Body positivity

I’ve discovered something curious about myself in the last few years, and it has everything to do with what makes me feel more positive about my body.

If I try to modify myself to look attractive, or even acceptable, I tend to get very stressed. Anything resembling performative femininity makes me more self conscious and uncomfortable, not less so. I’m less confident when I wear makeup in a conventional way. I’m less confident if I’m wearing clothes that are supposed to be sexy.

However, it’s very different if I set out to be deliberately weird, grotesque, peculiar or otherwise odd. If I dress like a goblin I feel better about myself. If I paint my face as though I am a piece of boro embroidery, or mark myself with little black lines to be the Queen of Crows, I am more at ease. I become more comfortable in my own skin when I’m actively trying not to be attractive to anyone.

I suspect there’s also a thing around who responds to me if I’m not trying to perform attractiveness for them. I’m overall much more invested in engaging with people who find me interesting, and not keen to deal with anyone who simply finds my body appealing with no reference to who and how I am.

Fortunately for me, I’m married to someone who understands that and who prefers me feeling comfortable. And who on this occasion, painted my skin for me in a way that helps me feel more comfortable with myself. Body positivity on my terms.


Drained – a guest poet

Keith Errington is no doubt best known in steampunk circles for his comedic work. He’s performed with the Hopeless, Maine crew on a number of occasions, the first of which was right at the beginning of our figuring out how to get Hopeless onto a stage. He’s previously written a novella in the Hopeless setting – The Oddatsea and has been working with me on another Hopeless novella we hope to get out into the world next year.

It gives me great delight to be able to share some of his more serious work here. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this sort of thing.

Drained


When the tide is low, and the lake’s water has returned to the air

When the river can flow no more, and the spring bubbles its last

There is no more.


When the sea is calm, and the wind has all blown out

When the clouds have turned to grey, and the sun rises no more

What is left?


When the child has cried every tear, and the artist can no longer express grief

When the Nurse is out of care, and the mother can tend no more

Where is the love?


When the trees have withered, and the grass is returned to soil

When the flowers are weeds, and the fields are sand

What will grow there?


When the deer is slain, and the last rhino dead

When the birds are grounded and fly no more

Where can you go?


When the heron is dying, and the snake is withering to skin

When the horned god has not the strength to carry on

What can he do?


A glint.

A sprout.

An egg.

A raindrop.

A breath.


A smile.




Keith Errington


Sloth Comics

Sloth Comics are a small UK based publisher. This is the house that handles my Hopeless, Maine graphic novels and they’ve been an utter joy to work with. Sloth publishes a mix of UK material, and French material. Publisher Nic is bilingual and is thus able to bring French titles in translation to the UK market.

The French comics market is much bigger and gets far more respect than comics publishing in the UK. One of the consequences of this is that artists can afford to create. This leads to higher quality of work, faster output, or both.

In the UK, graphic novels and comics are often treated as an inferior form. Many people think that comics mean superheroes. Most of what Sloth publishes is not superhero content – there’s one very entertaining parody – Loran’s Academy of Super-Heroes. 

Many people assume that comics are intrinsically for children, because of the pictures. This simply isn’t true. Comics can be for anyone, and are as capable of dealing with adult themes as any other medium. Most of what Sloth publishes would be suitable for anyone over twelve, and all of it is unsuitable for young children. Most of the readers are adults.

I’ve had a long and steady relationship with Sloth. I’t a house that has taken good care of me, and my work and where I’ve felt I could build a firm foundation for the Hopeless, Maine project.  I like the other comics Nic publishes and I’m delighted to be part of it all..

Publisher’s website – https://www.slothcomics.co.uk/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/SlothComicsFacebook – https://www.facebook.com/SlothComics


Under-stimulation and insufficiency

Some unmet needs are really easy to spot, especially if you are used to having them met. For the person who normally eats well, hunger is self announcing. For the person who has always eaten a poverty diet, malnutrition seems normal. Often when we’re thinking about our own needs all we have to measure things against is our own experience and if that’s always been lacking, we may have no idea what sufficiency would look like or how far from it we are.

