Belonging to The Earth – a review

Having really enjoyed Julie Brett’s first book – Australian Druidry – I was excited to get a review copy of Belonging to The Earth. This is part of the new Earth Spirit line from Moon Books – small, tightly focused titles for anyone interested in Earth-based spirituality.

Julie is a Druid living in Australia. Her work is very much about squaring up to the implications of being on someone else’s land, with all that history of violence, cultural oppression, massacre and displacement. It’s something she’s navigating personally and she has a great deal to share about the process. I think she sets a good example of how anyone might move towards respectful relationship with the true owners of a land, without speaking over them or appropriating their traditions. She shares a lot of direct quotes from Elders she’s sat with, and the principle of showing up to listen is one that we all need to adopt.

Belonging to the Earth is written about Australian experience, but it offers a map to anyone interested in decolonization and the Indigenization of ideas. Julie is clear that wherever we are in the world, we all need to work on becoming indigenous people and that this is about having respectful and sustaining relationships with the land.

Reading this as a European, I was struck by the thought that although many of us live in the lands of our ancestors, we don’t have that depth of connection. Any of us could have been Aboriginal peoples, but none of us are. Countless ancestral choices have brought us to this point, and we have a great deal of work to do to both change that, and change the colonial narrative that insists on treating our disassociation as superior to the land-honouring cultures of First Nations People.

There’s a lot to learn for those of us with European and colonial heritage. The need to learn is urgent. How those of us from the colonial-capitalist side of history deal with First Nations People is a critically important matter of social justice and restorative justice. We urgently need the understanding of landscapes that would allow us to live in sustainable ways. We all need to be rooted in something more nurturing than consumerism.

I heartily recommend this book, and have every intention of reviewing more titles from the Earth Spirit line.

Find out more on Julie Brett’s website – https://juliebrett.net/2021/11/09/belonging-to-the-earth/


Light in the Lantern: with Nimue Brown

Some recent silliness with a very dear friend…

Blake And Wight . com

Greetings and salutations!

Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster. My name is Nimue Brown. I herd eldritch, tentacular creatures and soothe dustcats professionally. I’m here having learned about the flesh eating birds and the Sugar-Zombies. I know the general intention is to keep the flame burning, bring comfort in the darkness, and resist the terrifying monsters.

But, terrifying monsters? Excuse me while I rub my hands together in wild and abandoned glee. Would I lick a Sugar-Zombie? Yes. Yes I would.

While others are armed for the fight, I’m primarily going to protect you through the medium of distraction. It’s surprising how many unspeakable entities like to pose for a camera and a quick bit of portraiture. I’m hoping for interviews as well. Everyone gets bored with tearing the living limb from limb sooner or later, and hopefully I’m late enough to the party for that moment to have arrived! Failing that…

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Noise Pollution and Wellbeing

I notice it most when I’m travelling – perhaps because most days I don’t get into a moving vehicle. Cars are loud, and all the other cars around you are loud too. Buses are really noisy. Trains are noisy, train stations are noisy. Extended journeys often leave me exhausted from the barrage of sound and vibration. I notice it a lot if I’m in a location with a lot of background noise. I find urban spaces difficult, overwhelming and exhausting.

If there’s a lot of background noise, many people have problems communicating. That can be about hearing, about being able to differentiate between sounds, or about getting distracted by the noise and not being able to concentrate. It’s difficult to be a human with other humans in noisy environments – at least if you are used to communicating verbally. It can be distressing and demoralising for people who are especially challenged by background noise, but it isn’t much good for anyone.

We are encouraged to think of noisy urban environments as being lively and exciting. There’s a lot of ‘louder is better’ thinking out there. Whether that’s louder music, louder fireworks, louder film tracks or louder environments, we get a lot of encouragement to feel good about it and to find it exciting. To deal with noisy spaces I assume you have to be good at tuning things out, ignoring your surroundings and not being bothered about communicating. These are not things I can do.

