The Woven Threads

To my great delight, someone came in on the comments this week with a wonderful thing to share. I love it when that happens. If you see something go by on here that’s relevant to something you’re doing, please do say. If it makes sense for me to give you a shoutout, I’m always going to be up for that. With close to 6k subscribers, and over a hundred hits a day, there’s a decent chance of guest blogs and content reaching a few people who might not otherwise have seen it.

Today I’m delighted to share this hypnotic song written in protest against fast fashion. Do check out he Oblivion Scepter blog for the lyrics and the thinking behind the song.

Looking at their work, it is clear there are a lot of eco themes and political themes influencing the writing.

You can also find The Oblivion Sceptre on bandcamp – https://theoblivionscepter.bandcamp.com/
And on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/@theoblivionscepter/playlists


Knocking people down

There’s no surer sign that someone is in serious trouble than them constantly wanting to knock other people down. It’s also a really difficult thing to respond to in a helpful or positive way. Inevitably, people who deal with their own pain by trying to hurt and attack others, are not attractive. There’s not much motivation to move towards someone who is behaving in that way.

I’ve probably learned most about this through parenting. Small children crave attention, and will do anything to get it. Thus being shouted at, told off and punished will function as an emotional reward for anyone who is otherwise deprived of emotional rewards. Children who are praised, encouraged and given attention more kindly will focus on doing the things that lead to the praise. Give a child attention simply for existing and you’ll end up with a relaxed and confident person.

Adults want attention as much as children do, and social validation is a huge motivator for a lot of people. I wonder how often people who seek attention through spite are doing so because they are still playing out the patterns from emotionally neglectful childhoods. I wonder how much of it comes from not being able to seek attention in healthier ways, and what kinds of tragedies might be playing out in the lives of people who have no good ways of seeking attention.

I see a lot of this sort of thing on Twitter. I’m currently seeing an unusual spate of it in the blog comments – I’ve had quite a few lonely souls rock up lately. They are clearly people who are in pain and who only know how to try and knock other people down. I don’t honestly know what to do with any of them. This isn’t really the ideal space.

Everyone needs opportunities to be recognised and appreciated. Many of us seek that through paying work, through service and volunteering – which can be a decent enough answer. Feeling valued is vitally important for most people’s mental health. Praise and affirmation help people feel better about themselves, so creative outlets can also offer excellent opportunities for lifting and encouraging people. I used to spend more time running supportive spaces, and perhaps that’s something I should invest more time in. 

What I can say is that if you’ve got a project, a piece of writing, an idea… and you don’t have a platform you can use to put it out there, I’m always open to taking relevant guest blogs. If you feel like there’s no point being creative because it isn’t going anywhere, then I’d be glad to offer you some space where you might find an audience for your work. This is open to anyone reading.

Knocking other people down can feel powerful in the short term. However, it doesn’t answer any needs in a meaningful way and it does not lead to social recognition or feeling valued – it may well push the other way. If you need to be seen, to be heard, to feel valued and respected, then there’s far more to be achieved by putting something good into the world and asking people to respond to that. If you’re reading this and struggling, and in need of support and recognition, and if I can help with that by making this blog space available to you, then I’d be delighted to do that. Leave me a comment, or drop me an email – brynnethnimue at gmail dot com.


Bard life

This viola came to me maybe fifteen years ago, and previously belonged to another Druid. In its previous life, this viola went to The Albert Hall as part of Portsmouth Sinfonia, so it has quite a history of its own.

I started learning the violin when I was about ten – the two are similar in that the interval between the strings is the same, although the viola is lower. They have different clefs for musical notation so while I can in theory read for viola, I’m not very good at it! My brain was, for many years, entirely wired to the violin. However, for some years now the state of my shoulders has meant there’s been no way of playing a violin.

Being bigger, the viola requires a different hand and shoulder position, which is more viable for me. After some months of work, I’ve built up so that I can play for half an hour without too much pain. Relearning tunes on a bigger instrument with all the wrong muscle memory has been a bit of a fight, but I’ve got some of them back under my fingers and they don’t sound too shabby.

In the photo, is the viola in its new hard case. Getting the case is is act of faith and hope on my part. I should be gigging a bit this winter with a local folk outfit called The Jovial Crew – hopefully I’m ready and equal to that. Beyond that lies a project I want to use the viola for, but it’s early days and there’s a lot to figure out. Somewhere on the distant horizon is the vague shape of a third musical possibility for which being able to be out and about with a viola would be a great help.

