Tag Archives: art

Things to do

A recurring conversation I have been finding myself having lately, both online and face to face, is what on earth we can possibly do in the face of a world that has turned itself upside down.

Trump, Brexit, the demise of the NHS, the rise of the right across Europe, the devastating refugee crisis, an increasingly vulnerable natural environment, and increasingly terrifying global instability. There is so much that is wrong with the world at the moment it can be hard to know where to start.

There are those who have dedicated themselves to a very clear path of activism, honing in on one cause and throwing their time and energy behind it, and others who are convinced that there is very little point in doing anything – that the cogs will keep turning in the same direction however big the groundswell of people that want things to change.

I am still trying to work out what my one clear path is – the aspect of all this mess that I feel most passionate about and where I have the knowledge and skills to be able to make a real difference. But in the meantime I know I cannot sit pessimistically back and just do nothing.

There have been lots of articles doing the rounds to kickstart people into action, some of which I have found more useful than others. In no particular order, here is my current list of things to do to begin to affect positive change. Hopefully there will be something here to keep you moving forward!


Seek solidarity

Sign petitions. Join rallies. Go on protests. Take part in twitterstorms. On their own, these things might not always achieve an awful lot – but the very process of coming together with other people who feel as strongly as you do that things need to change can help you to keep going and find the strength to take things to the next level. If you seek out local action you might meet people close to you who can help you generate ideas and turn your frustrations into campaigns – and at the very least we are collectively sending out a message that our political leaders do not speak for us. It might not feel like they’re paying much attention, but there are plenty of people who are.

Engage in the political process

Like it or not, our imperfect political system is an essential piece of the puzzle in getting our voices heard by those who have the power to do things differently. If you’re not already a member, join a political party. Get involved in local campaigning on the issues you care about. Write to your MP. Arrange to meet with them. Email the Prime Minister about those issues that you get so irate about on Facebook. It’s easy to dismiss the impact an email might make, but if every single person feeling disenfranchised and disillusioned took ten minutes out of their day to explain why to the people running the country then the millions of emails that would ensue would be hard for them to ignore.  Of course the ultimate engagement in politics would be to stand for office: somebody has to represent our communities, and if you don’t believe that those who do are doing a very good job then do something about it! And obviously, don’t forget to vote – whatever chance you get. The political climate might be very different right now if everyone had protested with a cross in a box rather than by crossing their arms and staying silent.


Choose your news carefully 

With the abundance of fake news stories doing the rounds online it can be all too easy to get suckered in to something that supports your point of view without checking that it’s actually true, and that’s not going to help anyone. It’s worth using a range of different stories to get closer to the truth of what’s going on, and it’s really important to support serious journalism – financially, if you can. So much of our media is controlled by those with the money to manipulate consumers’ views in whatever ways suit them. If we want more independent news outlets to survive we need to fill the gaps left by the dearth of big business backers.

Support the arts

In a world where the mainstream narrative is becoming increasingly divisive and exclusionary the arts have a vital part to play in fuelling an alternative way of looking at the world. There has been some really positive action coming out of the arts community recently: from publishing houses vowing to help authors from marginalised countries to get their voices heard to New York’s MoMA showcasing contemporary artists barred from the US and actors using their position on the West End stage to publicly challenge Trump’s policies. We all have a part to play in this: we can all read the books, visit the exhibitions, watch the plays; we can talk about them, and we can help fuel an alternative narrative.

Engage in debate

Don’t let hate go unchallenged. Don’t help liars keep up their masquerade of truth. Whether it is stepping in when you witness acts of prejudice in the street or commenting on a questionable Facebook post that pops up in your timeline, don’t be a silent bystander to all the stuff that makes your blood boil. Maybe try not to get too obviously furious about it – we are in the business of building bridges here, not burning them – but if you can become that voice of doubt in the mind of those who are accepting the status quo without stopping to think about it then you are on to a good thing. And if it’s the mainstream media that is spouting the lies then challenge that too – the Independent Press Standards Organisation investigates complaints about newspapers and magazines, and Ofcom does the same for television and radio.

Donate to groups on the ground

Money again. Just as with the media and with the arts the most surefire way of supporting the activists making change happen is to put your hand in your pocket. There are so many different groups that could use your cash – Planned Parenthood, In Facts, the White Helmets, the NHS Support Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the ACLU to name just a few. None of us could donate to them all- but we could all choose one to make our priority. The flip side of this is of course not financially supporting organisations who are part of the problem… The recent high profile boycott of Uber showed just how powerful the consumer purse can be – and the #grabyourwallet campaign lists many other businesses you might want to think twice about supporting.

