I am about to write up my annual 'year in review' post, but because this year has been A Lot, I had some things to say that weren't going to be covered by a Q-and-A-style meme about favourite songs and best new TV shows of 2016. I'm always very contemplative at this time of year, and over the past few days I've been thinking a lot about stories.
I haven't really felt genuinely happy since June 24th this year. However, I managed to struggle on for a few months after the EU referendum result by telling myself, pretty much every day, 'I can live with the Leave vote, as long as Hillary Clinton wins the US election in November.' Well, we all know how that went. I didn't sleep much for the whole month of November, and the activities of daily life, of planning for the future, seemed utterly futile. What was the point of the next cohort of NHS doctors knowing how to search databases, or of healthcare researchers managing their data or conducting a systematic review properly? What was the point of planning a wedding, or growing a garden, or meeting up with friends, or cleaning the house? I remember very little of November, just this kind of dampening fog of despair, interspersed with flashes of fear and worry about how to help distant friends.
And then I went to the cinema, and watched Rogue One. It's not a perfect movie — it's not even a perfect Star Wars movie — but it is the story of a ragtag found family of misfits, finding courage in each other, choosing to fight against incredible odds and an overwhelmingly technologically and numerically superior enemy. More importantly to me, it's about people making a choice in the face of utter hopelessness and despair, and the knowledge that they are unlikely to live to see the results of their actions, to save the world for others, when they know they will not be able to save it for themselves.
This brought me back to myself, not because I believe I would be one to emulate those characters' actions — I've never been tested in this way, but I am pretty certain I do not have that kind of moral courage — but because it reminded me of the comfort and consolation and power of stories, and of the stories that I carry around with me like a kind of personal canon.
And then I remembered the five wives of Fury Road, a quintet of traumatised and violated women, making common cause, fighting back against oppression and exploitation and a misogynistic death cult, asserting 'We are not things' as they build a better world.
I remembered the clones of Orphan Black, women supporting other women as they reclaimed control over their own lives and choices and bodies. I remembered Jessica Jones, another abused, exploited woman, bringing herself out of the pit of despair by protecting and saving other people.
I remembered the characters of Station Eleven choosing, in a blighted, postapocalyptic world, to create libraries, make music, and become a band of travelling players performing Shakespeare, because 'survival is insufficient.' I remembered the children of Space Demons giving up the gun and dreaming of a world of peace and plenty.
I remembered Pagan Kidrouk, Isidore Orbus, and Babylonne Kidrouk learning, loving, and living fiercely, carving out spaces of tolerance, pluralism and integrity in a world slowing crushing such spaces in favour of extremism and ideological uniformity. I remembered the characters of The Lions of Al-Rassan doing the same.
I remembered Noviana Una, organising a rebellion against an oppressive empire from within a twenty-first-century Library of Alexandria, and leading a mob of the dispossessed, abused women and traumatised military conscripts, to confront a violent, misogynistic, abusive, all powerful ruler. And above all, I remembered the story that started everything, that has taught and given me so much, and was the first one that ever told me, 'Tell them stories. They need the truth you must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, just tell them stories.'
Your stories will be different to mine. They may not be in books and films and TV shows. They may not be fictional. They may not be stories at all. Whatever they are, I hope you find them, and find strength and comfort and courage in them. We are going to need all those things in the coming year, and we must draw on what we can to get them. Happy 2017, everyone. Love, hope, and stories to you all.