Category Archives: Observations

Am I splaining?

We all do it, and often for perfectly innocent reasons. We tell people stuff they already know in a way they could find patronising and offensive. The most common innocent reason is just having learned something and being really excited about it. Given half a chance, kids and teens splain at adults. It’s good to affirm them by hearing them out and then gently letting them know that you knew. One day, they will tell you something you didn’t know and that will be exciting all round.

Sometimes we splain because we’re trying to do empathy or express that we know what it’s like, and we pitch it wrong. Sometimes in this case the splaining is in the ears of the listener, because we’re not splaining, we’re trying to tell them our truth about similar experiences. Maybe, because we’ve not previously found someone who might get what we’ve been through, we get over excited and don’t pick up on cues.

We may be someone who, due to hardware issues, can’t easily read the kind of social cues people give off when they are hearing something they know about.

This is why I won’t leap to the conclusion that I’m being splained to at the first round. I won’t default to the assumption that the other person is trying to patronise me and under-estimates my knowledge, experience and brain capacity. I wait and see what happens if I then get to say ‘yes, I know how this is.’ At that point, I might get a solidarity conversation. I might get a bit of back-pedalling, an apology or a change of direction – all of this tells me there was only the desire to share information, not to put me down. The person who ignores this and keeps splaining – then they could well be splaining for real, and I’m likely to be rude. But they could have learning difficulties or problems with social situations and I don’t want to give someone a hard time for things they have little control over.

Some of it, is about knowing how to have a conversation, and not everyone does. Rushing in with a big information dump can be a sign of social difficulty – nerves, inexperience, difficult dealing with people and the such. The more socially skilled person will ask a question to try and get a feel for what the other person knows, and will proceed slowly, so as not to look like an arse.

Splaining is definitely a thing, I’ve been on the wrong end of it. It is a thing men all too often do to women. It can be a thing adults do to younger humans. It can be a thing those who are ok do to those who are not ok – and mostly it’s about shutting the other person up, and making them feel so small and stupid that they go away. It’s about power, and it is a way of asserting social dominance.

However, like many expressions of a problem, it can be taken up and used against people who are vulnerable. It’s not a good idea to get angry with an excited child who has just splained something to you. If we’re to quick to hear splaining, we can miss that this is someone trying to express solidarity and shared experience. If they didn’t look disabled, or gay, or mixed race, and we assume we know what they are by looking…  it can be unpleasant.

Calling something ‘splaining’ can be a way to shut down a conversation, derail it and humiliate the other party. If that’s the main aim, then it needs looking at. We won’t solve the real issues of condescending explanations and misplaced assumptions by letting everything that annoys us get labelled that way.

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Doing things for money

My economic situation has improved significantly in the last year, freeing up more resources for leisure stuff and a better diet. Both have had a huge impact on my mental and physical health and on my creativity. A brain is powered by food, and the relationship between poverty, diet and poor mental health is something I intend to come back to.

Of course I have heard all the arguments the other way – art should be made for love, not money. Druid work should be given away freely as it’s not spiritual to ask for money. To do that you have to be independently wealthy, have a partner who can fund everything, or be in such good health that you can work two jobs. That logic leaves us with creativity and priesthood as options only for the privileged. I’m not cool with that.

The internet gives us the means to have many things for free – it is one of the great powers of this technology. It brings us to new challenges and new ways of doing things. It has never been easier for an indy creator to find an audience, but it has probably never been harder to earn a living in this way. It is one of the reasons I find Patreon so exciting as a model. Using Patreon means that, as a creator, you can just put your stuff out there. If people love you enough, they can drop a few dollars in the hat each month, and get some extras for so doing.

I’ve been using Patreon for a couple of months now. It’s got me writing short stories and poetry on a much more regular basis, and I’m using it to host a monthly newsletter as well. Having people willing to put in the hat for this, and to support my other work, has really helped me emotionally. At the moment, the extra money is not a game changer, but I’ve thought about how I would use extra money should this grow.

