Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Why there is no room at the hospital

It is our fault we are ill. We did not heat our homes properly, the damp and the mould have made us sick.

It is our fault we are ill, not eating our five a day of fruit and veg has impaired our immune systems, but we couldn’t do that and afford to heat our homes to keep the mould at bay.

It is our fault we are ill, we did not get enough exercise to stay healthy while we were trying to earn enough money to buy fresh fruit and veg and keep properly warm.

It is our fault we are ill, we got so stressed when the car broke down that was getting us to the job that was paying for the food and the heating and the rent.

It is our fault we are ill, we didn’t take enough time off to avoid the mental health crisis when we had to take on second jobs to pay off the enormous bill on fixing the car that was getting us to the first job that was paying for all the other things.

It is also our fault that productivity is low because we’re exhausted and not able to take sick leave when we are sick because then we might well lose our jobs or have our pay docked and we won’t be able to afford the train fairs to get us to our jobs in the first place and then we won’t be able to eat properly.

It is our fault that there aren’t enough beds at the hospitals or enough nurses to care for us because if only our productivity had been higher the government could afford those little luxuries, like keeping us alive and able to function.

But it is definitely all our fault.

It has nothing to do with bankers, or the soaring cost of rent that pours money into the pockets of the wealthy landowners who are not legally obliged to keep their properties fit for human habitation.

It is definitely our fault and has nothing to do with money spent on nuclear submarines we can never use, or high speed rail that benefits so few of us. It has nothing to do with massive corporations declining to pay their taxes or billionaires taking their money off shore.

We’ve no one to blame but ourselves, clearly.

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Justice for the dead

If terrorists killed 120,000 British people, the UK would be trying to bomb them out of existence.

If another country killed 120,000 British people, we would be at war.

In both of those scenarios, the right wing press would be screaming for blood and retribution.

It is equally true I think that if a private company, a food, a procedure or anything of that ilk was linked to 120,000 deaths there would be public outcry, investigations, prosecutions. The perpetrators would likely be shut down.

The British Medical Journal has explicitly linked government policy to nearly 120,000 deaths in the UK, with the over sixties and those in care being hit worst. More details here – http://blogs.bmj.com/bmjopen/2017/11/15/health-and-social-care-spending-cuts-linked-to-120000-excess-deaths-in-england/

The BBCs didn’t really run with it as a story, for reasons. I have no idea what the reasons were. To the best of my knowledge, there is no criminal investigation under way. No one in government has resigned over it.

The dead deserve justice. I don’t see any difference between killing people via terrorism and killing them via government policy. Not when those policies are designed to harm and obviously going to hurt and clearly putting the most vulnerable at risk for political reasons. Terrorism is violence with a political agenda. Austerity is a political agenda that kills. Unfortunately we’ve no mechanism for dealing with political violence when it comes from the establishment and kills on this scale.


My friend has been accused of a terrible thing

If our friends are accused of bullying, assault or worse, our first instinct is of course to defend them. For a start, we’re emotionally invested in them. Our reputation may be linked to theirs. We don’t want our own judgement called into question if we have picked awful people as friends.  We don’t want to be guilty by association. They’ve never done anything to us. And on it goes.

If a person is abusive, the odds are they’ll do it more than once. There isn’t a true reversal of this. That you have never seen a person abuse someone doesn’t mean they don’t do it. They may be a pillar of the community – just like all those paedophile priests. They may do great work for charity, just like Jimmy Saville. Cast your mind back to any interview with the friends and neighbours of a killer and they will tell you how that person never seemed the type. Was always nice, quiet, polite. It’s a hard truth to face, but if your friend has been accused of a terrible thing, there may be good reason.

What to do? Well, if you want to support your friend, you can do so. You can give them private emotional support, and you can refuse to comment if pressed. Beyond that, tread carefully because any testimony you think you can give to the effect that your friend just isn’t like that, isn’t relevant, or helpful.

