Disturbing Words: ends

Endings make me restless. So do storms. Which is how I found myself standing at the top of a hill this afternoon in the pouring rain, wetness soaking through my fabric trainers and jacket made of recycled 1970s curtains. The weather app said it wouldn’t rain, which of course meant it did. My weather eye on the grey sky knew it, but I went out anyway. Or because. Soaked to the skin I saw a huge rainbow arcing from the dark cloud-shadow lying over the next ridge to the north, reaching over the rising rows of houses stormlit to red-gold, and plunging south-east, towards the river and the wetlands. Over the south-eastern fall of the bow was a double rainbow, bright then (as soon as I grabbed for my phone camera) faint, unphotographable in the grey, flat light. Looking with my eyes (and through the prism of raindrops on my glasses) I saw spectral echoes between the two bows, colours emerging in waves and pulses from the clouds. Then I slid down the hill for home, skidding on wet leafmeal, reaching just before the hail came spitting like Tictacs against the windows, the rainbow long gone as the clouds closed in and the light homogenised, then turned to dusk.

I don’t want to say there’s anything symbolic about this, and I don’t want to say there isn’t. It was a moment of attention, a flow between me and the world in which boundaries disappeared, surfaces and depths interchanging like a four-dimensional Möbius strip. It was brief and ridiculous, and included shouting across the street at neighbours and strangers to look up, and a happy new year. Falling back into calendar time, social time, marked out like a chess board of fixed movements and conquests. And perhaps that’s fitting because, haunting the rainbow like its prismatic double is its symbolic double, or two of them. There’s the hopeful one where there’s gold at the end, in Irish folklore (and reality, as Celtic tribes of the La Tène culture appear to have made bowl-shaped gold coins that, from the Middle Ages onwards, could be washed to the surface of fields in heavy rain, catching both water and the light). Both promise and wishful thinking, it speaks to the ambivalent feelings that ends, and the journeys to them, offer, the balance of hope and doubt expressed in some people’s pressing need to make new year’s resolutions. No gold without getting to the end of the rainbow; getting to the end of the rainbow often means no gold.

And perhaps that’s because in Eurowestern culture, the rainbow is also the symbol of a specific promise, one that has been kept or broken according to your theological stance – because it’s God’s promise, to Noah, of no more floods. Dove with an olive branch, etc. As the genocide in Gaza and climate chaos intertwine at the end of 2023, it’s hard to look up at a rainbow and believe in anything at all, except ends.


This is my final tinyletter, thanks to Mailchimp “sunsetting” (their word) the tiny, inexpensive platform that they acquired in 2011, and which has remained free to use and free to read throughout its existence – free, too, of data-scraping, with no analytics for users or grabby forms for readers. A platform that was neither monetised nor datafied could hardly survive when users could instead be leveraging themselves and their users’ info on the ‘chimp or similar. As a newsletter service with limited archival visibility, Tinyletter was a modest enterprise – and unsurprisingly could not compete in a world where platforms thrive by monetising Nazi content.

So into the sunset I go, fading like a rainbow. I started writing these essays just over eight years ago, in response to an acceptance for publication in early 2016 that (and this is an overused phrase) changed my life, from the writer, editor and legend Roxane Gay, for the anthology Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, which was published in 2018. The deadline for submission was Christmas Day, 2015, and I remember seeing the call for submissions on Facebook in the middle of an events-related meltdown month and thinking, “Yes, sure, that sounds relaxing, I’ll write a long essay about being a sexual abuse survivor and give it a title I can’t pronounce, all in the week leading up to Xmas.” I wrote it behind my own back, bit by bit in exhausted snatches, fractured with the tiredness of two precarious teaching gigs, a book tour of largely unpaid events and delayed trains, poorly-paid freelance writing and unpaid feminist film organising. I submitted it probably minutes before the deadline. And then, with cPTSD non-functional memory that is both blessing and curse, I forgot it existed.

