Category Archives: adventures

Body positivity

I’ve discovered something curious about myself in the last few years, and it has everything to do with what makes me feel more positive about my body.

If I try to modify myself to look attractive, or even acceptable, I tend to get very stressed. Anything resembling performative femininity makes me more self conscious and uncomfortable, not less so. I’m less confident when I wear makeup in a conventional way. I’m less confident if I’m wearing clothes that are supposed to be sexy.

However, it’s very different if I set out to be deliberately weird, grotesque, peculiar or otherwise odd. If I dress like a goblin I feel better about myself. If I paint my face as though I am a piece of boro embroidery, or mark myself with little black lines to be the Queen of Crows, I am more at ease. I become more comfortable in my own skin when I’m actively trying not to be attractive to anyone.

I suspect there’s also a thing around who responds to me if I’m not trying to perform attractiveness for them. I’m overall much more invested in engaging with people who find me interesting, and not keen to deal with anyone who simply finds my body appealing with no reference to who and how I am.

Fortunately for me, I’m married to someone who understands that and who prefers me feeling comfortable. And who on this occasion, painted my skin for me in a way that helps me feel more comfortable with myself. Body positivity on my terms.

My somewhat preposterous life

I thought I’d do a quick run-through of what I have going on at the moment, and what I’m plotting. It is fairly preposterous, but I hate being bored. At the moment I have enough creative energy for this to feel plausible, which has a lot to do with how excited I feel about the people I get to work with.

Having written a novel with David Bridger this year, we’re starting on the second book in the series now. It’s a mixture of different kinds of mysteries – murders, and the more magical sort. I’m really enjoying it.

I’m writing a Hopeless, Maine novel for my Patreon readers, and I’m in a conversation about how to get that out once it’s finished. There’s also a Hopeless, Maine Book of Beaten, co-written with Keith Errington and hopefully emerging into the world next year. 

Also for Patreon I am writing a chapter a month of a book on Pagan Pilgrimage.

I’m chipping away at a new poetry collection for next year. This is the most deliberate approach I’ve ever taken to writing a collection and I’m being startlingly productive at the moment. Its central themes are nature and sexuality and also deity, so a lot of overtly Pagan content there.

I’ve just committed to an Arthurian project – I have a collaborator for this one, but I’m not going to out them just yet. It’s not the sort of thing they are usually known for and I’m going to enjoy startling people with this.

I’m pouring a lot of energy into my band – The Ominous Folk. We’ve had a lot of very successful gigs this year. At the moment we’re putting together a set of more wintery songs, and we’re looking at recording an album. We also have an ambitious project for next year which I’m already working on. We’re going to be using instruments for that. James is learning the bouzouki – he’s very clever so I have no doubt he can do this. Tom and I are dusting off tin whistle and viola, respectively. Susie is going to be wielding percussion. I think there’s a very real chance we’re going up to being five people, because we really do need a guitar for this project, and I think we have an extra person getting involved.

I urgently need to be fitter and stronger to support the performance work. I’ve been ill a lot this year and it has set me back, but I’m doing my best to rebuild. Being on stage is quite physically demanding, and I need to improve my energy levels as well. It all feels possible. I’m doing better with both mental and physical health, and I can see ways forward. So long as the inspiration keeps flowing, I should be motivated enough to keep all of this moving. My creative collaborators give me that, and I want to bring them the best of myself that I possibly can. 

Adventures with strings

Once upon a time I played viola, violin and bouzouki. The violin I’ve played since childhood and the other two instruments I picked up during my Midlands period in my twenties. 

Some years ago, a compression injury took out my left shoulder and made it impossible to play. I have an entirely hypermobile body and they’re easy to damage. I managed to mess up my hands and my right shoulder as well, and so I accepted that musical instruments weren’t going to be a thing for me anymore. It was a big loss, especially the violin. However, in the absence of people to play with, I focused on the singing instead.

There aren’t many things I’m keen on doing by myself. I’m a people oriented person and I’m always more interested in things I can share. It’s the kinds of connections and interactions I can have with other musicians that makes music exciting for me. I’ll practice (a lot) to make that work, but without the incentive of other people I just don’t get moving.

