Category Archives: community

Mapping the territory

For some years now I’ve been interested in mapping the things that we don’t normally make maps of. I ran into the idea first in Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess where she talks about mapping the journey to help others find their way.

Sometimes, all we have is our own story about an experience. How big, important, unusual it seems may be entirely due to having no map. Further, without a map of some sort, where do we go in the new territory we’ve entered? Much of our standard mapping comes from the cultures we inhabit – consider the romance map, the maps we have for success which are all about owning big shiny things. There was a period when politicians liked to talk about their moral compass, but a compass without a map is of limited use and a direction that makes good sense in one context won’t always work the same way in another.

At the moment most of my personal mapping has to do with the body. I’m looking at the diversity of how bodies work, and the narrow path we give as the map for what we are supposed to do. What helps with this is when people share their stories with me. I’ve found putting things on facebook and on here is really effective for generating stories. Of course there are always people who respond to questions by feeling the need to tell me what to do, which is less helpful. That kind of response comes, I think when we assume the map to be small, and one person’s experience likely equates to what everyone else gets.

When we share stories about life experience, what rapidly emerges is the diversity. I’ve been talking about what we eat, and body size and stress, and exercise, and the breadth of what people want, what they need, what worked for them – we are so incredibly different. We can learn a lot from each other without having to succumb to the idea of total similarity.

When you offer the map of your own terrain (here’s what happened to me, here’s what I did, here’s what happened next) the person gifted with your map is free to take up any bits that connect to their map, and not explore territory that isn’t theirs. There’s no judgement implicit in saying ‘this is what happened to me’. There’s none of the power-over that comes with saying ‘this is what you should do’. We’re entitled to our own choices, even the bad ones. I’ve been round this with the issue of heavy periods, told I should get myself medicated into not having a problem – it is useful to know the medication exists, it is essential to have the right not to have to normalise my body on those terms.

A year ago, when deep in depression I asked how you tell when to seek antidepressants. A great many generous people shared their stories with me about what they had done and why, and as I worked through that, it became apparent to me that medication wasn’t the answer I needed. There have always been people keen to tell me that medication was the answer for me, but I’ve found the answer is to deal with the underlying causes, and that’s working well, finally. What the majority of people on or who had used antidepressants told me was that it gave them the time and space to sort out the issues. Not a magic cure, just a holding place. It only works as a cure for the people whose issues are fundamentally chemical in nature. That’s some of us, not all of us.

When we share our stories, we help each other put experience into context, and that can make it far easier to make sense of what’s going on. So, a big thank you to everyone here on the blog and out there on other social media, coming back with stories and insights, and to everyone blogging your own maps of the territories you have encountered.


Hoarding and Gifting

We live in a culture where wealth is expressed through hoarding, and through the ownership of prestige things – big houses, yachts, aeroplanes etc. However, this is not the only way to express wealth and power. Many of our Pagan ancestors were much more into the idea of showing off your wealth by ostentatiously giving it away. The underlying psychology of the two positions is fascinating.

Hoarding is what you do when you fear scarcity. You create a big pile to sit on, so that you, and you alone can benefit if things get tough. Hoarding is the response to an unfair, unkind world that will turn on you and take away your good fortune. The pile is never big enough to let the hoarder feel truly safe.

Gifting assumes that you have the power to generate more resources. You can give away everything, because there will be scope to make new. It assumes your own prowess is equal to whatever the future throws at you and comes from a place of optimism and confidence.

There are things about both stances that create feedback loops. If you hoard, then you will generate jealousy and resentment in those around you. Your bigger pile may increase their feelings of scarcity. Hoards invite theft, and in an every man for himself scenario, people won’t help if things go awry. The gifting approach by contrast creates loyalty and support. These are the people who will cheerfully go on the next raid with you, plant the next season’s crops for you, pull out all the stops in an emergency because when times are good, you share it around. When it’s their turn to be the one who can give ostentatiously, the odds are that they will. And thus the person who can gift well and reliably has every reason to expect help when they float some crazy new project out there.

