It is summer 2017 & I sit in our daughter, Rhiannon’s, bedroom. She moved out three years ago so this space should be empty except for a pile of belongings she didn’t want to take with her that I haven’t been able to give away, but still, over these intervening years we’ve managed to fill this room with stuff. On top of this our eldest, Isaak, left for university four years ago & decided to stay on after graduating. Since then his room has also choked up like a silting estuary. Various items jostle together like flocks of gulls; the space in each room diminished daily as if the Talacre sand dunes have waded into the house & expanded to fill every corner & gap before spilling into the centre of the room. We stacked & balanced new stuff: workshop materials, books, paperwork, CDs, vinyl, books – on top of boxes of older versions of the same stuff so that we’re forced to climb over (or through) peaks of stuff to get to other stuff. I repeat the word stuff often because we have stuff & we stuff.
I rummage through, & stockpile, information in a similar way: scavenging through news & content & junkpiles only to emerge empty handed, unable to unearth the necessary amid a mountain of the irrelevant. I cannot take what is read at face value; honesty is fiction; the truth a luminous murmuration of starlings punching through the red sky of alternative facts that stream across iPad screen & mind; news is as subjective as opinions on Bake Off.
Sifting through the rooms I am at sea – unable to discern what is valuable and what isn’t. Are Rhiannon’s old books something I should treasure even though she no longer reads them? We loved sharing Harry Potter together & I feel a lurch of happiness when she claims them – but why? Thankfully she’s agreed to take on the task of storing those memories, of finding the space in her own tiny home, but if the books were burned in a house-fire we would still cherish the memories of reading them without needing the physical items. Equally, Isaak agrees to take his Tae Kwando medals, trophies & training suits even though he doesn’t really have storage, but at least we are no longer responsible for maintaining the connection to those objects – the memories will more than suffice.
As we sift through the house it becomes clear just how much stuff we have stuffed about ourselves, insulating us from … what? What about the twenty-plus pairs of shoes I’ve accumulated? Each one suitable for a different occasion. What about the vintage tan cowgirl boots I bought from Etsy & had shipped from the US only to realise that they only look good with one outfit I wear possibly once a year? I put so much time and effort into finding them – selling them would be accepting defeat.
The iPhone permanently attached to my hand flashes a distraction from the stresses of dealing with all this stuff & memories & emotions. I dive into pale blue light & scroll. I am a North Sea Trawler, sifting through impossibly massive catches with increasingly efficient information nets. Unlike the ocean trawlers whose ability to improve technology & efforts can cause fish stocks to dramatically decline, the more information I fish the more is generated in a seemingly endless circle of creation & I am expected to grade-then-discard into the murky waters the facts that do not meet my needs.
Do any of the likes, comments, articles on world elections or Brexit; blogs on poetry; Instaphotos of #vanlife; emails that I scan then mark as unread because I don’t have time or am not in the right frame of mind to answer; the endless, endless opinion pieces & information – does any of it meet my needs? I read a blog on Twitter about a burgeoning political crisis & begin cross referencing it with online sources like The Guardian, Daily Mail, Al Jazeera, The Canary, Wikipedia, other blogs & other Twitter accounts across the political spectrum, & more. I do this because it helps me to feel more in control of the information, so that I can have a clearer picture of the actual truth of an event but it is time consuming & exhausting & I become lost in a vicious feedback loop. The more facts & lies are created, the more information I must sift through to find the truth: 24hr news feeds, blogs, PhDs, books, essays, academics, experts, correspondents, alternative news reports, or truth reports, & none of them hold the absolute truth.
Perhaps that is what makes accumulation a necessary part of modern day life: we have to have all of these options streaming into our lives to enable us to reflect some semblance of truth these days. I collect books, Facebook friends, vegetarian recipes, endless blogs, poems, shoes, songs on my iPhone, literary magazines, headscarves; rack up Strava kilometres on the mountain bike; follow myriad Instagram & Twitter accounts & all of these things reflect my personality, who I am. They make me unique & special; help me to carve out an identity. Individualism makes me authentic, & by extension I will then only have genuine connections with people & information. My opinions are validated by these choices.
Realising this is a lie was not a thunderbolt moment where I leapt from the metaphorical bathtub like Archimedes. The truth was more like a tide, sweeping in then creeping out, then back in again, & over the years each white-noise radio crackle the waves uttered transmuted into ideas & thoughts. I believed that filling my life with all of this stuff would make me the person I always wanted to be: funny, unique, smart, intellectual, thoughtful, friendly, emotionally intelligent & empathic, whereas it has made me (at my worst) disconnected, lazy, self-absorbed, competitive & judgmental.
It’s a given that it’s impossible to buy or accumulate positive abstract nouns without giving yourself back in return – love being the obvious one, but also loyalty, fun, friendship or contentment, whereas the negatives (anger, jealousy, self-aggrandisement, ego) have a way of stockpiling themselves quickly & easily in the darker corners of the mind & in disused cupboards, or we find them creeping uninvited into our beds.
Perhaps the antidote to post-truth is inner-truth, is exploring ways that will allow us to see every element & fragment of who we are because if we’re not truthful about ourselves we cannot see truth or lies in others regardless of whether it’s our neighbour explaining how the adjoining fence collapsed when they were painting their side, or a journalist/politician pointing to refugees & migrant workers telling us they’re the real cause of problems in our communities.
I reach the conclusion that maybe, in order connect with myself & people more, I need to disconnect from social media so that I can search for a more authentic way of being & over the summer delete Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.