Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings.

How to grow wings and a tail

As far as I can tell, it all comes back to self esteem. I’ve read a lot about depression and anxiety and the gist goes like this: Rest, make time for good things, look after yourself, don’t push through pain and exhaustion, don’t keep going when you feel threadbare, take your needs seriously. It’s probably good advice. I’ve read books on self esteem, and the good advice there is about not pinning your sense of self worth to achievements or other people’s perceptions, because that way, getting knocked down is inevitable.

Pin your sense of self worth to something that isn’t about achievements or how other people perceive you.

I’ve gone round that phrase repeatedly over a lot of years, and I always come back to the same place. But what else is there? And those achievements, and the usefulness to other people that underwrites my sense of being ok, is hard to maintain when I’m sore and tired, and spiralling downwards. Without achievements I can point at, and people I can be useful to, the downward spiral becomes a nosedive. I’ve repeated it often enough to be confident about the mechanics.

Every time I go round this (which at point of writing adds up to a lot of times) the ‘wisdom’ I come back to is that if I tried harder to grow a self esteem that was a proper self esteem like a well and normal person would have, it would all be fine. I ought to be able to do this. I’ve yet to manage it. The whole thing seems about as feasible and available to me as sprouting wings. Despite all the books and all the sagely advice, I have no more idea how to develop self esteem that isn’t based on achievements or other people’s opinions than I did when I started down this route a good four years ago.

There is an uncomfortable truth in all of this – that the idea of thinking well about myself frightens me. To say I did ok, or it was good enough, or I am good enough… even as I type this I can feel my throat tighten, and my stomach. Dangerous things to say. And then the other voice pipes up, the one that says I have no right to say whether I’m any good or not and no basis for knowing, or judging. That my view of myself is inherently suspect and invalid. I know where that voice comes from, and the only viable response I’ve ever found for it, is to have achievements I can hold up, and the good opinions of people I trust to know better than I could, whether I am ok or not.

Self esteem is not actually something we grow in isolation. We learn it early, or we don’t, from those who are around us – family, friends, peers, teachers, neighbours, etc. We grow it from what’s reflected back to us. When you’re never good enough for the people around you, self esteem is bound to be in short supply.

As an adult it’s turned into a need to please. A need to prove that I can be good enough, and do enough, to be worthy of respect and inclusion. It has made me incredibly vulnerable to people who wanted to use me. For most of my life, all a person had to do was hold the hoop a little higher than I could reach and watch me desperately try to jump through it anyway. I think some people find that kind of thing entertaining.

I look at my desire to fix the self esteem issues, and I realise that I can’t, in no small part because I see it as something to achieve, something I am supposed to do so that other people find me easier to be around. I’m still not trying to do it for me, I want it so as not to be high maintenance, or inconvenient. Think how much more useful I could be if I didn’t get regularly mired in bouts of depression! But that thinking negates the whole project.

Seeing the mechanics is not the same as having an answer, but it’s a lot more useful than just keeping on doing what other people tell me I should be doing in order to become what they think I should be. In acknowledging that I’m still not really doing this for me, and not even comfortable (panic levels of not comfortable) with doing this for me, I am probably further forward than I’ve ever been. And yes, I am going to chalk it up as an achievement because I do need to score it that way.

Friday Reads

There’s something about Fridays that suggests books – at least it does to me. The chance to drawn breath, put up feet, install a cat somewhere about my person…

Here are some books I’ve read and enjoyed recently.

Koi Carpe Diem – a little collection of short stories by Sheila North. Strange, charming, whimsical, with mythical creatures, talking cats, and a badger or two. As a child I loved animal stories. As an adult, I love the way in which animals can be used to talk askance about the human condition. Underneath the cute and comedic, these are also stories about difference, tolerance, and making room. As a species we’re not very good at that, and it’s easier to talk about cats as police officers than some of the more painful real-world stuff. You can get a flavour of Sheila’s writing from her blog.

And you can get the book itself from Amazon.



