For various reasons, I’ve decided to stop this blog. Thanks to all who’ve commented here, read my posts, emailed me etc over the years
Beyond Resistance’s monthly anarchist nights are back!
July’s discussion night will feature a guest speaker and discussion. Asher from the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement will be giving his talk: Introduction to Anarchist Communism, to be followed by questions and discussion. All welcome!
WHERE: WEA (59 Gloucester St, opposite the City Art Gallery).
WHEN: Wednesday July 6, 7PM
Zines, refreshments and good conversation will be available on the night. Free entry. Child-friendly space.
Looking back at anarchists and the 2006 Progressive Enterprises lockout
In August 2006, a 48 hour strike was called by over 500 unionised workers, members of the National Distribution Union (NDU), at Progressive Enterprises distribution centres in Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch, as a part of their effort to get a national contract, pay parity between the three centres and a pay rise (of differing percentage at each site). The distribution centres supplied much of the merchandise to Progressive owned supermarkets (including the Woolworths, Countdown, Foodtown and SuperValue brands) across New Zealand. The next day, August 26th, Progressive announced that it was locking out the workers indefinitely. The lockout continued for almost a month, finally ending on September 21st with an agreement for pay parity and a 4.5% pay rise.
Throughout the lockout, there were extensive solidarity actions and fundraising across New Zealand and Australia. While I will give a brief overview of these, the main purpose of this article is to focus on the activity of anarchists in New Zealand, and to examine some of the ways anarchists interacted with rank and file Progressive employees and union officials during the lockout. Questions will be raised about some of the issues with supporting struggles from the outside, whose voices get listened to during an industrial dispute, and how to maintain ongoing contact with workers after industrial action has died down.
A brief overview of actions taken
Of foremost importance were the picket lines. At all three distribution centres, Progressive workers and supporters held picket lines around the clock for the entirety of the lockout. In Auckland and Christchurch, picket lines held strong and more or less completely stopped trucks entering or leaving. The picket line in Palmerston North, which had highest wages prior to the lockout, was less effective, with almost half of the 93 union members at the site scabbing on their workmates, leading to the distribution centre remaining open, although not at full functionality. To get around the picket lines, Progressive also set up a number of makeshift distribution centres stocked with shipping containers in underground and aboveground car parks at their supermarkets. Some non-union temp workers hired by Progressive in Auckland quit their jobs after discussions with the locked-out workers.
Across the country, Linfox were hired by Progressive to use their trucks to continue distribution from the makeshift centres. After some initial confrontations on picket lines in Auckland, including one on September 8 in which a Linfox driver swung a metal pole out his window at picketers in an incident which saw 10 picketers (including Progressive employees and union officials) arrested by police, Linfox drivers agreed not to cross any picket lines. This agreement did not extend to the rest of the country however, and did not stop Linfox drivers in Auckland making deliveries where picket lines did not exist.
As well as the permanent picket lines at the three distribution centres, flying pickets were held at a number of the makeshift distribution centres in a number of different cities. These were sometimes done by a mix of Progressive employees and their supporters, and sometimes entirely by supporters. The flying pickets had a wide variety of effectiveness, sometimes managing to stop trucks entirely while other times they did not have the numbers (or the willingness/ability of picketers to risk arrest) to do so. In an effort to impede work at some of the makeshift distribution centres, some illegal activity was also undertaken. On several occasions padlocks holding the shipping containers shut had their keyholes glued shut. However, this most likely was only a minor inconvenience at best, as all that it required to fix was something to cut the padlock off and a new padlock purchased.
An extensive informational campaign was also held at Progressive supermarkets around the country. These would generally consist of 2 – 10 people standing outside the supermarket doors, with collection buckets and leaflets (produced and printed in huge numbers by the NDU). Often the supporters would encourage shoppers to boycott Progressive supermarkets until the lockout was withdrawn and the workers demands were met. Anecdotal evidence exists of a number of people respecting the boycott request and shopping elsewhere, although the NDU itself never actually called for a boycott. Often the leaflets were also taken inside the store and placed on shelves, especially as the lockout progressed and more and more stores ran out of stock and had empty shelves, perfect for leaflets to be put on. At the time, checkout staff (many also NDU members) were nearing negotiations for their own contract, and again, anecdotal evidence exists of checkout and security staff willingly turning a blind eye to leafleting and other activities inside supermarkets in a show of support for distribution centre staff.
