Category Archives: Observations

The trouble with countries

I’m not a big fan of countries as a way of organising and getting things done. I mention this in case we ever get opportunities for a radical restructure.

For a lot of purposes, a country is too small a unit to be useful. Many issues cross borders – pollution, crime, climate change, rising sea levels, food security, war, refugees from war and climate disasters, extinction, human rights. These are all things that do not care about borders, can’t be controlled or stopped at borders and where the actions of individual countries aren’t enough.

For many other things, the modern country is too big a unit to be of much use. In the UK (a small country compared to many others) we see routinely how a government operating out of London fails to grasp or pay attention to the issues of everywhere that isn’t the south east. Taking the economy of the country as a whole, for example, means that The City of London money moving operations can make it look like our economy as a whole is healthy. Meanwhile, in most of the rest of the country, local economies are in poor shape. I expect larger countries suffer bigger distortions than this.

Most of us feel remote from politics. We aren’t a big part of the decision making process most of the time. Every few years we get the option to replace the current set of suits with a different set of suits. Sometimes it seems there’s not much to choose between suits. For most people, it’s difficult to tell as well where relevant power is held, and that’s alienating. We have a lot of layers of government – parish councils, town, district, and county as well as country are all in theory democratic, all spending money on behalf of the people. All making decisions that radically impact on our lives, and on the options available to the tiers below them in this political structure.

I don’t know what a meaningful unit of organisation for political purposes would be, but I am entirely convinced that modern countries are way too big. We end up with these crazy stories about national identity that are supposed to bond us to a vast number of people – most of whom we have nothing in common with. These stories are increasingly used to make us resent other people for no good reason. I’d like to be part of a much smaller unit, held securely to world standards. It wouldn’t be perfect because nothing is, but it might be more relevant, accountable and meaningful.


Glass Herons and donations

A glass heron is a creature native to Hopeless Maine. Like most of the resident life forms, they’re a bit… odd.

There’s a glass heron front right in the image above and a second at the back and to the left.

Some time ago, in a fit of enthusiasm, I added a glass heron level over at Patreon. All of my Patreon levels are based on Hopeless Maine creatures, so at $1 there’s small things in bottles, and $5 is the splendid Dustcat level. They are about the size of a cat. I’m writing the dustcats a book about dustcats. I’m not the best when it comes to self promotion, so I put up the glass heron (size of a heron, give or take) and didn’t really spend much time telling people it was there. At glass heron level, you get things in the post – at least four times a year. Tom and I between us generate a lot of small things that can be posted, like cards, and dustcat books, little originals, handwritten things.

This week I was very excited to find that my first glass heron had sauntered in. There is a lot of validation for me in people liking what I do enough that they want to throw money at me. Not least because I appreciate that most of us don’t have a lot of spare cash to chuck about, so the decision to support creativity is a big deal.

Money is, simply, a great enabler. I’m living within my means, which are small. Extra cash means being able to afford research books, the odd course, getting to things that inspire me. Doing events as a creator costs money and you don’t always make it back – I’ve lost money on two events in the last year. Doing a print run for something like a dustcat book costs money. It’s a lot less stressful doing this sort of thing when you aren’t also obliged to carefully count the pennies. I’ve got very talented friends who should be getting their work out there and can’t afford to invest in it. I want to be able to help them with printing costs.

I like the gift economy angle with Patreon. I put free things into the world – here, on, on my youtube channel, my Sage Woman blog column. I write regularly for Pagan Dawn and for the PF international. No one pays me for these things because there’s no money with which to pay.  Pagan magazine publishing does not make anyone rich. I know what it’s like to have no budget for fun stuff, and what a difference free, online content makes in that scenario. Now that I can afford to, I do buy books and music, and tickets for gigs, I support the creative economy as best I can. In turn, people who like what I do and who can afford to support me are doing so, and it really helps me make ends meet and feel like it’s worth carrying on.

Money of course is not the only thing to have that effect. Likes, shares, reblogs, comments, sharing my stuff on social media – these things cost nothing and they have a massive impact on me from one day to the next. At my lowest points when I’ve not known how to keep going in the desperately difficult economic environment of ‘creative industry’ it’s been this blog, the support here and the comments that have kept me moving and saved me from despair. That’s gift economy in action, too.

