Things I am up to

The last few months have been a little bit crazy for me, with numerous changes to my day jobs. I am at present publicist for two authors, two publishing houses and a community venue. I’m doing newsletter and press work for a local group focused on sustainability. I’m doing evening work at events as well. Alongside this, I’m the colourist for the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine and we’re working on the next book. Here’s some art from that:

I’ve had a Patreon page for more than a year now, and it’s helped me keep moving with my own creativity, and it helps as an income stream as well. Thanks to Patreon support, I spent what spare time I had in September putting together a collection of poetry – Mapping the Contours. I also coloured the cover. This is a collection about relationship with landscape. I had it printed locally in the end so the only way to get copies is via Etsy – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/641871660/mapping-the-contours-poetry

I have two cunning plans following on from this. Firstly, I’m going to serialise a Hopeless Maine novella on my Patreon page for people at the Dustcat level. This is a story set before the graphic novel series and mostly following the exploits of Annamarie Nightshade; resident witch on the island. I shall be putting up a chapter a month. It seemed a good way to share the story, and I will be publishing it by other means, eventually. If you’d like to be able to read that, saunter over to https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

I setup Patreon with the idea that I’d write new things every month by way of content. Serialising an otherwise unavailable book of course isn’t a ‘new thing’ but, it will help me find the time and energy to work on another small book. What I plan to do next is a small book of elemental meditations. As with Mapping the Contours, Patreon supporters will get an e-copy. If you sign up at this point for Patreon, you can of course wander through the old posts and pick up your own e-version. You can sign up for a month, read everything that’s up there already and then leave, should you want, but you won’t get the novella that way!

For the really dedicated, there’s a Glass Heron level with quarterly physical postings. I’ve just sent hard copies of Mapping the Contours to my Glass Herons.  When I get the little meditations book together, I’ll send that out, too, and then that too will go to Etsy so anyone else who wants one can get copies.

I try to give away as much as I can (this blog, what I do on youtube, informal mentoring, volunteer work). But, I’m not independently wealthy, and the practical reality is that if I have to use most of my time and energy on bill paying jobs, I don’t create as much. This last year, Patreon support has really helped me keep going creatively. It is both an incentive and a vote of confidence. If you love someone and they have a Patreon page, just giving them a dollar a month can mean a great deal. When lots of people do that, creators can pay their bills – and many do depend on this income stream to keep afloat. It’s also a gesture of belief and valuing, and that makes a lot of odds too.

Subscribing to this blog is also a gesture of support and valuing that I really appreciate, and knowing there are lots of people who want to read my ramblings has kept me blogging steadfastly for years. Thank you for taking an interest in what I do.

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Light through beech leaves

In the spring, beach leaves are a pale and delicate green, the sun passes through them easily and there’s something enchanting about a beech wood in direct sunlight. As the year advances, the beech leaves darken to a deep green that doesn’t let very much light through.

However, come the autumn, trees pull what they can back out of leaves, and the dark green fades to a delicate yellow, and then leaves turn a coppery colour before they fall. The impact on light in a beech wood at this point is startling.

A lot of light comes through the pale yellow leaves, but, filtered in this way it comes through as much more golden. If there are also fallen beech leaves, you get the amazing effect of honey tinted light interacting with coppery tones on the woodland floor. It’s a subtle thing, something you could miss if you weren’t looking for it. If you stop and pay attention, it’s quite a remarkable sight.

Beauty is around us. Re-enchantment is an everyday option if you go looking for it.


Finding energy

Experiencing a lack of energy can become a problem for all kinds of reasons, without those reasons being obvious. I find it pays to start with the physical considerations and work from there when trying to deal with this.  It isn’t always possible to figure out the cause and deal with it directly, but these sorts of things are always worth checking and tend to help.

Getting more rest and more sleep can help a lot, even if the problem isn’t a lack of them. Emotional and mental processing can take time and energy, so gentle down-time can help fix a number of things that may be exhausting you.

Good food, being properly hydrated and being at the right temperature for you, are all really helpful things. If I’m low, I’m more likely to feel cold and will benefit from warming up. Washing may be restorative.

