Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Living Creatively

Creativity shouldn’t be just for the professional few or for whatever time we can invest in creative hobbies. Creativity should be part of normal life.

I’ve been glad to see memes doing the rounds pointing out that singing, dancing, making art and so forth used to just be things people did. In having turned that into professions, and in having industrialised our lives, we’ve lost a lot of that. Obviously I’m in favour of there being space for creative professionals, but I feel very strongly that creativity should be for everyone, all the time.

We’ve traded our freedom to create for convenience.

Well, that’s almost true. Our ancestors were sold the idea of convenience, and forced off the land and into factories as a consequence of industrialisation.  Creativity isn’t something you can have when a large percentage of your working time is about making money for other people. Creativity takes time – both thinking time and the time to act.  You need the space to wonder and imagine.

A life built out of wondering and imagining is a lot richer. Whether we’re thinking about homes, gardens, meals, clothes, our neighbourhoods, our extended family our social lives… everything is richer if we have time to think about it and invest creatively in how we live.

There’s a unique pleasure in having something that is perfect for you – the perfect fit, the perfect flavour, the exact right combination of colours or scents… and you can’t buy that from a one-size-fits-all retailer. You can’t buy the pleasure of creating, or the delight of manifesting your inspiration in your life.

We should all have the time to enrich our lives in any way we like. What we have are lives dominated by work and responsibilities in which we buy the insipid things that are mass produced with an eye to not being entirely hateful to the highest possible number of people. Life should not be this narrow.

A creative life can be a relatively cheap and affordable life. However, what it definitely requires is time. If you’re constantly run off your feet here’s no opportunity to daydream, to imagine things that would be fun or pleasurable or health promoting. Delight takes time. Instant gratification often turns out to be not that gratifying – especially not compared to the joy available from something you have made yourself, in your own way and for your own reasons.


What if we took mental health seriously?

At the moment here in the UK we have badly funded mental health resources and long waiting lists for anyone in crisis trying to get help. It’s an appalling situation. But, what if we didn’t even start at the point of trying to fix people’s mental health? What if we took mental health so seriously that our laws, culture and ways of living actively supported us in getting to be well? What would need to change?

Stress, and particularly stress caused by poverty and insecurity undermines mental health. If we wanted as many people as possible to be as well as possible, we’d have to deal with those problems. The money and resources exist. Universal Basic Income would remove a lot of fear from people’s lives, which would have wide reaching mental health benefits. 4 day working weeks, and work policies that promote mental health would be great. Shorter shifts, better breaks, kinder and more humane working conditions would all help considerably.

We’d have to take the climate crisis seriously. Distress around the loss of species and habitats is affecting many people’s mental health – especially young people. The insecurity and uncertainty caused by climate change impacts mental health. Flooding, drought, hazardous heat waves, crop failures – we can’t afford this level of uncertainty and threat. We can’t protect our mental health without protecting the environment.

Everyone needs green space where they live and free and easy access to that space. The relationship between mental health and green space is known. We also have better mental health when we have time, energy and opportunity for exercise – being able to move about outside is the cheapest and most sustainable kind of exercise available. That should be on everyone’s doorsteps. To improve everyone’s mental health, we would have to fill our towns and cities with plants and set more space aside for walking and cycling.

We need healthy bodies – good food, clean water, prompt medical care. We need the time and resources to be able to take care of ourselves, which isn’t available if you work long hours for not much money. A great deal of depression and anxiety is caused by being ill and being in pain. Taking mental health seriously means we need a culture of physical wellness too – you can’t separate body and mind.

Good mental health also requires social engagement and feelings of belonging. It calls for dignity and a sense of self worth – much of which would be tackled by dealing with the points I’ve made above. We need laws that uphold dignity and treat people as valuable and not disposable. We need systems that do not punish people for the accident of their circumstances.

We have to stop seeing poor mental health as a sign of personal failing or weakness. It’s a symptom of sick systems, broken relationships and inhuman ways of treating humans. To change that, we have to start thinking that kindness is better than exploitation, that wellbeing should not be a privilege for the few and that consumption is not the answer to everything.


