in 2010, with a deadline at the end of November. This time I wanted to say something. I wanted to write about the experience of attending the Uncivilisation pre-festival camp and the festival itself, which had taken place in Llangollen earlier in the year. As exhilarating as the experience had been (a holiday on my own, away from my home, apart from my daughter for an entire week) I returned with a growing sense of unease. My involvement there had been almost entirely as an observer. I had no confidence and little sense of my own person – not after a decade of identifying mainly as My Child’s Mum, and before that, decades as My Husband’s Wife, My Parents’ Daughter. I had sat at the edges – part of the chorus, part of the setting – watching the space and following the conversations that were held predominantly by men, who had so much to say, and no hesitation in saying it. If they had any doubt they didn’t show it, regarding the authority of their views, or the value of their contributions, or their right to join on their own terms.

As much as wanting to express myself by writing about this experience, I wanted to participate in the project as more than a backdrop. Are expression and participation not essentially the same thing? So I gave writing a go, struggling to fit it into my already-crowded life.  Responsibility for a job, the care of a child and a home, not to mention many good friends and other family members, all laid claim to my time and attention. Still, I tried: I squeezed it into the corners, set the alarm clock earlier and earlier, I spent my mornings at the keyboard instead of the sink.

As for the writing itself, once I’d started it the floodgates opened. There was too much to say, and the more I wrote, the more spilled out, all over the place, without any sense, with too many themes, too many points – prickly sharp points, weary points, angry points, never-before-spoken points. The more I tried to tie up the loose ends, the more they came undone. It got ugly. Absorbed in typing, I neglected the laundry and the dishes, threw ready-meals in the oven. Scribbling in a notebook, I forgot to pack my daughter’s lunch, to sign her homework jotter, to find her the correct change for bus fare. The competition between these two worlds – the trying-to-say-something world and the do-your-duty world – was too fierce to tame by the end of November.  With all the other demands upon me – insistent, guilt-producing, using-me-up demands – there simply wasn’t enough time or space for me to pull it together, to find a note of redemption and sound it out into words. So I gave up, and missed the deadline.

Now, another year later, the third Dark Mountain Journal is underway, and its theme is Coming Home. Hang on, pull the other one; have I really been away? All I can think of is the laundry that needs doing after festival camping. I still haven’t found a resolution to my dilemma; there isn’t one. Everyone’s life has boundaries, all we can do is make our own small attempts to push at the edges. So I write some things into this blog; it is a good place for making marks, as my friend Anhrefn says. And spending even a few moments on writing means operating from within the space of oneself, rather than on behalf of someone else.

“If I were to speak for myself,” a graduate student said one day in the middle of her oral exam – and then stopped. Hearing the sound of dissociation – the separation of herself from what she was saying, she began to question her relationship to what she was saying and what she was not saying. For whom was she speaking, and where was she in relation to herself? (Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice)

The normal and natural conflicts emerging out of my daughter’s adolescence are caught up in this: she has stood at my elbow demanding that I get off the computer and pack her lunch, while I have punted back that my priority is to finish what I’m writing, and that she’s old enough now to pack her own lunch. It doesn’t sound like much of an argument but the tension is extreme and our emotions run high: there is a conflict of interest, a change of roles and responsibilities, a renegotiation of power, a testing of love. I am setting a different example to the one my mother set.

This autumn I had the good fortune to hear Carol Gilligan speaking at the opening session of Wordpower’s Radical Book Fest. She was introducing her new book, Joining the Resistance, which explores the experience of young women in adolescence who are right in the thick of it, internalizing their gendered identities, and learning how to behave as socially-acceptable females. She said that she had been surprised by the young women she met, surprised to observe how much they were resisting, with passion, the restrictions they were encountering. They were resisting the expectation to be quiet and polite, to keep themselves to themselves, and to look after everyone else. They were saying what they wanted to say rather than trying to follow the rules or the expectations of others, resisting the “pressures to disengage themselves from their honest voices.” Gilligan’s thesis, as I understand it, is that we – all of us, men and women – would do better for ourselves in the long run, should we lend our support to this resistance rather than suppressing it.

The cover of the book shows the image of a single hand, small and slender, held erect and open-palmed. Gilligan described this image as capturing the message that she had heard from the young women in her study, the women who were resisting: Stop, and I want to join. She repeated it:







This is exactly why I’m not submitting.

Maybe some other time. Because truly, there is so much that I love about the Dark Mountain Project. We do need new stories.