Friday 3 February 2017

Of Hugs and Hope | Today’s Bit of Positive Thinking

What happens when humans hug
I posted this picture (from @RealBanksy on twitter) on my Facebook timeline a couple of days ago. It didn’t attract many likes. I was disappointed as in these turbulent, and often frightening, times this image feels, to me, like a beautiful symbol of love and hope. My writing at the moment is going through what could be called a dark phase. Like others I’m anxious and angry about the injustices and inequalities that dominated 2016 and continue into 2017. In my latest piece (Finding Tory OR Whoops There Goes Our NHS (and our social care, our jobs, our human rights and so on and so on and so on) | Everyday Life in a Secret, Sneaky Society) which I finished, and posted on this blog earlier today (I hope you decide to read it) my focus was cuts, misinformation (and lies), distraction and the need to keep fighting. I have decided that - not least for the sake of my health, my head and my heart – that sometimes I need to focus on, and write about issues and experiences, that make me feel happier and, at least a little, positive.

Despite recent evidence to the contrary I don’t just spend all of my time obsessing about P/politics. Having left full time university work at the end of 2014 I now work freelance and in the last 15 days I have travelled from my home in south Cornwall to Aberdeen, Bath, Coventry and Plymouth. Next week I’ll be in Belfast and Greenwich. I have moderated undergraduate coursework, finished the first draft of a collaboratively written academic article, done some administration for a journal I co-edit, reviewed a book proposal, examined three PhDs and attended several meetings. I feel lucky to have such interesting work, I am privileged to work with so many engaging people. On Monday of this week I helped a friend plan a funeral (I’m also a qualified Civil Celebrant) for a friend of his and I attended an information evening for a charity that provides support to people in emotional need. I hope to be accepted as a volunteer. In the last couple of weeks a couple of people have been rude to me, but many others have smiled at me, or kissed me, or shown me a kindness. At the weekend (see Grief and Loss, Emotional and Material Concerns | Part Memoir, Part Rant (also this blog)) a dear friend drove me to the graveyard where my parents are buried close to the anniversary dates of both of their deaths. Yesterday the same friend and I went to the cinema. We chatted before and after the film and laughed and cried a little during the showing. A few days ago I spent a delicious couple of hours chatting to another lovely friend whilst her five week old daughter slept and gently snorted on my right shoulder. On Twitter and Facebook supportive words from new and long established friends have made me smile and given me confidence. On trains and in shops greetings and brief exchanges have brightened my day. I am warmed by and grateful for such experiences and encounters. 

During my mum’s final illness at the turn of 2011/2012 I wrote a short story entitled Normal Hugs. It was one of my first attempts at fiction and I make no claims to quality. This week though I’ve found myself thinking about it again and include some excerpts here:  

As she drives away from the school Liz finds herself thinking back to an article she read in the paper a few days ago. A normal hug lasts just about three seconds apparently. Any less and it’s not really a hug, doesn’t convey the right amount of affection or concern; any more and the recipient, if not the giver, of the hug begins to feel uncomfortable. She has always hated the word normal and makes it a personal quest to challenge the norm when she can….

… a coffee with her friend Gill in town. An event bound to cheer her up. Sipping a skinny cappuccino at Belle’s whilst she waits, having arrived 15 minutes before she knows Gill will, Liz finds herself watching the other café dwellers. There are several rendezvous. A couple of men in suits shake hands, hitch up their trousers and huddle over espressos and a laptop. Two sets of 30 and 40 something women kiss, hug (for just less than three seconds Liz estimates) and settle over their various milky coffees to chat. An older woman rises to greet a younger woman and an almost school age child. These intergenerational greetings she finds the most interesting: a hug for the woman, ‘normal’ again (Liz imagines the single quotation marks in her head) but a tight squeeze and a rain of kisses for the girl which make her squeal with delight....

Her shift [as a librarian] passes quickly and as ever is full of variety. She does a stint on the desk, talks to several regulars, gives recommendations to readers from a number of generations and spends some time cataloguing. There is plenty of time for her hug research also and she is struck by just how common hugging is. As in the coffee shop and the gym women are more likely to be both the givers and recipients of hugs. She wonders when it became so commonplace, when close physical contact became so popular in a country whose inhabitants have a reputation for being stiff and undemonstrative. She concludes that perhaps it is the result of North American influences and a shadowing of behaviours in movies and television programmes. Whatever, she decides she likes to see and experience it as a form of greeting, of farewell or of spontaneous affection. She is the happy recipient of a few hugs herself during the afternoon. The first is from a woman, a new visitor to the library, who tried the three bookshops in town first. The talking book she wants is available for loan from the library and when Liz finds it for her the woman smiles brightly and briefly clasps her to her chest. Following the three pm story book session a couple of the pre-schoolers thank Liz with hugs as does one of their mothers who is herself an old friend….

I appreciate, of course I do, that such connection can be unwanted and/or used to manipulate. Later in the story I wrote:

Driving home she passes the railway station and stopped in traffic she sees an advert for various railcards all promising a percentage cost off hugs to the lucky owner. How strange that she should see this today of all days. Again, as on the birthday cards she saw earlier, there are figures frozen in a perpetual clinch. But this time it is people caught by the click of a camera rather than sweet and slightly sickly images drawn by Hallmark, and similar, employees. There are parents and their children, grandparents and grandchildren, friends, lovers. She realises of course that these images are as staged as the ones on greetings cards and that the depicted adults and children are likely to be actors, paid for their time….

I know too that such behaviour is not a panacea for the social, material and political unfairness, oppression and horror in our society and more globally. I know that hugging a Fascist isn’t the solution, or even something that we might want to risk. But, small acts of kindness, small displays of affection can help us all, whether accompanied or not by physical touch, whether face-to-face or through other forms of communication.

Here’s to more of it. And although I’m not suggesting that we should wait for it before we act Random Acts of Kindness Week begins on February the 12th

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