My facebook friend has unfriended me: A Poem

I am so old I remember when unfriend was not a word,

We fell out, fought and argued, we stopped talking and moved on.

Liking took more effort than a little finger movement,

We shared clothing, books and boyfriends, films and bad ideas.

 

My facebook friend has unfriended me but given me no word,

To argue or explain and this puts me in a limbo

Between anger and confusion asking what was it I did?

What was unacceptable, which statement proved inedible

What ghastly tales have they been told by former facebook friends

Who should have better things to do since they too unfriended me.

 

Those we cast aside so easily with just a little click

Breed resentment in the dark net that lives inside our minds.

Hate-reading each other’s blogs for stimulants to anger highs,

Our most self-righteous anger yet, heady and delicious.

 

My facebook friend has unfriended me – I think it is as well.

Had I known they were this sort of soul, the sort to slink away,

The cowardly, the silent, the gone without a word,

I would have unfriended them myself, instead.

 

I don’t need that kind of shit in my life.

 

Keep my arsy moral highground by spelling out the problem

Old style unfriendly to send them on their way.

I didn’t need those likes or their empty validations

There remain thousands more people I have never met

Who are willing to send me kitten photos.


Hoarding and Gifting

We live in a culture where wealth is expressed through hoarding, and through the ownership of prestige things – big houses, yachts, aeroplanes etc. However, this is not the only way to express wealth and power. Many of our Pagan ancestors were much more into the idea of showing off your wealth by ostentatiously giving it away. The underlying psychology of the two positions is fascinating.

Hoarding is what you do when you fear scarcity. You create a big pile to sit on, so that you, and you alone can benefit if things get tough. Hoarding is the response to an unfair, unkind world that will turn on you and take away your good fortune. The pile is never big enough to let the hoarder feel truly safe.

Gifting assumes that you have the power to generate more resources. You can give away everything, because there will be scope to make new. It assumes your own prowess is equal to whatever the future throws at you and comes from a place of optimism and confidence.

There are things about both stances that create feedback loops. If you hoard, then you will generate jealousy and resentment in those around you. Your bigger pile may increase their feelings of scarcity. Hoards invite theft, and in an every man for himself scenario, people won’t help if things go awry. The gifting approach by contrast creates loyalty and support. These are the people who will cheerfully go on the next raid with you, plant the next season’s crops for you, pull out all the stops in an emergency because when times are good, you share it around. When it’s their turn to be the one who can give ostentatiously, the odds are that they will. And thus the person who can gift well and reliably has every reason to expect help when they float some crazy new project out there.

Hoarding takes resources out of use. Gifting keeps them moving towards where they are needed. Hoarding leaves the hoarder fearing the jealousy and theft of others. Gifting lets the gifter feel bountiful and in control.


Depressed or melancholy?

There are people who will tell you that depressed people are just making a fuss, ought to pull themselves together. Take a nice walk, listen to some music, stop feeling sorry for yourself. These are people who haven’t experienced depression for themselves. What makes it difficult is that they may have experienced melancholy, and believe that the depressed person is feeling as they did when that happened to them.

Now, when it comes to a touch of gloom, a down day, a bit of melancholy, this is sound advice. Get outside, go for a coffee with a friend. Listen to your favourite album. Play with a cat. Do something you know will lift your mood, and your mood will lift. So long as you don’t wallow about in it, you can indeed get shot of it, because it’s just a mood and will pass.

From the outside, there are no obvious signs that a depressed person is experiencing something different from that. However, depression means serious underlying unresolved issues. This may be current life issues – stress, lack of rest etc, it can be a side effect of physical illness and ongoing pain, it can be unprocessed trauma, it may be a chemistry issue. Small changes won’t shift it. In some cases, a degree of relief can be found in doing small things, and for some of us, doing small uplifting things over weeks, or perhaps months can really help turn things around – this was certainly true for me. Getting a change in your environment that allows you more good stuff can make a difference. But, a single shot of uplift won’t change things. In the not being uplifted by the supposed cure, the depressed person can slide further in, feeling ever more powerless and useless.