Gloucestershire Ghost Tales. Local storytellers Kirsty Hartsiotis and Anthony Nanson have put together this slim volume of ghost tales from the area I live in. It’s very good, and I wasn’t familiar with any of them. Most of the ghost stories I know locally go along the lines of ‘well, someone saw something over there a couple of times’ but these are much richer tales, with their eerie backgrounds and the supernatural encounters are much more engaging. A must-have for Gloucestershire folklore enthusiasts, and for anyone who collects ghostly tales.

You can get the book directly from The History Press, or from other places that sell books.

Anthony blogs here and I’ve reviewed his novel, Deep Time here on the blog. Kirsty has blogged about one of the stories here.



Releasing this week, Sheena Cundy’s The Madness and the Magic is a wild, earthy, funny, occasionally a bit weepy tale of a menopausal witch, her daughter’s unintended pregnancy, and the challenges of fancying the vicar. I really enjoyed it. Proper review elsewhere on the blog.

Find out more about the book here.

You can find out more about Sheena on her blog (and I did a guest post with her recently).






I’m also going to do a shout out for this one, which I haven’t read, and want to, but have hesitated on picking up. I’m really interested in the premise – the author used shamanic techniques to overcome significant mental health problems. As someone who struggles with depression in an ongoing way, I think there could be things to learn here. As someone struggling with depression the moment, I haven’t had the emotional energy to feel like I could engage with it. Eventually, I will. Lucya Starza has reviewed it on her blog.

More about the book here.

Cautious affirmations for awkward people

The idea of affirmations is that you regularly repeat a strong, positive statement, and in repeating it you become it. The trouble with this kind of affirmation is the bigger the gap between your disbelief and the enthusiasm of the statement, the harder it is not to have it feel like an exercise in futility and self mockery. Having tried it, that reaction doesn’t help, and the faster it becomes unbearable the less useful it is.

I can’t stand in front of mirrors and tell myself I’m beautiful. I barely cope with mirrors, I find looking at myself uncomfortable. Saying ‘I am beautiful’ a few times every day would be distressing to me. So, what alternatives are there? Below is a list of body statements that I have used repeatedly and found helpful. They aren’t very ambitious, nor fantastically positive and that’s part of why I can work with them in the first place. My cynicism is not kicked off. If I can establish these thoughts as a baseline, I can be more functional and less distressed by myself as a physical presence. That’s enough.

I am ok.

I am tolerable to other people. I can be accepted.

I have a soft animal body, just like everyone else does, and being a mammal is ok.

What this body feels is real and allowed and I respect those feelings.

I am allowed to rest if I need to. Resting is a good idea. I am allowed to rest when I am tired or in pain.

I have a value aside from how I look.

I am a finite resource. I have limits, boundaries, edges. These limits are what stop me from being a pile of squidge. I do not have to go through life acting like I am a limitless resource capable of doing anything. It is a good idea to be realistic and sustainable.

I can’t do everything and this is ok.

Much of the time my body is good enough to do a lot of the things I want to do. This is actually good enough.

In theory, an affirmation is supposed to be wholly positive. So statements like ‘I am beautiful, I am worthy of love, I am a joy to behold’ would be more in the usual style of the approach. However, if you’re starting from a place of really not feeling good, those blasts of positivity can be too much. It may be more useful to acknowledge the problems. Trying to get an upswing of some sort into each repeated phrase is important. The key ideas to work with is that things might not be as bad as you think they are, that self-judgements can be let go of a bit, and to draw attention to the bits of you that you can be ok with.

‘I have pretty hair and I like my clothes choices’ may be a useful thought  if you can honestly hold that. It may not tackle deep body issues, but it creates a place of acceptance and ok-ness, and that’s a great comfort improver. If you need to get out of headspaces full despair and self-loathing then a more cautious, less bombastic kind of affirmation may be the way to go.

More than pen on paper

Creativity and professionalism… it’s a dynamic I struggle with.

