Back to Italy for Adventures: Andiamo, and Bye Bye for a Bit Again…

Allora, andiamo! I’ve got to go and do what I’ve got to do, and what I’ve got to do is go back to Italy again. I’ve got a thing for Italy, y’know? In fact I have several things for Italy. I’m going to jump on a plane at the crack of dawn tomorrow, touch down in Verona and share some of those things with Italy and Italy will inevitably share its own very special things with me. Ah, bella Italia: grande amore

… and that Eurovision flashback reminds me that, hey! I’ve got tickets to the opera! I’m going back to summer camp! I’m going back to see old friends! I’m going back to practice Italian conversation in real life with real Italians! I’m going back to the best food in the world! I’m going back to the culture and the scenery and the atmosphere that I just dig so much…

(Yeah, I’m very excited and that might all sound very nice to you but I’d also like to note that summer camps are brutal. By this time next month I’ll probably be a traumatised and exhausted husk, beaten up physically and mentally by Italian children. Why do I do this? Because I’m a masochist, a sucker and deranged zealot who can’t conceive of summer without English language summer camps in Italy. I may need help.)

So, summer camps are just what I do (it’s an irrational compulsion) and Italy is a place I just get (possibly also an irrational compulsion, or maybe that’s what real love is). Over repeat visits this natural affinity has grown and, even though I can’t shake off my Britishness and am far from fluent in Italian (ways and language), I think that there is something strong deep inside tying me to the place (and/or the Italian spirit). I really realised that when I left Milan in April after a two-plus months stay and stopped by Zürich for three days – it was nice, but simultaneously alienating. I felt foreign where I don’t feel totally foreign in Italy.

I could ramble on, navel-gazing and analysing my relationship with Italy (and indeed myself and the wider world) but I should really be packing, so I’ll leave this short and sweet. Just know that I’ll be in Italy for a month doing my things (gesturing wildly, awkwardly mangling the Italian language, trying to teach the English language to Italian kids, exploring and generally having an array of adventures, etc.). Because I aim to travel light (*the Universe laughs at such delusion*) and because I want to unplug a bit, I’m not taking this laptop and, thus, regular services and communication channels may be a bit erratic. I may occasionally fling something out on Twitter or some of my doodling on Instagram but it depends. My energies and mind are all going to be directed towards travelling, summer camp work and creative activity in notebooks. Oh, and hanging out with good people, searching out good pizza and soaking up the art, history, culture and overall experiences on offer in Italy – my home-away-from-home.

Until July, then, take care of yourselves and enjoy your June. Here’s to summer adventures. Andiamo, indeed… 😀

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Mental Wellbeing: Being Aware and Taking Care…

Hey hey, my my! It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought I thought I’d write a blogpost about mental health in hope of spreading awareness or piquing awareness. Mental health is of optimum importance and we need to be very aware of it. Too often, though, we’re unaware and don’t talk about it or even acknowledge it. There are various nebulous reasons – stigma, fear, discomfort – but the truth is we need to get beyond those reasons and consciously engage with this issue of ‘mental health’ (and its dark flipside) because minds are everything.

Truly, minds are amazing things. Everything around and everything that ever was, is and will be is an expression of and the result of mind-power so, with gratitude and appropriate awe, let’s all politely applaud mind-power. (*polite applause, somebody whistles and hollers “H’yeah! Yeee-aaah!“*) Consider the human mind and realise that it’s the unique attribute that marks us out from the rest of the animals and that has enabled us to dominate this Earth. Our brains helped us excel in the field and we turned that field into irrigated farmland and we invented wheels and language and plumbing and electricity and spaceships and all this other sophisticated, impressive stuff (and some unsophisticated, less impressive stuff though those things couldn’t have been crafted by, say, a moose so humans are still ahead thanks to the immense instrument inside their heads).

