Category Archives: The quiet revolution

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.

New Year, New You?

We’re at the time of year when the diet and fitness industries will be trying to get your money. They will lie to you about how they can change your life. They will encourage you to feel unattractive and inadequate. They are poison.

New years of course prompt us to reflect on what’s happened and think about how we want to move forward. This is good, but for most of us, some kind of radical re-creation of self really isn’t necessary. You’re fine as you are. You may want to make some lifestyle changes to be happier in yourself, and that’s great, but those are the only terms on which to change.

My weight has varied a fair bit over my lifetime. One of the things I’ve discovered is that the people who were ashamed of me and critical of me when I was at my fattest do not praise me or love me now I am thinner. I have not won them over. Apparently it was never about my body size, it was just an easy thing to hurt me with.

My fitness levels have varied a fair bit too – mostly that’s to do with how other health issues are impacting on me. Sometimes there is too much pain and weariness for physical activity to be any kind of pleasure. I am most at ease with myself when I am stronger and more able – and frustrated by my body limitations. I have found that the best thing to do is focus on wellness and enjoyment, and not on any kind of arbitrary fitness goals. Bodily activity is something to relish and find joy in, not something to punish yourself with to try and meet some imposed standard of appearance.

As my body and its capabilities have varied over time, it’s become obvious to me that these are not the most important things. My relationships are not transformed by my body shape. My confidence and self esteem aren’t that much affected by how thin or fat I am – but they are affected by how other people treat me. The key thing is avoiding people who go in for body shaming. If I spend time with people who like me for who I am and who are not obsessed with how I look, then my life is happier and richer. I prefer the company of people who are kind and affirming, who support and encourage me. All of the good things that the diet and fitness industries claim come from diet and fitness industries, mostly come from people being nice to each other.

And while we’re being nice to each other, and being supportive and affirming we can look for the things that make us well and give us joy. We can eat the food that nourishes us, supports our mental health and gives us the energy to move our bodies in happy ways. We can move happily, for the joy of it. If you’re in need of a ‘new you’ look for opportunities to be happier, not ways to punish yourself for already feeling ground down.

Self esteem and pain

Ongoing pain can really undermine a person. It takes a toll in wellbeing, it eats away at your confidence, and it can undermine you feelings of self worth and self esteem. This can be especially bad if you need to hide your pain for the benefit of the comfortable people around you. Having to do everything a well person would do, but while hurting and pretending not to hurt is a course of action that may easily leave you feeling like you’re not a real person.

I’m heartily sick of seeing people who are suffering getting told off on social media for talking about their discomfort. I’m weary of people who are ‘depressed’ by other people’s difficulties and feel the right answer is to make the person who is suffering feel guilty and ashamed for talking about it, so as to shut them up. This adds more layers of suffering for a person who is already in trouble. We need to stop sacrificing people who are in distress just to maintain the ease of people who are already having a better time of it.

I wish we had the support in place that meant people who are ill could reliably afford to rest. I wish illness did not radically increase your risks of living in poverty. I wish we did not measure people so much by their economic activity. I wish there was more scope for people to heal and recover when they need to. I imagine a society in which no one was expected to push relentlessly through pain and suffering, and where we were not so quick to assume that someone struggling is lazy, or not trying hard enough.

Living with pain will eat away at your sense of self if there is no scope for that pain to even matter. If your life does not allow you to take care of yourself, if there is no one to help you, give you breaks or take care of you, suffering is inevitable. When your self esteem is constantly undermined in this way, it is that bit harder to hold boundaries, protect yourself or ask for what you need. And so you trudge on, hurting and exhausted, because trudging on seems to be the only option.

What would it take to change that? The answer isn’t about personal changes, and it should not be the responsibility of people who are suffering to find individual solutions to systemic problems. We need a kinder society where taking care of people matters, where there is economic support for whoever needs it, and medical care free at the point of delivery. We need a work culture that won’t punish you for being ill, and won’t break you with needless stress in the first place. We need the time and energy to take care of ourselves. It would be revolutionary to start treating quality of life like it matters, and not as a perk for those who enjoy the accident of being born into the most privilege.

