Tag Archives: arts

How to have nice things

Over the weekend, I was involved with Stroud Theatre Festival – the 8th one, and a decidedly ambitious venture during a pandemic. It is a fine example of how we can have nice things. Over the weekend there were many live performances in front of audiences, and all of it within the current covid rules and handled in a way that will have kept everyone safe. It worked because everyone – organisers, performers, venues and audience – cooperated to make it work. That, in essence, is how we can have nice things.

There were challenges – the outdoors venues in October were always likely to be cold. But, there were no shortage of tickets sold for those and the actors braved the weather. There were challenges with only being allowed much smaller audiences in the indoors venues – but everyone dealt with that. People wore their masks indoors, queued thoughtfully, used the hand sanitiser, bought tickets in advance and were fabulously patient.

It was a really lovely event to be part of. I was on the door for one of the venues and I saw two plays. I found it really affecting the way people were cooperating to make good things happen.

Live performance is something that is essential for me. It’s not some sort of luxury add on, it’s a key part of how I stay emotionally functional. Getting by with no theatre and no live music during lockdown was really hard. I honestly don’t know how so many people seem not to need it in the first place. It does things that pre-recorded performance never can. There’s magic in the immediacy of it, in the engagement and the sharing of space. It has meant a lot to me to be able to have something of that back over the weekend.

It all felt very safe, and this in a context where local case numbers are rising. It was far less stressful than a busy supermarket or a crowded street. Especially the outdoors performances.

When we support each other, take care of each other and work together, we can have nice things. Cooperation makes room for more joy, delight and happiness. If we let it, this virus will destroy the arts. It will close down venues, and make music and theatre impossible, which in turn will put many people out of work. Not just the performers – all the technical and venue people, all the folk who work behind the scenes and go unnoticed. It’s a huge sector, and an emotionally valuable one as well as a commercial consideration. If people cooperate, we can have live performance safely.


Seeking the handcrafted life

Creativity should be an option for everyone. Making and re-making, repurposing, and upcycing are skills we all need to reduce what we throw away. The pleasure of creating from scratch should be everyone’s right, not seen as the domain of the talented few. Whether that’s cooking or gardening, rag rugging, painting, dancing or singing or anything else you can think of, we should all have the time and resources to follow our creative interest. Not as a way of making a living, necessarily, but for the sheer joy of it.

As an aside, I think there would be much greater appreciation of professional creativity if everyone was engaged with it for fun as well. A culture of creativity would increase the value of original work.

Creativity is not just about obvious arts and crafts activities. It’s also about how much innovation we have in our lives. Do we just run through the same routines day to day? Do we do what we’ve always done, powered largely by habit and clinging to what’s familiar? Does life have scope for adventure in it? Is there room for surprise, for joy, excitement, novelty and pleasure? Can we make these things for ourselves or are we only looking to buy answers to those human needs for interest?

One of the things I’ve learned working creatively, is that inspiration requires space. You can’t be busy all the time and expect to keep coming up with great ideas as well. It’s the quite down time that hatches plots and plans. It’s the unstructured spaces where I can daydream, chew over things I’ve learned and wool gather that makes room for a lightning strike of inspiration. If I’m nothing but busy, I don’t have anything like as many good ideas – about anything.

The busyness of conventional western life doesn’t leave us much room to think. Most of us are sleep deprived as well. We rush from one thing to another, time pressured, money pressured, constantly getting messages about why we aren’t good enough. These forces can leave you living a life that is not of your designing. You can so easily end up running after money and then needing that money to console yourself for everything that’s missing. A slower, less economically active life can be both less expensive and more rewarding. Without the space to think creatively about how you live, this is hard to achieve.

Most of us have more time available than we think we do. The trick is to turn off the screens for a bit. Screens are addictive, and feed the fear of not keeping up, the pressure to be available, the sense of panic if we don’t know what’s going on and aren’t busy all the time. Turn the screens off. Remove small screens from about your person. Turn them off and leave them behind and go to a quiet place, and just breathe for a while. Look at the sky, or a tree, or the life in the grass. Sometimes it takes a while for all the chaotic, stampeding things in your head to calm down, but eventually they will, and once there is calm, there is space to ask questions about what you want, and what you need, and what just has you chasing your tail to no real purpose.

