Tag Archives: Creative

All my relationships are queer

One of the biggest problems I have with hetronormative approaches, is what the assumption of ‘normal’ does to relationships. If you think relationships have a ‘normal’ shape there’s an awful lot you’re never going to talk about. However, if you are queer, polyamorous, kinky or otherwise complicated, you know you can’t afford to assume anything. You have to talk, and figure things out and negotiate. This makes for better relationships with fewer assumptions.

By ‘relationships’ I’m not just talking about sex, or romance. Part of what hetronormative thinking does is makes people focus too much on that in the first place.  It applies just the same to friendships and working relationships. I note that my queer friends are often the ones most willing to talk about how the friendship works, what we might expect from each other and where the edges need to be. By contrast, I’ve had far too many rounds of straight men who want to flirt but are totally resistant to talking about where the edges are. That never goes well.

For the person who thinks that relationships happen along a narrow selection of default lines, there are going to be issues. I’ve dealt with men who were sure that they could not be friends with women – and I’ve seen how badly that impacted on their romantic connections because they had no idea how to be friends with their lovers.

There’s a lot of diversity out there in terms of how people think, what they feel, and what they want. Most of us do not fit neatly into pre-designed relationship shapes. I suspect a lot of the chafing I’ve experienced trying to deal with heterosexual folk has had everything to do with them not fitting into their boxes either, but not being able to talk about it. If you think there’s a normal way of doing things, your own not fitting in that must be highly uncomfortable.

It starts so often when we are children. Who is allowed to be friends with whom? What games are you allowed to play? What sports are you taught? Schools can be a hotbed of reinforcing gender difference and encouraging people to divide up along gender lines. Many people will also grow up with clear messages at home about what their gender means for their interactions with other people. The rules about gender, normality and relationships tend to be absorbed unconsciously. Those of us who really don’t fit are more likely to notice that we don’t fit, and that’s greatly to our advantage.

Those of you who know me well may be wondering what happened and why this is on my mind. The way in which we negotiate relationships is on my mind because I recently had an involved conversation about a creative relationship. How committed is it? How faithful are we going to be to each other?  We’re both people who thrive on certain kinds of interaction so being too focused on each other would be stifling, but we do also both need the commitment, and that shape is going to require care and attention.

There are relationships you can’t have and can’t develop if it isn’t possible to talk about who you are, who they are, and how that might work out.


Living Creatively

Creativity shouldn’t be just for the professional few or for whatever time we can invest in creative hobbies. Creativity should be part of normal life.

I’ve been glad to see memes doing the rounds pointing out that singing, dancing, making art and so forth used to just be things people did. In having turned that into professions, and in having industrialised our lives, we’ve lost a lot of that. Obviously I’m in favour of there being space for creative professionals, but I feel very strongly that creativity should be for everyone, all the time.

We’ve traded our freedom to create for convenience.

Well, that’s almost true. Our ancestors were sold the idea of convenience, and forced off the land and into factories as a consequence of industrialisation.  Creativity isn’t something you can have when a large percentage of your working time is about making money for other people. Creativity takes time – both thinking time and the time to act.  You need the space to wonder and imagine.

A life built out of wondering and imagining is a lot richer. Whether we’re thinking about homes, gardens, meals, clothes, our neighbourhoods, our extended family our social lives… everything is richer if we have time to think about it and invest creatively in how we live.

There’s a unique pleasure in having something that is perfect for you – the perfect fit, the perfect flavour, the exact right combination of colours or scents… and you can’t buy that from a one-size-fits-all retailer. You can’t buy the pleasure of creating, or the delight of manifesting your inspiration in your life.

We should all have the time to enrich our lives in any way we like. What we have are lives dominated by work and responsibilities in which we buy the insipid things that are mass produced with an eye to not being entirely hateful to the highest possible number of people. Life should not be this narrow.