I’m thinking about the creation of whole cities, complex systems, incredible innovations and inventions, masterpieces of art. I’m also thinking of the more crucial things that our minds achieve every day – like responding to external stimuli, emotional intelligence, reasoning everything from the mundane to the marvellous, managing the human body’s communicative procedures and its actual functioning, and all the rest. Your mind may not be writing a contemporary gender-swapped Moby Dick with a non-linear narrative in Swedish at a speed of 427 words-per-minute right now, but it is telling you that putting that thing in your mouth is a terrible (potentially fatal) idea. Minds don’t have to be exceptional to be exceptional – they are cognitive, creative, rational and emotional instruments par excellence vital to our survival and our thriving as living organisms in this Universe. Hooray for our minds! (*cheering*)

Ah but here comes the ‘ah but’. (*gasps, atmospheric mood deflated, tension*) For reasons we know not why, the things that raised human beings up are also the things that bring them down, down, right down. Is it nature restoring some kind of balance? Is it the will of the Gods, keeping those hubristic humans in check? Is it some kind of cruel cosmic irony, self-sabotage encoded into the would-be Masters of the Universe? Whatever, these miracle minds that make people what they are can (and do) viciously turn on said people and mess things up for them. Minds afflicted by foggy, disturbing ideas and feelings; minds mixed up thanks to misfiring neurons and faulty connections; minds becoming dysfunctional and destabilised.

Altogether, minds are vulnerable and liable to start acting up and working against their owners as opposed to working for them and with them. This, sadly, is not a rare phenomenon. Lots of people (I’d argue every single person, in fact) are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, psychological disorders, mental illness or just general ‘mental wellbeing deficit’. Labels are a tricksy and problematic thing, but altogether we can put them under the same umbrella of ‘poor mental health’. (An umbrella may not be a good image to use, actually. This umbrella isn’t protecting you from the rain. In fact, the rain is coming from the inside of the umbrella and sometimes that rain is actually smoking black tar.)

Poor mental health is distressing and, potentially, devastating on both an individual and collective level. Poor mental health makes me sad. Poor mental health makes me angry. I have history with poor mental health (both my own and others’) and that’s part of the reason why it makes me so sad and angry. Thus, I’m writing this to exorcise some of that sadness and anger and have a “People! Be aware!” moment. If it helps someone, then bonus.

I know and have known too many good people who’ve suffered with mental health problems. So many wonderful human beings with so much going for them and with so much life within them and ahead of them brought down low by depression and/or by mental disorders. It’s horrible and heartbreaking to witness, especially when you end up feeling completely powerless to prevent it, fight it or improve the situation. I appreciate that I’m speaking generally and non-specifically here and that the spectrum can run from “oh dear, this low mood isn’t good” to “this disease is soul-destroying and has completely destroyed a life here“. Whatever the condition is or however intense or acute it is, the truth is the same – mental health is essential and something we need to consciously engage with and be aware of.

You may not agree with my view that we’re currently going through a global wellbeing crisis, but I think we can all agree that the line between ‘sanity and sound, stable mind’ and ‘disturbed mind’ is a very fine and fragile one. The way our modern society and culture has developed, I’d say it’s even harder to stay on the bright, right side of that line. Everywhere, I see people feeling pressured and stressed in an Age of Anxiety in which more of us (read: pretty much all of us) are feeling on edge or out-of-sorts more often. Hardwired for worry and conditioned by our culture to constantly strive to achieve impossible ideals of perfection, we’re even more vulnerable.

The good news is that we can be aware of this. The other good news is that we’re not alone when it comes to grappling with this. Every single human being on the planet (except a special few existing on an especial plane of pure enlightened cosmic consciousness) has something ‘up’ with their mind – a neurosis or irrational hang-up; a personality ‘flaw’; trouble with stress and anxiety; a psychological dysfunction; or what might be called a mental disorder, whether it be diagnosed or not.

