Tag Archives: Community

Protecting your community

One of the most important things for me, when it comes to being part of a community, is being understood. There’s something wonderful and nurturing about not having to explain parts of who you are. Feeling supported, welcome and like you make sense is good for mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Being on your own with an issue, a need or a feeling is a lonely place to be. Modern urban humans are each surrounded by a great many other urban humans, but that can increase loneliness rather than offering respite. No one sees you in a crowd. You are not understood, and the need to be understood is a life-affecting one.

During my volunteering years, I met a lot of people who had just found Paganism, and talked about it in terms of coming home. Some of this is about the path itself and finding relief in a spirituality that makes emotional sense to them. Some of it is about finding a community. 

Being able to talk to people who are capable of understanding you is a wonderful thing. When you have feelings about magic, nature, old gods etc, you can feel disconnected from the regular world. Meeting people who can relate to that is liberating.

Sometimes however, community comes at a price. The desire to belong can put a lot of pressure on a person to fit in with things. We all need community and safe spaces, so what do you do if the price tag on being a member of a community looks problematic? How much do you ignore to protect your access to space you desperately need? What are you willing to enable in order to be able to belong? 

Along the way I’ve ended up in some spaces – Pagan and otherwise – that weren’t especially healthy. Not spaces that were dangerous or super-toxic, but certainly places that had issues. I stayed longer than I should sometimes because I so desperately wanted to belong somewhere. No doubt most of us have seen people getting hurt, used, exploited, manipulated and compromised because they needed to be part of something. And sometimes when we’re part of the group causing the problem, all too often we turn away from that abuse and pretend not to see it because we don’t know how we’d survive without this precious community space.

Abuse happens when people put their need to belong ahead of the need to create genuinely safe space. It happens when vulnerable people feel emotionally rewarded by abusers when they let them get away with stuff. It happens when people with low self esteem can’t imagine they deserve better treatment. It’s important to keep an eye on who, and what we sacrifice for the sake of protecting our communities. It can be hard to admit when you’ve got into something that isn’t good. No one wants to believe that the space they love is harmful, but refusal to look at that enables bullies and predators.

Working Collaboratively

The one thing I never much liked about the book writing process is how solitary it can be. Going away for months, maybe years to make something before anyone else gets involved doesn’t work for me. I prefer to be more interactive. It’s a big part of why I love performance- that immediacy of engagement with an audience.

Currently I’m very collaborative on the performance front – as part of a team of four who go out as The Ominous Folk of Hopeless, Maine. Hopeless, Maine is itself a really collaborative project – I primarily work with Tom Brown on this, but there’s a much bigger family of writers, artists, performers, and makers who sometimes also get involved with things.

I’ve got one co-writing project on the go at the moment. I’m working with David Bridger, which is a lovely process and taking me to some decidedly interesting places. 

Recently I’ve been exploring other ways of taking a more collaborative approach to books. Back in the winter I was working on my Earth Spirit book, and I had a test reader who took content one chapter at a time and gave me really valuable feedback. Said test reader is also going to be involved with the new Pagan Pilgrimage project, and we’re figuring out how exactly that might work, which is exciting. I’ve also been talking to a lot of people about their pilgrimage experiences, and intend to do a lot more of that, because I want this project to be about more than my own limited experiences.

Every now and then I see something online where people in the writing business make unhappy noises about anything they see as limiting imagination. Issues of accuracy and sensitivity readers come up a lot. As though an uninformed imagination is something to be proud of. The whole notion of the lonely author in the high tower making things out of their own ideas has always seemed suspect to me. What use is an author without insight and understanding? What good are we if all we can put into the world is versions of ourselves? 

Creativity is a human activity, made by humans, about humans and for humans. It seems very odd to me to try and do that without really involving other people. I doubt I’d have very much to say at all if I sat in the metaphorical high tower trying to squeeze stories out of myself. It’s the interactions with other people that inspire me. It’s the opportunities to connect with other people that I get excited about. I’m always looking for new ways to connect because I know I’m a better writer when I do that.

Druidry and Inclusion

It would be nice to be able to say that Druidry should have room for everyone. In practice, if you try and organise that way, not only will you exclude people but you will be most likely to exclude the most vulnerable and most marginalised people.