A creative life can be a relatively cheap and affordable life. However, what it definitely requires is time. If you’re constantly run off your feet here’s no opportunity to daydream, to imagine things that would be fun or pleasurable or health promoting. Delight takes time. Instant gratification often turns out to be not that gratifying – especially not compared to the joy available from something you have made yourself, in your own way and for your own reasons.


Taking a leap of faith

I was really ill over the winter – lots of pain, and stiffness, no energy, regular run ins with anxiety and deep depression. It was a hard time, and it made me take a serious look at my life. For some years now, the majority of my work hasn’t been creative. I’m not making most of my living as a professional Druid, either – these are not things that tend to pay anyone enough to live on. I’ve done all kinds of jobs – usually many small jobs all at the same time. In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of social media work.

I’m good at social media work and I genuinely like helping people. But, it is one of the most tedious things imaginable, and you can’t afford to be careless or complacent about it. Each twitter post is an exercise in tone, brand identity, PR… and when you’ve got multiple accounts, identities brands to keep track of, that takes a lot of thinking. And by December, I was very, very tired because of that.

I put down the work that required most effort for least personal gain. Those were hard choices. For self employed people, putting down a paying gig is always going to be uneasy at best. But, I was getting too ill to work, and that’s a bigger risk. I took time off, I rested a lot, and I thought about things.

Creative work is almost always uncertain. You mostly don’t know where the next gigs are coming from. Pay is erratic. Big projects that might pay better take time, energy and attention. So there’s a gamble in investing the time in doing a more substantial body of work that you think you can sell, because you might have to turn down other paying work to do it. Also, creative people are not machines. Ideas don’t flow without time to think, without space for inspiration. Creating and doing a day job and doing the things that support and sustain your creativity and dealing with household stuff and trying to be healthy and and and… The juggling is hard.

There may be some large, interesting and well paid creative jobs out there with my name on. I may be able to make the leap from exhausted and ill part time creative to being a person with decent creative jobs and a decent quality of life. So I took the leap of faith and I made the life changes that would give me a shot at those bigger and more exciting things. I started making the moves to get into the right position so that if any or all of this starts to move, I can go for it.

We’ve landed an American publisher for the Hopeless Maine graphic novels. That alone won’t change everything, but it certainly helps. There’s a kickstarter on the go at the moment, which may be of interest if you’re in America… https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelessmaine/hopeless-maine-the-graphic-novel-by-tom-and-nimue-brown

It could be a very interesting year.


Collaboration and adventure

There probably are ways of collaborating that aren’t inherently vulnerable, but I’ve never looked for them. Working with someone else creatively always calls for a certain amount of letting go. It means accepting that you aren’t in control of the whole vision. It is of course possible to have people working together and one of them be in charge and control the overall shape, but that’s more like getting other people to help you realise a vision. It’s not the same as true collaboration, where everyone’s vision is equally important.

Collaboration requires compromise. It means accepting that your ideas are going to change and evolve. People who want to control the whole thing, and people who want to stay in control of their own bit, seldom make good collaborators. This works best when there’s a fearless leap into the dark and a willingness to embrace the unexpected.

It’s an interesting counterpoint to business-as-usual. Our culture encourages us to stick to our guns and hold our positions, as though life and creativity are military operations we can win or lose. So often, changing is framed as weakness and lack of commitment, but for creative collaboration, it is the magical essence at the heart of the process.

Letting go is liberating. Not having to dominate, or win, or direct is a really freeing experience. Being allowed to change, is wonderful. Being able to give up on things because you’ve seen something better, is glorious. And yet, in normal life we are not often encouraged to do these things.

Don’t fight your corner. Don’t hold your position. It’s much more fun to surrender to the process, get swept away by other people’s ideas sometimes, and be open to the unknown. Life is so much more of an adventure when you do not have to be right, or in charge or in any kind of control of what’s happening.


Everything changes

If you watch my youtube videos, you’ve already seen a fair amount of my flat – it’s a small space and I either film in a bedroom or the living room. I am however a rubbish photographer and I don’t have the kind of phone a person can take pictures with, so I don’t tend to post images that much. This, evidently, is going to change thanks to the skills of Dr Abbey, who does excellent things with cameras.

