Category Archives: Observations

Not all dogs

Not all dogs outside are free to just run at a cat. Not all dogs would, on getting to a cat, savage it. But some do. I’ve heard awful stories of cats killed outright by dogs, and cats left with lifelong injuries after dog attacks. I’ve been there for times when loose dogs ran at my cat. It isn’t friendly, it’s frightening.

We’re used to dogs dominating in public spaces. So many people treat dogs chasing cats as normal, natural behaviour that they clearly feel they should make no effort to deal with it. Not so long ago I watched a loose dog in a park hurtle off after a cat and chase it out onto a road. Luckily no one was hurt.

Not all dogs bite people. Most don’t. But the dog that runs at you may be big enough to knock you down if you are small, or your balance isn’t good. You don’t know, as it runs at you, whether it will bite you, or your cat, or if it might gouge your flesh when it jumps up. A large dog scrabbling at your body can tear clothing and draw blood.

Loose dogs in public spaces are normal. Dogs that seem aggressive to people who do not know the dog, are among us. Dogs whose behaviour is problematic for people, and cats who also want to use the space. But the aggressive dog paired with the indifferent owner can and will dominate the space and as a worried person, or a cat, you can run away or try to protect yourself, but what you can’t do is demand that the space be made safer for you.

The gender parallels are pronounced. To be in a public space with a female body is a lot like being a cat. To be gender non-conforming, to stand out in some way, to be unusual, is to be a cat. Not all dogs will go after you, but you can’t always tell by looking. 

I think the majority of people reading this blog would find it easy to understand why dogs need to be kept under careful control. I don’t think anyone would imagine that being a cat somehow makes it ok to be chased, frightened, bitten or maybe killed. But we still talk about female safety in terms of clothing choices, and not going out at night. Having a female body is not so very different from having a cat body – neither body is a justification for violence. Neither body is asking for it, ever.


Sharing my inspiration

Regular readers will know that I’ve been sharing a lot of art by Dr Abbey in recent months and that most weeks I put up a piece we’ve collaborated on. There’s a lot more going on in the background as we’re working on several much larger projects that will also involve Tom in the future. (For those of you who don’t stalk me thoroughly enough to know the details, Tom is my husband and co-creator on the Hopeless Maine graphic novels).

In recent months, Abbey has quite simply been my muse. I’ve had a lot of years struggling creatively, being short of ideas and energy and not getting much written. Working with Abbey has changed that dramatically. He has more ideas than I know what to do with. Most days he sends me new art he’s working on, and ideas to explore. He’s opened doors inside my head and has helped me find my way back to wanting to create, and to feeling excited about what I do. I’d missed that, and I’ve been missing it for a long time.

I’m always happiest when I’m creating with people rather than on my own, and I’ve been blessed with some fabulous creative collaborators along the way. Abbey is more than that, and has taught me a great deal about how to be myself, a process that has changed me in the last few years. Thanks to him I have a much clearer sense of who I am and where I need to be going, and a better understanding of where my creativity fits in all of that. 

Up until now, Abbey has done most of his creative sharing on Facebook, aside from what shows up here and on the Hopeless Maine blog. He’s now striking out with a ko-fi page, which means it’s easier to make his work visible to people. One of the (many) nice things about ko-fi is that you can follow people to see what they do. If you’ve found the collaborative pieces here interesting then I heartily recommend following Dr Abbey on ko-fi so that you can see and engage with more of his work.

Wander this way… https://ko-fi.com/abbeymasahiro


Becoming a swamp goblin

The opportunity to grow old is itself a privilege that many people will not have. But, it brings with it all kinds of things that won’t be privileges, particularly the increasing risk of illness and disability. Your life expectancy, and your quality of life as an older person will be very much informed by your wealth.

For much of human history, life expectancy was about thirty years. So here I am in my mid forties, ancient by the standards of most of my ancestors, middle aged by modern standards, and wondering what lies ahead. After a year of relentless health problems, I feel much older than I am. Thanks to those same health problems, I also don’t look it. Hypermobility often gifts people with younger looking skin, while taking away mobility. 

If you’re female-presenting, aging is traditionally a process of becoming invisible and irrelevant. There are no road maps for aging non-binary people. The menopause is cheerfully increasing my chances of growing a beard, while thinning my head hair. It’s not a very sexy take on being nonbinary, but its what I’ve got. I may have to rethink my visual presentation. I may not bother.