One of my goals is to be able to justify making at least one video a month. The odds are this would involve poetry, songs, short stories and filming things that are not my face. I’ve been dabbling a bit as it is and have a couple of videos to finish and release in the autumn. Beyond that, my goal is to be able to afford to use some of Tom’s time on a cartoon strip we’ve wanted to do for years. It’s called The Wrong Dog. Ultimately, my major goal is more space. This could be studio space in the short term, but longer term I need to live somewhere else. The living room /dining room/writer space/ office/studio/storage area arrangement frankly doesn’t work very well for doing any of the things we need to do.

Having more income gives me more scope to invest in my wellbeing. It might mean being able to afford a weekly Tai Chi class – something I really want to do. I could use some extra funding to take courses to develop my skills and ideas. I’ve done some single day workshops through the summer, and that’s been decidedly good for me. I have fantasies about going on holiday.

Here are the things my household is doing for money, should you feel so moved…

Patreon

Books for sale on Amazon   and Book Depository  (most of my stuff can be bought anywhere that sells books)

Etsy (for posters and Tom Brown original art) https://www.etsy.com/shop/MothFestival

If you want to support a creative person but can’t throw money at them, pointing at their work, reviewing them, and the like is a really great help and always appreciated. Feedback is good, too. Most of us unfamous creative folk keep going because we think someone might just want it – putting a hand up to being the person who wants the stuff can help keep a person making and sharing.

 


Finding more hours in the day

As a self employed person, how I work is something I find it necessary to pay attention to. No one else sets my hours or considers what would be the best use of my time from day to day. No one sets my breaks, or time off.

During the worst patches, I’ve worked seven day weeks, and long days. During those times, work has been a slow, inefficient grind, dogged by poor concentration, difficulty with decision making and a lack of creativity. It’s really easy when self employed to feel like you have to keep working, especially if you aren’t earning much Fear that the work will dry up if you don’t say yes to everything is certainly part of the problem.

One of the things I’ve learned this summer, is that it is better for me to work in blocks rather than trying to multitask. Writing blog posts, dealing with email and doing social media work can end up sprawling across each other, with a lot of time squandered as I shuffle between, unable to remember what I was supposed to be doing or where I’d got to. Focused bursts get a lot more done. Focused bursts with small breaks in between them are even better.

By not multitasking, I’ve been able to cut my working morning by an hour, reliably. That’s including having a bit of time – ten to twenty minutes each day of promoting my own work, which I’d been neglecting to do. I’ve also cut my regular work down to four mornings a week, freeing up Wednesdays for doing something different – an uncontaminated headspace in which to create, should inspiration strike. It’s working. I’m doing as much work as I was before, I’m just not wasting as much time as I was.

It’s hard to notice lost time when it comes as a few minutes here and there, or each job taking ten or fifteen seconds longer than it might have done. Over a morning’s work, the lost minutes and seconds totted up to that hour or more that I now have at my disposal. Efficiency is a thing.

When business people talk about efficiency, all too often what they mean is getting people to work flat out and more like machines. Flat out isn’t efficient, it slows because concentration is not an infinite resource. Working like a person, and taking care of my person-ness as I work is what makes me more efficient. Not stinting on the breaks, allowing myself as much window gazing time as I need, moving about regularly – all the things that don’t look like efficiency actually get the jobs done faster.


Talking to children about death

Not so long back, a neighbour spelled out the word ‘dead’ to us in a conversation so that her small daughter would not understand what was being talked about. It’s normal not to talk to small children about death, and I remember being young enough that there were things so terrible no one would explain them to me. I remember how frightened I felt about the things I was not allowed to know, and how unreasonable and threatening the world seemed.

Normal people don’t take children to funerals. My son was four when his great grandmother died. I took him to see her at the funeral parlour, because I wanted him to understand what was going on. I took him to the funeral and to her burial. For quite a while thereafter, she was the great granny who went in a box in the ground, and he was ok with that. We talked a bit about how no one really knows what happens when you die, and that it’s ok not to know, and nothing to be afraid of.

That autumn featured a dead crow – hit by a car – which proceeded to decompose at the end of our road, on the pavement we walked down to get to school. He dealt with this by writing a song about it, and we talked about why it isn’t a good idea to get in the way of cars. He’s always been very, very sensible about traffic.