Dealing with abuse, aggression and actual threats drives people away. If you have the privilege of not being much affected by other people’s differing world views, you can’t assume that’s true for everyone. Dealing with prejudice and abuse – overt or covert – is at best exhausting and threatening, and at worst damaging and unbearable. People aren’t going to stay for that.

If you include the white supremacist, then when they start expressing those views, if you let them continue then you effectively exclude everyone who isn’t white. If you include the person who thinks all queer people are an abomination, there will very quickly be no LGBTQ people in the room. If you allow ableism, all the ramps in the world won’t get disabled people to stay in that space. If you want to be understanding of the gropy man who doesn’t respect boundaries, you will find women don’t stay in the space. If you allow some people to routinely talk over, ignore, undermine and otherwise treat people with disrespect, those mistreated people will leave.

I would rather include the people who wish to grow community, share fairly and treat each other with respect. If I have to exclude bullies, sexist people, classist people, racist people, and so forth then I’ll do it without hesitation. I’ve been the person who had to leave because they didn’t feel safe. If I’m in a place where I can call out the problem and give people a chance to learn and do better, then I’ll try and do that. But, I’m not going to sacrifice the wellbeing of someone who did nothing wrong for the comfort of someone who was acting badly. If someone has a problem with other people even existing, I don’t want those views in my space. They can do that someplace else, or ideally, they can sort themselves out. There’s a world of difference between not wanting people to exist, and not wanting people to bring their hate into your space.

Doing nothing is not a neutral choice. It isn’t the moral highground. There’s nothing actually Druidic about neutrality outside of Dungeons and Dragons games. Justice is part of the Druid path, and we don’t get justice by doing nothing. To have a just community we have to be willing to protect those who have least power from those who are controlling, aggressive, and unreasonable.

To be dependent is human

I write a lot about community because I think too much solitary individualism has harmed us all. There are too many things that cannot be done as an individual, and too many things that are really hard to do alone. There are also a lot of things that we do collectively and then try to ignore. This is especially true around harm we’re causing – climate change is a collective problem and yet we focus obsessively on individual solutions.

How dependent should we be on each other? At what point does dependence become unhealthy? Do we prioritise independence too much? How does ableism inform all of this? At the moment I have more questions than answers. What bothers me is the way in which dependence is pathologised, and treated as a problem to solve. Too needy, too clingy, codependent, enmeshed… at what point is it reasonable to be worried about how involved people are with each other?

I think the simple answer to this, is when it becomes controlling. When a person feels justified in controlling another person so that they feel secure, or needed or whatever it is they get out of it. If dependence turns into wanting to make people do things, a line needs to be drawn. There’s a great deal of needing people that is possible without having to take over their lives.

I’ve never been a very independent person. I’ve never lived on my own and I never want to do that. I would always choose to live communally. I’m very relationship oriented and by that I don’t just mean romance. I’ve tried living off-grid, and it’s exhausting. I don’t want to independently produce all my own food, for the same reasons. I want to live in a community. I want to share resources. I want to give, and borrow and lend and be part of an ecosystem.

My whole state of being in the world is people centred. I’ve only ever been interested in ritual as a community activity. Shared music spaces have always been really important to me. I’m in conversations about communal crafting. I’m happiest as a writer when I’m co-creating. I move towards community projects whenever I have the chance. Reading books is the only thing I’m really invested in doing on my own. Even that isn’t truly solitary, it’s an interaction with the author.

Unless you really are off grid, in a yurt of your own making, growing your own food from your saved seeds and wearing clothes spun from your own sheep, then your life is full of interactions. Even if you live alone, someone made your shelter, your food, your clothes. Someone touched your possessions before you did. People got sick and died so that you could have cheap things. Landscapes were impacted by your diet. We’re in constant relationship, and the idea of independence is a fantasy that insulates us from knowing what kind of impact we have.

We’re all participating in exploitation, in degradation of environments and in the destructive nonsense of capitalism. Individualism is just a way of ignoring this. We are all held by countless relationships, most of which are invisible to us. I’d rather be dependent on my relationships with my friends than, for example, getting my emotional viability by buying new clothes on a daily basis.

Community Spaces

One of the great things about libraries is that these are spaces you can be in where you don’t have to pay. Warm, dry spaces with seats and things to do, where you can be for hours, no questions asked. 

