What’s next: New York

So this is what’s next: I’m going to New York. I am hugely, hugely excited to say that I’m going to be assistant editor of Guardian US. Sometime towards the end of the year, Grant and I will pick up sticks and head back to London for a short while before living in New York for the next couple of years.

I am so incredibly sad to be leaving. I’m so proud of what we’ve done out here. We’ve made Guardian Australia into a formidable force on the Australian media scene, in a very short space of time. We’ve punched well above our weight in terms of the stories we’ve broken, the readership we’ve gotten, and the response to our presence – it’s impossible to deny that we’re here, and that we matter, now. What we’ve achieved in so short a time is absolutely amazing. None of that will end when I leave, of course; I was only a small part of that incredible growth, and Guardian Australia is in a great place now to grow even more over the coming months and years. I’m so proud of it, and of all my colleagues, and I’m going to miss them enormously.

I’m going to miss Sydney too. I’m going to miss my new friends more than I can say, and I’m going to miss so much about the city too: the botanic gardens, the sky dinosaurs, the red lights on top of the Westfield tower, the ability to go to Bondi beach after work if I want to. I will be very sad to say goodbye.

But I’m so excited about what’s next. Grant and I get to go explore New York. We get to embark on another adventure, so soon after the last one. We get to go across the world, again. And, most excitingly, I get to be a big part of what’s next for the Guardian in the US. I am thrilled to have this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The chilling effect

I’m finding myself withdrawing from Twitter a little, at the moment. Some of that is an ongoing process that started when I moved to Australia and left much of my busy timeline behind; friends are living at different times now, and Twitter is different out here. But some is a response to the corrosive atmosphere around games right now, and the way it’s come to a head in the form of the attacks on Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn over the last week.

The whole situation has become far too complicated for most folks to follow, but, broadly speaking, it started with a disgruntled ex making unpleasant allegations about private affairs very publicly, went through a point where indie game devs were having accounts hacked just for saying publicly that they supported Zoe, and is now at a stage where people seem to think it’s a good idea to dress up as fantasy racing birds and protest the state of games journalism ethics to get the attention of the “real media”, as though reporting on unsubstantiated allegations by an interested party would be good journalism rather than abysmally, impossibly awful. Liz Ryerson has a very strong round-up of the state of affairs here.

So.

There are consequences for speaking out. There are always consequences. I’m logging on to Twitter, almost any time of the day or night, and I’m seeing friends frustrated by dealing with people who want to tear them down for supporting a friend, a colleague, someone whose work they admire. The chilling effect here is huge, and not just applicable to those who have already spoken. I am finding myself withdrawing because I can’t face watching this happen again, after watching friends and colleagues and people whose work I admire driven completely out of the industry in the past.

And I’m frustrated with myself, because I have a platform that intersects with the games industry. I have a committed hobbyist relationship with videogames; I play a great deal, write about some, and occasionally create strange little pieces. If I was ever going to have a professional career in videogames, that was scotched long before the women I’m watching being pushed out now, when my all-girls’ school refused me permission to cross over to the boys’ school to study IT and electronics when I was 14. (Institutional sexism: it’s a thing.) So I have a platform as someone with an interest but no financial stake, and a successful career as a non-games journalist, and the ability to stand up and say, as a person and a gamer and a journo: this is not OK.

And yet. The chilling effect is such that I am frightened to do so. I use Twitter for work; turning off my mentions and retreating until an attack dissipates is an option that hurts me professionally. I have a mental illness, and I do not know how that might interact with a coordinated attack. Visibility is power, when it comes to speaking out against this bullshit. Visibility is also a great weakness.

This is how I’m feeling, watching a woman being attacked for daring to be female and make games and remain human. Relatively speaking, I’m both protected and powerful. Now imagine how it must feel to watch without that protection or that power. Imagine how it might feel as a teenager who wants to make games, watching someone who looks like you be punished for doing so. Imagine how it affects your choices, not just about whether or not to withdraw from Twitter but whether or not to take certain classes, or whether or not to release side projects online. Imagine trying to decide whether your future creative happiness is worth risking this level of psychological violence. Imagine doing it anyway, and being attacked for it. Imagine deciding that opposing it is too dangerous, and joining the chorus out of self-preservation, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they won’t attack you next time.