Stories we need to change

There are a lot of stories in popular culture that do far more harm than good. One of them goes as follows – and I’ve seen variations of it many times in films.

There are some men who have a job to do. A sexy lady person comes along and distracts them. The professional men suddenly become completely unable to do their job. They may be distracted enough that someone escapes, or plants a bomb, or otherwise thwarts what they were supposed to be doing. They may be so overwhelmed by the sexy lady person that they leave their post, hand over keys or otherwise actively mess up their job.

No one really benefits from this story. It tells men that they have no self control and will think with their balls at the slightest provocation. If there’s a sexy lady person in the room they may become unable to think or to act professionally. They may have no self control or integrity in face of a sexy lady person. This in turn supports narratives that when men experience desire they cannot be expected to control themselves or act responsibly, so it’s perpetuating rape culture.

Scenes like these tell women that sexuality is how women get things done. Sexy clothing, provocative behaviour and offering sex will allow you to manipulate men. Power for women thus becomes entangled with being young – because we don’t tend to present older women as sexually appealing. The accident of beauty is the only possible source of power and worth. Most women therefore will not have an option on being powerful on these terms. It tells women they should be glad when men focus on them sexually because this is the only kind of power they can have. Also sexy women tend to be ‘bad guys’. This is all very patriarchal.

There are stories in which the roles are reversed, but what tends to happen is that the women fall in love with the men, and may switch sides on the basis of this. The women are more likely to be persuaded by the righteous cause the man has, as well as his handsome face. Men are invariably able to use power in other ways alongside persuading key women to act on their behalf. Men using their sexy powers are more likely to be heroes than villains.

A single instance of a story like this doesn’t do much harm, but it’s such a frequently used plot device – and it is lazy as a plot device as well. We see it too often, we hear its messages too often. It’s a crappy story that may do more to shape how people think of themselves than it does to reflect how people really are.


Rights and responsibilities

One sign of a healthy society is that the rights and responsibilities of people are entirely connected. My freedom should be limited by my not having too much impact on your freedom. Your safety should be in part my responsibility. When this goes wrong, people suffer and we cease to have a meaningful social contract with each other.

American gun law is a case in point. The right to own guns has, for far too long, trumped the right of people to be safe. It’s especially hideous that children being safe in school is considered a less important right than that gun owners be free from responsibilities.

In the UK, we’re increasingly seeing things like the right to affordable food and housing being less important than the rights of a relative few people to underpay workers or make a massive profit from rent.

While covid restrictions have been awful to deal with, I do not believe that my personal freedoms are more important than other people not dying. I also recognise that my not catching a horrible illness, not enduring being sick, or facing the risk of death or long term health problems also involves other people upholding those restrictions. By collectively limiting our freedoms over the last year we have been able to keep each other safer. And again, there are issues around the ‘rights’ of certain businesses to keep making profits from unsafe workspaces at a cost to everyone’s health.

All too often we’re persuaded that we can curtail other people’s freedoms while leaving our own unharmed. The brexit fiasco has been an unpleasant illustration of this. The desire to restrict freedom of movement for other people has of course restricted freedom of movement for UK citizens. When we don’t see our rights and responsibilities as interconnected, it is much easier to persuade us that someone else can have their rights removed without it costing us anything. The suggestion that we step away from human rights laws so that the government can punish specific people it doesn’t like should, surely invite the question of which freedoms the rest of us are prepared to lose.

Because once someone isn’t entitled to a fair trial, none of us can be sure that we are. Once someone isn’t entitled to privacy, none of us are. Once the police have a free pass on committing crimes in certain contexts, none of us can be confident of being dealt with fairly.

Ask what your freedoms cost other people and not just the people around you, but also people in other countries, and the environment and other living beings. Ask what your responsibilities uphold – whether they are part of a social contract that tries to balance everyone’s interests, or whether you are being exploited for someone else’s unfair advantage.


Contemplating resilience

I’m writing this on a Friday morning. This is part of a new cunning plan about how I organise my time, and it has paid off well. I’ve shuffled about so that I don’t have to be online at any specific time in the morning. Anything that needs to happen before lunchtime is set up the day before, or earlier. This has worked out well. It means if I have a sleepless night, or am otherwise ill, I can get to the computer whenever, and nothing is messed up.

