The Teller – fiction

You are sat in the shade under the solar panels. It is the hottest part of the day, the best charging time and there is nothing to do but sit and wait.

She says, “It’s best of course to use energy as you harvest it, but this thing is so unstable with all the sails out and without them we don’t get enough juice to keep moving.”

You nod. The unfolded sails have legs to support them. You can’t imagine the machine in motion with all that extra width. 

“So I tried to find other ways to make it work, and this heats the water as well. I try not to let anything go to waste.”

It’s a clever system. You hadn’t realised the woman sat alongside you designed this machine. You hadn’t really thought much about anyone designing it.

While you wait, she tells you stories. She is amusing, and clearly in the habit of passing the time this way. You are hot, and uncomfortable and her voice is soothing. It strikes you that she is someone who makes her life with her own hands, out of whatever fragments can be found. Her clothes are beautiful, and you can see how they have been cleverly put together from scraps and elaborately stitched. You wish you had her skills, and say so.

“It just takes time, and patience,” she says. “Anyone could do any of the things I’ve done.”

This strikes you as unlikely, but it is a persistent thought and stays with you. What could you do just by getting in there and having a go? What do you want to do?

(Art by Dr Abbey, part of an ongoing fiction collaboration, currently we’re world building and thinking about what form this project will eventually take.)

The considered life

It’s good to pause and take stock. Ask yourself what you are doing, and why. How much is unavoidable? How much just seems unavoidable because you haven’t had time to stop and rethink it? Making the space to stop and examine your life every so often is a really good thing to do.

It’s so easy to become trapped in things because they seem normal. Everyone else is doing it… but on closer examination it may become apparent that you don’t have to do it, it isn’t obligatory. We get trapped in our own habits and routines, and whatever seems most normal can be hard to even  notice. How do we use our time? What are we doing with our lives? How many hours are lost to the mobile phone, to the commute, to things that give no joy and serve little purpose…?

Sometimes what traps us is systemic. It’s illness and poverty and the rules of our governments and unfair and prejudiced systems. It’s important to be able to see those things, to know what you have little power over, and what might be sorely limiting the people around you.

I don’t believe we can all manifest whatever we want. I don’t believe we can all suddenly turn our lives around to make them perfect. Grand leaps of faith into happier ways of living are only really possible for the person with no responsibilities, and a safety net made of money. Following your dream is easier if you have the cash to fund your dream. 

Even so, there may be changes to make. There may be small wins to go after. And yes, sometimes it does feel a lot like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. But, why not? If the ship is going to sink anyway, why not have the best seating you can while you can. Why not have some goodness and some hope wherever you can find it. That doesn’t mean compromising your future for the sake of a few short term kicks, but it also doesn’t mean compromising the present moment when there’s no real reason to think doing so will improve your future expectations.

A considered life always has more options in it than one where we are just going through the motions.

Matters of Erasure

I do not believe that giving vulnerable people more rights and better protection in any way erases anyone else.

Erasure is most commonly a consequence of being ignored. People who aren’t represented, and are treated as though they do not exist are erased all the time, and for anyone not affected it can be an entirely invisible process. If certain kinds of people don’t show up in the media we consume, and have put in front of us, we may have no awareness of them.

Our sense of what is normal has everything to do with what we see and hear on a daily basis. If what we encounter is mostly white, straight, cis, able bodied… we may well end up internalising this as normal and being pretty oblivious to the very existence of people who are not those things. At the same time, not having representation, not seeing yourself reflected in your own culture is lonely, alienating and disempowering, amongst other things.

When representation exists but doesn’t come from the people being represented, that can also lead to erasure. Most films are written and directed by men. The women in those films do and say the things men think, or wish women would do. We see women on the screen, and it seems as though women are present, but what we’re really seeing a lot of the time are male fantasies. That’s erasure. Yes, I do think anyone can write about anyone else well and effectively, but if you ‘learn’ from other fantasists, as so many do, then you don’t get realistic representation. I give you female bodies in conventional comics as a case in point.