When you have time to think, you have the scope to think creatively. When you can think creatively, you can take much more control of your life and live on your own terms. A handmade life, imagined and crafted by you and for you. It’s well worth making the effort for.


Creativity without gatekeepers

When I was young, I imagined that publishers and record labels and people picking content for TV, and taking on film scripts all had one basic agenda – that they wanted to put the best things out there. In reality, the bigger a company is, the less likely this is to be true. What creative industries want are sure fire hits that will sell a lot of copies. This means that they are all incredibly risk averse. Things that are easy to market because they look like things that were already successful always have a better shot.

It’s difficult to get anything radical into the mix on these terms. A groundbreaking, original piece of work, is by definition an unknown quantity and no large company will be easily persuaded to gamble vast sums getting it out there. This is part of why films with female leads, or multiple female characters are rarer – it’s not what happens so there’s been little belief it could work. That it does work and is then ignored is because of the sexism inherent in the system. There’s also an assumption that white western folk, for example, are the main audience for film and need to see other white western folk on the screen in order to engage. That this is not true and is ignored is because there’s inherent racism in the system.

For many of us, the over-arching company acts as quality control. We believe that the publishers, movie studio etc will weed out the rubbish and give us the best stuff. (like Twilight… umm… ) Many people still mistrust self-publishing because there are no gatekeepers keeping out the ‘rubbish’. As a habitual reader of self published work, I can honestly say that it is easy to find good, innovative stuff.

There have always been many ways of doing things. Self publishing isn’t new. Jane Austen self published. John Aubrey’s ground breaking work on Avebury was published by subscription. Getting a wealthy patron to fund your project was also an option.

I like subscription publishing as a model because it reduces the risk all round. If a small publisher takes on a wild book, and it doesn’t work out, it can finish them. That’s not good for the author, either. A subscription model allows you to raise the idea of a book and see if people like it enough to get in there and buy on in advance. If enough people do, you publish the book. A publishing company working this way has to ask ‘is this a good book, is it exciting in some way?’ and does not have to ask ‘how do we sell it?’.

Subscription publishing can make publishing poetry and short stories viable – these are generally considered the hardest sells and many houses won’t touch them unless you’re already Neil Gaiman.

 


Competitive Creativity

I have mixed feelings about competitions. The affirmation of winning can have a huge positive effect on a person, but of course most of the people who compete cannot, by definition win. Some will benefit from the experience of getting their creativity in front of others, some may well be noticed in ways that help them. Others will be demoralised and set back. As a bard, my preference has long been for the eisteddfod that does not choose a winner.

Last year I entered Stroud Short Story competition and was wholly surprised to be one of the ten people picked to read on the night. It was a huge morale boost for me, and brought me into contact with an array of fabulous local writers. This led to putting together an anthology of all the winning stories from previous years, which was a project I was very proud to pull together.

This year I am a judge for the same competition, alongside the lovely John Holland, who has been running the event for a while now. I’m conscious that my subjective judgement, my personal preferences are about to impact on some people. Am I good enough to judge anyone? Do I know enough to properly shoulder that responsibility? All I have is a degree in English literature, there are plenty of people round here working on the literature side at higher academic levels than that. I have some writing experience, some experience at the publishing side, but by no means am I the best qualified person for the job. I had the time, and I offered, and so often that’s what it comes down to. Not merit, but availability and willingness.

I’ve read all the stories, and some of them are so stand-out brilliant that I think anyone picking ten would pick them. Those are easy choices to make. Other choices to make up the ten will be trickier, and more to do with personal preferences. At the end, some people will be elated, and some will feel let down, and some will feel that the entire process was rather unfair and that a better judge would have made a better judgement. Such is the nature of competition.

