Category Archives: Observations

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.

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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 https://stroudbookfestival.org.uk/event/tom-nim-brown/  – 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.


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.


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.