It’s different if you can provide the sort of evidence the police or a court might use. If you can say honestly that you were there and that the thing did not happen, that’s relevant. If you were with the accused when the events allegedly occurred, that matters, or if you can demonstrate any other facts that cast things in a different light. If you’re dealing with a police situation, you need to go to the police with this rather than putting it in the public domain.

It is incredibly unsettling to find that someone you trusted has done a terrible thing. I’ve been through this. It punches holes in your reality, makes you question everything and everyone, leaves your trust in tatters. The fallout for people who are the family of, or have been friends with an abuser, a rapist, or (I imagine, not having been there) a killer is vast and can take a long time to work through. Reluctance to face this may have us inclined to protect people who do not deserve protecting. If we protect them to protect ourselves, we become complicit.

Of course we want to think the best of our friends. It’s natural. Loyalty is a good thing, and a friendship should be based on trust. The trouble is that people who offend also lie. They present themselves to us as good people. They may even believe that their offences are somehow ok, or not that big a deal. Of course if we’d do the same thing given half a chance, we might be inclined to agree with them, which is one of the reasons I don’t always trust the words of people who rush in to say that of course their good friend would never do something like that…


Seeking abundance

If you’re reading this blog, the odds are you spend most of your days exposed to a stream of advertisements. Those adverts sell you dissatisfaction, fear and a sense of insufficiency to get you to buy the latest new, improved, shiner, faster thing that you can’t afford and don’t need.  It is a planet destroying approach, and constantly undermines our happiness and creates vast social and economic pressure.

The antidote, is to deliberately seek a sense of abundance that doesn’t depend on buying stuff. It’s an approach that doesn’t depend on being wealthy. So long as your basic needs are covered, you can have abundance if you know where to look for it.

There can be a tremendous sense of abundance in giving things away and taking care of other people. The well-off person who is seeking abundance can do it in part by helping others. Donate to the food bank. Give away old clothes. Buy someone lunch. Solve a problem for someone else. You get to feel heroic and powerful, and to make a difference.

There is no greater richness than being time rich. Time is finite, it is the stuff our lives are made of and it is easy to feel like we don’t have enough of it. Time that isn’t scheduled, time to do as you please, to do nothing – this is an incredible abundance to be enjoyed and celebrated. Turn off the machines of an evening, and great swathes of time can appear, rich with possibility. Learning to do nothing is a great antidote to information overload and fast lane nonsense.

Health is another great richness. Devoting time, energy and resources to your mental and physical health improves your quality of life and again, creates that feeling of abundance. If economic activity becomes more important than health, we end up deeply impoverished, ill and miserable. Claim back whatever time and energy you can find to put your health first.

Enjoy the small things. Every day life is full of wonderful small things – moments of beauty, kindness, inspiration, laughter. If you look for them you’ll see them. If your attention is always focused on some distant goal, you may miss all the good things that are right in front of you. Taking the time to enjoy what you’ve got increases feelings of abundance.

Stop treating hard work, long working hours, exhaustion and stress like some kind of virtue. There’s a lot of social support out there for doing this, which is of course why we end up doing it. These are not virtues, these are social ills and we need to free ourselves from them. Celebrate sloth, daydreaming, quietness, non-consumption, lack of speed, days off, and you start celebrating quality of life, not your economic usefulness to someone else.

Abundance is not some future goal to buy our way towards. Abundance is something we can only have if we look for it here and now.


Female body shapes

‘Thin’ is a problematic concept that has haunted me my entire life. Like many female-bodied persons, I tend towards curves. I’m aware that I have hips and breasts for breeding purposes. This is not an unusual quality in women. I also have a body that is perfectly willing to build muscle. Muscle does not make you thin. If you have muscles, you won’t have your bones on display.

Being thin depends on not eating too much. It depends on ignoring hunger. Calorie control, for me, means no energy, no means to be physically active. But then, thin doesn’t require you to be physically active, because thin doesn’t have any room in it for decent muscles.

What thin gives you is a delicate, fragile aesthetic. It says that you won’t be able to run away or put up much of a fight. You can easily be carried off. Thin female shapes can suggest pre-pubescence, or being a boy. There may be questions to ask about male tastes that favour girls who look like male children, and women who look easy to overpower.