If the depressed person is subjected to a barrage of being told they should be able to fix this with an array of superficial magic cures, they are not going to be less depressed. They may get worse. Tell a really depressed person to pull themselves together, stop making a fuss, stop wallowing, let go of the self pity – and you will fuel the feelings of despair, uselessness and worthlessness that very likely underpin their condition. Anyone really keen to pull a depressed person out – don’t tell them what to do, get in there and see what you can gently do that will enable them to do it. Ask what would help. Offer support. Don’t assume you know best. Many people have no hope of healing until the thing causing the problem changes.

And, for people who are depressed, I know how hard it is not to internalise other people’s suggestions as criticism. There was a meme a bit back that basically said trees are medicine and pills are rubbish – it’s a case in point because it creates the impression that depressed people just aren’t trying hard enough or making the right choices. And so you feel worse than before. If you can hang on to the thought that anyone pedalling this stuff is talking from a place of total ignorance, it helps. The really problematic ones are the folk who will tell you they know about depression, when all they really know is about sadness and fleeting gloom. They mistake their molehill for your mountain. But, when they are confident and you feel like shit, it is all too easy to be persuaded.

The bottom line is, if what someone else says isn’t useful, that doesn’t make them right and you useless. It may well mean they have no bloody idea. It is possible to prevent them from stealing away more of your self esteem if you can bear this in mind.

The bottom line for people on the other side of this is that if you think you have a simple solution for depression, then you are wrong. You may have an effective intervention for passing gloom, but anything that can be fixed with a walk in the park or a kitten photo was not depression in the first place and you need to reassess what you think depression is and be alert to the risk of blaming the sufferer.

I haven’t had a really bad bout in more than a year now. I’ve had rough patches, but I think I’m surfacing. There were no quick fixes.


Labrys and Horns: review

Labrys and Horns by Laura Perry is an introduction to practicing modern Minoan Paganism. The Minoans were are culture on Crete who existed before the Greeks. They were a much more egalitarian society, and while there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge about them, much can be inferred from the art and archaeology. This is not an academic-style book so there’s not much detail about how the author comes to her conclusions, but there are plenty of other books listed in the references so anyone who wants to dig deeper knows where to start. You can also pick up her other title, Aridane’s Thread, which goes into more detail on history and Minoan life.

I came to this out of curiosity rather than any intention to practice. It is a book worth reading from that basis. The relationship between the Minoans and the Greeks has much to tell us about the later culture, too. There’s a wealth of insight here about the ancient world as a whole, and much to ponder about the way sacred myths evolve and change depending on who is telling them and why.

I’m guessing that most people come to Minoan Paganism either through an attraction to the art, or via one of the deities. Ariadne, the minotaur and the labyrinth seem like the most obvious way in. If you’ve encountered the Greek story, and felt drawn but found it inadequate, this is no doubt for you. If you like aspects of the Greek myths but find the rapey patriarchal content unpalatable, you may want to check out the Minoans.

The book includes line drawings based on Minoan art and artefacts, I found this really helpful for getting a sense of the culture and concepts. In its original form, it’s a really attractive art style, with brightly coloured frescos and Laura has captured the flow and feel of it in her drawings.

This is a very readable book, author Laura Perry writes with warmth and clearly speaks from broad and long term experience of bringing an ancient culture into her life. Her writing is permissive and encouraging rather than dogmatic, it’s very much a book about how to go about finding your own path, and where to start. There’s enough material here on rituals, symbols, deities and devotionals to enable a person to start experimenting.

 

Find out more about the book here – http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/labrys-and-horns


MCing as a bardic skill

At first glance, taking on the role of master of ceremonies for an event might look more like organising than bard craft. However, to do it well, you need a quicksilver tongue and the ability to improvise. A good MC is a good bard. The job of MC means reacting off the cuff to all the performances and to any other unforeseen events. To shape the enthusiasm of many into something coherent takes skill, and to make an evening out of a bunch of people doing stuff isn’t as easy as it looks.

