Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Not doing Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day makes me profoundly uneasy, so I don’t do it. All the usual things can be said about how it makes life harder for those whose mothers are gone, those whose children did not survive, or never were… and it is a modern festival based on promoting consumerism. But those are not my major issues.

The modern tradition of mother’s day involves kids and/or dads making breakfast in bed for mum, who may be bought flowers, taken out for lunch, cooked for, or otherwise allowed some time off. My concern is that this functions in the same way as the Lord of Misrule and twelfth night carnivals did for feudalism. That basically this is a break from the norm that serves to reinforce the norm. And the norm does not include mum getting breakfast in bed, or someone else doing the cooking. It may serve to enforce the least good things about modern motherhood.

It’s worth noting that Father’s Day involves cards and gifts, but not the same emphasis on the pampering and certainly no flowers. I’ve yet to see a cafe or restaurant advocating that you take your Dad out for a Father’s Day lunch.

There are plenty of stats out there to suggest that while most women now work outside of the home, the majority of housework and childcare still falls largely to the women as well. I don’t want Mothering Sunday as a special day of my family being nice to me. I also don’t need it, because we’re a mutually supportive unit, and I am not the house elf. One day a year of being looked after isn’t enough for anyone, and even if you add the birthday and valentine’s day to the list, it’s still peculiar if you take a hard look at it.

Every day we all get opportunities to be nice to each other, to extend small kindnesses and gift each other in all kinds of ways. Much better that than an occasional blowout for the benefit of supermarket chocolate sales.

I have seen Pagans reinterpreting this day as celebrating femininity, or Mother Earth – I have no argument with any of that. I’m a big fan of people doing what makes sense to them, but I think we should always pause and question anything that becomes normal.


The Politics of Pants

Go into a regular supermarket and eye up underwear for women, and you will find that pants tend to start at a size small enough to not cover your pubes, and get smaller from there down to buttock-floss with triangle. Cotton pants can be bought, but a great many knickers are made to be lacy, and thus are made from a high percentage of synthetics. This kind of fabric will keep you cold in the winter (inviting piles) and make you sweat in the summer, (encouraging thrush). Women’s pants are designed to be looked at, comfort is secondary.

Now shuffle yourself round to the man pants isle, where you’ll not find anything synthetic or lacy. You’ll find sizes that start at a close fit and expand through to shorts. Pants to keep you warm in winter and pants to keep you cool in summer. Pants to either let your tackle swing free, or to hold it neatly in place depending on your needs. Pants you can pee from without having to take half your clothes off. Man pants are made for use, not for decoration.

Of course women’s pants have to be small otherwise the edges might be visible under our closely fitting clothes, and that would never do!

For a whole array of reasons, I’ve been wearing man pants for a couple of weeks now and it’s been a revelation. They don’t chafe my inner thighs. They’re so much better for temperature management. I have discovered that I feel more confident, more sexy and more powerful wearing them. I can saunter about in just my pants, and not feel self conscious, because these pants cover my genitals rather than drawing attention to them. If I was the sort of person with shaving inclinations, I might be affected by the way that all of my pubic zone is entirely covered up.

Small female pants leave you exposed, and make your genitals accessible. I’ve never felt sexy wearing lingerie, only self conscious and vulnerable. Not least because lingerie is something I’ve only ever worn for someone else. I wouldn’t wear it for me, because what I want for me is to be comfortable.

I know there are people of all genders who enjoy lingerie and who feel sexy in it. All power to them. What bothers me is that if you’re one of the women who doesn’t get on with that, it’s not easy to find underwear designed for women that isn’t designed to be small and ‘sexy’ in line with the idea that revealing is sexy. If women’s underwear was designed primarily to be comfortable, it would be all soft fabric and a variety of leg lengths, and we’d go from thongs to shorts as well. In an ideal world I think there would also be more availability of sexy pants for men. You won’t find posing pouches in the supermarket. Male undergarments designed for the female viewer are few and far between. It would be good to have a more level playing field.


Controlling the movement of people

For the mediaeval serf, movement wasn’t an option unless your Lord moved you. If you didn’t like how your feudal master behaved, you could not vote with your feet. You had to stay where you were put, and live and work there your whole life. You could be moved of course if you were marched into a war, but you wouldn’t get any say in that, either.