In the warmer weather, there are parks and green spaces – for some of us, at least. There are benches in the high street. However, for the greater part, your scope for community participation, social spaces, activities, entertainment and leisure all depend on your ability to pay to access the space in the first place. It means poverty increases social exclusion and with the cost of living rising, ever more people will be priced out of opportunities to meet people and to socialise.

There are people who are perfectly happy being alone. However, most humans are social creatures and suffer intensely from loneliness without enough human contact. Passing people in the streets and seeing them in shops is not an answer to social needs. It’s better when we can do things together, form bonds, share things and feel like we’re part of something.

Stroud has a great initiative on at the moment and I wanted to flag it up as an example of a good project. We have a market area in town, but for much of the time it isn’t used. It’s a mix of open space and partially sheltered space – well ventilated but ok on a wet day. This summer, the council are opening it for a lunchtime each week and inviting community music groups to perform in the space, and putting out chairs for anyone who wants to come along. Bring lunch. Bring children. Bring the dog. It’s all good. It’s free, and friendly and pretty safe.

These are the kinds of spaces we need. Spaces that invite participation, that create interest and that don’t cost participants anything.

Crime and Community

Last week when I posted about writing a murder mystery, HonourTheGodsBlog came in with some powerful comments. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’ve no first hand experience of how murder impacts on people. I was however a teen in Gloucestershire during the Fred West case, and that certainly had a widespread impact on many people in the area, not only those who were directly affected.

Crime is something we tend to treat as a very individual issue – with individual perpetrators and individual victims. It remains difficult to do anything about situations of negligence that harm people in more subtle ways. If a person steals because they are hungry, then framing the crime as the theft, and not the hunger has significant implications.

I’ve poked around in this as an issue before – it’s something I raised in the novel Letters Between Gentleman – which had a Victorian setting. The deaths of workers in factories and as a result of industrial processes was widespread, but it wasn’t considered to be murder. That’s a political choice with a lot of implications. We’ve seen considerable improvements in labour laws, but we aren’t currently looking at the enormous damage to health and quality of life caused by work stress and insecure work. It’s not like beating someone up in an alley, except that in some ways, it’s exactly like beating someone up in an alley.

We don’t treat wage theft by companies with anything like the attention we might give to someone who stole from the till. Politicians don’t end up in court when their policies cause people to starve to death, or freeze to death, or die homeless on the streets. Even when the lines of cause and effect are perfectly clear, we don’t treat these deaths as crimes or as murders. We’re more likely to take to court someone who killed accidentally and do them for manslaughter than we are to challenge someone whose policy has demonstrably killed multiple people. 

The difficulty is that murder is framed as the intentional killing of a specific person. We aren’t really set up to deal with the deliberate killing of non-specific people. We’ve got international laws about doing it based on race, but nothing to hold to account someone whose deliberate and knowing choices result in the deaths of thousands of elderly people in care homes. 

Making things for people

My inspiration has always been really people centred. I do my best work when I’m writing for specific people and when I’m interacting. I had a team for the Wherefore project who made suggestions and who were a keen audience and that me going through lockdown when isolation and anxiety might otherwise have made it hard for me to create. Usually when I’m working on a large project, I have some people in mind who I hope will like it.

Acknowledgements in books I’ve written tend to be all about the people I was writing for. There are some regulars. Some, like Lou and Merry are very visible in my online community. Some of them are secretive and like to stay in the background. I name no names. My immediate household are very supportive. It helps to have more input from more people – I can get through a lot of input, and I don’t want to burn anyone out. 

I’ve had a few more involved creative partners along the way. Varying degrees of intensity and commitment on that score. I had a fabulous time writing a novel with Professor Elemental. I have a longstanding creative relationship with Tom, and we’re looking at how that will change after the graphic novels. Keith Errington has become a serious Hopeless Maine collaborator, and we’re exploring more territory there. I’m really enjoying writing for The Ominous Folk, and seeing how the performance and scratch theatre side evolves and who I can include in that.

I’m high maintenance around inspiration and needing people to interact with. I need a lot of engagement – it’s why I do things like writing blog posts and putting out the Wherefore series. Going away for months to write a book and coming back with a finished thing no one will see for ages isn’t really sustainable for me. I need the feedback, but more importantly I need to maintain a strong sense of who I’m doing this for. Thank you for reading and being part of that process!