When a friend of ours died, too young, and I was asked to be the celebrant at her funeral, my son stepped up to help where other adults were unable to – unafraid by the size of the gathering for a start.

We’re able to talk about death. He knows my funeral preferences. (In order of preference, air burial, eaten by a vulture, naked in a foetal position and covered in ochre, shroud, cardboard coffin).

My philosophy has always been that if a child asks a question, then they need an answer. They need a good, solid sort of answer that won’t set them up for confusion later on. Whether it’s sex, death, infinity, terrorism, or anything else big or scary, they need something that makes sense in a language that does not overly distress them. By normal parenting standards, I’ve been an outrageous over-sharer. But I’ve got a teenage son who has known about menstruation for so long that it’s no big deal to him.

I’ve also got a teenage son who trusts me, because he’s not at the moment going through the process of establishing just how much I lied to him when he was growing up. I’ve got a teenager who can take my authority when I need to pull rank, because he knows I won’t bullshit him or fob him off with answers that are more about my comfort than his. It turns out that’s worth a great deal.


Contaminated headspace

How many things need thinking about in a day? Meals and family time tables, the laundry, social commitments, other people’s needs and timetables… It’s an issue I first became aware of a while ago through a feminist blog. Like emotional labour, this kind of holding all the things in your head is work that falls disproportionately to women. I raised it at the time with the chaps of my household, and we changed some things.

However, headspace contamination is also a work issue for me. It means trying to plot social media strategies in my time off. It is writing blog posts in my head when I wake up in the morning, and things of that ilk. Sorting out the way in which my own poor boundaries leave me with an over busy head has been an issue. The over busy head does not rest well, stresses a lot, and doesn’t have space for wonder or imagination all too often.

I replaced my never ending to-do list with a diary. I noticed (thank you other bloggers who helped me see this) that a to-do list easily becomes a thing to beat yourself up with. With a diary, I have to think carefully about what I’m going to do when, and it is easier to budget in time for non-workish things too. I don’t overload my days, and at the end of the day I’ve usually worked through the list, so it helps my morale. When I get an idea, rather than obsessing over it, I write it down for the day I’m going to tackle it. It’s very rare now that I try and write blog posts in my head.

I’ve put down work that doesn’t suit me. The things I do well, I seldom have to sweat over. I need small patches of time here and there to reflect, ponder and speculate about my work, but I don’t need to do it every day, mostly I can crack on. Jobs where the remit wasn’t clear enough or where I wasn’t a natural match at all have had me trying really hard to overcome that. I hate doing a job badly. It took me a long time to recognise that if all I do is bang my head against a thing, it is better to put that thing down and move on. There’s no shortage of things I could be doing, I need not do things that tie my brain in knots and leave me feeling low and exhausted.

Clear communication is a good antidote to contaminated headspace as well. No second guessing, no dances of imply and infer, just straight, clear, expression and open negotiation. Increasingly, I’m not willing to invest in people who need to make every social exchange into a complicated set of manoeuvres. Intellectual hide and seek is not my idea of fun. Emotional snakes and ladders I can cheerfully miss. If I know where I am with people, I don’t get into wearying speculation.

Taking control of my headspace has been a process, but as I get better at it, more time and energy becomes available to me. It also becomes apparent as to who and what is a good use of my time, and what just sucks the life out of me to very little effect. Yes, I can use meditation in short bursts to quieten my mind, but it is a good deal more effective to tackle the busy issues at a life level, and save my meditation time for more creative and soul nurturing things.


My latest steampunk adventures

Last year at Asylum in Lincoln (biggest steampunk gathering in the UK) I spent quite a lot of time stood outside a venue being the signpost, because there wasn’t a sign, and one was needed. While I was doing that, another author at the event asked how on earth I’d ended up doing that. I said I’d offered. This year I’ll be co-running that venue, and Tom and I have had the honour of putting together a team of authors for the event as a whole. How did we end up doing that? Well, in no small part because we are the kinds of people who pile in and do what needs doing.