It’s been a long time since I could just designate some hours each day to sit down and produce fiction. I know a number of professional authors who are able to do this, but it defeats me. I ran out of things from my own life and psyche to mine long ago, I ran out of personal fantasies and daydreams to turn into books, and as I favour the kinds of books that have a lot of ideas in them, I need to find the ideas in order to be able to write.

For there to be stories, I need time when my head isn’t busy with more important things. I need time to reflect and wonder, and I need things to reflect on and wonder about. I benefit (when I can manage it) from being able to access a creative community and benefit from the inspiration of others.

I think this is true of most creative forms. If you aren’t intent on producing the same thing over and over, something has to come in. The flow can’t be forever outwards. Creative people also need the time to find out what other creative people are doing – not just to be inspired and influenced, but to be part of something that is more than a lonely self chipping away at it in a garret with no idea whether there’s an audience at the end.

Too much attention to the audience and you’ll lose your individuality, your vision and your dreams. Too little attention to what the audience wants and you won’t be able to pay the bills. Dedicate yourself, heart and soul to being the best artist you possibly can, and you might not be able to pay the bills. Dedicate yourself to being commercial and your inspiration can dry up, and it still doesn’t guarantee that you can pay the bills.

When inspiration is shared, it flows. The romantic image of the lone genius doesn’t work well as a practical reality. It doesn’t work for most of us as a creative reality, either.

The whole setup is mad. At the top end, creators and performers can earn outrageous amounts of money. People at the bottom end and just starting out tend to earn nothing. The majority of creators are closer to ‘nothing’ than wild success. Most of us rely on other people’s creativity for our leisure time, but compare what we pay for an app with what we pay for a computer game, and compare that to a book, or the likelihood of spending the same money on a piece of art. The internet is full of free music, but it isn’t full of people asking how musicians are supposed to keep creating on those terms.

We have a culture structured around work and pay. How different it would be if we had a culture structured around making sure we all had enough, and that we all had access to inspiring, enriching things, and we all had time and space to be creative in whatever form appeals to us.

The Upside Down Mountain

A guest blog by Mags MacKean

Mountains have always inspired me – for their lofty heights and exhilaration in scaling them. I’ve immersed in Andean shamanic practice that venerates the mountain as wisdom, home to the Gods. Their earthier grandeur used to compel me upwards into new vista and weather – exposed to Nature’s surprises, her hidden habitats and unruly expressions as wind, rain, sun, snow and everything in between. Weeks at a time in remote hilly places reset my sense of scale. Geological history pulped all clock time, which could run me ragged back home.

Off the mountain, as a journalist, I faced another kind of ascension – a career ladder. Newsworthy stories and their deadlines could also hold the thrill of sport. Still, my restless nature that drove me to climb, scramble and roam rarely let up at sea level. My sights would be set on the only thing that mattered: the next escape upwards, the promise of adventure. After years of seesawing between the worlds of up and down, I finally quit my job for a mountaineering life. Chasing the seasons from one hemisphere to the next, I practiced skills to set me up for the rigours of altitude. The unimaginable happened: I discovered a crippling fear of heights, and was as burnt out as I’d ever been. There were always more routes to tackle and summits to attain. There was no neat finishing line when the effort and struggle stopped. Mountain – as unconquerable force – had something to teach me – and took me to the brink of endurance ‘til I got the medicine…

It was bitterly cold and the ice glistened in glaring sun. The silence felt full and charged, a weight of sound – cracks of melt ricocheted across the glaciated terrain like a shotgun. My arms were aching and trembling, clenching two ice axes for dear life, the blades of my crampons the only other connection to dubious solidity. I was scared – so much so, I was frozen into inaction, my arse protruding over a two hundred foot fall to where my friend waited for me to join him. Gavin resembled a drop of blood in all the white. I could feel his impatience in every hollered encouragement, “Keep going Mags. Nearly half way!”

