The dark half of the year

I have struggled with winter for a long time, and so the darkening days of autumn can leave me feeling gloomy. This year I have committed to trying to find happier ways through the dark half of the year.

The first thing to say is that there’s a lot of privilege tied up in finding the winter easy. Money for comforts, a washing machine, a tumble drier, the means to dry clothes, enough clothes that getting soaked through isn’t a problem. Enough money for heating and eating, and for the food to be of a good quality that will keep you going. If you get to the autumn anxious about what a hard winter will do to your energy bill, inevitably it’s not going to be easy. If the cold and damp increases pain, it’s not a cheerful prospect.

I’ve been in those places. For many of us, bad weather, slippery surfaces or snow can be really isolating. For the elderly, a fall can be a death sentence. Cold kills people. Cold makes homes damp, and damp homes grow mould, and mould is not good for people. This year, we will be buying a dehumidifier, so we won’t have to have a cold home from opening windows each day to keep it dry. This is a luxurious prospect.

In previous winters, the dark nights, the footing and my energy levels have kept me in, and left me feeling isolated. This is one of the major things I intend to do better with this year. We’ve bought a head torch, a small luxury that means walking in the dark will be safer and we can use all the summer shortcuts. I’ve got better at spoon juggling, and I mean to use that to make sure I can get out at least a few times each month for evening events. Not having a car, winter transport is challenging, but with better kit, we can do it. Of course not everyone can afford better kit, or a car, or the fares for public transport.

The more marginal your way of life is, the greater a need there is for warmth and comfort in the winter months. With this body, I won’t be skipping through the snow at any point. But, I know where to get saunas if the cold causes too much pain, and this year, if I need it, I will go. It’s all about having a little flexibility in the budget. Small differences can make very large differences, and I intend to make the very best of everything I can so that this winter is less depressing for me, and for anyone else around me I can manage to extend some cheer to.


Flows of inspiration

That which flows can also ebb, and probably will. There’s a natural cycle in all things that means patterns of scarcity and abundance are to be expected. I think one of the problems with people is that we’re obsessed with avoiding the scarcity, and this causes us to put vast pressure on natural systems. We should not expect to have abundance of all things at all times. At the same time we have a cultural scarcity narrative, that resources generally are in short supply and we have to compete and acquire or we’ll really suffer the scarcity. If scarcity isn’t a disaster, or seen as one, life is gentler. So long as we don’t have scarcity around truly essential things for long stretches, all is well.

In June, you can have an abundance of strawberries, and in November you can have an abundance of sloes. It’s trying to have everything all the time that causes the trouble.

So, after that long pre-amble, how does this relate to inspiration? Why should inspiration be finite like a natural strawberry season? Why can’t I expect to be full on creative all day every day? There have been times in my life when I could turn out a vast amount of book in an ongoing way, but the days of writing a novel in 6 weeks are long gone, and I don’t really want them back.

Nature has cycles. Ebbs and flows. Times of flourishing and times of decay. Times of incubating and waiting, and sleeping. Times of doing. Push for nothing but growth all the time, and there will be a rebalancing backlash.

I think I hit one of those this summer, when my personal creativity hit an all time low and stayed at rock bottom for several months. It takes time to gestate ideas and to find things that inspire. Without the time to daydream and imagine, there is no soil for a story to take root in. I’m not a machine, it does not work for me to try and pop out a story at regular intervals. I need the room for a more organic process.

I have also identified the need to look at the wider cycles and tides in my creativity. There’s no point expecting to eat strawberries if you haven’t planted a strawberry bed. There is no blackberry jam without foraging. If the gestation time, the seed in the soil isn’t looked after, what can possibly grow? So I’m making more time for doing nothing, and for doing the things that inspire me. If you don’t tend to the whole cycle, it’s not realistic to expect one bit of it to work well. I am not a cog, the world is not a machine. And even if it was, it would need oiling.

