Lost things (i)

Author: Jenny Rose

I have lost these things:


plants which died


my health

a step ladder

a set of fire tools

the capacity to walk or drive very far


clothes I used to love


things I wrote 25 years ago.

Somewhere, is there a forest of lost things? My step ladder standing like a strange tree, adorned with clothes – that silk dress, the cord jacket, the hoodie. Next to it, a thicket of pokers, shovel and bellows. In a hollow, shrivelled plants-that-were. There is a dell, where a mist of sleep floats hazily, and around it stand shadows of people who were once with me and now are not. Around their feet, a carpet not of leaves, but of scraps of paper, the writing on them (my writing) blurred by light, water and time. My health is scattered, some of it trodden mud by the path, some of it buried by squirrels, much of it slowly composting down. And curious flowers sprout around – their blossoms intricate filigree that, when I look closely, spells out the words I forget – names of people, places, objects and ordinary things.

Can I trust the forest to hold these things? Can I trust that I will be ok to go on without them – that, as I have managed without the fire tools, I will also manage without the words? That the loss of physical capacity has made space for new things to grow?

As much as has been lost, what has been found?

Lost things’ inspired by Kristen Roderick’s ‘The Power of Lost Things’ ritual, https://www.spiritmoving.org/blog1

This poem was originally posted in April 2022 by Jenny Rose on: Of Owls and Ancestors (wordpress.com)

Breathing is not an indulgence

Author: Mirel

On this land,

winter is ending

and I can still rest.

I am kept awake only by coffee and screens,

and endless reems of news.

As I scroll from bed,

I hear groans, I hear screams,

from beneath the rubble

of bombed out theatres

and decimated apartment blocks.

When I stretch,

I slowly awake to the world again.

When I rise,

I take my body out on the land again.

In another land,

bodies stretchered out of hospitals,

bodies on the roadside,

body bags tipped into pits.

In another land,

the war dead are singing in the rite of spring.

– – –

Our breathing is not an indulgence. 

Writing Alone, Writing Together: reflections on a process

Author: Max Hope

I usually write alone. By this, I mean that I am used to being the sole author of academic papers, blog posts, book chapters etc. I like writing alone. It means I have total control over what is said and how it is said. I take ownership of the argument and I get to make whatever case I feel I can convincingly make. I use the tone, the language and the structure that feels right for me. It’s my work and only mine. I might have to convince a publisher that it’s good enough to publish but I don’t have to convince another author. It stands or falls on its own merit. It’s my work, my words. If it’s written well, then it’s my way of being seen, of making a case, of having an impact.

So, why bother co-authoring anything? Why write with someone else?

I’ve looked back at my list of academic publications and am surprised to see that a dozen of them have been written with other people, some with as many as six people at a time. I remember back to how these were done, and there was no formula. Each one was different, depending on the people I was writing with, the motivation for writing, the case we were trying to make, and sometimes, the practicalities of having to meet a looming publication deadline.

Some of this co-writing was inspiring and motivating.

Most of it was not.

I’ve had experiences of writing first drafts of papers and sending them to co-authors who deleted huge sections and replaced them with, well, something incomprehensive, jargonistic and unclear. I’ve seen my writing watered down and washed out. I’ve seen my words being changed to make an entirely different argument. Worst of all, I’ve seen quotations from children and young people – which, for me, were the most powerful part – being cut because they didn’t count as ‘evidence.’ I’ve worked with co-authors who found it impossible to stick to a deadline and others who never produced anything at all. I’ve written alongside people whose writing needed so much editing that it took more work than if I had written it myself.

It has been exhausting and demoralising, and at times, incredibly frustrating.

But when it’s good, it can be great.

The most interesting co-writing process that I have been involved with is a recent one. I have been writing with Sophie Christophy, using a form of letter or email exchanges. We agree on a general topic area and some possible overarching questions, but we do not make a plan about what either of us will say or what the outcome of the dialogue will be. One of us writes a section and ends on a question. It then passes to the other person. Neither of us change a single word of what the other has written. Sophie’s writing style is different from mine, but this doesn’t seem to matter as the whole purpose of the writing is to be authentic and clear in our own voices. There is no editing. It ends when it ends.

There is no exact science to this way of writing, but this is what I think helps the process:

  • Choose a topic or question which has several equally valid positions so as to create a genuine dialogue
  • Support your writing partner by letting them know if the points they are making are not clear so that they can explain something in a different way
  • Ask the other person a real question which opens up discussion and gives them a chance to explore something from a different angle
  • Write from the heart
  • Be prepared to surprise yourself with what you might write
  • Keep each letter/email relatively short so that it helps with the dynamism of the final piece
  • Try to write your reply fairly quickly so as to prevent over-thinking and to maintain momentum
  • Be open to the multiple directions that the piece might take and do not try to predetermine the outcome in advance
  • Use this as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your writing partner
  • Publish the dialogue if you both feel comfortable to do so

I am curious about how many people could engage in this type of co-writing whilst maintaining a strong sense of flow and coherence. Could it be four, six, ten, sixteen, more? How easy would it be to write something which was interesting to the reader whilst staying true to the voices of each author?

