How To Find Hope In A World Falling Apart

I was contacted this week by a younger writer who wanted to know how I was able to keep writing when dealing with my own doomerism. In case you are not familiar with the term ‘doomerism’, it basically describes people who have a fatalistic and pessimistic view of the future of humanity. I’d never heard of the term but it makes perfect sense, particularly for younger people. It’s all right for the rest of us, isn’t it? Chances are, if you’re over forty, you’ve had an education, found a partner, maybe had kids, you have a home and a career and if the whole world ended tomorrow, at least you had a life for a while. At least you had the chance to experience a certain amount of things. Younger people quite rightly fear that they won’t get the chance. Everywhere you look, everything is very bad. For creative people this can be a real problem. How can you sit down and write poems or stories when you’re convinced the world will end before you get a chance to share them?

Image by Dorothe from Pixabay

To answer this, first of all let’s take a quick look at the reasons young people are experiencing doomerism.

  • Climate change – probably the biggest concern for young people today. This summer has really brought it home. Wildfires, droughts, water shortages, crop failure… These things are happening and happening on our own doorsteps. The UK is having its driest summer since 1935 and recently broke the record of highest temperature recorded when we tipped over 40 degrees. We are used to being a wet green country, not a parched dry one. Many counties here have hosepipe bans and restrictions in place and although some rain has now arrived, the dry weather is predicted to go on until October. We had a dry winter last year and if we get another one, we are in real trouble.
  • The cost of living – another worldwide issue, but one that is really affecting people right now where I live. One of the big supermarkets is about to introduce a buy now-pay later scheme for food shopping. Seriously. Wages are falling as inflation is spiralling. It is becoming impossible here for young people to rent a home, let alone buy one. Our money is not even stretching to cover the basics which means more and more people are working just to live and life should not be like that. It’s depressing. Especially for young people.
  • Fuel crisis – whichever way you look at it, we are in trouble. The big companies are raking in record profits while UK households are seeing their bills soar to levels that will be simply unaffordable for most. The war in Ukraine has added to the problem with some European countries planning to ration gas amid fears of power shortages and cuts.
  • Threat of nuclear war – We haven’t been this close to possible nuclear war since the 1980’s and it’s terrifying.

I could probably go on! But I think the list above covers the big ones and hints towards their implications such as food shortages, famine, decimation and extinction of wildlife, recession…

So, not a lot to feel hopeful about maybe? And how the hell could anyone put pen to paper with all this fear running around their head? I mean, with this shit to look forward, why put an effort into anything? It’s all pointless, right?

Nope.

Not to me. And here is why.