We’ve all got to take care, of both ourselves and each other. Mental illness and the panoply of problems related to poor mental wellbeing shouldn’t be allowed to have their merry way with good people and no one should suffer alone if they can’t cope. You’re not alone, and if you by any chance do find yourself struggling I’d urge you to reach out for assistance (and it doesn’t matter what your state of mind is, whether it be ‘mildly bothered by this bleak bugger’ or extremes of ‘all of Creation is a living Hell and I am the blackest abominable spot in this roiling inferno of abject despair’.)

Charities like Mind are a good place to start, and a few clicks and entries into a search engine can get you to support and advice related to specific conditions. Otherwise, talking to friends and family (or anyone, really) is a great way to get outside your own mind if your own mind is letting you down or actively declaring war on you. If that doesn’t help or you need more support, go and see your doctor or try and secure a referral to specialist services. If they prove to be ineffective or, indeed, useless (or if the services just aren’t there) try to find seek out other support groups.

Whatever you have to do to fight the demons, to keep the black dogs at bay or to try and get better from the invisible ailments afflicting you, do it. Cling on to the good stuff and the good people that make you feel better and that help bring the light in. And of course, as a guy with a surging geekstreak, I have to encourage folk to find therapy in the things they love, and throwing yourself into creative activity (writing, art, music, crafts) and/or immersing yourself in your favourite entertainment products and hobbies can be hugely beneficial and provide emotional uplift when you’re feeling down.

Go to your happy place – or, at least, stable place – and do what works for you. Life is beautiful and it’s too precious to be wasted and drained by depression and the dark anti-energies and dim effects of mental disorders. As best as possible, with compassion in your heart and your consciousness carefully and sensitively engaged, don’t let moop, mental illness and low mental wellbeing bring you down and remember that you’re not alone (and that’s an essential thing to hold on to, because loneliness and alienation makes everything so much worse.) I repeat again, be aware and take care of yourself and others.

Here’s to better mental wellbeing and human beings with brilliant minds living happy lives… (*cheering, hugging, smiling*) 😀

 

Devastated and Confused: Soul-Searching the Day After the Election…

No. No. No. No. And throw in a few more ‘nos’ with tears, screams and profanities. Remember yesterday? I was so full of hope and optimism. Ahead of all the ballot counts and the actual post-count reality of this morning, I genuinely thought that we’d see a new government and the death of the current Conservative regime in charge. I had an inkling that maybe lovable Ed Miliband – both real-life Aardman Animations character and a nice guy who actually cares – might become Prime Minister and that better times might be ahead. I woke up to find that not only are David Cameron and his cabal still in control, but that they have more power.

That’s awful news, but even more awful is acknowledging that the people of this country have come out in force and given this gang of smiling, smug pantomime villains the greenlight. I’m devastated – devastated as in ‘like the razing of Carthage’. I am at a complete loss. What’s more, I feel that the United Kingdom is at a complete loss. It’s a sucker punch to both mind, soul and spirit and I’m an emotional wreck. Bad news is bad news and is a daily occurrence, but this? This election result has thrown me into a black pit of depression, despair, disgust and despondency. All the deadly and disastrous Ds, and it’s all because of the deadly and disastrous D who will continue to be our Prime Minister. I can think of a few more D-words to describe him and his fellow kind.

I just don’t understand. I’m trying really hard to work out what would make someone vote for the Tories and endorse this government and I’m not getting anywhere. Keeping this business in layperson terms, I get that people are different and have differing opinions. For instance, I don’t like coffee but I understand that it’s an appealing option for some people. I like heavy metal and you might like cheesy ’90s pop and we might not like each other’s ‘thing’ but we can respect and come to comprehend our dissimilar perspectives and tastes.

Nonetheless, I can’t understand why or how anyone would vote for the Conservatives with a good conscience. Maybe in terms of policies there are things that may seem logical or sensible to these mysterious minds but, ideologically and in terms of human feeling, I can’t see how you can be a right-winger and support this party. It perplexed me when I was a naïve high school student with a mancrush on Che Guevara and it continues to perplex me even more as a more mature, more open-minded and better-informed adult over ten years later. (And I feel more far-left now, by the way, and that flies in the face of that ‘you get more right-wing as you get older’ jazz I heard over and over.)