Hoarding takes resources out of use. Gifting keeps them moving towards where they are needed. Hoarding leaves the hoarder fearing the jealousy and theft of others. Gifting lets the gifter feel bountiful and in control.


Keeping it real

We are social animals and we often do better when we can gather with other people. I’ve been noticing over the last few months some of the ways in which social media doesn’t answer social need.

In times of difficulty, many of us seek relief in saying what’s going on, but on social media at the moment this translates into a relentless wall of negativity. I find, and I’m no doubt not alone in this, that I can’t come up with something good, supportive, encouraging or just simply witnessing for every facebook friend who is struggling each day. I’d like to be able to, but with the way politics is grinding most of us down right now, it would be a full time job, and I don’t have the emotional resilience to do it.

By contrast, I found myself at a spoken word event at the weekend, where politics came up. Politics handled by clever, funny, good hearted people turned into the cathartic power of being able to laugh at it in a room full of likeminded souls. I came away feeling better about things.

I’m lucky in that I live somewhere there are more good and affordable events than I can get to in a week. I’m blessed with a fantastic network of friends as well. No matter how bad things look, they seem less grim when in the company of other people who care, and feel anxious, frustrated, angry… because what we do with those feelings over a pint or on a walk enables us to witness each other, and think about how to keep going, where the bright spots may be and so forth. Sharing with people in person has power.

Of course not everyone can get into spaces with other people, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve been there – cut off by a lack of transport and money, living in a place where very little happened. It helps if those who have the means are willing to get themselves to the people who don’t once in a while. It helps when we think about each other and support each other.

It doesn’t take prohibitive amounts of time and effort to name a place and time. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and doing it as someone with unreliable energy levels and limited resources. Keeping it minimal helps. A drink and draw in the pub. A walk. A picnic. Making sure there’s easily accessible space every weekend for anyone who wants it. Posting on events and social activities other people are running. It’s important that we keep putting our bodies in the same space when we can, because humans respond well to being in the same space as other humans we like.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. It’s easy to feel lost and alone. Ostensibly social media can often be a blessing, but it can equally serve to make things seem even worse. Being with other people gives us more scope to change things within ourselves. It’s a small resistance, a small revolution, but I think that right now, just refusing to be beaten by all the hate and mean-spiritedness out there is a significant act of resistance.


The urge to judge

It’s not a new thing, this idea that, with a casual glance at someone’s life, or body, we can determine what’s ‘really’ going on and judge them accordingly. The notion of the ‘deserving’ poor versus the ‘underserving’ has been with us for a long time. The refusal to accept that most chronic illness means good days and bad days. A person on a bad day is not faking it, what they could do on a good day is not the measure. Mental health difficulties are unhelpfully judged as not trying hard enough, making a fuss. So, why are we so keen to judge based on little or no real insight?

Firstly because it can let us off the hook. If the problem isn’t real then with an easy conscience, we can decline to help. We don’t have to change ourselves or the systems we operate in. It’s a lazy choice based on putting personal ease ahead of other people’s real needs.

We are taught to fear the idea that someone else could get something for nothing. But, it’s the lazy poor we are to be suspicious of. Not shareholders. Not those with big expense claims against the public purse. Not people who inherited and don’t need to work. Those with money are welcome to more money for doing nothing, those with no money we don’t want to move money towards. This is old, and its purpose is transparent as soon as you stop to look at it.

We are more afraid that some people might get something they aren’t entitled to, than we are concerned that people who need help should get help. We are willing to punish the many on the off-chance of hampering a few who want to play the system. Our politicians have encouraged this.

Judging a person with issues and victim blaming is a standard tactic for bullies. If the victim is making a fuss, a drama queen, attention seeking, or anything like that, then the bully has more scope to keep attacking without consequences. Overt judging and shaming of others can be a smokescreen to hide violence, abuse and mistreatment.

