Category Archives: Community

Who dictates the shape of love?

“Ye’ll have to accept that part of being loved means ye’ll have to accept that folks have concerns about ye as well. And have the right to does so. Ye cannot jes’ want the parts of this arrangement that ye likes…” (From Dance into the Wyrd, by Nils Visser)

It’s a quote that jumped out when I read it and that has stayed with me because it nails so many things. I’ve been round this one repeatedly and seen it play out in all kinds of situations. People who want some part of the love and care on offer, but want to say exactly what form that takes, and reject the bits that don’t work for them. In my experience, the care and concern of other people is often rejected. It also seems common that resenting people who care for you for wanting some of your time and attention is normal, too.

There’s often a gender aspect to this – what I mostly see is male rejection of female concern. Female concern is labelled smothering and restrictive, it is treated as an imposition, and intrusion, a limitation on the freedom the man feels entitled to. The man in question will usually want emotional labour when he wants it, sex, food, and other domestic benefits – if it’s that kind of relationship – but not to have to say when he will be back…

Of course we all need the freedom to decide what shapes we want our relationships to take. No one is obliged to do anything because someone has said ‘I love you’. However, if you are willing to take what you see as the benefits of someone else’s love, while demanding they don’t do the bits you find awkward, that stands some scrutiny.

It is easy to use apparent concern as a form of manipulation. However, simply wanting to know that someone is ok is not an emotionally manipulative activity. It’s a need to ease real anxiety. On the other hand, shaming someone for their concern is horrible. Wanting some time from a person who benefits from your love is not unreasonable, otherwise you just end up feeling used. If they take your work, your money, your support and disappear off once they’ve got it, it doesn’t look much like love returned. In a parent/child relationship, you may decide that’s just how it goes. In a sexual partnership, it may be part of casting one partner as the parent and the other as carefree and without responsibility. Again, there tends to be a gender bias here.

For myself, I have decided that I’m not doing this again. Anyone who treats my care like an imposition, does not get second helpings. Anyone who wants my emotional labour on tap, or any other forms of service from me is not going to get away with acting as though they have the right to have the whole relationship purely on their terms.

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Visible Women

Life is easier when you can see people at stages ahead of you doing things in the sort of ways you hope to do them. If you don’t have role models, and are obliged to make your own path and map as you go, that’s exciting, or terrifying, or both.

Older women tend to become less visible, through to totally invisible. It’s something I’ve seen some women describe as a relief – no more male gaze, no more pressure to be beautiful, or sexy, far less harassment because you’ve become irrelevant. I do not wish, as I age, to become invisible. I don’t want to go down the botox and plastic surgery route of trying to stay forever young. I have little inclination to age gracefully into some gentle, unassuming grandmother figure, all aprons and baking. If I end up wearing an apron, I will be doing my best to channel Nanny Ogg.

Looking around me, I realise there are some fantastic examples of women aging in the way I want to – in the folk scene. This is particularly on my mind because I went to see Steeleye Span last night. Maddy Prior is seventy one at time of writing. She’s still gigging, touring, singing, fronting a band. She’s clearly not trying to be a younger version of herself, and she most certainly isn’t fading gently into old-lady-obscurity. She still dances on stage. I can think of a number of other folk women who are also carrying on, on their own terms, and I feel inspired by them.

Curiously, things I’ve read about research into hunter-gatherer communities suggest that the survival of children in that kind of society has a lot to do with the competence of their grandmothers. Humans did not evolve to have ‘little old ladies’ be some sort of harmless background feature. Humans very likely evolved to have kickass older women and this in turn is likely why we have women who survive long after their fertile years. An experienced older woman can increase the odds for her gene pool doing well.

I note that my non-binary identity gives me a feeling of resonance with the kickass approach to being an elder, that the twin set and chintz grandma doesn’t. Not for the first time I find myself asking if my feelings of non-femaleness are a rejection primarily of social conventions.