Part of the bard path is about putting creativity into the world. Part of it is about the quest for inspiration so that you have something to share. The third key strand is about doing the work so that you have the skills set you need. All three are vital. I find it difficult to keep any of that moving without also having somewhere to take my creative output. An audience of one is enough to make it worth striving. What works best for me is having people to interact with, who can be motivation, inspiration and reward all at the same time. I’m really blessed with regards to my current creative collaborators – around music and writing alike. I get to do things with some tremendously cool and interesting people.


Juniper Wiles – a review

Charles de Lint has a new book out, and it’s the second one in his Juniper Wiles series. I’m reasonably sure it stands alone, but I did read the first one first – called Juniper Wiles. I’m not sure why I didn’t review it at the time, but there we are. It’s a charming book with a really interesting premise that carries on into the series.

The premise is that anything sufficiently invested in becomes real. Fans of Charles de Lint will be familiar with his multiverses and otherworlds, and the ways in which he envisages different kinds of realities interacting. If enough people invest in a story, then that story can develop a life of its own – which is of course in some ways a literal truth when you think about fan fiction, cosplay and so forth.

Juniper Wiles is a character in a show that people have invested so much in that it has a reality of its own. Characters from it show up in her life thinking that she is her character – plenty of obvious real world issues here, too. That’s a lot for a person to get to grips with, even more so because her TV character solves crimes. It would be like people from Sunnydale turning up at Sarah Michelle Gellar’s house wanting help fighting actual vampires.

Juniper lives in Newford and has Jilly Coppercorn in her life – this is going to be a much bigger issue for anyone who has read de Lint’s work already. What we have now is a community that includes elders. There are multiple characters with experience of magic, otherworlds and all the rest who are able to support the younger humans in getting to grips with things. As these are stories with some solid LGBTQ content, I found this parallel powerful and interesting. The magical aspect of the story for me mirrors something of my experience of queer comunity and that growing presence of people who have lived longer and know stuff and can provide support. It also resonates with my experience of Pagan community.

There’s also something wonderful about what happens to story shapes when mentors aren’t just people you kill off to make the young protagonist deal with things alone when barely ready. I find I’m much more interested in stories where community plays a part and people support each other. Having an older, wiser Jilly Coppercorn able to help and guide the younger folk is a beautiful thing. I could use a lot more stories with this sort of shape.

Book two is going to greatly comfort anyone who has been made uncomfortable by a certain series about a magic school. Charles de Lint brings both humour and compassion to the issue, and does affirming, heartwarming things. He also has a really clever and original magic system going on in the background of the second book.

These are definitely books for people who enjoy content threatening to break the fourth wall. The writing is knowing, and self aware – de Lint himself is often cited as the father of urban fantasy and yet so much of where the genre has gone is very different from what he does. This is all part of the mix in these stories. His work has always been far more rooted in folklore and the land itself than is usual for urban fantasy. He’s always hopeful, restorative and generous in his writing. If you haven’t read any of his work, really you should.

As a personal note, I read the first book at some speed in order to be ready to be a test reader on the second book. A huge honour, and a wonderful thing to be given opportunity to do. 

Book 1 in the series – https://www.charlesdelint.com/juniper-desc01.htm

Juniper Wiles and the Ghost Girls is now live.
ebooks: https://books2read.com/u/3RzyWG
paper: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1989741061
Non-Amazon Mobi: https://payhip.com/b/D9YqO


Petticoat emergency!

My latest bit of upcycling. The white fabric came from some old shirts that needed repurposing. Last week I came home from the Gloucester event with a new dress – a decidedly rare occurrence. I knew when I bought the dress that I might well want a petticoat for it. Then at the weekend I found out that we are going to be performing at Stroud Goodwill Evening on Friday night, and I wanted to wear the new dress, and I felt the urgent need for the petticoat. 

And here we are. Quite a lot of hand sewing later. I like that it’s somewhat irregular. 

I seem to be being a bit more overtly femme at the moment. Although I’ll always be a scruffy sort of goblin, I might on occasion be a scruffy goblin in a nice dress and petticoats. As a much younger human I was more overtly gender fluid, moving between very distinct kinds of gender presentation, depending on mood. As I seem to be going through a bit of a reboot period at the moment it will be interesting to see whether any more of that comes back.

Part of this is definitely a consequence of gigging. It’s good to be visually striking and more theatrical, and we’ve all been digging in with the performance kit this year. James has really gone for it, and that’s been a real inspiration for me.


Working with anger

(With thanks to Dolly, who has given me some excellent blog prompts lately, do keep them coming!)

Anger is not an emotion that women, and female presenting people such as myself are often allowed to express without censure. Men are allowed to be angry, and tragically it’s often the only emotion men are allowed to show. It is however part of who we all are, and something we need to make space for.

