That’s a good word. It’s an Italian expression that doesn’t translate easily. It basically means “I don’t know. How the hell am I supposed to know?! Who could possibly know?!” and it carries with it an extra sense of confusion and bewilderment.
It’s a good word for these dark days and it’s a suitable response for many of the questions that I’m asking, that are being asked of me and that all of us are asking or trying to respond to.
The other appropriate word – an English word – is “fuck”. I’m getting a lot of mileage (nay, kilometre-age) out of that and its infinite derived variations. So are my family and many of my friends. It’s doing a pretty good job at covering a whole host of confusing emotions while suitably summing up the situation(s). Beyond those words, however, I’m often struggling. Lots of words are being said and written but as I continue to hear and read these words (reading with blurry and sometimes weepy eyes) I find myself even more unable to articulate myself.
“How are you, James?” “What’s happening?” … boh?
I’ve been in shock. I’m in a state of acute anxiety. I am despairing and feeling either very angry or very sad. Some time has passed since Friday morning but I’m still a bit of a mess and I keep on finding myself stuck, just stood still and and staring into space (the Abyss?). Or I try to sit comfortably, but this mind on overdrive can’t relax and I have the restless sensation of invisible insects crawling just beneath my skin.
Aside from those Psychosomatic Anxiety Bugs, my body feels hollow and a heavy, foggy weariness weighs down the space behind my eyes. But it’s difficult to find the right words, even after several days of going through this. Erm… boh?
I recognise these physical symptoms and feelings as grief, but this time the grief is greater and goes beyond the personal kinds of grief I’ve experienced before. This is more than a loved one dying, a relationship ending or a medical event happening. For a start, you can get over and recover from those most of the time. This, however, is a national catastrophe that affects all of us Brits, and all of Europe and, in fact the entire world in more ways than we can easily comprehend.
I feel like I need to reach out to others – kindred spirits, like-minds, fellow victims, the demonised and vulnerable, potential comrades in a resistance – but the words are failing me. I want to call people up or send messages to a whole host of friends (from the UK and from the EU) and ask them if they’re okay, ask them what they think and offer them my support, my sympathy or my apologies. I’m unable to do these things, though. I end up in a total-body equivalent of lockjaw and I have nothing to say. It’s all choking, freezing, moping or crying. *sighs*… Boh?
So I go out and take walks when I’m not watching the news or scrolling through liveblogs, to pound pavements and trudge a trail of tears. The past few days I’ve been walking around my neighbourhood and Manchester city centre, partly to try and shake myself out of this unfunkiest of funks.
I’ve also been going out to test reality and confirm that this little part of the World I know is still there and functioning. It appears to be, but I know that things have changed and are changing. In the city centre I hear foreign voices and see stickers boasting ‘this thing was partially funded by EU development funds” and I mourn even more for the lost future in which these things will most likely be less prominent. Parliament seemed calm when MPs recovened, but the House of Commons isn’t a picture of the entire national actuality. (And there’s a lot of politicking, party in-fighting and coups going on in Westminster behind closer doors/vivarium ventilators.)
Out there in ‘reality’, I eyeball people’s faces and want to ask them, “Are you feeling it too?”, “Did you by any chance vote Leave?” or “How? What? Why, oh, why, why, why?” but I can’t summon it all up. I avert my gaze to either the sky, the moors or buildings. I look at my little world around me – a world that felt so familiar – and wistfully rue the fact that it’s either got no future, that it’s changing out of recognition or that it’s not the home that I thought it was. Or perhaps both. Boh?!
There’s a lot (too much) to process, and major media outlets are processing it all (at least, the ones interested in reporting and deconstructing current affairs rather than spreading vicious lies and mistruths are). I’ll leave the working out of the political, economic and socio-cultural ramifications to them while I’m feeling a bit inarticulate and am gagging on incredulity. Instead, I’m going to try and type up what the UK’s exit from the EU means to me personally. As I say, it’s far beyond personal but I’m taking it personally. Very personally. This thing hurts a lot, and when you’re hurting you try and work out why. (Unless you’re the kind of person who blames all perceived problems on immigrants.)
How does Brexit (a hideous word that sounds like a brand of conjunctivitis medicine) affect me? I like foreign cuisine and I like travelling around the EU, so it’ll inevitably hit my wallet but I don’t care that much about money. More crucially, as a teacher of English as foreign language my work will be affected. Without freedom of movement, instant right-to-work, free healthcare and so on I anticipate a lot of hassle with visas and suchlike in years to come if I wish to work within the EU as I do (and employers sometimes specify that they can only hire EU citizens to avoid extra bureaucracy and costs).
If I work in the UK, on the other hand, I anticipate a possible decline in students due to lower migrant numbers and a decline in goodwill. Why would foreigners want to come and work and study in a country that has, in effect, turned its back on them and suggested it’s only interested in itself? I teach the ‘international language’ and have nice notions of it being a tool to transcend boundaries. Now, however, the source of this language is putting up fences and behaving in appalling, antisocial fashion.
