Category Archives: Observations

What does it mean to dance?

I was sent to dancing lessons from early on in life. I’ve always thought of dance as being about the music, especially once I got to the point of being able to improvise. I’ve danced as a performer, but more usually I’ve danced amongst people with no audience.

This weekend I had the experience of watching dance – some I realised I’d not done in a long time. I’ve watched morris dancers in the last few years, but it’s not the same as sitting down quietly in a room to watch something that isn’t about repeating patterns. The dance I watched – Without Measure – had no music. Some of the pieces were performed in silence, some had spoken work soundtracks. In the absence of music, it had me thinking about sound and bodies in some unexpected ways.

When you dance in silence, it is the sound of the movement, and the sound of the audience, that occupies the space. Small sounds that would normally disappear under the music become intense and important. The breath of the dancer becomes part of what you experience. Watching anything in silence is normal, but when there is so little constructed soundscape, you become really aware of the smallest sounds you accidently make. This is not a performance in which it is easy to cough.

We normally dance to music. We normally have the speed, rhythm and mood of the dance shaped by the music playing. We’re used to the sense of dance coming from this relationship with sound. Take the music away, and a whole host of questions arise about the nature and purpose of dance.

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Nonbinary and the ambidextrous body

It’s not easy finding a language to talk about nonbinary experience, but I think this gives me a shot. Most people are right or left handed. Right is considered normal, left is more acceptable than it used to be. You can make this a male/female metaphor or a straight/gay metaphor if you like! I think it works best as the latter because left handed people used to come under a lot of pressure to try and act right handed.

Looked at from the outside, most bodies have discernible right and left sides. A person with a single dominant hand will likely lead with the foot on the same side as the leading hand. They will experience one side of their body as dominant and one side as less useful to them. Right and left aren’t abstract concepts at this point, they are names for a lived and felt difference in how bits of a person’s body works.

I don’t experience the right and left-ness in my body in the same way. I can lead with either side, hands or feet. I find it more convenient to write with my right hand, but my left handed writing is adequate. I iron left handed, I paint passing the brush back and forth. I don’t deny that I have right and left hands any more than I deny that I have a female-appearing body, but my experience of them is not the same as the experience of a left or right handed person. However, I can easily demonstrate to someone else how some of that ambidextrousness works. I can demonstrate that I can catch left or right handed. It’s much harder to demonstrate anything about how I experience gender.

In practice it’s much the same. I see other people leading with their maleness, or their femaleness. I see them having a dominant side, but the other side is still there. Some of them really can’t use the offhand at all. Some people probably could use their offhands pretty well if they invested some time in it. Many people assume their offhand isn’t up to much simply because they haven’t given it the same developmental time.

I see qualities attributed to right and left hands (strong, dextrous, good, evil, weak, unreliable, etc) that have parallels with the way we attribute qualities to gender (strong, dominant, delicate, weak, unreliable…) I see that in a culture where male and right handed are both treated as normal, it can be a challenge being female or left handed, and things aren’t set up to work for you. Even in small, stupid ways. My spell checker accepts ‘right handed’ but not ‘left handed’ as good grammar.

A person who mostly only uses one hand for all the things can, with a bit of effort, imagine how that might be different. I’m pretty confident that a person who experiences their body in heavily gendered ways might, with a bit of effort, be equally able to imagine what it might be like not to be like that – not necessarily how a specific other person experiences their body, but just the possibility of different experience. Once you can imagine difference, exactly how it plays out is less of an issue. What makes things difficult is when people who have spent their whole lives being told that their way is the only way, can’t flex at all when other people experience something else.

We tell each other stories about what is normal. It doesn’t make those stories a fair measure of anything, and to deny a person’s experience based solely on a story about normality, isn’t very helpful.


Poetry as a tool of entitlement

She was sat on a bench in a public space. She’d eaten her lunch and was looking at her phone. He came and sat at the other end of the bench. I was on the grass some yards away with other people. I sort of know him, but I don’t know his name.

Next thing we know, his voice is raised and he’s reading her his poetry. She’s hunched over her phone. I watch for a while, trying to work out how uncomfortable she is and whether I should go over. He moves to reciting poetry. It was not the sort of thing I think a person would be happy to have forced on them during their lunch break, unsolicited.