Fit is a much easier thing to work on, I have found. Fit means choosing good food and not going hungry. It means having the energy to be active, and using that energy to be active. It means enjoying the body rather than denying it. That too, raises questions. Appetite for food is easily linked to other bodily appetites. If you’re working with an angels/whores take on womanhood, then the angles will be thin and unworldly, and the whores will enjoy all carnal things – food, sex, their own bodies… How much is thinness about not being allowed to enjoy your own physical self?

In the fashion industry, I gather the favouring of the very thin body has to do with how clothes sit. If the model is very thin across the pelvis and bust, you know the clothes will hang right regardless of who wears them. Thin is a way to make us all the same, to deny diversity and the reality of body shapes. Bodies are diverse. There would be more art in designing clothes that look good on different body shapes, but high fashion does not appear to be up for this challenge.

Thin is a full time job. You can’t take days off from it. Bodies that think they are living through a famine will store calories as soon as there are extra ones to play with. This is part of why many dieters find their weight yo-yos. Being thin, if it is not your natural body shape, is something you have to think about all the time. I’m not sure how many women have bone thin as their natural body shape. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who was really thin and who did not have to work at it. Naturally very thin women only seem to exist in films and TV shows, carelessly eating and drinking what they like and staying skinny because they are creatures of the (male?) imagination.

I think the quest to be thin is a dubious pursuit at best. There’s so much shaming of the female body in the industries that benefit from thinness. Imagine how much happier, and healthier we could all be and how much more time and money we could have to invest in other things if we gave up on the shapes we’ve been told to be, and started looking after our bodies with the idea of being fit and healthy instead.


No Seasonal Pagan Shaming

Winter. For some of us, it’s a bloody awful time of year. Every year, without fail I see at least one piece online (usually more) that talks about celebrating winter in a way that is not especially kind to people who can’t. There are a lot of people who can’t. If you can joyfully celebrate the cold and dark half of the year – lovely. Have fun with that. It’s important to remember that there are very good reasons why other people can’t – it’s not that we’re lazy, or not trying hard enough, or fair weather Pagans, or failing at Paganism.

The shorter, darker days can really pile it on for people who suffer depression. Gloom and loss of energy make it a lot harder to get out to things or to feel like dealing with people. We may need to hibernate, not celebrate. We may not want to bring our gloom to your celebration.

For those of us with issues around mobility and balance, the mud, ice and frost is a nightmare. Outside becomes a treacherous place. Not everyone can skip along the frosty pavements like Legolas on the side of a mountain. For some of us, the fear of falling includes the fear of damaging an already fragile body. For older and more delicate people, a broken hip can be the beginning of the end and is not something to take lightly.

Celebrating the warm snugness of home and hearth is all well and good, but not everyone can afford it. If winter means choosing between heating and eating, there is nothing much to celebrate, and no resource to spare for joining in with other people’s celebrations. Poverty isn’t always visible or self announcing, people won’t always tell you they can’t afford to have the lights on at night.

Celebrating outside requires warm winter clothes, decent boots, a waterproof coat. Not everyone has or can afford that kind of kit. Not everyone can drive to the wild places in their four by four to go communing with nature whilst wearing their ski gear. It’s really tough going outside and getting cold when you can’t come home and get warm and dry in a reliable way. It’s harder, too, if you’re not eating properly. Cold and hungry are not a good combination, and there’s nothing like being cold for making you hungry. Not everyone has the luxury of a spare pair of outdoor shoes to wear if they get a pair soaked in ritual.

Not everyone loves the winter. Not everyone can. Some of us won’t survive it, killed by the cold and by lack of good food, by illnesses we could not fight off. Some of us will be injured by the conditions and some of us may never get over that. So, if you see someone Pagan-shaming over how people respond to the winter remind them that not everyone has the luxury of being able to celebrate. Not everyone is privileged enough to find winter easy.


