More on hair later (it’s a fairly long read…).
For now some reflection on the last few months. My twitter feed @gletherby and Facebook account is full of grief and anger and has been since the middle of December 2019. The general election result; Brexit; the Coronavirus pandemic; the leak of a report that, if true, means that senior figures in UK Labour not only worked against the Party during the 2017 general election but also regularly engaged in racist, sexist and violence based ‘banter; whilst talking about Labour MPs, activists and pro-Jeremy Corbyn members; have distressed and enraged many of us.
Corbyn’s decision and announcement to step down as leader of Labour led me, and I know many others, to experience real grief. Grief for the loss of a government truly focused on equality, social justice, the sustainability of the planet, peace... On April 4th 2020 when Keir Starmer changed his twitter bio to ‘Leader of the Labour Party’ the felt pain of what might have been was palpable (more on Labour under Starmer another day).
Not wishing to boast I’d suggest that I’m something of an expert on grief. My adult life has been peppered by experiences that following Michael Bury (1982: 169) we might call ‘biographical disruption’: when ‘the structures of everyday life and the forms of knowledge which underpin them’ are disrupted, if only for a time. My father Ron died when I was 20 years old, I miscarried my only (to my knowledge) biological child in my mid-twenties and was divorced from my first husband in my early thirties. My relationship with my second husband John was happy but hard work given his many years of illness. When John died more than a decade ago (February 2010) when I was in my very early fifties he was estranged from his two sons who remain estranged (their choice) from me, even though John had sole custody and they lived with and were cared for by the two of us during their teenage years and into early adulthood. In January 2012 the person who was my main support and source of comfort throughout all of these experiences – my mum, Dorothy – died. In addition, other extended family members and close friends have died over the years and, along with others, I grieve at the tragic and unnecessary deaths of those I have never met; in recent years Grenfell is relevant here in addition to the current Coronavirus pandemic. (I have written about some of these issues elsewhere (e.g. Letherby 2015, Brennan and Letherby 2017, and http://arwenackcerebrals.blogspot.com/2018/04/84-men-millicent-mary-jesus-and.htmll )
In the mid-1980s feeling unable to continue my job as a nursery nurse following my miscarriage I looked for something to fill my time with an A' Level in Sociology helping to do this. Some of my research and writing in the 34 years since has focused on issues of death and loss (as relevant to death and more generally). Like others I have argued that bereavement, the overall experience of grief, is multidimensional and embodied as it is a personal, social, political, intellectual, emotional and bodily experience (e.g. Tanner, 2006; Gudmundsdottir, 2009, Letherby 2015, Davidson and Letherby 2020). My own experience of bereavement has brought home to me the impact that such loss can have on one’s body. I have heard grief described as being like a punch in the stomach or a series of waves washing over a person. I can relate to each of these examples but for me grief is more like walking up a steep hill, it is hard going and the pinnacle seems far way: the walk is tough. Sometimes you slip back, sometimes you need to rest, sometimes you feel sure you’ll make it to the top, sometimes you are convinced you never will.
‘Griefwork’ is a sociological concept developed by Deborah Davidson (e.g. see Davidson 2008) where the work of grieving is shared and negotiated between and among grieving persons and supportive others, rather than the work done alone as in grief work, a psychological concept. This is relevant, I think, to the political losses of the last few months as like-minded others have come together – both face-to-face and online (increasingly so in the last month or so) - to share feelings, reflect and regroup. This has led to a raft of blog articles, articles in Left leaning publications (mostly, but not exclusively in what’s known as alternative media), events (many online), grass-roots activism and action. The latter includes projects specifically to address the ravages of political austerity and others focusing on political education. Following the general election loss and the increasing marginalisation of a socialist agenda in Labour such activity is helpful. Emotions are still raw though and we haven't (and still don't) always agree in our analyses of what went wrong and what we should do next.
In January I wrote (in 18 tweets):
@gletherby (28/01/20) I was in London the day after #GE19 and spent much of it in tears, even whilst wandering round the shops, in a failing attempt to distract myself from the horror of it all. Like many I am experiencing the aftermath of Labour’s, of OUR, defeat as a bereavement. I didn’t think it could get any worse. It has. This morning I was blocked (here on Twitter) by someone I’ve been following & who has been following me for several years. A fellow socialist. Like others I expected the bigots to be emboldened by the election result. They have been. Like others I expected the attacks on Corbyn & his supporters to increase. They have. What I didn’t expect was the cross words we would have with each other about who to blame for the suffering that so many are experiencing under the hateful Tory govt.
On Saturday I tweeted about my distress at the number (growing I think) of attacks on working class Tory voters. It prompted much debate. Some folk agreed with me, others justified their different view. I must admit to being a tad bruised by some (a minority) of responses. But basically it’s fine. We need to debate to move forward, to do better, to win. So, although some might think me foolish to continue & some will still disagree I have to carry on, not least because I feel sick when I see folk describe their neighbours as ’selfish class traitors’ who ‘deserve all they f*cking get’. Just a few reasons why:
- In fact only 3 out of 10 W/C voters voted Tory, despite what the MSM tells us (although I accept others stayed away from the ballot box).
- 19 our of 20 constituencies where child poverty is the highest are STILL represented by Labour MPs.
- The mainstream media have championed a propaganda war against Corbyn since 2015 & a report by Loughborough Uni shows how that was massively ramped up in Nov/Dec 2019. It was not just the words spoken and written but other, not so subtle to the informed, but influential to the less politically aware, tactics. One example: Remember that tweet by Robert Peston LIKE for ‘Boris’, RETWEET for ‘Corbyn’ (frowning & complete with ‘Commie’ hat), COMMENT for ‘Jo’. Ummmm.