I’m not one of those people who will wonder if, as an older person, they will dare to wear purple. I’ve always been fairly outlandish. I’m thinking more in terms of swamp-goblin for my future self. I’m not really cute cottage-core granny material, I’m definitely on more of a scary witch in the forest trajectory. I have no intention of aging with dignity or grace, and I hope I can get more outspoken, outlandish and unreasonable as I go.

I’m fortunate in that I have spaces where my getting older will not disappear me. Writing is traditionally the work of older people, so long as I can jab a keyboard or mutter into a device, I can tell stories. The steampunk community is an all ages one and will allow me to be as outlandish as I like. The Pagan scene is pretty good at including older people even if the visuals are still far too focused on the sexy young women. As a swamp goblin, I shall be able to work on this. 

I’ve run into goblin-core as a concept and I like it greatly. Embrace the decay, the autumn, the mess. Embrace the toadstools and the cemeteries, the spiders, bugs and moths. It’s like goth, only it doesn’t call for being young and sexy – and there are increasing numbers of old goths who are no doubt moving towards more of a goblin aesthetic. 

As a child, I didn’t realise how far my maternal grandmother was from the pearl and twinset permed hair norms of old ladies at the time. She was colourful, her dress style was androgenous, she did what suited her. I’m lucky in that I have some sort of role model there. She kept going in every way she could, despite a body that was clearly very hard work to live in. She fought to keep her mind sharp and her life interesting. It’s a good set of things to aspire to.


Adapting to the new normal

One of the hardest things about being longer term ill, is adapting to the new limitations. It may feel like giving up. It may seem like you’re accepting that some things are gone forever, and that can hurt. But the thing about illness is that it won’t be cowed, or impressed by you fighting to hold onto your old life. It may well bite your arse for that. 

I’m wary of positivity, as it can do far more harm than good. But, when it comes to adapting, a somewhat positive outlook can help. Look at what you can keep, rather than what you have to let go. See your adaptations as ways of safeguarding your health and maximising your options for the future. You may have losses to grieve, but at the same time focus as much as you can on what is still possible, and make the best of it. Adapting to limitations is not a happy process, but trying to find the positives can help a lot with coping. Fending off despair is also important, because that just robs you of more options and gives nothing in return.

The last ten years or so have not been a smooth decline for me. I can’t walk as far as I used to – that’s been a dramatic shift in the last year. Shoulder damage means I can’t swim, or lift much. I am however sleeping better and this means late nights take less of a toll so I have more scope for events and a social life than I used to have. 

Having got the right kit in place, the massive problems my poor circulation used to cause are now minor problems. I’m in a lot less pain as a consequence. Using hand supports during work, I get less pain and inflammation. I’ve had to give up on musical instruments, but I can still write, sew, knit, colour things – I’ve kept more than I’ve lost. 

I rest more. This means I work more efficiently – I may be getting more done and more effectively at this point than I was five or ten years ago, because I think more about how to use my energy and I take more breaks. This has also helped with my mental health. Everything I’ve done to better handle my bodily limitations has also improved my mental health, or at least stopped it becoming any worse. 

The last year or so has been really tough, and I’ve done a lot of trying to understand why. Some of this I might be able to fix, or at least manage better. Some of it might be a new normal – I don’t know yet. What I do know is that the best thing I can do is figure out how to live within my limits. The more well I can be, the more options I have. Pushing to hold on to what I used to do is likely to make me more ill and take even more from me than I might otherwise lose. So, I have a constant fettling process about what I eat, how and when I rest, how and when I move, how I support my sleep… 

(Also, this isn’t a request for advice. All of the specific details about what I’m dealing with are deliberately absent from this post. If you don’t know me well enough to know about the various things I am dealing with, you don’t know me well enough to have much of a shot at offering unsolicited advice. Thank you)


A sense of self

This is me, onstage at Festival at the Edge this summer. The photo was taken by Allan Price, and I was there doing a Hopeless Maine set (more of that over here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2021/07/20/ominous-folk/ )

I love being on stage. There’s a bit of me missing when performance isn’t part of what I do. I freely admit to craving the applause. More than that, though, I want to surprise, delight, amuse and inspire. I’m happier in myself when I can get out there and entertain people.