Rallies and marches were undertaken in several centres by the workers and their supporters. In Palmerston North, over 200 attended a rally at the distribution centre on September 16th, which included a creative display of solidarity by the Postal Workers Union, who erected a mailbox amongst the tents used by picketers, and promised to deliver letters of support addressed to “Camp Union, Lockout Island, Corner Mihaere Drive and Mako Mako Road, Palmerston North”. The Australian UNITE union organised several protests in Melbourne outside Woolworths stores which included fundraising and leaflets encouraging a boycott of Australian Woolworths stores. A large march through the suburb of Mangere (where the Auckland distribution centre was located) also took place, which was seen as an opportunity for the distribution centre workers to thank the local community for their extensive support throughout the lockout.
Unofficial action was taken by wharfies in New Zealand and Australia, slowing down the unloading of goods destined for Progressive Enterprises supermarkets. The Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) threatened to blacklist (i.e.: refuse to unload) Progressive cargo entirely, however the lockout finished before they implemented this threat. Overall, NDU researcher Joe Hendren stated that Progressive may have lost over $15 million during the lockout.
Vitally, a huge fundraising effort was also undertaken on both sides of the Tasman. At picket lines, collections in areas with high foot traffic, at public meetings and on protest marches, collection buckets were ever present and received high levels of donations from the public – as an example, four supporters were able to collect $1000 in just an hour during peak time at the Wellington train station. The NDU set up an 0900 number which could be called to make an automatic $20 donation. MUNZ members agreed to donate an hour of pay each every week until the lockout was ended, while many other unions made donations, including 3 Australian transport sector unions and Change To Win, an American union federation. In Palmerston North, the local branch of the Association of University Staff created an adopt-a-family scheme in which members would be assigned to a locked-out worker and their family to support them directly. Additionally, food was often taken directly to picket lines. By the end of September, over $400,000 had been raised for the lockout fund, not counting donations of food or other materials. This support was vital to enable the workers to survive financially during the dispute, to ensure they could still pay their rent/mortgages and feed themselves and their families.
The anarchist response to the lockout
Anarchists took part in nearly all of the actions listed in the section above. In Auckland, two anarchists were also organisers for the NDU (and one of them was amongst the 10 arrested in the incident mentioned earlier). Other anarchists, most notably members of Radical Youth, an organisation made up of predominantly high-school aged people, also spent many hours on the picket lines and engaging in flying pickets. Wellington anarchists, without a local distribution centre, engaged in fundraising, picketing a makeshift distribution centre in Lower Hutt (which saw 3 arrested for blocking a truck) and some also travelled up to Palmerston North to support the picket there. Christchurch anarchists were involved in setting up a support group for the locked out workers with other radicals, which helped to coordinate flying pickets, fundraising and a march, in addition to helping to picket the distribution centre. In other areas without a distribution centre, including Dunedin and the East Cape, anarchists were involved in fundraising and pickets of makeshift distribution centres.
However, outside of postings on Aotearoa Indymedia, communication between radicals involved in supporting the struggle was virtually non-existent, and thus no coordinated nationwide support campaign was engaged in by anarchists or the wider radical community. I was lucky enough to be travelling from Auckland to Christchurch via Wellington at the time of the lockout and participated in support actions in all three main centres, and in this I was able to see some massive differences in the activity undertaken, and some issues with some of the things anarchists did. I have used this experience in writing this article, to begin to raise some ideas that I hope will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of anarchist support for industrial actions that take place in the future, and our fight for a better society.
