Category Archives: Observations

The politics of editing

Editing is one of those things that does not self announce as a political process, but is. The impact of that process is with us in so much of what we read. There are class issues, race issues and pretty much any other kind of diversity issue you care to think about.

When you edit for a publishing house, usually your primary concern is to bring the author in line with house style. I’ve had this kind of work, and the notes about what house style is. I’ve also not gone after jobs where I’ve seen the house style information and found it so suffocating that I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that to an author.

Most publishing houses are run by white, middle class people – often men. The bigger the house or the imprint, the higher the likelihood of an Oxbridge education. The rules about what constitutes good and proper writing come out of that background – it is formal and official English and conformity may well be prized a good deal more than diversity. But, that said, smaller houses often seek to emulate what they think the big houses do, and nasty editing exists at all levels.

If your background isn’t white, middle class and educated, the editing process can be one of having your voice changed. An unsympathetic editor won’t necessarily recognise what it was about your voice that was important to you. Having your voice normalised to these standards is an intensely political thing. Being discounted if you aren’t close enough to these standards is also political. And it is not, let me be clear, that standard official English makes for the best writing. It may be clearer and more familiar to people who speak it as their language, but language use itself is far more diverse than this and modes of expression matter. The right to express in your own way matters.

Slang, dialect terms and personal quirks should not be seen as inferior or inherently in need of correction. That can be all about wiping the signs of class and race out of someone’s writing. The flip side of this is the way voices are ‘characterised’ by middle class authors so that the non-middle class folk are represented in non-standard English. The way Scottish accents are fetishised and caricatured is an annoying case in point.

These days I proof read for authors. The only proof reading I’m doing for publishers is at Sloth, where I’m the second set of eyes on works in translation. But, that’s a small house, and there’s no house style sheet.

When you edit and proof read for an author, they are the only person you answer to. At this point, the job is not to standardise them, but to help them do the best possible job of doing what they wanted to do. Proof reading for an author means protecting whatever makes them unique. It means supporting their voice and helping it carry. This is the work I prefer to be doing.

There isn’t enough diversity in publishing. This is not an accident.


No Fucks Privilege

When it comes to appearance, I find increasingly that I have no more fucks to give about what other people think of me. This is something I’ve largely been able to do for myself – so it’s worth talking about because in theory anyone might gift themselves with this.

However, I’m conscious of the ways in which it is also a privilege. It doesn’t really matter how anyone else reads me. My safety does not depend on passing most of the time. Granted, as a tall, furry woman who might dress a bit masculine at times, I could end up on the wrong end of the people who think they can read trans status in someone else’s body. But I’m not, and I would be in a very different position to a trans woman if that happened to me.

I’m non-binary, but I don’t need anyone else to read me that way. My body is overtly female-presenting and I’m not going to make myself miserable fighting that to try and fit what someone else might think non-binary should look like. I look like me, it will do. But, I’m not looking for a partner, I don’t need to make it clear to the casual gaze what sort of person I am. I have advantages of age and a large friend network and also not needing anyone to see me in this regard. There are people who know. It is enough. I have no doubt there are people for whom this wouldn’t work at all. I have privilege.

I don’t think I read as poor – and I’m in an odd inbetween place with that anyway. I’m white and I sound educated and this will inform how people read me, and will inform it in my favour. So if I have no more fucks to give about how people read me, I also have every reason to think I can get away with that. My dress style tends towards the eccentric, not the sexual. I uphold the right of anyone regardless of age, gender, orientation or body shape to present as sexually attractive if they want to, and that everyone should be safe when doing that. In practice, to present as anything other than straight white male and sexual is risky and can be read in ways that are dangerous to you.

There are things intrinsic to being human that mean we want validation from other people. It’s very natural. We all want to be seen and approved of. Many of us are not seen. Many of us face disapproval. It helps being older. It helps being emotionally secure. It helps enormously that I am unlikely to be in much danger from how people read me. Apart from the way rapists read female-presenting people, but that’s not about anything I can control. That’s not about how I present, that’s about the decision to read sexually, and to assume entitlement to other people’s bodies.

If you can bless yourself with no fucks to give privilege, do it. Do it now. And the rest of the time, let’s see what we can do to help people who need to feel more understood when having their appearance read by others, and who need more room and more safety than they currently get.


How to shape a life

Everything is strange right now, and I have changed how I order my days to try and help me cope with this. I’m someone who has mostly worked from home, so there’s less adaptation there for me than for some people.

It became obvious to me a few weeks ago when the coronavirus crisis got going that my concentration was suffering. I’ve been giving myself more time for everything. Alongside this I find I want to be online more because this is where I connect with people. So, I no longer take weekends off. I’m working a bit every day, and find the structure helps. I don’t have to do that much on any given day, but a feeling of keeping moving is proving useful.

