good and bad running on parallel tracks

bring the happy

It’s been an oddly bipolar week. My friends and I got to do tons of very lovely fun stuff, and celebrate some joyous happenings, while at the same time quite a few difficult things were also going on with us. It’s been a weird one, oscillating wildly between feeling like all is beautiful and we can relax, and feeling thoroughly pummelled by life.

Discovering a bedbug infestation in my room alternated with a visit to this gorgeous home and grounds (they had deer!) with my friends in perfect sunshine on a National Trust Free Weekend. Which in turn was followed by being seriously, horribly slammed with work deadline major crises. But then my dear sister came to visit, and we spent the day out in Coventry. And then it was Earth Day, so we scattered candles across our living room surfaces, turned out the lights, and invited some dear friends over for dinner (made a delish adaptation of this based on what sauces and aromatics I had). Over the course of the week three friends had serious health issues crop up with their loved ones — but yesterday another friend, who has a cartilage injury, got off crutches four weeks early. Plus I got to go watch an arty film (pretty good) with a bunch of friends that I wouldn’t normally do that with, which opened up new topics of conversation and meant that we now know each other that little bit more.

“Good and bad run on parallel tracks, and they usually arrive at about the same time.” — Ron Dunn

I guess most of life is normally like that, lots of different happenings bumping up against each other. But it’s been awhile since my week has felt that extreme, the joy and the pain so sharply delineated.

I could focus either way, and have swung from one extreme to the other many times this week. But I think I’m going to choose to be thankful. That the various raging beasts of work projects have been momentarily tamed; that many of my family and friends are healthy; that I’m seeing some of those friends in Nottingham today; that I have great people to live through it all with — that regardless of how different our situations may be, we are committed to mourning and swearing and rejoicing and feasting together. The fundamentals of my life are good.

When my sister was in Cov, we got to go see this rad happiness mapping project and submit a couple of memories. Bring the Happy started out during the recession a couple of years ago, when city centre businesses were dropping like flies. A theatre company called Invisible Flock decided that they were going to move into a city centre storefront, armed with a couple of big maps of your city, and ask people to log their happy memories on the places where they had occurred, marking them with glass rods (of lengths corresponding to your happiness level in said memory). At the end of the logging period, they would take those memories and transform them into an all-singing all-dancing bells-and-whistles-replete foot-stomping show.

BTH shopfront

BTH overall view

map on screen

walsgrave hospital

The bit I loved was nosily reading everyone else’s memories of my city, from the seriously inane to the life-transforming. The glass rods are a striking visual representation of where people have chosen thankfulness and hope; I was surprised to see a huge cluster of them on Walsgrave Hospital. Participating felt oddly like joining in with some kind of mass prophetic act, speaking hope into the city, hope into our bones.

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moving into the neighbourhood

Part of me really hates taking personal responsibility for things. Last week I was on a train back from Manchester, and I sat next to this guy who was very chatty. He told me about his PhD thesis, how he had gone to Spain and interviewed lots and lots of social activists about how they lived their ordinary, day-to-day lives in line with their beliefs, even in really little things, when they weren’t protesting and campaigning. It sounded like an amazing way to live, but also incredibly difficult.

I really like the idea of having a cool life like that, a life which is that coherent. But it’s also so hard and often I feel so weak (I hate feeling weak), and even when I have brought my unruly life somewhat in line, I can see where I’ve just done it to impress certain other people, or to avoid conflict with them, rather than because it’s right.

For example, going vegetarian. That FAO statistic about a quarter of carbon emissions being in some way linked to animal agriculture gets me every time. But for a long time, I would tell people that I couldn’t possibly be a vegetarian, because I live in a community house, and we all share food and cook for each other, and I really love my housemates, and my housemates weren’t thinking of going vegetarian, so how could I terribly inconvenience them by stopping eating meat, especially bacon? It would be so selfish. Besides, I am ethnically Chinese, and everyone knows that Chinese people love their meat. To move away from that would be a betrayal of my family and heritage, you know?

It was a sad day when I realised that I could still be vegetarian when I ate on my own.

But you know what? I’ve decided that however I feel, and regardless of my mixed motives, being a part-time vegetarian still just is right (for me). And so living that out is a really, really good thing. Even if it feels like dying sometimes.

I used to just know a lot about being vegetarian, and to be ‘open’ to eating vegetarian food when I was out (even if I never actually ordered it) and hearing from my friends about what exciting new veggie recipes they had concocted. I would nod along, yes, that all sounds delicious. I also probably signed some things online, probably some of those pre-drafted letters to your MP about animal agriculture. But I don’t think it’s enough anymore to just listen or agree, or even tell the government.

See, I love Someone who lived absolutely everything he believed, and said, be it on my own head if you don’t like it. A message of love became real flesh and real blood, and moved into the neighbourhood. And in fact some people (the religious and the powerful) really didn’t like it, and they crucified him. Because I love Someone like that, I can’t anymore refuse personal responsibility for the things that I believe in, even if part of me really doesn’t want to take a stand, and feels weak doing it.