  1. You are alive. Whether your life is what you imagined or hoped it would be, whether everything feels hopeless or not, whether you are rich or poor, fat or thin, tall or short, you are alive. You exist. You are here. You didn’t get flushed down the toilet, you weren’t lost to a miscarriage, you didn’t die in the womb or when being born, or as an infant. None of us know how much time we have here but while we have it, we ought to grab it with both hands and make the most of it. Easier said than done, I know, but every now and then just think about it. You are alive. You are the only you. No one else like you has ever existed and no one else ever will. You are a one off.
  2. You are young. A lot can happen in a short time. A lot can happen in a lifetime. It sucks to be born in such a turbulent times but people have been born in worse times. Don’t let it beat you. Refuse to. Fight back any way you can. Be resilient. Be tough as hell. You deserve a life and to be happy just like the rest of us. You haven’t got it as easy as previous generations but you can change it.
  3. Economic and societal systems change. They have before and they will again. We are currently, in my view, at the end stage of capitalism. It’s eating itself and destroying the planet and it can’t go on much longer. But we used to live under other systems and we can do again. Nothing stays forever. Everything has its time and then time moves on. I think we are in for a lot of chaos due to capitalism, what it has done to the planet and to us, but something else will emerge because it always does.
  4. It gets worse before it gets better. I truly believe this. Sadly, humans seem to have to let things get really, really bad before they wake up to what is going on and start to demand change. That’s far harder when the establishment control most of the media but eventually people’s lives become so opposite to what the media is peddling, that they realise they have been duped. This is happening right now with people waking up to the fact energy and water companies should never have been privatised and run for profit. It might take a while to change things to help people, but it all starts with public opinion shifting and it is.
  5. When things are scary, knowledge is power. I like to know what is going on so that I can prepare for the worst case scenario. I’m not exactly a dooms day prepper. I don’t have an underground bunker, weapons or a hazmat suit stashed in the wardrobe, but I do like to be prepared as much as I can. It makes me feel better, less helpless. When Russia invaded Ukraine and there was fearful talk of a nuclear war, I started researching how to survive one. I keep a survival notebook full of tips on how to find water, filtrate and sterilise it, different ways to start fires, build shelters, and so on. I add to it all the time. Anything that might be handy. I buy more basic foods than I need just to keep up a good supply. It might be useless, it might be nowhere near enough, but it is something and it is better than doing nothing because it makes me feel less helpless. One major thing everyone should get to grips with right now is growing their own food and collecting their own water. Hopefully this record breaking summer has woken people up to that.
  6. Words can change the world. Think about the power of words and books to change the world and shift opinions. It’s staggering. Stories are what bring us together and stories help humans interpret the world and respond to it. Writing and other creative pursuits are so important during difficult times. As a writer, you have the power to hold a mirror up to society and let people know what is going on.
  7. Writing is therapeutic. It really is! But you have to do it and commit to sticking to it to really feel the benefits. If you give up on writing or allow doomerism to put you off and consider it pointless, then you’re going to feel even worse. Writing can help you, so let it. Write about your fears, your hopes, your anger, your disappointment. Pour your thoughts, emotions and dreams into characters and stories that will carry the weight for you.
  8. Writing allows an escape. Just like reading, when times are tough, writing allows you an escape into another world. I love my other worlds and I feel the longing to escape to them whenever I’ve had a stressful day. Those worlds are your creations and you can control them and vanish into them any time you like.
  9. Don’t lose hope. Despite everything, we have to hold on to hope. Sometimes it feels like the world is full of bad people and not worth saving but I think tough times bring out the best in people; something more primal and ancient emerges when our backs are against the wall. I always remember a quote I once came across that said whenever you see a tragedy, look for the people who are helping. It’s simple but true. Cars crash on the road, people stop, phone the emergency services, run in to help if they can. Natural disasters occur and people rush in to save strangers. Everywhere that something terrible happens, you will see ordinary people helping others. It is in our instincts to help and protect each other and I still believe that most people are good.
  10. Fight back. Join a political party that shares your concerns for the future. Volunteer, spread the word, or just bring up the conversation with your family, workmates or in your place of education. Conversations need to be had about where we are all going so why not start them? You might just make a few people think about it for the first time. In short, if you give up, the bad guys win and we can’t let them do that.

I hope this is a helpful list to any young people feeling understandably anxious about the future right now. Is there anything you would add to it? Feel free to comment and share!

The Tree Of Rebels and Disconnection From Nature

So it’s finally here! The day has finally arrived! Sometimes when in the middle of writing and rewriting and crafting a book, publication day can feel like an impossibility. Something so far in the future it feels like it will never happen. The Tree Of Rebels felt like an impossible thing more than once. This was a very tough book to write and one I had a constant love/hate relationship with. It’s very different from my other books and I wrote it with an audience in mind, something I’d never done before.

As I’ve mentioned before, the seed of this book was sown while scrolling through Facebook one day. I’d kept seeing these petitions to sign to stop Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but what I did read and digest alarmed me and got the cogs turning in my head. I’ve often thought about nature and who owns it. Have you ever walked through the woods or across a field, only to be stopped by a fence and a Private Property sign? Have you ever stood on a high hill and looked down at the landscape and realised how restricted our movements actually are? How the paths and roads have been laid out for you and how signs and fences stop us roaming as we once did?

The more I thought about large corporations owning seeds and nature and having that control over the food chain, the more I imagined a frightening dystopian world where growing your own food is banned. This might seem like a far fetched idea right now, but for some people this is already becoming a reality. Believe it or not, there are places in America where people are not allowed to have backyard gardens or chickens. Where people can be arrested for attempting to gather rainwater. The frightening future is already on its way…

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Distrustful of GMO’s, hormones in meat, anti-biotics in milk and pesticides on fruit and vegetable, more and more people are turning to growing their own food. Self-sufficiency is becoming popular again, and you can’t deny this is a form of rebellion, of taking back control. It’s vital for our planet too. The meat and dairy industry is literally killing the earth.