In judging people, we can feel superior to them. When life is short of lifts and ego boosts, it can be tempting to denigrate someone else just to feel bigger than they are. If other people support us in this, we can feel even larger and more important.

Those who are poor, ill, and struggling are a vulnerable, easy target for haters and blamers. It’s the demographic least able to fight back, least likely to have energy or resources to take you to court or otherwise seek justice and rebalance.

We like to think we know. We like to think we’re clever enough to see exactly what’s going on in someone else’s life. We think if something wouldn’t hurt us, or make our brains stop working then it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone else either. We are persuaded that our life experience is a fair measure of someone else’s struggles.

What it means, when we walk this path, is that we only judge other people, and never have to judge ourselves.


The community cost of injustice

There’s an obvious upfront cost to injustice that relates very immediately to whatever has gone wrong. What seems like a small unfairness to someone not immediately affected by it can seem like a small problem, not worth the hassle of sorting out. To the person on the receiving end, that small wrong can be life destroying. However, there is a larger and more subtle cost, one that we keep overlooking. Injustice breaks relationships and undermines communities. All the injustice that stems from prejudice. All the injustice that is intrinsic to rape and abuse. Social and financial injustice. All of it.

So, you’re affected by something, and it hurts you, and damages your life, your wellbeing. I’ll leave it to you to decide what sort of injustice to imagine or remember at this point. Nothing is done. The system refuses to change, the perpetrator is not tackled, no one says ‘hey that’s not ok and shouldn’t be happening.’ You are left with the immediate damage, and the knowledge that no one cares enough to do anything about it. A second level of hurt comes from this, and that hurt can go deeper than even the initial damage.

If your wounding is trivialised and/or ignored, then your relationship with the people who don’t care, changes. It may be that you have to see the injustice inherent in the system, and you can’t ever unsee it and feel easy about things again. It may be that you start seeing all people from the group that harmed you as a potential threat. You will likely feel cut off, and alienated, and angry, and there’s nowhere to take that because the people who most need to know about it have already made it pretty clear that they don’t care.

We’re doing this all the time. We do it at the state level. We collectively turn away from victims. We close our ears to them, we don’t listen to their stories. If we don’t think something would bother us, we decline to see why it would be a problem for anyone else. Injustice severs the natural bonds between people. It dehumanises all of us. When we look away. When we don’t worry because it’s not happening to us. When we say ‘oh, it’s not that big a deal really, stop making a fuss,’  we contribute. And so there is fear, and mistrust, resentment, bitterness, anger all bubbling away in so many places for so many reasons. It’s been there a long time and it won’t change easily, but change it must.


The art of not communicating

Social media is without a doubt undermining the skills of those who didn’t have a lot of social skills to begin with. Twitter feeds that read ‘me, me, me’ barely interacting with others are a simple expression of it. People who think online isn’t real and that what they say there doesn’t count. People hiding behind their monitors to say that which should never have been said.

I’m old enough to remember when it was television that was blamed for communication breakdown. I’ve also seen the evidence to suggest that go back further into the past, and the problem was books. All of this leads me to the conclusion that blaming books, television and the internet for poor communication skills is probably missing something important.

I’ve sat down with people who had nothing to say to each other. Conversations full of trivia and futility, or worse still, manufactured arguments over politics and religion. Something to fill the otherwise aching void. When we might all be better off admitting we have no interest in each other and nothing in common and just this sense that we ought to communicate.

I find silence is often the best measure of closeness and mutual interest. If people can be silent together until something worth saying comes along, and if that silence is easy, or fertile, then you have a serious relationship. If the simple act of putting our bodies into the same space feels good, then we’re onto something. If we can do something together – with or without words, then we’re connecting. Conversation for the sake of it is often strained and pointless. Small talk because noise is more comfortable than the truth a silence might reveal. Arguments over abstract and distant things to cover for the real and immediate tensions.