Being under-stimulated is hard to spot. Especially if, like me, you don’t really know what you’d be like if you were operating in optimal conditions. One of the things I’m exploring at the moment is the possibility that under-stimulation is having a serious impact on my mental health. 

I’ve known for some years that I need a considerable amount of brain stimulation in order to feel ok. I need ideas, challenges, and things that stretch me. I can keep myself functional on this front by engaging with the right content and actively seeking ideas. I do better when I have people to interact with who challenge me and make demands that I have to stretch to respond to. I’m finding a lot of what I need there in my creative family and I feel I’ve got that in hand. I’m not convinced I’m at an optimal level yet, but I’m working on it.

I’m also confident at this point that I’m a high maintenance person emotionally. I need a great deal of emotional intensity in my life, while also needing to avoid drama. I can meet some of that emotional need through my creative life. I find I need multiple deeply involved emotional relationships in order to function at all. (As an aside for people who don’t know my circumstances, I’m married to one of my creative collaborators.) I think at this point I understand broadly speaking what I need to function, and I haven’t figured out what an optimal state would look like.

My current guess is that where I’m falling down is on the body stuff. I suspect I’m just not getting enough body feedback most of the time and that this is a major contributor to my not functioning. Being ill has limited what I can do with my body in the last few years and that’s clearly a contributing factor. I also tend to dissociate when I’m stressed and I expect that’s making everything worse.

We tend to think of mental health as being entirely separate from body stuff, as though these are two entirely different systems. When body stuff does make it into the mental health conversation, it’s mostly about just getting the basics right – food, exercise and avoiding addiction. I’ve not seen much at all about getting beyond that and exploring what your body might need and how that impacts on mental health too.

Having come to the conclusion that I’m a really high maintenance person in all other regards, I suspect it’s just as true of the physical side of myself. I need to reclaim the things that I used to do – walking and dancing especially – that give me the body feedback I need. Ideally I need to get back to being able to swim, moving in water has always been good for my mental health. I’m considering my options.


Why I’m not fixing people

I find the idea that one person can ‘fix’ another person implausible at best. There’s a lot wrong with it as a concept. To want to fix someone, you have to first perceive them as broken, and unable to fix themselves. There are exceptions, particularly for medics fixing broken bodies and others acting to save the lives of people who have little or no scope for agency. But mostly, it’s a really bad idea.

Fixing people can often be a cover for taking power and agency away from them. Casting yourself in the saviour role can make you feel powerful, at the expense of making the other person feel incompetent, useless or really annoyed. Telling people you are fixing them and doing things for their own good can be controlling and manipulative, undermining a person’s feelings that they can make good judgements for themselves, and limiting or removing their choices.

When we set out to fix someone else, we’re doing that on our own terms. It starts with our assessment of their brokenness – a case in point would be the way some neurotypical people want to ‘cure’ autistic people rather than recognising that as valid difference. What we fix someone into is also about our agenda not their needs – fixing autistic people to help them pass as neurotypical people does not do autistic people any good and can cause considerable harm. The expressed intention to fix someone is all too often a cover for the desire to make them more like us. Torturing queer folk with conversion therapy is an example.

Helping people is an entirely different issue. Being genuinely helpful means supporting, empowering and uplifting others. We might do that by sharing knowledge, skills, stories and ideas. We might talk about what worked for us. We might offer to step up in any way the person being helped would find useful. We centre them and follow their lead, we do not try and make them do the things we think would help.

When someone is growing, learning, healing or otherwise overcoming their problems, it is vital they have ownership of that process. If we don’t feel we own our processes, then they won’t really embed, for a start. We won’t be able to trust the progress we have made, and we may feel problematically dependent on the person who did this for us. If we’re made to feel like our achievements belong to someone who ‘helped’ us then we’re in a vulnerable and unhealthy sort of situation.

We’re all flawed, messy and complicated. We all have the scope to help and support each other in many different ways. No one needs fixing. We just need space and opportunity to take care of ourselves.


