A body challenge

I’ve never much liked how I look. As a child, I heard a lot that I was funny looking, that I had a fat face and was a bit of an embarrassment. I’ve never felt at ease in my own skin, and I’ve never really presented my face like it was a good thing.

A while ago, I started an instagram account with the intention of trying to challenge how I feel about myself. I’ve not invested much time in it. But, isolation has led to some curious exchanges via the interwebs and sharing my face has become a thing I need to do. And something to figure out how to do well.

I’ve been digging out the body paints. I am an interesting surface to try and paint on, and that’s a good challenge – enough to be engaging but not too hard. It’s a different way of thinking about my face, and my body. It feels odd to me to be going ‘here is my face’ like this is some sort of good news, but the paint certainly helps.

Sharing my face this last week – with photos and in the ongoing Wherefore videos on my youtube channel, I have not been at my best. I’m sleeping badly, some days I look like I’ve been punched. Smiling is sometimes beyond me. And yet, weirdly, this week has been the one where I’ve felt easiest about sharing the messy reality that is my face.

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Heart face #bodypaint #painting #hearts

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Banks of Primroses

In the folk tradition, if there are banks of primroses, the odds are people will be shagging on them. In part this is because the folk tradition is full of sometimes quite surreal euphemisms for people getting in each other’s undergarments.

We’re at the time of year for primroses, on banks or otherwise deployed. My memory of them in childhood was that they weren’t that common. Seasonal walks might lead to a precious few tucked into the margins. I’ve noticed in recent years that there are more of them about, and that extravagant stretches of primroses are much more of a thing. Banks of them are indeed glorious.

Which brings me back to the folk songs. It’s cold out there. Even the relatively well draining banks you get the primroses on are damp. You really would have to be very keen on someone indeed to find the idea of putting your bum on a primrose bank for them even slightly appealing.

Modern Paganism seems to favour the idea that outdoor sex is a Beltain thing, but the primrose songs suggest otherwise. Beltain is often a much more sensible choice, but apparently primroses do things to people…

To further confuse matters, this song suggests that the banks of primroses are to be found at midsummer… so there’s always the possibility that we were never talking about flowers at all. But that’s folk for you!


Lessons from the crisis

Extreme circumstances always have the capacity to teach us. For the person who has never had their life upheaved in this way before and has never felt so powerless, those will be serious lessons. To be frozen and overwhelmed, unable to act or think when you have always assumed you would stay in control of yourself, is a hard lesson to learn. I hope as we move forward, more people will understand how it is that so many people freeze in response to domestic abuse and sexual violence. Freezing is a very human response to having no power.

We will all learn things about ourselves. What we do under pressure. What we miss and long for. How we handle fear, and what we fear. Most of us won’t be able to use this time to do the great project we always dreamed of – most of us will be hanging on by our fingernails at best. But we may find out what role other people’s creativity plays in our lives. If you are turning to Netflix, to books, films, games or music then you are using creativity to get you through. I hope people learn to value their creators, and the way the vast majority of creators are seriously underpaid becomes visible.

We’ve learned about who really matters in our societies, and that wage doesn’t come into it. We’ve learned that low paid folk in retail and in care homes are all that stands between us all and certain doom.

There may be lessons to come about the way busyness has filled our time and what the quiet of its absence looks like. The role of work in terms of our social interactions. How we really do with the people we live with. The terms that make our lives and relationships possible. For many of us, these weeks will bring into focus who it is that really matters. Who we need. Who we can’t bear to be parted from. No one knows who is going to survive this crisis, which for many of us means there is an urgency to dropping guard and telling people we love them. There may be no second chances.

We’re learning what it’s like to have quiet roads and clean air. We’re learning that a great many things we were told had to be done a certain way… don’t. There’s a lot more room for innovation than anyone was previously willing to admit. You don’t have to be in the building to be in the meeting. There’s a lot we can get done without consuming anything like as much energy or putting out anything like as much carbon.

None of us really know who we are until circumstances test us. We might not like what we see in ourselves as these challenges unfold. We might not be as good, or heroic, or worthy as we thought we were. But, if you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to make good choices around where you need to go. Discomfort is also a powerful teacher.


Love and other feelings

Love is generally presented as a reaction. It is styled in books and films as an unexpected, uncontrollable thing that just happens in response to one special person. As someone who loves plurally, I’ve always found that part of our stories about love rather difficult. And of course what just happens mysteriously can also be assumed to just go away, equally mysteriously. If we make ourselves powerless in face of it, can’t control it, can’t control ourselves… very little good comes of this.

Attraction can be very sudden – a simple animal desire based on the appearance of the other person. I chalk these up as entertaining but have never acted on it. Desire can be fleeting, and isn’t reliable. I have always been more interested in what a person has going on inside them than how they look.

It’s usually what people do that affects me – what they create, how they think, what they share of themselves, what I can do with them. Love, in all its various shapes and forms can take root in this kind of soil.

Then there are the others, the remarkable, life altering love affairs that have shaped me, and continue to do so. The people whose fingerprints remain on my soul. Looking at those relationships I am conscious of how important deliberate choice has been – mine and theirs. The choice to be vulnerable, to offer something of self, to care, to be open to care in return. Stepping deliberately into more involved ways of relating. Undertaking to love.