The need to be useful

When you’re ill, it is important to rest in order to recover. However, the need to feel useful can be a real barrier to this. I think it most afflicts people whose self esteem is tied to their output. If being useful to someone else is how you get to feel ok about yourself, then stopping is really hard. The lower a person’s sense of self worth is, the harder it is for them to feel that resting and recovering might be more important than doing the useful things.

The result can be that if you do stop in order to try and get well, you end up mired in panic and feelings of worthlessness, none of which helps. Especially not when what you’re trying to recover from is depression and/or anxiety.

It certainly doesn’t help that we have a government intent on making us believe that we are either workers or shirkers. We are to believe that hard work is the only thing that can save us from economic ruin (such a big lie). We are told by media and ministers alike that if we aren’t useful, we aren’t worth anything to anyone. Ill people are treated like scroungers and criminals. In that context, who wants to admit they are too ill to work? And so many people end up working when they should not, and making worse the health problems that might have been fixed if they’d felt able to stop.

If you are unable to fend off the idea that you must be useful, but you are also in need of time off, here’s a thought that may help. If you are well and rested, you will be better at doing the things. Your mind will be sharper, you’ll be faster, more efficient, and more effective.

Mostly, the time to tackle the pernicious idea that the measure of our lives is our utility, is not when you’re in a crisis. This is an every day sort of problem. We can challenge it by affirming each other’s rights to rest and to good health. We can remind each other that we should not be cogs in someone else’s profit machine. We can look after each other, and we may at times need to support and take care of those who are being let down by the system. We can campaign for change, and resist the lies of politicians and media alike, overcoming their bile to recognise our shared humanity.

We all need rest, time off, and time to recover when we are ill. Without a doubt, we will all face serious illness at some point – either our own, or that of someone close to us. We need to gently educate the people who are lucky enough not to be really ill, and who are buying into the lies about effort and scrounging. Of course it is tempting to believe it when you seem to be winning, because it means it is your effort keeping you ahead, not pure chance. It gives the illusion of being in control, and that’s a hard illusion to let go of.

We are soft and fragile things, our bodies damage easily, our minds can be broken. We cannot ask ourselves to function like pieces of machinery. We should not have to work ourselves into the ground in order to survive, or to be socially acceptable.


Romance – we do it to ourselves

I am very partial to a love story, and happy to find love in a story as part of some other narrative, but I hate romance. It is a genre written for women by women, and I recognise that many women love it, but I think there’s much to be uneasy about. I’ve read a lot of romance, one way and another, trying to get to grips with it, and how it has changed meaning over time.

The end point of a romance novel is that the woman gets her man. Either in marriage or in something that looks like a settled and dedicated relationship. It is a story shape that tells us we are to aspire to this. It is the big moment for any woman. Your wedding day will be the most important day of your life. That’s a really dodgy message. It was dodgy when Jane Austin was doing it. It remains dodgy.

It’s not unusual for the man to start out hostile, unpleasant, dangerous, threatening, or something else of that ilk. We are to take from this the good old message that he’s horrible to you because he fancies you, just like the way we were told at school that boys hit us because they liked us. We are told that the heroine will magically turn the beastly man into a good man. This keeps us trying to tame abusive men and imagining that we can change them. This is not helpful.

Romance is a hetro-normative genre. My experience of writing in it is that readers and reviewers get really cranky if you write lesbian, or gay romance. It has to be labelled clearly as such, and then they can avoid it. You can’t have polyamoury in the romance genre, either. Its one man and one woman for the happily ever after. So, whole swathes of ways of being are excluded. Romance is on the whole a straight genre. LGBTQ people are expected, too often, to call their love stories something else. I’m not cool with that.

On the whole romance is a genre where being young and beautiful matters. Winning the man tends not to involve saving him from burning buildings, or any kind of adventure. This is a genre of the domestic sphere, more often than not. Because that’s where we are to understand that women belong. If there is any drama, it is usually the woman must be helped, rescued and so forth.

Medieval romance gives us forced marriage. I have a lot of trouble with ‘medieval romance’ as a concept knowing it was an era when women’s bodies were political game pieces and children could be married off to be raped by men they’d never even seen before. By finding ways to make these setups seem romantic, I think we’re trying to normalise some pretty appalling things.