We have recently expanded as a household and as a creative team. It’s been fairly easy on both fronts – which when living in a small space is remarkable. Projects that Tom and I have worked on intensely together are now opening up to be three person projects and I’m excited about how all of this will play out. And here we are on the blog, which is usually my little corner of reality, with odd guest posts in it, and today I am sharing photos that Dr Abbey took of Tom while he was working.

I’m excited to see what happens for me creatively as we saunter on. It seems likely there will be more images on the blog as well. I have no idea what will happen. Adventure calls!


Putting the heart back into my creative process

One of the things that trying to work as a creative professional can do to you, is knock the joy out of the creating. When being taken seriously as a creator depends on earning enough, there’s a lot of pressure. How people see you – friends, family, people your life brings you into contact with – often depends on your earning power. The underpaid creative is often taken to be a hobbiest, lazy, incompetent, selfish… it can be a very unhappy experience. So you try to make it pay, to prove that what you do is worth doing.

When did I stop creating for the joy of it? Hard to say as it was a process, not an event. I used to be someone who wrote a lot, but that’s not been true in a while. I’ve struggled to be creative. Starting a patreon account a few years ago helped a lot, in no small part because of that economic component – if I was writing for people who were willing to pay me to write, that made it ok. Not irresponsible self indulgence. Not a failure to take care of my family and household.

As lockdown started, I realised I needed something to work on that would help me stay functional. There’s little point trying to be seriously economically active at the moment and that’s been liberating. So I’m writing a series called Wherefore – it’s a bit like a soap opera in that there’s no grand plan or over-arching structure. It’s on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/nimuebrown I’m just doing it because I want to. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on those terms.

I have a collaborator in this – Bob Fry, who is also in my mumming side, and has a truly unusual mind. He’s been giving me prompts and ideas, and I started writing primarily for him. As it has gone along and other people have responded, I’ve started writing with them in mind as well, and so it is made out of love and the desire to entertain people who like what I do – and this is going well. For the first time in many years, I want to write for the pleasure of creating and sharing. Working with other people and having other people to create for is key for me. I don’t do this well as a solitary process.

Much of my difficulty stems from wider issues in the creative industries as a whole. Most creative people cannot make a living from their work. The question has always been about how to respond to that. Should I dig in and try harder to be ‘professional’ and economically viable? Or should I try and muddle along economically and create what I feel moved to create? I’m moving towards the second position. As a household, we are viable financially, and that will do. I need to put the heart back into my work. I need to create for the love of it, and for the love of the people out there who enjoy what I make. The worth of creating is something I need to measure in the joy it brings, not what I’m paid for it.

If lockdown has taught us anything, it should be that the value of the work people do, and what they get paid for it, are wholly unrelated issues. It’s true of the frontline essential workers, and it’s just as true of the creative folk who are keeping everyone amused and comforted – often just by giving work away. What we pay for, and what we need are two separate issues in our strangely structured society. I don’t have to keep on measuring my worth as a creator in terms of what anyone is willing to pay me. I can measure it in terms of what it does, and if I can delight a few people, that’s time well spent.


Remedies for Creative Block

You’re most likely to hear of writer’s block, but in practice, any creative person can get stuck and experience frustrating, arid patches. This isn’t just about high art, either. Creative block can strike around cooking, in your love life, in your Druidry and all kinds of other places as well. The loss of energy and inspiration can itself be distressing. So, what to do?

Make some time to look at your life as a whole and make sure all the basic things are in place. If you aren’t getting good rest and sleep, if your diet is poor, if you aren’t physically active enough or getting outside enough, start by fixing these things. If you have to do your creative stuff at the expense of your health, eventually what you do to your health will undermine your creativity. At the very least you have to stop and re-balance sometimes.