Mount Cook National Park was no ordinary alpine destination. Within a lick of the Southern Ocean, storms were a continual threat. Exposure was part of the package – laying out time-consuming protection had to be weighed against volatile weather which could erupt without much warning. This was serious climbing – rope too heavy to carry and too short to protect the descent of large ice walls. And to compound my distress, I remembered the helicopter that could have picked us up to take us back to civilization within minutes. Instead we opted for the adventure of a lifetime – relying on stamina and skill to climb and traverse our way out of the Park. There was no plan B.

Time slows in the hell of fear. I had wrestled with this demon time and again, knowing it as part of the thrilling deal. Only this time, alone and with no chance of rescue, fear rose unchecked, overwhelming all instincts to hack and kick my way down the ice. Inertia is dangerous. One move. Breath. Then another. Breath. One more. And again.

This slow staccato rhythm, never natural, willed me down eventually to Gavin. The relief was a reprieve. Nightfall close, we had to navigate the crevassed glacier to the refuge of the valley. We had also run out of water, hours from the snow-melt. Battling with exhaustion, the soft glow of lights taunted us from the closest settlement – still miles away. In the end, it took twenty-two hours to reach Gavin’s front door. That walkout was to prove my last ever ice climb. It was the turning point when my dream crashed: the pursuit of high-altitude trials and rewards for overcoming them. I was safe – but at what cost?

At last I began to see how I’d traded the office commute for the climb uphill: those values, my values, were the same: invested in outcome, driven by achievement – the satisfaction hard won and short-lived. Lasting change meant transformation – and that could never be external. Changed circumstances – a new peak, relationship or job – were spiritual fast food. I would remain the famished denominator in all the disappointments, triumphs and fatigue.

The initiation came later in France. Exploring Mount Bugarach, ‘the upside down mountain’, its wisdom radiated as a force-field. I felt its instruction, the way up is down. Bad weather forced me to retreat from Bugarach. But the message went deeper. If ascent represented ideal, dream, eventual arrival – then descent, I was to discover, meant shifting my focus to the present, to embrace my own body’s here-and-now sensuous intelligence. The first step was to address the restlessness that trailed me as a psychic twinge. That unrest was persistent and lurking, whatever the distraction. Exploring its cause was a gateway. And I could choose to really meet it, by descending into it, to discover what the ‘twinge’ itself would teach me, and what inner terrain it might reveal. I had to stop moving. Struggle and fear playing out on an external stage no longer had to be an exchange for the freedom I craved. Accepting my restlessness allowed it to be felt fully, until it transformed. What would such an earth-bound voyage mean for a fulfilling life – consciously swapping the summit for the opposite direction?

The Upside Down Mountain tells the story of my descent – to find out why no manner of thriving prospects inspired the happiness I yearned. Among the wild landscapes of the Pyrenees, the Amazon swamps, Tibet and Egypt, I chose to penetrate the depths of darkness so long avoided. The journey not destination was what then mattered. I no longer wanted to be cut off from the neck down – but to welcome my full-blooded sensuous humanity, however uncomfortable. Experience made life meaningful –not the ideas, thoughts or beliefs about it, including the story of ‘tomorrow’. A new map guides me now, in, down and through – to embody the change I seek. I don’t have to climb a mountain or travel anywhere to remember that. And when I forget – again – there is a map to reset my inner compass, feeling my way ever onwards: the way up is down.
And more about the book here.

Reviewing challenges and reader implications

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two review books that were not written to have someone read them flat out cover to cover. Sing me the Creation, and Penny Billington’s The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew. I’m in the useful position of having been able to talk with Penny about her intentions with this text – she calls it a workbook and envisages people dipping in and out at need. “A book of ideas for workshopping as and when it seems appropriate: a reference book that, having read through for basic info, you can then pull off the shelf and dip into when it’s relevant.”  Undoubtedly, using the book in this way would result in a very different experience to reading the whole thing in three days.

I’ve read a number of books that were designed to be courses and worked through over extended time frames. Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess and Aphrodite’s Magic spring to mind as recent examples, but there have been plenty of others. In all these cases, the aim is not to have people learn by just reading your ideas, but to send them off to have experiences of their own, on their own terms, so as to be able to learn something more direct and personal.