The people involved in these attacks, the hacks themselves but also the vicious teardowns of Quinn’s works and reputation and the harassment of her supporters, just want women to shut up. It’s not about games and it sure as hell isn’t about journalistic ethics; it’s just about keeping girls out of the clubhouse by any means necessary. They don’t like it when we speak, and they really don’t like it when we shout back. But I can’t be pushed out of an industry I’m not in; all I can do is discuss things on the sidelines. If I get attacked for doing so, all it’ll do is prove my point.

Reporting suicide: how not to kill your readers

Yesterday, as I went to work, news broke that actor and comedian Robin Williams had been found dead in his flat in a suspected suicide. Today, as I woke up, the UK newspaper front pages were being released on Twitter.

The Sun and the Metro have decided to go with details of how Robin Williams killed himself, while the Mail and the Mirror focussed on the reasons why. (The Mail Online goes into excruciating detail on the methods Williams used, but does so in the body copy of an article.) All four are cheerfully ignoring the Samaritan’s guidelines on media reporting of suicide, which cite evidence that “Vulnerable individuals may be influenced to engage in imitative behaviours by reports of suicide, particularly if the coverage is extensive, prominent, sensationalist and/or explicitly describes the method of suicide.”

Let’s be clear, this is not a hypothetical danger: a review of almost 100 studies worldwide has found a strong, coherent and consistent association between certain types of media reporting and increased risk of suicide in vulnerable people, and the Bridgend suicides should be known by every UK journalist as an example of how the media can make things worse.

This is happening in the UK, where funding is being stripped from already-stretched mental health services at the same time as punitive welfare policies strip money from the poorest and force severely unwell people to attempt to work despite disabilities that make it impossible for them to do so safely. A population that is already incredibly vulnerable is being made more so by lack of access to treatment and to funds. The UK is currently in the grip of an acute mental health crisis. This context is important.

The reason the media isn’t supposed to talk about methods used is because that knowledge can turn someone who is passively suicidal into someone with an active plan. Knowing the distances dropped, the ligatures used, the medication taken, the blades employed, all of these things can give a suicidal person the knowledge of how to actually do the deed, how to go about taking their thoughts from the realm of the hypothetical into the realm of the real.

Of course, if they want, they can just Google that information, but that requires an act of will on their part; there’s a barrier that acts as another check, a moment where someone might look at what they are doing and consider other possibilities. Google also places helpline numbers prominently in its search results, which is more than some media manages in its reporting. (Side note: there is a story to be written about what changed in September 2010.) Plastering that knowledge all over every newspaper someone sees on their walk to work, in their local supermarket, in their train carriage, negates that barrier completely. It says: here is how you successfully kill yourself.

Even if they don’t contain step-by-step instructions on how to kill yourself, a wall of front pages tying suicide to a specific cause lends justification to a suicidal person’s internal logic that says suicide is a rational response. Suicidal thoughts are, for many people, a temporary problem; distracting yourself from them is a valid and sensible response, and sometimes the only way to stop yourself acting on them. It’s hard to maintain that distraction when a celebrity dies in this way; it’s harder still when the media seems to buy into the idea that money troubles, for example, are a reason for suicide. There is, inevitably, a search for meaning, and a desire to rationalise what’s happened, but reductionist and intrusive stories hurt the families of those who have died by telling them, in effect, that there might have been something they could have changed. They also tell suicidal readers that there are good reasons to die, sometimes; they reinforce the grim logic of acute depression. You can do this even with the most gentle, most well-meaning attempts to memorialise someone’s life.

The flip side of the media response is a slew of articles tying Robin Williams’ comedic genius inextricably to his depression and struggles with addiction. But he was brilliant despite his mental illness, not because of it. We search desperately in cases like this for a spark of hope, a positive spin, and find it in “divine madness”: the idea that his genius could only exist alongside his sadness. But without his brilliance, the madness would remain, and without his madness, the brilliance might have shone so much more brightly. You can be a genius without being depressed, and generally those without major chronic illnesses get a lot more done and have longer lives. There is a strange ambiguity about the “divine madness” narrative that feeds in, at lower levels, to anxieties about getting treatment. What if, without the depression, I am no longer me? What if I lose my creative spark? What if I lose the last of what makes life possible?

