Thursday, June 14, 2018

Things That Need to be Said

I often think that if I was to run a creative writing group I wouldn’t do it like him. It would be all about the writing, with a dash of reading thrown in and as little talking as I could get away with. Focussed! That would be my watchword.

Thursdays at the Spectrum Centre isn’t run my way. The writing gets done – the dash of writing in the few minutes left at the end of the class. The writing sometimes gets set as homework. It’s all about reading and talking, reading the homework and talking about it.

There are some things that need to be said. There are some things that get buried inside of people because there doesn’t seem to be a place to say them. The writing that is read, the homework, gives people the opportunity to say the things they need to say. The grammar, or the metaphors, or the structure of the poem or prose doesn’t always come under the critical eye.  It’s the subject matter that opens up the conversations.

It might be the damage that a storm has done, a walk beside a river or the uneasy relationship between a mother and daughter – but the conversations begin and people open up and say what they feel they cannot say anywhere else.  

I have not been going long enough or consistently enough to feel I know people well. I don’t know anyone’s life history. There are hints of things.

The tutor, him, had been challenged to write a poem about the welfare system, specifically universal credit. I don’t always understand other people’s poems. He started with the universe and black holes and dark matter. Then the poem switched to a man at the jobcentre who was declared fit to work and on the brink of losing his entitlement to benefits. He wasn’t fit but we all know about the unreliability of the tests and how many of the test results are overturned on appeal. There was a sense of bewilderment and an undertone of anger.

The poem resonated. One woman shared her own experiences of doing the test and how small it made her feel. The questions asked seemed to be at times irrelevant and at other times almost insulting. She felt she was not allowed to not answer. She also thought that how she said things, her tone, was being noted down just as much as what she said. They were the pretty people behind the desk and were allowed to ask all the questions they wanted and she wasn’t. It was demeaning.

Another lady shared how some of her benefits had been taken away – the ones relating to a child with disabilities. The money that paid for the clubs and activities that built up his confidence was no longer there.

I understand the need to take a look at the welfare system and make reforms – but sometimes the cuts are made in the wrong places.

And then, of course, there are the ones who hide their riches in off shore bank accounts and search for loopholes so they can evade paying their taxes. They call the poor shirkers while they themselves shirk their responsibility pay their fair shares. They are the pretty people, the gifted people, the wealthy people who nobody chases after. They ae the friends of the powerful who are immune from being sacked.

Where one person shared an experience, another gave advice and encouragement. The group behaved like a family giving their support.

When we got to the dash of writing and I was asked for an emotion as a random word it didn’t take long to pick one – anger. I was angry that people were being treated with so little respect.

Blue, silk, and giant hogweed joined the list of random words and we wrote for ten minutes.

The suit is made-to-measure silk.  There’s a label somewhere, no doubt, boasting a well-known brand that the rich toss about. The shade of blue has probably been carefully chosen, talked about and debated by the image makers.  It’s the precise shade of blue selected to convey summer and sunshine and a carefree mood.

The man in the made-to-measure blue suit, the blue silk suit is in truth a giant hogweed and you can’t dress a giant hogweed to make it appealing because it isn’t. It’s ugly. It’s invasive. It wasn’t planted but just arrived and bullied its way to where it is. Soft words disguised sharp elbows.

It makes me angry that he thinks he has me fooled.

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