He starts telling her how to find him online. This may well be because she’s still staring intently at her phone. I do not know what she said because her voice was low and she’d not said much. He’s pretty loud. My suspicion is that she was not eager to look up more of his work on the internet.

She leaves, and I am relieved. She could have left at any time, she’d not been physically cornered and it was a public space. If he’d followed her I probably would have got involved. I think she was going back to work. However, she should have been free to have her lunch, sit on her bench and play with her phone. Fair enough to ask if someone wants to hear a poem, I guess, but not fair to keep grinding them out. Everything about her body language said that she wanted him to shut up and leave her alone, but he didn’t notice that, or didn’t care.

Being alone in a public space is not an invitation for an approach. Women are socially conditioned to be polite and not cause offence and to listen to men – I could write a great deal about the mechanics of this, but that’s not for today. Women don’t always feel safe antagonising men – even in the middle of the day in public spaces. If you give a man an excuse to get angry with you it can and does turn into verbal abuse and physical assault. Anyone who has previously experienced that won’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to stand up to a pushy man who wants their attention.

Of course in theory having a man recite poetry to you is romantic. In practice, if you don’t know the man, it might instead be weird and creepy. In this case, poetry was functioning as a monologue (manalogue) – great long stretches of the man saying his thing, where it would be rude to interrupt him because it’s a poem. It wasn’t a conversation. He wanted to speak and be listened to – her only role was to listen and approve. It’s the traditional role poetry casts women in – woman as muse and audience, man as speaker and poet. Silence and applause on one side, everything else on the other. Anyone who has read The White Goddess may remember that Robert Graves was very keen on this distribution of labour.

Writing poems does not entitle anyone to attention. Claiming to be a poet does not entitle anyone to interrupt someone else’s lunch break. It was an illustration of entitlement in action. It was difficult to know how to respond. While it was all happening, I made eye contact with the victim. I hope it reassured her to know that she was seen, and I hope I managed to express concern.

One of the things that put me off intervening, was that I do sort of know the guy. He turns up at things I go to and he’s been weird with me and I don’t want to invite more of it. Solidarity-fail on my part, but at the same time, a keen awareness that it shouldn’t have to be my job to sort out the entitled behaviour of a creepy poet.

It’s the sort of behaviour that, in a film or a romance novel would have been portrayed as wild, dashing, exciting – and the woman would probably have been swept off her feet. In real life, it’s unsettling, inappropriate and she didn’t want to know. We need to stop telling stories about how women love to be the passive recipients of such advances.


Working dreams

One of the important things to bear in mind if you’re doing dream interpretation, is the relationship between your dreams and your actual life. Recently I had a dream in which I was trying to fold a complicated table and needed to work out what to say about it on social media. It was not an exciting dream. It was simply a bringing together of some of the things in my recent working life as my brain tried to figure out what goes where. How I do social media work or support for various outlets has become a question in recent weeks. The one thing that doesn’t need a social media plan is the furniture, but that’s dreaming brains for you!

Sometimes our sleeping minds are indeed doing the work. I’ve noticed repeatedly that when life gives me a lot to process, I crave more sleep. Some things are difficult to do consciously and need the free run of an unconscious mind to reconfigure in. Big life changes, radical rethinks about who I am, dramatic changes to important relationships and other major life events take some getting to grips with.

I spent the summer dreaming mournfully about one of the entitled men in my life. My feelings of guilt and responsibility kept surfacing, along with my desire for things to be entirely other than they have been. However, a few final revelations towards the end of the summer helped clarify things for me and my dreaming mind started telling me completely different emotional stories from that point. I’ll be surprised if I get any more mournful longing, because I appear to have worked that through.

What the dreaming work has allowed me to do is make a space for emotions I can’t usefully express anywhere else. I’m trying out ideas about how things are and could be, and pushing my waking mind to look at things it hasn’t been keen to square up to. That which we’re trying to avoid or protect ourselves from can show up in dreams, demanding attention. In my experience, this is where a lot of nightmares come from. But at the same time, a nightmare can be a useful part of the process, allowing me to process something I just can’t tackle when awake. Sometimes I have to go through a lot of these to get to a place where I can think consciously about the problem.

Dreams like these don’t benefit from interpretation. They aren’t some kind of finished product waiting to be made sense of. They’re a work in progress, and it’s often better to just let that run as a process – paying attention to it but not trying to tidy it into neat meanings. Sometimes when you let dreams happen in this way, they will take your waking mind somewhere totally unexpected, and that can prove very helpful indeed.