 


What Druids are supposed to do

Most of the things I’ve done as a Druid, I’ve done in part because someone asked me to. I’ve taught Druidry and meditation, I’ve run ritual groups and undertaken celebrant work. I’ve run workshops and done talks. I’ve written for magazines. There’s also this blog, and the book writing. I need to mention that I never set out to be a Druid author – my ambition was always to write fiction, this is a diversion that happened because the opportunity was there, but it was never part of a grand plan.

These are all the things that you do if you’re going to be a professional Pagan. And if it works, you can add media work, interviews, travelling around the world to events and suchlike to the list. In practice, of the many Pagans I know who are doing all the things, only a handful are jetting off internationally or getting on the telly. For most of us, the lure of The Very Important Druid work means an expense of time, money and energy far more than any kind of personal gain. And trust me, if you’re burned out, the ego trip just isn’t that much of a payoff.

This year has brought me a lot of challenges, and those challenges have caused me to think long and hard about what I’m doing. There is a real and growing tension between what I need for my personal path (solitude, introspection, presence, time, energy) and what I need to function as a ‘public’ Druid (time, energy, travel, ideas, networking). There is often a tension for me between writing about the path and walking it. It doesn’t help that I’m also a lousy self-publicist and would rather spend my time promoting other people than touting my own work about.

I’m in a process of re-thinking who and how I am. I’ve seen what happens to the people who start to believe their own PR, and I do not want to go there. I also don’t want to peddle authority or dogma. To this end, I have given up most of my teaching work. Talks and workshops are still a possibility. I’m not going to put myself forward for celebrant work – if things come up locally, then fine, but mostly this is not a path I want to follow. I’ve stepped away from things that could have given me a platform, in no small part because I don’t want the platform.

I intend to keep doing this blog, keep writing my Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn, and to write other things as and when inspiration strikes. I’m committed to supporting the creativity of others, what form that will take depends on the opportunities that come along.

Beyond that, I don’t know. I may be giving up on writing non-fiction books. At least in the short term so that I can focus more on my own path and journey without getting caught up in how I’m going to turn that into something useful. And also to make more space for creative writing, and for supporting others. I am seriously considering a formal re-dedication to the bardic path. I’m asking what it is that I want, and how I want things to be and making time and space for those answers to resolve.

There are a lot of things I’ve done because I thought it was what you were supposed to do if you’re being a *serious Druid* and because people asked me. What I’ve not done for many years, is asked what I need to do for myself to seriously be a Druid, which is quite a hefty oversight. I’m greatly enjoying the re-thinking process.


Fairycraft

I read Morgan Daimler’s Fairy Witchcraft some time last year, and very much enjoyed it, although if I reviewed it here I’ve managed to hide it from myself. Fairycraft is the recently released and much longer and deeper look at fairy orientated magic. There isn’t much overlap between the two books so if you’re keen on the subject it is worth reading both, start with Fairy Witchcraft.

Over the course of the book, Morgan explores the folklore and mythology of faeries – her main focus is faeries in British folklore (especially Irish, quite a lot of Scottish) but she does encourage people to find out what’s traditional for their part of the world. As an American she’s faced with the complexities of ancestral ideas about the Otherworld, and ideas associated with the land, and has some interesting things to say on the subject.

There’s a fair amount of the history of fairy witchcraft , and the very revealing linguistics of it. Morgan Daimler does a lot of translating from Irish, and in the nuances of language use, all kinds of things emerge.

Alongside this, Morgan talks in detail about personal practice and experience, and what happens when you take the things from the folklore and start trying to do them. This is really fascinating stuff, and is presented with a balance of reverence and questioning rather than any kind of desire to impress. It’s made very clear that fairy work is all about relationship, so what happens for one person is a very limited indicator of what another person might experience while doing the same things. The personal qualities required to work in this way are flagged up and explored.

I suspect that what Morgan says about fairy magic is true of pretty everything to some degree – that relationship is key. Who we are, how we think and act and feel informs what we take into any situation. How that relates to whoever or whatever we’re working with will also have an impact. Care, respect and knowing where the boundaries are, will be important in all things. What this book offers is an explicitly co-operative approach to magic. The Fairy Witch needs a very strong will and great clarity of intention, but isn’t generally forcing that will onto the world, but working with Others. As an animist, I’m always more drawn to ways of being that are co-operative and consenting rather than about forcing will.

