Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Get off your knees

There’s a line from Alan Moore’s 2016 interview in Pagan Dawn that has haunted me for the last 18 months. Talking about the bard tradition, he said “You can kill or cure with a word. Get off of your knees.”  (You can read the whole interview here –

At first it stung, because it was true. Over time it led me to look hard at why I had been on my knees. There were a lot of reasons, to do with things I’d been through, people I’d dealt with, bodily ill health and poor mental health. Over the last year or so I’ve put my health first, and that’s been a key part of getting up. This summer it struck me that getting off my knees was not just about overcoming difficulty, but about deliberate choice.

It means not being afraid to act, to lead, to set things in motion and to take responsibility. It means imagining that I can do things on a larger scale.

Fears around leadership have not been about the idea that I couldn’t do it – I’ve done it before, I know I can. It’s more a fear of accidentally railroading others, of accidentally disempowering others, and of turning into some kind of self important ass-hat. I figure that so long as I stay alert to that kind of issue, I can negate it as I go. I don’t want power over anyone, I want to get things done, it should be fine.

Some of it was about having a good place to stand once I’d stood up. I’m finding those places, there seem to be a few of them. The Pagan Federation, my local bardic community, Moon Books, my little family at Sloth Comics, and two further spaces that I’m contemplating and waiting to see what happens with because there’s no rush. In some of those spaces I will be more active than others, and I expect the balance to shift from time to time. It’s more than enough to be going along with.

In terms of dreaming bigger, that’s simply been happening. I’ve got ideas about events, books, art, co-operative companies, studio space, a house… I want to operate on a totally different scale and I’m seeing how I can make that happen, and hopefully take a fair few people with me while I’m doing it. At the moment, things still feel poised, and I’m holding the balance, waiting to see what pulls and what suggests itself. At some point this winter (because I do not try to live in harmony with the standard wheel of the year narrative) I’m going to start moving in earnest, I think.

Getting off my knees. Finding who wants to do things with me. Ignoring the people who have a problem with that and not letting them slow me down. I do not have to be small simply to make others more comfortable, and I certainly don’t need anyone who thinks making me small for their comfort is a good idea. I think in the last 18 months I’ve mostly freed myself from those sorts of connections, but I won’t hesitate to do it again if I need to. Onwards!


Poverty, diet and mental health

Brain chemistry informs our moods and thinking processes. That chemistry depends on what comes into our bodies. The person who has an inadequate diet is much more vulnerable to mental health problems. Good food is also essential to a physically well body. A good immune system, and the means to heal and repair, all depends in part on what we eat. The energy to be active, or just to get through the day depends on what we eat. If you aren’t eating properly, the resulting poor health will have a knock on effect on your mental health.

The single biggest cause of poor diet, is poverty.

These are not radical thoughts on my part, there’s lots of information out there about all of these things. What there isn’t, is the political will to deal with any of it. Food is a luxury to be sold at the highest price you can because that’s how the market works. The mental health of the poor is just another sacrifice the rich may have to make in the pursuit of ever more wealth. Our collective priorities are badly skewed.

Food has become such an emotionally loaded thing as well. The diet and beauty industries are massive, and spend their time advertising to us the idea that we just aren’t good enough and must buy their things. Body shaming and fat shaming layer on the misery, and skinny shaming is also a thing. For some there’s the additional nightmare of full on eating disorders. Bodies are something to exploit for other people’s profit.

I know from experience that depression and anxiety are not the only possible consequences of impoverished diets. Quite some years ago, an elderly relative of mine in a state of grief, stopped eating. This was only noticed because they became dangerously delusional. They were taken into care, and once re-hydrated and nourished for a while, turned around very quickly. There are reasons some shamanic traditions use extreme fasting to open the mind – the mind does in fact open, and if you aren’t doing it in a supported way, that opening can break you.