Sometimes it helps to stimulate yourself with some moderate activity. I suffer poor circulation and I definitely benefit, some days, from being more active rather than less. It’s a case of determining whether it will benefit you. Moving the blood around can encourage healing. Sometimes a bit of adrenaline is the right answer.

If my brain is tired then I try to do things that are mentally restful – here physical activity can be a great help, especially anything you can do at a gentle pace. I find crafting helpful, but reading isn’t reliably good when I’m brain-tired. Also be wary of mind numbing responses – shite TV, alcohol and the like can feel like a relief at the time but they aren’t giving you anything restorative. Escapism is fine, but make sure it feeds you.

I can feel low when I’m under-stimulated mentally. In which case, a creative challenge, exposure to creative work, or something I can get my teeth into is the answer. Boredom can also suck away energy, and generate apathy, so needs watching for – if you’re dealing with yourself as though you are exhausted when really you’re just devoid of enthusiasm, you can end up doing all the wrong things and making yourself feel worse.

Low emotional states can be protective. They can be a response to overload and be a way of stepping back from more than you can bear. The answer to a loss of emotional energy is seldom to be found in pushing against that. Often the best answer to look at your simplest and most physical needs and take care of those, and wait for your feelings to catch up.

Sometimes there’s a degree of trial and error in finding out what you need to change in order to improve your energy levels on any given occasion. There’s no universal right answer here, and what you need may vary from one occasion to another. Even if you can’t pull yourself up, taking care of your most basic needs will give you the best possible resources to help you cope. Take it gently. Be patient with yourself. Don’t imagine you should be other than you are, and don’t feel if you can’t find a reason, there isn’t one. Humans are complicated things, and perfect self awareness in times of difficulty is ambitious to say the least.


Pumpkin Horror

I’ve been experiencing seasonal pumpkin horror for about a week now – ever since the massive boxes of massive pumpkins turned up in the supermarkets. I noticed today that many of the ones now revealed at the bottom are full of cracks and bruises. No one will buy those, and I expect they’ll go to landfill.

Of the ones that are bought, the majority I expect will be carved, used as decorations for an evening or two and then discarded. Some may go to compost or food recycling. Some will go in the bin.

I wonder how much land it took to grow them all, how much water, fertilizer, pesticides. I wonder how much energy it took to harvest them, what the food miles are on this edible decoration that mostly won’t be used for food. I wonder what could have lived if they hadn’t been grown.

I’m aware, because I’ve talked about this kind of thing before, that there are people who will see me as a miserable kill-joy. ‘It’s just a bit of fun’ is such a popular defence. One of the major problems with humans as I see it, is the way we feel entitled to our ‘fun’ and disinclined to look at the cost. As we drive other species towards extinction, our ‘bit of fun’ seems ever harder to justify or excuse.

If you feel the need for a pumpkin, hollow it out well and cook the innards and eat them. The flesh of a pumpkin is easy to cook and has a mild flavour. Toast the seeds and eat those too. What you can’t eat, put out for the wildlife because lots of things will cheerfully eat your pumpkin leftovers. Don’t put them in a bin to go to landfill, that’s the ultimate pumpkin horror.


Love and the drama llama

Drama llamas are creatures who feel a desperate need to be centre stage, and who will whip anything up into a whirlwind if it means they can stand in the middle of it and draw attention. People who create drama, or amplify it are exhausting to deal with.

I’ve watched on a fair few occasions now as people doing drama have spun their whirlwinds and pushed away the people who were close to them. It’s easiest to do drama with your nearest and dearest and to cast people you know in whatever roles best suit your needs. Most often what the drama-addict seems to do is cast people who were on their side as villains, attackers, abusers and so forth. I note with interest that drama llamas are more likely to assume victim roles than cast themselves as heroes of their own stories.

While I was pondering the mechanics of being a drama llama, it was suggested to me that all drama llamas really want is to be loved. This may be so – it’s such a fundamental human motivation. However, the process of creating drama tends to drive people off rather than drawing them in. If the desire is for love, then the method is inherently self-defeating.

It is easy to mistake attention for love. This is a thing to watch out for when dealing with small children, who are motivated by attention, and will keep acting out to get attention even if the attention isn’t pleased with them. If we don’t get attention for being good, or just for being ourselves, we may seek it by other means. Patterns for life can be set early on, and if you’ve learned this as a way of being it will take some unpicking. The person who seeks attention in ways that elicit less love may be stuck in a cycle of attention seeking, love-damaging behaviour and be unable to break out of it.