In March, I am running a writing retreat with Sophie and we have set ourselves the challenge of co-writing something as a group and having it ready for publication by the time we finish. What will emerge from this process? What will we learn? What will we write?

I can’t wait to find out!

This blog post first appeared in February 2022 on https://maxhope.co.uk/blog/

The revolution is just a t-shirt away

Author: Max Hope

I watch Queer Eye. Unashamedly. I love it. These five queer folk, travelling around the world, building connections and changing lives. I know that it’s Netflix and it’s commercial and it’s a very sell-able show, but it’s also really captivating. Watch it if you are not yet a convert.

Anyway, t-shirts. So Karamo Brown, one of the Fab 5, is often pictured in a t-shirt with some sort of slogan on it. I often don’t know what they mean, but they intrigue me. I pause the show to google the t-shirt and I usually learn something I didn’t know.

Stacey. Kamala. Michelle. Thank You.

Trans People Belong.

Mental Health Matters.

Black people, I love you.

Black history is more than slavery.

Three words. Four words. Five words. Six words.

Is this activism?

Karamo is described on Wikipedia as a television host, reality television personality, author, actor and activist. Are wearing slogan t-shirts a form of Karamo’s activism? How deliberate is the act? Having watched all the Queer Eye shows to date, I believe it is totally deliberate. This man does not leave anything to chance. He has an image, and a well cultivated one at that. He is the ‘culture guy’ and often works with people on matters to do with belonging, identity, connection, self-esteem, relationships. He knows what he is doing. And so – for me – wearing these t-shirts is a calculated move.

I’ve looked him up. Karamo  has recently launched a whole t-shirt collection. He is selling these to the public and giving 100% of the profits to charity. Is this a way of making money for the causes that he is passionate about? A way of influencing fashion? Or a way of making a point?

Whatever he is doing, it is working. For me anyway.

Karama has reminded me of my all-time favourite Billy Bragg song. The lyrics of Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards include the line: “So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a t-shirt away” [they also say “in a perfect world, we’d all sing in tune, but this is reality so give me some room” – but dwelling on that will take me off on a tangent and so I will return to t-shirts].

I am reminded of my youth. I am reminded of the times when I would wear slogan t-shirts. Where are they now? Where are my t-shirts?

Time to get some more.

What about you?

If you could make a point in just four, five or six words, what would it be?

*This was first published in January 2022 at https://maxhope.co.uk/2022/01/04/the-revolution-is-just-a-t-shirt-away/

“Writing is a lonely business.” Or is it?

Author: Max Hope

Writing is a lonely business. That’s what they say. Well, it’s what Ernest Hemingway said anyway. He proclaimed that “writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”

But is it true?

For me, writing is a way of connecting, of reaching out, of using my voice. Writing is a way of becoming visible. It can feel like shouting from the rooftops, like a rallying cry. It can express anger, pain, or delight. It can be an opportunity to make a point, clearly and concisely, without interruption. It is a way of telling stories – real or imagined – and taking the reader on a journey of my own making. It can creatively weave theory into something more tangible. It can bring academic argument to life. It can have an agenda and be trying to change hearts and minds. It can feel like a form of activism.

But is the process of writing a lonely one? Hmmm.

John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in our Stars, famously said “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” Maybe that’s true. Well, not the bit about introverts and eye contact. Not necessarily anyway. But maybe it is something that you do alone, and maybe it is about telling a story.

Stories are told for a purpose. To entertain. To educate. To spark curiosity and interest. To persuade. Stories have a flow and a pace and rhythm. They have a beginning, middle and end. Stories have, well, a story.

They also have a listener. A reader. A viewer. Stories need to be heard. They are caught in the middle of the relationship between the storyteller and the audience. They are dynamic. They are alive.

And this is where we come back to loneliness.

When I was a university academic, I had very little connection with any sense of audience. Who was reading my work? Was anyone reading it? What did they think? Did they agree with what I was saying? Were they persuaded by my arguments, my research, my data? Was anyone out there at all? I was driven by a deep-seated desire to change the world but was anyone in the world paying attention?

The climate of academia is a competitive one. People write. People read. People critique and argue and pull things apart. Academic papers are scrutinised and scored and given a star rating. Academics strive to be ‘world changing’ and yet are pushed to write in a style that is inaccessible to all but a few. The irony.

The process of writing, as an academic, could feel lonely. It could also feel pointless. I left my university position because I had lost confidence in the system and, by default, I had lost sight of the value of what I was doing.

But I know that writing is valuable. Words are powerful and writing can change the world. Especially writing by people who are activists, changemakers, campaigners and practitioners.

Writing is powerful when it has an audience. Writing by changemakers needs to have an audience. This is where the change happens.

And this is the antidote to loneliness.

Writing is a solitary business. But it can also be connecting and purposeful and motivating. Connecting with others, building solidarity with others, and encouraging others are powerful ways to combat loneliness.

Write On, Changemakers.

