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Sunday 17 November 2019
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Our brand of hope

The temptation to throw it out, over the banister, to look at your manuscript making its arbitrary way with the help of the wind to settle in a bit of mud here, a pothole there, a drain elsewhere –

"It has found its rightful place," one rages.

The musician sells his instrument, takes up a regular job because "this music thing is a waste of time. There is no living to be made this way."

The artist, slashes canvases of work produced over decades. This too is a luxury item, a waste of time for there is no market here. The audience is stubborn in its preference, wanting nothing that looks unfamiliar to the figurative eye. A tree should be a tree, “What is an abstract?”

After some time has passed – it can be days, it can be years – but the hand picks up a pen and the body to which it is attached walks over to the desk and sits to begin writing. The strings echo in his head and his hands miss the guitar strings. A sketchpad comes out and loose sketches find shape on a page.

For any artist, writer, musician, hopelessness is a certainty. But, despite the frustration, the seeming hopelessness, they act. They will continue to write, paint, make music in the midst of the complex combination of anger, grief and hope.

I think of hope today because I think of the murder of Raymond Choo Kong. I think of hope because the feeling of hopelessness feels heavy even while in a mere second my mind came to rest on an essay that I read just a day before the news.

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.” (Rebecca Solnit, Hope is the Embrace of the Unknown: Rebecca Solnit on Living in Dark Times)

Our brand of hope is the more common form of course – the ones that excuse us from acting. I had seen many Facebook posts celebrating Choo Kong’s life, but I couldn’t offer that sentiment at the time. I needed to quiet my anger, the instinct to lash out. I was thankful in the same breath that individuals chose not to rant but to approach this with a different focus, for to rant and rage, is to breathe life into the hopelessness that this country already feels. But I count myself out of that larger gesture this time. I have no inclination to cradle anyone’s chaos, particularly when that someone has settled into the comfortable space of accepting the role of victim and refuses to hold themselves accountable for anything. We, as a nation, are there. We are nesting, settled, comfortable playing the victims, waiting for some change in the security of the island.

I hear people speak about Gandhi’s non-violence as if it is a spiritual act that does not require us to act, not realizing that the strength of non-violence is that is based on action. It is a loud act of defiance, a mass of people rising up in full strength, full solidarity to overhaul oppression. We have not, and will not, for a long time, recognize that a mass movement can affect change because we are not yet at the point where this land is everybody’s business.

We have not yet reached that awareness that we the people have created the situation that we currently inhabit. We the people are responsible for senseless stabbings and other crimes that are happening around us. Look in the mirror. The society is you, me and everyone else around you. We shape it and we also give form to the type of governance when we let them off with some deluded idea that "it is God’s will." Well I know that God makes a few steps when we make one but I figure we conveniently forget that part. Half-truths always sound better. We are a fine shipment of Tamas as the Hindus might say and I’d say, fully qualified for this hell we have created for ourselves.

But, what do I know? A tree is a tree. It should always look like one. This is what we know, what we have always known, and what we will always know. So why you trying to sell me some abstract thing?

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