But of course creativity is competitive. At the very least, you are competing with all the other creative people for a space to show your work – stage time, wall space, a publisher, or whatever it may be. You’re competing for the time and attention, and probably also the money of your potential audience. There are invariably winners and losers, and it isn’t always about who’s the best. Luck, marketing, and who you know will all play a part. And at every level of the business, there are people making judgements that move some forward and hold others back. The reasons for those judgements aren’t about the best art, they’re about the most sellable art, the most commercial. Many fantastic, original and inspired creative people in all fields will never get anywhere because the gatekeepers who check them out do not think they will sell enough to be worth the bother.

However uneasy I may feel about contests, I do have the comfort of knowing that I’m involved with a process to try and decide which are the ten best stories to read out-loud to an audience this November. Which ten in combination will create the best possible night. Which are the most unusual, the most original, the most interestingly written… all of my considerations are creative, and not at all about selling the work. I wonder how different our creative industries would be, if how to sell it wasn’t most usually the first question to be asked.


Just a hobby

Three small words with which we can crush people. Calling something “just a hobby” is often a way of degrading things which don’t make a lot of money. As though money is the only measure of worth. ‘Hobby jobs’ are simply those someone else considers not lucrative enough. If you make enough money (sum unspecified) you can be taken seriously no matter how pointless and worthless your actual contribution to the world is. Volunteers can be told they have ‘hobby jobs’ – it is a refusal to give respect, often tied to an unwillingness to treat them well. You don’t need help or support, this is just a hobby for you.

I’ve seen brilliant, talented, acclaimed people hit with the ‘just a hobby’ line. It isn’t just about belittling people who are starting out, it can be used to undermine anyone who does something they love and attempts to make a living by it.

The word ‘hobby’ tends to imply the trivial. It’s what you do in your spare time, to relax – to call something a hobby is to suggest it isn’t useful, and that it is instead an indulgence. Cooking, gardening and crafting are all described as ‘hobbies’ by people who do not consider this to be a good use of your time. Forms of exercise –  essential to wellbeing – are also called hobbies, and again their value is degraded by this. Being healthy should not be considered an optional leisure pursuit available only to those with too much time on their hands. Reading is described as a ‘hobby’ not a process of education, self development, inspiration and joy.

And then, if you get depressed you may get some CBT paperwork encouraging you to ‘get a hobby’. Distract yourself from the miseries of your real life with some pleasant trivia!

We need to reclaim crafts, skills, exercise and community activities as being essential to life, not some kind of distraction or bonus extra. We need to resist anything that measures worth in terms of scope to earn money from it, too. There are other ways of making life better for ourselves and each other. Don’t talk about hobbies. Talk about passion and dedication, life skills, community, resilience, creativity, inspiration, health, relaxation. Talk about quality of life.

Also, pause to imagine what would happen if we started to treat collecting money just for the sake of it (rather than to use), with the same wry, indulgent humour that we currently tend to treat the collecting of stamps. Money, we can argue, has a discernible use in the world where a stamp collection does not… but stamps were useful once, and money that has simply been collected with the aim of having a big collection of money, serves no purpose at all. It just sits there, helping no one. Perhaps money collecting is the one thing that truly deserves to be denigrated as a mere hobby.


Something cyclical, something ceramic

It’s an odd thought that this time a week ago, Andrew Wood was nothing more than a name on a rather unusual job-poster, and I knew nothing whatsoever about fine-art ceramics. Both have rather taken over my time and attention since then. I have a knack for finding opportunities to get entirely out of my depth in short time frames, so that in itself comes as no surprise at all. Looking back it occurs to me that most of the important things in my life have come about from sudden decisions to jump into things I was in no way equipped to deal with. Apparently I like the challenge of a steep learning curve, and opportunity to see the world from a new angle.

Andrew Wood is a Stroud-based ceramic artist with quite a history, which I am now in the business of becoming fluent in. I confess this blog is partly a warm up because later I will be writing press releases for his open studio event in May. I did not know, until after I’d landed myself this opportunity, that Andrew founded Prema arts centre, in Dursley. Prema is where I saw The Tempest, with a minimal cast and a lot of hat swapping. It’s where I studied Tai Chi for 2 terms – both significant events in my life. An arts centre in a village, Prema was a place of magical possibility and wonder in my childhood and I can’t begin to unpick all the threads of influence there. Grow up with an arts centre on your horizon and the world is a very different kind of place, and being a creative person seems like a much more viable option.

