Non-binary reality

One of the reasons I ended up on the druid path and not exploring witchcraft, was the issue of polarity. I read about the power of polarity, of opposites, and I knew I’d never be able to make that work. With hindsight (and more reading) I think this may be more of a wiccan issue, but I don’t regret the choice. The opposition of male and female makes no direct sense to me.

I don’t tend to view the world in binary terms. Either/or doesn’t work for me. I see spectrums. I see multiple options. Give me two things that are supposed to be binary opposites, and I can do both, or neither, or something in between. That’s part of why I have a thinking about feeling column here. I’ve always found it weird that logic and emotion are so often set up as opposites. Then logic is understood as a male characteristic and female people get given emotion, and never the two shall meet. In practice, this cuts people off from half of themselves, and it works well for no one.

I’ve always found the introvert/extrovert notion confusing, too. For me, this is also a spectrum, and one I may turn up on at any point. I can be both extremely introverted, and distinctly extroverted, depending on energy levels and context. Ask me to sing, if you want me to go into a more extroverted mode.

When we label people, we tend to assume they are one thing or another. A person who is identified as kind can get a great deal of unpleasant feedback if they say no to someone else’s professed needs, or get cross about something. In practice, a person can be both fragile and tough, educated and foolish, confident and easily shaken – humans are full of contradictions at the best of times, and we are more complex than we seem to notice.

One of the memes I see going round regularly on twitter is that Persephone is both spring flower maiden and goddess of the underworld. Both. It’s a good thing to remember if you aren’t tidily one thing or another.

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It’s Only a Clockwork Moon – review

It’s Only a Clockwork Moon is the second story in Billy O’Shea’s Kingdom of Clockwork series. I think you could jump in here, but it would definitely be better to start with Kingdom of Clockwork, which I’ve already reviewed.

This is a story that unfolds in a distinctly steampunk future where coal is rare and everyone uses clockwork. Clockmaker Nielsen is a bit of a genius for devices, but incredibly naive when it comes to dealing with people and politics. And so he is soon lured into another crazy scheme cooked up by the king, and adventure and mayhem ensue. It’s a very entertaining story.

What particularly interested me about this instalment, is that while Nielsen is at the heart of the story, he’s mostly just reacting to other people. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that it’s the women in his life, and women in the wider world who are really moving the action along. We see more of the politics of the wider world here, and it puts our more familiar characters into an interesting new perspective.

Before I started reading this series, I would have told you that I wasn’t the sort of person to get excited about devices in books. It’s an aspect of steampunk that usually does nothing for me. And yet, as the opening pages dealt with entirely human concerns, I realised I wasn’t as in to the story as I had been in the first book. And then, as the device building got underway, I rejoiced! This came as quite a surprise. I love how Billy O’Shea writes the process of creating machines. I’m truly impressed that he’s managed to make me care about this.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Only-Clockwork-Moon-Kingdom-Book-ebook/dp/B016SC5L6Q


Writing Druidry, living Druidry

To what degree is it fair to say that writing about Druidry is Druidry? Clearly it can’t be the entirety of what you do – or you wouldn’t have anything to write about! With creativity and the bard path very much part of modern Druidry, it makes sense that writing can be part of how we explore spirituality.

My experience has been that when I’m writing, I get flashes of inspiration that impact on the rest of my druiding. Things rise up that I’ve not seen before. Threads pull together to create a meaningful picture. Possibilities emerge as I reflect on my experiences. Patterns suggest themselves. When I challenge myself to answer questions, I learn things about how I think. Writing is a process of reflection that brings cohesion to what I know.

I use the written word to share my experiences with other people – first and foremost I do that on this blog, but I’ve also written books (available from places that sell books). I find there’s an ongoing tension between sharing what I experience and avoiding dogma or giving myself too much authority. I like that tension, I try to stay alert to it.

I think I benefit personally from the challenges of trying to express experience in words. I don’t feel I lose anything or dis-enchant myself by exploring the mechanics, but that might not be true for everyone. I recognise that there is also sometimes a tension between lived Druidry and written Druidry and that too much of the one can mean there’s very little space for the other.