This doesn’t have to feel lonely.

*This was first published in October 2021 at https://maxhope.co.uk/2021/10/28/writing-is-a-lonely-business-or-is-it/

From Martin Luther King to Greta Thunberg … and a bit of Katniss Everdeen

Author: Max Hope

Words are powerful.

Words are, as Albus Dumbledore says, ‘our most inexhaustible source of magic’.

And yet words are not always in written form. Words can be spoken, and some of the most notable changemakers use the power of the spoken word to great effect. Martin Luther King had a dream. Greta Thunberg told us that our house was on fire. Nelson Mandela said that “it is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Words and powerful. And persuasive. And they can change the world.

So why is Katniss Everdeen on the list? She is a fictional character. The Hunger Games didn’t change the world. Or did it?

In The Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler alert here), Katniss Everdeen is, through circumstance, cajoled into becoming a revolutionary and a figurehead for the rebels. Through her forced involvement in the barbaric ‘Hunger Games’, she became known as ‘the girl on fire’, and she is later used by the rebels to make propaganda films to spur on the Districts in their battle against President Snow and the all-powerful Capitol. The slogan “fire is catching, and if we burn, you burn with us” is instrumental is turning the tide against the violent dictatorship and eventually, bringing down the regime. So far, so fictional.

This is where it gets real.

The symbol of solidarity that was used in the Hunger Games books – a three fingered salute – was first used in Thailand in 2014 as a symbol of resistance after the military coup. It was later banned. But the use of the symbol has become widespread, as just a few months ago, the same salute was used by those resisting the military takeover and arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. The symbol is now divorced from the books and has a status of its own. It is no longer fictional. It is real.

Words are powerful. Speeches are powerful.

Novels, stories, poems, blogs, speeches, songs, journalistic articles, websites, podcasts, academic papers, non-fiction books. These are methods and mechanisms for sharing ideas. Platforms for sharing words. They can all – in various ways and at different times – change the world.

This is a call to changemakers.

Who are you? What do you want to change? How, for you, could the world be a better place?

This is a call to action.

It’s time to write some words.


Albus Dumbledore is Head Teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his words were created by J.K. Rowling.

Katniss Everdeen was created by Suzanne Collins. Watch her ‘fire is catching’ scene here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X236AeHt5RY

*This post was originally published in October 2021 on https://maxhope.co.uk/2021/10/20/from-martin-luther-king-to-greta-thunberg-and-a-bit-of-katniss-everdeen/

There is no such thing as original thought

Author: Max Hope

“There is no such thing as original thought.”

That’s what I was told at University when I was 19 and trying to write essays. What my tutor told me – or at least, my interpretation of what they told me – was that I had to study what other people had said and I had to use this in my essays. If I was very creative, I might just about cobble together enough ‘evidence’ from other people to carefully disguise my own opinions, but I had to be very skilful in backing this up and reinforcing everything.

I was studying for a degree in Politics. And I had things to say. But I had to find someone else who had said it first. 

What I learned, here and throughout my undergraduate experience, was to hide my own voice and to rely on the authority of other people. This is what I needed to do to get a degree.

It took me years and years to find my voice again. And when I did, I could see the difference in how I spoke and in what I wrote. My writing came alive. I could hear myself, and I know that others could hear me too. My writing was more convincing, it was richer, and it was more honest. I no longer had to hide myself behind others, to fool the reader by disguising my own voice. I let myself speak.

After I had graduated with my degree, I thought I was finished with University. I had no intentions to ever go back. But life’s twists and turns took me in unexpected directions, and after many years, I found myself doing a PhD and in turn, becoming a University Lecturer.

Within my first few weeks as an academic, I had a conversation with a colleague about my work, and I told her I was excited to do some research about the experiences of young LGBTQ+ young people in schools. She looked at me curiously and asked, “but what do you know about it?”. I started to explain about some of my grassroots work of the last 20 years, about my own personal experiences, about my life, and she asked again, “but what do you know about it, I mean, what research have you read?”

Here we were again. Knowing meant reading. Knowing meant turning to the authority of others. Knowing did not come from myself, my own experience, my intuition. Knowing was outside. Knowing was other. Knowing was academic.

The university system is a machine. It is a traditional, conservative, and patriarchal machine that values some types of ‘knowing’ and privileges certain voices over others. It prizes ‘knowledge’ and ‘research’ that is produced and undertaken in a particular way and it rewards – literally – those who are able and willing to play these games.

There are people in universities who don’t see the world in this way, but they are the minority. I was one of them. I played the game for a long time. I pushed at the boundaries and I tried to change the rules and I sometimes broke the rules, but I still played.

I don’t want to play anymore.

I have stepped outside of the system, off the treadmill, away from the machine.

I want to write, and think, and create, and play. I want to do this in places which recognise that ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking’ can happen in many ways.

I want to do this for myself. And I want to do this with others. Together, we can write more and think more and create more.

Let’s write.

* This blog post was originally published in September 2021 on https://maxhope.co.uk/2021/09/28/there-is-no-such-thing-as-original-thought/