Even if you can successfully ignore the noise, it may still be harming you. There are apparently a fair few studies out there suggesting that over-exposure to noise – both loud noise and invasive background noise – impacts on our health. It is likely to increase stress, anxiety and depression. Other effects include sleep disruption and increased blood pressure. Tuning out the problem does not protect you from it, by the looks of things.

Mostly we only factor in the health and safety implications of sound insofar as really noisy stuff can damage hearing. There’s far more to it than that. We create horrendously noisy spaces for humans to exist in – much of it down to how we handle transport. Quieter transport solutions would do a lot to reduce noise pollution. Gentler ways of living would support us in having happier, healthier lives.


Queen of the needle – poem

Prick me, and I will bleed

My wounds stay open

Skin bloodstained

The damage painted

For easy viewing.

Break open my skin

For my own good

Apparently.

Test me

Test me

Test me again.

What am I?

Why do I bleed

Still?

What is wrong

That I do not heal?

Stab me with your solutions

Solving nothing.

Investigate me 

Down to the bone

Under the microscope

You find no answers

I am still bleeding.

An illness with no name

No diagnosis

No reality.

A being without explanation

May as well be a fairy

For all the good it will do.

Stab me again

As though this time

It could be different.

(art by Dr Abbey. Text by me, and I don’t heal injuries made with steel easily, which causes me all kinds of difficulty around conventional medicine. )


Greener jumpers

For the last ten years or so I’ve mostly bought jumpers from sale rails, often at the end of winter. I figure that buying from the ends of lines doesn’t increase demand in the same way and may keep wearable clothing out of landfill.

It’s not ideal, though. I’ve owned a lot of black jumpers, because I like my jumpers plain, and often black is the only plain option. I still have a hard time finding things that fit me – I’m tall. I often actively dislike the kinds of jumpers designed for women, and if I’m wearing a jumper designed for a bloke it’s never going to be a good fit. Sometimes I like jumpers that fit. With the kind of clothes buying budget I have, even my sale rail jumpers tend to be low quality. They wear out, look shabby really quickly, and are never that warm.

This year I’ve started knitting my own. I can buy a better quality of yarn for the budget I have. I’ve not entirely managed to move away from synthetics, but a more substantial yarn is going to last longer and not end up in landfill for many more years, so overall it’s the better move. If I knit a jumper I can have the shape and colour I want. I don’t have to spend time traipsing around in the desperate hope of finding something I can afford that I can also bear to wear. This frees up time and emotional energy for other things.

I usually find clothes shopping depressing. It’s rare for me to find clothes I truly like that also fit. I’m tall, and broad, and have had to do a lot of ignoring my own feelings and preferences and putting up with whatever would do – this is not great for self-esteem. Second hand clothes shopping is often an exercise in futility for anything other than big, shapeless skirts. It’s the same with sale rails, and often with new stuff, too.

If I make my own clothes, I get things I like, in better and more robust fabrics that will last longer. If I have clothes that suit my tastes, my body shape and the way I live, then I can get by with less. It takes more ‘sort of works’ clothing to get you through – I know this from experience. I also like making things. Crafting is a valuable mental health activity that eases stress and allows me time for emotional processing and imaginative thinking, so making an item of clothing gets a lot of things done. Better dressed in terms of clothing quality, happier with my clothes and not stressed by the process of getting them means having more energy for other things. That in turn increases my chances of being able to be more environmentally mindful in other ways.


Trust and inspiration

This is a photo from one of my new ventures. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and at the recent Steampunk event in Gloucester I was able to pull a team together for some improvisation-heavy theatre. I’ve wanted to do scratch theatre in a steampunk context for ages. It has to be a bit cobbled together because we weren’t able to meet before the event for rehearsals and this would always be the way of it with steampunks travelling from all over the place to events.

I wrote an outline. Craig Hallam brought poems – the setup was a literary salon run by a psychopath (me, being Mrs Beaten) with Craig as Hopeless Maine poet Algernon Lear. Other cast members took on characters suitable to the setting, while John Bassett played Reverend Davies.