I’ve also found that over time, as I’ve deliberately brought more ideas from Druidry into my daily life, that it gets harder to separate out what is ‘Druidry’ and what is ‘life’ and I’m never sure if that’s even a relevant question to ask. I keep asking it because I don’t want to get complacent about what I’m doing, or make lazy assumptions that my life is Druidry and therefore I can just do anything and call it Druidry and this will somehow be fine.

Of course it all gets very meta. A blog post in which I write about writing. I suspect that the issue of how I write about Druidry and what role that holds in my path should be explored through interpretive dance, or action painting, or something a bit less wordy. I keep coming back to words though. I’m a story telling creature, and part of what I do is try to tell a story to myself about what on earth is going on in my life right now.


Crow Neighbours

Back in the spring, we saw the crows nest-building in trees nearby. Once the leaves came out, the nest itself became invisible. However, the adult crows were still around, and so we kept waiting and watching. Fortunately, Tom and I were in the right place on the day the two crow fledglings left the nest. We didn’t see them fly though. As far as I can tell, they jumped out and went pretty much straight down and we showed up slightly after this. One wandered about, clearly getting the hang of being a crow. The other was huddled against a wall and appeared to be in trouble.

We checked up on the stationary crow-baby to see if it was hurt. Tom got in fairly close, as by this time the parents and other fledgling had vanished. We thought perhaps this one had been abandoned. Tom took it some food, and when he checked up on it later, it had gone.

For a few days, there were no signs of the crow family at all. Then we started seeing them in the trees and on the roofs of nearby buildings. Both fledglings were fine. The young crows are rather self announcing in their demands for food. The family seems to be doing well.

As I write this, one has just soared from the roof of my building to the building opposite. I’ve not seen crows breed round here before, so it’s an exciting development.


Magic and birthday blogging

Some years I write the blog for my birthday ahead of time, and take the day entirely off. It’s one of the perks of being self employed. I’m mostly not working today, but I thought I’d see where the mood took me for blogging. I note that in most ways, I feel much as I usually do on days when there’s not a great deal of work lined up.

As a child, I was hungry for magic. Christmas and birthdays were days I thought I ought to feel something special, something significant. I didn’t. What I got was a mix of longing and disappointment. We’re sold the idea of special magic times – especially as children, and it is easy to feel let down when you experience nothing out of the ordinary. Wedding days are supposed to be magical too – having been married twice now, those seem to be stressful, anxious events with a lot to sort out.

Why would magic show up on a designated day? Why would that day be filled with love and joy if the other days mostly aren’t?

What I’ve noticed over the years is that significant dates can bring into focus all the longing we have for things to be different. If a relationship is miserable, the anniversary and Valentine’s Day can be sources of longing where we try to make it all better with some kind of temporary magic. Christmas is a time to want all the love and support you aren’t getting from your birth family. A birthday may highlight the shortage of friends to have a party with.

On the other hand if things are good, the designated days seem less important. Yes, I’m going out tonight and tomorrow, I’ll see a lot of friends over the next few days – friends I typically see in the course of any given month. There will be good things because this is a good excuse for some silliness. I often find good excuses for silliness.

The desire for a specific day to somehow just bring magic is, in my experience, a desire born out of insufficiency. The better life is, the less important any specific day is, because they all of the potential to be good. The better life is, the less need a person has for a fantasy of something better. Also the less need there is to imagine a magic thing that just makes it all good. Wanting magic to manifest on a special day can be an expression of all that is missing and cannot easily be fixed.

When it comes to the days of our lives, the real magic isn’t a showy birthday thing, or the magic of Christmas, or the romantic powers of St Valentine. Real magic is what we make every day out of the relationships we have with other people, and all that we encounter. Real magic may be quieter and less self-announcing but it shows up, every day, adding a shine to life.


Dreams of houses

What we dream, and what we daydream can tell us a lot about what we want and where we are in life. I’ve been house hunting in my dreams for some years now. At the moment, I live in a two bedroom flat. Possibly in the future I will be able to change this. Most of my ambitions revolve around being able to live somewhere different – because much as I love this flat, it doesn’t really do what I need.