These days we don’t need permission from Barons and Counts to move around – at least not within the countries of our birth. We generally need permission to move country, and countries want to control who can move where. Young, qualified, able bodied people are more welcome than others. The rich are always welcome to move and the poor are discouraged. Unless we need them for something. Plenty of industrial projects have been built on the backs of very poor workers. From the Irish navvies digging the canals to the modern Eastern European fruit picker, those with power like to move those with less power about to work for them.

It’s not so very different to the mediaeval model. Companies replace baronies, and the scales are bigger, but the effects are much the same. Now if you want to change country it’s not a baron who needs to write a letter of consent, but a company that will employ you.

We’re told it’s for our own good, and our own safety – to make sure we don’t have too many, and that we have the ones who are needed, and to keep the dangerous ones out. Our mediaeval peasant friends were told that it was about eliminating vagrancy and crime, and it meant there wouldn’t be rough, unruly people from other places coming into their place and making it all worse. Nothing much changes.

Much of the terror we experience in the west is home grown. We’re encouraged to think it sneaks in across borders to attack us from outside – something other, that we could keep out if we tried hard enough. Americans are more likely to be killed by other Americans than by anyone from ‘away’. We’re more likely to die to air pollution, traffic accidents, heart attacks and our own lifestyle choices than we are to a terrorist.

Freedom of movement can really undermine exploitation. If workers can move, then screwing someone poorer becomes that bit harder. It can help people remove themselves from wars – which are generally harder to sustain when no one is there to fight. It can help people get out of toxic systems, and escape persecution. Freedom of movement has the potential to be a source of good for the vast majority of us. It’s never been popular with feudal overlords because it undermines their power.


News, trolls, tolerance and headspace

This is not a climate in which you can afford to spend too much time imagining things. It is harder than it has ever been to image anything good, and if you accidentally start imagining how any of the not-good stuff is going to play out, you’ll hurt.

If we are to be responsible citizens, we have to know what’s going on. Given that neither our politicians nor our media seem wholly trustworthy right now, getting real insight that can lead to a truly informed opinion is hard work, and there are so many issues, and all of them have so many implications. Overload beckons. The more sensitive, empathic and caring you are, the more scope there is to tear yourself to shreds over the world’s many problems.

Shutting down and shutting it out can feel like not caring. It can feel like a cold, hard choice, a betrayal of causes that needed our help. We don’t want to join the apathetic many, or the uninformed many, but knowing comes at too high a price.

There’s no tidy answer here, not least because we’re all different. As creatives many of us need to feel in touch – but we have some scope for deciding what we’re in touch with. We are not all obliged to know everything.

Picking things to be informed about and letting go of other issues is a reasonable choice. Cutting down on exposure to media to avoid being overwhelmed is also an option. Taking holidays from the woes of the world in order to clear the mind and claim back some space for creative thinking. Focusing on news outlets that offer good news stories, solutions and so forth can also be a great help. One of the reasons I like being involved with campaigning groups is that they all, reliably, feed good news stories back to participants, when there are any.

My creativity depends on the interactions between my imagination and the world as I encounter it. I can’t run far on pure imagination, that’s a dragon eating its own tale/tail. I want my work to be grounded and informed, not pure escapism. I cannot insulate myself too much. But, if I don’t insulate myself to some degree, all I think about is what’s going on out there and the implications of it, or I end up having to not think, to avoid spiralling into anxiety and dysfunction. I think part of the point of what we’re being exposed to is to shut us down, shut us up, overwhelm us into doing nothing. I want to resist that. There are groups and individuals out there whose intention it is to trash anyone who wants to do anything good.

There are stories about troll factories and people paid to get on social media and spread lies. Groups driven by the desire to tear down. They aren’t a majority, they are people who for various reasons have the time to be online a lot, making noise. They give the impression of being a huge and popular movement, but I think there are more of us who want to improve things than there are people who just want to destroy. There’s a case for the balance between digging around and staying away right there… Because however you go about it, not hearing those voices will help you stay sane, and maybe we don’t need to know what the trolls amongst us think, feel and want. Maybe we aren’t responsible for them – although they will tell us we are, and that we aren’t really tolerant if we can’t tolerate their hate… Maybe the answer is to selectively close our ears and not have compassion stretched to breaking point by people who set out to break us.

 


Guilt and creative challenges

We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.