So when I got the acceptance, it was a startlement. I also knew, at that point in early 2016, that I had to leave academia (not that I was exactly in academia, after ten years of hourly-paid jobs across nearly a dozen institutions) or I would kill myself, whether slowly or immediately. The acceptance was an “oh fuck” moment, a realisation that I couldn’t keep writing behind my own back and disclaiming it. Either I was a writer, one about to be published in a high-profile transatlantic anthology by a writer I desperately admired, or I was not. Being a writer meant doing two things: writing, and being honest – about writing, and in what I was writing. It was bound up with being a survivor, with piecing a way through the world on a path of broken words that hopefully some others could, or might, follow.

So the tinyletter was a deep breath, a way to make space for myself to write that honesty: to come out as an abuse survivor before the essay in Not that Bad did it for me. To work at scale and at my own pace, to practice, to share. It took more than a year and nearly the whole alphabet to write the letter (trigger) where I did just that. Because I’m as bad at beginnings as I am at endings. I hate threshold moments, abrupt changes of state (sleep/wake, for example). I will resist starting a piece of writing until it feels more nauseating to be holding back the ideas and phrases than to just get them down. I can panic myself into pretzels for months rather than start a simple task or conversation. I hate taking — that — step —

So I could claim that I’m migrating this letter to a new platform or a blog on my website or something, because I love this form of speaking directly, unadorned, unillustrated, unmonetized, but it means crossing a threshold. Another one, after putting off this final letter for over a month. What was I waiting for? An end to ends? It feels as hopeless to expect capitalist tech bros to have a change of heart as it is to expect genocidal colonisers to end a war. A ridiculous comparison and yet I think the end of tinyletter is a micro-micro-microcosm of the power of corporate colonial capitalism and its extractivist ends, its illogic of destruction, its enclosures and exclusions and refusals. Its love, in fact, of ends.


I like that the OED knows its user base well enough to define end (noun, intransitive) as ‘Of a period of time, action, continuous state, series, book, chapter, etc.’ Not a life, but a series, book, chapter, etc. A readerly, writerly definition that does get at how the end of a project feels magnified as a finality, echoing melodramatically with larger endings. That seems weirdly fitting as the OED suggests that end derives from andjo-z the Old Germanic word for, er, forehead. From brow to bow, head to death, a hard bodily limit to the absolute apocalypse: for eight years I have been amazed, over and over, as I write these essays by the English language’s willingness to abstract into catastrophising, to take a body part and make it military or monetary or mortality, to think that the world ends where its mind or skeleton or skin does. Language defined not as mindedness, but as what I beat my forehead against: the wall of colonial capitalist resource extraction, homogenisation and utilitarianism.

So end is end: an uncrossable boundary, bonewall, essence of Eurowesternism, the Christian obsession with death, judgement, heaven and hell which has its own -ology, eschatology, the study of ends: of ends as final, of ends as the settlement of bills, as payments, really. A capitalist logic in which an invoice filed is game over: no after-effects, no aftermath, no consequences and so no accountability. Done. Land appropriated and strip-mined, people and other beings murdered and displaced: end of. Capitalism works by such cold equations, by full stops, no run-on sentences or piled-up clauses, no conjunctions or connective tissues. No relations.

Perhaps the most capitalist of all sentences is “the ends justify the means,” the circular logic that rests on the hidden fact that the ends are means, in the sense not of strategies, but of extractable material resources. That’s evident by the way that the phrase applies to nuclear-like bombing deployed by Israel and the US against Gaza, but not to armed resistance to the occupation. Because the ends of the former are dual, a shell game in which the ends are ends, that is genocide, necropolitics; and grosser still, the ends of genocide are not just extermination but access to land, fossil fuels like offshore gas reserves, and other material resources for exploitation. The ends of Zionism and its backers are really ends: total absolute destruction of people and planet for profit.