Throughout her book, Penny talks about going out to where trees are, observing them, developing a sense of relationship with them. As it happens, I have a longstanding personal practice where paying close attention to trees is part of the mix. I have some sense of what a person would get from following Penny’s suggestions. But here’s the thing – I’ve not spent a year or so actively seeking out birches, oaks and yews. There is a vast and mighty oak on one of my regular walks. I don’t know of any birches or yews that I see regularly – I know they’re around, but I haven’t built those relationships. The experience of doing what Penny suggests is bound to be very different from reading it and thinking about it. As a reviewer, what I can offer is a best guess, not proper insight.

Those of us who take up spiritual exploration do so (often) with the desire to be changed by it. The odds are that facing the same material, we won’t be changed in the same ways, and the more the material encourages us to innovate, the more individual the experience will be. Where my birch trees grow is going to affect how I experience them. I’ve seen tenacious birches on old railways sites. I’ve seen them on the edge of commons, and struggling in over-damp Cotswold woods where the conditions tend to bring them down. There’s a lot of difference between a springy young sapling and a dying older tree, and what we find shapes what we do and what we therefore come to know.

I read how-to books out of interest, seldom intending to do the work as described. Sometimes I do bits of it – picking up what appeals to me. One of the great strengths of working with a book is that no one is directing your work and you have the freedom to do as you will with it. It’s also a weakness because some of us do better with guidance, and with the scope to have a response to our unique experiences.

If you’re interested in working with trees, Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew may be well worth your time. Can I tell you what will happen if you get in there and do the work? Not at all, but I think that would be also true if I’d worked intensely with the book for months. I can say with confidence that it is very well written and accessible, it is Druidic – although aimed at a wider audience, it offers signposts to a meaningful journey, but how and if you take that journey is yours to decide.

Healing the broken

(If you are struggling, bear with me, where this post starts is not where it’s going.)

I suffer in ongoing ways with depression, I have a body that frequently hurts and less energy than I need to do the things that need doing. It’s not a great combination. I regularly run into books, blogs and people who tell me that it would all be better if I just made the time to do the magic thing. What the magic thing is varies, although yoga, and meditating for at least half an hour a day come up regularly. I do meditate when I can. It does not stop me getting depressed.

I never cease to be amazed by people who magically know what’s going to magically sort my life out, with no reference to my history, the state of my body, the options I have, or how I feel. Faced with a ‘your life would be great if you just made the effort and did this thing’ what I feel, invariably, is despair. I don’t feel inspired, or encouraged or uplifted, it feels like a swift kicking.

Depression is all about not having anything more to give. It catches us all differently, but exhaustion is a part of it, as a cause, as a symptom, as both. Facing physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, about the last thing you want to hear is that if you just made a bit of effort with this thing over here, you would get better. It’s worse if you have tried other people’s magic solutions and they’ve not produced a miracle. You ask yourself why you’re such a failure that the sure fire thing won’t work for you. You ask what you’re doing wrong, and you feel worse.

There are some very dodgy ‘facts’ floating around about the usefulness of meditation in ‘curing’ depression. Without getting bogged down in the details, the short answer is that the evidence has been spun somewhat, but meditation is cheap and your Doctor has no resources to send you for counselling and would rather not put you on costly anti-depressants if they can avoid it. For all the people who benefit from meditation, this has seemed like a thwacking great validation, so the idea that meditation can save you is doing the rounds in earnest. It might, or might not help.

There are no easy magic cures for long term mental and physical health problems. However, if having something shoved your way leaves you feeling even more defeated and demoralised, you can rest assured that it isn’t The Answer and that it wouldn’t have saved you if only you’d been able to do it properly. Also, positive thinking and positive affirmations will not save you from serious issues either. They may help, they may not.