Dystopian future in mind, I already knew I wanted to write a young adult book. The protagonist, 13-year-old Lissie had been evolving in my imagination for some time, and now she finally had a place to play and grow. The book undoubtedly evolved into something more than I had envisioned. It’s not just about seeds or a post-apocalyptic future, it’s about rebellion, questioning the status quo, defying your parents and searching for the truth, no matter who it hurts. All classic issues in the complicated journey of growing up.

But one of the main messages I hope people pick up from this book if they do indeed pick up any is the consequences of becoming disconnected from nature.

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. A head in the clouds type of girl. I love nothing more than a walk down the lane, to the river, or across the fields, the common, or the woods. Something special happens to us when we are in nature, when we walk barefoot upon the earth, when we touch trees, smell leaves and view flowers and wild animals. Sometimes I think I might be a bit odd. I have very strong urges to touch and hug trees. They call to me, they really do. Once I lay my hand on the trunk of an ancient Oak, I find it very hard to pull away. I can’t get over the fact they are helping me to breathe! They are eating pollution. Without them, we would all die. The same goes for the humble bee and other vital pollinators. We simply cannot afford to ignore nature. We are nature. And I truly worry that many of us have forgotten.

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Where I live is very beautiful, but I fear that others do not see it. When they race their cars down the narrow lane and hurl their rubbish into the bushes, I fear they never linger long enough to see the beauty and majesty of the trees. I fear they have no clue that they would die if the trees were not there. I’m fascinated by the unseen lives of birds, insects, and animals. I’ll stare at birds in the sky, watching their flight, hearing their cry, wondering where they are going and where they live and what they do. I want to know. I want to be part of their world. Sometimes I feel like I am trespassing. Especially come dusk when the bats start circling and the owls start hooting. This is their time, not mine. How they must despise us, I often think.

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I think the thing we are often missing is gratitude and wonder. I am in awe of nature which makes me want to protect and nurture it. Sadly, others just don’t see it at all. In truth, this means they do not see themselves. They are disconnected from it, therefore they don’t care about it or appreciate it. If you don’t care about something, or see the value in it, you’re not going to go out of your way to protect it, are you?

In Lissie’s world, the people are taken care of. They are housed and fed and educated and worked. There is no war or violence. They have returned to traditional ways, fearful of the technological world that enabled war and destruction to almost wipe out the entire human race. But in order to keep them contained, the people are separate from nature. Food is grown and delivered to them. Animals are raised in domes . Unwanted plants are circled and torn up. Wild animals are feared and killed. They know very little of the natural world. And this is all sold to them as the perfect world. A society without war and hunger and homelessness. A safe, sheltered, catered for life. It’s Lissie who resists this version of life and strives to find out more about the outside world. A true rebel, spurred on by the dying words of her Great-Grandmother, she seeks the truth. What happened to the Old World? Who destroyed it and why?

Please feel free to leave a comment! What are your fears for the future? Do you enjoy reading post-apocalyptic or dystopian books, and if so why? How do you feel about the issues of humans becoming disconnected from nature? What can we do about any of it? I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

Take What Tortures You And Write About It

I’ve got a confession to make. Just lately I’ve been suffering from a strange, and as far as I know, nameless, affliction. The only way I can describe it to you is by asking you to recall the feeling you get in your stomach just before you sit an important exam. You know, that lurch, that turnover, that horrible tightness that takes your breath away for a moment? Yeah, that.

I first noticed it happening whenever I thought about my writing. The things I had planned to do once my littlest child was in bed. I put it down to a sort of nervous excitement, and a borderline panic about how little time there is to write all the things I have in my head.

Then I noticed it happened at other times too. Just randomly. My stomach dropping, lurching and rolling over.

So, then I blamed it on something else. I’ve always been interested and engaged in political thought and debate, but even more so in recent years. This is not a bad thing, but then it gets to the point where you are feeling angry and helpless all of the time. Post Brexit was pretty bad. It’s all pretty bad. Climate change. Inequality. Housing crisis. A rise in racism and hate crime. Endless war. The fact we’re being organised and dictated to by massive corporations hellbent on destroying the world. The fact you cannot trust the media to tell you the truth.