I’ve always been fascinated with faerie, it probably started with childhood exposure to the myths of Tam Lyn and Thomas the Rhymer. At the moment my personal practice is very quiet, and in an incubating stage, so I didn’t read this with an eye to acting on it. I think it’s worth noting that even if you aren’t planning to *be* a fairy witch, this is a great read. The wealth of folklore is wonderful, and the content around practice is really engaging to read anyway. There’s some genuinely innovative material about seasonal celebration (I say this as someone who is otherwise bored sick of wheel of the year sections in books). If you do want to take up this path, these two books are well worth a look.

More about Fairy Witchcraft here –moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-fairy-witchcraft

More about Fairycraft here – http://www.moon-books.net/index.php?id=99&p=4684


The Hopeless Colourist

Before

Before

I’m not, I should mention, being deeply harsh on myself with this title, I’m talking about colouring for Hopeless Maine – a graphic novel and illustrated prose series that brought Tom and I together many years ago, and that we continue to work on. The first two books will be re-released from Sloth in the very foreseeable future, and they’ve agreed to pick up the two attendant prose novels that have been languishing for years. The prose novels will have black and white illustrations, but we’re doing colour versions for posters and eye candy and whatnot.

After

After

This means that I’m colouring. We invested in some posh artist pencils, and I have to say it makes a huge difference. The colour is smoother than you get with cheap pencils, and far less bearing down is needed to get the more intense colours – which makes things easier on my hands.

Anyone who says that a poor workman blames their tools is going to get stared at. Good quality tools make it possible to create a higher standard of work. There are things cheap pencils do, and don’t do, and while I can try to work with that, better pencils are in fact better and allow me to do better work.

There are interesting challenges in colouring. It’s my job to keep in the spirit, mood, style etc of the original drawing. Colour can have a huge effect on mood, and it also can do a lot more around shape and texture than black and white does. The images I’ve shared created a sudden learning curve on that subject. In black and white pencils, flat tentacles are fine. I colured, and then re-coloured them because  I had to totally rethink the 3d-ness to make them make sense.

The image shows Annamarie Nightshade, and her familiar. Annamarie is the central character in New England Gothic, and a significant support character in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series. You can read the first books for free here – www.hopelessmaine.com


The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire — The Book Smugglers

I read Meredith’s ‘The Life and Times of Angel Evans’ and really liked it – I suspect anyone who enjoys my fiction will get on with this – sparse, whimsical, imaginative, speculative, unconventional, with shades of light and dark. I’m reblogging to draw attention to both the blog, and the story this post will direct you to, so please do follow through on the links and have a look.

Meredith Debonnaire

Look it’s here it’s here it’s here! Publication day! You can now read my short story for free by following the link! Of course, if you are able to buy the eBook it is much appreciated, however do go ahead and enjoy it in whatever format works for you. And if you like it, tell all your friends🙂

The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith DebonnairePublished 09/13/2016 | 16,757 Words Doctor Who meets Good Omens in this new short story from Book Smugglers Publishing. When Angel Evans was born into her world, the event was beset with a troubling number of prophecies. Her magical future was so portentous that all of…

via The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire — The Book Smugglers

View original post


What colour is evil? (poem)

Gun metal grey, perhaps,

Or the sickly yellow of a gas attack.

The red of wounds, bloodied innocence,

And the private green of lurid envy.

Multi-coloured hate for different skins.

Pastel tones of apathy, magnolia conformity

The black dog standing on your chest,

Lethal blues prophesy suicide.

Little lies we claim are white.

While Agent Orange pours silence onto jungles.

Pink flush of the shamed cheek

Camouflage colours for the sniper.

Gender colours, yellow stars, brown shirts.

Greenwashing the present

Whitewashing the past

Painting over the cracks, we try to hide

Rainbow hues in the latest oil spill.