Where is your magic coming from? What inspires you? What feeds your mind? Because if all you do is create, without nourishing that creativity you might find you run out of inspiration. Early on we may have a lot of energy to bring to our creative stuff but find we can’t sustain it for the long haul. You might draw on years of life experience for one piece of work. But then what? Learning to be more interested in what’s outside of you gives you far greater resources to draw on for creating. It would seem daft to take up cooking in earnest and never open a recipe book! Experiencing the form you’re working in will teach you a lot and give you ideas. Anything else in any aspect of your life that you find interesting will help feed your inspiration.

Look hard at the economic aspect of your work. This can be uncomfortable. If you are selling your creativity to pay the bills, this added pressure can undermine you. If you have to work a full time job and do the creativity in your spare time, this will exhaust you. If you don’t have the financial security to give you relaxed working space, there aren’t any easy answers. It does help though to be honest about it, and to treat yourself kindly. Most of us can’t make the creativity pay enough to live on – that’s the state of the world, not a personal failing.

So long as you aren’t dependent on making things to pay the bills, fallow periods are ok. They are often necessary to allow growth and development. Being flat out all the time is not a good thing. If you have to work like a machine, it will compromise you. Again, that having to work flat out is a thing has a lot to do with the wider political and economic climate. If you need some down time, no amount of pushing is going to keep you churning out content forever. You will burn out if you do this, and burning out is not efficient. If you find any way of taking the pressure off, do it.

You are not a machine. While inspiration can be constant, it’s better if you don’t need it to be. You’re less likely to get seriously blocked if you can afford to have off days, and days off.


Stand out from the crowd

Standing out from the crowd is on Molly Scott Cato’s list of things to do to resist fascism. I think this is a particularly interesting one for Pagans. For a person who feels afraid, blending in and not drawing attention is a very natural approach to take. To make yourself visible can feel, in hostile environments, like making yourself into a target. However, if we all try to protect ourselves by conforming, what we get is an even narrower range of safe ways of being, ever more pressure to conform and ever more vulnerability for the people who can’t.

Fascism doesn’t like diversity. It doesn’t like there being many different faiths and philosophies, and ways of living and being. Diversity makes people harder to control. It’s worth noting that tyranny generally doesn’t like diversity – you only have to think of the clothing restrictions in Maoist China. Tyranny loves uniforms.

By undertaking to stand out, a person upholds visible diversity. It is an expression of freedom and choice, and if you have enough privilege to be reasonably safe doing that, it is a way of helping everyone else. Visible expressions of diversity, and visible expressions of creativity and alternate ways of thinking help empower other people to live on their own terms and not try to blend safely into the background.

The pressure to conform isn’t something we necessarily experience in a conscious way. We can absorb a feeling that we need to fit in from our surroundings, media, and environment, without ever having deliberately decided to go that way. This is why the decision to be visible and different is an important one. Everyone who manifests their own creativity, individuality, and different ways of being in the world helps reduce that pressure on the people around them to conform. Everyone who offers an alternative helps stop the people around them from feeling there is only one right way of being.

Fascism is a cheerless sort of project. There’s no joy in it, no colour or delight. Tyranny of all forms pushes people towards being drab, conformist, unimaginative, and inexpressive. To be colourful, flamboyant, original, and inspired is to be working against tyranny.


Debunking the creative life

Mostly when I’m online, I talk about my creative life and my Druidry – those are the bits of what I do that I find most interesting. However, it may give the impression that I’m living the dream – full time Druid and author. I’m not.

There was a point in my life where I spent most of my time writing, teaching, leading meditation groups, running rituals and so forth. I didn’t feel able to ask for payment for the Druid work, because I was hearing a lot at the time about how it was supposed to be service. I didn’t make a vast amount from the writing. Sometimes I wrote pub quizzes for money. I had financial support from the person I was then living with, but little money of my own and no economic freedom.

Most creative people, and most professional Pagans are in a similar situation. Either the money comes from somewhere else – an inheritance, a partner or a pension, or there is a second job, or there is abject poverty. Sometimes there’s a second job and abject poverty. The lack of money and/or the not being full time is not a measure of failure. It is nigh on impossible at the moment to make a living as a creative person.

