This semester in my creative writing class we’ve been doing a lot of work on poetry and place writing – ie, the effect setting has on place and what happens when you physically put poetry into setting. For example, for an assignment I’ve been writing a group of poems about the sea, so on Thursday afternoon I went to the beach and wrote some of it in the sand. It’s interesting because the writing will all be washed away, and so it says something about the subject of the poem. (If you want to know more about this just ask me, but that’s all I’m going to say about it in this post so I don’t bore you all!)
So Thursday morning (Thursday was a busy day) was our last class, and our tutor thought it would be good to go out and actually write some poetry in a place using chalk. This way we’re not actually doing any real graffiti as it’s non-permanent, but still has the effect of putting poetry somewhere. I just wanted to clarify that because a lot of people seem to think I used paint. I did not. It’s blue chalk. But she thought it would be interesting to take photos, put them on social media and see what happened.
Me and my partner Beth set out into Rottenrow Gardens, chatting about what to write about. With writing often an idea comes to mind and you stick with it, and on both our minds was Syria. The government had just decided to go ahead with the air strikes, which neither of us were happy about, and we were both agreed that we wanted to write something about that. We both liked the hashtag #NotInMyName and thought it would be a really interesting, minimalistic way to show what we were thinking.
I don’t know about Beth, but as we trekked up the hill my main thought wasn’t to make some big point, more that this would be a cool way to do the task and express my thoughts in the only way I know how really. I’m not very vocal with political opinions because I’m really not a big fan of conflict…as you’ll see further on. But this, for me, wasn’t me making a big political stand, it was more me just doing some work for class on the subject of something I care about. There might not seem to be a difference to you, but to me there is.
So we started working, and this was the result:
We were just going over our work when a security guard appeared. He asked us if we had permission to do this, to which we explained that it was for a class, we didn’t know if our tutor got permission and asked if they wanted us to rub it off.
Plot twist: They didn’t.
I left feeling like I’d handled the conversation pretty well, walking back to our classroom. As I walked further away from our wee bit of street poetry I immediately began to feel really anxious.
The blue chalk on my hands freaked me out, so in a Lady Macbeth-esque routine, I went to wash my hands of chalk (and, I hoped, this weird anxious feeling in my stomach). The chalk washed off, the feeling did not.
We had a long chat with our tutor about public space and whether it’s actually public, silenced voices and the purpose of poetry. On the way to the train station we peered into Rottenrow to see if anyone was looking at it (they were) and then I went to do some more poetry in the sand.
If you spoke to me at all on Thursday then you’ll know that this anxiety did not disappear. I had this horrible feeling in my stomach, I felt really warm, my hands were shaking, and I was little bit snappy because of how worried I was.
When I voiced these concerns to various people they told me not to worry, because it wasn’t like I was going to get kicked out of uni, I probably wouldn’t even get into trouble about it. That’s not what I was concerned about though, so this didn’t ease my concerns.
What I was concerned about, in hindsight, was this horrible clash of one authority figure telling me to do something and then another telling me not to. In a weird sort of moral dilemma, I suddenly didn’t know whether what I’d done was right or not. Was I in the wrong? Had I done something bad? But I’d been told to do it, so was it bad? But I’d been told not to do it, so it must be wrong?
I’m a bit of a goody-two-shoes (if you hadn’t already analysed that) and so this horrible moral dilemma put me in a sort of turmoil. I was worried what people would think and I kind of blew it out of proportion. I’m feeling a bit more rational now that I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t really do anything wrong (other than not getting permission, but that wasn’t really up to me). I can appreciate now how interesting it is that in a piece about our voices being silenced, we were quite literally silenced by security. Or that in university, a place where we’re supposed to be expanding our opinions, we were told we’re not supposed to have them.
But what this really showed to me, something which I already sort of knew, is that right and wrong are not always obvious black and white ideas. There’s a grey area, but when you put me in that grey area, I don’t cope very well. I think that’s something I’m going to need to work on, because in my life I’m not always going to be doing everything the way people want me to – I don’t want to just be a people pleaser. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be making a habit of writing political poetry in the street (IN CHALK). And I’m not exactly going to be picking fights everywhere I go. But I like to think now that I’m aware, next time I need to do something that is a more difficult moral grey area, I’ll be able to do it without feeling like I’ve just committed some sort of horrific crime.