I also know from personal experience that food mistakes leading to brain chemistry issues do not leave a person well placed to sort this stuff out. As a small scale example, if I mess up with the blood sugar, I can end up panicking and feeling unable to deal with food situations at all. I find social eating stressful in some contexts, and when the blood sugar is low, the panic sneaks in and can stop me from doing the most helpful things – namely getting food into me.

Poverty is a difficult thing to deal with, undermining a person’s life and wellbeing in a great many ways. Poor mental health is also a tough thing to deal with and a destroyer of quality of life. But what do we do collectively? What do our politicians do? Blame the poor for not trying hard enough. It’s an obscenity, and it has to stop.

Not so clever

As words go ‘stupid’ is a problematic one, and seldom deployed in useful ways. It is usually meant as an insult, and to place responsibility on the shoulders of the person it is aimed at.

If ‘stupid’ is used to refer to someone who lacks the mental processing power, then ‘struggling’ might be a more useful term. If there’s a hardware issue, then what people tend to need is more time. More support, and better support are also considerations. It is not the fault of the person who can’t keep up. The onus is on everyone else to make it possible to keep up.

If ‘stupid’ refers to a lack of knowledge and education, then this is something most likely beyond a person’s control. Poverty, family background, racism, sexism – these things often contribute to a lack of educational opportunity. It’s hard to learn if you’re hungry, if no one takes you seriously, if you’ve got bigger things to worry about… If the problem is a lack of information, the onus is on the people who know to make that information available and accessible.

If ‘stupid’ is used to refer to a lack of wisdom or common sense, it is worth bearing in mind that this is subjective territory. We can all be wise in hindsight, and the more experience we have the more we might be able to predict things. Education can be a factor here, as can exposure to misinformation. It’s worth remembering there was a time when wise men knew the earth was flat and only stupid people thought it was round. Wisdom is subjective.

Intelligence is not a single, all encompassing quality. I have a good head for words, but very little visual intelligence. Some people have stupendous physical intelligence. Some people have incredible mathematical intelligence. Some people have academic intelligence but not much handle on day to day life. Calling someone stupid because they aren’t clever at the thing you are clever at, or at the thing you want them to be clever at usually dismisses what it is that they are clever at. Most people do have areas of strength and ability if you have the inclination to look for them.

When people with power want to manipulate people with less power, they can do so by turning ‘stupid’ into a virtue. If experts are suspect, evidence is fake news, and opinions matter more than facts, the will of the people can become a really toxic idea. Communist China did it. Contemporary politics in the UK and America is trying it.

One of the most popular uses of ‘stupid’ is to denigrate someone who disagrees. It’s a simple enough process, trying to imply that the truth is self evident and therefore something must be wrong with anyone who doesn’t see it that way. However, if you want to seem clever, defending your position with logic, evidence and clear arguments is a good deal more convincing than putting people down. The person who calls others stupid is setting themselves up for similar treatment, which isn’t an especially clever course of action.

Then there are the people who refuse to learn, or to look at facts and evidence. The people who won’t hear and won’t know and think their opinion is worth more than the evidence. The wilfully ignorant. The people who have bought into a story so entirely that they cannot bear to have it challenged. The people who can’t face the truth and so wrap themselves in lies to be able to cope. The people who gain more from lies, and who may lose their advantages were the truth to be more visible. Sometimes, some or all of the above issues apply to them. The rest of the time, it’s not effective to call them out over their intelligence. Instead, we have to call them out over what they are doing. Keep pointing at the evidence.

A Personal Agenda

One of the things I’ve taken to checking up on, is my personal agenda. It’s all too easy to find that what you’re doing and what you want are out of kilter. So, what it the grand plan? What’s the intended trajectory? Where are we going, and how, and why, and so forth.