Ruminating on it all, I realise that a lot of this heartbreak and heartache comes down to ideology and identity. The truth is that I’ve spent decades dealing with my Britishness and it took a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable with (and in fact, proud of) my home nation.
I accept that identity is a fluid thing and that, ultimately, we’re all human Earthlings. From a cosmic perspective, those arbitrary categories don’t matter so much. Even so, there are certain elements in the ‘Who I Am’ brew that I figured are somewhat essential and that I’m quite attached to. As far as ethnicity goes, I understand myself as a Northerner, as English, as British, as part-Italian (thanks to exposure, love and personality quirks) and all of these different identities exist simultaneously and at peace with one another.
Post-referendum, though, they’re fragmenting and fading away. Psychologically, the Leave vote distances me from my ‘more European’ traits and from Italy – a spiritual home of great friends and second families who’ve adopted me as one if their own. Brexit not only drives a wedge between us, but it emphatically insults my loved ones and an entire continent of good people while simultaneously demonising them.
As a British person – by birth and by current residency – I’m tethered to that. I fear that all of us are going to be tarred with the same brush (’guilt by association’) and and dragged down by a strange new stigma on a worldwide stage. Saying “Not all Brits” won’t cut it. And why would I want to be English and British, anyway? Right now – after a spell of summoning up something resembling national pride – I have zero interest in being English or British and that’s a pretty significant identity crisis.
As an English teacher I’ve travelled around telling a whole host of foreigners just how brilliant all the countries of the UK are. I’ve hailed our cosmopolitan society, our tremendous history, a past and present full of scientific and cultural innovation, our marvellous idiosyncracies, our quirky customs and the beautiful sights that make these islands so remarkable. Even though I’m relatively atypical as a Brit in many ways, I do my best to act as a good representative of my homeland.
Now I can’t do that. I couldn’t push my specially-prepared PowerPoint presentation on the wonders of the UK on anyone if you asked me to. Honestly, if someone asked me to tell them about the UK right now I wouldn’t be able to enthusiastically gush about the BBC, Shakespeare, tea, curry houses, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the NHS, porridge, Snowdonia, tolerance and diversity, or the many accents and dialects spoken by a nation of reet good people (etc., etc.). I’d respond “Fuck the UK”, and it really hurts to say that. And it really hurts all the more when you know that all those good things have been either overshadowed by or destroyed by this Brexit ominishambles which is the end result of a Tory government determined to completely crush the people of this country beneath a sick, misguided austerity regime.
This isn’t the country that I’d grown to love – a process that, in earnest, really started during the 2012 London Olympics. I’d got to the point where I could cheer on the England football team with considerable gusto, but now it’s all gone. (Rock on, Iceland.) I’m witnessing stuff that I’d complacently assumed I’d never see in my own back yard, like the racist incident that took place on a tram on Market Street, Manchester yesterday. (The main shopping street of my city – a cosmopolitan, modern city famed for its diversity, three international universities, its gay quarter, its two football teams replete with talent from all over the globe and its socialist heritage. This city once stood in solidarity with the black slave populations of America, cotton mill workers sacrificing their own work in order to support oppressed foreign minorities.)
If this is England and if this is the United Kingdom of 2016 and beyond, then I’m out of here and I’ll do my ‘Byronic èmigrè’ thing for eternity (I’m already working out my way out for the autumn, and I hope that I can secure EU citizenship in the future when the UK does eventually leave.)
I’m ashamed to be British again, though this time it’s not because of hooligans or because of the lingering guilt of Empire and colonialism. This debacle, for Britain and possibly for the wider world, may well be the biggest disaster of the century (potentially, epoch). I find myself ideologically opposed to the prevailing mood and position of my country – as an outward-looking humanitarian who believes in co-operation across borders, communication and friendship.
As a humanitarian and an idealist I also believe that people are fundamentally good and considerate – that they are compassionate and that common sense, open-heartedness and an inclination towards collective progress and social inclusivity triumph. Every UK election proves me wrong and forces me to question my faith whilst demonstrating that human beings are pathologically destructive and doomed to self-sabotage. This is, therefore, a crisis of faith and a crisis of identity and that’s why I’m hurting so much.
I can regain that faith in humanity, but I can’t recoup my faith in Britain if Brexit occurs (it might not, and I’m basking in every ray of hope that it may not be formally passed through). As it is, I’m a human with a broken heart who finds themselves without a country and I know that I’m not alone in feeling like this.
I will continue to go through the motions in this cycle of grief, processing the trauma while searching for my own progressive way forward in a changed World (truth: it’s taken me four days to type this mess up. Yeah, those words don’t come easily). What I do know is that I will never accept the loss and that I reject Brexit wholeheartedly. As for what else I know? Ah fuck. Boh?!