It’s not about the money, or the glory. Ok, it is a bit about the glory. We were keen to jump in because we want to change what happens around ‘literature’ at steampunk events. Tom and I will not be touring venues across the weekend as part of the author team, we’ll be looking after the Cathedral Centre/Steampunk embassy. If you’re in town, come and find us, it’s not a big building.

It would be fair to say that as things stand, ‘literature’ is not something most steampunks are that excited about, and with good reason. It’s not the sort of thing you can easily engage with when there’s loads going on. It doesn’t grab your attention like art or music, or clothes or devices or just about anything else at a steampunk event. If you aren’t already into an author, you may not be even slightly excited about hearing them read, and you don’t want to go to a talk about how they self published their first novel, and if you don’t write, the standard fayre of talks about how to write books may not appeal. And then there’s the room of gloom – I’ve seen these at too many events and not just steampunk ones. Tables full of books behind which mournful and obscure authors sit in puddles of grumpy entitlement wondering where all their adoring fans have got to.

Of course that’s not steampunk writing, or steampunk books as a whole, and even in the rooms of gloom there are always people worth meeting. This year, Asylum has taken a radical new approach to how it deals with authors. With that as our underpinning,  Tom and I have done a number of things to further change what happens. We’ve brought in more comics people – because unlike books, comics are easy to engage with quickly. We’ve brought in authors who are great performers, we’ve got all kinds of drawing workshops on the go, and the talks are full of ideas and interesting concepts. Around the authors we’ve lured an array of fascinating folk to come and do their thing at the cathedral centre, and I think it’s going to be a really interesting space.

We will be doing some Hopeless Maine stuff – we’re using it as a recruitment opportunity for The Hopeless Vendetta (if you feel a sudden urge to be recruited, comment below!) and we’re taking out a show called Songs from a Strange Island – a mix of material written for the Hopeless Maine project, (like the Hopeless shanty) and things that inspire us (gloomy and magical folk music for the greater part).

I know we’re not alone in wanting to see things change around books and book events. I’ve been having all the same conversations with the people running Stroud Book Festival as I’ve had with many people on the steampunk side. ‘Literature’ turns people off, and often what happens under that banner is dull and self-congratulatory. I want to see more spoken word content. I want to see authors stepping up to entertain and engage people. I want to be talking about books, comics, fat comics, ephemera, writing, and creativity. I want things people can join in with, not the literary on one side and the audience on the other.


Gnawing away at the roots

Trigger warnings – exploring the mechanics of abuse.

It’s all too common to imagine abuse in terms of obvious physical violence. In practice, when people are subjected to physical abuse it’s often late in a process that has already ground them down so badly that they don’t resist or complain and instead feel it’s what they deserved. The long term consequences of emotional and psychological abuse tend to be far more damaging than any physical abuse that is survived (but not everyone survives). Our criminal systems focus on bodily wounding.

Psychological and emotional abuse is not always deliberate. There is often no way to tell if it is meant to harm the recipient or not. People may be repeating their own family patterns and experiences, affected by their cultural background, religion, belief and so forth. They may think what they’re doing is fine, they may be projecting all kinds of crap onto their victim. This doesn’t lessen the effect, but it means if challenged they will be very clear that they aren’t doing anything wrong, and this makes them difficult to challenge. If you tell your significant other that they are hurting you and they respond by saying it is your problem not theirs, they are fine, it only serves to entrench the damage.

This kind of abuse is often a slow process of attrition and erosion. No single act will be enough to make you realise it isn’t ok. It’s just little nit picking criticism and complaints, it’s living without praise or kindness, it’s being told off and told you look lousy and that your cooking isn’t up to much. You make too much noise, you don’t smile enough, your taste in clothes, films, books, friends is piss poor… and slowly, day by day, more is shaved off your identity until you wake up one morning and you don’t know who you are any more, you just know you aren’t any good at anything and its all your fault.

You don’t know what happened. And maybe the person who did this to you tells you that they still love you, even though you look terrible and aren’t doing anything interesting. They still love you, even now you’re fat and boring. And you’re grateful to them. They’re heroes. No one else would want you in this mess and you are so desperately glad they are willing to put up with you that you’d do anything to try and make them happier. You wish you were a better person so that you could do more good things for them.

