Doing things for money

My economic situation has improved significantly in the last year, freeing up more resources for leisure stuff and a better diet. Both have had a huge impact on my mental and physical health and on my creativity. A brain is powered by food, and the relationship between poverty, diet and poor mental health is something I intend to come back to.

Of course I have heard all the arguments the other way – art should be made for love, not money. Druid work should be given away freely as it’s not spiritual to ask for money. To do that you have to be independently wealthy, have a partner who can fund everything, or be in such good health that you can work two jobs. That logic leaves us with creativity and priesthood as options only for the privileged. I’m not cool with that.

The internet gives us the means to have many things for free – it is one of the great powers of this technology. It brings us to new challenges and new ways of doing things. It has never been easier for an indy creator to find an audience, but it has probably never been harder to earn a living in this way. It is one of the reasons I find Patreon so exciting as a model. Using Patreon means that, as a creator, you can just put your stuff out there. If people love you enough, they can drop a few dollars in the hat each month, and get some extras for so doing.

I’ve been using Patreon for a couple of months now. It’s got me writing short stories and poetry on a much more regular basis, and I’m using it to host a monthly newsletter as well. Having people willing to put in the hat for this, and to support my other work, has really helped me emotionally. At the moment, the extra money is not a game changer, but I’ve thought about how I would use extra money should this grow.

One of my goals is to be able to justify making at least one video a month. The odds are this would involve poetry, songs, short stories and filming things that are not my face. I’ve been dabbling a bit as it is and have a couple of videos to finish and release in the autumn. Beyond that, my goal is to be able to afford to use some of Tom’s time on a cartoon strip we’ve wanted to do for years. It’s called The Wrong Dog. Ultimately, my major goal is more space. This could be studio space in the short term, but longer term I need to live somewhere else. The living room /dining room/writer space/ office/studio/storage area arrangement frankly doesn’t work very well for doing any of the things we need to do.

Having more income gives me more scope to invest in my wellbeing. It might mean being able to afford a weekly Tai Chi class – something I really want to do. I could use some extra funding to take courses to develop my skills and ideas. I’ve done some single day workshops through the summer, and that’s been decidedly good for me. I have fantasies about going on holiday.

Here are the things my household is doing for money, should you feel so moved…

Patreon

Books for sale on Amazon   and Book Depository  (most of my stuff can be bought anywhere that sells books)

Etsy (for posters and Tom Brown original art) https://www.etsy.com/shop/MothFestival

If you want to support a creative person but can’t throw money at them, pointing at their work, reviewing them, and the like is a really great help and always appreciated. Feedback is good, too. Most of us unfamous creative folk keep going because we think someone might just want it – putting a hand up to being the person who wants the stuff can help keep a person making and sharing.

 

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When People are Troublesome

Here’s a very useful line of thought which I got from Alain du Botton. It goes like this. When small babies are grumpy, shouty or otherwise horrible, we check their nappies, burp them, see if they need to sleep, or we feed them. We wonder if they are teething. More often than not, what’s wrong can be put right. When adults are inexplicably funny with us, we infer meaning, and we get unhappy too and that seldom fixes anything.

Low blood sugar, insufficient sleep, trapped wind, and countless other simple body issues affect the moods of adults, too. On top of that we have all our baggage to lug about as well. For some time now, I’ve tried to factor this in when dealing with people. Sometimes I can just go for simple physical interventions to see if it helps, sometimes I just imagine that the reason a person is odd isn’t about me, but about them. At the very least, it helps me not to make worse an already awkward situation.

I’ve started applying it to myself as well. If I know I’m being crappy and short tempered, I check through for obvious physical things, and try things that might alleviate problems. If I know there’s a problem with me – for example if I’m in a lot of pain – I say so, in the hopes that the people around me will know not to take me too personally. I tell the people who live with me if I’m bleeding, or I think I’m pre-menstrual, so they know what’s going on. Hopefully, this helps. It certainly helps me take better care of me.

I think part of the problem is that we’ve inherited a culture that thinks body things are vulgar and not to be mentioned. We can’t tell people we’re menstruating! Or constipated! The horror! Instead we are to present a stiff upper lip and pretend everything is fine. Of course this means a lot of stuff comes out sideways. There’s nothing like trying to pretend you don’t feel awful for making a person over react to small things gone awry.