So, here’s a question. I’ve been wondering about putting a donate button of some sort on the blog. I appreciate that the commitment to regular Patreon funding is going to be too much for many people. A donate button is more like being able to throw small change in the pot when you have it. Would that be a thing? If you think you might like to chuck a dollar in a virtual hat now and then, can you let me know? No commitment required, just I want a sense of how people feel about this. If everyone following this blog chucked a dollar in the hat once a year, it would change my life radically. I’m also at the kind of level where small sums of money make a difference. I’ve resisted the idea of a donate button for a long time because I want people to feel comfortable about having things for free. I choose to give this stuff away, and I hate it when people tell me things are free and then demand a five pound donation… so I’m not doing that. Thoughts?

Low energy, decent output

Recently, Jen over at Liminal Luminous blogged about the problem with the perceived need to work long hours in order to be successful. As a person with limited energy, Jen obviously struggles with this and it struck me that I might be able to speak to this in a useful way. So, here is what I know.

Firstly, take the time to define success. Is it just about money? Success can mean best outcomes, quality of life, friendship, doing inherently rewarding work. Once your physical needs are met, more money doesn’t confer significantly more happiness anyway.

Secondly, most of us – even the entirely healthy people – are only really good for about four hours a day. You may not be able to manage four. Work out how many hours you are likely to have of high quality output. Once you get beyond those hours, the quality and speed of what you can do, will diminish. People tell themselves that they’re working hard when they’re working long hours. The odds are for much of that time, they are working tired, inefficient and not capable of their best thinking. Long wasted hours are of no use. Be clever. Make the most of your best time and then rest.

None of us can work flat out all the time. Whatever you do, you need time to re-charge, and to let your mind chew on things in an unstructured way. I don’t have good ideas while I’m busy working. I have good ideas when I’m walking, crafting, and cleaning. I work more effectively when I have a coherent plan, considered goals, a sense of direction and new ideas. I don’t get those by trying to work all the time, I have to make quiet space for them. If I’m not well rested, I’m not able to work.

Being uber-busy is not sustainable. Sooner or later, you burn out, or crack up, or get sick. Again, this is as much an issue for people who started out well as it is for the rest of us. Burning out, cracking up, getting sick, succumbing to anxiety and depression… these are not things that improve your productivity or bring success. Being ill is not a winning outcome. Being too ill to keep going is not a winning move either. Plan for the long term, and remember that your health – mental and physical – is also a measure of success. For some of us, simply staying viable is an epic win. If you trash your health for the sake of money, you are not going to be successful in the medium to long term.

The trick is pacing. Know your limits and you can make the best use of what you’ve got without pushing yourself into dysfunction. If you’re going to be self employed as a person with chronic illness or energy problems, then there are ways to make it more viable. It might sound blindingly obvious, but you have to focus on what you can do rather than what exhausts you. There’s no point aspiring to be a paid youtuber if sitting in front of a camera wipes you out. Look at what your body and mind can sustain. Ask what you can do most effectively in the time available to you. Look for the resources, platforms and opportunities that suit how you can actually work, not how you think you’re supposed to work.

Being an overnight success takes years. It takes most businesses three years to starting breaking even and moving towards profit. If your primary cost is your own time, you can do better than that. The temptation of course is to try and speed up your profit making by throwing more hours at it, but that isn’t a sure fire solution.

I reliably have four hours a day, often more but with that extra being less clever, plus uncertainty as to how much more from day to day. I do the most important bill paying work over four mornings a week. I do the more speculative stuff in the afternoons. I get far more done now than I used to when I was trying to work eight hour days and more. We get by financially, and I am far less ill than I was because I have more time for self care.

Including the awkward hands

I’ve never been able to hold a pen properly. Pretty much all of my joints bend the wrong way under pressure, and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve known there was a word for this – hypermobility – and that it is something to guard against. Bending a joint the wrong way hurts it and does it no good at all, but I’ve spent much of my life encouraged to think of body pain as something I shouldn’t make a fuss about.

Going through school, my handwriting was always an issue and there were repeated rounds to correct my pen hold – the pen hold that makes it possible and not too uncomfortable to hold a pen. The backward bending fingers were strangely invisible to the people who wanted to correct me. I had problems with music as well – I could never hold my hands in the correct way for piano playing, could not hold a violin or a violin bow in the approved way either. I expect I lost marks for that on every exam I took.