 


Gifts of friendship

I’m on a mission at the moment to spend more time talking about positive aspects of relationship and community to balance up the darker stuff I also explore. I’ve been thinking a lot lately of what it is that makes me feel good about a friendship. What do I want from other people?

First and foremost, I want people I can share stuff with. That might be online sharing things we’re enthusiastic about. It might be reading each other’s work, or working together, or spending time in the same space doing things. For me, doing stuff together is what underpins a friendship. The more stuff we do, and the more fun we have doing it, the better.

I’ll also be there to do the tough things as well. There are balances to strike between how much we ask of people and how much we give, but if a person can trust me with their tough times and heartaches I will do my best to honour that. I don’t want to just be the person who comes in to do the mopping up, but so long as I also have other roles, I often feel touched and honoured when people choose to share their troubles with me.

One of the things I really want from other people, is inspiration. I don’t need anyone to go out of their way on that score, just be interesting. I seek out people who are creative, imaginative, deeply thinking, open to ideas, living in interesting ways. I am very comfortable in the company of interesting people whose lives are not like mine. I like having friends of all ages. I want to get a sense of how other people see things and how they think. I value people who share their stories and insights with me, and people who know how to tell a good tale.

I appreciate having people in my life who are, in turn, interested in what I do. People who will show up if I’m doing something in public. People who read my blog, and books and give me feedback, or ask for things. I love it when people ask me to write on specific topics here, it’s always a good challenge. If I don’t go into enough detail on something and you want more, tell me! That’s always good news, from my perspective, even if at first I don’t know how to answer.

There are a lot of things I only do if someone else wants or needs them from me – writing and ritual both fall into that category, as does music. If what I do has a value to a person and they want more of it from me, then that really inspires me to do my best. I feel more enthused about my work when there’s scope to interact with someone through it. The company of people who are enthused about what I do is a massive blessing.

I do value affection, but I’m not very good at it. I’ve always felt more comfortable in more cerebral relationships, but I’m trying to learn how to show up with a body in spaces that have people in them. I greatly appreciate the people who give me time and space in this regard, the folk whose gentle affection has made it easier for me to do that sort of thing too.


My Wildlife Community

A guest blog from Aspasía S. Bissas

 

I’ve been pondering the idea of community lately. It’s nearly impossible for anyone not to be part of at least one community of humans. Most would also agree that pets are family and an integral part of one’s closest community (those who don’t agree hopefully don’t have pets). But it didn’t occur to me until recently that the local wildlife was my community too.

I live in Toronto: Canada’s first bee city, home of Canada’s first National Urban Park, host to an impressive tree canopy (with plans to expand it even more), and habitat of hundreds of species of wildlife.

Although I’ve yet to see many of the animals who share this city with me, including owls, deer, or the river otter my partner once saw slinking down our street, looking somewhat confused, I have had many memorable encounters with our wildlife. I’ve seen foxes trotting along the streets; been dive-bombed in my yard by a red-tailed hawk, before watching a flock of grackles chase it away; and was treated to the adorable sight of a nest of baby chipmunks.

At our last place we had a family of rabbits living in our yard. We would give them the courtesy of moving slowly and not looking directly at them (as prey animals permanently on edge, we didn’t want to stress them further by acting like predators). They never really relaxed around us, but they also never helped themselves to my garden, not even the tender rose canes in winter.

Also at our last place, we kept a bird feeder. The hedges surrounding the yard would erupt into excited chirping whenever we went out to refill the food. There was something very fairytale about being greeted by a chorus of birdsong. We don’t have a feeder where we are now but we do leave seeds outside on the deck railings. Here we’re on the third or fourth generation of cardinals that have learned to chirp at us while we’re inside to get us to come out and feed them. If we can’t get to them right away one of the males will fly back and forth in front of the windows until we get the hint.

