one of those stories: five years on

A little over five years ago, I typed the name Paul Kingsnorth into the google search engine and hit the return key. I had just finished his book One No, Many Yeses and was wondering on a whim if he had an online presence with leads to his other books or projects. Google gave me the link to his website, where his blog described meeting Dougald and the conversations forming the origins of the Dark Mountain Project.

I think at that point the Manifesto was still being written, or at least it hadn’t yet been launched. I remember regretting my distance from London, because the ideas in the Manifesto did indeed strike a chord with me, and echoed and articulated many of my own concerns, preoccupations, convictions. I’d have liked to attend the launch and support this creative endeavour.

As it happens, I didn’t attend the launch but I did support the project significantly in its first years – contributing to crowdfunding campaigns, buying the books, attending events, volunteering. I tried to engage with it, in ways that are documented throughout this blog. But when the flavour of my engagement changed from cheerleading to challenging, my perspective was edited out of the official history. So it goes. So it has always gone.

I don’t support the DMP any longer, but I’m sincerely grateful for how much I’ve learned from that episode of my life – tagged forever in my mind and memory as ‘dark mountain’ and ‘breakthrough.’

Like Paul, I too can offer five lessons to commemorate those years:

  1. #yesallwomen

This hashtag has evolved on Twitter recently to express solidarity among women whose collective experiences inform us as citizens of a patriarchal society. Articulate, educated, well-meaning, left-leaning, self-described-non-sexist white men will often – perhaps not always, but in my experience, often – shift uncomfortably and deflect the testimonies of women with the psychological and rhetorical equivalent of a dismissive pat on the head. Not now, dear, I’m busy writing my manifesto and please don’t worry, it includes your perspective too. Trust me. I’ve spoken to some other women and they assure me that I’ve got it covered.

  1. feminism is for everybody

Feminism is a political movement inasmuch as it is a response to oppressive power structures grounded in individual, personal experiences. Feminism is just another word for many of the same arguments expressed in the Dark Mountain Manifesto: nature counts; ‘notman’ counts; the ‘other’ counts; woman counts. Do men suffer from patriarchy too? Hell yes, of course they do – but that doesn’t mean their experience of patriarchy is the same or even similar to women’s, nor that they have any right to sideline or dismiss or ignore a woman’s perspective when it is disruptive or inconvenient to their own ends. We’re on the same page, boys. If you want to think about this in more detail, I recommend bell hooks’ wonderful book, feminism is for everybody.

  1. it’s best to travel light

For every dark mountain, there is a light valley. For every hero, there is a hearth. The universe contains us all, and connects us all – metaphorically, physically, metaphysically – all within a circle which is both finite and infinite. We all of us belong to what John MacMurray described as “Society, constituted by a common purpose; Community, arising from the sharing of a common life.” I’ve been up that mountain, fellow traveller, and back down again too. In my experience, the peak can only be reached by letting go of all the stuff that weighs you down; letting go and travelling light.

  1. sanity is relative

Civilisation – patriarchy – oppression and exploitation and reification and commodification – these phenomena are insane. They lay down barriers, conditions, traps, mental prisons and emotional cul-de-sacs. They enforce separation, they engender fear and hatred, they lie to us all that we are somehow less than exquisite and perfect in all our ugliness and our imperfections. My experience with the DMP played the role of catalyst, pushing me into a total breakdown, a trip through insanity in the form of a brief, painful-and-blissful-both psychotic episode. DMP didn’t cause my breakdown; what caused it was my own resistance to and defiance of lifelong endurance and adaption to our insane power-driven society. But DMP – for all its wise words and alluring invitations to join in – didn’t hold me as I stood there on the brink. DMP gave me a little patriarchal shove into the abyss. It’s ironic, I think, that a recent New York Times article about Paul Kingsnorth includes this account by Dougie Strang, about a session that took place at the third and final Dark Mountain festival in August 2012:

at 3 a.m., he said, people were writhing in the mud and singing, in harmony…. “Wasn’t it amazing?” he said, grinning. “It really went mental. I think we actually achieved uncivilization.”

Do you really think so, Dougie? I would say otherwise.

I survived the breakdown, was held and loved and healed by many, many people in my life: family, friends, colleagues, as well as new people I encountered in my navigation through the NHS. They brought me to respite, warmed by the light – the light which reminds us what we already know, deep down: that we’re all of us good, we’re all of us suffering in this crazy place, we’re all of us trying to live our lives with love and dignity and meaning. Breakdown was breakthrough, as they say.

  1. we are everywhere

Damn right I’m not alone. When you see your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter, your girlfriend, your neighbour, your grandmother, your niece, your aunt, your cousin Sylvia, your fifth-year English teacher, your coworker, your hooker, your doctor, your doctor’s receptionist, the woman at the checkout, the girl on page three, the bag lady shuffling past you, the politician’s wife, the female MP, the schoolgirl on the bus, the woman with the pram – when you see them, you see me. You see my sisters. You see your sisters. In fact: you see our sisters, motherfucker. Think about that please.