The most important love affairs in my life haven’t been accidents of attraction. They’ve been choices. Not just the choice to have a go, but the day by day choices about how I deploy my time and energy, what I pay attention to and what I choose to give. It isn’t something I’ve thought about in quite these terms before, though. I do not belong in the conventional narrative in which love is an accident. Love is something I choose to experience and bestow, and that people dealing with me choose to accept or reject.


Let's Talk About Wolves #4: Hopeless, Maine

In which Tom and I talk to CM Rosens about werewolves….

C. M. Rosens

Volume 1: THE GATHERING

In this next installment of talking about wolves, I got to chat with Tom and Nimue Brown, the co-creators of the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series. Tom Brown is also the illustrator for The Crows, and there are three of Tom’s original illustrations in the eBook version and five in the paperback!

Hopeless is a mist-shrouded island off the coast of Maine, and a creepily gorgeous example of New England Gothic. Check out their website for a whimsical and deeply Weird introduction to this world, enjoy the art, and maybe row out to the Etsy store where you can load up with all the creative goodies. Just be careful: there’s a lot of things that can get you when you’re not watching.

Right! Let’s get to it. Here’s Nimue Brown on Werewolves in film and lit, and Hopeless!

Nimue & Tom Brown on…

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Slugs, Snails and Druids

Slugs and snails are not the kind of glamorous creatures people like to identify with as animal guides. But, if we want to deal with nature as it really is, not fantasy-nature that serves our egos, then everything is worthy of attention.

Slugs and snails are without a doubt a problem for anyone growing their own veg. I had a garden once that didn’t grow anything well, except slugs; anything I put in the ground was rapidly eaten. I moved over to taller fruit bearing plants, and all was fine. That garden was also really popular with hedgehogs, and this is not a coincidence.

We’re often too quick to assess nature in terms of what it does for us. Slugs and snails do nothing for us that we recognise and value, and so we see them as pests to get rid of. They are food for many other creatures though – again, creatures who do not provide us with utility. Snails are especially important food for thrushes, who are also in decline. Smaller slugs are eaten by all sorts of birds.

Snails, taken as individuals, are rather charming. They have the capacity to hide away for long periods during dry spells, appearing in the damp apparently from nowhere. Little underworld creatures who are summoned out by the darkness and the rain. Carrying their homes with them, but still desperately fragile and all too easily killed, they have a lot of potential as symbols for anyone who wants to dig in with that. Their shells are pretty, and piles of their shells tell you that a hedgehog, or a thrush is around.

My grandmother had a garden bench, and her resident hedgehog always used to go under this to eat snails in the night. As a child I was fascinated by the piles of whitening shells.

Slugs are one of my least favourite things to touch and I have a lifelong repulsion over the feeling of them on my skin. However, they are incredible scavengers, and when it comes to tidying up, slugs are amazingly good at it. Their admittedly gross (from our perspective) eating habits are a major contributor to the ground around us not being covered in a thick layer of horrible things. I’ve seen them eating shit. They get in for dead things that nothing else will touch – plant and creature alike. When one of them has been trodden on, another will come along and tidy it away. They are masters of decay and deconstruction.

Slugs and snails, like so many other creatures, invite us to examine our priorities. They aren’t here for us. They don’t serve us. It’s not all about us. We destroy ecosystems because we only see the world in terms of how it serves us directly, and this is something we need to get over, if we are going to continue as a species. We need to see the good in things without them having to be specifically good for us.


Libation, a review

Libation is a beautiful collection by Earl Livings – mostly poetry and some poetic prose. The writing conveys a sensual experience of the physical world that I think any Pagan or Druid could connect with. As someone who is not very good at belief, I found the way this book mixes the spiritual and the rational really powerful.

This isn’t a big review because I’m struggling at the moment. It is a book that deserves a much deeper contemplation of its many merits. It was gifted to me by the author with no expectation of a review, and came in on what had been a desperately bad day. Reading it gave me respite during a week that remained really difficult, and I am profoundly grateful.

More information here – https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/store.php?product/page/1792/%2A+Earl+Livings+%2F+Libation

Available as an ebook https://www.amazon.com/Libation-Earl-Livings/dp/1760416150 

 


Struggling with mental health

I wrote this in the middle of the night recently, crying, unable to sleep, overwhelmed with panic and despair. The first version went up on Facebook. I’m mostly trying to out a brave face onto my online presence – easy to hide behind a screen. But, I doubt I’m the only one feeling this way and I think it needs talking about.

TW – Suicide issues.

Like a lot of people, I was suffering from anxiety and depression before the virus. There has never been much help available for us, and now there will be less.

Many of us have lost key things that were keeping us going. We may express hurt over that online – the loss of the gym, the dance class, the pub time, the live music – we may not be being super selfish when we express distress. We may be talking about the things that helped us stay alive. Depression also kills people. Knocking people back for expressing distress or difficult, really doesn’t help.