I’ve always loved clay work. I have something bordering on a fetish for hand-thrown pots (there was an awesome potter in my childhood as well) and nowhere to put them. I have a longstanding fascination with the fine end of art, although I’m fairly uneducated, but I like to look. I did once hold a ceramic ash-tray made by Picasso. What I’ve never encountered before is clay worked very much in 3d and yet presented on a wall almost like a flat piece of art. I’ve also never previously encountered anyone painting onto clay with oil paints. The art I’ve been looking at over the last week is like nothing I’ve seen before. I’ve dusted it, getting to know the colours, textures, shapes. I am reminded of the suggestion that writing about any other form of creative expression makes about as much sense as dancing about architecture.

You can see some images of Andrew’s work here – http://www.andrew-wood.com/the-shape-of-things-to-come but it really doesn’t do the experience justice. The photographs don’t capture the intensity of colour or the physical scale of the work – it’s big. The free-standing piece at the bottom is nearly as tall as me.

One of the things I’ve learned in the last few days, is that a process has been underway in the fine art world that seems entirely comparable to what has happened in publishing and music. A narrowing of possibility, a closing of doors, a caution and conservatism that limits scope for everyone involved at the creative end. Twenty, thirty years ago it was a lot more viable to make a living by making art – be that fine art, literature, theatre or music. It was also a good deal more feasible to make a living at the popular end as well. Something has gone awry there, and it is right across the creative industries. I had been nursing a hope that some other spaces might be different, but the recent crash-course and what I’ve been picking up about high brow literature and theatre indicates a depressing universality.

Perhaps it is in part because I grew up with an arts centre in my awareness that I am so convinced that collectively we need art, and we need it to be viable for creative people to make a living out of what they do. There’s a curious circularity to all of this.


Dear everybody (part 2)

I hear little voices. These are not ones I made up, once upon a time they came out of the mouths of people. Or were typed. Words of dismissal and incredulity, words of damningly faint praise and scathing criticism. When I can’t sleep at night, they haunt me, like hungry ghosts. Now, if I could hold the belief that every last one of the nay-sayers was jealous/mean/foolish then I could shake it off, but that’s never worked. Sure, they had their reasons, some better than others. Not giving up has depended to being able to subdue those voices, forget them, ignore them. But of course they feed into every doubt and uncertainty I ever had.

A degree of doubt and dissatisfactions seems to be key in creativity.
Get too comfortable and you’re going to stop. It’s that sneaking belief that it could have been better that makes you try again, and again, and again, because resting on laurels, real or imagined, is never enough. It doesn’t make for an easy life, but I’ve yet to meet a creative person who feels totally satisfied by the last thing they did, and who doesn’t wince a bit over the early stuff. There’s a difference between having a desire to do better, and never being able to trust your own judgement and creativity.

The little voices say you are rubbish and bound to fail. You can’t even sing in tune you sound like a cat. You’re not pretty enough. You didn’t go to the right university, and you didn’t study the right subject. You don’t have the right friends, and you aren’t smart enough to handle the industry. Basically you’re going to make a total fool of yourself if you try, and we’re telling you this for your own good, to spare you the inevitable humiliation that will come if you keep down this stupid route.

The little voices say this is not a proper job, you’re lazy and sponging, no one will ever pay you for the worthless stuff you do/create. People like you are ten a penny, get over it. You’re not special, you’re not even good, you will fail. And we will be there, when you’re flat on your face, to say ‘I told you so’ and have a good laugh. Looser.

These are not imaginary voices. These are people, and I have a nasty suspicion that anyone who tries to be creative, picks up some of these along the way.

Last week I fell apart, for lots of reasons. I let the little voices in. I let them shout all their usual rubbish in my head just the way they announced it whenever it was first aired. Smug and self important voices. Disappointed voices. I rolled up in a little ball, ready to admit that they were all right about me and that I should never have tried.

