Domestic Days

It is not a joyful thing to be trapped in the domestic sphere. The realm of home and family can seem very narrow and dull if you don’t get many opportunities to break out and do something else. This however is not going to be a piece of rage about the historical treatment of women, but about the ways in which domestic days can be a really good thing.

When you spend much of your time outside of the home (the traditional male role) then home becomes a place to retreat to for peace and comfort. It’s much easier to find comfort in a domestic setting when it’s not the only setting for your life.

I’ve noticed this summer, travelling in August for two events, one of which was massive, that a quiet weekend at home seems rather pleasant after that. It becomes a chance to catch up on the domestics, to potter about and cook. If you’re up to the eyeballs in it all the time, yet another weekend at home can really wear you down. I know – I’ve been there.

Humans need a balance between rest and stimulation. If you don’t get enough rest, all becomes exhausted, threadbare misery. If you don’t get enough stimulation, all becomes dull monotony and feels like a trap. Most of us need some degree of getting out there and being active, alongside some amount of folding in and retreating. Exactly what balance any given person needs, will of course vary. In an ideal world we’d all get to deploy our time on our own terms, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

One of the things it is easy not to notice is the way in which our choices shape other people’s options. If one member of a household won’t go out (can’t is a different issue because it’s not a choice) other members of the household may feel obliged to stay in too. Equally, if one person is out and about all the time, it may give the other person no choice but to stay home and take care of things.

I noticed in many years of going to folk clubs that there are usually more men than women there. In conversations with people I found repeatedly that this was because when the children came along, the women stayed home and the men kept going out. There are far more solo male performers than solo women on the folk scene as well, and I think this is part of the same thing. It is easy to fall into unconsidered cultural habits, where the men go out to play, and the women are expected to be satisfied by a life lived in the domestic sphere. In practice most of us benefit greatly from spending time at home, resting and taking responsibility for our domestic arrangements. The people around us also benefit when we all show up to making a household work, rather than not noticing the impact it has when the divisions of going out and staying in are really uneven.

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The Great House

A guest post from Christopher Blackwell

I have lived in The Great House almost all of my life since I was a young man and now I am very very old and will soon die. Another young man will inherit the house for that is how it has always been done though I have no idea whom it will be. It is not necessary for me to know. I have always had a thing for a odd house, in my case a medieval house that built at different levels, using different types of measurements in each room, and different building material, often with step between different rooms, various stairs that go oddly to unexpected to unknown levels.

A house that sprawls, and seem to go on and on. A house where inside, you never can quite determine where you are in the house, or how to get to where you would like to be. Consider it something like a A Four-Dimensional Maze. Yet unknowingly you could always get to wherever you wished to go, or somewhere much like it. Every type if room was repeated in other wings of the house, but designed uniquely different. But any dining room would have a full meal set out as needed. Any book that you could ever want to read would be easy to find in any of the libraries, even if you had just suddenly decided on a particular book. Wardrobe , closet, or set of drawers, would have whatever clothes that you needed at a time, always a perfect fit, storage always had what was needed at the time. There would be no servants or builders, but the house was always perfectly maintained, except for portions what would be in decay or near ruin, and new parts of the house continued to build, though the sound of construction was never heard.

Always when one owner died, usually at great age, and new young person would discover that they had just inherited the house, though they were never aware of being related to the last owner. All they had to do was live in the house for one year and their title of ownership was solid and legal. Of course leaving the house was never possible throughout their long life, nor did anyone ever turn down the chance to inherit The Great House. Somethings just had to be. with no reason or explanation.


Treehouse TV

I know Sheena Cundy through Moon Books – she’s a massively creative person – a fiction writer singer, songwriter, and now she interviews people in a tree…

In this video, Tim Gwyn Clay talks to Sheena in the Treehouse about his transition from 20yrs of C of E ministry into Druidism, the issue of hierarchy in religion and his call to serve Andraste, British Goddess of the Iceni.