If we’re allowed to be honest about body issues, we can be kinder to each other. We can understand each other better and not build up layers of overthinking and anxiety around our interactions. If we assume that as grown up people we are basically big babies, we may be better able to recognise when someone just needs a pat on the back.


Adventures with the Pagan Federation

I joined the Pagan Federation when I was 18. Through the PF’s Pagan Dawn magazine, I had my first encounters with the various paths in modern Paganism, and my first snapshot of the modern Pagan world. In my twenties, I volunteered for the PF, wrote for Pagan Dawn, went to conferences and met a lot of excellent people as a consequence. I left because I found something that I thought needed me more than the PF did at that point.

Like most of the active Pagans I know, I’ve been in and out of various groups, held an array of volunteer posts, fallen out with people, patched up with some of them. Paganism is full of people, and some people are easier to work with than others. Interpersonal politics is a thing, wherever you go. I try not to get too invested in it, but it happens. But even so, events around Druid Camp 2017 left me really questioning whether I had a place at all in the wider Pagan community and whether I should just give up and go away. It certainly didn’t help that in the same time frame, I ran into problems that obliged me to put down my OBOD volunteering as well.

As a consequence, it came as something of a surprise to me to find that I was wanted by the PF for a volunteer role. There’s been some quiet sorting out of this through the summer. I rejoined the Pagan Federation. I signed the paperwork. I’m going to be the Pagan Federation Disabilities Web Elf. I am very happy that I get the gender neutral term of ‘elf’ and the process that got me there was wonderful. In essence this means using the blogging and social media skills I use for other jobs and volunteering work and helping more with online festivals that the disabilities team run.

I’m excited about this as a prospect. It means I can use my skills to help support and empower others. I can make it easier for people who need their issues to be heard, to have a platform for that. There will be space to examine and promote best practice around inclusion, to talk about things that enable people to be more involved. I see lots of ways in which the blog and social media work can help inform, uplift and empower.

It’s also good to be working in a team where I can feel safe about saying ‘sorry, I don’t have the spoons for this’ and know I won’t need to explain and further. To feel able to say ‘I am too close to burnout for this right now’ is a big deal. I’ve talked before about how volunteers can be burned out by never-ending work, and taking mental health and energy levels seriously within work, and volunteer work needs to happen. It’s an opportunity to model and talk about better ways of doing things.


Finding more hours in the day

As a self employed person, how I work is something I find it necessary to pay attention to. No one else sets my hours or considers what would be the best use of my time from day to day. No one sets my breaks, or time off.

During the worst patches, I’ve worked seven day weeks, and long days. During those times, work has been a slow, inefficient grind, dogged by poor concentration, difficulty with decision making and a lack of creativity. It’s really easy when self employed to feel like you have to keep working, especially if you aren’t earning much Fear that the work will dry up if you don’t say yes to everything is certainly part of the problem.

One of the things I’ve learned this summer, is that it is better for me to work in blocks rather than trying to multitask. Writing blog posts, dealing with email and doing social media work can end up sprawling across each other, with a lot of time squandered as I shuffle between, unable to remember what I was supposed to be doing or where I’d got to. Focused bursts get a lot more done. Focused bursts with small breaks in between them are even better.

By not multitasking, I’ve been able to cut my working morning by an hour, reliably. That’s including having a bit of time – ten to twenty minutes each day of promoting my own work, which I’d been neglecting to do. I’ve also cut my regular work down to four mornings a week, freeing up Wednesdays for doing something different – an uncontaminated headspace in which to create, should inspiration strike. It’s working. I’m doing as much work as I was before, I’m just not wasting as much time as I was.

It’s hard to notice lost time when it comes as a few minutes here and there, or each job taking ten or fifteen seconds longer than it might have done. Over a morning’s work, the lost minutes and seconds totted up to that hour or more that I now have at my disposal. Efficiency is a thing.

When business people talk about efficiency, all too often what they mean is getting people to work flat out and more like machines. Flat out isn’t efficient, it slows because concentration is not an infinite resource. Working like a person, and taking care of my person-ness as I work is what makes me more efficient. Not stinting on the breaks, allowing myself as much window gazing time as I need, moving about regularly – all the things that don’t look like efficiency actually get the jobs done faster.