It’s really hard for me, reading people saying ‘stay in’ and ‘don’t see anyone’ with a clear message that anything other than total isolation makes you a terrible person. I’m really struggling with feeling like a terrible person, I expect I’m not alone. I don’t do much going out at the moment, and I’m being careful and have been for weeks. But I’m also not sleeping, and crying a lot, and terrified of being trapped in this flat and what that would do to my already poor mental health.

Tom has some serious anxiety issues and for him, being trapped in a building is deeply problematic.

So maybe don’t share the memes about how all you have to do is sit on the couch, it isn’t that hard. For some of us, isolation could well be a death sentence.

And yes, lots of anxiety about how selfish I am in not wanting to end up suicidal. I’ve been through periods of wanting to kill myself before now, I’m fighting not to go back there. I’m seeing people online hoping the virus will take them quickly because they’ve already lost the will to live. I see the same thoughts creeping in with me. ‘Selfish’ can be something of a trigger term for me and again I suspect I’m not alone. I think people who kill themselves often do so because they think its the best thing they can do for the people around them. What else is there, if the things you do to try and stay alive are deemed selfish?

I know many of you are new to massive anxiety, and you just want everyone else to be more sensible so you and your loved ones are safe. Of course you want that. But some of us were only ever holding on by our fingertips, and now things are worse. Please, when you go online to vent your fear, consider how it might sound to someone who is having a mental breakdown. Someone – for example – for whom going outside for a run, or a walk is the one tool they have left to manage their failing mental health.

Your suicidal friend probably won’t tell you how they feel because that’s part of how this illness plays out. They won’t ask for help, especially not if what they need is time with another human being. You won’t know who is in trouble, most likely. Yes, isolation saves lives. Kindness also saves lives, and your depressed friends need to know that their lives matter too and that they are not failing as human beings for wanting or needing things that are difficult at the moment.


Life Without Cars

I admit I’m greatly enjoying the reduced traffic. I’m enjoying how much easier it is to hear the birdsong from inside my flat, and that the dawn chorus today did not have an accompaniment of vehicles. All of the roads round here are quieter, easier to cross, safer.

Yesterday I noticed that there is no longer a taste in the back on my mouth when I go out. It was so normal, that I hadn’t been aware of it before. Lorries and buses give me a brief round of it, but it is no longer intrinsic to breathing. It was an unpleasant flavour. I breathe a little more easily without it. The air is cleaner.

Of course cars have greatly advantaged people as we’ve moved towards lockdown. People in their own car are safer than those crushed into public transport. People with cars have had options of panic buying and stocking up. They also won’t need to top up shop that often. Those of us who carry our shopping home on our backs cannot buy so much in one go.  As usual, the people who have least and cause least harm are disadvantaged.

I have dreamed for a long time of seeing this kind of reduction in car use. I would not have chosen to do it this way. Those absent cars represent lives in chaos. Education disrupted and the massive stress of still not really knowing what will happen for GCSE and A Level students. Those cars belonged to self employed people who have been left totally exposed by callous political choices. They were the cars of people visiting their loved ones. We needed to learn how to do without them, but not like this.


Working with Fear

Fear is a difficult emotion to experience, and is harder to work with. All too often, what we do with fear is to take it out on someone else in the form of anger. When you do this, you get a brief sense of having power and being in control. This can be uplifting in the short term because fear is usually underpinned by a loss of power, or the expectation of powerlessness. However, venting it as anger on whoever is to hand is a quick route to more stress and less emotional support. It also doesn’t solve the original problem.

Unprocessed fear can also turn inwards, and become an anger we take out on ourselves. Self-blame, shame, obsessing over what we can’t change, obsessing over the risks and spiralling into every more despairing thought patterns doesn’t really solve anything either.

Our bodies do a very short term fear response when we need to get out of situations. Fear should kick in our flight/fight responses to get us out of trouble. When we’re dealing with something other than immediate, physical danger, it needs a bit more thought. However unattractive a prospect it may seem to be, the best thing to do with fear is sit down quietly with it and examine it.

Fear is most often underpinned by love and pre-emptive grief. That love may be directed towards ourselves – we are afraid of suffering or dying. We are afraid of what we may lose that we value. We fear for that which we love – be that people, landscapes, wildlife, cultural features… Conscious that we are threatened with loss, we can enter into pre-emptive grief processes. We can go through grief stages over things and people that are not yet lost to us but probably will be. Sometimes this can turn out to be a useful coping mechanism, sometimes it brings the reason for fear into sharper focus.

I think the best way to deal with fear is to get to grips with what you are afraid of losing. What you’ll find there is what matters to you. Your love. And if at first glance what you find seems selfish and all about you, then it is simply your love for your own life and experience that you are afraid of losing.

Fear isn’t a simple thing. It isn’t a ‘negative’ emotion to try and avoid. It can teach us about what matters most. It can show us the truth of what we value. It’s easy to lose your real values under layers of social conditioning, but fear can cut through that bullshit at a terrifying pace to tell you what is most important, least bearable and in that insight, is the scope to find your heart.

In the end, we all die, we all lose everything. We’re all on that trajectory together and there’s not much point being afraid of our unavoidable destination. But along the way, we can take care of what we love, make the most of it, cherish it while we can.