I’m getting up with the light. I’m not sleeping well and am now reliably up at least once in the night. This is a new normal I am struggling with, and I need to nap more. I think this is adrenaline and panic acting on my body, I don’t quite feel able to stop. Things to work on.

Who is around when online is starting to inform the shape of my day, as well. Times set aside for phone calls.

I am tired with my whole being. But, getting something done, something a bit like normal life is helping me cope. It anchors me. This blog is a fine case in point. I show up, I do the things, I feel a bit more like myself.

I’m also finding that same accountability really helpful around writing – there are a few people I know are following Wherefore and being amused by it, and that’s a reason to pick up a pen and try to keep something moving. However small. It’s also a reason to brush my hair and try and put on a presentable face for a little while. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2iAnLZ1JJzOfltGrnS0P8Q

I dislike the thought forms floating around the internet that we should all be using this time to become super-fit, create epic art, become a world class chef, compose music, write novels, learn languages, etc etc. It’s hard enough getting out of bed in the morning. It’s hard enough getting through the day with sanity a bit in tact. If creating is part of how you cope – dig in. But that’s the only reason to do it. These are difficult days, and no one should feel obliged to turn this apocalypse scenario into some kind of work of genius. If you can wash occasionally, eat passably and not become an alcoholic, that’s more than enough. And if you can’t, if you’re not keeping up with the basics or your survival tactics are complicated – no shame. It’s what you’ve got. It’s the best you can do with what’s going on right now, and if that gets you to the far side of all this, then all power to you.


A body challenge

I’ve never much liked how I look. As a child, I heard a lot that I was funny looking, that I had a fat face and was a bit of an embarrassment. I’ve never felt at ease in my own skin, and I’ve never really presented my face like it was a good thing.

A while ago, I started an instagram account with the intention of trying to challenge how I feel about myself. I’ve not invested much time in it. But, isolation has led to some curious exchanges via the interwebs and sharing my face has become a thing I need to do. And something to figure out how to do well.

I’ve been digging out the body paints. I am an interesting surface to try and paint on, and that’s a good challenge – enough to be engaging but not too hard. It’s a different way of thinking about my face, and my body. It feels odd to me to be going ‘here is my face’ like this is some sort of good news, but the paint certainly helps.

Sharing my face this last week – with photos and in the ongoing Wherefore videos on my youtube channel, I have not been at my best. I’m sleeping badly, some days I look like I’ve been punched. Smiling is sometimes beyond me. And yet, weirdly, this week has been the one where I’ve felt easiest about sharing the messy reality that is my face.

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Heart face #bodypaint #painting #hearts

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Lessons from the crisis

Extreme circumstances always have the capacity to teach us. For the person who has never had their life upheaved in this way before and has never felt so powerless, those will be serious lessons. To be frozen and overwhelmed, unable to act or think when you have always assumed you would stay in control of yourself, is a hard lesson to learn. I hope as we move forward, more people will understand how it is that so many people freeze in response to domestic abuse and sexual violence. Freezing is a very human response to having no power.

We will all learn things about ourselves. What we do under pressure. What we miss and long for. How we handle fear, and what we fear. Most of us won’t be able to use this time to do the great project we always dreamed of – most of us will be hanging on by our fingernails at best. But we may find out what role other people’s creativity plays in our lives. If you are turning to Netflix, to books, films, games or music then you are using creativity to get you through. I hope people learn to value their creators, and the way the vast majority of creators are seriously underpaid becomes visible.

We’ve learned about who really matters in our societies, and that wage doesn’t come into it. We’ve learned that low paid folk in retail and in care homes are all that stands between us all and certain doom.

There may be lessons to come about the way busyness has filled our time and what the quiet of its absence looks like. The role of work in terms of our social interactions. How we really do with the people we live with. The terms that make our lives and relationships possible. For many of us, these weeks will bring into focus who it is that really matters. Who we need. Who we can’t bear to be parted from. No one knows who is going to survive this crisis, which for many of us means there is an urgency to dropping guard and telling people we love them. There may be no second chances.

We’re learning what it’s like to have quiet roads and clean air. We’re learning that a great many things we were told had to be done a certain way… don’t. There’s a lot more room for innovation than anyone was previously willing to admit. You don’t have to be in the building to be in the meeting. There’s a lot we can get done without consuming anything like as much energy or putting out anything like as much carbon.

None of us really know who we are until circumstances test us. We might not like what we see in ourselves as these challenges unfold. We might not be as good, or heroic, or worthy as we thought we were. But, if you don’t know where you are, it’s difficult to make good choices around where you need to go. Discomfort is also a powerful teacher.