I don’t know how anyone stood on the outside of this can make a difference. You can’t save a drama llama from themselves by pouring love over them. I’ve yet to see a drama llama respond well to love from any source.  It may be that this can only be changed from within, that a person with these patterns has to see them and want to change them, and that from outside all you can do is feed the story. You can stay, and be an actor in the drama, you can leave and be a villain and reinforce the feeling of victimhood. You can ask the drama llama to step up and be a hero, and you’ll be manipulating or mistreating them. I have no idea what a winning move is, I’ve never seen one.

We all have stories about who we are and how life works. Often, it is the most dysfunctional stories that we all seem to cling to the hardest. Perhaps because these are stories grown out of suffering, that in some way serve to make sense of an original wound. We cling to the story because we prefer it to challenging the story. We may be protecting someone else. Or, if we’ve worked with a story for long enough, we may now be protecting ourselves from feeling the shame that would come from admitting the story was useless or wrong.

There is no saving someone who does not want to be saved. There is no healing someone who does not want to be healed. You cannot change the story of someone who does not want their story to change.


First frost

Over the weekend, some places in the UK had snow – including places near me. The tops of the Cotswolds often get rougher weather than the valleys. Much depends on the shape of your location in relation to the direction of the wind. Being tucked away in a sheltered spot, I didn’t get snow.

The wind was like a knife yesterday, and although it had dropped by the evening, I had a suspicion the night would be a cold one. I don’t always get this right. Sometimes we wake to the first frost shivering and surprised. I’ve tried to cultivate a ‘Druid weather sense’ but I’m still nothing like as accurate as I want to be.

Aside from signifying a drop in overnight temperature, the first frost has implications for walking. As I walk for transport, this is something to take seriously.  From here on, the surfaces outside will be unpredictable – especially first thing in the morning and at night. A heavy frost makes the paths slippery, especially if there were a lot of wet leaves to start with.

I have mixed feelings about frost – it is pretty. However, I don’t enjoy the cold, or the slippery conditions.

What I’ve described here is a good illustration, I think, of why we have to focus on our own experiences of the seasons. Whether you had a dash of snow at the weekend or not is very area specific. When your first frost was/is/will be is also very specific to the conditions where you live. How you respond to these things may depend a lot on how nature manifests in your body. If you are a warm, hardy and well resourced creature, winter can be fun. If you feel the cold, fall easily, hurt more in winter, then these conditions are hard. We can honour nature as it expresses itself across these relationships between place, time and self. There is no reason to assume anyone else will have the same experience.


Deathwalking

Deathwalking is a new anthology edited by Laura Perry. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Deathwalking. Psychopomping. You may not have heard these terms before you picked up this book, but they mean the same thing: helping the spirits of the deceased move on from this world to the next. This is a practice that goes back millennia, if not eons, but one that is barely known in mainstream modern Western society. Our culture puts a lot of effort into keeping people alive but then many of us are left not knowing what to do when a loved one passes on, or when a natural disaster occurs and hundreds or thousands of people die. What happens to their souls? Can they find their way to wherever they belong on their own or do they need help? As it happens, many of them do need assistance. Fortunately, there are still people who know how to help them.

In this anthology, a dozen authors share their views on psychopomping in a variety of different Pagan and shamanic traditions, in terms of both personal experience and traditional ritual and myth. This book aims to educate the community about this vital practice, one that is still very much a necessary function. The word psychopomp comes from Greek roots meaning “soul conductor,” and that’s exactly what happens in this kind of work: the practitioner helps the spirit of the deceased find its way. The term deathwalking refers to the fact that shamans walk “between the worlds” and can help the spirits of the deceased journey onward as well. The actual practice goes by different names in different traditions, but the work is ultimately the same, and it’s a loving, caring endeavor.