I’m not interested in the art of conversation, nor in winning arguments. For me, a good conversation is slow, halting, full of pauses as people think about what needs saying. Rich with silences, and warmed by what it means to be people in the same space.


Community solutions

For some time now, I’ve been exploring the idea that many of the problems our societies construct as individual issues, aren’t. I’ve mostly been looking at this in terms of mental health, but suspect it applies more widely. The emphasis on the problem as being the individual’s problem, and the solution being individual too, seems highly suspect to me. Depression, anxiety and other stress-induced problems happen in a context, and if we don’t change the context how can there be a real solution?

Up until this week, I’d thought of my problems with inspiration as being a personal problem, necessitating personal solutions, or otherwise unfixable. Opening up about the problem has brought me a lot of conversations – here, on facebook and by email. Thank you everyone who did that. Apparently it’s not just me. Rather than seeing a personal problem, I’m now seeing a much bigger problem(s) impacting on creative people. The answer, then, is to find solutions that aren’t just for me. Maybe what we have here is the sort of thing that can only be dealt with collectively.

My plan at the moment is to spend time over the next few days really facing up to this, to my own feelings of guilt, shame, grief and loss, and to look at what paralyses me. I’ve not done this before, because these are painful things to look in the face, but, I think it’s necessary to walk into it.

So, this is an open invitation to contribute. If you have experiences either of being able to maintain your creativity, or of struggling with it, and you’re willing to share what’s happening, then please do. If you don’t want to do that in public, just comment that you’d like an email and I’ll get in touch – wordpress helpfully shows me your email address when you comment. Anything shared privately I won’t put out in public except in a generic ‘some people are finding’ kind of way.


Parenting without (much) authority

I’ve never liked arbitrary authority, and so I came to parenting determined that ‘because I said so’ wasn’t going to be part of my repertoire. Also, I had a theory that the more arbitrary authority there is in childhood, the less able parent and child are to adapt to the teenage years, or to relate to each other well beyond that point. I wanted to raise an autonomous human capable of thinking for themselves, and that doesn’t go with being their authority figure either.

I remember the point at which I finally realised that my parents didn’t know everything. It came as a shock, rocking my little world to its core. My trust in their authority had been founded in no small part on a belief in their infinite knowledge and insight. So as a parent I made sure my child was aware of my limits from early on. As a small chap interested in dinosaurs, he knew that he could pass me in dinosaur knowledge if he put in the time, and that it was fine to do so. As I’m not interested in power-over I’ve never felt any need to try and keep him smaller than me.

We’ve always negotiated. I’ve always explained my position and reasoning so that he could see why I thought a course of action was preferable. I’ve aimed to persuade rather than force. We have an understanding that if I do issue an order, it is to be followed without question or hesitation because I’ll only do that in an emergency. We can talk about it afterwards. Driving me round the bend does count as an emergency!

Alongside this, he’s always had the option that if he could make a case for something, I’d take him seriously. We talk about the implications, the responsibilities, the possible consequences. Now he’s a teen, we carry that on to talk about relationship dynamics, consent culture, the implications of drugs and porn and all the other things out there he might run into and need to deal with. I think we have a pattern that means he’s always going to feel able to ask for my advice, but never obliged to act on it.

This all makes my life easier. I have room to say ‘yeah, I cocked that up,’ and to be honest about getting things wrong, making bad calls – because I have no authority to undermine. As yet, there’s been no sign of teenage rebellion – occasional non-cooperation, but that’s fine. He doesn’t have to fight off my authority in order to establish himself as a person in his own right because he’s always been respected as a person in his own right.

For me, authoritarian models within the family are an aspect of patriarchal society that we can do without. Children who are taught to obey are taught that power is what gets things done. You can’t have consent culture and obedience. You can’t have equality if you raise people inside models based on hierarchy, power-over and authority. There is a power balance necessary and inherent in raising a child, but so long as the child has the right to express opinions, and be taken seriously, that power balance can gently fall away over the years, allowing them to stand in their own power in the context of the family.