I dream about having more space – currently the living room is also the dining room, studio, writer’s shed, study space, storage space and spare bedroom. It would be easier to do all the things if we were a bit less cramped. I can sit half a dozen people before it gets uncomfortable and we can’t all sit at the table to eat, then. I daydream about a kitchen big enough to take a kitchen table where I could gather all of my friends and feed them.

I would love to have more space for creatures, and space to accommodate other people at need. Or perhaps permanently if they want to. I want to be able to take in friends who find themselves between homes, or otherwise in awkward straits. I want to be able to do something similar with cats. I want to be able to make a sanctuary, a haven, a place of respite and comfort for myself and others.

I would love to have a garden, where I could make homes for wild things, and grow veg and fruit, and just sit out. I have daydreams about orchards, and donkeys, and beehives.

When I dream at night about houses, it all gets a bit surreal. One had a vast basement full of antique furniture and pianos. Another was permeable, and was in a wood but the wood was also in the house, and there was a totoro – a Japanese wood spirit. This would definitely be a house to live in, and I crave those more permeable spaces where you aren’t quite inside or outside.

The daydream of a house is much more than a building, it’s about relationships and what can be shared. It’s about who I want to share such a space with, who I picture sat at the kitchen table, and how I want to live in such a space. I don’t believe that I can make it happen by simply wishing it so, but if I know exactly what I want, I have a better shot at moving towards it.


In the absence of friendship rituals

The only formal dedications we normally make to each other in rituals, are dedications of marriage. We have contracts to shape our working relationships, but we don’t celebrate those, and they can prove fleeting. We do not have rituals of friendship. We may welcome someone into a group by initiating them, but that doesn’t happen in most contexts.

Dedication between people in a non-romantic context is a vital thing, I think. Friendship that is invested in for the long term has a very different impact on your life from transient, superficial acquaintance. We may pick people up at need, put them down when they no longer have what we want. We move on, change jobs, take up a different hobby, and the friendly thing we had going on with a person around that does not endure, because we were never that invested in them anyway.

When is it the right time to say to someone ‘I intend on being your friend for as long as we both shall live’? In the absence of any kind of social framework supporting such a declaration, it can seem pretty weird. It may even feel creepy or threatening to the person on the receiving end, simply because it’s not what normally happens.

If all our dedication goes into our romantic relationships, that can leave us really vulnerable. It is harder to spot toxic relationships when you don’t have any others for comparison. It is harder to function socially and emotionally when you don’t have multiple people who you can count on to be in your life. Friendship is an intensely rewarding thing, and people who are only looking for romance miss out on a lot, and can feel incredibly alone when not in a romantic relationship. At the same time, if we make the romantic relationship the main goal, we can put a lot of pressure on our partners. If we only dedicate to this relationship, we require our partners to be all things in all ways for us, and that’s demanding and difficult to live up to.

There’s so much good that can come out of investing in each other for the long term. We have so much power to support each other and enrich each other’s lives.


Tidiness, nature, and civilization

The human urge to tidy things up has us cutting hedges into smooth edges, trimming verges so as to take out all the wildflowers and generally destroying habitats. What is this urge to be tidy and how do we get rid of it so that we stop needlessly killing wildlife?

Neatness, order, straight lines, square corners – these are not things we generally find in nature but that humans create and impose. You will likely decide at a glance whether a place is natural or human-made, and the straight lines, tidy edges and whether there are obviously dead things will inform that decision. We like to tidy away the dead things, even trees when they fall down in woods. A dead tree is an amazing source of life and habitat for many other species. We do massive damage when we remove them. But, decay, and death are considered unsightly, so aren’t civilized or tidy.

When we force a straight line, or cut back a verge, we’re asserting a human presence into the landscape. Bringing order to the chaos of nature is a project that goes with owning the land, controlling what’s around us and valuing some things more than others. We use ‘straight’ as a word both to indicate honesty, and heterosexuality and I don’t think this is a coincidence. We call things wild in a human context often to judge them. Tidiness is something we treat as a virtue and seek to install in our children.

We’ve had hundreds of years, if not longer, of telling ourselves that being tidy is an expression of being civilized. The uncut lawn doesn’t say ‘home for insects’ to us. It says ‘lazy and uncivilised and a mess’. And so we cut things back that aren’t causing us any real problems. We strim and trim, and take away the dead heads.