Our lives are full of assumptions about what is normal, what everyone should be able to do, and what is proper. The right ways to hold knives and folks and teacups. The right kinds of things to do with your body in a gym. For much of my childhood, I had no idea that what happens with my joints isn’t normal, and that the discomfort, through to pain I experienced was a real issue. I was just expected to act like everyone else. Hold the violin properly. I’ve always been clumsy and I only recently found out that goes with the hypermobility and is not some kind of personal failing.

I write this not as an exercise in self pity, but as a small example of how miserable it is when people fail to recognise and accommodate difference. All too often, we ask people to bend themselves into the normal shape, not how we can adapt what’s going on to allow them to participate on their own terms.

There is so much diversity in how people experience the world. How we think and feel, how we move and what we can do with our bodies. The ‘normal’ person probably doesn’t even exist. The degree to which we can pass ourselves off as being the normal person, does.

I don’t know if music exams have changed in the last twenty years – they might have done. Perhaps they are more accepting of innate differences in bodies and students who cannot play while making the standard shapes with their bodies. I was never a great musician, but I was ok. Music was, and remains, important to me. A person who wants to play shouldn’t, surely, be put off and marked down for having a body that does not allow them to hold an instrument in the classically acceptable way.

Folk music of course doesn’t have formal holds, or exams, and it does not reject any needs (or for that matter eccentricities) that a person brings to their playing. It is possible to have good quality music that includes. It is possible to have good quality anything that includes, if there is a will to accommodate rather than asking people to conform to sometimes impossible standards.

My life with books

One of my many hats, is that of book publicist. It’s work I’m proud of, and also work I think it might be useful to talk about. As an author, and as a person with lots of friends who are authors, I know quite a lot about the publishing industry. The bigger a company you deal with, the more they look for a sure fire win. They want books that are an easy sell. Most Pagan authors would not be able to get their non-fiction work picked up by a major publisher. Or their Pagan fiction for that matter.

For me, it’s always been a case of trying to identify really good books and then get those books in front of the people who would appreciate them. I think this is what the publishing industry should be about – getting great reads to people. Most of the time it isn’t. My friends Phil and Jacqui can’t get a deal – editors love their work, but Matlock the Hare is about a talking hare, and talking animals are children’s books and these are not children’s books and therefore it cannot be done. They are one example among many.

The average book sells three thousand copies in its lifetime. A bestseller is a book that sells more than five thousand copies. Over at Moon Books, Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess – a book about ritual descent and shadow work, has sold over ten thousand copies. This is not the sort of book that many publishers would have taken forward, and yet, the numbers tell a different story. Some time next year Morgan Daimler’s introduction to The Morrigan is also going to pass the ten thousand mark for sales. I take great pride in helping promote these books. What really sells them is that they are excellent and needed.

I’ve seen repeatedly that an original book in a definable niche can actually do better than something that looked like a box ticking crowd pleasing sure fire thing. Forgive me if I don’t name names and ask you to take that on trust.

The author who knows who, specifically they are writing for can do a lot better than the one who imagines they are writing for everyone.

For folk on the literary side, there can be something distasteful about having to consider the lowly business of actually selling the books. The book is published, and then by magic, should sell itself by dint of its obvious literary merit. Again, I’ve seen it done and I won’t name names. The kinds of books that get listed for literary prizes have often only sold a few hundred copies before they make the list. This frustrates and annoys me. If you believe something is good, surely it makes sense to do everything you can to get it in front of people who will appreciate it?

I can say with confidence that when good books sell, good things happen for the authors who created them. The morale boost of a few thousand sales versus a few hundred is considerable.

Moon Books has proved repeatedly that a book doesn’t have to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, or an obvious easy sell in order to be massively successful. All you have to do is figure out who is going to want to read a book and get it in front of them. I see my comics publisher – Sloth Comics – doing the same thing. Sloth publishes quirky comics, and then gets out there and sells them to people. That’s not a quick or an easy process, but it is possible. I think the same must be true of anything else good, well made, beautiful, thoughtful, or worth having.