Find your niche

This is not a fight for the short term: if we are going to be able to harness our considerable collective power to really make a difference to the future we are going to need to buckle in for a long and bumpy ride. If you can, find a way to use your skills and your interests to really focus in on an area where you can bring about change. The potential scope for this is huge, and will be different for each of us. Whether it’s academic study, artistic endeavour, advocacy, direct campaigning or something else, think about how you can make your efforts count.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you hold your nerve. With the Trump regime indulging in its campaign of global gaslighting and our Tory government becoming increasingly removed from any sense of truth it can be all too easy to put your head in the sand and pretend that none of it is happening. But it is, and it is up to all of us to try and turn the tide.


If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make a stand you might want to check out this stunning print by my friend Caitlin – a vision of acceptance and international community, with 50% of the proceeds going to the American Civil Liberties Union.

And if you have any other ideas about positive actions we can take, then please do share them in the comments.

The power of connection

Recently, my trips to London have been more about connection than ever before. I mean, they always are in a way – catching up with family or friends, seeing the people I miss since we made the move down to Devon.

But the last couple of visits – as with many of my recent encounters with friends – have meant more than that.

The conversations I have shared have been on a different level. Driven at first by growing incredulity about 2016 as its carnage unfolded, and now by hope that 2017 might just be a time for change, we have discussed our fears about the world and revealed our plans to combat them in whatever small way we can.

Sometimes this has meant continuing conversations started online, or dusting off shared values that have lain dormant for years. And sometimes tentative comments about the state of things have led to entirely new connections being revealed, the realisation that people with whom I became friends mainly through circumstance in fact have way more in common with me than I ever dreamed.

Yesterday began with the donning of pussyhats with one of my bestest buddies. We made our way to Grosvenor Square to join the women (and men, and children) marching in protest at Trump’s inauguration, marching to say that we do not agree with the values that he represents and in fact find them reprehensible, marching to say that we will not stay silent in a world where those values are being normalised through his rise to power, and the rise of right wing divisiveness all over the world.


Ours was a quiet and familiar connection in the midst of the crowd, a togetherness that we used to enjoy on a daily basis and now happens way too infrequently, a standing side by side with the values we know we share without even having to talk about them. The words we did exchange spoke of trying desperately to overcome the sense of helplessness that simmered beneath our convictions – thoughts of what on earth we and all of the people we stood shoulder to shoulder with were supposed to actually do to make a difference once the march was over.

I’m still mulling that, but what came next strengthened my resolution afresh to make sure it was something, and something good.

Even before the march was scheduled I had planned to be in London yesterday. We had to duck out of it early, not having anticipated quite how well supported it was going to be, in order to arrive almost on time for a memorial service.

The person we were remembering would not have minded that we were a little late. In fact were she still around she would undoubtedly have been marching by our side.

We were celebrating the life of a mentor, colleague and friend we lost far too early at the end of last summer: the indomitable Morlette Lindsay, a force of nature unsurpassed by anyone I have met before or since, the woman who not only taught me how to follow my heart and be the teacher I wanted to be but taught me to stand up for what I believed in and knew was right even if (especially if) it felt like the whole world was telling me I was wrong. Sitting in St Bride’s church yesterday afternoon, and afterwards at the pub, it was clear that she had touched the souls of every single person there in similar ways.

I hope she had some inkling of how important she was to me. I’m not sure I ever came out and told her, and I regret that – but I can make sure that her spirit lives on in my refusal to stand by and watch whilst our humanity gets twisted out of shape, and in the playing out of my determination to find a way to make things better.

I could have happily stayed in that pub, remembering Morlette and reconnecting with friends and colleagues who I have lost touch with over the years, for the rest of the evening, but my day was not done yet.

From there it was on to the West End, to meet old drama school buddies. These were friends who I got very drunk with the week before the EU referendum last June and realised that we were all fighting the slide towards a society driven by fear and hate in our own ways.

Yesterday we were headed to see one of our number perform in The Kite Runner at Wyndham’s Theatre. It was exciting to see him on such a significant stage, wonderful to see this story I had loved in book and film form brought to life through theatre – and humbling to be reminded how the narrative we are in the middle of right now has played out in so many different places and times before, and never with positive consequences.

Again the conversation turned to what we are supposed to do to stop this permutation of that narrative in its tracks, and the realisation hit that the things we can do will be different for all of us – and in fact all of us are working out our path to a better future even as we worry that it doesn’t exist.

From the actor bringing Khaled Hosseini’s powerful story to new audiences, to the translator embodying internationalism and connectedness with every new commission, to the sports journalist planning a move to current affairs in order to influence the way people engage with what’s going on in the world.

And the writer, trying to find a way to make my words mean something beyond the spilling onto the page of the thoughts inside my brain.