The last time

Often, the last occasion of doing a thing passes by unnoticed and is only recognised with hindsight. For some time now, I’ve been in a process of honouring and checking off ‘last time’ events.

Partly this is because my son is in his A level year. We’ve ticked off a number of final rounds of school activities. This is the last winter of him cycling to school in the dark. Perhaps the last winter of my life when I’ll be obliged to get up in the dark of a morning. Definitely the last winter of me trying to get school clothes washed, dried and ironed every week. As we let go, week by week, we’re getting ready for massive changes this summer and the prospect of him heading out to university. It’s a good process.

Alongside this, I’m planning some major upheavals for myself next summer too. Preparing for this, Tom and I have started looking at what we need to do for the last time, or what we haven’t done and should do at least once. It hasn’t been a big list, and that’s a reflection of how well we’ve lived while we’ve been here.

This flat has always been too small. We don’t have any kind of separate studio or working space – just the one communal room. There is no garden. We’ve not had space for anyone to stay with us. We can’t stay in Stroud and have any of those things. Through the winter, we’ve talked to the people we’re close to about what happens next and how to do this well. I want to plant an orchard. I want a garden I can sit in – wrapped in blankets if needs be so that I can have time outside even when I’m ill. There is no way I can do this without moving somewhere more affordable. There is no work I could do that would bridge the gap between the value of the flat we own, and what it would cost to buy a small house.

It’s the last winter in this flat. It’s good to be doing this deliberately and with time to think it through, make plans and prepare. Previous rounds of moving home (including on and off a narrowboat) were done under time pressure and with limited resources. This will be different. No doubt there will be much to miss, but honouring the journey will certainly help.


Learn Witchcraft in a Week

Recently, The Independent newspaper published an article from a woman who had spent a week learning witchcraft. I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give it any oxygen, but it’s out there should you want to look. There were (unshockingly) a lot of problems with it. One of the issues it raises for me is how long we think it takes to get to grips with something.

The smaller and narrower you think something is, the shorter a time it would seem reasonable to have to spend getting to grips with it. Modern witchcraft has a history of more than 60 years and reference to historical witchcraft is of course much older, appearing in all kinds of texts. To get to grips with the history, variety, philosophy and practices of witchcraft might fairly be assumed to take more than a week. It’s hard to imagine anyone suggesting you could have a meaningful understanding of Christianity after just one week. Or existential philosophy. Or Zen.

One of the problems here I think is that we have so much modern literature that suggests you can do a great deal with very little. Glossy New Age magazines that tell you how to have everything with a few minutes of minimal effort. Highly priced courses offering instant life changes and satisfaction. All the serious witches I know are clear that you’ve got to put in the time to change yourself and your life.

But, we’re still close to the New Year – that time of instant and magical transformation. New Year, new you! it’s a pernicious lie that helps sell us all kinds of things. Real change takes time. Even the most superficial and cosmetic of changes can require more than a week.

The inclination to be changed quickly suggests to me a deep dissatisfaction with self. The person who wants a whole new identity in the space of a week, or a weekend, is clearly in trouble, and won’t be rescued in that kind of time frame. Self development takes time. Growth and healing take time, and effort. Studying anything much takes time. Nothing worth having for the long term can be grasped in a matter of a few days. We are creatures of habit – changing how your brains work and what we do with our time takes a while. A new you might be possible, but you’ll have to build that you, and work on dismantling the old bits of yourself that trouble you, if anything real is going to take place.

It’s frustrating running into things like this shoddy bit of ‘journalism’ but I remind myself that twenty years ago and more, media coverage was even less helpful, less informed and less sympathetic. On the whole we’ve come a long way in getting Paganism taken seriously. It may take a while yet to establish that these are valid spiritual paths and not passing amusements for bored fools. But, nothing worth having is ever perfectly quick and easy…


Druid Life – a blog about a blog

Readers, I have done a thing! As of yesterday, this blog site is advert-free. Having used wordpress for the best part of a decade, I’ve taken the leap and started paying for it.

While I greatly appreciate the many free things available online, I do also believe in paying for things that you value so that the people who make them can keep making them. I really like wordpress and it has helped me greatly as a blogger. I’m in a place where I can give back to them by paying for my blog, so I’m doing that.

The reason I feel able to pay for my blog is, quite simply, Patreon. The support I have there means I feel confident about making this change. I know that much of that support is as a consequence of people liking my blog, so it makes sense to pay that back by making this blog a better space for readers.

And honestly, I do not like adverts. I have no doubt that adverts distort our priorities, infect our longing with consumerism and contribute significantly to our unsustainable behaviour. Apparently free things are often paid for by adverts. It’s worth noting that even on sites like youtube where content creators can benefit from ad revenue, most creators don’t as the bar for getting funds is set high and the money per view is a pittance. It’s not the way forward.