We live in a world where the norm is to make cheap throwaway things, pile them high, sell them as fast as you can and move onto the next one. I know, because I’m part of a company that does it, that other ways are available. I know there are plenty enough people out there who want substance and quality, originality and beauty. I feel no shame in trying to sell to those people so that good authors are paid for their work and encouraged to keep going.

You’re normal, you’re fine

“You’re fine,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with your sexuality.” He meant well, and went on to tell me that I was a perfectly normal straight woman with a perfectly normal body. I was in my twenties and it was the first time I’d seriously tried to talk to anyone about being bisexual and gender-odd. I didn’t have any words like genderqueer or genderfluid to help me. The one thing I didn’t need was to be tided back into the hetro-normative perfectly cis box, but he was trying to help.

When who you are doesn’t match with who you appear to be, there can be a sense of loss, of invisibility, erasure, loneliness, not belonging.

I like long hair on men as well as women, I have curves. Making my body look gender-fluid would require me to do things that would feel like I was putting on a show, not being authentically myself. I don’t want to arrange my appearance to fit in with other people’s ideas about what someone like me should look like. I also don’t want to ‘pass’ as entirely straight and gender-uncomplicated. I wear what I wear, picking the things that make me physically and emotionally comfortable.  That tends to mean leggings and either shirts or t-shirts. I wear skirts and dresses a lot because I hate having navel to thighs on display, I’m painfully self conscious in trousers mostly. Rare are the days when I’m ok about that section of me being easy to look at.

We put each other into little boxes all the time. We make judgements based on age, race, clothing, bling, makeup – or the absence thereof. We use clothing to signal identity, the cultures we belong to, status, wealth. I find it difficult when clothing is that loaded. I just want to be at a reasonable temperature, able to bend very without anxiety, able to move freely, and generally more obscured than not.

Alongside the clothes assumptions, we all have stories about what other ways of being mean. I’ve seen people recoil in disgust over polyamoury as a concept. There are still people out there who think all forms of queerness are aberrations, unnatural, deviant choices and problems to be fixed.  There are people who will take my bisexuality to mean ‘can’t make up my mind’ or ‘greedy’ and there are people who, if I try to talk about lack of gender identity, will just tell me I’m being silly.

People are not, on the whole, terribly good at accepting that other people are not like them and that there’s no problem inherent in the difference. My bisexuality is not a rejection of heterosexuality, or an attack on it – this is simply who I am. To fit into some people’s stories, I will be labelled as a problem, and there are plenty of people who would be quick to put me back in the hetro box and think they’ve done me a favour.

On the whole I feel that I shouldn’t need to advertise who I am. In an ideal world, people would not assume they could infer my preferences or identity by looking at who I’m with or how I dress. In an ideal world, people wouldn’t think it was an issue unless they were angling to get in my pants. In an ideal world, there would be no default assumption about what a normal person is, we’d just not worry about it, and be interested in a friendly way about our friends, and nothing more.

Being fast and slowing down

This isn’t my first blog about slower living, it is an idea that has interested me for years. I like life in the slow lane, walking for transport, reading, not being up to date with all the latest gadgets, not keeping up with everything via my phone. I like not rushing and feeling pressured. But, there’s a technical problem and it’s taken me until now to get my head round it.

Slow me down, and I go faster.

Over the course of this weekend off, I started work on a new steampunk outfit, I planned a handful of blogs, decided to try a collaborative project, figured out a new social thing I want to organise, had some big ideas about book events in Stroud, and got a lot of reading done. My weekend off was intensely productive. This is usually how it goes. If I take time off, slow down, don’t aim to do anything, the ideas start moving and I can end up doing far more productive stuff than I would have done had the day been structured and deliberately workish.

For years I’d been feeling this as a kind of slow-fail. I can’t do nothing. I’m useless at it. Leave me doing nothing and I’ll hatch some epic and totally workable scheme. This weekend, while ostensibly doing nothing but really doing a lot, I came to the conclusion that I’m no longer prepared to have a problem with this. It is simply how I am.

So, with all of that in mind, my aim at the moment is to keep my planned workishness to four mornings a week, and keep the rest of my time unstructured and slow, and give myself permission to do whatever comes along. I have noticed that I’m at my most productive when I have plenty of time to read, think, stare out of the window, go for walks and so forth. I don’t get the ideas if I don’t have the time and space. If I try to be disciplined about my work, the quality of my output dwindles rapidly. And equally, if my slowness makes me faster, I’m not going to relate to that as a slow-fail anymore.