This shift also means that if I’m having a bad day for concentration, I’m under no pressure. This is as well – this is a blog post brought about by being short of useful ideas, written on a day when I’m in a lot of body pain and don’t have much energy. It’s a slow process, having ideas and writing.

I’ve become much more possessive of my time and energy. I’ve had to, there just isn’t enough of it to go round. I’ve started asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ What do I want? What do I need? These are not questions I am good at answering, but I’m going to keep asking them.

Flexibility helps. Giving myself more wriggle room for the really bad days, helps. Slack in the system helps. We live in a society that prizes efficiency, but, what efficiency really means is nowhere to go if something goes wrong. Efficiency doesn’t give you enough hospital beds in a pandemic. It doesn’t give you resilience in face of sudden change. It doesn’t give you options. Working when ill isn’t as efficient as taking time off to recover, but an overly efficient system won’t let you have time off. Ironically, trying to be efficient isn’t efficient as soon as the situation changes. There’s a lot to be said for trying to be resilient in the first place.

For me, resilience looks like being able to afford to stop and rest whenever I am too tired to continue. Days off at need would be helpful, but I’m not quite up to that, yet. I can work very short days when I need to, and on the day of writing this post, I’m contemplating that choice. I could push on with an interesting piece of work I have on the go, but I’ll do a better job if I’m not so tired. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired, but it was probably more than a year ago.

Working hard doesn’t save anyone. It just grinds you down and reduces your quality of life. If your financial situation is so bad that you have no choice but to work long hours for little pay – that’s truly awful. I’ve done some of that kind of work, and I know that we need radical political change. No one should have to break their physical or mental health to be able to afford to eat. No one should be worked to death so that the billionaires, the shareholders and the people who profit from other people’s labour can keep doing that.

I want everyone to be able to take time off when they need it. I want everyone who is ill to be able to afford to rest and recover. Financially vulnerable people working when ill have certainly been part of how covid is getting around and a kinder, fairer system would have protected us all from the consequences of that.


Who should change?

CW abuse

I’ve been poking about on the NHS website. I notice that medication to deal with trauma is something they offer to victims who can’t have meaningful therapy because their domestic abuse is ongoing. I’ve read page after page about coping with triggering and how to manage PTSD symptoms on websites designed to help people with mental health problems. I’ve read what content there is about how to support sufferers – be patient with them, listen – good stuff, but lacking something.

What I’m not seeing is the mental health advice about not triggering people. I’m not seeing the pages about dealing with workplace culture and bullying. I’m not seeing the advice to people about how to curb abusive behaviour and treat partners better. The Relate website is full of advice about what to do if you are upset, frustrated or annoyed in your relationship. It doesn’t say much about what to do if you are terrified, or in overwhelming distress, or what to do if your partner ‘makes you angry’ so that you feel justified hitting them.

It’s always the victim who has to change. It’s the victim who is expected to do the work, put the experience into perspective, take the meds, and become more resilient. Where is the content about how we do more to look after each other?

Everything I have thus far found online about PTSD therapy seems to start from the assumption that it was a one off event, never likely to happen again and that once you feel that you’ll be fine. Given the stats on abuse, child abuse, domestic abuse and people being made ill by their workplaces, it’s hard to see how this can be helpful. There are so many traumatic things people go through that aren’t one off events, but part of their daily lives.

If you’re wounded and struggling, all I can really offer you right now is solidarity and this thought – just because the majority of resources are focused on fixing you, does not mean it is you who are broken. The sick society that harmed you, is broken. The people who inflicted the damage, are broken. You need to feel safe – you should be able to feel safe. Safety does not really come from you changing the story about what happened, or working to minimise it. Safety comes from living in a culture that doesn’t encourage, condone and generally facilitate abuse and bullying. There’s nothing more healing and restorative than getting to feel safe.


Supporting Victims

If someone you know is a victim of bullying or abuse, there are things you can say and do that will really help, and well meaning things that can make the situation worse.  