It’s always worth trying things to see if they help, assuming you have the time and energy. If you don’t have the time and energy, the priority must always be getting to a place where you do. Rest and sleep are the most reliable restoratives there are. Sleep is the nearest we ever get to a magical cure for all ills. It’s a much better use of your time than anything that you feel pressured into doing because someone else has put pressure on you. People who are deeply involved in a practice can be evangelical, and can crave the affirmation of other people finding it very useful too. You don’t owe them anything.

You don’t have to validate their yoga practice by appearing to be saved. You do not have to squander your precious resources of time and energy on anything that does not work for you. It doesn’t matter how much someone else thinks it ought to help. It doesn’t matter how much someone insists that this one special thing saved them and will save you. What works for you, works for you, and what doesn’t, doesn’t. No one has the right to add to your discomfort by insisting you be magically cured by something that does not work for you in the slightest.

Visualisation for non-visual people

Visualisation takes a number of forms in Pagan practice – it comes up in certain forms of magic, it can be key to developing the tools for shamanic journeying, and the more creative forms of meditation depend on it. Visualising a sacred inner grove is a key piece of Druidic meditation. What happens if that isn’t available to you? Not everyone is born sighted, and sight impairments can’t always be an easy match with instructions to visualise the beautiful, intricate details. I have no firsthand experience of this and cannot therefore comment with any great confidence, although I think there’s a good chance what I’m poised to suggest could be helpful.

I have a very poor visual memory and a weak visual imagination. I cannot hold the shape, and look of a clearing surrounded by trees, in my head coherently for more than a few seconds at a time. I can’t see it. I’ve been trying on and off for over a decade on this particular exercise, and I still can’t see it. My visual thinking skills have improved very slightly over that time frame, but it’s taken a lot of effort and I still can’t do what many seem to do easily.

I have a good memory for words and sounds. I can remember smells, and I really remember touch. I have a recall capacity for physical sensation which I didn’t really explore for years, while I was struggling away with what I could not see inside my own head. I also have good emotional recall, which works well alongside the touch memories. I can recall cats I knew thirty years ago, and remember the shape of their bodies and the texture of their fur. I can do the same with people I have touched.  I can remember a number of actual clearings in the woods as bodily experiences of being in a space.

I think the only reason we have ‘visualisation’ and not some wider ‘sensing’ is because most people are primarily visual. Some of us aren’t, especially not when it comes to memory and the mind. What happens if we take the idea of visualisation, and stop being so visual about it? In my case the short answer is, success!

If visualising doesn’t work for you, let it go, in whole or in part, to explore other forms of sensing. Work with the senses that most involve you in the world and that your mind can most readily conjure up. I work increasingly with my felt responses. I don’t know what a grove of trees looks like beyond a most general sense. If I imagine what it’s like to sit with my eyes closed, in a place surrounded by trees, then the smells, sounds and bodily feelings of that are quite available to me, and I can blend memory and imagination to productive effect.

Time off in hopes of sanity

For the last six months or so, we’re been trying to make a point of taking one day off every week. Before that it wasn’t unusual for me to go two week and more between days off, and between August and December of last year, Tom mostly didn’t have any time off at all. Sometimes, with deadlines, this will be unavoidable, but we made the commitment to not live like it all the time.

It’s really hard, with a low income to feel entitled to time off. There is always more work that could be done – speculative, paid and unpaid. There are always more people who want me to just do a small thing for them. In practice ‘day off’ for me often means having some free hours to catch up on cleaning, tidying, laundry and so forth – which is not exactly like a day off, but is at least a rest for the brain. As a self-employed person, if I don’t work, I don’t earn. There is no paid leave, to get a day off each week I have to earn enough on the other six to cover it.

Holidays are even harder, having to earn enough to pay for the holiday and to pay for the time not working. This autumn we managed to take three consecutive days off to go and visit friends in Shrewsbury. It’s the most time off in one go I’ve had in years.