In my own life, I’m making a deliberate bid to be more economically effective. I have long term goals about where I want to be living. I’m also aware that many problems can be solved by throwing money at them, and I’d like to be better placed to solve more of those problems. I’m still looking for a better work life balance that gives me more energy for fun stuff, but on the whole, I’m a lot happier with my day to day arrangements than I was. I’ve got people to feed, I’m not going to treat economic viability as some sort of sin. I’m looking for work models that avoid exploitation.

I want to support, encourage and enable creativity in other people. I want to make safe spaces where people can have a go at things, stretch and experiment. I want to help people who are professionally creative stay emotionally and economically viable. I’m looking at a number of ways of taking this forward.

I want to help tackle the stigma around mental health problems, share information on causes and ways of coping, and tackle the way in which our culture as a whole is making people ill. At the moment I can only do this on a fairly small scale, and mostly through this blog. I’m keeping an eye out for other options.

I’m a tree activist for The Woodland Trust (part of their Special Branch!) and doing what I can in terms of environmental activism remains important to me. Having done about half of an ecolinguistics course, I’m increasingly inclined to think that I want to deal with environmental activism from the angle of stories, language use, how we frame things, and the like. I’m at the early stages with this and still figuring out where to take it.

I’m very much interested in the kind of power that lets me get things done, but not at all in the kind of power that allows me to control other people. I’m looking around to see who is willing to give me a platform, where I might fit, where there’s enough agenda overlap that we might be functional fellow travellers for a while. I’ve got one significant development in the bag on that score, everything else is going to be a good deal slower.

I’ve a lot of years of service behind me, and often what I’ve done is show up to do the things other people wanted. It was useful as a learning experience, but I’m not playing that way anymore. I’m looking for the spaces and people able to give me the space to do the things I think are important. I’ve also become very wary of the idea that we should all waft about saying ‘it’s all about the service’ because I’ve seen this too often. ‘I’ve got less ego than you’ can easily become the main ego game in town. I’m less self promoting than you. I’m a good little Pagan working hard and not drawing attention to myself. Enough of that! Platforms mean visibility. Changing things means visibility. Anyone who has to pretend they don’t want any attention while trying to do anything significant is getting into something with a whiff of cognitive dissonance about it.

Personal gain and profit are not the only kind of personal agenda available. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t need to keep dealing with the spaces that want me to be invisible, unnamed, and unable to get by financially. I’ve been through a few of those, where it’s apparently all about service, but in reality all about exploitation. There should be no shame in trying to be viable, and no shame in working on your own terms, for your own reasons.

Do not ask what the universe can do for you…

Ask what you can do for the bits of the universe you encounter. This is a line of thought inspired by a recent comment on the blog (thank you). Rather than looking at how magic answers can be persuaded to come to us, why not look at how to be magic answers, for other people and for the planet?

Of course this depends on being sufficiently resourced, but many of the things I’m poised to advocate don’t require a person to be silly amounts of privileged. When we spend all our time asking the universe/the gods/angels/crystal dolphins to help us out, we may feel that we are loved by the universe etc. But we may also be teaching ourselves to feel powerless.

Give praise. It’s an easy way of uplifting people who are doing good things. Self esteem courses recommend praise giving because it empowers the giver, too.

Give away things you don’t need. Nothing creates a feeling of abundance like giving stuff away – so long as you can afford it. Even if it’s very occasional, passing something along gives a real sense of power, and solves a problem for someone else.

Listen. There’s a lot of distress that can be eased just by hearing, acknowledging and witnessing people. It costs time and emotional labour, but if we all spared a little of that, the world would be a kinder place.

Every charity out there could do with more volunteer support than it gets. The same is true for pretty much every volunteer organisation out there. The scope to be someone else’s miracle is vast.

A kind word, a small deed of assistance, a gesture of respect and friendship – these things can and do save lives. A little bit of taking care of each other goes a long way towards producing miraculous results.

Make things of beauty.

Speak up for that which has no voice – for creatures, landscapes and ecosystems. Help amplify people who are not heard. Education is essential for solving most problems.