Then that other thing happened, that stunning rush of other voices, here on the blog, on facebook, google+ twitter, by email and text, people got in touch with me. A veritable tidal wave of other voices, saying you have, and you can and you will, and some offering help, and direction.
It felt a bit like that moment in Peter Pan, where Tinkerbell is dying, and Peter asks all the children to clap their hands if they believe in fairies, and they do, and she lives. Looking around I realise there are a lot of Tinkerbells out there, spirits of hope and creativity, or inspiration and magic, that are all too easily poisoned, and very much in need of the clapping. I am humbled by what happened last week. I’ve had to sit with it quietly for some days, making sense, getting to a place of being coherent enough to talk about it.

I shall try to carry that with me. Next time the little voices in my head are offering the poison cups, I will remember, and maybe I will do a better job of holding out. I think the odds are good. The other thing I’m going to do I watch out more intently for where else that is needed, those acts of belief and trust and confidence in other human beings, because it’s not just me.
Thank you all.


Learning by heart

I’ll start by saying that I detest rote learning, the kind of learning where you are just forcing facts into your brain, usually with a view to regurgitating them in an exam and then forgetting the lot. That kind of learning does not generate wisdom or feed inspiration very often.

However, dedicating a lot of material to memory was very much the work of the ancient Druids and Bards, as far as we know. They didn’t write anything down, it was all oral transmission and memory. Most of us don’t go in for that kind of learning at all, but it’s very different from being able to recite a multiplication table. Being a bard is about making the carefully learned words come alive, in the moment.

Yesterday I watched a group of children put on a show. There was about an hour and a quarter’s worth of material there – songs and dialogue The oldest children were 11, the youngest, I think 7. That’s a lot of material to have got to grips with, in a matter of a few months. A great deal of work, dedication and repetition went in to getting them there, and the result was stunning. It’s amazing what can be done when there’s a will to make it happen. But if you suggested that kids ought to have an hour’s worth of learned material in their heads, complete with actions, I don’t think many people would see that as a good use of the child’s time.

I recall being at a druid event some years ago, with no formal entertainment, and people, less than perfectly sober people, trying to amuse themselves with songs – frequently half remembered ones at that. I have enough performance level material in my head to run for a good four hours flat out – tunes, songs, poems and stories. In practice, my voice is not up to more than 2 hours of uninterrupted performance. Probably less these days as I haven’t done the epic busking stints in a while. It’s long been natural to me to have a reservoir of learned material I could draw on, and this event made it apparent to me that for many people, that pool of bardic lore isn’t there. Which is a shame.

There’s something magical about dedicating yourself to a piece of art – be that a dance, a tune, a song, poem or story. Giving yourself to it so that you can learn it, means that it in turn becomes a part of you. There’s time taken to understand the relationships between each note, each nuance of the words, how an arrangement might shift it and make something new of it. Learning the song, or the story is all about understanding it and having a real relationship with it. It tangles into your soul. The stories we tell, the songs we sing become a part of who we are. They enrich. And when the power goes off, we have some way of passing the time.

Community music, dancing with people, and all these kinds of sharing are really bonding activities. You can’t forge those kinds of bonds by sitting around and watching a television program together. You can’t do it on facebook, either. The immediacy of something shared is powerful. The offering of song or words is one of the best things I think anyone can bring to a ritual.

It does take discipline and effort, but that’s no bad thing. What it gives us in return, is far more than the cost. A gem inside your head is with you for life. Sharing it enables you to give something beautiful to others over and over again.

And the more you learn, the easier it gets to learn.


Druidic Arts – Good Speech

As I understand it, the Celts considered good speech to be a virtue. By ‘speech’ I mean any kind of direct, word based communications where we have control over our part in the exchange. It is impossible to have speech as an art form without simultaneously practicing the art of sensing truly – already discussed. If we do not hear, read, see and understand clearly, our capacity to respond well is sorely impaired.