 

Darkness is womb, a seed in soil.

The respite of sleep.

 

Toxic human projects

Come in every known shade.


Living within our means

In economic terms, the idea of living within your means is straightforward – if what you spend is no more than that amount of money available to you, then you’ll be ok. Spend more than you have, and a downwards debt spiral is your destiny.

When it comes to the human species as household and the environment as ‘means’ no one seems to think in these terms. Governments treat the planet as an infinite resource that can be used in any way they see fit for short term profit. We have finite resources.  As a species, we’re running up quite a debt. When the bailiffs come round to deal with the debts, they will come as floods and droughts, famines and sickness from pollution. In many places, the bailiffs are already here. Our species keeps running up the debts even as people are dying from polluted air and water, and species go extinct.

Look at the cold hard facts of household economies, and it’s obvious that no sensible person would borrow more than they can pay back and get into the debt spiral. And yet, in our thousands, in our hundreds of thousands, we do just this. We do it because a short term crisis can land anyone in trouble. We do it because we’re bombarded constantly with messages about what we must have, and not everyone can defend themselves adequately from the constant brainwashing. We do it because poverty is a rigged game designed to drive you into debt and powerlessness. The ‘choice’ to live within our means often isn’t a choice at all.

These very same pressures and motives are at the heart of our species not living within its means. The constant pressure to own, consume, throw away and replace. The effects of poverty on the choices people can make around sustainability. Get into poverty and you’ll have a hard time of it affording the organic, fair traded, responsibly sourced, ethically made things. You’ll by cheap (to you, but expensive to the planet) to survive.

Until governments start thinking about how we, as a species, might live within in our means, this is going to be hard to tackle. For those of us who do have the luxury of choice, we can choose to have less. We can choose not to fuel the habit of competitive ownership. No more ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ If we were all a bit more willing to share our tools and toys, for example, we could reduce need, poverty and over-production. The more of us there are who don’t buy into the ideas of overconsumption, the more hope there is that this way of thinking will catch on.


Bi Visibility Day

Sitting down to type this, I wonder about the consequences. For so many people saying ‘I exist’ can look like attention seeking and making a fuss, to those on the outside. I remember when I felt the same way about flagging up my Pagan-ness or talking about mental health issues, but I’ve had more practice on those fronts.

I have been told that being invisible is a privilege that will keep you safer than the visible folk. I don’t buy it. If safety lies in your invisibility, then what you get, from day to day, is the fear of being outed, and then punished, and really, that’s not so very different from the fear of being punished, and the same consequences are available. In the meantime, invisibility means that who you are does not have a reality in the eyes of people you deal with. Maybe even people you’re close to. All the time. Not a risk, but an every day thing. This is as true for invisible illness, for any invisible problem or difference that impacts on you but is not self announcing. Invisibility is lonely, alienating, isolating, and that certainly offsets any possible advantages in most circumstances.

To the casual gaze I look straight. I have a husband and a child. I have an overtly female body, which does not reflect the androgynous heart on the inside. Sometimes I think of myself as a non-gendered pansexual life form and sometimes I think of myself as bisexual female, and sometimes I don’t really think about it at all. Anything I did to ‘better express’ my inner self on the gender front would be about making more visual sense to observers, and I’m not really into that. In theory, the hair and the breasts could go and this would flag up my androgyny to anyone looking. I like breasts and long hair – mine and other people’s.

From my first tentative crushes it was obvious to me that I fall in love with certain kinds of people. I fall in love with passion, creativity, intensity, high cheek bones, expressive eyes, gentle hands, warm voices. Body shape and genital configurations don’t really make the list. If I fall in love with someone there is a fair chance I will, as a consequence, find them sexually attractive, but it’s definitely that way round.