 

In this video, Imelda tells the story behind her book, Natural Born Shamans – inspired by her spirit-led work with young people – and the importance of the shamanic perspective when dealing with the challenges of life today.

 

 


Druidry with a body

In theory, if I honour nature then I should honour nature as it manifests in my own body. In practice, I’ve spent much of my life being unable to do this. I grew up affected by all kinds of social pressures to see my body as something I had to control, punish, discipline and feel ashamed of. Much of this revolved around the pressure to be thinner. Dieting and exercise were forms of self-punishment. Mostly what I was punishing myself for was having a body in the first place, taking up space and carbon, and not being good enough.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to have a kinder relationship with my own body. What I’ve learned through the Druidry has certainly helped me do this. The more I think about mammals and trees, landscapes and the elements, the harder it is for me to ignore the double standard around human bodies. Seals are allowed to have blubber, trees are allowed to be twisty, landscapes are allowed not to be smooth… and as I’ve learned to see myself in relation to the rest of the world, I’ve learned not to hate my body for being a body, and not to punish it for existing. So what if I’m not as thin, smooth, delicate or pretty as other people have wanted me to be? So what if I don’t want to dress or move in overtly sexualised ways? My body, my choice.

A few years ago I put down the notion of dieting. I eat what I want. I eat with the intention of keeping my body healthy and making sure I have the energy to do all the things I want to do. If I’m feeling fragile, I eat more carbs, because protecting my mental health is important. I’ve lived this way for a few years and I have not piled on the pounds – rather the opposite. I think it’s because I’m making sure I have the energy to do stuff. Starving myself has, in the past, left me with no energy to be active, and one way or another, this just encourages my body to store fat.

When it comes to exercise, I have in recent years also put down the notion of exercise as self punishment. I only do what I enjoy. I do the things that promote good mental health – walking, swimming and dancing are all good for my head. I’m still using the trampoline regularly as that also helps with my cranky lymphs. I do other things when I feel like it, and not as a form of flagellation. It’s worth noting that as I’m not trying hard to be fit or thin, just happy, I am actually a lot fitter than I used to be.

I rest more. I rest when I need to. I sleep more. I don’t push, I don’t tough it out, I don’t keep going. I stop at need. It is definitely better this way.

I live in my body and with my body. In recent years I’ve tended not to think of it as something separate from ‘me’. It is not something I have to control and punish. I realise how much of the controlling urge comes from a culture that sees animal as lesser than human, and anything animal manifesting in the human as shameful. My wanderings in druidry have taught me to question this, to celebrate the mammal nature of my body, and to be a good deal more comfortable in my own skin.


Early signs of autumn

By nine am yesterday, it felt like summer, and anyone not outside much before then will have emerged into another lovely, late summer day. Warm, but not too warm, with a beautiful sky.

At first light, it’s cold now. Walking in the morning I was glad of my gloves. The morning shifted from autumn back to summer, and I peeled off layers. Although I work from home much of the time, being a parent had me up and out for many years and I got to experience this change more directly. I realised yesterday that because I’ve been tending to walk later in the day, I’ve been missing this seasonal shift for some years.

One of my problems with focusing on eight rituals as the wheel of the year is that it encourages us to think about the seasons as events. What happens is a process, one day to the next. Within that process there are key moments – when the leaves start to turn, and when they fall. The first frosts. The cold mornings, seeing your breath, needing a coat to go outside. And of course these, and many other markers vary from place to place and year to year. There is no one generic model for the coming of autumn, each one is unique and each one of us will experience it individually.

A life lived mostly indoors, in cars, and with little attention can miss the small day to day shifts of one season into another, and may only notice seasons when they hit their peaks. I know this because there was a time in my teens when I wasn’t connected to the seasons and was largely oblivious to the natural world. I had to learn how to show up and notice things. What I notice varies from year to year depending on what I’m doing and when I go out. I have no doubt that it is better to notice, and to feel engaged in the day to day shifts.