Groundhogs frequent our yard via a tunnel under the shed. Usually we see just the one, but sometimes there are two at a time. They’re mostly content to eat weeds in the yard, although last year they weren’t shy about coming onto the deck and helping themselves to the peppers and tomatoes I was trying to grow. This year I didn’t grow much, so they’ve only ventured onto the deck a few times to sun themselves.

Our deck seems to attract everyone at some point. Back in April we had an opossum visiting at the same time as a skunk. I don’t know if they were companions or whether it was purely coincidental that they were both here at the same time, but that was the first and last time we had either one on the deck (we occasionally spot—or smell—skunks and opossums in the yard).

Our most interesting and regular visitors are Toronto’s ubiquitous raccoons (the unofficial mascots of the city). This year we had a mother and her four babies move in. We know we shouldn’t but the mom looked so scrawny when she first arrived that we couldn’t not feed her. We spent the summer watching her fill out and her babies grow up. We don’t feed them anymore, although it turns out they love bird seed and will show up at all times of the day to get it (the birds and squirrels have learned to move fast if they want to eat). Sometimes a “trash panda” will come up to the window for a peek inside, probably wondering why the “raccoons” (our cats) staring back at them get to live in the house.

(As I was writing this I was interrupted by knocking at the back door. When I went to look I saw several cardinals and sparrows on the deck while a woodpecker “knocked” one last time before hopping away. I dutifully refreshed the seed supply.)

Do these experiences count as community? We share space and resources with the wildlife, even when we don’t encounter them often, or at all. They affect the environment we all share, sometimes, as when opossums decimate the tick population, to everyone’s benefit. Occasionally, like members of any community, they can be loud or rude (anyone who’s had their garbage strewn across the sidewalk by raccoons can attest to this). They also make me happy just knowing they’re around. Nearly every encounter feels magical. They might not understand me when I say hello, but I hope they get the sense that this human is an ally; this human is part of my world. Just as they are part of mine.

 

Sources/Further Information:

Toronto is the first bee city in Canada! http://toronto.beecitycanada.org/

Canada’s First National Urban Park https://trca.ca/parks/rouge-park/

Every Tree Counts: Toronto’s Tree Planting Strategy http://www.projectyu.ca/everytreecountstorontostreeplantingstrategy/

 

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website https://aspasiasbissas.com, or her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AspasiaSBissas.


Domestic Days

It is not a joyful thing to be trapped in the domestic sphere. The realm of home and family can seem very narrow and dull if you don’t get many opportunities to break out and do something else. This however is not going to be a piece of rage about the historical treatment of women, but about the ways in which domestic days can be a really good thing.

When you spend much of your time outside of the home (the traditional male role) then home becomes a place to retreat to for peace and comfort. It’s much easier to find comfort in a domestic setting when it’s not the only setting for your life.

I’ve noticed this summer, travelling in August for two events, one of which was massive, that a quiet weekend at home seems rather pleasant after that. It becomes a chance to catch up on the domestics, to potter about and cook. If you’re up to the eyeballs in it all the time, yet another weekend at home can really wear you down. I know – I’ve been there.

Humans need a balance between rest and stimulation. If you don’t get enough rest, all becomes exhausted, threadbare misery. If you don’t get enough stimulation, all becomes dull monotony and feels like a trap. Most of us need some degree of getting out there and being active, alongside some amount of folding in and retreating. Exactly what balance any given person needs, will of course vary. In an ideal world we’d all get to deploy our time on our own terms, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

One of the things it is easy not to notice is the way in which our choices shape other people’s options. If one member of a household won’t go out (can’t is a different issue because it’s not a choice) other members of the household may feel obliged to stay in too. Equally, if one person is out and about all the time, it may give the other person no choice but to stay home and take care of things.