During lockdown I’ve done a lot of soul searching. I’ve not felt like myself, and part of that has been about not having the sort of engagement with people that I can have in person. Being on a stage again, I’ve felt more like myself. 

It’s rare for me to have a photo that captures something of how I want to be seen, but this one does. I am clearly ridiculous, with my sparkly horns. I’m wearing the waistcoat I made and embroidered – an act of creativity I am deeply proud of. Eccentric, and unapologetic about that. I didn’t put this outfit together with the aim of looking non-binary, but in many ways it captures that side of myself too. I’m still trying to figure out what I need to look like to feel comfortable, and this is the first time I feel I’ve nailed it. Being fluid and shifty, I will clearly also need to look like other things.

Who we are is such a curious mix of things. What we seem like on the inside, what we deliberately present or hide, how people interpret that, how we feel about those responses, and what we do. So much of my sense of self depends on what I do, what I put into the world. In theory ‘be yourself’ sounds like it should be the easiest option. Trying to figure out what that would mean remains an important area of exploration for me. In this photo at least, I’ve seen someone I recognise and feel comfortable with, and that’s unusual for me.


Looking for experts

Anyone can go online and claim to be an expert. How do you tell who has an informed opinion and who is likely to be unreliable? As an expert in this field, I have made a list… 

Obviously I’m not an expert, but I have thought about this a lot. I read widely, which gives me a sense of how real experts present their information compared to fakes. Studying how language is used to get stuff done was intrinsic to my degree, and my marketing work, and remains vital for my writing.

So there’s my first example – I’m trying to give you some supporting evidence of my qualifications to talk on this subject. You can Google me and verify at least some of that. Also if you look me up you won’t find industry professionals saying things about how rubbish and unqualified I am. Yes, great thinkers are often misunderstood by their peers at the time, but being rubbished is not proof of being a great thinker, caution is advised!

An expert will tell you how they came by their information. They will provide links, or things you can easily look up. They will talk about data, percentages, and interpretations. They’ll quote source material so you could find it if you wanted to. There are no secret texts. There will be enough information that you could get in there and examine the basis of their argument to see if it holds up. A fake expert will make assertions about studies, data, evidence etc but won’t point you to it so you have no way of forming an opinion about their conclusions.

Experts are often cautious. They will say things like ‘the evidence suggests’ or ‘the probability is’. They’ll give you a percentage risk, or tell you how many people in a study responded in a certain way. There may be precise figures, but the interpretation will likely be more cautious, and they will tend to flag up flaws in the proceedings or reasons to be wary of the data. Science doesn’t tend to deliver 100% certainty – in fact it assumes that a 2% error margin is likely. Fake experts talk in certainties and proof. They make strong claims for what the evidence means, and they may not let you see the evidence. Their assertions will not be backed up by relevant and available data, because they are fake.

The more certain someone is, the less trustworthy they are. This is as true with Pagan and Spiritual folk as it is with conspiracy theorists. Your mileage may vary – so if a Pagan is talking about things that will definitely always work, definitely transform your life, and so forth, be cautious. The person who can acknowledge that complexity exists and outcomes can be probable but not certain, is wiser and more responsible than the person who thinks their thing is perfect for everyone.

The other thing to watch out for is your own bias. If someone is saying what you want to hear, you will automatically be more willing to believe them. We’re all vulnerable to that one, and it pays to be alert to it. We’re going to be persuaded by the things we wish to be persuaded by. Sometimes that’s harmless. Sometimes it puts us in considerable danger or makes us oblivious to toxic things we’re participating in. The hardest person to question is yourself, and your own motives.


Permission to be awkward

Like a lot of people, I grew up understanding the importance of being co-operative. Don’t make a fuss, don’t be difficult, don’t ask for what isn’t available. Like what you get. If I’m not paying attention, or feeling confident, I still default to whatever’s cheapest, whatever is most convenient for everyone else. It’s taken me a while as an adult to make the headspace to explore my own preferences. What do I want to wear? What do I prefer to eat? What don’t I like?

I’ve made some startling discoveries. I find loud food really stressful. I suspect I’ve always found it stressful, but I’ve never taken it seriously before. There are things I really don’t like having in my mouth because of how they sound. There are textures I don’t like. 