Similar things happen around stories about disabled people heroically overcoming their struggles, when that’s been created and presented by able bodied people. It’s what happens when cis people write about trans characters all too often as well. Further, when marginalized people do get the chance to speak for themselves, they’re often sorely limited in what they are allowed to do – black authors only being allowed to write about race, queer voices only wanted for stories of coming out and dealing with prejudice and so forth. 

Erasure happens when people are not allowed to speak for themselves. It happens when cliches and stereotypes are repeated by people whose only experience is of seeing those things. Erasure happens when people don’t do their research. It happens when areas of experience are ignored and voices aren’t included.

And as an aside, a person worried about female erasure might choose to put a female character centre stage. A person worried about lesbian erasure might undertake to put some visibly lesbian characters into their massivly sucessful book series. Naming no names, because that’s also an opportunity to illustrate how failing to mention someone functions as erasure.

Make good your escape

I’m very much a fan of escapism. Sometimes we all need to get out of our own heads for a while. A good distraction can give considerable respite from mental and physical health problems. When we’re burned out, emotionally exhausted by the state of the world, or struggling with despair, escapism can restore us, and can be really helpful.

I’m not here to judge where anyone else escapes to. If you find something soothing, restorative, uplifting or otherwise helpful, then do with it what you can.

However, it’s best to avoid the things that numb us out or kill time. It’s easy to fall into using distractions that don’t give much, and that don’t leave you feeling better afterwards. It’s especially easy to end up watching crap just because it’s there and isn’t what’s going on in your head. While there’s some gain sometimes in any kind of break from what’s going on in your head, it’s worth paying attention to what you are feeding yourself.

It’s a lot like junk food, and having the odd days where you comfort eat or comfort watch things you know aren’t so good for you, is no big deal. Sometimes you just have to get through as best you can. Living there takes a toll and will grind you down and undermine you, physically and emotionally. Brains need a good and nourishing diet, too.

I find it helps to have some ideas of where to escape to in place so that they can be easily deployed at need. That might mean having a few unread books stashed and ready to deploy. I’ve found National Geographic documentaries to be a good resource in an emergency, and there are many of those on their youtube channel. I’ve had some serious sessions with The Magnus Archive podcast, and I go to the Shrewsbury Folk festival youtube channel for folk fixes. There are other podcasts I’ve worked my way through at need. It’s as well to have something to deploy.

Killing time is an emotionally dangerous thing to do. It gives us nothing in exchange for the most precious thing we have. Escape can be a good and necessary thing, but it is so important to escape to somewhere that will do you some good. Don’t take your brain vacations inside a dumpster fire!

Omens and Rainbows

I’ve never been one for omens. It bothers me when I see people online talking about encounters with bits of nature and what it might mean when it sounds like a creature was just doing its thing. I worry about how human-centric and ego-centric it can be to assume that the rest of the world exists to bring us messages. Maybe we’re not that special.

As an animist, I think everything has the potential for opinions, preferences and ideas. I can’t reconcile that with thinking that anything is interrupting its own life to try and tell me stuff about mine. The ravens have better things to do than bring me omens, I have no doubt. However, if a raven turns up, it may well be connected to all kinds of other things going on.

We’re all part of the same weave. If you’ve encountered any of my Wherefore fiction (on youtube and in my ko-fi store) then you’ll know I’m quite into the idea of the weave. Everything is connected, everything affects everything else. And so there may be signs and omens because what one being is doing exists in relation to everything else. I might see the butterfly flap its wings and have a decent stab at guessing where the hurricane will be. Although in fairness, I probably won’t!

Rainbows have always been a bit of an exception on this score. Partly because they aren’t creatures going about their own business in quite the same way. They have causes, and reasons, but how they show up varies so much. Light conditions, times of day, density of rain – there’s a lot of variables go in to making a specific rainbow, and that feels to me like a place where you might take a reading or infer some significance. I’ve had some moments with double bows, an incredibly vibrant hailbow, and rainbows that have seemed reassuring at times when I had a lot to worry about and very little reassurance. They always seem like a good omen.

A rainbow is a moment of unexpected beauty. Whether it really is a sign of anything else, it is certainly a reminder that wonder can come out of nowhere, that beauty is powerful, that life is full of unexpected things and not all of them are shit.