I noticed in many years of going to folk clubs that there are usually more men than women there. In conversations with people I found repeatedly that this was because when the children came along, the women stayed home and the men kept going out. There are far more solo male performers than solo women on the folk scene as well, and I think this is part of the same thing. It is easy to fall into unconsidered cultural habits, where the men go out to play, and the women are expected to be satisfied by a life lived in the domestic sphere. In practice most of us benefit greatly from spending time at home, resting and taking responsibility for our domestic arrangements. The people around us also benefit when we all show up to making a household work, rather than not noticing the impact it has when the divisions of going out and staying in are really uneven.


Treehouse TV

I know Sheena Cundy through Moon Books – she’s a massively creative person – a fiction writer singer, songwriter, and now she interviews people in a tree…

In this video, Tim Gwyn Clay talks to Sheena in the Treehouse about his transition from 20yrs of C of E ministry into Druidism, the issue of hierarchy in religion and his call to serve Andraste, British Goddess of the Iceni.

 

In this video, Imelda tells the story behind her book, Natural Born Shamans – inspired by her spirit-led work with young people – and the importance of the shamanic perspective when dealing with the challenges of life today.

 

 


Signposts, not gatekeepers

I wrote recently about gatekeeping and why I don’t much like it. There are of course better ways to do things. For the person who wants to improve standards in any context, it is better to be a signpost than a gatekeeper.

Rather than trying to keep the ‘wrong sort’ out, a signpost makes it their job to flag up what’s good. Signposts put themselves out there, because otherwise what use are we? We make it our business to know useful things and to share that information with those who come along. We don’t turn that process into a demand to have things done our way. All of my favourite bloggers operate this way and I am happy to say I can think of enough active signpost people that it doesn’t make sense to try and name everyone.

Putting up blog posts can be a way of playing signpost, but it works in person, too. Here’s an example I’ve seen repeatedly in folk circles: Someone comes along, new to folk. They may know a few chords on a guitar and a few songs, but the songs aren’t folk songs – most likely Streets of London and a couple of things by The Beatles. At this point a gatekeeper would tell them off for not doing proper folk, make them feel small, inadequate and unwanted. By this means, gatekeepers prevent communities from growing.

A signpost will make encouraging noises because they want this person to come back. They may ask the newbie if they know a song – any song the signpost thinks would suit them – or if they’ve heard a performer the signpost thinks is in a similar style. With encouragement and suggestions, the signpost helps the newbie find their way into folk and expand their repertoire. If they don’t engage, they may move on because there’s not a great deal of point coming to a folk club regularly if you have no interest in folk music, and that’s fine – that’s what open mics are for.

Signposts support their communities by helping new people come in and find their way about. They support and encourage excellence by gently pointing people towards things that would help. They encourage and build up, where gatekeepers discourage and knock down. A signpost wants more good stuff, where a gatekeeper wants the power to exclude and the importance of being able to say who crosses the threshold.

You don’t have to know much to start being a signpost. All you need to know is where to point people. In its own way, being a signpost is also a position of power because you’ll decide what to recommend and what to not mention, or discourage. Your opinions and preferences will inform where you suggest people go. A signpost can also be unfair and unreasonable, can exclude for reasons of power, or can mostly signpost towards themselves and the things they sell. The act of signposting is not itself proof of quality. But on the whole I’d still prefer a bad signpost to any sort of gatekeeper.


Self policing and policing others

In any community, there are always people who want to police things. People who want to be gatekeepers and set standards and say who is allowed in and who is not good enough. It is of course a position of power to be able to force others out, or define the boundaries. To be the person whose version of ‘the right way’ becomes definitive is a powerful place to be. Are you doing folk music right? Is your take on Steampunk really Steampunk enough? Are you a proper Druid? Are you a real geek? Do you know enough to be entitled to call yourself a fan of X, Y or Z?

It’s bloody miserable stuff. Mostly what it creates is discomfort, drama, power struggles, resentment and an undermining of creativity and new thinking. I can’t think of a single example of someone trying to play gatekeeper in a community in this way where things have been better and happier as a direct consequence.