Don’t be afraid to stand out, to go against the flow, or dispute the consensus.

It’s just a small flavour, not an exhaustive list. If you believe in magic – well, magic works better when you give it something tangible it can latch onto. If you believe that like attracts like, then what you do has to be in that equation. If you believe in karma, then your actions in the world have got to matter. If you think the universe loves everyone, be the vector by which some of that love gets out into the world. Be the change. Be the magic you want to see happening.

Personal privilege is not a measure of how spiritual we are. It’s not the advantages you have that count, it’s what you choose to do with them. And I promise, if you want to feel magical and powerful, then doing some discernible good will give you that far more than any ego massage ever could.

It’s all so easy in the New Age (and why that makes me want to punch people)

Sometimes I read New Age stuff – don’t judge me, work requires it now and then. I am struck, over and over by how easy it is all supposed to be. Just say your positive affirmations, cut out the money attraction symbol and stick it in your wallet. Know that the universe loves you. Buy a very expensive rainbow unicorn Atlantis faerie guide object and never worry again!

I see the New Age memes go by on twitter all the time, the ones that say you have the power to change everything, fix everything, make everything good. And I wonder how that’s supposed to apply if you live in a war zone, if your child is dying of starvation, if your family are lost, if you are in the sea having fallen out of a refugee boat… I wonder what the homeless and the hungry are supposed to do in terms of positive thinking. I wonder how much a paper charm in your otherwise empty wallet helps when deciding whether it’s going to be heating or eating.

I come back to the same thought, over and over and over again. That if your problems are small, fixing them is easy. If you have resources – time, money, health, education, security, safety – then you probably can do much of what you want to do if only you believe in yourself. If you live in a country where your sexual identity is punishable by death, less so.

It troubles me because it sends such a clear message to anyone who can’t magically fix their life in five minutes. It sends a message of blame. You aren’t positive enough. Like attracts like, so you deserved it. The war. The injury. The bereavement.

I can’t bear how cruel that is. I hate the way in which it allows those who have a lot to feel no responsibility for those who have nothing. I hate how like attracts like thinking acts as an enemy to compassion. I hate how this whole attitude is a barrier to making real change. Not everyone can wish themselves out of their problems. Many people need actual help, real interventions, support, aid, care, food, heat, water… And not some smug, entitled git telling them it’s all about karma or that this is part of their life plan.

Who am I responsible for?

Without a doubt, any time we ignore abuse, hate speech and prejudice, we support it. We let the person carry on doing what they were doing. We let them believe we agreed with them. They will infer our tacit support from our silence and inaction.

Every time we ignore someone who speaks from a place of ignorance and misinformation, we’re letting things stay as they are, contributing to things that are wrong.

The trouble is that like everyone else, I have finite energy and I get emotionally knocked about when I step up to these arguments. I could spend all day every day on twitter, challenging haters, bullies, bigots and abusers. Well, in theory I could, in practice I reckon by lunchtime I would be a weeping wreck.

Who am I responsible for? It is not an easy or a comfortable question. I know some activists have become very clear that people should educate themselves. I understand why – advocating personal responsibility is a good idea. Demanding education is a way of sucking up energy and time, and derailing people. But equally, turning around how someone thinks is a massive and difficult process, if I can help someone do that then I’d like to. It’s partly about spotting the scope for change and trying to see who is for real and who is a time waster. I’m not that psychic, I don’t always know.

My primary areas of concern have, for some years, been mental health and domestic abuse. The former gives me some scope to speak more widely about disability issues, the latter gives me insight into the mechanics of abuse in all forms. I use that knowledge where I can. I care about everything but there are plenty of issues I don’t have the experience to really get into details. Faced with an online argument of that ilk I feel the most useful thing I can do is offer support for and agreement with the people who have the experience to speak.