There is more we can all do – more we will do – but it is heartening to remember that in many ways the revolution has already begun.



“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Arthur has been fascinated by the remnants of charcoal in our outdoor fire, so I thought he might like to have a go at drawing with it… If you’re going to make a mess it might as well be a beautiful one, right?

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

The gift


She sat on the sofa, knees drawn up to her chest and arms stretched out in front of them holding her masterpiece proudly. It looked so much like him. It wasn’t just the physical features, although her graphite lines perfectly moulded the contours of his stately nose, those deep, dancing eyes, the lips turned tantalisingly upwards at their ends in a constant almost-smile.

More than that, she’d captured something of his very essence. It would be easy to sympathise with those who were afraid that a photograph might steal something of their soul if you saw just how uncanny the resemblance of this drawing was to her love.

She sighed and placed it carefully down on the coffee table. He would be home soon, and she couldn’t wait to give him his present.

She padded through to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine, hearing the insistent buzz of her phone as she returned.

Birthday drinks with Rob. Back by eight I promise. Love you. 

A cloud of irritation enveloped her, and she immediately chastised herself for being so unreasonable. It was his birthday, right? If he wanted to go for drinks she could hardly stop him. Besides, it would be eight in just over an hour.

She settled back down on the sofa and flicked on the TV.

An hour passed, and then another. The wine had definitely begun to go to her head, dulling her senses though it did nothing to dampen her annoyance. She’d texted him twice now, but of course she’d had no reply.

He stared up at her from the heavy sheet of cartridge paper that held his likeness. It had been the most expensive she could find, a dream to work with. As she stared back at him she realised that something was not quite right. It was hard to put her finger on exactly what: a shadow on his cheekbone, or maybe the angle of the underlying structure itself.

She stood and retrieved her tin of pencils from the bookcase by the window, pausing for a moment to check that he was not about to surprise her. The street below was busy as it always was on a Thursday night, but of him there was no sign.

Even as she made the very first line on the paper she knew it was a mistake. She was way too drunk for this. Yet once she’d started she had no choice but to continue.

She began gently, evening out the opposite side of his face to conceal her error, then adding weight to the lines around his mouth and eyes. Her anger seeped through her fingers, into the lead of the pencil and onto the page. She was angry with him, both the real him and this edifice that would not stop looking at her. But more than that she was angry at herself – for being an idiot once again, for having too much trust in him and none at all in her own judgement.

The solidity of the paper was satisfying as she scrawled deeper and deeper into it. He became monstrous, a parody of himself on his darkest days. His almost-smile became a leer, his nose a beak, the inviting pools of his eyes turning into terrifying caverns of infinite darkness.

She stopped before she had obliterated his features completely, investing the last of her rage into a tightly cross-hatched canvas to amplify the horror of what she had done.

The lead of her pencil snapped, finally giving in, and it brought her back to herself, to their flat and his imminent arrival home. Her hands were shaking as she stood, and as a final gesture she toppled her half-empty wine glass, spilling its blood-red contents across the remains of his gift.

It was then that she heard his key in the lock. He staggered slightly as he opened the door, taking three deliberate steps into the room before closing it behind him.

“Sorry I’m late.”

She didn’t know what she could possibly say, so instead she said nothing.

He didn’t seem to notice, pausing to kiss her clumsily as he stumbled to the sofa. He picked up the ruined drawing that lay in front of him, squinted at it slightly, and broke into a smile.

“This is really good!”

“Are you taking the piss?”

She couldn’t be doing with this now. A row she could handle, but she didn’t have the patience for his insidious sarcasm.

“Seriously, I mean it. Can I take it to the gallery tomorrow?”

Her mouth twisted in on itself, the only outward sign of the scream that was threatening to explode her chest.

“Goodnight. Oh, and happy birthday.”

He was gone by the time she woke up the next day. She figured he must’ve slept on the sofa. The portrait was gone too, and in its place was a note.

Really sorry about last night. I’ll make it up to you I promise. Love you.

She was too hungover to be angry, and just felt really stupid. All that hard work, those hours and hours of meticulous draughtmanship, and for what?

She fired up the computer before heading into the kitchen to make a coffee. There were too many deadlines to be met today for her to be able to afford another minute mired in regret.

It was just after three when the email came in.

It was from the gallery where he worked, but not from him. She recognised the email address as one which had borne news of many a rejection when she’d submitted her drawings in the past. This time though the mood was rather different.

Original, they said. So fresh and exciting. A total departure from her previous work. They were sorry not to have identified it before but she clearly had a real talent, a gift. They would be honoured if she would consider selling this piece for inclusion in their collection.

She had to read it four or five times before the words began to make sense.

Maybe she could forgive him after all.


Nikki Young Writes