For more of this kind of approach to dreaming, check out my book Pagan Dreaming – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming


Escaping from entitled men

One of the more curious crops this summer has been a root cellar’s worth of entitled men to deal with. Just to make it clear, they are not all now in a root cellar, although it’s a charming idea. Some I’ve had to deal with directly, some I’ve supported friends as they tried to deal with, and saw a lot of the trouble caused. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Entitled men – men who believe they are entitled to a great many things they are certainly not entitled to – are fond of making women responsible for things – usually for things said women have no control over. We are to provide unconditional love and support and ask for nothing in return (Gods help us if we do ask) and they are free to act in any way they like and consider themselves blameless and free of all consequences. They get really cranky when we don’t go along with this.

Most particularly, there’s been a theme of making women responsible for male feelings about the female body. We however, are accused of massively sexualising everything, by existing. We are weird, too tactile and not tactile enough. We’re sending out mixed messages even when we say ‘no’ clearly and repeatedly. How the entitled men feel about our bodies is some kind of unassailable truth about what we are, and our responsibility. If we can’t just suck that up we’re mean and unreasonable and in some sort of conspiracy to be horrible to them.

Male entitlement to female care and attention, to female emotional labour, has been a repeated theme this summer. Entitled men dismissing any female emotional response that wasn’t wanted as irrational and unreasonable has gone alongside this. There is no space allowed for women to be people. Entitled men feel entitled to occupy all the ‘person’ space and make the women around them into props, trophies, punch bags, and other non-person things. We don’t get to have needs or feelings, and we’re also expected to be ok with that.

The only answer to this is to walk away. We’ve all wanted there to be other answers, but when you don’t get a vote, asking for change is pointless. This has been really interesting too. I’ve watched other women dealing with this, and seen how guilty and responsible they feel. How they feel like they owe it to the entitled man to see the best in him, give him another chance, be kinder and more understanding. I’ve felt that too, where I’ve been dealing directly. And yet, when I see female friends dealing with this, it is clear to me that they owe nothing and cannot possibly be responsible for what’s going on. I can see how harmful entitled men are to the women around me where it’s hard to see what that does to me. It is through supporting each other that we are best able to overcome the pressure to give the entitled men what they think they are entitled to.

I also see how tough this is for the guys who would never do this kind of shit. How they too can be pushed about and badly treated by men with entitlement issues. How uncomfortable it can be for them squaring up to the issue of male entitlement in action. I note that the men with entitlement issues have made the most noise this summer and sucked up a disproportionate amount of energy and attention, but they are not the majority. It’s in their interests to persuade us that all men are like them, because then there’s even less reason to challenge them. The entitled men of this summer were a small minority of the men I had dealings with this summer. I won’t be dealing with them again, and perhaps in time, if enough people of any and all genders refuse to be persuaded by their self-entitlement, they will realise that it isn’t acceptable behaviour.


Things I am excited about

There’s a lot of upheaval in my life at the moment – some of which is translating into shorter blog posts from me, and more guest posts on the blog to help me stay on top of things. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who has sent me content so far, there’s some excellent stuff here and more to come, and it’s really taken the pressure off.

This August, I lost more than half of my Moon Books work. Not because I was doing it badly – there was consensus that I’d been doing rather well. Not because Moon Books is in a bad way – Moon Books is selling books at a pace, in no small part because I was doing my job rather well. An internal shuffle in the parent publishing house had a knock on effect, and I went from reliably being able to pay all my bills, to total uncertainty. August was a rather stressful month as I started applying for jobs.

However, it’s all gone very well indeed. I am now doing the newsletter and press officer work for Transition Stroud – which is all about community and sustainability, so that’s really happy stuff. I’m training as a duty manager to work in a local venue – it’s a great place, I had my 40th birthday party there and I’m happy to be involved. It looks like I’ll be in their office for a few hours every week as well. I’ve taken on doing PR work for some people – which is lovely and clearly going to work nicely. Once that all settles down a bit, there are two other conversations in my destiny about part time work that I’m also really excited about. More as that comes…

Alongside this I’ll still be writing and colouring for Hopeless Maine, and writing other things as me. Hopeless Maine is moving into role play game territory with the core rule book out this autumn – more of that as it comes. I have a lot on the go. I’m working on a poetry collection this month – material I’ve already written. Anyone who supports me on Patreon will get an e-copy when it’s done, and those at the glass heron level can expect a copy in the post. You can sign up for that here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

I’m planning a small meditation book – I’m just going to self publish it because I want it out early next year. After pondering and sharing my initial thoughts here, I am going to work on a spirits of place book as well, but I’ll need a bit more headspace for that.