All too often, anger is used as a justification for physical violence and verbal attacks. Where this comes up in a domestic abuse or workplace bullying context, what evidence we have suggests that the angry aggressors know what they’re doing. They aren’t out of control. Many aggressors will deliberately work themselves into a state of rage that they think justifies what follows. I can’t recall details of the study but I remember more than a decade ago reading work about male prisoners, who admitted that they often fabricated the appearance of rage to justify and get away with attacking their partners. Clearly this is inexcusable.

Rage does have good uses, though. The feeling of rage shows us when our boundaries have been violated, and can help us hold those boundaries firmly in face of threats. Anger is a good and natural response to cruelty and injustice. The trick is channelling those feelings into something productive. That might mean protest and campaigning, and using rage to fuel other kinds of practical actions that push for change.

I used to channel anger into cutting wood, many years ago. As a teen it used to mostly go into drumming, and into thrashing out Beethoven’s angry chords on the piano. Rage can translate into art in all sorts of ways, and that in turn can both help re-assert violated boundaries, and to protect them. Rage transformed into creativity can bring solutions to injustice. Too much fighting against something is exhausting and demoralising, but well handled rage can turn into the emotional strength not merely to react, but to fight for something. When we’re focusing on what we value, it is easier to sustain the work we need to do, be that around protest, resisting oppression or making radical change.

I do write in anger, sometimes. I’ve written a fair few blog posts because there were things that filled me with a fury I had no other way of processing. Most of the time I try to turn that anger into something that can help make change, rather than just flailing about impotently. But, I’m human, I don’t always manage things as well as I’d like to. So be it. 

There is power in anger. Used well, it can get a lot done. I’m not ashamed of my anger, and a lot of the time I’m actively proud of where it takes me and what I’ve done with it. Anger turned inwards is always a messy, problematic thing, but when I’ve taken my rage and worked it into something productive, I’ve managed to do some powerful things. What starts as fury doesn’t always show up that way, so it may not always be obvious to people watching, whether I or anyone else has started out doing something because they were cross. Joining OBOD all those years ago was driven in part by anger, in part by distress. Rage led me to something really good there – as it often will when given the space.

No emotion is ever wrong. It’s what we choose to do with it that matters most.


Creating Safety

If a community space is to be inclusive, it has to feel safe for everyone. Most of us do a decent enough job of making spaces that feel safe for people who are a lot like us. We start from what we know, which means our own requirements for feeling safe inform what we think everyone else will need.

The more privilege a person has, the less insight they are bound to have into what less privileged people might need. This can be a major barrier to creating safe space because it is so often the people with the most privilege, power and resources who get to define community spaces in the first place. You need resources to run anything, which automatically influences the whole situation.

Well meaning people can make a terrible mess of this sort of thing. The vast majority of humans start from the assumption that they are good and that what they do is also therefore good. Flagging up sexism, racism, ableism… does not reliably go down well with people who are sure that what they do is fine. It’s not uncommon to find the people who are in places of power acting as though they have been attacked when someone tries to flag up the shortcomings.

To make people feel safe, we have to be willing to listen to why they might feel unsafe in the first place. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable, because without being open to that discomfort we’ll hang on to our privileges and we won’t improve anything. We may have to lay down our prejudices and assumptions. So often, lack of safety starts with someone saying what they think of ‘that sort of person’ while oblivious to the presence of exactly that sort of person in the room. I’ve been the only pauper in the room when affluent people had things to say about the ignorant and ungrateful poor. I’ve been subject to casual sexism and to ableism. I know there’s plenty out there that’s far worse.

Anyone who has the power to create safe space, and chooses to perpetuate things that are unsafe, needs calling out on it. It helps a lot when the people who do this are the ones who have some privilege to work with. Please support your less privileged friends by listening when they raise issues and by not accepting the excuses of your more privileged friends. Or co-workers. Or family members.

If you hear something by way of feedback that makes you feel uncomfortable about your own behaviour, please take the time to at least think about it. No one enjoys being called out, but swallowing enough pride to be able to learn and do better is an honourable choice worthy of respect. Doubling down on your scope to make other people feel unsafe is never a good choice.


What kind of work are we doing?

I’m currently contemplating the language of work, and whether it is in any way possible to decouple that from the concepts of capitalism. Work is intrinsic to capitalism, the whole system is built on the underpaid work and on the unpaid work that the poorest in society are obliged to do.