Soil poisoned, like so many living bodies, with white phosphorus. Sewage treatment and water desalination plants non-operational without fuel. Olive and citrus trees uprooted and burned. Cemeteries bulldozed. Access tunnels flooded with seawater, increasing desertification, salinating soil, and risking overwhelming Gaza’s only freshwater aquifer.

As many commentators have pointed out, these are the destructive actions of colonisers, literally salting the earth. They demonstrate Zionism’s additional fatal alignment with its eschatological Christian form, for which the land is an abstract staging ground for the Final Days. Who needs clean water when you have infantile fantasies of theological mastery?

These disgusting acts are part and parcel of genocide, because the people are the land and the land is the people. They are not the actions of anyone with a relationship to land, to – in London-via-Jamaican slang – ends: where you end a journey; that is, home. Ends, in this sense (unrecognised by the OED), are not finalities but familiarities, openings not closures. They are not boundaries, although the older use of “end” to mean a place (like East End) relates to taking direction from the centre by naming something seen as marginal.

Ends instead entangles community and place, so that land is palpable not as resource or site of conquest, but sustaining relationship. In the face of devastation, ends remakes meaning by linking, by refusing rules and limits, by being at home beyond where or what’s supposed to be. It is exactly topian rather than dystopian, finding hope in being-in-place. Like the beautiful anthology Love at the End of the World: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead (Oji-Cree from Peguis First Nation on Treaty 1 territory), ends uses ‘end’ to its own gathering ends.


And end shares its roots with ‘and’: and as a boundary marker, a holder of contradictions, cumulative and carrier baggy. I remember being told not to start a sentence with ‘And,’ and not to tell stories using ‘and’ as a conjunction, known as parataxis and opposed to syntaxis, which uses other ‘more sophisticated’ conjunctions such as ‘because’ that imply linearity and causality, whereas ‘and’ “keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage” like the “single catastrophe” perceived by Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History (from the ninth thesis of his essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” as translated by Harry Zohn).

The Angel of History does not perceive discrete boundaries between events that render them narratable, debatable; rather, a constant and singular storm, an originary catastrophe – which Benjamin calls progress – that shatters all meaning. The insistence on a future orientation, on linear movement forward is an eschatology, a belief in endings and only endings.

The ends of resistance are resisted, whatever their means, because they are not an end but a beginning: liberation. Those who cling to power perceive liberation as an end because it is the end of their exclusive grasp on authority, including their say-so on what is an, or the, end. Liberation says that ends are beginnings, again. That it’s OK to begin again, rather than grip to the linear narrative of progress, of reification and institutionalisation, of history as something always behind us, done and dusted rather than alive in the present as both trauma and possibility.

January holds a reminder of this in its name, taken from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways (ianua: door), frames, and endings – including the beginning and end of war. The gates of a building in Rome dedicated to him were opened during times of conflict, and closed to mark peace. Janus is two-faced: a reminder of possibility and transition; but also that peace, so-called, is also war by other means. When Rishi Sunak’s government took umbrage at a peace march happening on Armistice Day, it was a stark reminder that, for the Allied Nations, the Armistice of World War I marked not the end of hostilities but their continuation through vicious territorial acquisition by the victors, including Mandate Palestine. Power calls an end in order to pursue its own ends, its own continuity.


In “Notes on Craft: Writing in the Hour of Genocide,” an essay published in Protean Magazine, Fargo Nissim Tbakhi names the continuity and, precisely, the true endpoint that counters it:

Between 1936 and 1939, Palestinian fellahin revolted against the economic deprivations imposed by the British Mandate and a growing Zionist movement in Palestine. Their revolt involved coordinated general strikes and violent resistance to the beginnings of ethnic cleansing and forced displacement. In response, the British instituted a set of policies which would become the 1945 “Defence (Emergency) Regulations”, which allowed British officers to bring about the full repressive strength of empire to bear on Palestinian peasantry to brutally destroy the revolt. After the Nakba, these regulations served as the basis for much of the state of Israel’s legal governmental structure.