But the onus is still on us, the mentally ill, to seek treatment despite our (not always unfounded) fears that it might not work and might even harm us. We are told to talk about depression more, when talking is just about the last thing a depressed person wants to or feels able to do, and when most people aren’t interested in listening. We’re told to seek help, when in reality that help is often unavailable. The last time I needed serious therapy, it took 12 months for an appointment to become available; that was before the current crisis. I cannot imagine I would be able to negotiate the barriers to NHS assistance if I were suicidal in London this morning, even in my position of relative wealth, insight and access. But it’s entirely plausible that Robin Williams did manage to get the help he needed, and it just wasn’t enough. It isn’t enough for a lot of people. A lot of people die despite excellent care. We need more research, we need more treatment options, we need a revolution in mental healthcare. What we get are front pages that make our illnesses worse.

Fundamentally, the media doesn’t care about the guidelines. It doesn’t care about the people they’re meant to protect. Mentally ill people who die come in two types: the talented and brilliant, for whom death is an inevitable part of their brilliance, and the poor and underprivileged, whose deaths are irrelevant except where they interact with an existing story. The media doesn’t care about our deaths, unless we’re famous, and then it will pore over every gruesome detail regardless of how that might affect those of us still living, still struggling, still reading the news and still fighting for hope every day. What does it matter, after all, if a few more people succeed in killing themselves in the next few weeks? They were depressed. There was nothing anyone could have done.

Pocket Lint #13: Bloody Mary

If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish email on Fridays you can sign up here. Future Pocket Lints may come with more analysis, more chat and/or more personal elements in them, as I carry on experimenting.

Periods don’t have glitter in them.

Occasionally, about once a year, I reread Myths over Miami. It’s a fascinating story very well told, and I am immensely grateful that the internet lets me keep coming back to it, long after the print paper it originally existed within has been forgotten.

“I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be clinically insane. I wonder how aware you might be of your own insanity. I wonder if it happens so gradually you don’t notice, or if it’s sudden, like a light switch being flicked from off to on. Can it be flicked back, or is it irrevocable?” Possibly the best depiction I have ever read of what it’s like to live with chronic mental illness of the type I experience.

When my son was born, all of my questions suddenly had a very basic answer. I would love for him to grow up as I did, enjoying shooting but understanding that every gun is loaded and you never touch one without an adult and you don’t point it at anything you don’t intend to shoot. But more than that, I’d love to believe that he’ll have no mischievous accidents, no suicidal depressions or homicidal rages, no moments of weakness or fits of pique or questions that can be answered by the pull of a trigger. As with all the other scenarios in which I’m the good guy with the gun, I can never be sure. I carry my permit, as I always have. But now all my guns live with my father.”

“Martin Amis’s book is also the reason I keep saying I am sexist and not that I was sexist. I will have to keep fighting this thing about myself. I will make mistakes along the way – my id will take over and I’ll say the wrong thing from time to time. This is an article about acceptance, not a self-awarded pardon.”

Tumblr of the week: Olivia When, which is full of beautiful animations of people stealing dogs. Olivia is the person who made this gif about accepting compliments in the style of a superb bird-of-paradise.

Poem of the week: The Practice of Magical Evocation, Diane DiPrima

Game of the week: A Dark Room, also on iOS – strange, saddening, compulsive, unfolding like a very creepy flower.

Happy birthday, Guardian Australia

Tea, cake and champagne for the Guardian Australia launch.

About this time last year, I think someone had broken out the champagne. Not that that meant we stopped working, of course – it just joined the cups of tea and chocolate echidnas (echidnae?) that Penny bought to celebrate launch. We started very, very early and finished very, very late, and it was worth every minute.

Today is a year since Guardian Australia launched, and it has been an incredible year professionally (as well as all that boring personal stuff about finding a new home 10,000 miles away from home). My instinct when it comes to explaining why is to go to the stats – to turn to what we know about our new audiences, the people who found us on launch day and the people who’ve discovered us since. We can bring out commercial and editorial numbers that prove the impact we’ve had and the appetite for our work in Australia, which has completely eclipsed what I thought it might a year ago today. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story – they don’t cover the stories we’ve broken, the speed at which the office has grown, or the way our audience has formed a community around our journalism.

With tons of help from colleagues, I compiled a huge awards list for the anniversary, and it acts as a look back at some of the highs and lows of the year. It’s long, but there are probably at least twice as many things I could have included, if I had enough time to put it together (and thought people would still be interested at the end of it). As it is, it stands as a little marker of what we’ve managed to do in the last year – and my favourite part is, by far, the comment thread underneath. There’s our biggest achievement – that after a year, we have readers who’ll reply to our birthday celebrations to say: “Thank you for being here. Please stay.”