Captive romances take this a bit further – and there’s too many of them out there. Women are captured, taken prisoner (usually in a historical context) and fall in love with their abuser so that makes it ok. That doesn’t make it ok. Not ever. I do not think these are good stories to tell each other.

I wonder how much of the genre is about trying to make inexcusable male behaviour palatable to women who aren’t encouraged to think they can have anything else. We do it to ourselves. I think we need better stories – stories about love that don’t just focus on the start of a relationship but which explore what it means to lover over a longer time frame. I want romance to be a genre that does not assume the preferences of the main characters, and I want there to be room for people who can be romantically attached to more than one person.  Most of all, I want women to stop telling other women that shitty, domineering, controlling and even violent men are in some way sexy.


Framing the horrors

Trigger warnings. Also, I’m going to use a lot of ‘I’ statements in this blog, not all of them are true of me, this is about the language, not personal experience.

How we use language informs how we see our own experiences, how other people use language shapes how we understand them. We may not be consciously analyzing each other’s words, but nuances affect us anyway. It is a method that is used to manipulate people. Cultural habits of speech can entrench values – and not always good or healthy values. How we frame things can prop up power imbalance, abuse of power, disempowering of sets of people and so forth. I think one of my jobs as a bard is to get people thinking about how the words they hear and the words they use change and shape their relationship with reality.

Let’s consider this more specifically.

“I was raped.”

This phrase casts rape as an event that happened to the speaker. It has a similar ring to “a tree branch hit me on the head” or “I had a cold.” The phrasing disappears a number of things. It disappears the rapist as an active player in the events, someone who had a choice, and autonomy, not at all like a falling tree branch. It seems passive, perhaps unavoidable, like the tree branch and the cold. These things just happen.

“A man raped me” is a very different statement, foregrounding the deliberate action of an individual. Something done to the victim, not an accident, not a falling tree.

We use all the same terms of phrase for other acts of violence and sexual assault. I was assaulted, not someone assaulted me. I was mugged, not someone mugged me. I was a victim of child abuse, not pointing at the adult who abused your child self.

One of the other things this language disappears, is the likelihood of the victim knowing the aggressor. Most assaults are not undertaken by strangers, although these are the ones we are taught to guard against. You are most likely to be killed, assaulted or sexually abused by someone you know. “I was raped” has no known person in it as perpetrator. It implies stranger danger. “I was raped by my boyfriend” has a very different impact. “I was abused as a child by my stepbrother” foregrounds a lot of things that need to be visible. Of course for many of us it isn’t safe to name the aggressor, and we have legal systems that mean you have to be careful about your accusations, but we should all be able to get as far as ‘I was assaulted by someone I trusted’.

The word ‘rapist’ suggests something other, that is not a person. A rapist is something we can imagine as separate, not one of us. It allows us to wriggle out of thinking about it. Or we can picture them like some kind of stage villain, self announcing and distinct. Rapists are here. They are us. They are next to us on the train. We work with them, hang out with them, are related to them. We need to re-identify their presence, their personhood. So many women are raped, it is reasonable to assume that men who rape are present and numerous and not self announcing. A man raped me, not ‘a rapist’.

We lose the men when we say ‘I was raped’. We lose the clarity that, often what we’re talking about is something a man has done to a woman. Yes, I know it doesn’t always work that way, but mostly it does. Rape is a crime with a distinct gender bias. This is another reason it would be helpful if we could start foregrounding the rapist when we talk about this stuff. It might help us not get bogged down in ‘not all men’ conversations if we started by being a bit clearer about who had done the things in the first place. Saying ‘I was raped, I was assaulted’ lets people decline to hear who was doing it.

How we talk about things informs how we feel about them and think about them. We need to move away from victim blaming, and one way we can push towards that is to change how we phrase things so that the perpetrator remains firmly in view.


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 – http://www.pagandawnmag.org/alan-moore-the-art-of-magic/)

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!