So, I’m glad to get adverts off this site. I won’t be replacing them with adverts of my own, or directly monetizing this blog in any way. I will occasionally plug the stuff I’m doing and stuff that I like but that’s as far as it will go.

If there are topics you’d like to see me explore, or questions you’d like me to try and answer, jump into the comments section. If I can come up with something potentially useful, I’ll do my best.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for going on this journey with me. Thank you everyone who has subscribed and thus encouraged me to feel that this blog is worth investing energy in each day. Thank you if you’ve supported me on Patreon or Ko-Fi. Thank you if you’ve shared links or re-blogged me or otherwise given freely of your time and energy. I believe in free things, and gift economy and sharing, and I also believe that everyone should be able to afford to live, and that there are balances to strike.

 


The Enemy of Art?

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” – Cyril Connolly.

“Ash is sitting on the potty doing a pencil drawing while reciting loudly and accurately from Fortunately the Milk. I have to go away and hide and write for two weeks. I am going to miss this little wood-elf more than I can say.” Neil Gaiman, twitter, this week.

As a writer who had a baby (I’m female-ish, non-binary) I had to figure out how the writing was going to fit around the child. As a relatively poor person I had to take care of the child, the needs of the child. I could not have ever afforded to take a couple of weeks off for writing while someone else took care of my small child. I regret nothing. I would not have done differently if I’d had the money.

What I hate, passionately, is this idea that to be a good creator you have to be cut off from life in this way. I hate it just as much as I hate it when Tory politicians speak with pride about having never changed a nappy. I hate the way we devalue parenthood, and I really hate the way we devalue fatherhood.

I hate the way in which Neil Gaiman has presented this like the only way he can possibly write is by going away for two weeks. It perpetuates the idea that serious work has to happen outside the domestic sphere and that for people (usually men) who are important, going away to do the important things is just what you have to do. This is bullshit.

It isn’t easy being a parent and anything else at the same time. Most of us who have children do that, though. We have jobs, and other responsibilities, and we figure it out as best we can and do what we can, and take pride in the work and the parenting. It isn’t easy finding the focus and energy to work on creative projects when raising a small child. Many of us manage, all the same. Many of us do not experience that managing as some kind of heroic sacrifice.

I have every sympathy with anyone whose economic situation impacts on their scope for parenting – that’s a very different thing. I have every sympathy for parents whose work involves travel, and for the challenges and juggling involved. I’m frankly tired of the affluent men who think that raising their small children is someone else’s job.


Not economically active

Money has not always been central to how people get things done. It has its uses, it saves having to spend vast amounts of time in complicated barters to get everything moved round. However, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to live in a culture where it is possible not to be economically active. Most of our ancestors will have lived this way. Most of human culture in our long history is based on co-operation and gift economy, not money.

When money is just a way of getting stuff done, I don’t think it poses much of a problem. The difficulties arise from what it has become in addition to being a tool. That you can make money out of money, if you have enough of it to begin with. That we use it as a measure of worth in all kinds of distorting ways. The measure of a person’s worth should not be about how much money they have. We measure costs in ways that don’t include environmental costs.  We have a hard time valuing anything we can’t put a price tag on. What is given away is often devalued. We measure wealth in terms of what we can hoard, not in terms of what we can give away.

So many of our relationships are underpinned by an economic exchange. How much of what we need are we buying? How many of our emotional needs are we trying to meet by paying for them? What would it mean to take the price tag off things, to give more, and not to feel obliged to make money out of what we do?

The things that most enrich my life are not economically orientated. Time crashed out with my husband and cat. Time spent making things I do not sell. Time with people I like – and yet even there, the money plays a part. I can’t afford a large home, there isn’t much room for guests, so I often have to meet people elsewhere, in spaces that require economic participation. On a cold day, there are not many spaces in which I can spend time with someone without paying for it. Our social spaces themselves are constructed around shopping areas – we don’t have many social spaces where you don’t have to pay to participate.

I was struck recently when visiting the coast by the implications of a town having a beach. Here is, at least some of the time, a big, free of charge public space where people can meet, play, run around, interact. Most towns don’t have anything like that kind of free and communal space.

Where can you go, without money? What can you do, without paying for it? Who can you spend time with? And what would it mean to live in a way where paying for things is not the primary mechanism for getting stuff done? What if participation became more important than paying? What if we had non-commercial public spaces where people could spend time together at no cost? What if we weren’t under pressure to make what we do pay? I don’t think these are unrealistic ideas. We’ve constructed a way of doing things based on a set of assumptions, but those assumptions don’t serve most of us very well.