There are all kinds of things I do that involve effort, commitment and high standards that are not part of capitalism. I wonder how useful it is to tease these different kinds of work out from each other. I think it’s important to assert at the same time that there’s a great deal of unpaid work – domestic work and caring work especially, that are key to keeping capitalism grinding along. These unpaid forms of work are often undervalued in a system that only values people based on what they earn. Domestic work and care work are vital for the wellbeing of people, these aren’t just services provided to the economy.

Sometimes we talk about spiritual work. Anything that feels difficult and important, where we have to put in effort, it can be tempting to describe it in terms of work. We might put work into developing our skills, or into sustaining our relationships. We might work on creating community, and we might work on creating beauty. Work in the vegetable patch, or work on a blanket all have value in our lives, and some of these things will save us money even when they don’t get us paid.

I need to work on taking time off! What a splendid irony. And yet, with my brain infiltrated by capitalist concepts, putting that down is a job of itself. I note how we also use the language of work and jobs to express feelings about things we feel obliged to do but take no joy in. Perhaps that’s a key point for considering language use.

I’m going to have a play around with my own language use and see what happens. Perhaps I should think of some of this as investing in myself. There are places I can swap in words like development, creating, maybe even manifesting. I think it’s important territory to explore, because the words we use have such an impact on how we experience ourselves and the world. There would be a lot of perspective shifts happening between working on myself, and investing in myself and those terms suggest entirely different directions to move in.


One Good Day

It’s good to pause and take stock of the journey. Our lives will seldom be straightforward progress narratives. For the people whose health is deteriorating, this process of looking at the journey is a really hard one, and can be painful. Whether it’s better to try not to look at what’s happening or whether to face it, is a really personal question and I’m not going to judge anyone’s choices around this. Sometimes it’s possible to have a better quality of life if you aren’t studying your trajectory.

Those of us who have the privilege of getting old will face both that issue of trajectory, and the question of what time ahead of us looks like compared to the time we’ve already had. One of the ideas I’ve been working with for some time is that it is worth putting in the effort just to have one good day, one day that was better than it might have been. Even if you can’t re-write the story of your life.

This is a conclusion I came to while taking on older cats, at least one of whom had suffered considerably. I can’t undo what’s been done. I might not be able to compensate for it. But if there can be good days, or months or even some good years, that’s worth putting up a fight for. It’s worth trying for that, however brief it may be. I think the same thing applies to humans. No matter what’s behind us, it is worth trying for a future that has the greatest possible good in it.

Where there’s life, there are reasons to try. It’s never too late. It’s never the case that the history of grim or dysfunctional things destroys the point of trying to make anything good in the future. There is never a point at which it makes sense to give up entirely. For the elderly rescue cat, one good day is a miracle, and can open the way to more good days. Whatever the present looks like, it is always worth trying to do the best you can with whatever is ahead of you. Sometimes, of course, winning isn’t possible, some things cannot be fixed. Nevertheless, there’s always something worth trying for.

Sometimes, one good day is also, everything.


Winter poetry

Pagan thinking around winter tends to focus on sleeping so as to rebirth in the the spring. However, not all seeds that lie in the earth will live to germinate. For many people, seasonal affective disorder makes the winter a hard time. The rising cost of living will make this winter cold and brutal for many. I think it’s helpful to acknowledge and honour the darker side of the year with all that it can bring.

Winter


Frost fingers needle skin

Ice forming in weary bones

Let me lie down now.

Bury me under snow and let us

See if truly I am a seed

To wake in the spring

With the promise of new life.

March, perhaps, or April.


A bulb, fat with potential,

Resilient against the cold,

Firm holding, thaw me

And I will blossom.

Perhaps.


If only I could slumber

As bears do, waiting out

The dark days.

Enclose me snug

In some snow cave

Forgetful months.


Perhaps it is only winter

And not an Ice Age

The chill in my heart

Temporary, soon eased

Not the slow cracking advance

Of another glacier reaching

To engulf me, not the silence

Not the life that is death.

Only winter in these bones

Surely, only winter coming.


Numbing at the edges.

Fingers and feet

Cold beyond reckoning.

Waiting for the chill

To extend along limbs

Stealing breath

Tiny snowflakes

In my eyelashes

Layering up softly

Inside my lungs.


Winter always kills

Lie me down gently

On the iron hard ground

Let the ice take me

I am too tired to fight.


Perhaps in spring

With tears or meltwater

It will matter

Whether I was a seed

To grow fresh shoots

Germinating in the cold

Or whether I could not

Find the means to thrive.


It is only winter.

Surly not an ice age

Surely not forever.

Let the freeze take me

And try to believe

Spring will offer

A beginning.