I’ve been dabbling with plays for years – mostly mumming plays, which are short, anarchic folk plays with a format around death and rebirth. Usually I write characters based either on traditional material, or for the person who will be playing the part. Getting to see someone bring to life a character I did not write for them has been an affecting sort of experience. 

For me, what’s most exciting in this kind of creative project is the mix of trust and uncertainty. I knew I had a great team, and they were willing to trust me that we could do this thing. We had a framework, but no one really knew how any of it would work or what would happen in the moment. And there were some wonderful moments with people interacting, sparring verbally, or at one point literally sparring with a cane and a massive spoon… When people collaborate amazing things can and do happen.

We made a space and a possibility. We held that space between us, and supported each other in being entertaining and funny and a bit weird, and I am really happy with how it all went. There will be more of this, and it means I can include more people.


Inspiration and Performance

Often, we talk about inspiration as being the act of creating a piece of work. That’s not quite what happens around performance. It is possible to be a really good performer – of music, poetry, theatre, dance… without creating original pieces of work. There are a number of ways in which inspiration can manifest.

Firstly there’s the choice of material. An inspired choice will be a powerful thing. This is about finding the perfect piece for the setting, the time of year, the audience, the mood on the day. When this works it can be truly magical. As you’re preparing material and won’t necessarily be able to fettle those choices in situ, how inspired you are in your choices can make a lot of odds.

There’s a lot of work involved in learning and arranging a performance. A lot of your own creative energy will go into this. What you do with your voice or body to bring a piece to life is very much yours. The preparation work you do will also inform how you are able to interpret and perform the piece in the moment and what you can do to tailor it to the space, audience etc. Whether you prepare with the intention of doing it in a way you’ve settled on, or whether you prepare to try and have many options on the day is also a factor.

Then there’s what happens in the moment. When you step into a space and decide how to perform what you’ve brought with you. The more confident you are, the better. The more sure of your material you are, the better. But there’s also always that scope for something magical to enter in and influence what you do. Performance itself can be inspired, and when it is, there is a considerable difference.

Creativity is a way of being in the world, a way of being open and interacting with the material, the spaces, the audience. Inspiration is a strange, glorious process that can strike at any time. Anything we do can be lit up with inspiration and can be made more wonderful by having that extra spark in it.


Stealing the surface of science

“Our trials show that when people make contact with light encoded information at a quantum level with the support of … applications they can access optimal states of wholeness.” (text from an actual website trying to sell a magical machine.)

There’s a lot of this sort of thing out there. There’s a sort of illusion of science that the author of the above text is trying to conjure. Trials, quantum, applications, optimal states – it’s a language that is supposed to sound sciencey, to validate something that has nothing whatsoever to do with actual science.

I note a lot of the same approaches come up around conspiracy theories, and anti-vaxx material. Often the sources are trying to debunk actual science while trying to present their pseudo-science as more scientific than actual science done by scientists. It’s a process that depends on an audience who dislike authority and don’t know much about how science works. Thus you can end up with people persuaded that vaccines are unsafe because they are made by Big Pharma, and that horse de-wormer cures covid, which it doesn’t. Also, horse de-wormers are made by Big Pharma.

It’s difficult to know what to do in face of all of this. When you’re dealing with people who feel they can make contact with light encoded information at a quantum level… but who could not explain what ‘quantum’ actually means, rational argument is a non-starter. We’re not speaking the same language here, and the language itself is intrinsic to the whole process. 

If I read something that claims to be science, there are key words and concepts I’m looking for. I want to know what the actual data was, how the tests were organised, what kinds of numbers of people/other things were involved. I want to be offered the raw data and the methodology used to get to that data. I will be more reassured if the conclusions include some thoughts about how or where the conclusions might be flawed or in need of further research. The language of uncertainty is the language of science. I’m looking for evidence, probability, possible interpretations of the data. If I read about truth, proof, and any kind of absolute I know I’m dealing with a fraud. 