At this point I don’t think I’ll ever be able to coax my arm and shoulder into a position that makes violin playing feasible. However, the viola being larger gives me more options, and I can just about manage it. Relearning the tunes I used to play on the violin is going to be quite a task – the muscle memory I have is wrong for the shape of the instrument. I need to develop muscle strength to help me offset the joint issues, and that’s going to take work. Playing hurts, and to get back to where I was is going to involve weeks, if not months of pain while I build the necessary strength. I’m lifting small weights to build muscle, having had some guidance about what would strengthen the parts of me that are struggling.

The incentive to do this is considerable. There are people I want to play with and I have an Ominous Folk project under way that really would benefit from getting some instruments on it. Apparently I have rediscovered enough of my courage to take the occasional leap into the dark again, and every time I’ve done that in recent months it’s worked out well for me.

Drops of Inspiration

Recently I had the opportunity in Gloucester to do something I greatly enjoy – getting people singing. The venue was a church – no longer in use as a church. I had support from Tom and James.

There’s only so much planning I can do for this sort of event because there’s no knowing how it will play out, how much input people will need or how fast they will move as a group. This was an amazing, responsive group who dug in enthusiastically, so we got to do a lot of different things. Including a really full and rich rendition of my Three Drops of Inspiration. Hearing a lot of people all singing something I’ve written is an emotionally intense sort of experience, heart lifting and rewarding.

We also did some playing with vowels and sounds. This is something I learned to do in a workshop many years ago and it is my understanding that it comes from a Tibetan chanting tradition. It’s very simple, you move between notes and vowels, and you just let it happen. The sounds that emerge are always striking. It tends to have a spiritual feeling to it regardless of context, but to do it in a church turned out to be especially effective.

There’s a video clip on facebook –

It felt like a meaningful offering to the building itself. This wordless, soulful sound coming from a group of people and being sung to the church itself – it was mostly participants, not audience. The church has no doubt heard many hymns in its time, although not recently. It felt like a good thing to have done.

Numbness, burnout and pain

Over the last two years I’ve had a particularly hard time of it with the depression and anxiety, often slipping into protective states of numbness. When I’ve not been numb, I’ve surfaced into pain, grief and fear and struggled to feel anything good. These are not ideal states from which to try and work out how to fix anything.

I’ve had a lot of pain to deal with, certainly. The last few years have brought some significantly wounding experiences, and I was hardly a cheery, untroubled person before all of that. Mostly I’ve been focused on the distress aspect of this in my efforts to find a way out. The numbness is about the only place I can go to escape, and that’s not a solution that lifts me. It’s just a coping mechanism.

It’s only recently that it struck me that pain was never really the problem. I’ve endured plenty of emotional and physical pain along the way. I know how to weather that. I can make good assessments about what sort of price tag anything has on it. If you care about something, then sooner or later it will hurt you and there’s no point expecting otherwise. I’d never been afraid of that in the past. 

What I can’t bear is paying a high price for something that gives me very little. I guess it’s the difference between being a moth lured to a candle flame and a moth getting stuck on fly paper. I’m not afraid to burn. I used to push my body hard and pay with pain to dance at an event, or do something extraordinary like the Five Valleys Walk. There were no such opportunities in lockdown and I forgot how to even try.

I’m most myself when I’m prepared to do things that are glorious and outrageous, with no great anxiety about the trade-off. I used to be the sort of person who could love fiercely – people, places, creatures, ideas… and not care whether those things hurt me. It didn’t matter whether I might break my heart over a lover, or an elderly cat, or a home I couldn’t keep. What mattered to me was throwing myself in wholeheartedly in the first place. It means that I’ve mostly depended on my own ability to be enthusiastic and to make things happen.

I’ve come to the conclusion that burnout is my biggest issue, not the things that have grieved me. What I most need is to be more resourced, and to have opportunities to be enthused and uplifted by other people. Lockdown certainly didn’t help with that as it cost me most of my access to live performance.

I’ve been looking after myself by reading more fiction. I’ve been moving towards people who cheer and uplift me and who bring me enthusiasm. We’re looking at this as a household – how to be better resourced and how better to support each other. It’s a work in progress. I eyed up something recently that is probably going to hurt me, but should also be wild and wonderful, and I remembered how I used to be someone who wasn’t afraid of what it might cost me to truly feel alive.