This is another case of knowing something with my head and having a lot of trouble feeling it with the rest of my body. There is more to activism than focused noise-making. We can’t spend our lives being against things, and fighting, that’s exhausting. We also have to imagine, and build. However, I think a big part of why I’m struggling on this score right now relates to another point I raised in the original post: Angry, hate-laden, nihilistic attitudes are everywhere.

I can’t imagine anything powerful enough to challenge that. How do you break through to people who are only invested in not giving a shit? Or people who are dedicated to hate? Which leaves me feeling I have no choice but to give up on a whole swathe of people – many of them young and shaped by campaigns of deliberate misinformation. I can’t make myself responsible for dealing with that, even though the question of how to respond to right wing radicalisation has been on my mind a lot for months now. And if we don’t all take responsibility for dealing with it, what happens?

My advice to people dealing with conflicts in Pagan circles has always been, ‘don’t fight them, simply put an alternative out there.’ When Pagan groups clash – over ways of working, ideas, use of spaces, and over egos, nothing good comes of feeding the conflict. Stepping back and simply offering an alternative is better in all ways than running some kind of hate campaign against people who are ‘doing it wrong’ from your perspective. Maybe many of our current cultural issues are the same. Calling out criminal behaviour – racism, sexism and abuse – is always the right way to go. The rest of the time, offering an alternative…

No one is obliged to care, or feel compassion, or be generous. No one is obliged to value the things I value. No one is required to worry about ecocide. If I want people to care about the things I care about, I need to lure them in, and I know that hard campaigning of any sort often doesn’t work. In fact it only works when addressing power – eg petitioning a government. Feeling guilty because I cannot save people from themselves, and I cannot save the rest of us from the consequences of that… isn’t working.

I am experiencing bouts of paralysis in face of all the hate and misery in the world. Maybe I need to deal with this by making more space to work through my own negativity – my own rage, fear, resentment, frustration. Not by attacking other people, but by processing this for myself so I can find a far side of it and come up with something better.

As strategies go, this one is still very much a work in progress, but ‘in progress’ is a good deal better than ‘frozen’ so, I’ll take it for now.


Creating in a hostile climate

  • The world is terrifying right now. There are so many big issues, so much that needs changing, that any small creative act seems too little in the face of it all. We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.

Logically I know what the answers to this are – it’s just that emotionally I can’t get it to work (yet). The answer is to think about the kind of world we want to live in, and act as individuals, and in groups, to make that real. The shit out there is nothing more than the cumulative effects of other people, deliberately and cluelessly doing stuff. We can push back. All forms of creativity can be a valid form of pushback.

I suspect the reasons I struggle emotionally is because I’m often attracted to whimsy and small acts of silliness. Small beauties, small projects, small publishing houses… I know my scale, and my very sense of where I belong conflicts with the need to be doing more. I have to work on this.

Like many people, I’ve been exposed to the folk who say ‘why are you even bothering with that when this is so much more important? Why help refugees and not feed the homeless? I have to keep reminding myself that these statements are made purely to derail by people who do nothing to help anyone. People who just spend their time knocking other people down. But they’re like toxins thrown in the ocean – my personal ocean may be bigger than them, but it still feels the effects.

One of the things we can do collectively is to affirm that each other’s contributions are good. That any small act of good, any kindness, any generosity or warmth or expression of hope, any good idea, or effort in the right direction is good, and welcome and wanted. I’m reminded of an anecdotal activist in the habit of shouting ‘don’t you want a future’ into the faces of people who do not agree with him. We have to not be that guy. We have to be the opposite of that guy, because well intended demands to do more can grind people down just effectively as trolling does. Always demanding that other people do more does not make for a better world or even get the outcomes we may seek. We have to help each other to do more, inspire and encourage each other to do more. If we lift each other, and support each other, we can do far, far more than if we pick holes in each other. And we can, with small good things, shared and appreciated.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed with ideas, experiences, shared what’s working and what isn’t. I was paralysed for a long time by what was happening with my creativity, I could not have started a rethink alone.


Working for free

Anything up to half of my working time goes to jobs I know I will never be paid for in cash. This is important to me, because there are a lot of things that really need doing for which no budget exists. Voluntary organisations and charities are obvious examples. Struggling creative people with no money to deploy to get the things done that they really need to get done, are another. People who need tips and pointers, book reviews, etc. If I’ve got something someone else needs and can’t afford, I’ll do my best to share.