(And yes, I did ask him if it was ok to write about this.)


Needing People

Some people like to feel needed, but there are plenty of folk for whom saying ‘I need you’ is likely to induce some kind of panic. What they hear (I suspect) is more like ‘I need you to commit to doing certain things for me.’ I need you to bolster me up in certain ways. I need you to look after me, take responsibility for me, I will make work for you and suck up your time and energy.

We all need people. At a practical level, most of us need people to do the many things we cannot do for ourselves. We may never meet the people who grow and prepare our food, make our clothes, provide our electricity and maintain our roads but we need them nonetheless.

Humans are social creatures. We’ve evolved to work co-operatively and to live in groups. Many of us, if left alone, become lonely and miserable. Here’s an article about how loneliness kills. Meaningful human interactions are part of what keeps us sane and coping.

We all need people.

What if that needing isn’t about specific actions? What if it’s not about asking people to take roles and responsibilities within our lives? What if I can say ‘I need you’ and you will hear that as my need to have you, as you are, in my life. Not doing anything extra, just doing what you do and being who you are.

What if being who you are and doing what you do is wholly sufficient already? What if you didn’t have to go some difficult extra mile to be the sort of person who is needed? Then being needed wouldn’t be a matter of utility, just a recognition of who we are.


Poor Little Me

The Poor Little Me is a character from Hopeless Maine, inspired in part by Eliza Carthy’s song ‘Me and Poor Little Me.’ I started wondering what a Poor Little Me would be like, and thinking about possible examples. It’s a really unpleasant way of being, but in a rather passive-aggressive kind of way.

The PLM says ‘oh, poor you, that’s so bad, you must feel terrible. That must be awful, I bet its really getting to you, you must hate it, you must really be struggling there.’ At first it sounds like sympathy, and when we’re hurting, sympathy is welcome. After a while it sounds like pity – because they do it a lot, at very little provocation. Given long enough exposure, and it sucks out confidence and power, and you become this frail, useless thing and they become the big, powerful thing. Poor you.

Of course we can do it to ourselves as well – if we’ve internalised those voices, or we like to wallow too much. There are times when a good dose of ingratitude and self pity are necessary for getting life into perspective and taking action. The problem is taking up residence there. If you look at everything and see how it could have gone better and say ‘poor me’ for what you didn’t get, you’ll talk yourself into victimhood, despair and dysfunction.

In terms of dealing with the PLM as an inner voice, noticing it happening is key, and then challenging it. It’s important to deliberately look for the good in things as well as seeing what’s awry, this balance is essential to decent mental health. Often the destructive voices that live in our heads come from other places, so identifying whose voice it is can help with an eviction process.

In terms of having a PLM in your life, again noticing is key, because it will be offered in the guise of kindness and they will be ever so nice to you as they tell you how ghastly your life is. It’s very hard to protest or resist. The only method I’ve found is to step back. If rumbled, a PLM can become nasty – far more distressed that you could see them that way than they will ever be by the idea that they were making you uncomfortable.

How do we avoid becoming a PLM? Watch out for pity. Sympathy in a time of crisis can be supportive, but if it’s all we offer, it sounds like pity, and it also focuses the recipient on their woes. Make the effort to go further, offer something positive, encouraging or helpful alongside your sympathy. Act to empower the people you’re dealing with. Empty sympathy noises are easy – which is why we make them, so becoming damaging to someone else may be more about laziness than malice. Empathising and working out what could change things is a good deal more useful.

PLMing may happen to silence another person, perhaps with a feeling of justification because they keep going on about their woes. Yes, it’s terrible, poor you, you can shut up about it now. When it happens for those reasons, it doesn’t solve problems, or tackle a PLM living in someone else’s head, and it can isolate people who really are in trouble.

And if you’re curious about the PLM as a character, do click through to this blog post – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/salamandra-and-the-plm/