Queen of Crows

The first appearance of The Queen of Crows was in the Hopeless, Maine tarot set. She arrived simply because crows are a suit, and Tom decided to base the image on me. This led me to wanting to make up some Queen of Crows material, so now there’s a song and she features as a character in this year’s Ominous Folk show.

This is the version of me as The Queen of Crows that we’re using on posters for the show – art by Tom Brown.

And here’s my actual face, with some facepaint. I look far more tired in real life than I do in the illustrations. Tom is kind to me when he draws me. I thought it would be amusing to mess about with some face painting.

When you are broken,

The queen of crows will come to you

The shattered last remains of you

And all the empty places will be feathers.

Songs from Hopeless, Maine

One of the things that delights me about the whole Hopeless, Maine project I’m part of, is how much of a community has developed around it. Tom and I have always held space for other people to come and play with us, and this has led to many glorious things at this point.

In this video, are the Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine. That’s Tom and I plus James and Susie, and we’ve done a fair amount of gigging together over the last year. It’s been a wonderful expansion of the Hopeless project. We headed this way years ago after being asked to do an evening event at a book festival. It would be fair to say that graphic novels do not work well on stage. 

This song was written for us by Walter Sickert. Tom first ran into Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys more than ten years ago when they were all at the same steampunk event in New York. We used Walter’s recording of it in another video (see below) but without the guitar accompaniment, it was tricky to perform. We borrowed a snippet of another of Walter’s songs, and added that to the mix for the Ominous Folk version.

Adventuers in Stroud

I’m out with The Ominous Folk next weekend, and also involved with the Hobby Horse Dressage!

Tickets for the Stroud event are over here!

Trying not to be overwhelmed

The downside with doing events, is overload. Events tend to be noisy and full of people and movement, and at best I find this very tiring to deal with. At worst I end up trying to find some small corner to hide in for a weeping meltdown. I’m becoming more aware of the kinds of spaces and events I can manage, and the ones I really can’t afford to deal with. I’m also figuring out things that help me cope.

This bonnet cuts down my peripheral vision. While I can see through the lace on the sides, it will encourage my brain not to pay so much attention to that part of my field of vision. My krampus hat also has this effect, but it’s a bit warm for summer wear, and this bonnet should also give me some helpful face-shade. Hopefully cutting down my peripheral vision will help make events less challenging by reducing the amount of visual input I’m dealing with.

This is an entirely upcycled project made of things that were around while I was ill. The underlying structure comes from an old cricket hat that was in poor condition anyway. The black lace was from my fabric stash, and the pink and purple band was originally bought as a headband but I don’t wear it much and it seems to work better as part of a hat. The little green creatures were made by Tom, and are Hopeless, Maine entities. They were previously part of a glove puppet, but haven’t seen much use in a while so I re-purposed them.

Adventures in Poetry

I’ve written poetry since childhood. Child me was very much a nature poet. Teenage me wrote a lot of angsty emotional stuff – which wasn’t that original of me, but there we go. The habit of using poetry for catharsis and processing stayed with me. These days I try to work it into something another person might find interesting or entertaining before I put it in front of anybody.

For some years, my writing poetry has depended a lot on having an audience for it. I put the odd poem on here, and there’s one on Patreon most months. I was at my most prolific as a poet when I had a local, monthly poetry event to go to. There’s nothing like the promise of an audience to focus my thoughts and get me interested in writing. Making people laugh is deeply attractive to me. Just occasionally I managed to spellbind hard enough to get deep silence in response to my words, and I find that highly rewarding, too.

Of course lockdown meant there were no poetry events to go to. I rapidly discovered that Zoom events with more than a couple of people stressed me to the point of malfunction, so while there was a big online poetry scene during the pandemic, I wasn’t part of it.

I’m currently in the process of reviewing the poetry I’ve written in the last two years, to see if I can make a viable collection out of it. When I’ve pulled it together, people on Patreon will get first dibs, and then later in the year I’ll put it in my ko-fi store – – where I already have a number of ebooks, and two poetry collections. You can pick any of those books up for free, or pay what you want. I’m a firm believer in gift economy, so if you have limited resources, please help yourself to the free stuff with my blessing.

If you have resources, throwing a few coins in the hats of creators you like is a really good choice. It makes a lot of odds. It doesn’t have to be my hat – if you’re able to support other creators then that’s entirely cool so far as I’m concerned. I also benefit from other creators being able to afford to keep going.