Part of the bard archetype is flamboyance. A larger than life, glorious exciting presence that captivates everyone, pouring richness into ears. The bard’s every word is poetry. They dance when others merely walk. Then there’s the Druid archetype, mysterious, compelling. Powerful speakers, eloquent expressers of complex thoughts, story making, holding community together with a weave of words and tradition.
I look at me, and I see how far short of these images I fall. There are no images of me on this blog for the simple reason that they wouldn’t help. I am a scruffy sort of creature. Even in ritual, I tend to dress for the weather. Kris Hughes (who I think is brilliant and lovely) said ‘you should be gorgeous before your gods’ but I don’t have it in me to be gorgeous anywhere. Grubby, yes. Dishevelled, any time.
As a performer, musician etc, I tend to be quiet, understated. I’ve no inclination to trumpet myself or ‘big up’ what I’m doing. No bombast, no drama, no flair or style. I just share what I have, with whatever integrity I can muster, and hope it’s enough.
My writing is the same. I favour plain speech, clarity, simple things said with feeling. On the fiction side a few critics have called me cold, dispassionate, uninspiring. I don’t labour emotional points if I can help it, I prefer subtlety, but that isn’t to most people’s tastes. When it comes to non-fiction, I’m usually more focused on trying to get points across clearly than on a desire for verbal elegance.
There are days when these things feel like terrible insufficiencies. A proper bard would dress up more. A real Druid would speak in mystical, magical ways and not sound so ordinary.
But sometimes I think about other traditions. Songs sung by people as they work. Tales told around the fire after a hard day. Telling the story of the bread, the pudding, the jam making, the people who went before. Not stagey bardcraft, but the quieter, dishevelled story telling that goes alongside life lived. Not the performers and Druids who advised and amused Kings, but the small, forgotten folk who brought their creativity to the lives of other small, equally forgotten folk. Is that any less precious?
I could cast those archetypes I tarted the blog with, in other ways. I could speak of self important, pretentious attention seeking. Faux-mystique wrapped up in impenetrable bullshit. All surface and no content. I happen to care about content. I don’t believe for a moment that style and content can’t be combined, but I wouldn’t sacrifice the meaning for the delivery, not ever.
Dressed for the weather, mud splattered, untidy. No robes, no symbols, no polish. Is that something I should be ashamed of? Is there bard fail, druid fail in my lack of gorgeousness? Do the gods care whether my fingernails are clean? And who defines stylish anyway? Whose ‘style’ should I be led by? Are we all to be peacocks? What about the plain pea hens? Do the gods find them gorgeous too? Perhaps it’s less that we should be gorgeous before our gods, and more that we need to be aware of our already being so. Our natural state is beauty. All of nature is beautiful, and we too are natural. Whether we lope, amble, glide or waddle, we all have style. A style. Our style. Do we aspire to fit the archetypes, or do we explore the far reaches of our own possibilities? As I’m never going to be anyone’s notion of bombastic bardic brilliance, I’ve got to choose that second option. My own way, on my own terms. Quietly, clearly, sometimes with bits of twig in my hair.
Of all the hard criticism I’ve ever had to take, being told that my writing has neither flair nor style, has been one of the hardest, especially given how deeply I respect the source of those words. But it’s made me think, and acknowledge that I can only be what I am. No amount of pretending to be a sparkling brilliant thing will make me that. If I have no style and flair, so be it. I still have the dirt under my fingernails, and I still have twigs in my hair, and that’s going to have to be enough for me.