In modern society we tend to feel a bit mystified by death and spirits, perhaps even afraid of the whole kit-and-caboodle. Spirit workers (shamans and others who do this sort of work) have developed a relationship with the spirit world, journeying among the different realms, so to them it’s familiar territory, as is death. We modern folk generally aren’t close to death anymore; we die in hospitals and our bodies are whisked away to funeral homes, only to magically reappear, embalmed and made up, as if still alive. Even if someone else takes care of the nitty-gritty material details for us, though, death is still a part of our reality, albeit a more abstract one.

We’re taught that death is off -putting and scary, but children are naturally curious about it and not generally afraid. Perhaps we adults could rekindle some of that gentle, loving curiosity and allow ourselves to learn about death and deathwalking, even if only in a small way. Some of the chapters in this collection include tales of closeness to death that the contributors have experienced in their own lives. Others share rituals, mythology, and traditions around the process of ensuring the spirit of the deceased gets to where it needs to go. It is our hope that these ideas and information will add meaning to your life and your spirituality, and perhaps lead you down new roads that you find fulfilling.

Some of you will simply enjoy the stories in this collection, learning about the various ways in which we’re able to help the spirits of the dead move on. Others will want to learn more, perhaps get some training and join those who do this kind of work. Many of the chapters in this book end with recommendations of people and programs who offer instruction in psychopomp work. If you’re interested, please investigate these resources and take your training seriously. This is one of those “don’t try this at home” kinds of things; shamanic work of any sort requires the knowledge and safeguards that come with good education.

But especially, please accept our collection of information and anecdotes for what it ultimately is: a devotional of a sort, an offering to the spirits of all those who have gone before and all those who will come after. May they journey onward well.

 

You can find the anthology on Book Depository,  

Amazon

And pretty much anywhere else that sells books!


Toilet philosophy

Everyone needs a safe place to pee. I am deeply concerned about the ways in which current ‘debates’ around toilet access are working to reduce safety in all kinds of ways. I’m making the deliberate choice not to focus on trans issues here because I think people who see this as a feminist issue won’t be persuaded by that, but may be willing to consider some other points. But to be clear, I support the right of trans people to be able to pee safely. I support the right of everyone, regardless of gender or presentation, to be able to pee safely.

First up, when we narrow who is allowed to use which toilets, the odds are we do that based on visual judgements. This can only reinforce very narrow and hetro-normative takes on gender. A trans-woman who passes well may have no trouble using the toilet, where a butch lesbian may find herself threatened and harassed. Making toilets unsafe for butch lesbians is not any kind of win for women, feminism or female identity.

Non-binary people also exist. Some non-binary people do not appear very gendered at all and if we focus toilet access on narrow gender stereotypes, non-binary people are going to have a harder time of it. Non-binary people need to pee, and should not have their right to a safe wee depend on conforming to gender roles that we really don’t want to conform to.

Not all women look femme. Some of us are tall. Some of us are muscular. Some of us do not remove our facial hair. Some of us, quite naturally, have a lot of facial hair. The right of a woman to identify as a woman and pee in a toilet should not depend on how female she looks to anyone else. The most likely extra consequence of trying to keep trans women out of toilets, is that cis-women who do not, for whatever reasons, represent in straightforwardly female ways, will not have a safe space to pee. This is not feminism. This is radical exclusion.

Intersex people also exist, and also need to pee and may or may not look like one or the other gender.

Who do we empower when we make it harder for women who look a bit masculine to use toilets? We give power to haters. We give power to people (usually men) who want to hurt and harm trans women. These are often people who would also enjoy an excuse to hurt and harm lesbians and any woman perceived as unpleasing to their male gaze. These are not people who need more power, or more excuses to bully and assault female and female-ish people.

If we focus on stranger danger in toilets, we also do ourselves a gross disservice. You are much more likely to be assaulted by someone you know than by a stranger. The bathroom where you are at most risk of being attacked is one in a private location – your home, a friend’s home, maybe your workplace. When we focus on stranger-danger, we draw attention away from the reality that most victims know their attacker. And we’re creating a situation in which casual attackers may have more scope for action. If a woman can be approached, harassed or assaulted for being in the ‘wrong’ toilet – how safe are any of us?

It is not feminist to narrow women’s scope for presentation. It is not feminist to increase the risk of violence and injustice for lesbians. It is not feminist to run the risk that women are unable to pee safely. It is not feminist to encourage ideas that will empower and encourage abusive men.