Heading towards the solstice

Recently I wrote about the limitations I’m facing around pilgrimage and my desire to see some of the specific seasonal plants. There are plants I become particularly obsessed with. However, there are seasonal plants outside my door. While my ideas about how I want to engage with the season have been thwarted, my actual ability to engage with the season isn’t really that compromised.

A very short distance from my home, the buttercups are flowering exuberantly. I don’t have to go far to see how glorious they are in the fields, even if I don’t get into the fields. The cranesbill is out, and the campions. There are foxgloves on one of my regular routes. They are glorious, and extravagant, and I am very fond of them as part of the summer.

I have a small pot garden, and a few wild seasonal plants have shown up there – granny bonnets, wood avens, ragged robin…  I’ve got small plants whose names I don’t know cheerfully blooming. The grass is full of daisies, and I’m also really appreciating the groundsman who doesn’t mow very often and lets things flower.

I may yearn for particular encounters with specific plants and landscapes, but the season is here. Summer is right outside my door. Seasonal expressions are all around me. It’s important not to lose track of that through focusing on what I can’t have.

Last Girl’s Club – a review

View Last Girls Club Spring Issue by Eda H Obey, Martinne Corbeau

I was sent a review pdf of the first magazine from Last Girl’s Club, recently. It’s a fiction orientated magazine, focusing on weird, eldritch things and dark feminism – if you like my fiction it may well be your sort of thing! It’s going to be a quarterly.

It’s a tricky thing to review in that there are multiple articles – fiction and non-fiction – from a broad array of authors. It looks like there will be regular columnists – and they’re an interesting bunch with an array of perspectives and approaches. Otherwise the magazine is open to submissions, so there will be unpredictability. Issue 1 offered a diverse selection of authors working in a breadth of styles, from the creepy to the disturbing. It was light on gore, and happily light on the female abuse tropes that dominate some areas of horror. It’s a pleasure to see horrible things that don’t rely on the abuse of women. The magazine has a policy of no stories where sex leads to murder, and this makes me enormously happy.

I only gave up on one story – I didn’t engage with the author’s voice at all – everything else grabbed me and I enjoyed reading it. Inevitably with this sort of project there’s a likelihood of not finding everything to your taste, but it’s well worth a go, the writing is strong and innovative and the editorial team clearly has some very good ideas about what to say yes to.

This is a magazine that charges. It’s important to note that this is also a magazine that pays. There aren’t anything like enough of those out there, and I encourage you to support outfits that actually pay their writers. Last Girl’s Club is accepting short stories, poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction and relevant reviews. The content needs a female focus, but the gender of the author is not a consideration.  The submission guidelines are clear and can be found on the website.

If this is your area of interest, then it’s well worth checking out.

Restoration – fiction

Without water, how can there be plants? But without plants, there is no water. It takes roots to hold moisture in the soil, and the ground cover of leaves to stop the sun from stealing every last drop away. 

When the plants have been eaten by livestock, when the deep rooted ones have been taken out for the sake of shallow rooting food crops… the soil dies. The desert grows. Hunger follows.

How do you make life where life has been destroyed? How do you dream a desert back to life?

So you dig, making places that will hold the water for a while, when it does come. And you plant the toughest trees you know of, asking their roots to cling hard, and to somehow, against all the odds, find life in this barren place. You cover the ground with whatever organic material you can find, you keep the sun off where you can.

Trees won’t be burned by your piss. The outpourings of your own body become a precious resource. You water as best you can. You think about every drop of moisture, every use and reuse. 

You wait for the rain, and you pray to whatever gods watch over trees that they will live long enough. Your dreams are green. Your heart yearns for greenness. Your lips are cracked from the lack of it. 

The sky is relentless. The whole world seems broken.

You ask the tree roots to hold you, to hold the rain, to hold the soil, to hold the pieces of the broken world and mend it somehow. 

(Art by Dr Abbey – Guardian of the West. Text by me, based on reality as best I understand it.)

Deep Work

This year I’ve radically changed how I work. Apparently there are terms for this! I’ve moved from a life dominated by shallow work, to one dominated by deep work and I’m slowly wrangling with the implications. 