There’s nothing like someone wanting something from me to get my brain working. It takes me places I can’t go on my own. If you’re ever reading this blog and wish I’d dig in more with a subject, or there’s something you haven’t seen me write about and wish I would, please say. That kind of feedback is really good for me.

Community and personal resilience

Being resilient is awful. Being encouraged to be resilient tends to mean making yourself keep going when you don’t really have the resources. Be that time, energy, money, health, bodily strength – keeping pushing on when you don’t have enough to push with is soul destroying. The longer you have to do it, the more damage you take. If you are well enough resourced to deal with a thing then you aren’t being resilient by dealing with it, you’re coping just fine.

Difficulty and challenge are inevitable. We all face setbacks. We all get knocked down. Having to pick yourself up and trudge on is not the only answer. Resilience is something we should be doing collectively. If we help each other, then it will less often be the case that the person who is least able to cope is obliged to bear the weight of a thing.

In a resilient community, people support each other and cover for each other. You do what you find easiest for yourself and others, and maybe someone else can pick up the thing you find prohibitively difficult. Or at least you don’t have to do it alone, if it is unavoidable. Rather than finding individual solutions to problems, we become each other’s solutions. Of course this depends on people being kind to each other, and being honest about what they can and cannot do. When we see it as an honour to help those around us, not an imposition, everything changes.

Imagine instead of having to crawl back up when you’ve been knocked down, being lifted by those around you. Imagine finding the ways in which you are especially capable and can help others. When we all lean a little on each other, we are collectively stronger than we could ever have been while standing alone.

Distress as a community issue

The worst experience you’ve ever had is going to inform your sense of perspective. I ran into this a lot when James was young, and it’s quite a process giving a child a framework in which to consider their experiences without invalidating how they feel about things. Distress should not be competitive, and the idea that you shouldn’t make a fuss because other people have it worse, is abhorrent.

How distressing something is depends a lot on how resourced you are. If you’re already at the margins, smaller things will have more power to break you. Getting the flu as a basically healthy person is different from getting the flu when you were already ill. From the outside, it isn’t easy to tell how overloaded someone else might be. 

Even so, in my experience it is often the people who are most privileged and most comfortable who make the most fuss about their setbacks. The more insulated a person is in a bubble of comfort, the more intolerant they are likely to be of other people’s struggles, too. Most of us are challenged and knocked about by life and most of us have more compassion and empathy for other people than that. Unfortunately the UK government appears to have a lot of whinging privilege in it at the moment.

Community is really important in all of this. Investing care in others – humans and non-humans alike will give us a context for our own experiences. Very little is new, most of us aren’t desperately original about the things we struggle with, and I think there’s a kind of beauty in that. We share so much common experience in our flawed humanity. When we talk about that and make the stories of our trials available to each other, we open up to compassion and empathy. It’s also a way of sharing knowledge, and if you’ve seen someone else go through something you’re much better prepared to deal with it if you encounter something similar.

I’m always uneasy about the people who constantly need to prove that they’re the biggest victim, the most hard done by, and the only one who should be getting attention. It’s not healthy. It’s vitally important to be able to look around and see what’s most urgent right now, or most fixable. When we look out for each other, we build resilience and resources. If we all sat in little puddles of self pity demanding that we be recognised as the one with the best sob story, nothing good would come of it. We all need room to express our woes, but doing that together is far more powerful. 

When we rage, and grieve and struggle together we can build things that are more than the sum of our misery.

Love is an Ecosystem

For some years now I’ve made green hearts for the climate action #showthelove campaign.

This year’s heart is more conceptual than usual. It’s all about ecosystems. It’s both a celebration of the natural world and a pushback against some of the toxic norms around romantic relationships. We all need to be part of ecosystems, and this includes emotional ecosystems. The idea that two people should be everything for each other is a really damaging one.

In a wood, branches and roots are in communication. The dead feed the living. Fungi interact with trees, and every tree supports a profusion of other beings. A human community should be very much the same. For humans to flourish, we need to be part of our surrounding ecosystems, too.

Love is life rejoicing in life.