I don’t like bright light, the noise the strip lights make is stressful. I hate the hum of the desktop computer, I have a hard time sleeping if there’s any light source in the room. I’ve known for a while that there’s only so much noise and movement I can process before my brain has a bit of a meltdown. When I’m tired, I can’t figure out where the ground is by looking at it, which is awkward on non-flat surfaces. None of this is new.

I’ve given myself permission to be awkward. I’ve given myself permission to not like things, and to say no to things. To let go of things that don’t work for me. I’ve even given myself permission to say when I don’t like how a food sounds inside my mouth, or something else is bothering me. Having given myself that permission it is easier to pay attention to what’s happening to me, and to take some control of that. It’s taken me a while to figure out that I am allowed to do that, and no one minds.

There’s a class aspect in all of this. I think children from more affluent backgrounds tend to be allowed to be fussy, to have preferences, not like things, to want things. I think there was, and still is, more willingness to think that an affluent child may have a condition, need a diagnosis or special treatment or accommodations. When what there is, is what you can afford, a fussy child is a problem. A fussy child is going to have to get over it and eat what’s there because there isn’t anything else. You wear the hand-me-down clothes because that’s all there is, there’s no point having feelings or preferences about it. If you’re poor, you may not be allowed to be delicate, or sensitive. You may not be allowed to say no to things.

Being allowed to be awkward feels like a luxury, and looks like a privilege. I’m glad to have that now, and for the opportunities to be more comfortable that it will allow me.


Deep Work

This year I’ve radically changed how I work. Apparently there are terms for this! I’ve moved from a life dominated by shallow work, to one dominated by deep work and I’m slowly wrangling with the implications. 

Shallow work doesn’t take a vast amount of mental energy or creativity. I’ve spent many years cranking out social media content for money – which required concentration, but I can’t say was ever satisfying. It’s the kind of work that is never finished, there’s no closure on it, no markable points of achievement.

Deep work involves focus, commitment, and intensity. Over the last few months this has come to dominate my working time as I’m mostly writing and colouring. These are tasks that require a lot of concentration and attention. I’ve always had a good attention span, I can usually focus for an hour or more.

Shallow work was unsatisfying and I did get tired from it, and left feeling that I had no energy for anything more substantial. Even so, I could do far more of it in a day than I can of the deeper stuff. To be in a state of intense focus for three or four hours is about as much as I can do. I have to take more breaks. I have to be much more careful about feeding my brain with things that sustain it. I have to have more rest time. It is much more satisfying work, but it takes a toll.

There are balances to strike, clearly. I’m slowly finding out what I can sustain from day to day, and what I need to do to support myself if I’m working at high levels of intensity. I have to be more alert to body wellness, to food, to hydration, and the overall shape of my working week. I have to watch for my limits, because I can end up so tired that I can’t do anything at all, which means I can’t do anything restorative, which rapidly compromises my ability to show up for the deeper work.

I’ve worked all kinds of jobs along the way – often part time and alongside trying to work creatively. The marketing, social media work required a lot of attention and tracking information, but that’s a very different way of using my brain. When I’m pushing my thinking capacity to its limits in multiple ways in a day, that impacts on my whole life. I feel differently about myself. On the whole, it’s a better way to be, but I can’t model it on the norms of regular employment, office work, retail, front of house or any of the other kinds of stuff I’ve been doing. I can’t work long hours at high levels of intensity, it’s not sustainable. I’m having to rethink my life a bit to try and better accommodate these shifts.

I think my ideal life would involve a few hours of deep work each day, and a few hours of physical work – I have gardening fantasies. I think being able to ground myself in more practical things while my brain does what it does between bouts of more intense thinking, would suit me well. In the meantime, there are craft projects, and the ongoing quest for better balance.


The writing life

I thought it might be interesting to outline what I’m doing with my time at the moment…

I’ve got into a lovely routine where there’s often an hour between my getting up and my starting work. I use that time to think, drink coffee, sometimes I do some exercise. I approach the day slowly, rather than getting up and starting work, which used to be the way of it.

For the first hour or two, I write blogs – for this site and https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/ I also do assorted social media work. Up until February of this year, much of my day job was running Twitter accounts, but I’ve cut right back on that to make more space for other things.

At the moment I’m switching gear in the morning and becoming a colourist for an hour or two – I’m mostly working on the next graphic novel in the Hopeless Maine series. I work in pencils on paper, my husband does all the drawing which is all very old fashioned, but I like how much more texture and character you get that way.