If you’re reading this then it’s safe to assume that communication is part of your daily life. We all do it, by one means or another, and therefore we all have the option of choosing to do it well, and cultivating it as an art form. Good speech is empowering, enabling and enriches every other art we might undertake. Poor speech, on the other hand, will create conflict, cause confusion, generate misery and otherwise make a nuisance of itself.

To practice good speech as an art form, we also need the art of slowing down. Words said in haste without consideration are seldom good words. Off the cuff comments, spur of the moment outpourings and the haste of rage or frustration are barriers to good speech. A few seconds taken to mentally rehearse words so that they do not surprise us as we say them, enables good speaking. It also gives us self control, and control over how others see us and respond to us. The ‘spontaneous’ person who opens their mouth without thinking will spend a lot of time dealing with the unintended consequences of ill conceived words.

Slowing down our responses and the words as we utter them, and using the arts of true sensing to support what we do, we can not only express ourselves clearly and get the point across, we can also observe how those words impact. What we think we mean, and what others manage to hear are not always the same. Alert to nuances and responses, we might catch the communication break sooner, and fix it before it becomes a problem. What might be playful banter to me, could be agonisingly painful to you, and I don’t want to get that wrong. Once we start thinking about how others hear us, alongside what we mean, then communication improves. We can consider how to make our speech less confrontational, more compassionate. We might think about what others are able to understand, watch for accidentally patronising people, or excluding others with impenetrable jargon.

At more advanced stages of the art, we can contemplate poetry in speech. Most people use a tiny fraction of the available language. Short obscenities as punctuation, clichés, dependence on ‘you know what I mean’ ‘like’ ‘by the way’ and all kinds of linguistic props actually weakens the beauty of communication. Once we start branching out into more diverse and expressive language, we can become deliberately poetic in our communications. Here the blending of life art and bardic art is absolute. There’s no reason why the awen can’t flow when we’re talking to a colleague, and it might come in handy whilst attempting to butter up the bank manager! We can talk our druidry, bringing the essence of what we believe into the modes of our communication – peace, beauty, compassion, the desire to nurture and empower. How we talk, or email, or write letters can become a very clear expression of what we value.

At which point, the idea of saying anything off the cuff that we didn’t mean, becomes insane.

As I understand it, the Celts considered good speech to be a virtue. By ‘speech’ I mean any kind of direct, word based communications where we have control over our part in the exchange. It is impossible to have speech as an art form without simultaneously practicing the art of sensing truly – already discussed. If we do not hear, read, see and understand clearly, our capacity to respond well is sorely impaired.

If you’re reading this then it’s safe to assume that communication is part of your daily life. We all do it, by one means or another, and therefore we all have the option of choosing to do it well, and cultivating it as an art form. Good speech is empowering, enabling and enriches every other art we might undertake. Poor speech, on the other hand, will create conflict, cause confusion, generate misery and otherwise make a nuisance of itself.

To practice good speech as an art form, we also need the art of slowing down. Words said in haste without consideration are seldom good words. Off the cuff comments, spur of the moment outpourings and the haste of rage or frustration are barriers to good speech. A few seconds taken to mentally rehearse words so that they do not surprise us as we say them, enables good speaking. It also gives us self control, and control over how others see us and respond to us. The ‘spontaneous’ person who opens their mouth without thinking will spend a lot of time dealing with the unintended consequences of ill conceived words.

Slowing down our responses and the words as we utter them, and using the arts of true sensing to support what we do, we can not only express ourselves clearly and get the point across, we can also observe how those words impact. What we think we mean, and what others manage to hear are not always the same. Alert to nuances and responses, we might catch the communication break sooner, and fix it before it becomes a problem. What might be playful banter to me, could be agonisingly painful to you, and I don’t want to get that wrong. Once we start thinking about how others hear us, alongside what we mean, then communication improves. We can consider how to make our speech less confrontational, more compassionate. We might think about what others are able to understand, watch for accidentally patronising people, or excluding others with impenetrable jargon.