Kurt Cobain: his part in my downfall

I remember where I was when Kurt Cobain died. That’s probably a little unusual for someone of my age, because I was ten years old at the time. I didn’t yet really listen to much music, but I was on a family holiday with cousins a few years older than me, in Majorca, in a wide sprawling villa with ceramic tiled floors and a walk-in pantry in which, one exciting day, we found a centipede.

A huge thunderstorm woke me up scratching in the middle of the night – surprise and eczema are not good friends at the age of ten – and I ripped my arms from elbow to wrist in one half-asleep double-scratch movement, and I couldn’t go back in the swimming pool after that. Instead I sat outdoors and read a book of short horror stories – not Goosebumps but in a similar vein – three times in a week because I’d not brought enough books with me. There was one story in particular about a girl who found a cursed ring that forced her to hear the exact thoughts of everyone around her, including the people who secretly hated her, and it eventually drove her mad.

My cousins were old enough to watch MTV in the cool room where the pool table was, and it was through them that I learned that Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of a band called Nirvana, who were pretty good, and that he’d died. I also learned about Beavis and Butthead. It was a pretty good spring holiday.

Somewhere around two years later I bought my first album. It was the Spawn soundtrack. I hadn’t seen the film but the cover looked really, really cool and it had bands I’d heard of making music with bands I hadn’t. I think on some level I figured that if every song was a remix, every song had two bands, so I’d get twice as much value for money. After that, From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah was maybe my second or third purchase. I picked it up from a second-hand record store in York where my cousins lived. I was trying to be cool. Of course I was. I was 12.

I fell in love with that album. I listened to it over and over, poring over the lyrics in the CD insert, trying to understand how you took words like that and turned them into that sound: that rawness, that energy, that emotion. I started all backwards with Nirvana, so I was never really a Nevermind girl; eventually, when I’d picked up every album and gotten my friends to trade me tapes of bootleg tracks and B-sides, it was Bleach I loved the best. In Utero was too raw, too sad, too strange, too close to home. Nevermind was too popular, maybe, or perhaps just not energetic enough. I could jump around to Bleach. I could put on my massive 90s jeans and my skater chain, or my black miniskirt and my striped tights, and dance to it.

When I went to hospital my parents brought in CDs for me to listen to. They gave me a MiniDisc player for Christmas, the Christmas I spent on the adult psych ward, and I copied albums across to it so I could listen to them when I couldn’t sleep. I listened to a lot of In Utero that year. I put up a poster of Kurt Cobain on the noticeboard next to my bed, that one of him in jeans and a grey sweater with a gun in his hand, where he’s smiling. The music therapist taught me some basic chords on the guitar and I learned to play Polly, along with the chorus of “Why Does It Always Rain On Me” by Travis, because it used a lot of the same chords and it was always playing on the radio we had on in the dining room during most meals, to make the whole thing less weird for the anorexic patients.

When I was 14 or 15, I bought a huge long-sleeved T-shirt with the Nirvana acid smiley on the front and a slogan on the back: FLOWER SNIFFIN KITTY PETTIN BABY KISSIN ROCK N ROLL WHORES. I bought a dark colour to hide the blood, knowing there would be blood. These days, sometimes Grant wears it around the house, and I go short-sleeved.

I don’t listen to a lot of music these days. Sometime in my first or second year at university, about the time I stopped self-harming, I also stopped finding new music, and slowed down on listening to the things I’d always loved. Something about music rubs me raw, opens me up too much. I get emotional in ways that aren’t always comfortable, when the emotions come from the music – or from the past. When I made Detritus last year, I hadn’t listened to Nirvana specifically – deliberately, in the non-Spotify-random-playlist way where you actually listen to the music – in perhaps two years. I named each act after a Nirvana song, because that’s what was playing in my head when I was writing.

Turning 30

I never thought I’d get here.

I guess for some people that’s a rhetorical thing. That they always understand on some basic level that they’re going to eventually get to 30, barring some horrendous accident or creeping chronic unpleasantness that stops the heart more abruptly than it should be stopped. But me, I grew up with a creeping chronic unpleasantness inside my own head, and when I was younger it tried to kill me. A lot.