On Wednesday mornings I sort out my Patreon content for the week, although I may have created the content on the previous day. Currently on Patreon there’s usually a poem each month, a section from a novel serialisation, a seasonal song and a Druid book in progress. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

On Mondays and Thursdays some of the afternoon goes to writing a Wherefore episode, these are recorded and shared on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can find series 3 here – https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDMpi5gY_L1KRrzTQDnQMhp It’s a sort of supernatural soap opera. Animism and comedy.

On Wednesday afternoons I’m working on a new Hopeless Maine project. At other times I’m also chipping away at world building for a new project and you can find that in the creative section of this blog.

Other, less regular things go into whatever spare time there is during the afternoons. That can mean magazine articles, reading review books, learning material, developing content for talks, doing things  to help and support friends – like reading early drafts of their novels…

It’s full on that the moment, I have to concentrate hard for extended periods. Happily, my natural concentration span is about an hour, and if I take breaks to move around, I can make that work.

This also represents quite a gentle pace compared to the kinds of workloads I’ve had at some points in the past. There was one autumn when I was working 7 different part time jobs…  At this point my life is a bit more coherent and not as difficult to organise as it has been. And still, I’m having to be deliberate at cutting myself slack for how long I can do some of these things for. I am uncomfortably aware that I expect to be able to work like a machine.  I know creative work isn’t simply about the ability to crank it out. I know I need rest time, thinking time, research time and inspiration to create well, but I still struggle with the way capitalism has colonized my head.


What do we inspire?

This question has been on my mind a lot in recent weeks, and I’ve had some interesting social media conversations around it as well. I have issues around not inspiring in people the things that I need and want.

A fellow Pagan with ongoing health issues talked about how difficult it is if you don’t inspire care in others. It took me a long time, several tattoos and a birth to decide that I don’t have a low pain threshold – as I’d always been told – and that I may be experiencing a lot of pain. That I’m able to do a lot can make it hard for people to see what I can’t do, or how much it might cost me. When people are convinced that you are robust and healthybut you aren’t, they may also be convinced that you’re making a fuss or being lazy. That doesn’t inspire care or kindness.

I was asked why I felt the onus was on me to inspire in the first place. I recognise that this is all tied up with feeling that I need to earn a place – that warmth and care for example, are not things I should assume would come my way, but that they have to be earned. I’m better than I was at not assuming all of my relationships will be about utility, because a number of people have gone to some deliberate effort to demonstrate otherwise. But still, it casts a long shadow. I expect to have to earn things and the flip side of this is that if I don’t get what I need in a situation, I tend to assume it’s my fault for not having been good enough in the first place.

There are always interesting questions to ask about where we assume power to be centred. People who feel that they have earned and are responsible for every good thing that comes their way can miss the roles of luck and privilege. People who feel responsible for the things that go wrong can miss the influence of bad luck and other people being unkind or unhelpful. It’s not easy territory in which to strike a healthy balance. We can divide along lines of people who think they are responsible for everything, and people who feel responsible for nothing. Some of us only own our good fortune and feel anything that goes wrong is not of our making. Others of us do the reverse, feeling to blame for any problem and setback, but grateful or lucky in face of anything going well.

What do we inspire? What should we expect from others? How much is a response to me a measure of who I am as a person? When I’m trying to think about this dispassionately, ideas like ‘deserve’ seem largely absurd. Who gets what they truly deserve? Probably no one. Does everyone deserve kindness, respect and a chance to explain when things go wrong? I think so, except I’m not good at applying it to me.

For much of my life, I’ve had an array of issues around what my face and body do or do not inspire in other people. I’ve been bullied a lot over how I look. I’ve had how I look used as a justification for doing all kinds of horrible things to me. The accident of my face and bone structure, the accident of a stomach that just doesn’t develop decent muscles no matter how I try. The accident of a body that stores calories when stressed… things I have little control over that have dominated a number of important relationships.

Perhaps it’s not about what’s intrinsic to me. Perhaps the bigger issue is the way people read meanings into bodies and then refuse to consider anything else. I don’t have a delicate bone structure. That’s not a measure of my overall health and wellbeing. My body shape has a lot to do with how my body is, and is not a measure of a lack of virtue. Perhaps there are other stories to tell where I don’t have to feel entirely responsible for how people react to me.