At more advanced stages of the art, we can contemplate poetry in speech. Most people use a tiny fraction of the available language. Short obscenities as punctuation, clichés, dependence on ‘you know what I mean’ ‘like’ ‘by the way’ and all kinds of linguistic props actually weakens the beauty of communication. Once we start branching out into more diverse and expressive language, we can become deliberately poetic in our communications. Here the blending of life art and bardic art is absolute. There’s no reason why the awen can’t flow when we’re talking to a colleague, and it might come in handy whilst attempting to butter up the bank manager! We can talk our druidry, bringing the essence of what we believe into the modes of our communication – peace, beauty, compassion, the desire to nurture and empower. How we talk, or email, or write letters can become a very clear expression of what we value.

At which point, the idea of saying anything off the cuff that we didn’t mean, becomes insane.


Druidic Arts: Slowing and stopping

I’ll start by confessing that, of all the things I’ve flagged up as Druidic Arts, this is the one I struggle most with. I’ve blogged about it before too, but it stands a revisit.

There is so much pressure in modern life to be busy, good little producers and consumers, working very hard to hold up the flagging economies and so forth. In practice this serves the already wealthy, and has the ‘bonus’ effect of keeping most of us running round chasing our tails rather than having the time or energy to really look at what’s going on, where the good stuff is, and what would serve us, the planet and our fellows as opposed to the powerful, affluent few.

The beginnings of the art of slowing down call for stepping away from the things that keep telling us to run harder and faster. Television, and the subtext in advertising are a huge source of this. It means questioning why we feel moved to run so hard, and whether there’s an alternative. Often, there is, but it may take some getting to.

Slowing down and stopping enable us to form deeper relationships with all that we encounter. Rushing through makes deep engagement difficult with any topic, or entity, or place. This bit I do ok with when I make the time for it. What I find harder is resisting the idea that I should be running, all the time. There’s a lot to do, I need to earn a living, there are wrongs to right, battles to fight, miracles needed. I know from experience that running flat out for as long as I can results in burnout, not magical transformation. I also know that resting and thinking gets more done in the longer term – working smarter, and more efficiently pays off, and forward planning enables that.

I lived for a lot of years in a situation where I was under a lot of pressure to perform, deprived of sleep, overloaded with work, and not offered much scope for downtime. I know how it works. The list of things to do is so long, that you don’t dare stop. And the more tired, run down and demoralised you get the harder it is to achieve anything. Our whole culture encourages us to demand more and faster of each other, and not to think about what that really costs.

In the last couple of years I’ve started to study the art of slowness, but I’m very much a novice here. I try to do things the slow way as much as I can – walking and cycling are my main modes of transport. I cook from scratch, wash clothes by hand. This brings a sense of realness to my life. The faster we go, the more unreal it all becomes, our minds and bodies did not evolve to cope with the speed favoured by 21st century living. Our souls do not thrive at high speeds. I’m working on learning to slow and pause, to stop and gaze, and not to feel the need to push onwards when mind and body are worn out already. I’m also working to support those around me in slowing and taking time off.

I’m less confident about what the more advanced stages of the art of slowness would look like. I assume that a calm, unhurried approach to life would take a person deeper into appreciating and seeking the good stuff, the quality in all things. I think an artist of slowness would have more defence against bullshit and media manipulation, and would better see the big picture and the long view rather than being frantic about the short term. Slowing down and thinking long term would enable enlightened self interest, and be better environmentally. Doing less definitely consumes less, so I think slowness as an art will involve recognition of what is needful, and rejection of what is not. It’s a de-cluttering of life and mind.

In my slowing down, I have learned that it is possible to be happy with very little. Rushing about forever busy makes it harder to appreciate the little things. In the slow lane are all the beauties of nature, all the simplest, most innocent pleasures of the body. There is also the pleasure inherent in calmness. Finding joy in the small and the slow takes me away from the desire to run after the big and shiny, so there’s a process here which, once commenced, should reinforce itself.

From a druid perspective, frenetic human speed takes us away from the rhythms of nature. Trees are slow. Mountains are even slower. We miss the slow voices if we rush, and I do not think the voice of spirit is generally hasty, or able to respond to that five minute gap in the schedule. Slowing down is an art that enables all other Druidic practice, and enhances life.  I shall keep working at it. Slowly.