Relations with the locked-out workers and with the union
Perhaps the key plank of anarchist theory on struggle is that of self-organisation, that the struggle must always be controlled by those directly affected by it. In a case like the Progressive lockout, that obviously means those workers locked out by Progressive Enterprises. In some cases, however, rather than taking our lead from the locked out workers, some anarchists advocated taking the lead from union officials. In one example, anarchists from Wellington had an argument on a private email list (which I therefore won’t reproduce here) over whether or not attempts should be made to block trucks at a makeshift distribution centre in Lower Hutt – a move which had been called for by workers (and acted upon by workers, union officials and supporters in both Auckland and Christchurch) but had been directly opposed by the Palmerston North NDU official. In the end, some anarchists made the decision to blockade, which led to three being arrested (and, unfortunately, failed to stop the trucks).
Perhaps nowhere was the distinction between the workers and union officials made more apparent than at the conclusion of the dispute. During what were to be the final set of negotiations, on September 21st, the delegated negotiations team (made up of locked-out workers) was asked to leave, and the negotiations continued with just the higher-ups from Progressive Enterprises and the NDU remaining in the room. Once agreement was reached between the two sides, the proposed agreement was not circulated to union members, but rather they were not to find out the details until the next day, when they had to immediately afterwards vote for or against ratification. The Christchurch workers almost voted it down – with only 51% agreeing to sign in the end, despite them having the largest pay increase of all 3 sites in the proposed agreement. They were so angry with the agreement that they decided to vote not to return to work the next day (a Friday), but to instead take another day off. In the end, at all 3 sites, workers marched back in en masse on Friday morning only to immediately leave again. In Christchurch and Auckland actions were then taken in solidarity with fellow NDU members working at Feltex carpets (who had lost their jobs after the company was put into receivership). In Auckland, Progressive workers held a protest outside a branch of ANZ bank, who had started the receivership proceedings, while Christchurch workers marched to the Feltex site and joined the workers there in a wildcat occupation of the factory premises.
It is important to recognise the difference between workers and the officials who claim to represent them. While many union officials may be personally supportive of particular forms of action, they are constrained by both the law and their role as mediators between capital and workers, and therefore, in periods of heightened struggle, will inevitably be forced either to take a position more conservative than the workers whose dues pay their salaries or to abandon their job.
One major problem was the lack of actual conversation between the locked-out workers and many of the anarchists who joined them on the picket lines. For obvious reasons, this was a major issue in Wellington (where the nearest distribution centre was several hours away in Palmerston North) and for anarchists in the smaller centres such as Dunedin, but it was also an issue for some anarchists in Auckland and Christchurch. In a situation such as this, where the workers knew each other well, it was always going to be hard coming in from the outside, to make any real connections. Regardless, there were some anarchists on picket lines who made no effort whatsoever to talk to anyone outside of the other anarchists on the picket lines. Perhaps at a one-off this would be understandable, but in a prolonged struggle such as this, where many anarchists spent hours, or even days, on the lines, this is a massive flaw. It is only through building real connections that we can have hope to maintain actual ongoing contact with those present. Rather than parachuting in, supporting a struggle then running off to the next big thing, we need to be trying to build connections with other fights, to help broaden the class struggle, not to assist in its atomisation.
In creating these relationships, we also need to be honest about who we are and why we’re there. That doesn’t mean we need to introduce ourselves with “Hi, I’m Asher, and I’m a member of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement, an anarchist-communist organisation working towards a global revolution which will see the destruction of the ruling class, and indeed all classes, and the replacement of capital and state with a federation of workplace and community councils where all who are affected by a decision play an equal role in making that decision in a world without money or borders.” But it does mean that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our politics, or the organisations we are involved with, we shouldn’t hide them away. Surely if we are ashamed of our beliefs or the groups we are involved in, we should be questioning why we hold them or why we’re involved. Currently, if people have even heard of anarchism, they generally have a bad impression (black bloc and/or bombs, for example). The easiest way to change that is to change those associations – if we’re standing alongside someone on a picket line, if we’re supporting them, and they know we are anarchists, then at worst they’ll think “oh, I guess there’s at least one anarchist who isn’t a complete idiot” and at best, they may even question some of the assumptions they held about what anarchism is. If we are ever to restore the long-lost connection between anarchism and the idea of working class solidarity in people’s minds, we need to start openly being known as anarchists when we engage in acts of working class solidarity.