Alongside that, I’m really open to other ways of getting things done – profit share arrangements, energy exchange, gift economy… In no small part because I don’t want to live in a world where everything is about the money.

However, there’s a flip side to this. Literary festivals that make a profit but aren’t inclined to pay authors. People who want free work ‘for exposure’ when they intend to make a profit from it. This is exploitation, pure and simple. Asking for a freebie when you’re doing a charity fundraiser, or some other not-for profit activity is a different ball game. People may or may not be able to help, but there’s nothing dishonourable about asking in that situation.

Most often, if I’m going to do something for free it’s because I stepped forward to offer, not because I was asked to. Or I’ve told people they are welcome to ask.

So, what can usefully be offered if you want or need something and don’t want to pay for it? I’d advise looking hard at this, because not wanting to pay is not a source of entitlement. Consider whether you think you, or the person you are asking, is better off. If you’ve got money you aren’t inclined to spend and they’re struggling, then you aren’t playing fair, quite simply. Not wanting to pay is not the same as being unable to pay. Sometimes (often, I think) the right answer is to pay, or to at the very least offer to pay what you can afford. It’s ok to open a negotiation and see what’s acceptable.

If you’re going to offer something in exchange, make sure it has a reasonable value to the person you’re offering it to. If you’ve got thousands of followers on some platform or another, ‘exposure’ has considerably more worth. Authors always like book reviews, and if you’ve approached a person for help it should be a given that you like what they do and can give them some positive support in return. Events that can’t pay, but can do food, or accommodation, or offer a profit share are a lot more persuasive than events wanting something for nothing. People who want art for free to get a kickstarter moving but offer to pay properly if it works – just some examples to show what can be done. Asking to risk share is not asking someone to work for free.

The key here is to recognise the value of what’s not being paid for. All too often, we only value things in terms of money and de-value anything that comes without a price tag. If you need things you can’t pay for, don’t de-value the source of it. Recognise the worth, and deal with that worth with respect. It’s all too easy for people who habitually give of their time, energy and resources to forget the real value they have and to become demoralised as a consequence. People who give are the geese who lay golden eggs… killing them isn’t in anyone’s interest.


Modelling Behaviour

Children copy what they experience – most especially what they see their adult primary carers doing. Patterns for behaviour, a sense of place in the world, ideas about self, family, community and life are absorbed unconsciously early on, and often taken in through that act of mimicry. However, there’s not an age at which this entirely goes away. We’re primates. Monkey see, monkey do.

Affirmation and a sense of belonging follows from doing the things we can see other people doing. It’s one of the reasons clothes fashions and counter culture clothing are so powerful – they identify us with our people. There’s no inherent reason why we see suits as smart and jeans as scruffy, that’s just a consensus to help us fit in with the company we’re keeping. If the convention was to wear jeans to the office and suits for lounging around in, we’d do it that way instead. Neither being that physically comfortable.

When people encounter expressions of anger, hatred, violence and prejudice, some will respond by wanting to repeat that behaviour. Obviously it has to tap into personal attitude, but the more visible it is, the more comfortable it feels to be part of it. When the majority are calm, pleasant, cooperative and friendly there’s real pressure on people who tend to hate to fit in with standard behaviour.

Many people aren’t comfortable with standing out from the crowd.

This is why, for those of us who can and will buck the trend, it’s important to keep modelling the kind of behaviour we want to see in the world. Be calm. Be reasonable. Avoid aggressive and abusive language. Avoid shouting back. Model something better. It has a real effect. On the other hand, if we’re lured into expressions of rage and violence, what we do is fuel the rage and violence that we were trying to oppose. There’s an allure in verbal and physical violence – it can make us feel powerful, it can allow us power over others, and if we feel self-righteous, knocking the ‘idiots’ down can feel exciting, and that’s a trap to avoid, because at that point, we’re just a bunch of people attacking each other and the values we thought we stood up for are likely lost in the mix.

Situations of self defence aside, the ‘fight’ here is first and foremost at a conceptual level, it’s about what kind of people we are and how we think people should be, and the best way to achieve this is to keep demonstrating it.


Come the revolution

You probably have one of these – the time when everything will change. Retirement is traditional and winning the lottery is popular. When the good thing happens. When there’s more money coming in than going out. It’s often a perfectly sensible imagined point when we get to start living well. Of course what some of us do is then move the goalposts quietly. We never quite get there. This is never the year to stop striving and start living. And the years go by, and sometimes we run out of time before we get round to all the things we were going to do when it was a good time to do them.