If you’ve grown up with this coming towards you from a parent, you may never notice that it isn’t normal or ok, and that your crushed self esteem and the anxiety that comes from it is not something that you deserve. If you take it from a spouse, you may keep taking it for years, all the while internalising your own alleged shortcomings. How do you tell that you’re ok when the key people in your life constantly undermine you?

There are no easy answers to this. It is very hard for a person in that situation to wake up and get out on their own.  However, most people who are being ground down in this way will defend the person crushing them if faced with a direct challenge (because you’re dissing the one person who can put up with them). A well meaning attempt to get someone out of this trap can instead push them further into it. The only thing I’ve seen work is to get in there and gently, persistently build someone up. Affirm them, praise them, encourage them, ignore whatever they do to deflect it. And keep doing it, for months, or years or as long as it takes for them to start questioning how rubbish they think they are.


How to and why not

Get perfect results every time! Fix your life in these ten easy steps! There’s nothing like a How To book for telling you stuff, but is it doing us any good? To poke this notion around I’m going to focus on the topic of cooking, but I think the implications are much wider.

I do a lot of cooking and baking from scratch, seldom following recipes. I often look at recipes for ideas and inspiration, and I might follow one closely the first time I do it if there are delicate bits, but mostly that’s not how I work. I like to learn theories and apply them as they suit me.

I have noticed that it is normal for books on cooking and baking to contain lots of obscure ingredients. Things I don’t keep on hand, can’t easily find. Their presence can persuade a person that cooking is not for them. Most instructional books are really dogmatic also. They often have introductions that say if you don’t follow this exactly, all bets are off. Having spent years swapping round ingredients, using more and less of almost anything if I haven’t got enough, or like it a lot… the results tend to be wholly edible.

What cookery books teach us is that food should come out the same every time. Like pre-packaged food. It’s not about personal creativity, innovation or using up what was left in the fridge, it’s about following instructions. It’s about imposing the dubious standards of industrialisation on our home life. Most of us will not create exactly the same results each time even when we’re trying, and may be persuaded that we’re better buying more mass produced stuff rather than enjoying our own cooking.

If you follow recipes, you can’t grab what’s on offer or in season, you have to buy ingredients for the recipe. That’s a lot of extra faff, and requires forward planning. If you can pick up what looks good and improvise with it, cooking is more fun, more efficient, and requires less thinking. Weary people are not easily persuaded to take long ingredients lists to supermarkets and so proper cooking becomes something you do on special occasions, and the rest of the time, it’s easier to buy sauces in jars, pre-prepared things and stick to what you know. This costs more, and results in a bland, impersonal diet.

Mass produced food is always the same. Our cookery books can encourage us to accept that this is the standard to aspire to. Not that mass produced food is a bit bland and obvious, but that our own cooking should emulate it. Never mind what’s in season, or out of season. No room is left for imagination, innovation or play. Just follow the instructions to get perfect results every time.

 


Being honest about sex

I know I’m not alone in finding that speaking openly and honestly about sex gets some weird and unhelpful responses. For me, this was most relevant during my time as an erotica author, and I’ve seen it happen for other erotica authors too. It happens for activists whose area of activism has a sexual aspect. It happens for people who are honest about being kinsters, fetishists and so forth.

What happens, simply, is that a significant number of people assume that because of the above, you are promiscuous. You will shag anything. You want to be sent photos of them, and their girlfriends, you want to hear what they have in mind to do with you. For a minority, your sexual honesty will lead to verbal abuse, based on their assumptions and accusing you of whatever it is they imagine you do. Sometimes it’s all about projection.

However, a lot of this hangs of some basic assumptions about human sexuality. The habit of dividing women into angels and whores, the prudish and the promiscuous is at least a few hundred years old. Apparently that idea can be rolled out to embrace anyone else who dares to be open. If you are pro-sex, if you are keen, if you make visible your enthusiasm, then you can only be an object for use. In truth, the most enthusiastically promiscuous of us have standards and boundaries. Wanting a lot of sex, even a lot of sex with a lot of people still doesn’t mean being up for anything with anyone. We all have boundaries, but ignoring those boundaries makes it much easier to use and abuse.