It’s simple – if you support the Conservative Party you’re in favour of selfishness, self-interest and injustice. The needs of the many are outweighed by the needs (or agendas) of a select privileged few. If you support this current manifestation of the Tory Party you are actively opposed to care and compassion for the entire population of this country. You are opposed to equality. You are in favour of what is effectively a modern continuation of ye age olde class system and you value big business and private profit more than the public good.

How can you endorse that? In your heart, soul and conscience, how can you stick up for that and put your own X-mark seal of approval on that on a ballot paper? Plus, the policies are an ill-conceived grab-bag of measures inspired by kneejerk fear, laissez-faire recklessness, stultifying myopia and just plain mean lack of concern. The austerity programme and the cuts aren’t working and are hurting this country and its people (and this country is its people, which the government fails to recognise).

I’d like to know how you can get behind that. Please, if you did vote for the Conservative Party or are a far right-winger, reach out to me and let me know what’s in your mind and in your soul (if you still have a mind and soul, which I fear you don’t but I’ll try and accept you on your terms and engage in a conversation.)

As I say, I’m at a loss and I’m devastated. The thing that hurts the most isn’t the fact that we’ve got a Tory government for another five years, but the fact that my faith has taken such a blow. I had faith in humanity, but this election puts it in doubt. Don’t people care about the most vulnerable in society? Is the majority of the public really that indifferent, or really that lacking in compassion? Are the people of Britain really that short-sighted, bigoted, easily misled and/or self-interested?

I’m looking ahead at the next five years and I’m very scared. ‘Doomed’ is a heavy and desperate word – another D word – but unfortunately it feels apt. I’m not a great patriot but I’m proud to be English and British and my stints abroad have augmented that. This is great nation – even if the Union were to break up (and that’d be okay and it’s appalling how the ‘threat’ of a break-up has been manipulated in this election). The things that make this nation great – its intellectualism, its culture, its National Health Service, its spirit of innovation, its welfare state, its humanitarianism, and its people – are all under attack and its the government of the UK that’s attacking them. We’re now even more irrelevant and even more of an embarrassment and I can’t go abroad and speak fondly of my nation with such confidence any more – as long as David Cameron and his saboteurs are destroying all that’s good about us.

They have been treating this country like toilet paper and they’re going to continue with more vigorous aggression. I’m thinking about five more years – potentially five worse years – of this and I’m filled with dread. I’m thinking about students and would-be students priced out of education. I’m thinking about children who won’t even get a decent education because the government is screwing schools and teachers. I’m thinking about the impoverished people who’ll only get even poorer and who’ll be demonised even further. I’m thinking about the rise in numbers of folk who’ll have to rely on foodbanks or choose between eating or central heating. I’m thinking about all the people exploited by zero-hour contracts or forced to desperate measures like work in the sex trade, payday loans or gambling addictions. I’m thinking about the immigrants and asylum seekers who are going to get an even colder reception thanks to the ugly political narrative that far-right parties have been getting high on of late. I’m thinking about the public transport services in further decline and public amenities and services that are going to dwindle or be taken away altogether. I’m thinking about all the charities that are going to go under and all the people they serve who will thus receive no care or assistance. I’m thinking about all the artists and talented creative people who will never get funding or any kind of support and who won’t reach their potential. I’m thinking about all the sick people who are going to pay for the misfortune of being ill. I’m thinking of all those caught up in this massive mental health crisis who have no chance of ever getting treatment or getting anywhere near the possibility of getting better.