If an event is being run by someone who gets up to introduce and thank performers, then the style of that person will shape the whole gathering. Whether it feels competitive or inclusive, whether there’s a sense of hierarchy or an equal footing, whether some performers are more valued than others, will often be determined by what the MC does.

Of course the being judgemental is important – the bard praises the excellent, and may try to find ways to quietly re-direct the people who are way off the mark, and will act to stop the disruptive and so forth. That judgement will often come over in the nuance of a turn of phrase, or a hint in the body language because if you are heavy handed you can lose the audience.

When the MC is relaxed, good humoured and encouraging, more people may feel empowered to have a go. A good word at the end of a piece can lift a performer and inspire them to renewed efforts and greater confidence.

The MC creates the flow of an event, smoothes the transition between performers, gives shape to what might otherwise be chaos. The MC is the one who makes sure that a bardic space does not simply get taken over by the loudest and most confident, but holds room for those who aren’t as brash and assertive. Without someone in this role, it’s easy for a dominant few or a clique to take over a performance space and exclude anyone who is not one of their own, or not pushy enough to get in.

Often, when an MC does a good job, you barely notice them. They foreground the performers and keep things running smoothly, and they will barely feature in your memory of what happened. Those who have taken MCing to another level may be doing it as performance in its own right, which is also a fine way of working. MCs who can make the audience laugh, and can drop their own gems into the mix without breaking the flow can be very engaging to watch. MCs who are performers can be the opening act for the event, using their own performance to warm up and settle down the audience to the benefit of everyone else.


Looking hard at compassion

‘Compassion’ is one of those words easily chucked about that does a good line in making you sound spiritual and enlightened. I think it’s always worth poking anything that can be wafted about easily to make sure we’re doing what we think we’re doing.

Is the compassion something that lives in our heads, or is it translating into action? We can feel compassion for the hungry, the homeless, etc, but if it’s just about our feels, it does nothing to alleviate suffering. Telling ourselves we are feeling compassion may be a way of letting ourselves off the hook, assuaging guilt without actually doing anything useful.

The ‘I’m feeling so compassionate towards you right now’ stance can also be a way of disempowering the other. Here I am, all big, spiritual, shiny and wise feeling compassion for you because clearly you need it. Smug compassion can be more about making ourselves feel bigger than the one who needs our compassion. If it takes that shape, it does no good at all. Compassion can be a re-framing of pity, and pity only drags people down, it never lifts them.

‘I’m being compassionate towards myself’ can be a fantastically effective way of re-branding selfishness. It can be used to justify self interest and to protect us from having to look at the things which might otherwise make us feel uncomfortable. Ironically the people who most need to practice self care are the ones most likely to be hauling themselves over the coals, and the ones who can easily announce their compassion for themselves are, from what I’ve seen, the ones who have least need for it. And if you’re the kind of overthinker who perpetually tries to second guess their own motives, sorry about this paragraph. There’s nothing wrong with being kind to ourselves, unless we do that as a way of not being responsible or honourable.

I admit that if I encounter someone who talks a lot about how compassionate they are, I become rapidly sceptical. I’m interested in people talking about how to practice compassion effectively, how to do it more and better, but that’s got a very different swing to it. I’m also much more interested in people talking about what they do that helps, in whatever way, at whatever level. How do we make things better? How can we be kinder to each other and take better care of each other? Not by poncing about announcing how very, very compassionate we are, that’s for sure.

(And yes, if I was a better sort of person I might know how to feel compassion for the people who have to wave the idea of their own compassion about in this attention seeking way, but I don’t. )


The Green Pauper

It wasn’t so many years ago that I got into a conversation with someone about food choices. They drove to a farmer’s market. I cycled to a supermarket. There wasn’t anywhere else I could reach by cycling to buy food. I couldn’t afford the bus, and I most certainly couldn’t afford the farmer’s market. I came out of that conversation with the sense the other person thought I wasn’t really trying hard enough.

There are a great many ways of being green that cost money. I’ve never been able to buy all organic food. I’ve had conversations with people who have assumed that I *must* have more income I could free up and thus am just making unethical choices, or am lazy. There are a great many ways of being green that take time – and I do a lot of those – walking for transport, hand-washing clothes, make do and mend. You’ve got to have time and energy for those, and not everyone does.

