Category Archives: Bardic

Art and comfort

It’s the challenging art that gets taken most seriously. Literary fiction is difficult, and may be uncomfortable. Anything that is mostly written to make you feel good, is usually deemed frivolous. It’s the same with film, with music and all other creative forms. If it requires effort then it is ‘good art’ and if it is easy then what you have is low brow, trivial and unimportant. It is my considered opinion that this is useless thinking.

Good art should discomfort the comfortable. This is a useful idea and it is well worth creating things that get under the radar and challenge people who mostly have things all their own way. But the flip side of this is that good art should also comfort the uncomfortable – and right now that’s most of us. The vast majority of us are one or two paychecks at best from total disaster. We’re dealing with a pandemic, with loss of liberty, fear of our political leaders and the horror of climate chaos. There are a great many of us right now who urgently need not to be challenged any more than we already are.

Good art does not have to make everyone uncomfortable. Comforting people is a good thing. Joy is a good thing. A happy ending isn’t somehow less meaningful than a harsh one, and right now may be the more imaginative stretch. We need hope, and ideas and a sense that it is worth keeping trying. Wherever you find that, is valid.

Beauty is not trivial. Bringing beauty into the world for its own sake is a good and worthy activity, and just as virtuous as challenging people. Happiness is not trivial, and most people could do with a good deal more of it.

Anyone who has enough emotional resilience that they can afford to be knocked around by things they engage with recreationally, clearly has plenty of privilege. They should totally get on with whatever painful education they feel they need. Anyone whose personal situation means they need to grapple with the hard stuff for processing, for catharsis, for understanding how they got where they are – should be free to do that on whatever terms they like. But if you don’t have the emotional resources to be heartbroken over art on top of everything else, don’t internalise any weird judgements over that. Delight is valid too.

And right now, hope feels considerably more radical than despair.


Princess stories

Like most girls, I was exposed to a fair few stories about princesses while I was growing up. Many of them were awful. I’ve been thinking about the messages in those stories and how they impacted on my sense of self.

First and foremost a princess had to be beautiful. I was exposed to a lot of stories where beauty was defined as blonde with blue eyes. There was a memorably awful one in which the princess who needed rescue turned out to be a big disappointment because she was a bit plump and had dark hair. That one haunted me. Dark haired, dark eyed and regularly fat shamed, it was clear that I wasn’t going to cut it.

Princess stories taught me that the ideal quality in a young woman was fragility. People are more likely to fall in love with you if they have to rescue you first and you function as some sort of beautiful prize. Being good, kind and lovely clearly matters, but that should manifest in a passive, domestic sort of way. You shouldn’t do anything. You should be so delicate and entitled that you complain about a pea under the mattress. I didn’t get much in the way of warrior princess stories until I was a lot older.

I also remember as a child having a moment of working out what life might be like with servants following you round, and not being able to do anything privately or for yourself, and I didn’t much fancy it. I had a fledgling feeling that to be doing nothing in a glamorous way while other people did the work wasn’t something to aspire to.

Princess stories are a key part of how western culture tells girls who they are supposed to be. I think it’s a lot better than it used to be – that the princesses are more diverse, more active, self rescuing. Child me could have done with the dark haired and highly capable Princess Leia, with Shrek’s Princess Fiona, and Nausica from Valley of the Wind. Child me would have been much happier in a reality where being a princess was something anyone, me included, could play with.

This summer, for the first time in my life, someone called me ‘princess’ as a term of affection. I was shocked by what this did to my inner child, who was never a princess. Stories are powerful things, and the ones that were told to us as children do a lot to inform who we think we are allowed to be.


Druidry, language and imposter syndrome

How often do you see a creative person talking about imposter syndrome? Too often. Because we’re not really supposed to blow our own trumpets, be proud of what we do or confident about putting our work into the world. Why is this a Druid issue? Because boasting was part of what our Celtic ancestors did. Because language matters. Because creativity and inspiration are part of the modern bard path. A culture of encouraging people to feel like imposters isn’t healthy.

