I’ve just finished reading Jane Clifton’s cover story in the Listener ‘Down with Positivity’. The article is about Barbara Ehrenreich’s research on the American experience detailed in her book ‘Smile or Die: how positive thinking fooled America and the world.
Can you extend your life by being happy? Is a cheerful outlook what is required to live a
long life? Interesting stuff, and don’t we all know some cranky old curmudgeon who led their family a not so merry dance, died at 93 and everyone said ‘good riddance’, whilst the person we adored snuffed it all too soon and left the their community shaking their heads and wondering about the existence of a just God.
Will sheer optimism and doing generous deeds attract great rewards and financial success? We’ve all watched as integrity free bankers rob their clients and institutions, spending up large on themselves whilst those who work tirelessly in the community have a 1000 to one chance of being the recipient of ‘Mucking In.’
And what about the current economic climate? We’ve all done our own version of trying to be hopeful whilst the electricity bill eats up the last of the tiny redundancy payout. ‘It’ll all work out, it’s fine’ we say as we thumb through the recipe books looking for a new way to feed a family of four on ten dollars, ‘I love trying out new recipes.’ Meatless and fatless, it’s a whole new diet plan. Just like in the war!
This has given me pause to think about honesty. A friend said yesterday that she admires the way I ‘put it all out there on my blog and say what I’m feeling.’ I don’t you know, if I did you’d all be shocked. You’d think I’d lost the plot or had a turn. You wouldn’t be happy. Or would you?
I follow a blog ‘Flux Capacitor’ by Maggie May Ethridge; her strap line is: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open " M.H. She’s a novelist, poet and mother living in the States and she tells it like it is. There’s no marketing ploy or adverts. She has 470 followers. I’m not sure I could put it all out there like Maggie May.
My husband knows the truth of me, my children think they know more than they do. My sisters know all and tell me when I’m being a pain in the arse Pollyanna and my closest girlfriends drink wine with me and keep my secrets (well at least I hope they do!). The closest I got to really telling it how it is was when we were living in Bristol in 2001 and I was still writing for Next. I sent poems and pictures back to New Zealand and a long time fan said ‘I think they should be more uplifting.’ But when you are hiding from the world under a table in the garden crying so hard your head is buzzing, with your children urging you to come out and your husband at a complete loss, well, to conjure up chirpy verse is a little difficult. I couldn’t make New Zealand readers feel better about things when my own small world was emotional rubble.
I started this blog as a way to re-show my old Next Magazine poems and illustrations, which were a fair summation of my life at the time I wrote them; the nearest I’ve got to being completely honest about my thoughts and feelings in print. Perhaps that’s why people liked them so much and the column ran for 8 years. In a poem you can say what you are feeling and no-one will pull you up on it in the same way they might for an opinionated blog post. I’m not sure why, because both of them are honest; is it because one is a form of art?
Here’s the last poem I wrote from Bristol late in 2002. It probably won’t make you chuckle, but then, I was just being truthful.
Every morning on the way to work,
I pass a homeless guy,
He sits beside the cash machine
And looks at passers by.
He has a worn out sleeping bag
Pulled up around his knees
There’s resignation in his voice
With every ‘Money please?’
And on every tube in London
There roams an immigrant
To shake a tin at passengers
And tote a small infant.
When I first came to England
I was shocked by what I saw
The streets are full of beggars;
They’re dirty and they’re poor.
But the thing that really gets me
Is now I find myself unmoved
At the sight of broken spirits
Lacking shelter, warmth and food.
Grafting in the U.K
Makes you steely and immune
It’s not a lovely attribute;
I’m glad I’m going soon.