The trouble is that certainty is more persuasive, especially if you don’t habitually speak the language of uncertainty. The person who tells you that they have Proof that a thing is Real and you have been Lied To is more emotionally convincing than the person who tells you that you have 67% less chance of suffering serious side effects and that the long term implications are unclear. We like certainty and we like to feel in control. Unfortunately, being certain and wrong makes you a very long way from being in control. 

I wonder how much odds it would make if we spent more time in school learning about risk and personal outcomes in relation to probability, research stats and so forth. We’re not usually taught science and maths in ways that help us understand how, and when to take the numbers seriously in a personal way. Leaving it to chance whether a person can extrapolate from data or tell snake-oil from science doesn’t seem like a good idea, to me.


Access and Anxiety

Anxiety and some kinds of neurodivergence can make the uncertainty inherent in an event a real barrier to participation. These sorts of issues can be easily overlooked and can result in excluding people who could have participated with the right support. Accessibility isn’t just about whether a person can physically get into the space, barriers are not just about bodies.

I’m no great expert on neurodivergence. My understanding is that unfamiliar things, changes to routines, and other kinds of uncertainty can be immensely stressful for some neurodivergent people. Knowing things in advance so as to be able to feel prepared can make a great deal of odds and reduces anxiety.

I do know a fair bit about anxiety. Given an empty space, the anxious brain will just go ahead and plug in disasters. The more you know, the less room there is to unleash the panic weasels, and the more manageable the situation becomes.

What kind of thing a person needs to know about is probably going to be quite variable. Based on what I’ve seen around event organising, the most important thing is not to be complacent around requests for information. Don’t assume people are being unreasonable or demanding if they need to know about something ahead of time. Also, they probably aren’t going to tell you if they have sensitivity issues caused by autism, or a hard time imagining unfamiliar things, or are checking to avoid trauma triggers, or need to stop their brain from coming up with a hundred potential disasters.

If you don’t know exactly how something is going to work, tell people what you do know – try and work out what the limits are. Consider asking if there’s any kind of information they need. Make it ok for people to step out if something turns out to be too much for them. Actively support people whose psychological needs are different from your own and don’t expect everyone to be the same.

It shouldn’t matter why people are asking for information and help – in that we should not have to be persuaded they have a specific need in order to act on requests like these.


In search of greener clothes

Clothing has a huge environmental impact. Throwaway fast fashion puts out a lot of carbon and adds a lot to landfill. Plastic fabrics put plastic particles into the environment. Cotton takes a lot of water to produce. Wool can be good, or can have land and animal welfare issues associated with it. Hemp and bamboo fabrics seem to be pretty good, but they’re also much more expensive.

Cheap clothing is made in awful conditions and there’s a huge social justice angle to changing how we buy and use clothing.

In terms of personal impact on the environment, we can make a lot of difference with our clothes choices. Never throw away clothes that could be given away and worn by someone else. Don’t buy clothes with the intention of wearing them once or twice. Try to buy the most durable clothes you can. Buy second hand if you are able to  – not everyone has time, energy or a conventional enough body-shape for this. Keeping fabric in use isn’t hard.

I’ve got into upcycling. The skirt I’m wearing in the photo is made from school shirts. The shirts in question were unusable as shirts – worn at the collars, marked, stained and otherwise damaged. I threw away the ruined fabric and made a skirt from the salvaged material. My knickerbockers were made from a pair of trousers that died.

The shirt I am wearing was salvaged from landfill by an innovative lad who is exploring more responsible approaches to fashion. A lot of stuff is thrown away before it even gets to the shops, but this can be salvaged and used, and in this case, has a steampunk weasel printed on it. (Weasel designed by Tom Brown). When I can point at a store for this, I will.

I have a lot of fun keeping cloth out of landfill. It creates interesting challenges and I end up with unique items of clothing. I have a horror of looking like the sort of person who has bought all their clothes from a supermarket, but I don’t have a huge clothing budget for fancy gear. This approach saves me money, which means when I buy new I have more scope to make more sustainable choices.