I find this odd, in terms of the logic. Quantity and quality are two very different issues. To be pro sex is generally to be looking for high quality sex, and for that you need people you can communicate with. Ideally people who know and understand you. Unless your kink is sex with strangers, then most kink is better served by established connections. Not necessarily a traditionally shaped romantic relationship, but something with duration. Random pick-ups are not (despite what books and films alike try to tell us) good for kinky sex.

One of the side effects of spending many years as an erotica author, was the number of unsolicited stories I heard about what people like to do, and want to do. Most people, I think, are far more sexual and far more sexually keen than they present in public. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a very private, personal thing after all, no one should feel obliged to wear their hearts, or their genitals on their sleeve. A percentage of humans are not sexual, but a larger percentage likes to shag, kinky or otherwise.

So, why this collective response to the people who are a bit more honest about it? Is it just a habit of thinking passed down from previous generations? Is it a matter of collective shame, a feeling that we should be ashamed of our sexual appetites, so anyone who isn’t must be… well, whatever you want them to be? Is it all about projection, of putting onto the person who is open all the things the person being weird about it would do if only they felt brave enough? Is it a lack of education that leads some people to feel that anyone honestly sexually active must be other things as well?

We have a lot of taboos around sex, and one of the most problematic ones has to do with communication. We don’t talk about it enough, and when we do, it’s seldom in useful ways. We’ll objectify each other’s bodies and project onto them, but we don’t hear each other. People who can speak honestly to each other about what they want and do not want are in a much better position when following through on that. People who can hear what other people want, people who can both give and withhold consent, and who can work with the consent or refusal of others have happier, healthier, safer lives. Shaming people who talk about sex by treating them as though they have no boundaries, is a way of silencing them. Silence creates misunderstandings, facilitates abusers,and reduces creativity and expression. We need to talk more.


Being forty

Oddly enough, I find on the morning of my fortieth birthday that I feel largely unchanged from the previous day. As a child I believed that there was some magic shift that turned a person into a proper adult. Some clinging residue of the belief stayed with me, I confess, but sixteen wasn’t it, and eighteen did not rewire my brain, and twenty one brought no revelations. At forty, I notice that no innate adulating capacity seems to have hatched within me. At this point I can afford to admit to myself that it never will, and that paperwork, bureaucracy, and tedious details are always going to be an arse.

When I started writing and talking about Druidry and Paganism – in my late twenties – I tended to be vague about my age for fear of not being taking seriously. It’s one of the good things about being a Druid, I think – the possibilities that age may deliver gravitas and wisdom rather than irrelevance. This may well be like the childhood thing of imagining that adulthood will just turn up. Perhaps I’ll be here at fifty admitting that the wisdom and gravitas thing was just as silly. In the meantime, it’s a nice thought!

In writing, much as in Druid work, age is more of an advantage than not. Very few authors make it under the age of forty, so I’ve everything still to play for. A few more grey hairs won’t set me back at all. Although to be fair, I don’t have that many grey hairs, I’m not dyeing my hair and don’t intend to and I still don’t have many lines in my face. I have no idea how this came to be and can only assume there’s a really good painting of me stashed in someone’s attic, taking all the damage… Yet at the same time I’ve been showing peri-menopausal symptoms for about a year now, so the call of the crone is very much on me.

I got in early with the whole midlife crisis thing, having spent the last few years revisiting many of the things that I was interested in as a teen, rebuilding a sense of self. I had a fantastic party on Saturday night to celebrate this large, round birthday number, and came to the conclusion that more of that – more dancing like a crazy thing in the company of lovely people, with fantastic live music and yummy beer is the form any further midlife crisis flashes should take. With, or without hot flushes.

Perhaps I have reached the magic age of not caring what anyone else thinks, not needing to be acceptable, not aspiring to meet other people’s standards. Many aspects of my life have been becoming clearer and simpler for me, and I like how that feels. I have some sense of where I want to be going and a lot of certainty about who I want as travelling companions. The rest I can no doubt make up as I go along.