Looking towards the future
Obviously everything I’ve written here is easier said than done – 5 years on, and I can’t even remember the names of any of those I stood alongside, stared down trucks and shared countless cigarettes with. But it is these relationships forged in struggle that are key towards being able to move from the defensive to the offensive in our fight to create a new world. Struggle changes people, as shown by the willingness of Progressive workers to take action in solidarity with their fellow unionists at Feltex. As radicals, as anarchists, we need to stop isolating ourselves, to recognise that we don’t have all the answers.
I have no doubt that I learnt far, far more from the locked-out Progressive workers than they learnt from me. I feel genuinely lucky to have spent those weeks in 3 different cities playing my tiny part in helping to support them in their fight. Politically, participating made me fundamentally question a lot, especially around how we as anarchists interacted with the rest of society. It made me relearn the importance of class struggle and the potential power that we have as a class after 2 years of involvement in the Wellington activist scene had had me focussed on protest politics and individual action. It helped me realise that even in our seemingly depoliticised society, people were still willing to stand up and fight, and even more people were willing to support them however they could.
I think back to the dairy owner dropping off a carton of cigarettes at the Mangere picket line, the white-collar worker going to an ATM and getting money out specifically so he had something to donate to our collection at the Wellington Railway Station, the teenager who turned back at the supermarket door after hearing why we were standing outside it. 5 years on, I still have photos from the Mangere picket line on my bedroom wall. They inspire me, and serve as a constant reminder of the power of the politics of everyday life. A politics which focusses on our lives and the issues which affect us day to day, not another protest against a faceless meeting of international figures. A politics which connects us to our workmates or our neighbours, not one which merely relieves our guilt and causes us to look down on those less enlightened.
If there is one lesson I took from the Progressive lockout that I hope all anarchists can take on board, it is that. Never underestimate the ability of working class people to organise, to agitate, to fight and to educate. We are the largest force in this society, and it is only when we learn to fight collectively that we will ever be able to have a chance to defeat capital once and for all. It is simply not good enough for those of us who self-describe as anarchist or radical to assume we have the answers, or that we alone, by sheer force of will (or arms), can overthrow capital and state. If we are ever to have a chance at creating the sort of society we dream of, it has to be together with our class, the working class. We need to organise, not just with other anarchists to support others struggles (though that is also important), but with our workmates to improve our wages and conditions, with our neighbours to improve the state of our communities, and so on. We need to move from seeing class struggle as something that workers do, that we support, to seeing it as something that we do, as workers. We are not apart from the class, we are a part of it.
This article was written for an upcoming edition of Imminent Rebellion, a New Zealand anarchist journal to be published by Rebel Press.
Steve first got involved in anarchist politics and activism in the 1970s while at Massey University in Palmerston North. In more recent times, he has been a welcome presence at Otautahi / Christchurch protests and meetings, and has in the past year been involved in groups and projects like the Otautahi / Christchurch October 15th Solidarity group, the Otautahi Social Centre and the Otautahi Men’s Hui.
Steve was a great talker…at pot lucks and parties you could easily start chatting politics with him and, before you knew it, it would be a bottle of wine and 2 hours later.
He will be sorely missed…
Here’s a bunch more shots from various parts of my trip
First up, a nice sunset (it looked better in person, but oh well) from Stepney Green in London, where I stayed for most of the time I was there. A couple of days before I left, I realised that one street over from where I was staying was Jubilee St, where, in the early 1900s, the Jewish anarchists in London (plus Rudolf Rocker) had a club where they held meetings, social events etc. Also within a few minutes walk was Cable St, site of the anti-fascist demonstration in 1936. The whole area I stayed in was surrounded by endless bits of radical history, which was fucking cool.
Next up, a bunch of shots from my day trip to the Acropolis in Athens. Once again, the history geek in me was loving it!
Next, a bit of graffiti that made me smile from Tel Aviv, Israel.