Arrogance, entitlement and ignorance

As a trio, they’re entirely unpleasant. These are human qualities that often show up together. People with strong feelings of entitlement expect everyone else to smooth the way for them. They underestimate the scale and value of work other people do, tending to only see their own role, or their entitlement to have that done for them. Often they do not understand what’s involved in getting a job done and they do not care to find out, leaving it to others to work out how to round up their unicorns for them.

There’s a great deal of this visible in British politics at the moment. Especially around Brexit. Little things like not really grasping we’re an island, or the importance of lorries bringing food from abroad. But when you’re rich enough not to have to worry whether you can afford to eat, why would that matter? Being ignorant of the harm done to people doesn’t worry those who consider themselves more important and entitled to better than average.

What can we do? Most of us can only consider such issues on the personal scale. Check yourself first – because that’s always the right place to start. Are you properly aware of who is working on your behalf? Especially unpaid work in the domestic sphere. How do you treat the people who work for you? The waiting staff, the bus drivers, the receptionists and all the other working people you might encounter regularly? Do you treat them with respect? Do you trust them to know what’s possible and what isn’t? Do you hide behind ignorance when that’s convenient to you or do you square up to learning from other people?

If you’re dealing with someone who is arrogant, entitled and ignorant, what do you do? It may be worth trying to educate them – they won’t thank you for it and they may become hostile but if you’ve got the resources, it is worth a go. In some situations a work to rule approach is best. Do exactly what’s in your job description and contract, and nothing more. Do exactly what they tell you to do – but get it in writing first. If they ask you to work longer, tell them you are expecting overtime. It isn’t always easy to resist being used and bullied, but it is worth a go, and entitled people will use you remorselessly if they can get away with it. It can be helpful to remember that if something isn’t ethical, it isn’t ethical having it done to you, and that saying no is about more than protecting your own wellbeing. If you are the kind of person who finds it hard to hold boundaries and protect yourself, doing it as an ethical choice to also try and protect others can feel easier.

And don’t vote them back into positions of power come election time.

The Walking Skirt

Skirts are not inherently impractical. For much of history, men have worn skirts – they may be called robes, or tunics, but they are basically a loose bit of fabric draped over the thighs. Longer, if you happen to be a Viking. However, all too often, modern skirts designed for the female body are inherently impractical. It encourages us to believe that being feminine also means being impractical.

If a skirt is made of delicate fabric, you can’t go through a bramble patch in it. If the fabric is light, it won’t keep you warm for being active outside. If the skirt is tight, it won’t let you move – no climbing stiles or getting on bicycles in that! If the important thing about the skirt is that it looks pretty and you are to look pretty wearing it, you can’t risk accident or dirt. How many girls are told not to do things because keeping the skirt looking nice is deemed to be the most important thing?

When it comes to making skirts for women, clothes designers usually focus on what is attractive – especially what is sexually attractive to the male gaze. This does not result in practical or useful clothing, and there tend not to be pockets.

I find that in cold weather, a skirt over leggings or trousers is the warmest option. I can move the bulk out of the way if I need to. The fabric keeps my thighs warm, but if the skirt is about knee length, it doesn’t get caught on things and the hem doesn’t get muddy. If the skirt is made of a substantial, heavy fabric, it really helps. However, the right fabric and the right weight is hard to find. So I made a walking skirt out of dead hoodies. It is warm, and practical, and allows me to do stuff.

Skirts are not gender identity. Lots of men have, historically, worn skirts. Some still do. If you want to wear a skirt as an expression of femininity, the skirt does not have to be limiting, or useless, or make you vulnerable or fragile. The skirt can be your friend. Clothes have a huge impact on sense of self, and when they limit what we can do, that impact really isn’t helping. Interrogate your wardrobe. Ask who your clothes are really serving. Learn to sew as an act of revolution, and make the clothes that serve you! Or modify the clothes you buy so that they work for you. Put pretty decoration on the practical stuff if you fancy that. Sew on extra pockets. Cut out the patriarchal bullshit hiding in your wardrobe.

