As part of this October project, I went to a Case For Optimism meeting yesterday. In a previous post I expressed my concerns about it sounding a little “hippy-dippy” and I’ll honestly say I stepped outside my comfort zone yesterday.
Now, a few disclaimers first:
Firstly, I have a postgrad a Master degree in this hippy shit as some would brand it. I’m a pro at breathing exercises and the fact that I am this publicly reflecting on my work/career is still a trace of my alma mater’s reflective practitioner philosophy: I could wallpaper a family home and their garage with my reflections on this stuff.
Secondly, I wrote my thesis on “the importance of entertainment for the efficacy of sociopolitical theatre”, which was awarded with a first. (Not that it matters but I thought I’d squeeze that in there…) So I’m aware of possible creative responses to social/political issues and no matter where life has taken me since graduation: it is still something I very strongly believe in.
Back to matter in hand: the case for optimism workshop. They explain what they do on their website:
Case for Optimism events are spaces for cultural leaders and arts practitioners and those wanting to deepen their creative response to the interlinked challenges of the ongoing financial crisis, the end of the oil age and climate change. They are designed for people who want to find how they personally and collectively can respond best through their work.
As a writer, I went along for more the personal than the collective aspect. It was held in the ArtsAdmin building in a theatre studio: so I did notice some people without shoes but there were chairs in front of the projector for a Zero Carbon Britain presentation by the Centre of Alternative Technology. So far so good.
At first I was thrown by the man playing the flute but then he made a very solid case about the alarming state of the world’s fossil fuels and how this all intertwines with the dwindling economy. Helpfully he suggested a change in cultural/political attitude was needed: apparently the technology for more sustainable energy already exists, it’s just that the world’s monetary resources are prioritised elsewhere and for it to be a political issue – it needs to be society’s concern first.
Insightful and a quandary to get your teeth in.
But then: 4 steps of ‘your journey’ to this workshop, imagining a sustainable future, all concluded in an unsatisfactory group brainstorm. On posters around the room categorised from “Food and Growing”, ” Education” to ” Transport” and “Wellbeing, we had to write down ideas. Now, call me pragmatic but EVERYONE VEGETARIAN-NO MORE FARMS! is going to be tricky to implement on a grander scale.
There was one exercise from which a tangible idea could have formed, a project which could instigate some change and I ended up in a group that drew a chalk circle. Among inspired ideas of shared spaces to work, an opportunity for children to cook and eat together, a business venture that rented out roller coasters to adults, cooking classes that passed on dying arts like preserving to make the most of seasonal food – we had a chalk circle. Based on a psychology theory of Carl Jung.
My goal to find a bridge between ideas and the society it concerns by listening to their problems, was translated by the group (who ironically all claimed to have the goal of listening) into a metaphysical space. Here people could retract to ask questions and use it as a compass to find answers. Again, sceptical me but I doubt 80-yr old Mrs Jones from number four, who is struggling to pay for heating this winter will retract to this metaphysical circle for an extra blanket. Later a group-member confided in me, she found defying the rules of the exercise quite thrilling. I also noticed she placed her name sticker not on the usual place of the chest but on the hem of her shirt: what a rebel.
I’m not sure what I expected of the afternoon, it did indeed state ‘cultural leaders and arts practitioners’ not ‘policy makers and business executives’: I felt some frustration that while I was pushed out of my comfort zone, most of them were too comfy in theirs.
One of the closing questions asked was whether a Case for Optimism had thought about expanding their workshops to others, not so like-minded people, (“Houses of Parliament!” someone joked) The answer? No, because they would wait to be invited. Hm, I think the PM might be busy washing his hair underneath his wasteful power shower.
In any case, the person who asked the question got my attention enough to bee-line to him for a much-needed debrief in the nearest pub. I’m afraid to say I missed the performance scheduled at the end of the day, because I was too busy envying my new conversation partner’s pint over my (19 days down, 9 more to go!) non-alcoholic coke. That’s the drink not the drug: what a rebel.