The following few photos were taken at an old crusader fortress (and surrounding village) in Herzliyya, in Israel. The site had been used prior to the crusaders by others including Persians. There was still quite a bit standing, or which had been excavated, was quite interesting (and stunning views up and down the coast).
In the following photo from the fortress itself, the left foreground was the ovens, the right foreground the kitchen basins (with plaster inlay) and the dome-topped thing in the middle of the background was storage for grain.
I don’t really know why, but I found the following sign absolutely hilarious, and had to take a photo…
Next up, 3 bits of graffiti (not all the most intelligent work!) from the walls of South Tel Aviv (very near to Salon Mazal, the anarchist infoshop/cafe).
Last of all, a crazy fucking bug. Oddly, the first thing I thought when I saw it (other than “I have to get a photo of this”) was “Holy shit, that reminds me of a V advertisment!”.
Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to posting, things have been somewhat hectic recently. Anyway, here’s a bunch of photos I’ve taken so far during my trip, on my brand new second hand cellphone’s camera. Sweet.
This one (and the next 3 closeups) is from an outside wall of Freedom, in London. The home of Freedom Bookshop, Freedom Press and, of course, Freedom the newspaper. The project was in collaboration with the art gallery next store, and consists of images of a whole bunch of anarchists (and proto-anarchists) from history. Following that is a pic of the door to Freedom itself, including a stencil of Wildcat, an anarchist comic character. I interviewed Donald Rooum, the creator of the cartoon, for over an hour while in London
Next up, some photos from Athens. These were all taken on the walk from Monastiraki up towards the Acropolis (photos of that will be uploaded in the next few days). It was fucking hot, but the view from the top was definately worth it. Anyway, as with everywhere I went in Athens, there was plenty of political graffiti. Some of it was fairly ugly, just tagging etc, and lots of it I didn’t understand (as I don’t speak Greek), but some I liked and took photos of
Lastly, the night that I flew out of Athens, I spent a few hours in Exarchia, which is a “reclaimed neighbourhood” – a bunch of streets where heaps of anarchists and other lefties live, and cops aren’t welcome. The walls were coated thickly with graffiti and posters for demos, soli work for prisoners etc etc, was pretty cool. Then when I left to go catch a bus to the airport, I noticed that at the edges of Exarchia, there were young (some looked like 15, but must’ve been older) cops in full riot gear at every corner – apparently, thats normal, to ensure that Exarchia doesn’t spread, and also for training the young cops – the older ones go to the demos/riots, but the young ones learn the trade at the borders…bizarre! The following photos are from the doors in the toilets in a bar I went to, where I was served by an anarchist bartender.
Lastly, off to Israel, where I currently am. While in Tel Aviv, I took a few photos of bits of graffiti/stencil art there.
This one is a stencil of the founder of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl. The Hebrew text below translates to “Don’t want, don’t need…” This is a piece of slang in Hebrew that is said when someone offers you something you don’t want – in the case of this stencil, referring to the Israeli state itself.
This stencil is about Ahmed Mousa, a 10 year old child murdered recently in the West Bank town of Ni’ilin by the Israeli army during a demonstration by Palestinians, Israelis and internationals against the separation wall. More info about Ahmed and the demo (inc photos) can be found on the Anarchists Against The Wall website.
A slightly older stencil to finish it off, this one is from last year, the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. It says “occupation” in Hebrew, Arabic and English below the number 40, followed by an unreadable date (I think?) and website.
This post starts with Imminent Rebellion 9, out now from Rebel Press. It contains an article by me (which is a few posts below on this blog), and some other great (and, some not so great, but thats the minority) writing from anarchists from across Aotearoa. You can download or order it from the Rebel Press website. The design is fantastic too. Here’s hoping Issue 10 maintains the very high standards that’ve been set by this one
Observant readers will notice posting has been even thinner than normal on the ground recently. That’s because I’m no longer in Aotearoa / New Zealand, having flown to the other side of the planet for a while. Currently, I’m in Glasgow (and contrary to the stereotypes, it’s sunny! So was Manchester. Brilliant!)