Pain, Shame and Guilt

I think in many ways it’s a reflection of how seldom mental health is taken seriously that we add shame and guilt on top of people’s existing pain. No one who considered themselves kind and well meaning would tell a person with flu to just pull themselves together and try harder as though this is how you get over flu. We don’t tend to tell people whose bodies have been seriously injured that they should ‘man up’. Culturally we do have some serious and parallel issues around how we treat chronic pain and long term disability, but that’s a post for another day.

We treat psychological injuries as though they are personal failures and in doing so, add to the burden already wounded people are carrying.  Telling people the reasons you think they shouldn’t be in pain doesn’t ease pain. What it does do is help that person internalise shame and carry guilt about their own suffering. That in turn makes it harder to ask for help.

Depression isn’t an individual failing. Often the reasons for it aren’t personal, but systemic. Poverty and the stress of insecurity makes people ill. Overwork, leading to exhaustion and burnout makes people ill. Distress caused by mass extinction and climate chaos makes people ill. Being made responsible for things we have no power over also makes us ill. Here in the UK we have a culture of working people to death, blaming them for not being able to find work in a shrinking jobs market, causing poverty and then blaming people for being poor and a host of other such horrors that pile on the misery. The result is that not only do you get to suffer the consequences of stress and insecurity, but you get to feel like it’s all your fault for not being good enough in the first place.

If you do get help with mental health issues, the odds are it will be meds. That’s what we can have. Huge numbers of people are suffering depression and anxiety as a direct consequence of our messed up work culture and precarious lives. How can the answer to such system failures, be chemical? Use it to get by if it helps you, but don’t buy into the idea that meds are the answer here.

We have to stop blaming individuals for suffering and start talking about the way in which our culture is sick. We get less time off than your typical mediaeval peasant. The safety net of welfare is being eroded. We are punished for misfortune and poverty. We don’t have enough green space, enough quiet space or enough time to benefit from exercise. Many of us can’t afford to eat well. It is difficult to be mentally well in such a situation.

Mental health is a collective problem that needs solutions on a societal level. When we treat it as a personal problem to be solved at the personal scale, we add to the guilt and shame that makes people ill, and perpetuate the stories in our culture that are causing bodily and emotional sickness. Mental health is a cultural issue, a societal issue, a political issue.

Body Shape Stories

I grew up with the story that ‘thin’ was the only acceptable body shape. There could be no beauty without thinness. As I was not thin, I was not attractive and it was unlikely that anyone would love me. I was told explicitly on one occasion (I was probably twelve or thirteen) that no one would ever want me because I was so fat. These stories informed my sense of self, and my sense of who I should be.

I spent my teens failing to be thin. I have the kind of body that gets efficient under pressure, and stores hard in a crisis, and my attempts at dieting looked too much like a crisis to my body. At some points I was down to one meal a day. The story of trying to be thin was more important than any other story. Even though it was never what I truly wanted for myself.

What I really wanted, was to be strong. From late childhood, I rather wanted to be Batman. This body was never going to run fast or climb ropes or leap between buildings, but even so, Batman was a much better story to tell myself. Had I been supported in going with my Batman story, I would have spent my teens trying my hardest to be fit and strong. I would have eaten good food to support my body in being as Batman-like as it could be. I would have been a happier and healthier person.

I’ve spent my whole life fighting against a story that says female beauty is thin, delicate, fragile, down to the bones and looks easy to break. That story has lived in my head, even though it doesn’t match my sense of self. I still want to be Batman. Or Vasquez from Aliens. I want to be strong. And in many ways it is a better investment, for now, and for the long term.

I don’t like it when people read stories into my body about who I am and what I might want to do. I don’t like it when people I don’t know at all want to engage with me on the basis of how my face looks. I don’t find bone thin fragility attractive in other women either, it just worries me. I’m conscious of the way the emaciated ‘beauty’ notion comes to us from the Victorians fetishing women who were dying of tuberculosis. I don’t like the awareness that women who take up less space are preferable in some environments.