How green is your loaf?

Every day in the UK, 20 million slices of bread are thrown away. That’s a terrifying amount of food waste and means that an average person here throws out more than half of a loaf of bread each month. I first ran into this statistic a few weeks ago and stopped to look at what happens in my own household. We buy a lot of reduced to clear food, so the things we bring home have a shorter life expectancy. We don’t have a fridge. Even so, we are definitely under average in the bread waste.

Some of the problem is, without a doubt, the bread itself. Buy a good quality loaf, and it may dry out as it gets old. You can toast it, or make bread pudding, or use it in cooking in some way and nothing is wasted. Cheaper loaves are much more likely to grow mould as they age – usually green, hence the title of the post. Once bread is mouldy, you can’t use it.

Timing is clearly important. There are three of us in the household, we can get through a loaf in a few days. For a single person, this is clearly less feasible. Obviously there are other bread products that can be bought in smaller quantities, but clearly not everyone chooses that, and these are not cheaper options, often. For a single person with little money, a very cheap loaf that ends up partly in the bin may still be the better financial choice, and that points at a great many things wrong with our society. People who can’t afford to eat well may be forced economically to make bad environmental choices.

Food waste is an area in which individual action can make a difference. Even so it’s important to remember that the option on individual action often comes with an element of financial privilege, and that we need better choices from government and business as well.


Dealing with being overwhelmed

The point at which you are overwhelmed is not the ideal time to be trying to find a strategy for dealing with this kind of thing. It is as well to have some plans in place before you are struck down. If you suffer from poor mental or physical health, you may be especially vulnerable to becoming overloaded. Here are some things I’ve noticed that I hope may prove helpful to others.

Rest is the best antidote to being overwhelmed. However, if everything is getting on top of you, then you may feel too panicked to rest, or unable to stop. If you are overloaded for too long, you may not remember how to stop, much less when to do it. It is important to plan rest time in advance if you think things are going to be tough. It’s good to be in the habit of planning rest time and setting time aside for it so that you have reminders that this is a thing you need to do. It’s surprising how easy it is to forget this in a crisis.

Good things can also be overwhelming. I find this one all too easy to forget and am often caught out by it. Good things need processing and digesting too, and need recovery time.

Know what helps you process things and cope. For some of us, reading, or walking, or crafting can be a quick route back to sanity. Know what works, and make sure that the people around you also know what works. That way, if you are overwhelmed and unable to think straight, someone else may be able to steer you towards the wool, or the woods, as required.

Planning ahead is good – if you know something is likely to be tough, planning the rest and recovery time is a good idea. Pacing is good – pay attention to your limits and respect them more of the time than not and you may be able to stay on top of things. However, it is so easy to be knocked sideways by the unexpected, and you can’t see everything coming. Try to keep some slack in your routines so that you can deal with the unexpected. Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re caught out by things you didn’t anticipate.

Anyone can be overloaded. A person who is overloaded too much and for too long will find their mental and physical health deteriorating. None of us cope with this well. There is no shame in being unable to bear the unbearable. There should be considerably more shame attendant on piling stress onto people, with unreasonable deadlines, impossible workloads, unfair demands on time and so forth. There should be considerable shame in asking people to act like everything is on fire, every day. Too many employers do it. The government does it to us as well.


Signposts, not gatekeepers

I wrote recently about gatekeeping and why I don’t much like it. There are of course better ways to do things. For the person who wants to improve standards in any context, it is better to be a signpost than a gatekeeper.

Rather than trying to keep the ‘wrong sort’ out, a signpost makes it their job to flag up what’s good. Signposts put themselves out there, because otherwise what use are we? We make it our business to know useful things and to share that information with those who come along. We don’t turn that process into a demand to have things done our way. All of my favourite bloggers operate this way and I am happy to say I can think of enough active signpost people that it doesn’t make sense to try and name everyone.