Druidry and the Darkness

Druidry and the Darkness is a book I wrote over a period of more than a year, enabled by my Patreon supporters. Thanks to that support, I’m in a position where I can simply give away copies of the ebook. If you’re in need of some reading material and can’t afford to buy books at the moment, please take a copy and have a look at the other free reads in my store. https://ko-fi.com/s/9c84aba733

Happily, quite a few people picking up the book have dropped a few pounds in the hat for it, which works well for me. If a few people are able to support me either with Ko-fi donations or via Patreon, then I can afford the time to keep going with the authoring. This is not an industry that pays most of its creators enough to live on, so finding work-arounds is important.

Druidry and the Darkness is an exploration of how humans interact with the darkness, and with nature as it manifests in the darkness. I look at different flavours of darkness, seasonal darkness, the language we use to talk about darkness, and many different ways of exploring and encountering the dark. I’m especially interested in the idea of darkness as a form of wildness, and how we can bring more mystery into our lives by seeking the wild darkness.

Just to give fair warning, my first review for this book described it as ‘very yawn’. They were disappointed that it wasn’t an edgy, exciting book about ‘dark’ psychology. A major point of writing this, from my perspective, is to try and take apart some of the things we humans project onto the darkness and to look at the harm that causes. As a consequence, what I’ve written is a contemplative sort of book that is primarily about interacting with specific aspects of the natural world.


Seeking wellness

This is more of a checking in sort of blog post, because there’s so much going on for me emotionally that I don’t have space to think about anything else. I usually try and process my feelings into something useful before I write about them, but that’s not how today is going to work.

I talk about mental health issues a lot, because that form of ill health looms very large in my life. So much of this comes down to my sense of self and the amount of self hatred I carry. I didn’t come to that on my own. For reasons, I depend a lot on external validation, and if the feedback I’m relying on gives me the feeling that I’m awful and a failure, I’m in trouble.

This might sound like a rather too obvious thing to write, but it has finally occurred to me that I get a vote in all of this. I can pick the people who do external validation for me. I don’t have to assume that the most critical voices are the fairest or the most accurate. I don’t have to continue struggling with the versions of me that I’ve been offered by the people who liked me least or thought least of me. I don’t have to keep taking that inside.

There are people in my life who reflect back versions of me that I like. There are spaces where I can be a person I rather like being. The impact on my mental health of being able to do that is huge. I struggle with feeling good enough, but not all the time, not in all contexts.

It is really difficult to feel good about yourself if you are in spaces that undermine your confidence. Even a person with good self esteem will be ground down if they spend enough time in a shitty workplace, or an abusive relationship. No one is immune to this. If you start out better resourced, you’ll be able to hold out for longer, but any of us can be crushed given enough pressure and time. Avoiding that is something best handled in teams.


The Anti-Consumerist Druid – a review

Katrina Townsend has written a really important book that explores – based on her own experience – what consumer culture does to a person. She shares her experiences of compulsive shopping, social media addiction and the way all of this eroded her sense of self. Furthermore she does so without falling into the kind of judgemental puritanism you can find in the newly converted, and also avoids self pity or anything that seems self indulgent. It’s an impressive balancing act and makes the book exceedingly readable.

I came to this book as someone who has always lived fairly lightly and who does not do consumer culture much. I found it an incredibly helpful read because I’ve only ever been able to look at this issue from the outside. I’m glad to know that how I thought consumer culture works is about right. What this book has given me is a greater feeling of compassion for the people caught up in it. If you’re already into the eco-living I can recommend reading this book as a way to develop insight and empathy. Judging people who are in this mess won’t help them. The more we understand how all of this stuff works, the better placed we are to pull people out of it.

My guess is that for anyone caught up in consumer culture, this will be a tremendously helpful book. It exposes the processes by which people become trapped in over-consuming. There’s a lot of good information about the mechanics of the problem, which is bound to be empowering for anyone affected by it. There’s also comfort, reliably, in finding you aren’t alone with a problem and that it’s not some kind of unique, personal failing. There’s so much around consumer culture that is designed to make you feel badly about yourself. Whether you feel like you aren’t living responsibly enough, you feel out of control or you feel like you’re failing by not keeping up, you’ll also feel like you should be able to shop your way out of that. This isn’t an accident.