We’re looking at more Hopeless Maine based performance, and we’ve a growing team of people who want to do events together. There are events to organise, and events to throw ourselves at, and events that have already booked me for next year – April is going to be intense with Pagan Federation conferences in Wakefield and Edinburgh. As my comics publisher is also in Edinburgh I’m going to try and pair this with some comics events as well.

It feels like my entire life has been tossed into the air by manic and only slightly evil pixies and everything is now fluttering about and heading off in different directions. There’s rather a lot of it. My belief is that if I assume that, by the same magic, it’s all going to be fine, it will be fine. But just in case, I’m going to buy a bigger diary so that I can keep more detailed notes of what’s happening when.


After the Asylum

I write this blog post on the morning after getting back from Asylum in Lincoln – the biggest Steampunk event in the UK, one of the biggest on the world, in fact. Perhaps the biggest. It involves a great many people, and is always an epic experience.

I’ve always gone to the event to work. This year and last year, Tom and I have run space for books and comics people. We’ve taken a team, provided daytime entertainment and looked after a venue. This tends to leave us too tired to do much of the evening stuff. But still, it’s a great thing to be part of.

This year, I got to meet Nils Nisse Visser, whose novel – Amster Damned – I’ve reviewed here. I also got to meet Stephen Palmer, whose Factory Girl trilogy I reviewed here. This is no kind of coincidence. We’re picking people who write excellent books, and who have the kind of ideas that translate well into presentations. As this is not a literary festival, most people going have no interest in book readings from authors they’ve never heard of. Most of us are authors most people have never heard of. Most people do not want to go to talks on facets of the publishing industry or talks about the writing process.

However, what people clearly do want is to be entertained, inspired, and engaged. Workshops are good, drink and draws, talks based around concepts, and things you might join in with. We delivered that this year, we delivered it with knobs on. Collectively, we created a space where people could come and hang out, chat, and be amused, and I want to do more of this.

We had an amazing team in the Assembly Rooms – alongside Nils and Stephen, we had Lou Pulford (who writes as Penny Blake) Craig Hallam, multimedia genius Yoms, Jade Sarson who makes beautiful comics, Chris Mole of Professor elemental Comics and Brigantia, Super-minion and MC James Weaslegrease and creator of fabulous devices Ian Crichton. Plus partners, and children. An excellent set of people to spend a weekend with!

Those of you who follow this blog or follow me on social media will recognise many of these names. It may look to a casual glance that what I do is advance my friends. What really happens is that I find people whose work I love and who I want to support, and become friends with them. I believe in creating opportunities and holding permeable edges, and letting people in. I’ll make space where I can for people doing excellent work and putting forward fine ideas.


The fantasy beach body

When ‘beach body’ gets mentioned, you can normally expect body shaming and very narrow definitions of beauty to follow. Ageism is likely as well. Rather than doing any of that, I want to subvert the idea of the beach body by inviting people to imagine their ideal beach form in much wilder terms. This isn’t a totally original thought – I saw something go by on social media a few weeks ago.

I posted this notion to facebook yesterday and the responses were glorious – lots of takers for going to the beach as a dog, or with a mermaid tail. Quite a few people wanting gills and sun proofing. I also really liked the suggestions of going as a bird – for ease of getting there as well as being well suited to paddling if you go for a wader.

I’m not sure about gills for myself – in part because I fancy the idea of a long trunk, and being able to stand under the water and raise my trunk like a periscope, and just be there. Apparently I want to be some kind of costal elephant, with a hide tough enough to deal with both sun and sand.

I think properly foolish daydreaming is a good and necessary thing. I’m very much in favour of letting the mind wander around sweet and whimsical notions, and playing with possibilities. There’s a way of gently stretching my creative muscles, and playing and making room for ideas to come in. I am unlikely to achieve any dramatic revelations by imagining my ideal beach identity, but there is charm in it. If you want to speculate wildly in the comments, please do!


