Day 19: On the reset button (Leaving the continent and not Effing it up)
The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that operation 100 blogs has taken a battering this week. I'm in Amsterdam on a mini lecturing tour, as well as taking the chance to properly say goodbye to a city and its many amazing, warm and kind people I really connected with over the last 18 months.
I've been bringing myself back to life - back in the classroom delivering my first Master's lecture at the University of Amsterdam, running weekend screenwriting intensives for the Mulholland Film Academy. I've also been back on the squash court and even on the tennis court as a winter of almost literal hibernation is shaken loose.
I've discovered that one of the best ways to feel re-invigourated is to cycle through Amsterdam in the snow. I say re-invigourated - probably what I mean is fricking freezing. Imagine if you will, me wearing my girlfriend's oversized pom pom hat - cute on her - kind of like a grumpy Scottish smurf hat on me but this is survival, people. The nights here have been as low as minus four. The mist has snow in it. As if the hat weren't insult enough, I borrowed by friend's fishing gloves as they were the only ones he had in his car so the whole outfit is not befitting of the continental European style I seek to emulate.
It seems that the sharp winter shock has also awoken some things on the project side. News from East and West, TV shows mustering, a film project with a financing deal and a first step back into the animation world have all knocked on my email box this week. In a way, the timing couldn't be better as I count down my last days in Europe before what is on paper, the trip of my lifetime.
A more substantive journey to the USA awaits me. A new relationship, mutually entered into with crazed, passionate courage and a world beating optimism almost resembling innocence. Work meetings and re-meetings, agent chasing and a peak into the world of Trump's America - viewed from the relative safety of the independent Democratic Republic of California, which has just overtaken France as the world's fifth largest economy. As I write this, I get a sense of the rapidity and extremity of the change in life. I have, without therapy or much consultation, hammered the reset button as hard as I could. Changing work, relationship, location and even lifestyle.
The reset button has been on my mind recently. It feels like America with Trump, Britain with Brexit and within Europe as populist, Anti EU parties gather momentum in up coming elections and dire predictions are made of the the break up of the EU and even an end to European stability - the reset button is being hammered left, right and centre and with what appears to be good reason.
I can't help feeling a sense of unease. Cocooned in relative middle class, professional comfort, I've found myself, in quiet moments, after a particularly grim news day or Facebook feed, silently negotiating with the world not to have its next major adolescent fuck-up tantrum on my generation. I caught myself remarking with a friend here that the last survivors of World War Two are almost gone now. The "greatest generation" has left the stage and I for one have absolutely zero inclination to have mine be the next to define itself through some heroic struggle against evil. I'd much rather earn money, vote, pay my taxes and fill a warm comfortable home with kids, cats and whatever the next step up is from Ikea furniture. (Yes, I am a poster child for understated aspiration)
But it won't leave me... that sense of unease... and I've been trying to figure out what to do about it. Yes, I have an email box full of unsigned Change.org petitions. I'll wear a pom pom hat to prevent myself freezing to death in the snow but never donned a pussy hat when the call sounded. I've even tried to reign in the fullest extent of my political ramblings on this blog. Why? Firstly, because I'm selfish. I want go to America to be in love and make TV shows. Any impending apocalypse will likely greatly enhance the importance of the former, and render the latter utterly pointless. I can't imagine that with my known leftist intellectual leanings, I'd be recruited to write glorious propaganda for the British nation state when we declare war on Marine Le Pen's France.
But the biggest reason is this. In the past, whether it be on Scottish Independence, the EU or geopolitics, I've always had a sense that there was an answer close at hand. I believed that the prevailing will of the people I knew and maybe even the ones I didn't was towards a boring, understated, technocratic form of progress where everybody grumbles but things continue to get incrementally better, just as they have for the decades I've been on earth and the ones of my parents before that. But then I remember - this is the first generation who statistics tell us will see their quality of life lower than that of their parents.
And you just know those stats relate largely in the UK to increments of Western comfort - who owns a house, can afford a nice car - not the existential shit of will I have a job at all? A home at all? How will I feed my family? In Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Rust Belt... there's a crisis... and the only answer that seems to have any traction whatsoever is the politics of the other. Blame the immigrant, the refugee, the guy whose religion is different from yours. The Montana town Pastor on the news this week threatening to shoot refugees who dare come to a state the size of France but with the population of only one million that's taken in less than 20 refugees in the last 30 years. And he's a PASTOR! The hell is wrong with this version of religion when you ignore the only meaningful bit of it. (Not threatening to shoot your neighbour in need - a sound basis for any religious text)
So much poison... In the air, on the airwaves, in your Facebook feed... and it needs to be safely lanced before it explodes all over this generation. And the only way that happens is if we, the apathetic, the broadly content find a way to build and maintain the structures that make our world better and fairer. We cannot leave the airwaves and the internet and the voting to those who are driven only by their own interest, their own bottom line, their own pain and their own anger. People who see their grievances inflated and championed by opportunists who care little for their pain, only the ease with which they can be manipulated into anti-establishment anger. That's kind of the thing with the establishment. It has very few friends, but you sure as hell miss it when it's gone.
It is the hardest thing in the world to sacrifice your own interest to build a society that is as just, healthy and sustainable as possible - to see your tax dollars pay for someone else's health care, or housing and not feel any sense of unfairness at that. It is not simple, and cannot be achieved by simple promises, simple answers, slogans and scapegoats and walls. History tells us that the moments where this kind of thinking is most palatable for 'the people' is in the moment after a horrific disaster or conflict. I only hope, selfishly as much as anything else, that our leaders can find a way to this destination without the need for a reminder of why we don't fight real wars anymore. We have to do our bit, and try to elect people who can demonstrate that you don't have to be a dick, or a dictator to get shit done and have the courage to change our society for the benefit of those who need society most, and suffer most when it collapses.