Being ‘neutral’ can feel like a moral choice. It isn’t. Doing nothing always supports bullies and abusers and enables them to continue. It always undermines the victim. If both people tell you they are the victim and you don’t know what to do, look at the power balance. If all else fails, support the person who is asking for comfort and safety not the person who is asking to punish someone. Abusers will gather support to pile further abuse on victims, and you can avoid becoming part of this.

Listen. Really listen. Don’t bring assumptions with you or ideas about what you would have done differently. Don’t assume that because the bully is nice to you that they wouldn’t do this. Bullies and abusers cultivate supporters – how else could they operate successfully? They are in control of what they do, and will deliberately isolate their victims.

Micro-aggressions are a real thing. If the individual events described to you seem trivial, remember to look at the bigger picture. If someone is facing a constant drip of poison, put downs, humiliations, criticism, being overloaded, being blamed and the like than the damage done will be greater than the sum of its parts. Don’t dismiss bullying on the basis that it just looked like one small thing. Also remember that experiences that aren’t a big deal for you might feel very different to someone else.

Don’t try to explain, justify or minimise the abuse. There may be a time in the future where understanding why would be helpful, but right now the most important thing is that the victim feels safe and supported. Don’t make the bully and their issues the more important thing. Being hurt, being a former victim, being under a lot of stress, having mental health problems – these things do not make it ok to hurt other people. Many hurt and damaged people manage not to hurt anyone else. It’s not inevitable and no free passes should be given.

Don’t tell them to be stoical. Don’t tell them it will pass, or not to make a fuss, or not to take it to heart. That’s just a way of shutting people down. If what they say makes you uncomfortable, that really shouldn’t be the most important thing. Your mild discomfort at hearing this is nothing compared to actually living with it. This includes being made to feel uncomfortable about someone you liked.

Don’t ask them to put the wellbeing of the community first. Don’t tell them to be silent for fear they will harm the company or the organisation. Any group that puts looking good ahead of caring for the people in it, is toxic. Any group that thinks its reputation is more important than whether it is enabling abuse, will keep enabling abuse and must be stopped. However important you think the community, or the work the group is doing really is, this stuff will rot it to the core if undealt with.

Don’t make the victim responsible for sorting out the situation. Don’t make it their job to better humour and pacify their abuser. Don’t tell them to put up with it. Listen to them, support them, act to make safer and healthier spaces. If you truly can’t tell who the bully is in a situation, working broadly to improve safety will either sort things out or make it clearer what’s going on. Sometimes people truly believe they are victims because they can’t accept others holding reasonable boundaries or can’t bear being given a ‘no’ as an answer. The person who is able to say no is usually the person with the power in any given situation, and the person who is not allowed to say no is the person who needs your help.


The importance of hope

When times are hard, hope can get us through. The simplest hope that things can be better, and that this is not going to be the way of it forever, can keep a person going. Often it doesn’t take much.

It is also true that the glimmers of hope can be what hurt you most. They keep you hanging on, striving, trying, and sometimes it would be better to give up and walk away.

When it comes to things like politics, climate crisis, and covid, there is no away. If we give up, there’s nowhere to retreat to where things will be better. It’s not like giving up on a career – where you might find a better one, or admitting a marriage isn’t working when you have the hopes of improving your life by getting out. There is no out. And around these huge issues, hope can be in short supply.

Without hope, it is difficult to see how to keep going, how to change things or what to do. That’s paralysing, and no one makes much good for themselves when they are frozen in this way. No one makes radical changes from a place of feeling like there’s no point even trying.

Hope has fellow travellers, it is nourished and enabled by experiences of warmth and joy, beauty  laughter, delight, and kindness. So if building hope seems too ambitious, look for the small wonders and beauties and try to focus on those. Share them. A picture of a pretty sunset can birth the hope of being able to see the person who took the photo. The promise of a good book to read can create some sense of there being a tomorrow.

Find what sweetness you can, share it where you can. It may not seem like much, but the tiniest threads of hope are enough to keep a person going in hard times. I know, because I’ve done it. The smallest things can make the difference between knowing how to keep going and being entirely defeated.