There are consequences to never getting a proper break – mental and physical exhaustion, never having time to re-charge batteries or seek inspiration, never having respite. Being on the go and run down all the time makes me more susceptible to illness and to depression. People are just not designed to run flat out all the time. It doesn’t do much for self esteem, either. The sense of poverty that comes with not feeling able to rest, the sense of being so much lesser than all the people who can have a week off, more than once in a year.

I’m able to feel like I can afford a day off each week because my economic situation has improved a bit, and Tom isn’t under a tough deadline at the moment. At first, I felt absolutely guilt ridden trying to take that day each week. I was uncomfortably aware of all the things I should be doing, and I felt there was no decent justification for me having this time off. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I know how readily low income is ascribed to laziness and lack of effort, and I fear those judgements from other people. There have been times when people with considerable power of me were making those judgements. And of course being an author, the regular refrain of ‘you have a hobby, not a job’ makes it hard to say ‘but this is really tough’.

I’ve never been a full time author. I’ve always taken whatever paying work I could get alongside that, which has mostly been writing based, but not the kinds of things anyone would make a hobby of. People are quick to judge, and to assume, and to imagine they know. In reality what’s happened is that to get time off this year, I’ve really cut back on my writing. I’m much less creative than I was and I don’t give it priority. I have to be responsible and put the paying work first. I also have to be responsible and put my mental health further up the priority list – time off is necessary to stay functional and being functional is necessary for doing the paid work.

There’s a sense of loss in all of this, a loss of self, and of purpose. I don’t really know who I am at the moment. I can’t sustain the way I had been living, and because I can’t sustain it, writing books is getting to be very difficult. I’ve got about 2 hours each week with space and time earmarked for creative writing. That’s not a lot, but it is sustainable.

Creative people are judged by others in terms of what we earn – those of us who cannot make a living purely out of our creativity are routinely told it’s just a hobby and not taken seriously. Most creative people cannot afford to do it full time. There will be some people who will feel smug over the choice I’ve made when/if they find out. I certainly don’t have what it takes to be a commercial success, and in the absence of that, what I have is a hobby that I don’t have the energy to sustain and a calling I can barely answer most of the time.

A soft animal body

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body

Love what it loves.”

A favourite quote, taken from Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese. I like the acceptance, and the allowance in the idea of ‘the soft animal of your body’. I like the permission to love, and the sense that this, and only this, is truly important.

I love this quote because it challenges me, because it is at odds with everything I am, everything I do, because I can see the beauty in it, but I’m a long way from living there.

What would it mean to accept my body as a soft animal? I’m kinder to soft animals than I am to myself. I’m not tolerant of my own bodily softness, seeing is as excess, as inherently unacceptable. The softness that is innately female I have a very complex relationship with, to say the least. To see the honest animal of myself, to see the mammal – accepting that mammals are furry, and they wrinkle over time, they hurt, and break and bleed if you aren’t careful with them. To see that mammal and honour it, would be a thing. As someone who honours nature, I’m pretty useless at doing that insofar as nature manifests in my own skin.

Love what it loves. Of course I love, and I’ve never tried to stop myself doing that, but I hide it. I try not to bother anyone with it, because I expect it to be an affront, something unwelcome. Rounds of seeing the disappointment in the faces of people when I’ve said ‘I love you’. Dealing with rejections from people who wanted me for sex but did not want anything of my heart, and felt pressured by the giving of it. Unreasonable, excessive, too much. I haven’t learned not to say it, but I’ve learned to be afraid of saying it.

The soft animal of my body, if it were some other animal body would turn up warm and friendly, to curl around legs, snuggle upon laps, offering warmth and its soft furry presence to comfort and soothe. I would be a cat, to purr soft affirmations into the bodies of others. This body doesn’t really lend itself to doing that.

I wonder what it would feel like to consider myself acceptable as a soft animal that loves what it loves.

Humans are not reliably kind to soft animal bodies – human or otherwise. Not to our own, not to each other’s not to the other soft animals we share this world with. How often do we treat things as though we expect them to be stone, and then claim to be surprised when they bleed and cry?


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