And lest you bristle with defensiveness, you heroic folk of the DMP, lest you ignore this post like all my others and try so hard to pretend I’m not here, let me tell you: it’s time to stop pretending. If you listen to me, really listen to this one small chirp of one small cricket, you’ll hear something beautiful.

5 thoughts on “one of those stories: five years on

    • Thank you Tony. Unsurprisingly, my comment on Paul’s post at the DM website – flagging up politely that I had responded with my own reflections – has remained unpublished, and my tweets ignored, rather than replied to or shared with the wider DM network. Only voices which fit the Company Director’s editorial criteria will be acknowledged – dissent from the core message is bad for business, I guess! As I said above: so it goes, and so it has always gone. As Paul and you and I all know, stories are shaped through will and by choice, and the dynamics of power entrap our moves like a wall of thorns surrounding a castle full of sleepers.

      Vera recently pointed out to me the NY Times article about Paul/DM, as well as your response to it. I had missed all that when it happened – too much else going on here. It made me sad, to be honest, seeing DM flickering in the hubristic blob of media glitter, myth-building that brooding lone hero out there in the wilderness on his treacherous journey up the mountain. Good for business though – I note that he didn’t have any hesitation retweeting that link to the DM list!

      Oh well. What else can I say? Oh well.

  1. Five wise lessons. I missed the said ‘wild’ session at DM3 and was glad to do so, but was glad to be able to talk about some of the un-psychological underpinnings, and the conversations since then have been enriching, but increasingly outside DM interestingly. I’m glad that you survived and were held through your breakdown, and love your line: “we’re all of us good, we’re all of us suffering in this crazy place, we’re all of us trying to live our lives with love and dignity and meaning”. That in itself requires a certain way of responding and behaving I think. Love and Respect.

  2. Your five lessons are profound and compelling. I’m so glad you wrote them. I expect to be going over them again and again as time goes on. These are a way to move on, as I meant before with my one word comment, wonderful responses, that lead us towards something and not simply away from that which has brought us to pain.

    Your voice is strong and we need to hear more from you!

  3. Thank you Steve and Tony and Tom for your likes and your comments. I started a reply to Steve’s a while ago but lost it in the ether somehow, then had to step away and go out. I’m glad that it happened that way, because my afternoon/evening contained an experience which gave me a huge dose of something-else-to-think-about-here. I found myself in conversation with someone I’ve met a couple times before, someone I like and admire immensely. He’s very intelligent, has great ideas and aspirations, guided by a very deep heart. Well, that’s my impression of him anyway.

    Yet there I found myself, bantering with him in the way I do, questioning his statements, challenging him and lugging verbal baseballs at him from over in left field. I was being a bit of a smartass actually, devil’s advocate, as I do. I don’t think he particularly minded, at the same time I think he found it rather exasperating. I left feeling bad about it, like I’d somehow overstepped myself somehow, by not just nodding and smiling and saying ‘wow, you’re so right, tell me more.’

    This connects with what I wrote in reply to Steve earlier. I was reflecting on what he writes there about how we respond and behave with other people, and how compassion can guide us. You won’t be surprised that I bring it back to the gendered dimension of experience. As a woman, I was raised to look after other people’s feelings before my own, always, in a million overt and covert ways. I was socialised to acquiesce, to keep the peace, to contain my enthusiasms and passions – be quiet, be supportive, be a good girl. Answering back is ugly, being loud or excited or contradictory is ugly, refusing to just be told – well that’s not ugly so much as just plain dangerous.

    I agree with what you’ve said, Steve, yet needled with one little knee-jerk reaction: ‘I’ve spent my whole life curbing my responses and behaviours out of concern for others’ needs. What about my need to express myself?’ There’s a balance to be held there, between responsibility to oneself and responsibility to others, there’s a difference between speaking an uncomfortable perspective versus discomfiting someone for the sake of it, out of spite or one-upmanship. I don’t have a handle on it, myself, I don’t know if I ever will – it feels so clumsy. (“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”)

    It reminds me of Bill Hicks and his stand-up material. He was offensive. And? I mean, that was the point: his offensiveness was an intellectual challenge flavoured with a blatant declaration of lust and human need. He countered people’s reactions with, ‘Well guess what, I’m offended too. Life is offensive.’ He had one line where he described being approached after a show by a couple of redneck Christians who cornered him and threatened him with:

    “Hey, man, we don’t like what you said about Jesus.” So I said, “Okay, then, well… forgive me.”

    I guess I’m just sitting with this conundrum now – will welcome your further thoughts. Thank you Tony for your kind words – my strong voice is confusing me a little bit at the moment, given what I’ve described above – not to mention how it fits in with my new self-employment (another post brewing on that – save it for another time!)

    Tired. Off to bed now. 🙂

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