The older a person gets, the less scope they have to be ‘pretty’ as society likes to measure it. However, the thin, fragile, delicate older woman is vulnerable in so many ways. I don’t want to age with fragile, brittle grace. I want to be strong. I am not, in my later life, going to get to be Batman, I accept that. But, if I am strong, I will do better. I will be healthier, and happier, and have a body story it is possible to live with, not a body story that would kill me if it got the chance.

Not Punching Nazis

Realistically, I am never going to punch a Nazi. I’ve never punched anyone, I’m not especially strong, and in an emergency, it is unlikely to be my first response. If it was a case of fighting for my life or trying to protect someone else, I’d be more likely to kick than punch, but in a scenario where there is violence, I am going to be injured, or die.

What I can do more usefully, is put my body in the way. I’m large, white and female. Some of that might function as privilege in some contexts. Some of it might make another person pause for a few seconds. And also, I have size. I can do a fair bit of getting in the way. I’m heavy enough that I can be a nuisance to remove. I can put my body between people who are more vulnerable than me, and possible threats. It’s something I’ve already explored a little bit and is one way I am confident that I can be anti-fascist in a physical context.

I’m openly queer, openly polyamorous, openly Pagan, openly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, openly opposed to fascism. These are not things that can automatically be identified by looking at me. But I have no doubt that if the fascists took over, I would be on a list fairly quickly. I am exactly the sort of person to be disappeared in that kind of scenario. I would like to think I’d manage to put up some kind of fight, but it would also depend on whether I would make other people safer or more at risk by so doing.

The state of the world frightens me. But, resistance is important, and there are many ways to resist. Kindness is resistance. Putting love and beauty into the world is a good way of pushing back against hate and intolerance. Make good things, share good things, take care of who you can, speak up when you can, amplify whoever you can. Vote, petition, march. Share, gift, feed people, help out. A culture of kindness and inclusion is the only thing that will work for the longer term. Punching a Nazi doesn’t deal with the underlying causes of fascism, and we need to deal with those underlying causes.

One of the key things that takes people into far right thinking and the desire to hurt and harm others, is lack of empathy. We can learn empathy. One of the most powerful teaching tools for building empathy in others is in fact the novel, as through novels we can live many lives, understand different perspectives and learn how to empathise with others. (There is science! The novels-empathy thing is evidenced.) Buying books for people might be more effective than punching them. Writing books and telling stories turns out not to be some kind of self indulgent silliness that has no place in the revolution… art may in fact be the revolution. It may be our best way of saving ourselves from the worst parts of each other. And if all else fails, I guess hitting a Nazi with a really heavy fantasy hardback is always going to be worth a thought.

Capitalism and the virus

All the evidence at this point suggests that the environment in which you are most likely to catch the virus is as follows: It’s a crowded space with poor ventilation. In the UK we’ve seen hotspots around university accommodation. Amazon had a significant outbreak in their workforce. Obvious candidates include crowded trains, cramped workspaces, over-crowded schools, and of course busy social locations like pubs.

What these locations all have in common is that they are designed to extract the maximum profit for the minimum cost. Space is money. Businesses that can squeeze more people into less room can make more money because the overheads are reduced. And whether that’s cramming people into a bar or a warehouse, the implications are similar – there is a health risk.

To do anything safely at the moment, we need space between people and good ventilation. This doesn’t combine well with trying to get the maximum profits for the least space. Capitalism does not equip us well to deal with the virus, and it has given us workspaces and social spaces that, by their cramped nature, are problematic at the moment. And really speaking, always were.

Imagine a world in which we wanted nice things. Imagine a world in which workspaces were always comfortable, healthy and good to be in, and where living well was more important than shareholder profit. Imagine well ventilated workspaces. Imagine workspaces where the mental and physical wellbeing of employees mattered.

Capitalism teaches us that all of these things should be sacrificed for the good of the profit margin. But surely there is more to life than profit? If we are to survive this virus, there has to be more to life than profit.