Reputation damage and calling out abuse

Trigger warnings – rape

A deliberate attack on your reputation from a false accusation of abuse is a terrible thing to have to deal with. I’m not speaking hypothetically here, I’ve experienced it. Alongside this, I see routinely in mainstream culture the idea that an attack on a man’s reputation is as bad, if not worse than an attack on a woman’s body. We don’t take people seriously when they claim to be abused – especially women and children – because they might be making it up as a way of attacking someone – usually a famous and powerful man. The people with the most scope, power and opportunity to abuse are the ones whose ‘reputation damage’ is often taken most seriously. It may be more about power than gender in essence, but power and masculinity still align more often than not.

Reputation damage hurts. There will always be people who want to believe the worst of you, and people with axes to grind who take it as an opportunity. Which you may or may not deserve. A reputation can be a key thing not only in terms of your personal relationships, but your professional life. Your job, your scope to pay the bills, your place in society may all hang on your reputation, and a loss of reputation can have a very high price tag.

I’ve seen two guys who were friends of mine deal with rape accusations. One was proved innocent because physical evidence taken at the time in no way matched the accusations. He went through a great deal of stress and anxiety, followed by relief and getting over it. Another friend dealt with accusations that were directed towards his work life, and not to the police. I saw him sickened and distraught, and it cost him dearly, and he survived. I suspect it has changed his behaviour in some ways, but it certainly didn’t ruin his life or damage any of his closest relationships. False accusations happen, and they certainly do cause a lot of pain and misery. I know far more people who have been raped and assaulted than I know people who have had to fend off a false accusation.

I’ve spent time with a lot of women who have experienced rape and assault. I was there one morning when another woman came in covered in bruises from the night before. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories. Most rapes do not involve strangers with weapons, they involve someone you trusted enough to let get close. Friends. Partners, Husbands. Rarely first dates, but sometimes that. It’s not just the physical assault that does damage, but the absolute betrayal of trust. Some victims will never get over what happened to them. Some victims will die, because assaults of all kinds can prove fatal.

Assaults on reputation tend not to prove fatal.

Knowing perfectly well that false accusations happen, and are damaging, I still believe firmly that the default response to an accusation of any kind of abuse, is to listen and take it seriously. As individuals, we are not equipped to deal with these kinds of accusations, what we need to do is actively support victims and get the police involved, and get it investigated. Most rape allegations don’t result in court cases because unless the physical evidence is collected quickly, it is just one person’s word against another, and impossible to prove the way our courts work. But, police involvement can persuade someone that what they did is rape, and wasn’t ok, and isn’t a good idea. It can persuade them they may not get away with it next time. If a person stacks up enough rape allegations, the odds increase of it being taken seriously. The same is true with other kinds of assault as well.

The really problematic false accusations are not the ones made against powerful men, but the ones used to keep victims under the thumb. My go-to example here is the man shouting ‘you’re abusing me’ while breaking his partner’s bones. A short version of a true story. I’ve witnessed this done – where a bully attacks a victim and then plays the victim and draws people around into supporting them. As a quiet witness to one of these I was able to put the lie to it, but many bullies are cleverer than that, and don’t make their methods quite so obvious.

It is better to take allegations of bullying and physical assault seriously than to ignore them. It is better that someone take reputation damage than that bullying and assault go unchecked. It is as well to look closely, because in situations of abuse you can be sure someone will be lying, and it isn’t always obvious as to who.  Most often, victims are frightened and seeking safety, whereas people making false accusations will present demands and seek revenge.

I’m still dealing now and then with the fallout from being accused of bullying. At the time, I did not put in a lot of work defending my reputation. I spent a lot of time pointing out how important it is to take bullying accusations seriously and not just sweep it under the carpet and pretend everything is fine.  It was a strange, and deeply ironic situation to be in. I don’t regret my choices. Having experienced both abuse, and reputation damage, I can say with confidence that abuse is life destroying, whereas reputation damage is unpleasant, and that risk of damage to reputation should not be the priority issue, ever.