If you are a pauper, the odds are you are greener than the person who drives their car to the farmer’s market. You won’t rack up many air miles. The odds are you live in a smaller space, buy far fewer things, make everything last longer. You won’t be profligate with lighting and heating and you won’t waste food because you can’t afford to. People obliged to count how many slices of bread are left don’t have mystery items rotting in the back of the fridge. You don’t drive unless you have to, if you even have that option.

I’ve dealt with people who felt that every purchase and every action should be properly researched to find the greenest option. It assumed a luxury of time and energy, and not being in a position of also having to try and get the very best economic value for money you can out of a tight budget, or the cheapest thing you can find that will do the job, from no budget, or going into debt.

With all of this in mind, I have some suggestions. Firstly, it is easy to shame and harass a person for not being green enough while ignoring the realities of their situation. It is easy to tell someone else they have choices, and much harder to see those ‘choices’ when you really are short of essential resources – time, health, money. It’s easy to say ‘my organic vegetables are a good thing’ and ignore the big car you drive, or the big house you live in, or the foreign holidays. We are better off spending our time looking hard at our own choices and options rather than harassing other people over what we imagine their choices and options mean.

Rather than knock someone down, why not offer them help? Buy them the moon cup you want them to have, the washable nappies, the pedal bike. If you think spending money on objects is the green answer to problems, why stop at your own possessions? Unless of course spending money on green things is simply another way to demonstrate wealth. And I’m afraid there are people for whom that’s true.

Radical change, with everyone able to make the greenest choices imaginable, depends on more economic freedom than most of us have at the moment. We would need infrastructure changes – more affordable public transport, decentralisation so that you don’t have to drive to access essential things, and a more flexible work culture allowing people to work from home where appropriate. Less financial pressure would mean fewer people commuting. Not everything can be fixed by individual action, and the people who are most vulnerable and closest to the edge financially are the ones least able to go ostentatiously green. We need to work on helping each other, and not accept a culture in which green spending power becomes the new bling to show off.


Bard of Hawkwood 2017

I had the honour of judging on this year’s Bard of Hawkwood (that’s me second from the left when you get to the image). They were all brilliant in different ways and it was not an easy decision. It is a question of considering literary merit, performance on the day and what the bard will do if given this platform… there were three of us judging and I’m very happy with the choice we made and with what the winner is already doing off the back of this…

The Bardic Academic

Th

IMG_20170501_142057 Centre – Madeleine Harwood, Bard of Hawkwood 2017

3 years ago I set up the Bard of Hawkwood contest to promote community creativity. This, along with Stroud Out Loud! – the monthly spoken word showcase I founded – offers a way for budding bards to hone their fledgling talents in an inclusive, supportive way. It is not the only way of doing things but it works here in Stroud and the Five Valleys, where there is a wealth of local talent and traditions of artistic heritage, alternative lifestyles, radical thinking, and grassroots activity. The Bardic Chair tradition and revival is something I have explored in my book, The Bardic Chair: inspiration, invention, innovation (1st published by RJ Stewart Books in 200, a new edition of the book is forthcoming).

RJ Stewart Books, 2008

The revival of English Bardic Chairs is largely down to one man, Tim Sebastian. The Arch-Druid…

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The further adventures of the bouncing Druid

With anything there’s usually a honeymoon period when novelty and enthusiasm carry you through the tougher bits. I blogged at the start of March about being a bouncy Druid, having been at it a month. After three months of bouncing, here’s what I’ve learned.

On the good side – depression, anxiety, body pain down, energy levels up, concentration better. The swelling of the lymph glands is under control, I’ve a fitter heart and can walk up hills more easily.

On the downside – it isn’t a magic cure-all. While on the whole my energy levels are better, I still get the days when it feels like my bones have been coated with lead and reality is made of treacle. I still have to juggle my spoons. A long day at the computer or art board means having to bounce more, which means being really tired at the end of the day which can limit what’s viable in the evening. I’ve learned that I have to take rest days and I have to really pay attention to my body about those because if I get it wrong I’ll hurt a lot.