From all this and more, much more, it’s clear that many, many people, really did not know who/what they were voting for: ‘Boris good, Corbyn bad’ (the complete opposite of what we know to be true) was the dominant message.
- The CONS cheated on social media with dark adds on Facebook and, not least, by changing their twitter account to a (false) ‘fact checker’ during leadership debates.
- Johnson’s soundbite ‘Get Brexit Done’, although a falsehood, was simple & effective, not least because LAB’s message was unclear to some (partly the media’s fault, partly the fault of some of our own MPs, including some in the Shadow Cabinet) & unpalatable to many who felt that we had back-tracked on a previous pledge (again PLP & some shad cab members were complicit).
- The Labour vote in ‘left behind communities’ has been dropping for decades: #GE17 was the blip.
- Johnson was able to build on his image as a ‘lovable buffoon’ (I know) and the lack of scrutiny, hiding in fridges, his horrific views etc. added to the view of him as a maverick, as ‘Boris’ not Johnson.
ADD to ALL this a couple more points:
-Surely if we blame those that are largely powerless, even if they do have views we disagree with, deplore even, aren’t we playing into the hands of the powerful, the establishment, the media, the wealthy Tory Party donors, Johnson himself…?
- Given that as Corbyn supporters we support his view of the need to ‘defend the principles of a society that cares for everyone & everyone cares for everyone else’ isn’t it our responsibility to take the lead on this; to fight for equality and social justice for all, ALL? We can be sure that if we don’t, nobody else will.
- AND finally (for now) if we attack people how can we hope that they will listen, re/consider, vote Labour ever again?
I for one am very excited about the recent reports that Jeremy Corbyn is making plans on how to continue his work on tackling inequality, working for peace & for the stability of our planet. I’ve also heard that he is concerned to develop effective political education which we so need. I think, hope, we can all be part of this; as learners and as teachers, and learners again. For that to work though we need to keep talking, sharing, struggling together…
Whatever our position, our leanings, our preferences, though I think it’s fair to say that the last few months, and indeed the last few years, have been bruising. As someone once said ‘They don’t call it the struggle for nothing’. So, when my hair began to fall out (‘at last she gets to hair’ I imagine you thinking) at an alarming rate in the summer of 2019 I could only nod when my GP asked if I’d ‘been under any stress’ and given that Jeremy Corbyn gets blamed for everything …. (I don’t blame him obviously but I couldn’t resist the title). I did the things that she, my hairdresser, and the internet suggested: ate (more) bananas and eggs, changed my shampoo, grew out the dye (I like the grey), took an extra supplement or two and tried not to worry about it too much. Things seemed to settle down. And then came the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. I’ve been home alone for five weeks now). I have plenty to do (fortunately I can work at home and there’s always other writing, and books to read, and Netflix and spring cleaning…) but my motivation wanes quite often. I volunteer and although I am still able to assist the organisation from a distance self-isolating means I can not do as much as I usually do and this upsets me. I have lots of support and virtual company but I’m a tactile person and I miss hugs the most. At the weekend I went out for a walk, the first for a couple of weeks and, very unusually for me, I felt anxious the whole time. Since then I’ve been out every day and feel a little better for it. So, despite having plenty to do, people to talk to, and the sea to visit (I do appreciate how lucky I am) like many others I’m finding self-isolation challenging at times. Perhaps not surprisingly then, I’ve started to shed hair again and this time it’s accompanied by the eczema I occasionally suffered from when younger.
Having grown up in a loving but, at times financially lean, family I do acknowledge and I am grateful for, my privilege; my comfy home, my full food cupboards and more…. But, from my own experience and those of others not so well off (in some or all ways) at times of political and social change, upset, crisis, I would strongly suggest that it is OK NOT TO BE OK. One of the most upsetting, and, I think, irresponsible, trends during #Lockdown has been the ‘If you haven’t…’ statements. You know the sort:
‘If you haven’t learnt a new language / acquired more knowledge / got fitter / honed the skill that’s always alluded you … during #lockdown it wasn’t that you didn’t have the time, it's that you didn't have the motivation.’
With this in mind I’ve written a poem.
Now's a good a time to learn to touch my toes,
Now's a good time to strike a new pose.
Now's a good time to learn to bake and sew and drill and saw,
Now's a good a time to clean out the cupboards or empty a drawer.
From home-schooling to zooming,
Hair-cuts and self-grooming.
Some learning new languages others writing books,
There’s lists of achievements wherever one looks.
But, if just getting by is all you can do,
Get up, eat a meal, watch a programme or two.
Do what you can to cope with this time,
Do what you must; that’s your quest and mine.
That’s it, for now.
Thanks for reading.
Stay as safe as you can.
Brennan, M. and Letherby, G. (2017) ‘Auto/Biographical Approaches to Researching Death and Bereavement: connections, continuums, contrasts’ for Morality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 22(2)
Bury, M. (1982) ‘Chronic Illness as Biographical Disruption’ Sociology of Health and Illness 13(45)
Davidson, D. (2008). A Technology of care: Caregiver response to perinatal loss. Women’s Studies International Forum, 31(4)
Davidson, D. and Letherby, G. (2020) ‘Reflections on a Collaborative, Creative ‘Working’ Relationship’ in Parsons, J. and Chappell, A. (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Auto/Biography (Auto/Biographical Creativity and Collaboration, Section Editor Letherby, G.) London: Palgrave
Gudmundsdottir, M. (2009). Embodied grief: bereaved parents’ narratives of their suffering body. Omega 59(3)
Letherby, G. (2015) ‘Bathwater, Babies and Other Losses: A Personal and Academic Story’ Mortality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 20:2
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