Category Archives: Observations

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.


Changing my body story

The body story I have had for most of my life goes like this: I am fat and unattractive. I am fat because I am lazy and greedy and don’t try hard enough. I make a fuss about pain. I would have more energy if only I did/ate/thought the right things so it’s really my fault I’m not doing better. That body story has gone with me no matter what I’ve done, or how hard I’ve tried. It is not a story I started out telling myself, it was told to me and I internalised it.

I’m working on changing that. It is not an easy thing to do, because the story is so embedded, and there are other stories tangled into it – that I should not expect love because I am fat. That no matter how good I am, it will never be enough to offset how unattractive I am. Pre-teen me was told that no one would ever want me because I was so fat. I don’t think I’ve ever really got past that, even when it’s repeatedly been proven not to be true. It haunts me.

My new body story takes into account some truths about my body. I’m very hypermobile, which means I hurt and injure easily, and I hurt a lot. It re-casts my historical pain not as fuss making, but as a real issue. Hypermobility often goes with fatigue, and everything taking more effort. I can re-write the stories about my laziness as being about limitations in my body, and not lack of trying on my part. My poor co-ordination in childhood – only marginally better now – probably also wasn’t a lack of effort on my part, but a consequence of the hypermobility.

I can tell myself new stories about how child me tried their best, but had problems.

Hypermobility has implications for the soft tissues, including the stomach. I’ve always had a dodgy digestive system which suggests that the soft tissue issues are in my guts as well as around my joints. I’ve always had trouble building stomach muscle or getting my middle into a shape I’m happy with. During pregnancy, my middle expanded to an alarming degree. This would make sense if I have weaker tissues to begin with. What if the stomach shape that was the source of so much childhood shame wasn’t about fat, but about the state of my muscles? Dieting never changed it. Starving myself never changed it. Exercise routines, regular swimming and other such efforts have never made much difference either. Trying to get my stomach to be a more acceptable shape has been a life-long obsession. What if it’s not because I’m greedy and lazy? What if something else is going on?

I am trying to tell myself new stories about how this might not have been some kind of personal failing on my part.

I’m also becoming aware of a thing. When the first port of call is to stigmatise fat and shame the fat person for being morally inadequate, there’s no looking at causes. There’s no asking what’s going on in their body and how that might be managed, dealt with, or how they might be more kindly supported in getting on with life. No one (including me) asked what was going on in my body because it was so obvious to everyone (me included) that my greed and laziness were to blame. That my body did not change was proof that I must be too greedy and lazy to really make the effort. Even as a teenager on the slimfast diet (remember that? Replace 2 meals each day with special milkshakes) I did not get to be the right shape. I did get to be very tired and had lousy concentration.

Putting down a story that has dominated my entire life isn’t easy. But, it does help having a new story to replace it with. A story in which I do not have to hate my body for the accident of how it is. A story in which it is not my fault. A story in which I do not have to think of myself as a ‘bad’ person. And if my body is not an expression of my moral failure, it becomes that bit easier to ask people to accept me as I am.


Seeing my grandmother

I’ve been seeing my grandmother lately. She died more than a decade ago. I catch glimpses of her out of the corner of my eye, moments of recognition that surprise me. It’s not a seasonal issue. It is simply that I am starting to look like her.

My maternal grandmother was born in 1920 – next year will be the hundredth anniversary of her birth and I plan to treat that the way we treat the centenaries of more famous people. She was therefore 57 when I was born. I don’t have any conscious memories of her face at that point in her life, but I think something is remembered unconsciously. I’m a way off 57, but my face is changing as faces always do, and I am moving towards my own grandmother face.

I’ve been thinking a lot about her in recent weeks. She habitually wore trousers, shirts and caps, had short hair, and went by the nickname ‘Barty’. I wonder what she would say to me if we could sit down with a coffee and talk about gender identity, and being non-binary because while she didn’t have those words, I think she’d have found them interesting. I have no idea what she would have said.

I think a lot about the pain she lived with, too. What she had used to be called rheumatism, but that diagnosis is no longer fashionable. The hard to pin down aches and pains are now more often called fibromyalgia. I’ve thought a lot about the trauma in her life, and her persistence, and her refusal to be defined by pain and diminishing mobility in old age. I don’t know to what degree I will follow after her.

If I can muster half of my grandmother’s interest in life and sheer bloody-mindedness around keeping going, I won’t do so badly. Aging doesn’t alarm me if I can age in a similar trajectory to her. I’ll wear more black than she did, and I’m never going to develop her enthusiasm for daytime quiz shows on TV, but on the whole, she’s a good role model for aging well. She kept walking everywhere for as long as she could. She kept singing and playing music and making art and cake. There were always cats. She had a lot of adopted daughters, and I remember her garden as always full of butterflies when I was a child. Like me, she collected up rubbish and made stuff out of it.


Things I’ve learned about the working week

In the last year I have established that I can work a 40-50 hour week. I’ve also established what happens if I do that. I get to the end of my day, and fall into a weary heap on the sofa. I will likely be too tired, too short of concentration to read, or craft, or listen to music or watch a film. Socialising is right out and I’ll have no energy to go out anywhere, walk, or otherwise exercise. I got away with this during the 50 hour weeks only because I had to walk to get to a number of the jobs. All I could do was recover and get up the next day and do it all again.

Weekends taken off at the end of a 50 hour week (not always an option, I worked a fair few weekends during that time frame) were not great either. My scope to do anything fun or enriching was totally undermined by my exhaustion.

If I work a 30-40 hour week, I still need a fair amount of recovery time. I can manage to be sociable a bit, and I might manage to do something for me at the weekend. It is more viable. If I work more like 30 hours a week I am fine, I can have a life and do other things.

If you’re on minimum wage, (which for young people is very little money) the hours you have to work are considerable, just to get by.

One of the things I notice when I’m in the long hours and exhaustion mode, is that I come to feel defined by it. I’m just a person who works. I’m not someone who is supposed to have fun things, or who deserves anything emotionally sustaining, or enriching. In my time off I am so useless that there’s no reason for good things to move towards me.

It doesn’t help that the work I do requires a lot of concentration and thinking. To get it done in a reasonable time frame – and thus, as a freelancer, for a decent pay rate – I really have to focus. The more tired I am, the harder it is to keep focusing so in the 40-50 hour weeks I am less efficient.  If I’m working in a way that leaves me exhausted and I’m not getting enough time to recover, my efficiency levels fall, so I have to work longer for less per hour.

There’s a lot of pressure on self employed people to work all the hours we can, for fear that if we don’t, the work will dry up. Creative jobs are woefully underpaid, it’s an industry-wide issue impacting on everyone who isn’t a household name. This too creates a pressure to work more in the hopes of making some progress. Grinding poverty will make you feel like a failure, and feeling like a failure will undermine any scope you had for creativity.

There’s a further complication in that creative work requires time to study, practice, explore, experiment, imagine and gather inspiration. This is not time anyone pays you for, and if you’re already worn from the day job, that investment time can push you over the edge – wherever your edge turns out to be. This is a thing to bear in mind if you’re considering supporting someone on ko-fi or patreaon – you’re buying them the space and time to start the process, and that makes worlds of difference.

My patreon is over here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB . It helps me take some time each week for learning, thinking and imagining. I know that to really invest in the creative side of my life I need a lot of things I can’t currently afford – more time off to make some headspace, a dedicated space to work in, and to have the energy and concentration to invest in developing projects. I’m aware that I might never be able to afford the time to really dig in. Most creative people are not doing their best work because we simply can’t afford to.