Anyway, one of the things I’m doing while travelling around is interviewing a range of class-struggle anarchists. When I get back to Aotearoa, I’ll be editing it into a full length doco. Fun fun fun. The other night I did an hour long interview with Ben Franks, author of Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of British Anarchisms, published in 2006 by AK Press,
I do hope to post a bit more frequently as I travel, but obviously that’ll depend on internet access, and how busy I am.
The trip started in Manchester, where I attended (extremely jetlagged) the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair. Several hundred people in a hall, plenty of stalls from political groups and book/zine distros and 3 workshops. I ran one of the workshops, a history of anarchism in Aotearoa / New Zealand and the Operation 8 raids. There was a decent turnout and it was pretty enjoyable, with some quality question/answer time at the end.
It’s been really good meeting anarchists from the various groups over here – I’ve had some great discussions with members of the Anarchist Federation (an anarchist-communist group) in particular, but I’ve also met people from Solidarity Federation (anarcho-syndicalist), Praxis (Glasgow platformist anarchist-communists) and the Workers Solidarity Movement (Irish platformist anarchist-communist), plus a variety of other unaffiliated individuals.
The Human Rights Film Festival is on again, and one of the films showing this year is the fairly decent Occupation 101, about the occupation of Palestine. It’s not without problem, but it is a stunningly well made documentary, and is well worth seeing.
As is the tradition with the HRFF, after each screening there is an “expert” speaker who talks for 5-10 mins followed by 20 mins of questions, answers and discussion on the film.
I will be the speaker after both sessions of Occupation 101 in Otautahi / Christchurch, at the Regent On Worcester.
Wednesday, 28 May – 8.00pm
Thursday, 29 May – 6.00pm
For more info, check out 6 clips from the film on the official website. I’ll post up my speech on here sometime after I’ve given it.
p.s: sorry for not posting for a month. been insanely busy doing things, and don’t have internet at home at the moment. i’m leaving the country soon, but will keep blogging with stories from my trip (more about that later…)
Our Dark Passenger: Anarchists talk about mental illness and community support is now out, published by Katipo Books. Weighing in at 34 pages, it is a collection of articles about living with mental illness by anarchists from around Aotearoa, and some writings from overseas. I’ve written a few of the pieces, and collated and designed the zine.
Our Dark Passenger can be purchased from Katipo Books (who will mail it anywhere in the world) for just NZ$2.00 + postage. You can also download the .pdf and print it yourself by clicking here (1.93MB).
The zine has no copyright, so feel free to print and distribute copies as you see fit (just don’t charge more than you need to cover costs). You can download a version imposed for printing by clicking here (for the inside, 1.83MB) and here (for the cover, 100KB). If you distribute it anywhere outside Aotearoa / New Zealand, I’d appreciate it if you emailed me at anarchiazine[at]gmail[dot]com and let me know, it’s always interesting to see how far things spread.
Page 1 – Front Cover
Page 2 – Contents
Page 3 – Introduction (Asher)
Page 4 – Bryden’s Story (Bryden)
Page 6 – Ending it all (Anonymous)
Page 7 – Cartoon (The Icarus Project)
Page 8 – Mental Illness: My Struggle (Asher)
Page 10 – Depression, police terrorism, and me (Anna-Claire)
Page 12 – Amy’s Poem, Drawing, Are we Falling? The war machine (Amy)
Page 14 – On Being Alone (Asher)
Page 16 – Places to look for help in Aotearoa / New Zealand
Page 17 – Activism and Depression (Bexxa)
Page 24 – Discussion Questions for Workshops and Groups (The Icarus Project)
Page 25 – How I Became a Thief (Jessica Max Stein)
Page 28 – Also from Katipo Books
Page 30 – Back cover, 5 things to NOT say to someone suffering from depression
Parts of this zine are likely to be triggering to those who have a history of self-harm or mental illness, so please use your own discretion when deciding to read.
If you think you are likely to be affected negatively by this zine, please DO NOT read it!
Unfortunately, we had to remove the article The Spoon Theory due to copyright issues. Oh well….