I’m thinking about this country not getting better and I’m thinking about all of this and so much more and it’s a major headache and it hurts. Maybe I’ll be able to see more clearly in a few days when the devastated sensation has passed and I can get beyond the confused anger, but the hurt isn’t going to disappear while these soulless crooks are in power. It feels hopeless, but we have to do what we can to opposed this and get over this. Here’s to saving Britain’s soul and here’s to the human beings of Britain. We’ve taken a beating and we’ll continue to take a beating, but here’s to hope and here’s to surviving and thriving, together, in spite of it all…

*hugs Britain and hopes we’ll be okay…*

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Our country under this government… *flushes*

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Vote! Vote! Vote! A Brief Blast For Change and a Better Britain…

 

It’s election day. It’s very exciting. I’ve already been to vote and felt the thrill of democracy in action. It’s such a rush and the buzz you get after marking your ballot, putting it in a box and leaving the polling station is a rare kick. If you haven’t voted yet, I urge you – nay I beseech you and beg you – to go and vote to get that kick. VOTE! Use your power, feel the power and VOTE!

Our political system being what it is, I can’t vote for what I really, really want (anarcho-socialism and the complete dismantling of capitalism and ‘the way things are’ in the pursuit of an enlightened utopian society inspired by the Odonian philosophies and organisational structure of the planet Anarres from Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed. Erm, yes. I’m an idealist and I can dream and I will dream.) Still, as flawed as our first-past-the-post system is, it works in some ways and we can work with it to make it work for the UK. While we’re waiting for proportional representation to be implemented, we can still make our voices heard. Today is the chance to have your say so, I repeat, go and have your say and VOTE.

I voted for the parties that come closest to my political sympathies and that have the kind of policies and principles I agree with. I voted for potential representatives who I believe will do right by the people in my local area and, where the opportunity arises, for the nation as a whole. For the General Election, even if you feel that no one is precisely representing your ideologies on the national stage in parliament, it’s still important that you go to the polls. You can still make a difference even if you are voting against something.

Today I voted for something but – yin/yang-stylee – I was also voting against something, and this brings everything into holistic balance. First of all I was voting against irrelevant bigots who have attempted to hijack the election and the national political agenda and turn it into a debate on immigration. They don’t need any more attention, so let’s just hope that they really underperform and, post-catastrophe, go and educate themselves and learn how to be more humane and sensible human beings.

The other thing I voted against was the Conservative government. If we want to make this election really simple, I feel it can ultimately be boiled down to this: can we take another five years of Tory-led government? The answer is ‘NO’. In fact, the answer is ‘NO NO NO’. Just thinking about it makes me sick and, feeling nervous and nauseous, I’m now going to go on a short badly-written rant to express my feelings.

I apologise for the melodramatic soapboxing and bleeding-heart pleading, but I have to put this out on the off chance that it might make a difference. (Our biggest enemies are apathy and indifference, y’know.) In brief, for five years David Cameron and his cronies have been taking the UK backwards and hurting our country and our people. Time and time again the “We’re all in this together” mantra has been exposed as a lie and I find it ironic that the party that talked so much about “Broken Britain” has continued to do its best to break this country even more. The austerity policies haven’t worked and won’t work should the party be allowed to continue down the path in the future. We’ve got to prevent that grim future. We’ve got to stop the Tories getting into power again.

They lecture, but never listen. They don’t care about public service or public services. They seek to perpetuate and push a class war that belongs in the past. They misunderstand and mismanage the things that really do matter and that will ensure this country’s wellbeing and future – namely education, healthcare and welfare. They continue to kick the most vulnerable members of society in the face and then tell them that they’re doing it for their own good and that they should be grateful. They side with big business, industry and the privileged few but have no concern or compassionate concern for the public. I could go on, but the information and statistics are out there and other people’s experiences and testimonies tell the sad story better than I can right now. Ultimately, the Conservative government has been very bad for Britain and will continue to be bad for Britain.

They are out-of-touch, out-of-time and out-of-order. We need them out of government. Please, please, please vote today and I’d urge you to use that vote wisely to ensure that we get a change of government – a government that is interested in serving the people of Britain and interested in making Britain better.

(And we can all push for proportional representation and the anarcho-socialist revolution at a later date. We have the power to make change happen, people…)