So I never really thought I’d get here, in the temporal sense. I certainly didn’t think I’d be here in the spatial sense: about as far from where I started as it’s possible to be on the earth, having an autumn birthday where the cockatoos live. It still surprises me most mornings, even after almost a year – not the fact of Australia itself, but how far it is from home, and yet how many people here have welcomed me with open arms. I’ve made games and art here with very good friends who, a year ago, I didn’t know. Friends who are going to be part of the rest of my life.

Our life. I would not be here without Grant, my husband, and his unending support and love. We tend not to be too soppy in public. But there it is: without him I would be somewhere, and someone, else.

And there is work, too. The Guardian’s Australian office changes every time I turn around, at the moment (literally – while I was on holiday someone took out half the offices and replaced them with more desks, to cope with the new folks we’re hiring). It’s busy, and stressful, and often puts me a long way outside my comfort zone. But it remains consistently the best place I’ve worked, and the most fun I’ve had at a job. I am impossibly lucky to have a job I enjoy, work that’s challenging and rewarding, and such good friends and family to share these things with. I am impossibly lucky to be here, and to be 30, despite thinking that would never happen.

Despite the heartache, the hours and the homesickness it has been, I think, the best year of my life. I have worked very hard to get here. Here’s to many more, and to believing that I’ll get there too.

 

Trigger warnings: a broken system with good intentions

This is an interesting thing: a New Review post that looks at the history and present of trigger warnings, and how they’ve moved out of communities online and into public life and spaces. If you don’t know what a trigger warning is, it’s essentially a note indicating that you might be about to encounter something upsetting, something that could negatively affect your psychological wellbeing; they’ve grown out of supportive communities in which people needed to carefully negotiate conversations about subjects that need to be spoken about, but that also could prove detrimental to readers’ health. The roots, however, aren’t quite as simple as the New Review piece paints it them:

Initially, trigger warnings were used in self-help and feminist forums to help readers who might have post traumatic stress disorder to avoid graphic content that might cause painful memories, flashbacks, or panic attacks. Some websites, like Bodies Under Siege, a self-injury support message board, developed systems of adding abbreviated topic tags—from SI (self injury) to ED (eating disorders)—to particularly explicit posts. As the Internet grew, warnings became more popular, and critics began to question their use.

It’s rare to see an article on trigger warnings mentioning Bodies Under Siege, despite its early adoption of warnings as a way for its users to safeguard themselves. It’s a shame, then, that the piece skips over the ways trigger warnings were used there in the late 90s, when I was an active user. They were not a way for users with PTSD specifically to avoid harm; they were for all users – including those without mental health issues – to avoid subjects that could trigger them into unsafe behaviour, or that they didn’t have the mental energy to tackle. They were carefully considered and carefully enforced alongside a list of verboten things that mods would delete on sight: discussions of weights, calorie counts, numbers of self-inflicted wounds, images. Those things were not done lightly. Bodies Under Siege was a community of vulnerable people struggling with mental illnesses of various degrees, and it was built entirely around recovery and support. Trigger warnings and removal of things that could prompt ‘competitive’ behaviour were not courtesies. They were absolutely integral to the community’s existence.

I used a couple of other forums for people who self-harmed, in my teens. BUS was the one that did not make me worse. There’s a direct analogy between one of those forums and pro-anorexia communities; at its worst, it provided encouragement to hurt yourself, and at best it was simply reinforcing the behaviour, a reassurance that self-injury was an OK thing to do. It was not a healthy space. The second, though, tried to be about recovery, but allowed images and discussions of self-injury particulars. It was a deeply conflicted space, as a result: if you were feeling OK, you could quite easily end up feeling worse after a visit. If you were already feeling bad, you went there knowing it would most likely spiral downwards, playing Russian roulette with your feelings. You would, almost without doubt, stumble across something that would likely tip you from ‘maybe I could hurt myself’ into the act.

Trigger warnings on BUS made it safe from that concern. It was a place you could go while feeling awful to try to be strong. It had thread after thread of distraction games, little time-wasting things you could do to stave off the need to self-injure. It had questionnaires to fill in before you did it, drawn up by users and psych professionals, and questionnaires to fill in afterwards. It had resources for asking for treatment, for dealing with emergency care, for supporting others. It had safe spaces for parents, partners, carers to socialise. It had diary threads you could post in and read, if you were well enough, and those diaries came by convention with warnings about the content. If you didn’t want to engage with the illnesses of others, for fear of worsening your own, you did not have to.

