Tuesday 9 August 2011

For Tomorrow

London is burning. I don't live by the river. But I see what's happening and I read the rumours on Twitter, the horrible photos and the even more terrifying words of people I previously thought of as well-adjusted calling out for curfews, water cannon and martial law, and I worry. I'm on holiday in London next weekend, on my way to somewhere else, and I am seriously considering donating a couple of hours of that weekend to volunteering to help with any clean-up efforts going on. It's not much, but London has been good to me on the gigs I've done there over the past year. And I feel I ought to do something.

Because the riots will burn themselves out. They always do. This kind of intensity, this kind of lawlessness, is not self-sustaining. Eventually tomorrow will come, and when it does it will be time to rebuild.

The following is a poem I wrote some years ago now, after Hurricane Katrina and the Boxing Day Tsunami. I wrote it and then left it in a file, finding it again only recently. It's not my best work - the influence of Auden is extremely obvious - but it somehow seems appropriate. It's all I can really contribute right now, from where I am:


Pump water from your flooded home,
lay the new foundation stone:
rebuild, rebuild.

Walk again on plastic legs,
unwind the bandage from your head:
rebuild, rebuild.

Pull the landed boat to sea,
dig the living from the scree:
rebuild, rebuild.

Bring order to the troubled city:
on your own or by committee,
rebuild, rebuild.

Take the orphaned hand in yours,
obey the deeper, human laws:
rebuild, rebuild, rebuild.

                                                  *             *             *
Actually there is one more thing I can do. The South Tottenham Customer Service Centre at Apex House, 820 Seven Sisters Road, N15 5PQ, is asking for donations of bedding, clothes and so forth to help those made homeless as a result of the rioting in Tottenham. Please, if you're reading this and in a position to give something, help. Shelter are also worth donating to, ditto Crisis. And I'm sure there are many more charities whose work is germane to what's happening now but it's half-past one and I'm rambling and can't really think too clearly right now. Suggest charities and I'll add them to this list. But the important thing to do now is to think about where we put our resources and what we do to fix our cities, and our polity, and fix them deeply enough that something like this cannot happen again. And that repair will not come from curfews or repressive legislation or squaddies patrolling the streets of London. It will come from all of us deciding, together, to do what we can to put things back together. To rebuild.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Whm Bm Thk U Mrm (a quickie)

Some time ago on this blog I mused on whether the linguistic experiment of adopting gender-neutral pronouns, such as 'hir', 'ze' and 'Mx' might not be extended by the adoption of a gender neutral equivalent of 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'. Such a word, especially if we worked hard to get it into general use, would fulfil the function of allowing non-binary or genderqueer trans people, as well as binary-identified trans and cis people who prefer to use gender-neutral speech, a polite way of addressing each other; give us a term of address we could request people to use when speaking to us; and also furnish us with a word we could use when interacting with people of whose gender identity we are unaware (in telephone conversations, say).

It occurred to me today that we could designate the neologism 'Mrm' (pronounced 'Mirm') to serve this function. Visually the word echoes the form of the existing binary terms 'Mr' &; 'Mrs', but the ending in 'm' confounds this expectation. Verbally the word begins and ends with the pleasing, bosomy 'm' consonant, but interpolates the sound of the male honorific 'Sir'. This 'ir' sound also rhymes with 'er', the universally recognised expression of uncertainty, symbolising the fact that use of this term brings the certainties of binary gender into question; and also with 'ur', the prefix denoting the primordial form of a text or language, which may perhaps be thought to gesture in the direction of the fact that gender exists in an undifferentiated form prior to social constructs being imposed on it. Though this last reference (to 'ur') might be an example of the author of this piece lapsing into pretension, a fact possibly not unrelated to the fact that ze happens to be watching Peter Greenaway's 'Vertical Features Remake' while typing.

Perhaps most crucially, 'Mrm' sounds fun, and has that silly, hat-doffing, Jimmy Stewart, vintage character which the ostentatious use of polite forms of address in an aggressively, compulsorily informal society like ours tends to accrue. I have always enjoyed addressing people (where I can be sure of their binary identity) as 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' (rather than the ubiquitous 'mate') in much the same way that some people enjoy wearing forties dresses or co-respondent shoes. It's a form of verbal burlesque, a bit of pantomimic play. 'Mrm' extends this field of play by introducing a term for people who don't fit the gender binary, or for the use of people who have no desire to use terms which reinforce said binary.

I therefore submit 'Mrm' for the consideration of all those who wish to make use of language as a tool for undermining binary gender norms. Have fun using it, gentlebeings.