If you create, in any way, you are a creator. If you write, then you are writer. If you draw or paint, you’re an artist and so on and so forth. The measure of being the thing is whether you do it, and you are also allowed to have breaks from doing the thing without that undermining your identity. If you are doing the things, you cannot be an imposter.

It’s not about how good you are. No matter how good you are, there will always be people who don’t like what you do and people who think you are a bit shit. They are not the measure of your worth.

If you don’t do the things, and claim the title, then feeling like an imposter might be a reasonable issue to have. If you call yourself a Druid but never do anything you can identify as druidic, that would be a problem. If you call yourself a bard, but have never learned a song, or a story, or a tune, never make anything, never do anything to bring beauty and inspiration to the world, then you may in fact be an imposter. The answer to this is to do something.

The other answer, is praise. This again is a very bardic activity and it goes with the boasting culture. Praise extravagantly, praise often, praise with passion and conviction. Get in there and tell people how great they are. Visibly admire stuff. Actively support the people who are able to say good things about their own work. Talk in positive ways about your own work so as to model this for other people. Take pride in who you are and what you do in ways that will help other people feel able to do the same.

No one who is doing the work should feel like an imposter. No one should feel that they have to say they feel like a fake – we really need to avoid having a culture of people not being allowed to respect themselves. If you do need to express discomfort, find other and better words. It is ok to be having a shit day. It is ok to say this piece of work isn’t going the way you want it to. It is ok to say you haven’t done the things in a while and this is impacting on your sense of self. It is ok to be uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable does not mean you are invalid.


Seasonal poetry

Falling

Carpet of gold laced red and green

Autumn in glorious death throes

Each leaf a perfect single self.

Head down, muscles locking stiffness

Barely walking and heart weary

I admire the lovely demise

The forms and colours of dying

The specificness of each leaf.

All the while I am winter bound

Dreaming snow drifts of the future

Of a world remade and pristine

Where you might lay down a body

Too wounded to walk any more

Imagine the feather softness

Where cold becomes the sweetest warmth

Pain becomes melting glad release.

To be wrapped in beauty at last

Held to mother nature’s bosom

In a longed for desperate embrace.

When she holds as snow, as river

As earth or grave or fire or flood

She never lets you go again.

Rain held my body, long and chill

The cold of it held me tightly

Somehow today I am alive

Pen in hand, limbs aching, heart sore.

Not a leaf to end in glory

This is the dying time of year

And it is hard to want to live.

(Before anyone worries too much about this, I’m still here, I survived the weekend, I am coming back along a hard road with notes. It seemed important to record what I could of the territory.)


White horse poem

White horse emerging

From amidst the trees

We are on the borders

Of faerie now

All is enchantment

For the space of a breath

If I could choose

I would live on this margin

In this moment

For all time.


Not doing Inktober

October is the month when Inktober happens, with prompts to do an ink drawing every day. I’ve tried it twice and never quite managed. There are of course many of these out there, for art, writing and probably other things too. The idea is to build skills. I find them to be a bit of a mixed bag.

There are obvious advantages to doing something every day – you build skills and discipline and you improve at doing the thing, whatever it is. Much of what we do is habit, and getting into the habit of doing something creative every day can be really helpful. Making time every day for creativity is a good thing, too. Sharing creativity with friends who are doing the same month long whatever it is can be fun and community building and mutually supportive.

But…

It can also be a distorting experience. I’ve seen how some people react to NaNoWriMo around expectations of published success, and I worry for them. I see what not completing the month can do in terms of feelings of failure and inadequacy. It can turn something that might have been a pleasure into a chore. For people working in creative industries, it can be one more burden, one more stress, feeling the pressure to get involved but not really getting much benefit from it.

I’m not doing Inktober this year. I don’t have the time or the energy and I don’t want to make my life any more challenging right now. However, I am trying to make time to draw more often as something I do for me. This has definitely improved my drawing skills, and I enjoy it more when I’m not trying to keep up with some arbitrary program.