Beauty and the beholder

Beauty in nature takes so many forms. An old, gnarled tree is beautiful. A barren landscape (if natural) can have its own stark beauty. Meandering rivers are beautiful. Woods and fields, hills, mountains, marshes, dunes – all have their own beauty. Insects, mammals, fish and birds are beautiful. Toadstools are beautiful. We all have our favourites, but no one will troll you on twitter for the size of the hare’s thighs, or the stomach shape of a manatee. Even the least tree-friendly people don’t try to make claims about the trees being ugly.

People are a whole other thing. We look at each other harshly. This is absolutely a white northern hemisphere thing. I expect Australia and New Zealand work the same way. We denigrate people who don’t conform to narrow white standards of beauty. There’s plenty of scope for racism in the mix here. Ageism is absolutely part of it – not looking like an adult is a key part of what we treat as beautiful in women. That’s rather creepy. Men are allowed some signs of maturity, but must maintain youthful standards in teeth and muscles at the very least.

Not only do we judge each other, but we shame each other for not looking like photoshopped magazine articles. I grew up feeling completely unlovable because I was not considered an attractive child. It’s something I carry with me still, and probably always will to some degree. It is a difficult thing to go into the world with a body and face that you do not think other people will be able to put up with. Or that you fear they will reject. I’m aware that I’m passably symmetrical, I have all the usual facial features and body parts in reasonable working order and conventional configuration. I’m aware that my reasons for anxiety are entirely about how I’ve been treated, and that there must be many people who are less conforming than me and have greater reasons for anxiety about how their faces will be judged.

On the flip side, I’ve also had the experience of being told that I am devastatingly sexually attractive. So attractive, that I could hardly expect a man to control his behaviour around me. So attractive that my body could cause him to do things he had no control over. I was told I could hardly blame him for that. While generally feeling unattractive has been a lifelong discomfort, the idea of being so attractive that no one can be held responsible for what they do to me, is terrifying. Even though I know it’s a disgusting, responsibility avoiding lie. These days, I’m married to someone who can express attraction without any need to harm me at all, and it puts the past into perspective. The damage remains.

When it comes to how I see other people, I’m much more interested in the beauty a person creates, than the accident of their appearance. Most of how we look, we have limited control over. I like how kindness looks on a person. I like laughter and warmth, compassion and friendship acting on a body. I like how a person’s eyes look when they love whatever they’re looking at. Bodies expressing themselves joyfully are beautiful. People sharing their creativity, enjoying their clothing, or their own skin, are beautiful. The only qualities I find ugly in a person are meanness and cruelty and things of that ilk.


Dreams of houses

What we dream, and what we daydream can tell us a lot about what we want and where we are in life. I’ve been house hunting in my dreams for some years now. At the moment, I live in a two bedroom flat. Possibly in the future I will be able to change this. Most of my ambitions revolve around being able to live somewhere different – because much as I love this flat, it doesn’t really do what I need.

I dream about having more space – currently the living room is also the dining room, studio, writer’s shed, study space, storage space and spare bedroom. It would be easier to do all the things if we were a bit less cramped. I can sit half a dozen people before it gets uncomfortable and we can’t all sit at the table to eat, then. I daydream about a kitchen big enough to take a kitchen table where I could gather all of my friends and feed them.

I would love to have more space for creatures, and space to accommodate other people at need. Or perhaps permanently if they want to. I want to be able to take in friends who find themselves between homes, or otherwise in awkward straits. I want to be able to do something similar with cats. I want to be able to make a sanctuary, a haven, a place of respite and comfort for myself and others.

I would love to have a garden, where I could make homes for wild things, and grow veg and fruit, and just sit out. I have daydreams about orchards, and donkeys, and beehives.

When I dream at night about houses, it all gets a bit surreal. One had a vast basement full of antique furniture and pianos. Another was permeable, and was in a wood but the wood was also in the house, and there was a totoro – a Japanese wood spirit. This would definitely be a house to live in, and I crave those more permeable spaces where you aren’t quite inside or outside.

The daydream of a house is much more than a building, it’s about relationships and what can be shared. It’s about who I want to share such a space with, who I picture sat at the kitchen table, and how I want to live in such a space. I don’t believe that I can make it happen by simply wishing it so, but if I know exactly what I want, I have a better shot at moving towards it.