Small steps towards colour
Photo by Beth Chalmers
The world around us can make us believe we just have one fixed identity, or one unchangeable story. The systems we interact with – whether that’s the criminal justice system, or the immigration system, or the healthcare system – can sometimes be like a mirror that just reflects back one angle, usually not a very flattering one. The mirror shows us only our symptoms, or only our past, or only all the ways in which we don’t fit in or are not enough. When we have to tell just one story from just one angle it loses its colour, and all of a sudden we’re looking at the mirror in black and white.
At the same time, we find that our stories become part of a transaction. When I was suffering from a health condition, I had to tell my story again and again to different doctors to try to get the treatment I needed. Our stories might be demanded by those in power – by courts, by the Home Office, or by social work, or by other services, in exchange for something – a prescription, or parole, or the chance to participate in a project.
Some academics talk about this as an ‘enforced narrative’ – a story that you’re forced to tell. So it’s like we have to keep returning to this same mirror, this system, that only reflects in black and white, and that only shows the stuff we don’t really like about ourselves. Some systems demand a lot of interaction, a lot of repetition, and so it’s easy to begin to believe this one, colourless angle is all there is.
I have a friend who is a psychologist, and she told me about a technique she uses called narrative therapy. It’s based on the idea that we are made up of multitudes of experiences, ideas, stories and possibilities. Narrative therapy helps people to move away from ‘the problem story’ in their lives and focus on new possible stories, and take a step closer to those.
We’re not therapists, but I think that over the years that I’ve been involved with Vox in different ways, we’ve been collectively finding our way towards our ‘other stories’, the multiple possibilities we all hold. We’ve learned to notice the potential in the small things. We’ve sung about domino’s pizzas, about being a goldfish in a bowl, about foxes and storms and satellites and rage and hope. We’ve learned to look at colours again.
Now we find ourselves facing new challenges in the age of Covid-19 restrictions. Many of us are struggling, feeling worried and isolated. We’re trying to adapt to doing creative collaborations and community-building activities online, and finding that Zoom is very much like a mirror too. It can oversimplify things, make conversations feel less fun and like more of a transaction, drain the colour from our cheeks. There’s no making each other a cuppa or holding the door or singing together or passing the biscuits.
Without all these little acts of welcome and connection, how can we invite new people into a shared space that doesn’t feel like a system, a service being delivered, or power being enforced, but like a creative and supportive community? How do we break out of our flat, two-dimensional zoom boxes? We’re trying to take small steps towards new, bright stories that might be unfolding, and the Vox Unbound community is at the heart of trying to figure this out. We’ll try to share what we find and make along the way!
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