Unfortunately, as human influence dominates and wildness becomes ever more threatened, our urge to tidy is simply an urge to destroy. It’s not the tiny, puny humans versus the wilderness any more. We tame and train our landscapes and in the process, we kill so much that should be in them. What we make when we do this is often ugly, sterile and joyless. The cityscapes that we make as ultimate expressions of tidy civilization lack soul, and are not good habitats for humans. We need softness too. We need living green growth, and at least some element of unpredictability.

We need to stop complaining about things that look untidy, and start celebrating the beauty of nature. Nature isn’t tidy. But when you think about the mathematical elegance of the Fibonacci sequence, it’s also clear that nature has a good deal more to offer than the banality of our straight lines and tightly clipped lawns.


The Automation – a review

From the very cover of this book, you know it’s going to play with you. “By” BLA & annotated “by” GB Gabbler,’ it announced, with [anonymous] at the bottom. Two pen names for probably one author, it kicks down the fourth wall in the acknowledgements section, which is essence a conversation between these two. And I was hooked.

From that description, I realise this sounds like a book at high risk of being full of pretentious literary twaddle. My impression is that the author behind the pen names has read (quite possibly under duress) a great deal of ‘literary’ fiction and is now taking their revenge upon the literary genre. And a very funny revenge it is, too. It manages to deconstruct as it goes, while at the same time creating a fascinating story in which a great deal of happens and people think about it to only a reasonable degree!

Central character (possibly) Odys Odelyn witnesses a suicide, and as a result of which finds he has inherited the dead man’s automaton, a sexy girl-like entity made by the God Vulcan, and not the only one of her kind. He’s drawn into a world of old Gods, modern conspiracies, weird existential issues and apparent threat. There’s enough story here to keep anyone busy.

The narrator claims both God-given omniscience, and absolute truth for the story. While mostly acting as a third person narrator, it’s clear that this voice considers itself a character within the story. Gabbler disagrees with the narrator a great deal, and while it seems to be for reasons of trying to make a better book, I have a growing suspicion that Gabbler knows far more than they are letting on. Book two may clarify this – which is out in July 2018, so I don’t have too long to obsess over it.

This book gave me something I really appreciate in fiction – things to chew on and wonder about. There’s so much it didn’t clarify even as it was telling an excellent tale. I can’t imagine where this is going, and that makes me enormously happy. The narrator encourages you to think the tale is going one way, and then takes it off somewhere entirely different on a number of occassions.

A little way in, I started to worry that it was going to be a too-clever book, and thus too cold and that I would end up feeling sad and jaded when I’d read it. I have had this problem with ‘proper’ literary work on more than one occasion. Many of the characters are grotesque and outrageous. Most of them have done terrible things, none of them are, according to the narrator, quite who they want us to think they are. But even so, I came to like some of them and care about some of them in a way that allowed me to invest in the story.

I wait impatiently for the coming of volume 2.

More about The Automation, and The Circo Del Herrero series here – http://circodelherreroseries.com/


Mapping the contours

 

 

Human bodies are much like landscapes.

We have our contours and crevices,

Signs of weathering, history written

Into soil and skin alike.

 

Some of us are flat land formations

Others are complex, curving hillscapes

Verdant forested or marble smooth.

Clay and bone and watercourse.

 

The paces we are inhabiting

Inhabit us in turn, as we move

These bodies through localities, as the

Shape of them shapes or motions.

 

Human bodies are much like landscapes

Revealing to the patient lover

Taking time to know and to season.

Growing into new pleasures.

 

Do we scrabble hastily over

Each other’s surfaces in search of

Something we don’t even know to name

Or are we slow explorers, willing

Make our Journey a caress of feet,

Know line and lane, hair and tree.

 

Are we climbing hills to conquer them

Or taking leisurely routes, here and

There for the pleasure of knowing

Present and unpossessing.

 

Human bodies are much like landscapes.

We should enter knowingly, aware,

With tender hearts and no assumptions,

More inclined to give than take.

 

To honour and cherish what we find,

And let the landscapes of ourselves be

Changed, softened, even redeemed for us

Through our encounters.