Words cannot express how valuable trigger warnings were to me, or to many of the other users on BUS. Not just those with PTSD, or anxiety disorders, or specific trauma-related illnesses; not even just those who self-harmed or those with eating disorders; all of us who used that space benefitted from its policies on keeping us safe.

Trigger warnings on the web were born in communities trying to balance the need to speak with the need not to hear. Those communities were closed, or at least only partially open; LiveJournal communities where membership rules could be enforced, forums and BBs where mods had control over members’ posts. Trigger warnings do not translate well to public spaces – Tumblr tags, Twitter, even Facebook groups, or some of the real-life scenarios mentioned in the New Review article – because those needs are different for the wider community. Interestingly, some Tumblr tags do take content warnings well – conventions have grown up around those tags, and those who transgress those conventions are essentially moderated out by the existing users. But there’s no system to support that, nothing to stop a sustained invasion, no way to organise that space to support that use.

But just as it is inadvisable to add trigger warnings to everything based on the possibility of harm, it’s just as inadvisable to remove them from everything based on disbelief in their effectiveness. In communities focussed on mental health and recovery, trigger warnings are absolutely necessary for users. Whether college classes, campuses or the Huffington Post need the same level of consideration is a valid question, for sure, but it’s one worth asking. If you want people with disabilities to be able to participate fully in your spaces, you’d better be thinking about accessibility in terms of triggers and mental wellbeing as well as wheelchair ramps and sign language. And that doesn’t always need to be in formal language: sometimes it’s as simple as editing a tweeted headline to include the word ‘distressing’, to give your followers the choice about what they click on.

The New Review piece concludes:

Trigger warnings are presented as a gesture of empathy, but the irony is they lead only to more solipsism, an over-preoccupation with one’s own feelings—much to the detriment of society as a whole. Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities will only restrict all of our horizons. Engaging with ideas involves risk, and slapping warnings on them only undermines the principle of intellectual exploration. We cannot anticipate every potential trigger—the world, like the Internet, is too large and unwieldy. But even if we could, why would we want to? Bending the world to accommodate our personal frailties does not help us overcome them.

There is no way to stop every vulnerable person from coming across things that will make them more vulnerable. There is, however, courtesy and consideration, and a need for equal access for those with mental health issues. Those are not small things. There is a valuable, important baby being thrown out with this bathwater.

Why blog?

When I started this blog, blogs were dead exciting. They were the Future. They were New Media, and I was a new journalist, and I desperately loved working online. I wanted to throw myself into the exciting new future of online journalism as hard as I possibly could, so I did the best thing I could think of: I started writing about online journalism, as a sort of add-on to my day job, writing in the cracks. I read everything I could find. I used to get home after 10-hour days writing and demand my brain to produce something else, another few hundred words of analysis or a quick pointer to something else interesting on the internet that someone had said, because I thought it was hugely important.

It was. Honestly, it was. I treated it with such seriousness, and I’m pretty sure that without it I wouldn’t have moved on in the way that I have. Blogging made me, in some ways more than newsrooms did: blogging made me think about reaching specific audiences, it honed my research and collaboration skills, it made me capable of synthesising an argument in 500 words for humans (rather than 2,000 words for academics), it stopped me being scared of speaking my mind in public. What it did for me has been invaluable.

Then I moved on. I started work at the Guardian, and that has a certain chilling effect on writing: for one thing, I can’t use this blog to kvetch about minor work frustrations, because Private Eye exists. There’s a tendency for some people to think that if a journalist works for a national or international news organisation, their words in a personal space reflect back on that organisation. And there’s also the fact that a great many of the things I worked on at the Guardian have been the things I couldn’t work on back when I started out. There’s no need to come home and get fired up about online journalism when I can put that fire to action at work. That’s a very satisfying place to be.

But blogging matters. Late last year, inspired by Adam Tinworth, I tried to blow the dust off this place and pick up the pace a little: I forced myself to write about something every day for ten days. Sometimes games, sometimes journalism, sometimes politics, sometimes creative work, sometimes criticism, sometimes just notes – a broader palette than the one I started with, and perhaps a more mature one. (Perhaps a more confusing one; I’ve stopped trying to separate those parts of my life, because each of them informs all of the others, but if you’re looking for a single-subject blog I can imagine the combination can be strange.)