The key thing, clearly, is to do what works for you. This means paying attention to whether something really works for you or not. If it makes you happy, do it! If devoting a month to something is useful, or productive for you, then go for it. If the tools, community and sharing aspect helps you get motivated, excellent! Do it your way. Do it on your terms. Ignore any aspect that doesn’t suit you. If it’s not giving you something, you don’t owe it your time and energy.

I firmly believe that everyone should have the time, energy and resources to be creative on a regular basis. I also know that many people do not have that. I would like it to be much more normal for people to do creative things for the sheer joy of it, without having to make it pay, but in reality many people cannot afford that time. We need better distributions of work, money and play, and then any month could be a month you devote to doing something special.

Here’s a recent ink piece of mine – Salamandra from Hopeless, Maine.


Blackthorn Poetry

This poem came out of some recent divination undertaken on my behalf. I was told that what lay ahead would be blackthorn, and I got to thinking about what that might mean for me.

 

On the Blackthorn Path

 

I walk a blackthorn path

This is a hard way.

The longest, cruellest thorns

Keen to breed infection

When they cut your skin

Pierce your shoes, snag

Your clothes, scratch and wound.

I will bleed on this journey

It demands sacrifice.

You cannot pass through

Blackthorn hedge or spinny

Only take the path suggested

Go where it tells you.

If you would take control

If you would lay a blackthorn hedge

In the old way, it is the hardest

Wood to cut, or bend or tame.

What results is long enduring.

Walk the blackthorn path

Through the first frosts and harvest

Vibrant purple sloes, make magic

With alcohol – there are rewards

On this difficult adventure

Reasons to take so hard a way.

Survive a winter and in spring

The pale, sweet profusion, blackthorn blossom

Waits for those who will travel this far.

Heart torn, soul battered, hurting

I walk the blackthorn path.

I will turn my frost into sweetness

Find strength in my obstinacy,

Learn from the blackthorn

Make what good I can

Honour the unforgiving guardian

Until the very end of the bitter road

No matter what that means.

If you are walking this path

I may find you along the way

However hard the walking

It is easier faced together.

There lies richness in fruit and flowers

And the path with fewest thorns.


Fire in my head

The lack of fire in my head has been a problem for many years. I used to dream, plan and create from places of intense inspiration. I used to go there a lot. What happened to me is no great mystery – economic pressures, exhaustion, not being able to get anywhere much with my creative work, becoming demoralised and all that sort of thing. What I have kept going with to this point is largely discipline – that’s how I get this blog written. This is how I tackle Wherefore twice a week, how I’m writing Druidry and the Darkness.

I’ve spent most of my life writing. I have skills and experience and I know enough about putting words together that I can do a decent job without being on fire. A few weeks ago I was, for example, asked to write a poem about a gatehouse, for an event. It’s not a location I’ve ever visited, but, I know how to work, and it’s a decent piece.

I’ve missed the fire. I’ve missed writing from a state of passion and putting words down because I have to – for me, not for some economic goal or to do someone else a favour. I’ve missed being on fire. I’d got used to at best having the occasional tiny bursts that might make for a better than average poem. I’d got used to feeling like I am mostly ash and embers in the place where the energy of my inspiration used to burn brightly.

This year has been all about re-enchantment for me. I’ve been able to reclaim, and have been given back a great many lost parts of myself. It’s been intense and surprising, and there has been a single catalyst for all of this. None of it has taken the kind of shape I might have expected. It has been a strange, challenging time, and I’m certainly not through it yet. I’m in a process with massive implications for my sense of self, and that will, one way or another, very likely define much of my future.

This week, the overwhelming emotions of the last month or so coalesced into the need to write. It doesn’t matter if I write a whole book, or whether I fail. It doesn’t matter if anyone else much reads it (almost unheard of for me). It doesn’t matter if it’s any good (again, not a normal way to be feeling). It certainly doesn’t matter if it’s publishable (more usual). I have to write. I have to write this story. I have to sit down with it every day and put pen to paper. I haven’t written like this since I was a teenager.