The language of Madness

I’ve been conscious for a while now that abelist language is a thing, and that how we talk about various forms of disability, and how we use it as metaphor needs keeping an eye on. As a person with mental health issues, how should I talk about madness?

It is important to me to talk about it. I don’t feel at ease with more clinical language, I want to talk experientially and about feelings. I think if I want to describe myself as having been ‘bat shit crazy’ then that’s ok. There’s issues about reclaiming words and undermining them as insults.

It’s difficult at the moment because cognitive dissonance is everywhere, and there seem to be a lot of people who would rather, for example, contrive complex conspiracy theories about how someone has made a hurricane happen rather than deal with the issue of climate change. What do we call that aside from madness? In psychological terms, the line between sane and not sane is all about functionality. I see so many people who are so in denial about environmental issues, that they are not functional. It might even be technically accurate to refer to this as insanity.

We’re collectively quick in the wake of a mass killing to talk about the killer’s mental health problems (when we’re talking about a white guy). The major problem with this is that it can lead to the impression that mentally ill people are dangerous. In practice, most of us pose no risk to anyone but ourselves. The trouble is that not all forms of madness are created equally.

I’m conscious that there are many Pagan practices which, in their ecstatic and dramatic extremes, take a person out of consensus reality and into something the consensus considers insane – hearing and seeing that which others do not, knowing things from this experience… conversations about shamanism especially, and madness have been going on for some time.

I’m also conscious of the madness of creativity. Again, it’s an ecstatic form, wild, deranged, visionary, extreme, profoundly dysfunctional and potentially life wrecking, but also able to think otherwise unthinkable things and bring beauty into the world. The risk of talking about this in terms of madness is that we romanticise and make attractive the kinds of experiences that can also kill people.

Along the way I’ve known a number of people whose relationship with reality has, by anyone’s standard, broken down dramatically at some point. In some cultures, this would have made them holy, important, their experiences re-framed as something significant to their community. Even in Christian history we see space, historically, for the holy fool, the mad mystic. When did we collectively decide that madness was a shameful thing that should be locked away, hidden from sight and never spoken of? And more recently, medicated out of sight? I know that the vast majority of low level mental health issues – depression and anxiety – are caused by our workplaces and other stressors like poverty and insecurity. We are to tidy it up and hide it away and not deal with the sick systems creating it.

Madness takes many forms. Some of its forms are so hideous and destructive that there’s nothing we can currently do except institutionalise the sufferers. Some years ago I knew someone who worked in that kind of environment. We’re still hiding the worst of it under the social rug, and most of us have no idea what goes on. Changing what we call it can just be a new way of hiding it from ourselves.

I can’t find any easy edges around when and how we should be talking about madness, and when we shouldn’t use that kind of language, because so much of what I see around me is itself insane. I think we need to be more willing to talk about the madness inherent in the system. Madness is not just something that happens to you, it can be the direct consequence of a deliberate choice not to deal with reality. Say and for example, by being in denial about what all the violent weather might possibly mean.


Jumping through hoops

Trigger warnings: exploring abuse.

Sometimes the goals just keep moving, always staying that bit ahead of you so that you can never make the grade. No matter how hard you try, how good you are, how well you do the things you were told to do, the goal shifts with you and you never reach it.

I think back to playground games, and the desperate, uncool kid I was, trying to be good enough. It doesn’t matter how often you’re useful in that context, how often you let them do the things they want to do, you never earn a place as a cool kid. There are plenty of adults still playing this game, in workplaces, in families, in social groups. Hurt yourself for our amusement and there may be a place for you. Now demean yourself for us. Now grovel.

At least with the moving goalpost game you can see the goal, and you can watch it move, and sooner or later you can spot this and recognise it for what it is. The unwinnable game is just that, the only way to win it is to quit, and that’s a simple enough lesson to learn. Anyone trapped into playing it stands a chance of getting themselves out again.

The invisible hoop game is much, much worse. I guess there’s nothing really wrong with situations that ask us to jump through hoops – that’s the school system in a nutshell. It’s part of how employment works. Do the things, get the rewards. Sticks and carrots all the way. However, the invisible hoop game doesn’t let you know what you have to do. There will be hoops, and you are expected to jump through them, but with no information as to where those hoops are or what they require.

