Build it up, build it up, build it high…

Mankind is myriad in its forms. There are the bold, the brave, the meek, the mild, the lonely, the lost, the beloved, the boastful, the humble, the athletic, the academic. I could go on. But like some colossal, invisible Venn diagram, they fall, though inconveniently, into two circles: the Builders, and the Breakers.

To elaborate: there are those whose aim in life is to create, to conjure, or attempt to conjure, gold from base materials; whether that gold takes the form of ideas, food, music, grand architecture or just a home; whether it is modest, whispering in its size and sound, or vertiginous in its scope and achievement. Then there are those who scorn, scoff, belittle, berate, destroy others’ efforts, to justify their own misery, their own failure to either achieve or attempt to achieve. In that sliver between, there are those who want to build, who do build, but who seek to trample those around them as they go, to assure that their tower is the highest, or the only one standing.

This is not an author’s attempt to demonise critics – paid or unpaid – though I do find their occupation a sad and strange one. This goes farther than art, into the social, the political: those who endlessly moan “this country is going to the dogs” because the morning paper has told them so; those who refuse to vote because it “won’t change anything”; those who dismiss anything that doesn’t fit their narrow concept of cool as dire, dross, drivel; those who dismiss the hip as the same; those who demand excellence and then, when it is attained, say “they cannot be that good, they must have cheated”.

These are people who have given up on happiness. Yet they fail to see that happiness is not something that can be pursued and then held aloft like a prize, a gleaming, solid trophy in silver, to be sat on the mantelpiece until dust and death come creeping. It is fleeting, nothing more than Kodak moments – whether they last minutes or years – and sometimes it is the pursuit itself that is the pure joy. Nothing gets changed for the better by sitting, grim, on the sofa and shouting at the television or the paper or typing a self-satisfied, scathing comment into the convenient box on a website and hitting “send”.

We need to chase happiness, hold on to it for as long as we can before it flits from our net, butterfly-like into the distance. Then chase it again down the long, yellow road we have laid ourselves, brick by tricky brick.

We need to build. And let others do the same.

About Joanna Nadin

A former broadcast journalist and special adviser to the prime minister, since leaving politics I’ve written more than 80 books for children and adults, as well as speeches for politicians, and articles for newspapers and magazines like The Guardian, Red and The Amorist. I also lecture in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and hold a doctorate in young adult literature. I’m a winner of the Fantastic Book Award and the Surrey Book Award, and have been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Booktrust Best Book award and Queen of Teen among others, and twice nominated for the Carnegie Medal, for Everybody Hurts, and for Joe All Alone, which is now a BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated BBC TV series. I've also worked with Sir Chris Hoy on the Flying Fergus series and ghost-written Angry Birds under another name. I like London, New York, Essex, tea, cake, Marmite, mint imperials, prom dresses, pubs, that bit in the West Wing where Donna tells Josh she wouldn’t stop for a red light if he was in an accident, junk shops, crisps, Cornwall, St Custard’s, Portuguese custard tarts, political geeks, pin-up swimsuits, the Regency, high heels, horses, old songs, my Grandma’s fur coat, vinyl, liner notes, the smell of old books, the feel of a velveteen monkey, Guinness, quiffs, putting my hand in a bin of chicken feed, the 1950s, burlesque, automata, fiddles, flaneuring, gigs in fields on warm summer nights, Bath, the bath.
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2 Responses to Build it up, build it up, build it high…

  1. Matthew Fryett says:

    “He who binds to himself a joy,
    Does the winged life destroy.
    But he who kisses the joy as it flies,
    Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

    Or she, I suppose. That’s Eternity by William Blake. A favourite of mine since secondary school because it seemed to put my feelings into words (and it’s short enough to remember which is handy).

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