It is so easy for well meaning people to get this wrong. It is so easy for people who are not well meaning to hide behind activism and take unfair pot shots at others. I am reminded of the feminist reviewer who called a mixed race author with a complex social background out for appropriation. I don’t think the reviewer had any idea who the author was. When we’re challenging each other, knowing the limits of our insight is essential, or we end up calling out the wrong people and hurting those we should be helping.

I like blogging because it isn’t an argument. It’s a chance to put forward thoughts and ideas, and to share experiences around the things I know about in a way that hopefully makes it easier for others to understand. I believe that we need to share our truth, tell our stories and speak of our experiences. And when we run into other people who are doing that, a bit of support and recognition can go a long way. So much of it comes down to ignorance, so much could be solved with better understanding.

It’s all well and good talking about punching Nazis, but I couldn’t usefully punch anyone, not with these hands. The clever thing would be to get to them before they become Nazis, but of course if it works you can’t even tell that it works. Keep talking keep supporting each other, keep doing what you can do. None of us can fix everything, or everyone.

Anxiety, Depression and Self Esteem

On the whole, anxiety and depression are best tackled with self care. Rest, moving away from the sources of distress, not being outside your comfort zone too much, good food, sleep, exercise… All the obvious things that contribute to good health are needed to bring a person back from mental difficulty. Some (many?) of us who suffer from anxiety and depression have terrible trouble taking proper care of ourselves.

The person with poor self esteem struggles to believe that they deserve basic, essential things. Getting the job done thus seems more important than being well. Being useful is more important than being well even if being useful in the short term may compromise your longer term viability. For me, for a long time, the idea of self-care was itself a panic trigger and if people suggested it, I’d get even more distressed. I think I’m not alone in this.

When poor self esteem underpins poor mental health, the odds are a person has internalised a lot of crap from other people. We do not come alone to the idea of being worthless, useless, and that we deserve to suffer. We may believe we’re lazy, making a fuss, a nuisance – because we’ve had prolonged exposure to people telling us these things. We believe that we aren’t really ill, that the problem is that we aren’t trying hard enough. If only we made more effort to be more positive, we’d be better people. Getting a person to believe the bullshit of positivity logic can be one of the cruellest ways of keeping a mentally distressed person trapped in cycles of ill health.

Getting out of this is not a solo project. I know this because I can look back on my own journey and see when things started to change. Wind the clock back seven or eight years and I did not see myself as a real person. I was a thing made of straw and only my usefulness mattered. If I struggled, I’d push harder, beating myself up – physically and emotionally – to keep moving. I’d name call and shame and ridicule to make myself keep going, keep working, keep doing all the things. Running on internalised hate, I’d use the energy of that to keep my broken self moving.

There have always been people happy to add to the inner hate pile, and then to humiliate me as someone who ‘just plays the victim’ on top of that. I have taken those words into every burnout with me. I’ve listened to well meaning people online telling me I needed to take better care of myself, and I’ve been afraid to do so. As though being kind to me would turn me into something even more horrible and unworthy than I’d already been told I was.

I’ve been able to change because my environment has changed. It has taken time. Support and kindness at home, for years, has had consequences. Good friends who treat me with warmth provide an antidote to the poison others have poured into my ears. Support from fellow travellers has helped create a context for looking differently at these things. I could not have done this alone.

It’s a thing about mental health that needs saying and saying again. Most of us do not fall apart on our own. We fall apart for reasons that are outside our heads. Trying to find a personal solution to this is often futile. If environments are sick, the people in them will become and remain sick. Where people exploit each other, treat each other as worthless, expendable, or mock visible suffering, things only get worse. Collective solutions are the only workable ones, and in treating each other better, and being kinder to each other we can overcome so much more. Individual positivity can’t heal much of what’s wrong. Collective determination to change things really can make a difference.

Where do we stop?

Sometimes it is important to ask where something is going and where it will stop. Politicians tend to erode rights rather than taking them away in massive, easily spotted slashes. Selling off our assets bit by bit. Where will we stop when profit is more important than planet? Where will we stop with pollution? When there’s an obvious trajectory and a run of small moves along it, asking about when we stop is a very good idea.