Generally speaking, a person in an invisible hoop game will find out what the score is only when they have failed to jump through a hoop. They have failed to magically know what was wanted of them. They were not psychic, they did not predict the future. They will be punished for having failed to jump through the right hoop at the right moment.

This happens a lot in abusive relationships. Of course you were supposed to know that today they wanted to sleep in/get up an hour early/have breakfast bought to them in bed. It is your fault for not packing the thing they wanted, not ordering the thing they’d run out of, not mending the thing you did not know was broken. You are too noisy, too quiet, too sociable, too morose, too happy, too sad. You are making them feel something you weren’t supposed to make them feel. And now they are angry. For some people (more often than not, it happens to women) this is where the physical violence starts. You didn’t jump through the invisible hoop, and that makes it ok to hurt you. Or it may be that you are shouted at, told off, humiliated or ridiculed instead.

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the physical consequences. The psychological consequences run much deeper. For some people, this will be a whole life issue as a consequence of childhood abuse. Some of us are trained to it later. If you have played the invisible hoop game, you can never entirely relax. You’ll always be looking for the invisible hoops. In all situations, with everyone, a part of your mind is watching out for clues that there’s a hoop with your name on it. A part of your mind is watching for the danger signs that you didn’t jump when you should have done. Underneath all of this, lingers the suspicion that any decent, normal person would be able to see these hoops and jump through them. You can’t, and you think that’s because you are crap, careless and not willing to try hard enough. Rather than running away, you blame yourself, and try harder.

Time in safe spaces can reduce the fear. It can get easier not to be looking for hoops all the time. I don’t know if it ever entirely goes away.


How we hold each other

They said “it is all your fault.”

And so I apologised, and promised I would try harder. Do more, ask for less. Think more carefully. Make less fuss.

They said “you are an emotional blackmailer and attention seeking.”

And so I hid my feelings, denied my pain. I became ashamed of my tears. Afraid to say ‘ouch’.

They said “you are useless and a waste of space. You mess everything up.”

I said sorry. Again. More. I made a note not to ask for help so often.

They said ‘You are difficult, high maintenance, exhausting to deal with.”

I reminded myself to ask for less, to not burden other people.

They said “it is inconvenient for us if you make a fuss. We don’t want to deal with what’s happening, it is not our problem.”

I admitted that it was not their problem. They owed me nothing.

They said “we will take your work but we don’t want to acknowledge you in any way.”

And on that occasion I managed to say no, sod you all. No.

They said “We don’t have time to talk to you.”

I started saying ‘well in that case, maybe I am not doing this thing you wanted me to do.”

They harassed me, made my life difficult, and while they did it, they said “you are the bully. You are the bad guy and must be stopped.”

Eventually I started to wonder about this.

They have worn various faces down the years. They have always been willing to take the best of me, bleed me dry, and complain if I ask not to be bled to death. They have walked on me, and been offended when I have asked not to be used as rug. It has taken me far too long to consider that I might not be the one in the wrong here.

It has taken me a long time to learn that there are people who do not see my flaws as justification for hurting me. There are people willing to think the best of me, deal kindly, play fairly, exchange and support in return. Perhaps they were there all along, and I could not see them for the feet of the tramplers, and the haze of too much blood letting. I see them now. And they say things that do not take me apart.


A Personal Agenda

One of the things I’ve taken to checking up on, is my personal agenda. It’s all too easy to find that what you’re doing and what you want are out of kilter. So, what it the grand plan? What’s the intended trajectory? Where are we going, and how, and why, and so forth.

In my own life, I’m making a deliberate bid to be more economically effective. I have long term goals about where I want to be living. I’m also aware that many problems can be solved by throwing money at them, and I’d like to be better placed to solve more of those problems. I’m still looking for a better work life balance that gives me more energy for fun stuff, but on the whole, I’m a lot happier with my day to day arrangements than I was. I’ve got people to feed, I’m not going to treat economic viability as some sort of sin. I’m looking for work models that avoid exploitation.

I want to support, encourage and enable creativity in other people. I want to make safe spaces where people can have a go at things, stretch and experiment. I want to help people who are professionally creative stay emotionally and economically viable. I’m looking at a number of ways of taking this forward.