So, at the moment, I’m alone in the house, and have been for the last couple of days. One of my flatmates is away, at the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the crib-time strike in Blackball (see this and this) which was the start of a wave of militant unionism in Aotearoa (later subsumed into the Labour Party, unfortunately), while the other is at his partner’s house, and the visiting German anarchist who was staying at mine has also moved on to other parts of the country.
Last time I was alone for any length of time was over new years, and at the time, I felt somewhat similar to how I do now – to put it in as few inadequate words as possible – not good.
Of course, I have several reasons to be happy – I’ve just become an uncle for the first time, I’m in a wicked flat with great people (and 3 cats and temporarily 4 chickens), I have a firm plan for the rest of 2008 that I’m quite excited about. I also should be really busy – I have 3 articles (total of around 6000 words) all due this weekend, which I haven’t really even started on (except in my head), and a smattering of other work to do for Katipo Books and for local solidarity organising with the October 15th arrestees.
Instead, I find myself frozen in inaction. Even typing these words is significantly more effort than it should be. Getting my thoughts onto paper (or, more accurately, computer screen) is, while possible, a mammoth task for me at the moment.
This literal aloneness that I am currently experiencing only brings to the surface a deepfelt metaphorical aloneness that seems to be with me almost every day. At the start of the movie Fight Club, Edward Norton’s character describes the experience of insomnia: “Nothing’s real. Everything’s far away. Everything’s a copy of a copy of a copy.” As someone who suffers from insomnia from time to time (usually coinciding with my lowest periods), this really resonated with me the first time I watched the movie. However, it also provides a glimpse into the appearance of life to me during my depressive states, even when I’m sleeping well.
For me, I frequently feel like I’m not in my body, but watching it. I might be having a conversation, but that’s not actually me, not my consciousness. While my body is doing these things, my consciousness is watching on, stuck in my brain racking over a conversation I had a week ago, a month ago, at some point in my childhood – searching for a hidden meaning, thinking of a better comeback, analysing why I said what I said. My consciousness likely won’t experience the conversation I’m taking part in until later in the day, week or month, when it processes it while my body (what would normally be perceived as “me”) has long moved on.
Still with me? Good. Hopefully this is making some semblance of sense, I get the feeling sometimes that the English language simply doesn’t contain the words to explain some things.
This experience I have just described, the turning of my life into a film I’m constantly watching, leads to an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. I think this is at least partially responsible for my seeking of intense experiences – for it is during these times that I feel most in my own body, it is during these intense times that I actually feel emotions, rather than observe myself experiencing them from the outside. It is in this seeking of intensity that I understand those who regularly self-harm (luckily, something I’ve mostly been able to avoid) – the need to actually feel is an indescribably vital part of living.
I seek out these intense moments in a range of ways – I’ve tried drugs, and while they work in the immediate sense, the after-effects are almost never worth it (and so, these days, I more or less entirely stay away from them). Travel and moving to new cities/countries also seems to work for a period – the sheer shock of being so far from everything I know forces me back into myself. This tends to last for a little while, until I’m settled in to my new location, at which point everything goes back to what I sadly consider normalcy. Starting relationships also seems to work – the intensity that comes with a new relationship jolts me into the moment, although, as with travel/moving, this doesn’t last.
The last example I’ll give is something that I’ve only begun to realise in the last few days, and properly only this weekend, as I’ve had plenty of time to stew inside my brain. Anyone who knows me well knows all too well my desire to have kids. I’m now beginning to wonder how much that is connected to what I’ve just been discussing – there is no doubt that, most of the time when I interact with my friend’s children, I am drawn back into myself, back into genuine emotion. Perhaps my desire to have children of my own is tied in with this, as an opportunity (perhaps the only one), to put myself inside my body for the majority of the time. In this, however, I have fears. Who is to say that, as with moving or new relationships, enough time with a child won’t simply see me seperate my consciousness from my body again, lose my connection with my experiences…
And, despite the ever increasing knowledge of my condition, despite the fact that I now feel able to write about it, to talk about it, to begin to describe it, I still am stuck in the same place I started – totally disconnected from my own reality, totally alone.