Please be an intolerant Pagan

I’m an intolerant Pagan, and I invite you to join me.

If we start from the premise of ‘an it harm none, do what you will’ then we don’t need to tolerate people who are just getting on with their lives and their Paganism. Diversity doesn’t need our tolerance – diversity is a good thing. We don’t need to all think, feel, practice or believe in the same ways. Paganism has always been a tad individualistic and we do not need dogma to affirm us. We can argue, or agree, we can accept and reject each other based on whether we get along, but we should never have to tolerate each other.

I like diversity, I embrace and welcome it. I am comfortable with beliefs, practices and ways of life other than my own. If you’re just getting on with your life and not hurting anyone, what you do is none of my business, and tolerance is not part of the mix.

I will not tolerate people who spread hatred and wish harm to others. I will not tolerate people who think they are entitled to force their views onto other people. I don’t tolerate abuse, bullying, racism, sexism, oppression, cruelty, violence, threats.  I’ve got no time for hatred.  At the moment I don’t have a lot of energy for active fighting of anything much, but I will move away from anyone who I can’t tolerate. I will not give them a platform.

The right to free speech is not the right to an audience. It isn’t the right to be heard and it most certainly isn’t the right to be tolerated.

So if anyone suggests that you’re being intolerant by not giving them a place at your table, tell them you know, and that this is because you aren’t a tolerant person. Don’t let your kindness, your inclusiveness and your generosity be weaponised against you. If you find something intolerable, you do not owe it a fair listen. Tolerance is just a way of enabling stuff we don’t really want. I don’t want to live in a tolerant society, I want to live in a fair, inclusive and diverse society free from haters.  Equally, I do not want to be tolerated, I want to be safe.


Changing how I work

This week I put down my paid work with the Transition Network. For some years now I’ve done a monthly community newsletter for Transition Stroud, and of late I’ve also been doing the social media as well. It’s been a good project to work with and there’s a lot to like about it. The pay was steady, more than the minimum wage most of the time, and it was work I could do well. I poured a lot into it.

Like many self employed people, I work multiple small jobs. The trouble with this is the generally invisible work around working. If you just do one job, you probably won’t notice it. You need to know your people, the outfit you work for, its rules, habits, assumptions, systems and whatnot. As someone doing social media work, I also have to know the brand identity and how it’s evolving and be on top of news developments.  There’s quite a lot of mental work that all of us do around the work we officially do.

When you work multiple jobs, you still have to have a full job’s worth of that knowledge for every single job you are doing. Then you have to move between jobs, keeping track of what applies where.  It might seem like having lots of small jobs would be no harder work than doing the same number of hours on a single job, but it is, because of all that extra mental labour required.

There was a brief patch when I was up to eight jobs, and a long stretch when I was doing seven.  I’d successfully brought the number down, but even so it’s been hard. The Transition work was my one remaining outlier, the job that doesn’t overlap with any other job, which makes it the most expensive in terms of tracking all the information I need.  It’s not been easy to let go of, but if I am to avoid burnout and stay passably sane, this is the kind of change I need to make.

The other less than perfectly visible issue with having lots of freelance jobs, is that you have none of the benefits conventional employment gives. There is no paid sick leave. There is also no paid holiday leave. In the absence of paid time off, you either have to take a pay cut to get a break, or you have to work extra hard to offset your missing week. Neither of these approaches is restful.  Having done years when I didn’t manage to take a whole week off, this kind of thing is hard, and not good for mental health.

There are advantages to companies and organisations in hiring freelancers – no national insurance to pay, no pension requirements, no holiday or sick pay, short term contracts, fewer rights for the person you’ve hired, and it’s easier to have them on flexible terms. For a small outfit this can be an unavoidable necessity – Transition Stroud is a community group with a small budget and just doesn’t have enough work to turn what I was doing into a full time job.  This is also often the way of it around marketing and social media work, and quite a lot of publishing industry work. These are also reasons we really need Universal Basic Income to smooth things out for individual workers and small organisations alike.