About

Were you resilien-t or resilien-ced?

 

 

I’m going to start by dealing with the idea of resilience directly, to think about what it looks like to me and how it operates within my day-to-day existence. There are many instances of reflection from my own life and external examples that belie a notion of resilience. To allow this notion to present itself is helpful so as to open up the idea of resilience, and to even turn it on its head. Often resilience is quiet, unheroic, even compliant. It’s not always sourced in impressive visible displays of mythological strength; in fact, it’s sometimes borne out from the weakest of ability where the will is for survival[1]. In reality resilience can boil down to tolerance of that which is most unbearable, which is much less lofty that than the association to strength it evokes. This is just how it feels when I use resilience as lens through which I can reflect on my experiences and other people’s stories[2].

 

 

~

 

 

Sometimes we’re chased into resilience. 

A Saturday night, you’re sat amongst friends and work colleagues. Warm and inviting, a comfortable crowd, old-worldly charm with modern attitudes. A Constable painting retold by the Vice generation. Amongst your contemporaries your reputation proceeds you, and so do most of your proclivities and indiscretions; it’s okay though, you kinda like it. It’s your bread and butter, it’s the heart on your sleeve, the lipstick that’s stuck to your teeth, your alleged politics versus your brand-new iPhone[3]. Across the table, a straight cis white male representative from a major arts institute in your town makes a disparaging quip to his friend about men wearing makeup. It’s like you’ve been pushed out of a fucking plane.  

  

 

~

 

 

“…something set me thinking,
This thing my gran would say,
"We'll win. It'll all begin
When us ship comes in.
We'll have a better day,
A better day."

How much longer can I hold
These dreams of mine? They're turning cold.
Just a little bit longer till I see my way,
And I'm running so fast towards my better day,

And oh, something's set me thinking,
This thing that she would say,
"We'll win. It'll all begin
When us ship comes in.
We'll have a better day."”
 [4]

 

 

~

 

 

Other times we chase ourselves into resilience. 

Sitting on the sofa, an early weekday evening. The click of the radiator expanding rhythmically punctures the pregnant air. Despite knowing your own capacity for forming opinions, and then using this to form snappy rhetoric with humorous and often self-deprecating affect. Right now, this is in a vacuum. It sits in an airlock you left it in for an easy life, the one you were led to believe we all want. You find it unsettling, and perhaps you know it’s not right, but you never really look at it. There’s never the time. Something outside of you is telling you what’s right, there’s no room for that instinct here. So, another instinct tells you to strap in, to burrow down and follow lead. Even when you don’t deviate, the cadence can still switch. You get used to the pressure under your molars as you lock them in place. All of a sudden, the years of pretending to understand the theory which peacocks in gallery texts comes into play. The intricate game of saving face and the familiar sensation of an ulcer on your tongue. 

 

 

~

 

 

“I'm drifting in deep waters
Alone with my self-doubting, again
Try not to struggle this time
For I will weather the storm”
 [5]

 

 

~

 

 

 

I want this to broaden out to a conversation. Not one that draws any conclusions, but one that gives space for an exploration of how we approach resilience in our own lives[6]. Perhaps as a way of celebrating it, perhaps as a way of demystifying any inert valour or piety. I think it’s clear that there should be a space to talk about why and if we need resilience, perhaps it’s something we should try and dispense with. I will continue to bring together examples of where I see resilience around me to try and understand what affects these have on me[7].

 

 

 

 

[1] I think it’s important to flag the importance of will here, and how this can drive the challenge over adversity or oppression can be fundamental, but I think Sara Ahmed has this covered. 

[2] I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn. 

[3] We all know it’s there, but you’re in it now. And yes, this is a mixed metaphor, thank you. 

[4] Lyrics from Andrea by Victoria Wood. The protagonist of this song creates an artless portrait of personal resilience that harks to a kind of blitz spirit which it is both fond of but also undermines. There’s a universalism in this character that’s extremely relatable, and in some ways sobering. 

[5] Lyrics from Deep Water by Portishead. A haunting ballad which speaks of steeling oneself against adversity from a voice that is fragile and melancholic, a near perfect juxtaposition. 

[6] It’s of note that I have taken the decision to write my own examples in the third person. But I’m keen for it not to read as some kind of smoke and mirrors. It’s painfully necessary, and worthy of some further unpacking. 

[7] I did consider quoting Don’t Cry for Me Argentina or I Know Him So Well, both camp classics, but it felt like a bit of a stretch. 

 

 

 

Prologue or epilogue, I’m not sure which[8]

 

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think it’s a truth pretty universally acknowledged that the past 14 months has been a fucking gauntlet of resilience[9]. The bulk of primary readers of this will be people in the creative sector where I think it’s safe to say it’s been a pretty bleak landscape[10]. Of course, there are people who have a had it a lot worse and I am not trying to trivialise that, but it is a special kind of hell when there’s a national campaign designed to tell YOU to retrain[11]. 

 

Some of you may have experienced the strange moment at the start of all of this where there was a national-conscription-style effort to drive productivity. In many ways it was pretty insidious and largely took the form of virtue-signalling social media posts bemoaning how hard it is to finish your 17th dissertation this week when you’ve just discovered a compendium of the writings of Foucault that you bought in the covered market 6 years ago and has sat gathering wine glass stains on your nightstands ever since, but you can now barely put it down for fear of soiling yourself. In many ways it fizzled out once everyone kinda got the message that no one cared, but it would rear its head every now and then in the form of health kicks and challenges to find how many different ways there are to cook with courgettes and fennel – but largely it became a background radiation in the form of zoom call bookcase top trumps. 

 

This kind of relentless sense of one-upping that went on took a lot to fend off. It is only one, fairly minor, form of oppression that people had to face during this time but it’s worth acknowledging in the landscape of daily oppressions. There are already enough opportunities for a creeping sense of being an imposter when you’re an artist, without adding artificial elements of stress. I don’t know about my friends, colleagues and contemporaries out there who are doubtless on similar mailing lists to me, but I think it’s safe to say there’s nothing more demoralising that seeing the words ‘Your Creative Lockdown’ once a week in your inbox – the ultimate epitaph for productivity. 

 

 

 

 

 

[8] Yes, this is a title because in a fictional setting where this goes on to become my Feminist Killjoys I’m putting in some editing notes for my publisher, okay? 

[9] BTW, I decided that I wanted to carry on talking about resilience a little longer and if you’ve got a problem with that then you came to the wrong place. Sorry about it. 

[10] Almost as if Tarkovsky and Shane Meadows did a collab. 

[11] In some nightmare world ruled by those teachers who were disparaging about the fact you wanted to pursue a creative career.