I’ve had to change my eating habits, and that’s been hard. A lifetime of being told that eating more would be a bad thing clashes with the reality that if I’m going to bounce, I need fats and carbs for energy and I need protein for muscle maintenance. If I am to be fitter and stronger, if I am to lose fat from my body, I have to eat more. It seems counter intuitive, emotionally it’s not easy for me, but the messages from my body on this score have been really clear.

Somewhere in the second month I became fit enough that bouncing alone wasn’t getting me much heart action. I started using my small hand weights (a kilo each) at the same time, which has helped with upper body strength. When that too stopped getting my heart moving enough (a couple of weeks ago) I added ankle weights to the mix (half a kilo each). I’m glad I started with the smallest, because those have been hard work, and I’m back to having to be alert to signs of pain and overdoing it.

Bouncing has taught me a lot about being in my body. It’s also helped me learn something about enjoying my body in motion. It is teaching me how to listen more carefully, how to think more constructively about food and activity in balance, and how to recognise when I need to rest. I’m seeing changes in my shape, I am a bit more toned than I was, and that cheers me, I’m able to do more than I could and that cheers me greatly. I’ve managed to keep going – I’m not great with routines so I’m pleased about the discipline side, too. It’s also required me to get out of my comfort zone musically – folk rock stopped being fast enough a while ago. I’m using dance music to power me, and as a consequence listening to an unfamiliar genre.

As I bounce, I gaze out of the window, think about my breathing and watch the wildlife – especially the nest of great tits. I find myself entering meditative states, and in longer sessions, more trance like states occur, it fulfils some of the role of ecstatic dancing.

I suspect the next lesson will be about recognising sufficiency. The point at which I don’t add more weights or extend my bouncing time, but accept that I’ve reached a ‘good enough’ zone. I haven’t yet decided what that will look like, but I’m wary of narratives of eternal progress, so at some point it will be a consideration.


Keeping it real

We are social animals and we often do better when we can gather with other people. I’ve been noticing over the last few months some of the ways in which social media doesn’t answer social need.

In times of difficulty, many of us seek relief in saying what’s going on, but on social media at the moment this translates into a relentless wall of negativity. I find, and I’m no doubt not alone in this, that I can’t come up with something good, supportive, encouraging or just simply witnessing for every facebook friend who is struggling each day. I’d like to be able to, but with the way politics is grinding most of us down right now, it would be a full time job, and I don’t have the emotional resilience to do it.

By contrast, I found myself at a spoken word event at the weekend, where politics came up. Politics handled by clever, funny, good hearted people turned into the cathartic power of being able to laugh at it in a room full of likeminded souls. I came away feeling better about things.

I’m lucky in that I live somewhere there are more good and affordable events than I can get to in a week. I’m blessed with a fantastic network of friends as well. No matter how bad things look, they seem less grim when in the company of other people who care, and feel anxious, frustrated, angry… because what we do with those feelings over a pint or on a walk enables us to witness each other, and think about how to keep going, where the bright spots may be and so forth. Sharing with people in person has power.

Of course not everyone can get into spaces with other people, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve been there – cut off by a lack of transport and money, living in a place where very little happened. It helps if those who have the means are willing to get themselves to the people who don’t once in a while. It helps when we think about each other and support each other.

It doesn’t take prohibitive amounts of time and effort to name a place and time. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and doing it as someone with unreliable energy levels and limited resources. Keeping it minimal helps. A drink and draw in the pub. A walk. A picnic. Making sure there’s easily accessible space every weekend for anyone who wants it. Posting on events and social activities other people are running. It’s important that we keep putting our bodies in the same space when we can, because humans respond well to being in the same space as other humans we like.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. It’s easy to feel lost and alone. Ostensibly social media can often be a blessing, but it can equally serve to make things seem even worse. Being with other people gives us more scope to change things within ourselves. It’s a small resistance, a small revolution, but I think that right now, just refusing to be beaten by all the hate and mean-spiritedness out there is a significant act of resistance.