In the early days of the internet I was pretty ‘out’ – I wrote erotica, including a lot of bisexual and lesbian erotica, and I still read in those genres. Back then people I knew in ‘real’ life weren’t online so much, and it was less complicated to be me.  I’m not currently doing anything that makes me visible, but because I look straight, if I don’t speak up, an important part of who I am disappears. At college, lesbian fiction expanded my world, but outside of erotica, bisexual characters are not numerous. For a long time as a kid I didn’t have a word to explain what I was, and I didn’t know it was ok to feel the way I felt. I had no idea what it meant, or that I wasn’t alone. Where there is visibility, there is affirmation, and the scope for being acceptable. There can be solidarity, support, and all manner of good things.

There are people who will offer me any kind of explanation that denies who and how I am in preference to accepting that this is who I am. I love people. Certain people. Fiercely. If the freedom to love is to be a meaningful idea, it has to include the freedom not to be defined by other people’s beliefs about what’s real, and what’s possible. I am possible, and to deny a person their reality is a cruel thing indeed.


Thomas Hocknell: On getting published

tom-hA guest blog from Thomas Hocknell

I’ve been not published for long enough to allow a kettle to boil, much less forget how articles on How I Got Published are inspiring and galling in equal measure. I have however finally made it to print, so sharing the experience of how it happened feels at least appropriate, even if it feels like fluke. Getting published feels like the glowing perfection of a film’s first act, before a Boeing 747 crashes into the house. And this is how it happened, getting published I mean, not the plane crash.

An actor friend told me two years ago how he was giving up his pursuit of acting, and I was struck by what a momentous adult moment this was; to surrender those dreams of his younger self. Well, I reached a similar moment. Over the past two years I had sent my novel to so many agents that I had reached Z in the literary agent lists, and given up even noting where I had sent it. Any advice of submitting to only 4 or 5 at a time long-since ignored.

Random House then showed an interest, which they probably regretted as I followed them home every night. Mind you, the meeting involving a free cup of tea and Kit Kat in the Random House cafeteria was the most exciting thing to have happened, which speaks volumes about my literary endeavours up to then.

Sadly, this was the peak of my involvement with Random. They had already recently signed a novel involving the Elizabethan alchemist and magician Dr. John Dee and feared it risked overkill. They also wisely declined to provide me with this writer’s home address, which might have risked another kind of overkill.

Over the years I also managed to gain and lose two literary agents. To misquote Oscar Wilde, “To lose one agent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

At this point I put the manuscript to pasture, and started another novel, set in a small tenement block in London Bridge. Once I finished this, I glanced once again at the Life Assistance Agency. It was at this point, were it a movie, the audience would groan at magnitude of cliché. Yes, I decided to give it one more chance. I would give it another edit and tidy up, before sending it to every agent/publisher foolish enough to publicise their address in the country in a sort of mail-shot more associated with general elections.

There were no takers, but during this time I was building up a Twitter following, mainly by making friends with people in the hope they might return the interest. Once I had gained 2000, a newly found friend suggested Urbane Publishing, as publishers happy to consider manuscripts without agent representation. And it was while buying tickets to see Hotel Transylvania 2 with my son that I received the email I thought I would never get. It was celebrated by buying him the sort of ice cream he never thought he would get, and won’t have again, unless film rights are requested.

And it so happened. The first thing I did on returning home was to throw away the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2010 edition with a satisfying ‘fuck you.’  And spent the next 9 months endeavouring to not fantasise about selling enough copies to cover my expenses. Mind you, I’d prefer not to calculate the hourly rate. It feels surreal; all those dreams and aspirations now to be made public.

* * * * * * * * * *

Thomas Hocknell is a blogger at idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow – in the manner in which Jerome K Jerome might have, were he writing in 2016, and not 1886. You an find it here – https://tomhocknell.wordpress.com/ The Life Assistance Agency is his first novel and is the journey of a blogger, Ben Ferguson-Cripps, who sets aside his literary failures to join the newly established Life Assistance Agency in pursuit of a missing professor obsessed with the Elizabethan alchemist Dr. Dee. He’s @TomAngel1 on Twitter (which is where I first met him and started reading his blogs).

The Life Assistance Agency is available to buy from local bookshops and at Foyles:

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

Kindle is available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Assistance-Agency-want-forever-ebook/dp