For seventy-five years, then, Palestinians have existed—violent or not, political or not, active or not—in a state of revolt. We are legally defined as such; the law and its human enforcers across the globe act accordingly. This means that as long as Palestinians have lived under the colonization of the Zionist state, and until Palestinians are no longer subject to a state whose definitional contours are premised on their existence as essentially threatening others, the revolt has been, and is, in progress. It is a daily lived thing, and Palestinians have always labored to define its shape for themselves: the Great Revolt, the First Intifada, the Second Intifada, the March of Return, the Unity Intifada, the myriad forms of resistance both minute and maximal, spontaneous and organized, armed and unarmed—these are part of the long and ongoing essential Intifada, a long and ongoing revolution that has taken many forms and will continue to evolve, and whose endpoint is liberation.

Existence and persistence are resistance. Palestinian life is a ‘state of revolt… whose endpoint is liberation.’ That life is emplaced, people and life entwined, as Tbakhi writes in the subsequent (and my favourite) section of the essay, in which liberation is land: a location not a date.

The long middle is not a condition of time; we might be nearer to the end of revolution than the beginning, we might be nearer liberation than defeat, but our experience and our actions exist within the frame we can see, the frame of the long middle. Liberation is the end, but it is a geographical end rather than a temporal one, a soil and not an hour. We move towards it— sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but always. It is the location by which we orient our movement. We know it because it gets closer, not necessarily because it comes sooner.

(And liberation moves too, it has its own sort of agency, it can dance a little, as you stare through the hole in the fence you’ve just cut you might feel a hand on your shoulder, someone standing by your side like a friend, liberation letting you know what it feels like, that you’re going the right way.)

End appears three times in the first paragraph; within the parentheses, it becomes ‘friend’: a being who resists the dominant dictum of linear time. Here is another kind of angel, an angel of agency, an angel who exists in the continuity of place, a true continuity where fences are holes because soil is the ends. Sniff it.


On Twitter (proof, perhaps, that users can defy the world-conquering tech bros’ illusion that they can ‘control’ any space or platform that is used by the public), poet Alina Pleskova posts the last two pages of a long poem by June Jordan, one of her best-loved, “On A New Year’s Eve.” You can hear Jordan read it on KPOO San Francisco in May 1977 here, or read it here. In The Paris Review, Claire Schwartz describes it as “a poem, that refuses the overwhelmingness of enormity, calling us back to the possibility of our life-size actions,” a poem that opens up into presentness and precarity as an antidote to totalising narratives.

These words from the gathering end of the poem, piling un-wreckage upon un-wreckage, found me immediately, heart-filling with oxygen and evergreens:

I read the papers preaching on
that oil and oxygen
that redwoods and the evergreens

that trees the waters and the atmosphere
compile a final listing of the world in
short supply

but all alive and all the lives
persist perpetual
in jeopardy
as scarce as every one of us
as difficult to find
or keep
as irreplaceable
as frail
as every one of us

Feel how “short supply” constricts your breath after that unreeling list of living that com-piles, that is turned into piles and lists linked by the word “final.” To say that something only ends is a form of the final solution, an arrogant and hard-headed belief in finality. Don’t let those alliterative ‘l’s lull you into listless manufactured consent – take a deep breath with the vowels of “all alive” as ‘l’ is relit into a living force “perpetual,” even if “frail.” Jordan replaces listing with lives, compile with frail, a fiercely gentle dismantling of the seemingly totalising power of colonial capital.

It’s difficult to give up the power of endings, entrenched as they are in dominant narrative schema; to believe in ends as a home, a place we can come to and sit with, a place of jeopardy that therefore calls on our persistence, our going on after the end: not the end as a fantasised destination, a wished-for pot of fairy gold, but – cut your hole in the fence and feel it – the ends we hold in our hands, the breathed-in-and-out real.