There isn’t a huge amount of Druidry here – Katrina is new to the path. However, what she’s able to demonstrate is the way in which developing nature based spirituality can really help a person escape from the poisonous grip of consumerism. 

I think this book would pair really well with the Earth Spirit title I have coming out next year. Mine comes from the other side, looking at how to live more authentically and sharing what I know from my own experience of having managed to resist some of this culture of throwaway destructiveness. Consumer culture is a big thing to try and escape from, and  the idea of taking it down is even more challenging, but our lives depend on it. Life depends on it. The more we can do to share ideas and support each other, the better.

I’m going to finish this with a quote from Katrina that summed a lot of this up for me. This is what we are up against. This is what we have to figure out how to change for everyone: “it took a long time and some serious hard work to break once and for all my association between spending money, and feeling a sense of identity, of self-worth.”

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/anticonsumerist-druid-beat-shopping-addiction-nature

https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-beyond-sustainability


How to be good

My suspicion is that there are no intrinsically good people. Anyone, viewed from the right perspective will turn out to have things going on that are complicated. I’m not at all sure that selflessness is a fair measure of goodness, either. It’s through the offering of our needs to each other that we form the strongest and deepest relationships. Selfless people might find they can’t do that, which means they are, arguably, withholding things that might be essential to other people, and that’s problematic, too.

Most of us need to be needed. Selflessness therefore doesn’t enable us to meet each other’s needs.

I’m definitely not an intrinsically good person – it’s a necessary qualification for being a fiction author. You’ve got to have some capacity to imagine terrible things in order to write books. There’s a case for saying that many authors are terrible people who have chosen to use their powers for good.

I think that’s often the key thing. It’s not the raw clay of ourselves that matters most, but how we choose to use it. I can examine a situation and see what the most manipulative thing is that I could do to get my own way. I almost never pick that path. However, understanding how that would work can help me find a better way through. I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to give people options and to make sure I’m not being emotionally manipulative or putting undue pressure on anyone.

Being good as an abstract concept is hard to pin down. It might be more useful to think about who, or what we want to be good for. Being good for the shareholders usually means being bloody awful to the workers. A lot of interesting things happen when we explore the idea of how to be good for each other. That’s true when we’re dealing with people one to one. It also holds up in any kind of collective human space. When we undertake to be good for each other there’s a lot more room to also be messy, flawed and not some kind of saint. On those terms it makes no sense to martyr anyone.

At the same time, so much of contemporary eco-thinking is framed by the idea of being less bad and reducing harm. What happens when we ask instead how we might be good? How can we live in a way that supports life? How can we act to be regenerative, and to move beyond sustainability into actually making things better?

I think the idea of goodness is much more interesting when we stop trying to foster it as some sort of inner quality, and start asking what it could mean as a way to live and interact.


People and the landscape

There’s something decidedly interesting about spending time with people in a landscape. I have a nearby barrow that I love dearly, and at times in the past I’ve taken people to it and spent time with them, there. It’s a telling activity. There were some disappointments with people who clearly had no sense of sacredness or significance even though I’d tried to tell them something of how I felt.

I learn a lot about people by seeing how they respond to the land. The people who see, and feel, who show signs of awe and wonder are always the best people to walk with. Not people who do performance responses, heavy on the drama and announcing how sensitive they are to special places… that becomes exhausting all too quickly. Quiet wonder and thoughtful reverence are the things I like most in other people.

For many people, the landscape is just another commodity to consume. They want the dramatic, the picturesque, the pleasing and unless that’s in front of them they tend towards complacency. For some people, the landscape is just a background for selfies, for performance, or a place to go and have a conversation. I see people out and about who show every sign of walking out of guilt, or some feeling of obligation to family and waistline. They tend to show up on Sunday afternoons. These are ways of being outdoors that miss so much of what’s good.

Of course wherever we go we can only be ourselves. I think it’s good to ask what we bring with us, though. How much noise, opinion, self importance or need for attention do we bring with us when we head into a landscape? Are we using a place for recreation, or are we trying to connect with it?