Since then I’ve slacked off somewhat, but since the new year started I’ve been trying to write posts with ideas in them, thoughts or analysis or at least contextualising a link to something else. One a week at least, on top of the weekly Pocket Lint email. In fact, that Pocket Lint links post every Saturday is a deliberate strategy to force myself to write more: I don’t want my blog to only consist of links posts, like the Delicious-powered graveyards that scattered the web a few years back, when everyone stopped writing and just auto-posted links instead.

Adam’s currently doing another challenge: one month of 500-word posts, substantive things, every day. He linked to this post on writing yourself into existence:

Once you have a blog you notice more, you start to think “I might write about this on my blog” “What do I want to say?” “What will people’s reaction be?”. Over time you get better at noticing and the better at noticing you get the more noticed you get! You end up in the wonderful collective web of “Oooh that’s interesting” which I now wouldn’t ever want to be without.

That’s right. When I wasn’t blogging, I wasn’t thinking about what I read in the same way. Now, finding myself falling out of the habit after a couple of months, that’s a useful reminder to keep writing, to keep sharing what I find interesting, as much for the process of finding, thinking, synthesising and creating as for publishing the end result. Blogging’s been very good for me. I should be doing it more.

The generosity of governments

It’s not possible to make an infallible system.

If you support the death penalty in practice, on some level, you have to decide that a certain number of innocent lives are a price worth paying for the state to kill guilty people. You can support the principle but oppose the practice – as some do – because it is impossible in practice to create a system which only, ever, executes the guilty and spares the innocent. The more you try to ensure the innocent are spared, the more guilty people also avoid punishment. A perfect system of perfect judgements is impossible in the real world.

No system can sort with 100% accuracy between the deserving and undeserving, either for assistance or for punishment. There will always be borderline cases, those attempting to cheat the system, those whose circumstances are not neat or clean. Most systems are set up to assume a certain leeway, with the exception of those systems set up by states to help their people – or those wanting to become their people.

In the UK, the government has decided that no level of assistance should be given to anyone who does not fit increasingly strict criteria of need. It does not matter how many people with genuine needs are hurt in the pursuit of its desire; if one person who might just about be able to cope without benefits receives benefits, that is one too many. No matter that by tightening the system the government is actively hurting many, many times more people than it’s justifiably excluding from assistance – that is, fundamentally, the point. And the war of words in the popular imagination is won by convincing people that there are so many more undeserving than deserving welfare recipients, and that the pain is therefore proportionate.

But of course it is not. In striving to ensure that only people who most desperately need help ever receive it, the government cuts programs that help everyone. It sees the extra help given to disadvantaged people as an unequal and unnecessary expense, and so guts programs designed to ensure equality of opportunity. It is OK to hurt people who need help, the reasoning goes, so long as you don’t accidentally help anyone.

In Australia, the war is over asylum seekers. On one hand, there are supposedly queues of people waiting to get into Australia; asylum seekers with the proper documentation, who board planes and wait patiently for their chance to come here. On the other, there are people so desperate that they board unseaworthy boats run by people smugglers in the belief it would be better to drown than stay where they are. We are meant to believe that by punishing the latter, the former will benefit. We are meant to believe that it is not worth helping a single person who has come by boat. We are meant to believe that state assistance is a zero sum game, that what’s mine is mine and asylum seekers are Others. We are meant to believe that the country is giving something away when it takes in those desperate enough to risk drowning to live here, not gaining something. We are meant to believe that the only choice is between deaths at sea and deaths in detention, as though stopping the boats is more important than stopping the suffering, the desperation, the human misery that lies behind every journey to these shores.

I don’t think I am useless to Australia. Australia doesn’t think so either; I’m one of the good ones. I’m a temporary economic migrant, not a permanent refugee. I have knowledge skills that this country thinks are worth the cost of my admittance. I don’t really need to live in Australia. So the government has made it remarkably easy for me to choose to do so. It makes sure I can have my husband with me. It offers me healthcare arrangements, because my home country would do the same thing. As long as I am working and do not need further help, Australia is very happy to have me.

Of course it is, because I don’t need help. There is no room in this equation for political solutions that admit the possibility that it might be OK to help a few people who are two degrees above the breadline, if it ensures that a greater number of those below the breadline get that help too. There’s no room for generosity or for compassion, no room for the idea that it is better to make it easy for those who need help to get it than to make it hard for those who do not. And so, slowly but surely, governments act more and more like banks offering loans. They offer assistance only to those who can prove they do not need it, and leave those who need it most to drown.