Exposed to Autumn

As I usually point out when writing about the seasons, the journey through any given season is a process, not an event. Some things of course are events – the first frost is a good example. There is a process of the nights getting colder until heavy dews are replaced by frost, but there’s a definite difference between frost, and not-frost and you can mark it.

Changes in temperature aren’t a smooth process. We may have a few unusually cold or balmy days and then the season gets back to something more expected.

This week, I passed a significant marker for the season – the nights are now cold, and walking home after dark now requires more layers, hats, and so forth.

Walking for transport gives me an immediate relationship with what’s going on outside. I walk at different times in the day depending on what I’m doing, so there are some morning forays out, some daytime excursions and at least once a week I’ll come home after dark. For most of the year, I have to pay close attention to weather and temperature so as to be dressed for it – and not only dressed for when I leave, but for when I come back. A few hours can make a surprising difference.

In this way, I have a day to day body experience of the season. Our Pagan ancestors would have had this as well. You don’t have to go back very far for most people to be on foot or on horseback, or in a cart if they were going anywhere. Insulation from the elements was for the leisured few. Dealing with weather and temperature day to day was part of the normal life of most people in a way it isn’t now. If you can set the thermometer in your home to a fixed temperature, and if outside is only a few moments between temperature-regulated home, and temperature-regulated car, then your body isn’t involved with the seasons. I’ve never done it, so I have no idea what that experience does to a person.

 


Let me tell you what you’re really like

If we seek out a professional person, the probability is that we want them to tell us how they think things really are. That will include measurements of ourselves. We may also turn to friends, family and colleagues for feedback on how we’re doing. We might invite criticism. We’re allowed to do that. We’re also allowed to speak plainly if someone asks us to.

Misjudge, and an unsolicited compliment can be creepy, patronising, or even a put down. I’ve blogged about that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/swimming-metaphorically-with-the-social-jellyfish/

However, what’s interesting to me at the moment is what happens when people feel the need to give unsolicited criticism. ‘Let me tell you what you’re really like’ is seldom the prelude to a compliment.

Shit happens. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. Most of us are dealing with this kind of thing in small ways on a daily basis. It’s important to identify what went wrong, it may be relevant to identify who was responsible or what could be changed to improve things.  When we’re focused on action, choices, behaviour even, we’re talking about things that can change. It’s not terrible to be told that something needs to be better or could be worked on. We’re all flawed and human and we all need to be able to talk to each other about these things.

However, it’s a very different business when we want to tell the other person who they are. You are this, you are that… It’s not a big problem with compliments – you are lovely, you are kind, you are considerate, you are generous, you are brilliant – most people don’t object to hearing things like this. You are useless, you are horrible, you are stupid, you are creepy – no one wants to hear this.  I’m not convinced it’s a helpful thing to do, either.

Firstly it makes the problem intrinsic, it doesn’t invite change or tell the person much about how they could change. ‘When you do this I find it difficult’ is more useful. ‘When you say X I feel Y’ can be a place to start a process. But when we say ‘you are’ in critical ways, it comes across as judgement and rejection. If you are terrible, how can there be scope for change?

If we talk about how we experience each other, there’s room to talk about why. Projection and historical baggage can so easily be part of the mix. We may use words in different ways, or have triggers or anxieties. If we can share what we experience, we can negotiate with each other, and learn to co-operate more effectively.

‘You are’ statements can be a form of power over. The person speaking has given themselves a status, an entitlement to label and categories the other person, to judge them, and to say what is going on. It puts all the responsibility for the situation onto the other person. It denies even the possibility of a problem being collective, not individual.

It’s not something I often do, but it is something I’ve done in states of rage on a few occasions. For me, it marks the end of a dialogue. It’s something that doesn’t come up often in my life, but that I’d like to handle more effectively. On the whole I think the only ‘you are’ statement I want to use henceforth in a critical way should go ‘you are not someone I can continue interacting with’ – give or take.

The desire to make someone understand an uncomfortable truth can, at the time, come from a place of wanting justice, recognition, or fair treatment. But in practice, when I’ve got to this point with someone, it’s because those things were entirely absent. There’s nothing I can say that will change anything. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in dropping a truth-bomb like this before walking away, but how much good that really does anyone – myself included – I am uncertain.