Druidry and my love of darkness

One of my projects at the moment, is writing a book about Druidry and the darkness. People who support me at the Bards and Dreamers level over on Patreon  are getting monthly excerpts from the work in progress and will get the complete pdf when I’m done – in fact, anyone who supports me on Patreon will get the complete pdf if they want it. (https://www.patreon.com/NimueB)

I like giving my work away. I also like being able to eat and keeping a roof over my head, so Patreon helps with that. During lockdown, Patreon money has represented half of my dependable income. We’ve been getting by on very little.

Back to the darkness… one of the things this project has done, is got me thinking about where my relationship with the dark began, and what the key early influences were. This led to a rather surprising discovery.

As a child, I was obsessed with the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera. Revisiting some of the material from that, it struck me how much The Music of the Night had influenced my sense of what darkness is, and means. It was a song I sang enthusiastically as a young human, probably with more joy than skill. These days it is right at the limits of what I can get my voice to do. I’m not a trained singer.

For various reasons, I ended up doing a paint and cosplay wallow in the darkness with this song, recently. Younger me used to do a lot more dressing up and it was part of how I used to navigate my gender identity, such as it was. I may get back into that. I definitely need to invest more time in play, mucking about and things that aren’t entirely orientated towards making a living. It’s often a thing for creativity – that you need it to pay to justify doing it, but it is the time invested in the not economically focused things that actually make the creativity possible, and therein lies all kinds of challenge!


Stories about life

We’re all story tellers. We are all inclined to look for sense and meaning in our experiences and we tend to weave these into stories about who we are and what our lives mean. However, the kind of stories we tell ourselves come from our experiences and beliefs and will influence our lives without necessarily being true. One of the things that privilege means is having the confidence, self esteem and sense of entitlement to tell yourself uplifting and encouraging stories, with all the positive benefits that can bring.

I’m good at constructing stories out of tiny fragments of information, and I have a good track record for being right – at least when it comes to making sense of other people. Mostly I tell myself stories about how it is all going to go wrong. This isn’t irrational, and for much of my life, trying to see where the next blow might be coming from has been a useful life skill. It’s not one I think I can afford to do without. But I do need to imagine better things.

So, this is a story about how it came out well in the end. You couldn’t really see it at the time of course because when things are hard and scary, it is difficult to imagine a good ending. But, the hard and scary part was like the middle of a book, and you know how evil authors can be. In the end, things resolved. In the end, you found a way through and life went on and there were good days and you laughed and smiled and it was ok. You looked back and saw how the awful patch fitted into a bigger narrative. You could not have got to the good stuff without going through the hard stuff first, but it was a journey, that hard stuff, not your destination.

Often, the defining feature of a story is where we choose to stop. Take a story far enough and everyone dies. That might be a good ending, because a life well lived and a good death should be things to celebrate. Stop a story at the point when it all goes wrong, and that’s the story you have, even if things later change.

I can tell myself better stories. I can tell myself stories that include the way I make the best of things and how resilient I am. I can tell stories of endurance and the long haul, of not giving up, of second chances and things that worked out well. I can remind myself of the stories where things worked out badly despite my best efforts but how even so, I regret none of my choices. I can tell myself the stories about the things it took a long time to put right, but which came right in the end. Looking back, a great many really important things in my life have, eventually worked out the way I needed them to. Things that seemed like story-ending devastating setbacks at the time have, without exception, turned out not to be. They were not the end-points of the stories, they were challenges along the way.

Things are hard for me right now. I am disorientated, I don’t really know who I am, I’ve been through some life and self-changing stuff and I don’t currently know what it means or what to do next or where I am going. This is not how stories end. Something will change, because something always does. There will be a breakthrough, or a new direction will emerge, or something will sort out. Life continues, and I need to tell better stories about that process.