An audio version of this post is available here.
Come with me. Come on.
Once upon a time, in a country very, very close to here, there was an enormous party thrown by a Queen. Well. Some people organised it for her and the people of the country actually paid for it, but she was there, is the point. They had hundreds and hundreds of boats all decked out with little flags and golden crowns and stuff, and people waved flags and the Queen’s own boat, which was made of SOLID GOLD yet somehow floated, was so full of unicorns and lions that she couldn’t actually ride in it herself, and they had to give her quite a boring boat with hardly any gold on it and she was made to stand in the rain. While the unicorns and lions had a proper party.
And then later on – weeks later – there was another big party and almost the whole country came to it. At this party there was an epic story told: the story of that country and its history and achievements. Everybody celebrated like mad. There was a feeling of unity. Of belonging. Of identity and commonality. It’s a feeling that’s often absent. It kindled in these people. And since then the people in charge have tried to keep that little flame of unification burning by reminding the people of that country of their glorious wars, and of how rubbish everyone else from all the other lands are.
The story they told at that party was pretty edited to be honest, lots of things were left out, like this country transporting a million slaves and killing ten million Indians. Things like that.
In fact it wasn’t really the history of a land at all. It was the history of a movement upon the hide of a land, and the movement in question was capitalism and its foundation: industrialisation.
And before then the peasants lived short, muddy lives under the heels of their lords. So industrialisation was a definite step up and ultimately gave us iPads and washing machines and zero hours contracts, and people who can say ‘computer says no’ and send you home to starve.
In fact when you think about it, life hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed is that the mud is now imported at great expense and sold in Boots the Chemist, and the heel of our lord is devolved to a set of civil servants whose bitter loathing of the rest of us increases in inverse proportion to the amount of power they don’t wield and the amount of money we don’t have.
It’s brilliant. Modern life is brilliant. There’s the telly and twitter and books on Kindle. There’s the breakfast dilemma (cereals contain gluten, bacon has fat in it, and eggs are poison: everyone now makes smoothies, although next week we will discover that smoothies kill you. I promise you).
But before the lords and the mud there was a place, not a country, but a land, and some people lived in it. It covered the world. It was one land. It had great woods that bristled with wolves and bears. Beavers made lakes in it. Lions flopped about under trees or stared with orange eyes at … well, at you, if you were unlucky. People lived on the grasslands, on the world’s brow, on the bony ridge of the world’s brow, there they made little homes from stone and fire. And the birds flew, and they drew them. And the dogs ran, and the deer ran, and they drew them. They drew the mountains and the sky on their skin, blue or red because they knew the mountains and sky lived under their skin. They knew the trees and the weeds. When the sun shone, it shone in them. When the rain fell, it rained in their bones, and in the bones of the trees and the bones of the wolves and the bones of the rivers (what do you think boulders are? DO CONCENTRATE). In the snow they slept and waited, and their hearts sank into the earth, burrowed through it into the waiting roots of birch and beech, and slept there, until the sun came again.
The people didn’t bother much with understanding things beyond the movement of the sun and stars, and the turn of the year and the rhythms of life and death. They didn’t need to because they knew something very wonderful, which is that when you stand on the earth your feet go right to the centre of the world. That your body does not end at your skin. That what you are made of is the world and everything in it, and at your furthest extremities, the patterns of stars are freckles on you. The sea is the amnion from which you climbed as a child. The earth is the body of your mother, which you still cling to, are still in. The other species are not as separate from you as it appears: without one another they will fail and die. Without them, you will fail and die. This is the unassailable truth of what it is to be alive in an evolved system: you are not you. You are the inevitable outcome of all of it. You are what the system needs to fill the negative space that would remain if you did not exist. You are the expression of all that is necessary right here, right now. If it were not so you would be dead.