Shallow work doesn’t take a vast amount of mental energy or creativity. I’ve spent many years cranking out social media content for money – which required concentration, but I can’t say was ever satisfying. It’s the kind of work that is never finished, there’s no closure on it, no markable points of achievement.

Deep work involves focus, commitment, and intensity. Over the last few months this has come to dominate my working time as I’m mostly writing and colouring. These are tasks that require a lot of concentration and attention. I’ve always had a good attention span, I can usually focus for an hour or more.

Shallow work was unsatisfying and I did get tired from it, and left feeling that I had no energy for anything more substantial. Even so, I could do far more of it in a day than I can of the deeper stuff. To be in a state of intense focus for three or four hours is about as much as I can do. I have to take more breaks. I have to be much more careful about feeding my brain with things that sustain it. I have to have more rest time. It is much more satisfying work, but it takes a toll.

There are balances to strike, clearly. I’m slowly finding out what I can sustain from day to day, and what I need to do to support myself if I’m working at high levels of intensity. I have to be more alert to body wellness, to food, to hydration, and the overall shape of my working week. I have to watch for my limits, because I can end up so tired that I can’t do anything at all, which means I can’t do anything restorative, which rapidly compromises my ability to show up for the deeper work.

I’ve worked all kinds of jobs along the way – often part time and alongside trying to work creatively. The marketing, social media work required a lot of attention and tracking information, but that’s a very different way of using my brain. When I’m pushing my thinking capacity to its limits in multiple ways in a day, that impacts on my whole life. I feel differently about myself. On the whole, it’s a better way to be, but I can’t model it on the norms of regular employment, office work, retail, front of house or any of the other kinds of stuff I’ve been doing. I can’t work long hours at high levels of intensity, it’s not sustainable. I’m having to rethink my life a bit to try and better accommodate these shifts.

I think my ideal life would involve a few hours of deep work each day, and a few hours of physical work – I have gardening fantasies. I think being able to ground myself in more practical things while my brain does what it does between bouts of more intense thinking, would suit me well. In the meantime, there are craft projects, and the ongoing quest for better balance.

Identifying Privilege

One of the trickiest things about squaring up to your own privilege is that the very nature of the thing makes it hard to spot in the first place. Privilege is the stuff we assume is normal and take for granted and don’t realise other people might not have. Many of us won’t see ourselves as privileged because we see all too well the ways in which we are struggling.

Recently I discovered just how much toilet privilege I normally have, and this was an eye opener. A couple of health issues combined to make it hard to get on and off the loo. Managing your own continence is such a basic thing, so easy to take for granted and not notice. But for many people, that’s not a temporary problem, that’s daily life. Those of us who can use the loo independently and with little trouble won’t see that as privilege because it just seems normal. Most of it works this way, give or take.

However, having more privilege does not mean any kind of increase in the ability to spot it. Those who have most seem to take for granted their level of wealth and comfort. The idea that what we have is fair, deserved and appropriate becomes really problematic when we’re talking about people who have far more than their fair share. Rather than see themselves as advantaged, the richest amongst us seem to see those who have least as failing in some way and personally at fault for their circumstances.

The more you have, the harder it may be to empathise with anyone who has less. People who have experienced hardships and losses of the things they might otherwise take for granted at least have some basis for understanding what others may be going through.

We have people with such extreme wealth that they could personally fund the solving of the world’s biggest problems. They could end hunger and homelessness and sort out climate chaos. I find it hard to imagine that a person could have that level of privilege and fail to see it.

For most of us, an exploration of privilege is going to mean thinking about things we take for granted that other people don’t automatically have. It’s a useful subject to explore, especially on your own and when there isn’t someone who is suffering and being obliged to educate you. Any setback is an opportunity to think about what life is like for someone who is stuck with those issues all the time.

Ideally, the process of understanding privilege is about finding ways to give more to those who have less. For most of us, it’s not going to be about reducing our own privilege, but seeing how we can extend those same privileges to others. There comes a point however, where a person has so much wealth and privilege that what they’ve accumulated is actively harming others. Rather than celebrating extreme wealth, we need to start challenging it, and recognising that there have to be limits to how much privilege a person should have.