Putting up blog posts can be a way of playing signpost, but it works in person, too. Here’s an example I’ve seen repeatedly in folk circles: Someone comes along, new to folk. They may know a few chords on a guitar and a few songs, but the songs aren’t folk songs – most likely Streets of London and a couple of things by The Beatles. At this point a gatekeeper would tell them off for not doing proper folk, make them feel small, inadequate and unwanted. By this means, gatekeepers prevent communities from growing.

A signpost will make encouraging noises because they want this person to come back. They may ask the newbie if they know a song – any song the signpost thinks would suit them – or if they’ve heard a performer the signpost thinks is in a similar style. With encouragement and suggestions, the signpost helps the newbie find their way into folk and expand their repertoire. If they don’t engage, they may move on because there’s not a great deal of point coming to a folk club regularly if you have no interest in folk music, and that’s fine – that’s what open mics are for.

Signposts support their communities by helping new people come in and find their way about. They support and encourage excellence by gently pointing people towards things that would help. They encourage and build up, where gatekeepers discourage and knock down. A signpost wants more good stuff, where a gatekeeper wants the power to exclude and the importance of being able to say who crosses the threshold.

You don’t have to know much to start being a signpost. All you need to know is where to point people. In its own way, being a signpost is also a position of power because you’ll decide what to recommend and what to not mention, or discourage. Your opinions and preferences will inform where you suggest people go. A signpost can also be unfair and unreasonable, can exclude for reasons of power, or can mostly signpost towards themselves and the things they sell. The act of signposting is not itself proof of quality. But on the whole I’d still prefer a bad signpost to any sort of gatekeeper.


The Weight of Expectation – a review

This is a very small, very powerful comic. Writer Oli Williams and illustrator Jade Sarson explore how stigma associated with bodyweight and size impacts on people. The visual storytelling here is brilliant, and gives a real sense of an experience that is felt in the flesh.

I did not find this an easy read, and at the same time, I found it enormously helpful. I’ve dealt with fat shaming and body loathing my whole life. I saw something of my own experiences reflected here. That was both painful and cathartic. At the moment, I’m about the smallest I’ve ever been, and as someone small enough to buy regular high street clothes I know that I effectively have more thin privilege than not. But at the same time, like some of the characters in this comic, the words of fatness are written into my flesh through years of struggle, and I cannot look at my own body without seeing that.

One of the things I really love about Jade’s work here, is her ability to depict large people without making them grotesque or ridiculous. The idea that people are intrinsically loveable, that human bodies are loveable and acceptable is a theme I see reoccurring in her work and I am deeply glad of it.

More about The Weight of Expectation here – http://teahermit.co.uk/


Self policing and policing others

In any community, there are always people who want to police things. People who want to be gatekeepers and set standards and say who is allowed in and who is not good enough. It is of course a position of power to be able to force others out, or define the boundaries. To be the person whose version of ‘the right way’ becomes definitive is a powerful place to be. Are you doing folk music right? Is your take on Steampunk really Steampunk enough? Are you a proper Druid? Are you a real geek? Do you know enough to be entitled to call yourself a fan of X, Y or Z?

It’s bloody miserable stuff. Mostly what it creates is discomfort, drama, power struggles, resentment and an undermining of creativity and new thinking. I can’t think of a single example of someone trying to play gatekeeper in a community in this way where things have been better and happier as a direct consequence.

If you think there’s a right and proper way to do things, it is better to lead by example. Live your truth. Demonstrate why your way is good, or best, or the only possible way. People may or may not agree with you. We have the right to make our own rules for ourselves, that’s fine. We have the right to adopt the ways of doing things that we see and are inspired by. There’s nothing wrong with following, and everything wrong with being told that you have to follow.

If you really are right about things then it will be self evident and people will come onboard. If your ideas are brilliant and persuasive, exposure will be enough to persuade people. Anyone who has to bully and harass people into agreeing with them is not really demonstrating a belief in the intrinsic excellence of what they’re advocating.