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So, I made the decision to delete Facebook from my phone. Something I never thought I would do! I was getting seriously addicted. Picking it up to check my newsfeed first thing in the morning, and pretty much every chance I got throughout the day after that.

I did feel an immediate sense of relief. That first morning stomach lurch dissipated. I picked up a book instead. I no longer check my phone throughout the day because there is nothing to check. I have a quick scroll through Facebook in the evening, once I have done enough work to deserve a little break, and I’m sad to say it’s still the same. The violence rages  on, the world gets hotter and there seem to be angry and ignorant people everywhere.

I did feel a sense of relief and freedom for a while. But that feeling in my stomach has not gone away. In fact, I am getting it more often. Maybe it is because I’ve become aware of it, nervous of it even? Confused by it, and as a consequence, fixated on it? I don’t know, but it is strange, and  very annoying. Sometimes it takes my breath away. I have to stop, hold onto something and take a very deep and deliberate breath. And then I am okay again.

I can’t blame anything in my personal life. Everything is as it should be. Everyone is in perfect health. Money is tight, but it’s never been any different at any time in my life. We have a lovely home and a huge garden. We grow our own fruit and vegetables and raise chickens and ducks. We’re outside, a lot! I’ve got my four beautiful, intelligent children, and yes they come with their own issues, and yes being a parent is sometimes stressful and exhausting. But I’m a placid, easy going sort of person. I roll with the punches. I look back on the past fondly, I focus on the now, and I don’t look too far ahead,(unless it’s my saving up for a VW Campervan.)

So why the bad feeling? What does it mean? What is it trying to tell me? I just can’t work it out. It takes me by surprise at random times of the day, creeping up and sucking the air out of me, crunching up my guts and making me think I have forgotten something important. Am I about to sit an exam? Am I about to confront some scary, aggressive person? What is it??

I don’t know, and maybe I will never know. Maybe it built up over time and my stomach got so used to being tied up in knots, it just doesn’t know how not to be. All I can do right now is try to make use of it. I wrote a short story you can find in Bird People And Other Stories called She Is… I wrote this story to keep a novel at bay, and I’ve started writing a second short story with the same characters. Basically the story is about teenage girls, bullying and revenge, but the narrator describes this constant heavy feeling in her belly. She wakes up with it, and it comes and goes throughout the day. Of course, this came from me and my own experience, and I’ve carried it on into the next story. In her mind, it’s because something bad is going to happen, she just doesn’t know what or when. It’s a sense of foreboding for her, a warning from her body.

My fears for the way the world is heading, my fight to find hope, my questions about human nature, have all been rolled out and examined in Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. (On the third draft now) I didn’t even realise I was doing it at first, but I’ve poured so much of my current state of mind into this story-line. Elliot is the child in me, the hopeful innocent looking for the good in people. His mother Laura is the cynic in me, (exaggerated a fair bit! )Through her I get to rant and rave, I get to swear and scream at the cruelty and injustice in the world. I get to indulge myself in misery and cynicism, fearing the worst and totally giving in to it. I get to hide under a duvet and pretend it’s not happening.

In The Mess Of Me Lou is the voice for my own teenage angst and body issues. She is louder and brasher than me, able to say things I was not.

In recent short stories I have released endless frustrations and anxieties. From my utter dismay that people think it’s okay to dump rubbish in the river where I live, to my constant paranoia that one day soon the Earth is just going to snap, just going to cull us all in one bloody swoop, freeing itself at last. I honestly don’t know how I would cope with this world if I were not a writer!

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I think this is the best and sometimes the only thing we can do with something that tortures us. Use it, write about it, pass it on to a fictional character. Maybe this is one way to eventually rid yourself of it! Or at least gain a better understanding of it. I think writers do this all the time, often without even realising it. We project our fears and anxieties onto made up people, into made up worlds. So it’s not us with the problem, it’s someone else.

And then, we feel like we have some control. We can direct the proceedings, we can work out what the problem is, we can send the character on a journey and we can even create a happy ending 🙂 I truly think this ability is one of the greatest things about being a writer.

What about you? Please feel free to leave a comment!