However, where does this stop can also be a derailment tactic. I’ve seen it used repeatedly in this way. What happens is that the trajectory imagined is not a logical one – take Jeremy Irons’ bloody stupid suggestion that allowing gay marriage would mean fathers could marry their sons. This is ‘where will it end?’ logic. Pick a ridiculous outcome that will make people feel uncomfortable and pronounce it as the logical conclusion of letting the thing happen.

Then, rather than talking about the real issue, you have to deal with the derailment. You have to explain that this is not a logical progression. Further, these derailments often have a sting in them – note how the Irons unpleasantness creates a link between being gay, and incest. The derailer will often have a go at invalidating the centre of the argument by such associations. What next, giving the same rights to animals? (Because this lot are so close to animals that I see it as a logical progression…)

The other thing the derailer may do is to make some issue of theirs centre stage, or some imagined fear. This distracts from the actual issues. Take for example, the suggestion that we should be licensing acid to make it harder to buy. This is because throwing acid in the faces of people has happened a lot in London this year. Response: Where will it stop? Are we going to ban all dangerous chemicals? What about my drain cleaner? (I paraphrase). Now, to my mind, the right not to have acid thrown in your face should quite obviously be more important than the right to pour dangerous chemicals into the water system. The freedom of the person who is not directly affected by anything at this stage should not be more important than the wellbeing of people who have already been hurt, and the people who realistically will be hurt in the future. How much are we inconvenienced if buying chemicals for home use requires jumping through a hoop or two? Far less than we are by having those same chemicals used as weapons.

Of course what complicates things is that oppressive governments play with this in sinister ways. Fear of terrorism is a popular way of getting a population to accept monitoring, loss of privacy, restriction of rights and so forth. There’s never going to be a tidy answer here.

On the other hand, are we looking at a restriction of personal freedom that represents social progress? The loss of freedom to privately assault one’s spouse is a loss I think we should all feel good about. The loss of the right to keep our data private is an example in the other direction. Very little good can come from it, and in the wrong hands it can do considerable damage. I think the only answer is to look hard at what’s at truly stake, and pick your fights carefully.

Work does not save us

Today is not going to plan. Pain and other issues in the night kept me from sleeping, and it’s not the first time in recent days this has happened. Normally I’m working by about 7 in the morning. Today I took the decision to start later in the hopes my body would cope better. It’s not a choice everyone has the luxury of being able to make.

This leaves me wondering what life would look like if health and wellbeing were social priorities rather than work and profit. Wealth without the health to enjoy it isn’t a great deal of joy. But then, the people with the wealth tend to be healthier, the people without as much money tend to have poorer physical health. The stress of poverty causes mental illness.

Working when ill isn’t very efficient. I’ve noticed that in the last year, where I’ve been taking more time off and resting more. I work faster. I get far more done in far less time. The idea of work as an inherent good is not upheld by exploring what happens when I work less. If we’re measuring quality or quantity of output, less time working equates to more and better work done.

Yet we treat more work as the answer to all social problems. We treat it as the answer to poverty, even though the single biggest issue is rent costs and unaffordable mortgages. In the States, the crippling cost is health care, often. Most of us can’t hope to earn our way out of those traps no matter how long or how hard we work. Here in the UK our government seems to have decided that work is also the answer to disability and chronic ill health. Make people work and they will magically get over it. I’m not sure which planet they come from, but I do wish they’d go back there.

We all need the space, time and resources to be kinder to ourselves and kinder to each other. Relentless work doing nothing of much use, just burning up finite resources, is something we need to get rid of. Making things that benefit no one, half of which go rapidly towards landfill, is not an answer. A marketing culture of disposable everything where you throw it away to get the newest one is eco-suicide, and it’s also make-work. There have to be better ways.