The truth is that cutting back on the striving to make room for more living only happens when a person chooses to do it. We’ll find lots of reasons why we can’t actually just go for it now – money being the main one. I think it can be about the fear of living. What if living isn’t as good as you thought it was going to be? What if it’s better to live for an imagined future rather than dealing with trying to make things good in the present?

All of this keys into our ideas about sufficiency. When will we have earned enough, bought a big enough house, saved enough money, stockpiled enough things? What do we think we need to be happy? And if we’ve been beaten about the head with work ethics then we may feel we’re not entitled to be happy unless we can somehow do that alongside working ourselves to the bone.

Last year I was obliged to slow down. To do it, I had to question my stories about money and sufficiency, entitlement and need. I had to recognise that body and mind could not take what was being asked of them. I had to keep telling myself that it was safe to slow down a bit, that I wouldn’t be leaving us wide open to financial disaster. I had to deliberately choose having more of a life with more joy in it.

It’s easy to imagine that joy will turn up naturally at the appointed, magic hour without us having to do anything else. That’s not how it goes, but as we wait for the magic hour, opportunities for happiness pass us by. The only way is to jump in and make it happen, to choose it, make time for it, and do it now, not at some never-never point in the future when it falls spontaneously into our laps, because that fairy tale keeps us where we are, and stops us from living.


Stories about fat

Trigger warnings: weight, diet, body shape. And I’m starting with a trigger warning because this is a subject that puts some people in a very bad place indeed. Like most people my age, I grew up ‘understanding’ that being fat was the simple consequence of eating too much fat. That’s not how it works, and while more information is out there all the time, it doesn’t always filter through. The default is to blame and shame fat, still, which is bloody unhelpful.

It looks increasingly like sugar and refined carbohydrate are a far bigger issue than fat in the diet, and that the sugar industry has led the demonising of fat.

Sleep deprivation encourages us to retain fat. We live in a sleep deprived culture. I don’t know whether it’s because lack of sleep denies us processes that would have helped, or because lack of sleep is a crisis, and in a crisis, some of us store fat. Which leads me to stress – which tells our bodies there’s an emergency going on. For some of us, routinely trying to starve yourself thin can create and emergency that the body responds to by frantically storing everything it can. This was me in my teens, often only eating one meal a day, retaining weight, malnourished and miserable. Stress, and most especially work induced stress, and poverty induced stress are recognised things, but under-explored. There is also a known correlation between poverty and obesity, but no public debate about whether the stress of poverty, contributes alongside poor nutrition, to weight gain. If there were, we’d have to look differently at workplace responsibilities and government policies.

Thyroid function, and water retention and probably a whole heap of other medical conditions I’m not up to speed on can go unnoticed if we obsess over fat in relation to diet. If ‘get more exercise and lose weight’ is the only diagnosis available for the more padded person, other medical conditions – conditions that might well be causing or adding to weight gain – go unnoticed and unchecked. It happens.

Yo-yo dieting is a thing, and a lot of people get trapped in it. Brief attempts at wonder diets that cause weight loss in the shorter term, and then don’t work. This is in part because diets don’t deal with lifestyle as a whole. Wonder diets are often faddy, under-researched and won’t work for everyone, our bodies are different. It’s not just about how we eat, but about what we do with our bodies, how much we move, sleep, rest, and stress is all part of the mix. A happier life may make weight loss very easy, dieting misery can move us towards weight gain. Unhappiness leads to comfort eating, it can make us less active, and adds stresses to life that can help convince our bodies there’s a crisis we need to stock up calories to get through.

I’ve spent much of my life hating and resenting my body shape. I’ve starved myself as a form of punishment for being so disgusting – this is how I’ve felt about myself. Followed by the inevitable binges and the self-loathing those create, leading to a cycle of misery and excess weight. It’s really tough to break out of that self-perpetuating loop. I’ve done so by keeping the focus on doing things that make me happy. I’ve paid attention to how my body responds to foods, and altered my eating to do what feels good. I eat with a view to powering my body for whatever activities I have in mind, not with reference to my stomach size. I feel better about myself. I’ve got out of the punishment cycles and into a process that is about wellbeing and feeling good, and that has made a lot of odds.