Salena Godden’s fourth episode of ‘Pessimism is for Lightweights’ warns of the dangers of too much bad news and the need for hope.

This week I have been thinking about the way I feed my head. The information and stories and art and colours you feed yourself define you, shape your thinking, change your mood. How much bad news are you taking in? Compared to how much art and poetry and beauty?

I’m guessing you are like me and you are ingesting mostly bad news. You are in conflict, torn between wanting to be informed and also not wanting to be dragged into fear-mongering click bait articles designed to sell you things.

Apocalyptic Films and TV

What about TV? Do you watch much television? I don’t watch it like I used to. None of us do. I choose to follow certain programmes, dramas, thrillers, box sets. I watch psychos on killing sprees to relax. I watch apocalyptic films and stories about the end of the world to maybe forget about the end of the world. 

When I was a girl and a young poet I recall meeting an author who believed the short stories they wrote came true.

I have been following BBC’s Years and Years, but I am worried, I’m not sure how good this programme is for my psyche. For those that don’t watch it, it is a vaguely dystopian family drama set in the not too distant future. I enjoy it, I love the pace, the scripts and the cast is phenomenal.

Emma Thompson is superb, she plays a mean role as a far right prime minister. A bit like House of Cards, Claire Underwood, but much more believable with her disarming northern charm which terrifies me. If this was real life and I had to pick a side in the cast, I guess I’d lean mostly to the characters played brilliantly by the superb Jessica Hynes and Sharon Duncan Brewster, those two signify to me the role of the rebel, the dreamer and the story teller.

Notice there how I have said ‘if this was real life’ plus notice also that I’m picking sides watching this. Are we all doing this? Are we all already there? I mean, are we in the mindset of picking sides and alignment. Maybe we watch programmes like this just so we can say to ourselves, what would I do? How would I react? How far would I go to survive? What is your price?


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Are we already imagining the worst and by doing so are we already putting energy into visualising the part we will play in the totalitarian horror film that has already started – Are you survivor or victim? Can you hot wire a car? Do you know how to sew up a bullet wound and stop it bleeding? How long can you hold your breath under water? Do you know how computers work? Do you know your friends and families phone numbers off by heart? What do you bring to the fight and what is in your skill set to survive an oncoming apocalypse? I do poetry and drink rum, that’s my skill set and it’s rubbish really isn’t it.

I would like an apocalyptic story where the apocalypse is averted

I watch the news unfold, I watch TV, I am watching exaggerations of worse case scenarios and I feel utterly useless. I feel useless watching these entertainments and the actual news, both give me the same feeling – I am useless. They make me feel that we are corrupted and doomed, we have gone too far and nothing can be done.

The episode of Years and Years I watched last night was set in 2028. A world in constant and escalating war and rain and floods. Horrendous migration crisis. Concentration camps for the burgeoning supply of the displaced and homeless and refugees of climate crisis and war and catastrophe. A time when healthcare is only for the wealthy. A world of walls and segregation between the haves and the have-nots. Waking up this morning I am unsettled, unsure if I watched a fact or a fiction. There is a very fine line between what is happening right now – Hong Kong for one example – and what I watched on TV in a fictional story last night.

Finding a Better Story

So what do we do about these feelings of inadequacy. These feelings that our efforts don’t count and our votes don’t matter? Where do we put all this hopelessness. This dangerous apathy. I mean, we absorb it and so it must lurk and remain somewhere in our unconscious. I’m curious what ist that glues me to the screen, what am I scrolling for? What am I seeking? And as I write that sentence, right now, I realise I am looking for a glimmer of light and hope. I am looking for a hero. I seek solutions. And if this is so then why aren’t there more good endings.

I do poetry and drink rum, that’s my skill set and it’s rubbish really isn’t it.

These films I watch, these programmes are all bereft of heroes. I would like an apocalyptic story where the apocalypse is averted. A story where they find cures and meaning. A story where the elephants and tigers and giraffes and turtles are saved. A time where we overthrow really bad ideas that didn’t work in the past. A world where we overcome and learn and grow and survive? I want to think about our love of the world, our connection to each other and to our nature.

I want to envision a world, a not too distant future, where we invest in an idea that humans survive and nurture each other and the planet. A time where caring is cool again and loving each other is a good thing. But, I guess that just isn’t a drama, a gripping story, I guess there is no storyline without conflict, bad versus evil, without the same story of the rich getting richer and ignoring the plights of the poor and the sick. That is the story we invest in, the loop we go around in, and that’s all a bit rubbish isn’t it.

Words of The Week

With fresh hope and new ideas comes new language and with new stories we need new words. I have been looking for words I like, words that express how I have been feeling. My word of the week is BIOPHILIA. I like it, I keep whispering it under my breath, it has struck me as a powerful word. It is a good word that comes with the idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. The idea that humans have an innate and genetically determined affinity with the natural world.

And there are more words I am finding, in a new study, Australian sustainability professor Glenn Albrecht has coined the term ECOAGNOSY a term created to describe environmental ignorance or indifference to the ecology. And also SOLASTALGIA a word to describe the psychic pain of climate change and missing a home that’s transforming before your eyes. 

Come meet Salena at this summer’s Byline Festival

George Orwell

It is June 2019 and this month marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of the book 1984 and also we mark the birthday of George Orwell who was born June 25th 1903. I share my birthday with Orwell and have always been drawn to his work – my favourite is his memoir Down and Out In Paris and London – 1984 was a literary fiction not an instruction manual. How disappointed he might be that we still write a bleak story of our lives, how right and wrong he was.

I want to leave you with this:

When I was a girl and a young poet I recall meeting an author who believed the short stories they wrote came true. I never forgot this conversation because even to this day I don’t know why they never wrote a story where they got the girl or won the prize or where something good happened to them. I still ponder about this today, we are powerful in our stories and the words we share, why aren’t we writing a better ending for us all?

Next Performance

HUH: Saturday June 22, The Roundhouse. Following on from sell-out shows at LSO St Lukes and The Albany theatre, I’m looking forward to working on a new version of HUH with the extraordinary composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman. I’m also dead excited to be returning to The Roundhouse for the Last Word Festival which is always a highlight of the summer calendar. I will perform my collaboration with Jasmin, ‘The Letter’with the orchestra. The show also features excerpts from ‘Shade’ (The Good Immigrant). Plus we have a few surprises up our sleeves too…   

This very special HUH, Last Word Festival at the Roundhouse, will feature super star performances from the glorious Errollyn Wallen’s haunting song In Our Lifetime, inspired by Nelson Mandela’s prison release. Fabulous Sophia Thakur and Kieron Rennie.  New collaborations featuring the mesmerising Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Solomon O.B bring together rap, classical music and electronica. It is gonna be off the hook! 

Salena Godden is the poet laureate for Byline Festival ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights, 13 pieces of courage and resistance’ is published by Rough Trade Books

Book tickets to the Last Word festival via the Roundhouse:

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