I want to help tackle the stigma around mental health problems, share information on causes and ways of coping, and tackle the way in which our culture as a whole is making people ill. At the moment I can only do this on a fairly small scale, and mostly through this blog. I’m keeping an eye out for other options.

I’m a tree activist for The Woodland Trust (part of their Special Branch!) and doing what I can in terms of environmental activism remains important to me. Having done about half of an ecolinguistics course, I’m increasingly inclined to think that I want to deal with environmental activism from the angle of stories, language use, how we frame things, and the like. I’m at the early stages with this and still figuring out where to take it.

I’m very much interested in the kind of power that lets me get things done, but not at all in the kind of power that allows me to control other people. I’m looking around to see who is willing to give me a platform, where I might fit, where there’s enough agenda overlap that we might be functional fellow travellers for a while. I’ve got one significant development in the bag on that score, everything else is going to be a good deal slower.

I’ve a lot of years of service behind me, and often what I’ve done is show up to do the things other people wanted. It was useful as a learning experience, but I’m not playing that way anymore. I’m looking for the spaces and people able to give me the space to do the things I think are important. I’ve also become very wary of the idea that we should all waft about saying ‘it’s all about the service’ because I’ve seen this too often. ‘I’ve got less ego than you’ can easily become the main ego game in town. I’m less self promoting than you. I’m a good little Pagan working hard and not drawing attention to myself. Enough of that! Platforms mean visibility. Changing things means visibility. Anyone who has to pretend they don’t want any attention while trying to do anything significant is getting into something with a whiff of cognitive dissonance about it.

Personal gain and profit are not the only kind of personal agenda available. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t need to keep dealing with the spaces that want me to be invisible, unnamed, and unable to get by financially. I’ve been through a few of those, where it’s apparently all about service, but in reality all about exploitation. There should be no shame in trying to be viable, and no shame in working on your own terms, for your own reasons.


Druids who do not speak to kings

Where myth and history meet there are tales of Druids who spoke with Kings, and who could stand on battlefields and bid the armies cease in their fighting.

We are not such Druids. May we live to see the day when there are no kings left to speak to. No unelected men with any titles, no such forms of absolute power.

We can speak truth to power. We can do so not because we have a big, shiny title everyone respects (it cheers me how far we are from that) but because truth should be spoken to power wherever power is oblivious to truth.

We can speak to anyone who will hear us.

We can speak for those who have no voices – the land, the creatures, the ancestors, the Gods. However, when we do so, we must be careful that we aren’t speaking for ourselves and claiming to voice something other in order to look good.

When we speak for those who have no voices, we must remember that most people have voices and their problem is about not being heard or taken seriously. If we speak for them, we may only add to this. We can help to amplify them.

Before we speak, we need to pause. To listen to the living voices around us. To listen to the voices of spirit and inspiration that might come to us if we make room. To listen to what we intend to say so we can figure out if it has any merit. Better to listen a lot, and talk less, but talk with insight, with inspiration, with understanding.

And when we speak as Druids, let it be because Druids are called to serve, and not from a desire to have our voices heard over all others, and not from a desire to be important and powerful. There is no need for us to be the Druids who speak to Kings.


The menoporpoise

It isn’t a pause. Nothing has stopped, and the ‘pause’ bit technically refers to stopping bleeding, which may be years away for me.

Peri-menopausal is an awkward mouthful of a term, it’s not something I can live inside. It does nothing for me.

So far, the material I’ve found has just flagged up all the bad bits. There’s nothing I can work with. Nothing I feel empowered or encouraged by. I suspect this is because our culture values youth and sexual fertility in women, and not age or wisdom.

As a practical point, my skin now takes offence at everything, including my own sweat. I seem to spend a lot of time slinking off to the bathroom to wash afflicted regions. Water is fine. This leads me to the logical conclusion that I am trying to transform into an aquatic mammal, and this in turn brings me very naturally to the menoporpoise.

I see the menoporpoise as friendly and benevolent, but not always convenient. It means well, but it is in essence a large aquatic mammal trying to swim about inside my life, and sometimes that’s going to be complicated. We will have to learn to get along, the menoporpoise and I.

Our lives and experiences are informed and shaped by the language we use and the stories we tell. How we name things, how we talk of them is important stuff. For easily a year now, my body has been changing. I don’t want the cultural narratives of menopause. But perhaps I can work with a menoporpoise and change into something new.