None of this was part of the big story they told at those parties. In fact it is not something people feel they can speak about at all. I’ll be honest, I was cautious about writing this letter to you. If someone tries to say these words, incant this spell, their credibility and sanity are questioned. You know what I’m saying is true: that our story goes back beyond shoes. That the oldest part of the story is about those rolling hills and if you close your eyes you can still feel them inside you: the Cheviots, Uluru, the blue-groined lakes, the scribbled pines on hills, the sea on your lips, the sun shining in you. We call this having a ‘soul’, this feeling of connectedness. But these days we are only really permitted to have a sense of connectedness to other people, and even then it has to be a particular type of connection, one that can be easily dropped, one that carefully avoids, at all costs, any mention of souls or the inner rain, or how it feels to grow leaves through your skin in the spring, bursting fat green points along every bone. You must never mention this. When you fly with the bats, that must be a secret. When the rain makes another world below your feet and you drop into it so you can no longer tell which of the two worlds you stand in, shtum! Don’t say it! At dusk if you happen to put your hand up and pocket the sun for the night, do it like a thief, and put it back in the morning before anyone notices.
This is where we live now.
The world has roofs and central heating and if you’re very lucky, Passive Haus standards that enable you to never, ever feel a breeze on your ankle, never cold feet. You don’t have the smell of a wood fire or the pop-snap of it or the pang of guilt for the doomed woodlouse. There is XBox, XFactor, XXL, .xxx. There is porn and shoes, dvds and the national lottery, which might make you a millionaire. It’s all brilliant! And there are so many of us, and nothing can kill us. We are like gods, and we aren’t forced to be part of anything any more, not the green or the winter, not muddy water or hunger, and death is far away from most of us, most of the time. It wasn’t like that when we had souls. Death was all over the place then.
It’s better now.
Into this comes a new plan for your body, for the body of your mother. It’s so you can carry on heating your whole house and lighting lightbulbs and watching XFactor and being a productive economic unit. It’s a GOOD idea! Doesn’t that sound like a good idea?
Here is the plan: one third of your body and your mother’s body will be sold, if anyone wants it. Which third? Well, that’s up to the buyers. They will sell you and the person they sell you to will break your bones to get the goodness out. They will break the bones of this land.
The United Kingdom has an area of some 94,000 sq miles. Of this, our government is putting 37,000 square miles out to tender, to fracking companies. This area includes our national parks. Our suburbs. Your town. Anywhere where shale gas may potentially be extracted at relatively low cost: the energy companies will be permitted to buy that land. They are doing this because a number of very important Tories stand to profit, personally, from selling your land. Your land.
But you own the land now! It is your land. There are laws protecting that ownership, laws protecting your home, laws protecting the national parks and your right to walk in them and to remember you were born with a soul.
This new thing will override all those old things. Your protections are over. Your ownership of this land, your rights within it, those are over now. Go on, google it.
I am not making this up.
There are substantial problems with allowing this, even beyond its obvious immorality (that one person can profit by selling things which do not belong to them, can profit from destroying things which we all own and need). Fracking is implicated in big problems with contaminated groundwater (on an ‘unimaginable scale’), air pollution, chemical pollution, radioactive pollution, earthquakes, blow-outs and leaks in the USA, where they’ve done enough of it that they’ve started to realise … you wouldn’t want to live near it.
I don’t really fit into the world very well, I’m a pebble in a shoe. I live here but not comfortably, for anyone. I don’t speak the right language and I look for people who speak my language and don’t find them. When I look at someone’s face I don’t see what you see. I see a word out of context, marooned on a page with no breath behind it, no story to flock with (for what is a story but a flock of words in motion). That’s what we are now, stranded words, punctuation and we think the page is where we belong, when in fact no word belongs on a page. As soon as you’ve stamped a word onto a background, put a spotlight over it, you’ve removed the best gift any word has, its ambiguity, its belonging to a fluid context.
Stand up and say this, put your breath into it: “Mourning love.”
It is not the same phrase when spoken. You are not the word you are defined as being. The narrow act of definition is one of vandalism.
I write this love letter to you in the hope that you recognise yourself and remember (us) the rivers and the rocks are part of your body. Perhaps you have an inconvenient soul, like mine. If not, you can go and look up the science of problematic fracking: displaced communities, ground instability, contaminated aquifers and groundwater, dodgy things coming out of people’s taps (actually, that one’s quite exiting, although it’s the sort of exciting that you definitely don’t want happening in YOUR bathroom). Or you can listen to your body’s connection to the world. And what you’ll hear is a scream that doesn’t stop.
I am opposed to this sale, to this disenfranchisement of the people from the land, to this act of brutality committed on both the people and their land, for the two are indivisible, I am opposed with my whole body, starting at the stars and ending at the earth’s core.