If you think there’s a right and proper way to do things, it is better to lead by example. Live your truth. Demonstrate why your way is good, or best, or the only possible way. People may or may not agree with you. We have the right to make our own rules for ourselves, that’s fine. We have the right to adopt the ways of doing things that we see and are inspired by. There’s nothing wrong with following, and everything wrong with being told that you have to follow.

If you really are right about things then it will be self evident and people will come onboard. If your ideas are brilliant and persuasive, exposure will be enough to persuade people. Anyone who has to bully and harass people into agreeing with them is not really demonstrating a belief in the intrinsic excellence of what they’re advocating.


High standards, low bars

I believe in seeking excellence and I set high standards for myself in many aspects of my life. Not, I will admit, in domestic order and dusting! I also believe in inclusion and this means setting the bar as low as possible. I want the people in my life to have opportunity to grow, flourish and become excellent. No one can already be brilliant at all the things, so space for people who are not so good is important. Often, I also need to seek that space for me. There are many things in which I am a novice, or that I find inherently difficult.

What kinds of things make for minimum entry requirements? Showing up. Being enthusiastic. Caring. Trying. Aspiring to do better. Wanting to learn. Not being an asshat. These are the key things, from my perspective.

A person who starts out from here, will contribute meaningfully. Even if said person is never brilliant, if they bring care and enthusiasm, they will enrich any space they participate in.

We can put too much emphasis on innate talent and natural ability. Not everyone has those, and anyone who does will eventually hit the limit of what they can do with it. Willingness to try is much more valuable for the longer term. People who are not naturally gifted but who are willing to try can become just as brilliant as people who had an easy start. Sometimes, it is the grafters who will turn out to be the best – the naturally gifted folk can fall by the wayside when they no longer find things easy.

 


Celebrating Friendship

I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about the ways in which human relationships can break down and go wrong. I think it needs exploring. However, there’s a lot to be said too about how good relationships work. I’m in the fortunate position of having an abundance of experience to draw on to write about good relationships.

Good relationships often don’t generate the same kind of drama that problematic ones do. What makes a relationship good tends not to be about massive, heroic acts. Most of us do not have to help Frodo carry the ring to Mordor nor do we have to help Harry defeat Voldemort. The material of our relationships is made of the fine details of everyday life. Small acts of care and kindness, support and assistance, generosity and encouragement.

I am in no doubt that life is better when we co-operate with each other rather than trying to compete. Life is easier when we share opportunities and resources. Life is happier when we enjoy each other’s successes rather than feeling jealous of them. If we see each other’s needs and concerns as opportunities to deepen relationships, rather than reasons for resentment, that helps as well.

It is interesting to ask how we share our lives with other people. What underpins our interactions? What do we want out of time spent together? What do we do together? Where is the joy between us? Can we talk about the big life issues when they come up? Can we laugh at life’s absurdities together? Can we hear each other? What can we share? And how often?

I have some profound relationships that are mostly made of emails and photos and shared creativity. I have people I see a few times a year at most, and it is always a delight to see them and to catch up. There are people I see every week, whose lives are increasingly intertwined with mine. There are people I see every day, and whose lives are inseparable from mine. Realities of time and space mean there are only a few people I can be totally involved with, but I am continually moved and delighted by the sheer number of totally awesome, lovely and inspiring people I know.

This weekend I will be at Asylum in Lincoln – a massive steampunk event. I’ll be seeing some of those people who I only get to spend time with occasionally. In the meantime, the blog will be populated with guest content from some of the splendid creative folk I know online – some of whom I have never met in person. As life has thrown me some curve-balls recently, I won’t be doing as much book reviewing into the autumn. I am throwing that Sunday slot open to guest bloggers, so if you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch. If you’re unsure as to what might work, look at the categories list for ideas… As the year turns, I’ll be asking how we can help each other, who –specifically – I can help to best effect and what collective good we might do.