Into the Gallery

Those of you who have been here for a little while may have already seen the blog on The Hopeless Maine Arts and Crafts Movement and Fluffy Doom. Tom and I have been working for months now, alongside all the regular work we do, getting ready for a Hopeless Maine show as part of Stroud Book Festival. We’re setting up on Monday, Lansdown gallery will be open Tuesday through to Sunday, and on Saturday night we’re in Lansdown Hall with a show in the evening as well.

The canny amongst you will have noticed that this means a seven day working week with a late night near the end of it. There was so much to do this week, that although I can take some of this weekend off, I’m going to have to spend some of Sunday packing and sorting ahead of the setup. I’ve had a lot of extra work to do trying to get ahead on all the stuff I normally do in a week, and even so I’ll have to get up at seven and put in two hours of normal work before I hit the gallery each day.

This last week has been full of anxiety, stress, triggering, panic attacks and waking up in the wee small hours and being sleep deprived. I took yesterday afternoon off and walked, and it has cleared my head a bit, but by no stretch of the imagination am I in good shape going into this.

It’s going to be tough. I hope it’s going to be worth it. By Tuesday of this week, no tickets had been sold for the show, and other book festival events were in the same boat. Partly it’s because people buy tickets later at the moment. I assume it’s about the weather, and wanting to be sure you can go before you commit. Less money to throw around must be a factor. Stroud is also prone to people rolling up about five minutes after the thing started and buying a ticket on the door. But still, it’s a stressful situation to be in.

Also of course, like every promoter, every event, every publisher and music label and thing of that ilk… all the advance promotion went on the big names who least needed the advanced promotion and there is no budget for marketing. I never cease to be amazed by the number of activities that have a budget, but consider promotion to either be a luxury extra or not worth paying for. This approach becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, in which the not so famous are proved not to be worth it, so either get even less space, or even less promotion next time. It’s happening across the board in creative industries.

I hope, in a small way, to buck the trend, but it means having to do a lot of promotion work alongside actually putting together the gallery show and the evening show. That’s also increasingly the size of it for anyone not famous enough that their name alone won’t sell whatever they were doing. Most creative people now have to do most of the work involved in selling whatever it is that they do. Where big companies are involved, profits go to shareholders, while the creator who is both creating and doing all the promotion work, is the last person to get paid.

If you’re in striking distance and want to come along, here’s the webpage for the evening event  – you can just turn up to the gallery.

Fantasy futures and the unprofessional author

This week saw Philip Pullman in the Telegraph pointing out that it is now nigh on impossible to make a living as an author. The book industry in the UK is worth billions, but it can’t pay its creators enough to live on. I talk about this a lot because it is unjust, and unfair, and not good. But, all of those things said, I’ve mixed feelings about the idea of full time professionally creative people.

Problem number one is that full time creativity you can make a living from has always been for the few, not the many. It is easier to get into the arts if you are white, male, well educated and financially supported by your family when you start out. Recent years have seen our Tory government telling poor kids in state schools that creative jobs are not for them. Private schools encourage their kids to consider creative industries. There have been complaints levelled recently that the BBC isn’t representative in much the same way.

I don’t fancy a system where the chosen few get paid oodles of dosh to create while the majority of us are cogs in the machine and designated consumers. People at the top of their industries can get huge advances, huge booking fees and so forth leaving only a tiny pot for everyone else. I’m not a fan.

I also know from experience that being creative full time can put an enormous pressure on your creativity. It’s nice not to have to make all of your creative work pay, to have the freedom to play, explore, develop ideas, be creative!

To be creative a person needs time, space, energy and resources. As it stands many of us work other jobs and then create as best we can in our spare time. This is not an approach likely to lead to excellence, or that means it will take us all far longer to become as good as we could be.

So, my fantasy future notions then. I think we should all be working (those of us who can work) at least some hours every week doing things that are needed. And everyone, everyone who wants it should have the time to develop creative interests. Some people will want to do other things – physical skills, personal development, fitness etc – and we should all have the scope to find whatever balance suits us. We should all have the opportunity to learn an instrument, write a book, study photography or whatever it is.

My suspicion is (and my basis for thinking this is what seems to happen in Iceland) is that more people with more time to create would actually result in more people sharing creativity and being financially viable while doing so.