For example, it takes Tom a day to draw a page of Hopeless Maine. It takes me some hours to colour it. Then it has to be scanned, tidied up, and the lettering done. It is a full time job plus a bit. To get a graphic novel out once a year, that’s six months of solid work for Tom and part time work for me. Advances are rare, and you’re more likely to get them on handing in finished work ahead of publication than when you start drawing or writing. That’s six months with no income, please note.

Now, work out how much money you need to live on. The cover price of the book is not the money the creator gets for a book, even if they’ve self published. Half of the cover price likely goes to whoever was selling it. From the remaining half, the print costs have to be paid, plus the publisher wants to make some money. Perhaps the creator gets £1 a copy. That’s optimistic. So, you can do the maths and work out how many books you’d have to sell in a year to have what you consider a decent standard of living. Note at this point that the average book sells about 3000 copies in its entire life.

Most of us work other jobs, because that’s the only way it’s possible to create. And if we don’t, we aren’t sat in our nice libraries pondering the world – I have friends who write at a rate of about a novel a month, and believe me, that’s intense. I have friends who spend their weekends taking their work to events and markets – while doing the creative work in the week. That’s a way of making ends meet that allows you no time off. That’s no kind of easy option. To sell anything, you have to spend time promoting it. That also takes time and energy. It’s pretty full on.

Creative people and professional Pagans alike won’t necessarily tell you what their private financial situation is. For some reason, many people assume that the default answer is full time and well off. The reality is much more likely to be part time and considering it a win if they can make ends meet.

I work other jobs. I have always worked other jobs, and I expect I always will. At the moment I’m working six small part time jobs. And because of that, we can afford to have Tom full time on Hopeless Maine, and we can keep making comics. This is normal.


Not keeping up appearances

One of the consequences of doing anything well, is that it tends to look effortless. If you’re doing something professionally, it is of course desirable to look as good as you can while doing it. Success is attractive. Relaxed capability is attractive. You want people looking at the elegant swan you’ve put into the world, not all the frantic paddling below the surface required to keep it there.

The problem with this – and I see it a lot – is that a significant number of people will assume it is indeed, effortless for you to do what you do. If they can’t see how much time and effort went into getting you to the point whereby it is indeed easy, they’ll use words like ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ and maybe ‘lucky’. This can have consequences. It can leave other people assuming that they should be that good for no effort. Or they may assume that because they aren’t instantly that good, there’s no point even trying. Neither idea is useful.

The general wisdom is that to master something takes 10,000 hours of work. The effortless performance, the relaxed artistic flourish…  are possible because of the many hours of study and practice underpinning them. There’s also a lot of planning in the mix. Films have a nasty habit of showing us creators producing amazing work in a single frenzied round. Most of us don’t work that way. Paintings are planned and sketched for. Stories and pieces of music are built up in stages. And so on.

The same is often true of other things. Cooking. Gardening. Self employment. The effortless coasting towards success is often just a superficial appearance. People who get results usually have to work for them. If they can do it easily now, it’s because they already put in the work. Right now, Tom and I are starting to enjoy the benefits of the Hopeless Maine project – in terms of money, recognition, opportunities and whatnot. We’ve worked together on this for about a decade, Tom’s been on it longer. As one if my publishers used to say ‘it takes years of work to become an overnight success.’

We like the stories of people who come out of nowhere to achieve wild, unexpected success. We don’t tell stories about years of quietly chipping away at it, slowly building a following, and having modest success, but that’s often how it goes. We also don’t tell stories about people being able to invest in their own projects because their families support them and cover their bills, help them make time and give them space. It’s easier to be creative if you’ve already got money – are retired, or have a supportive spouse. This kind of information tends to vanish from the story of how the successful individual got to where they are.

It’s always tempting to create stories that make us look as good as possible. However, I think it’s ultimately harmful to create the impression of great talent welling up to achieve great things, and not mentioning the levels of work and dedication required. I also think its problematic to let people  assume you’re making it as a creator when you aren’t.

At the moment, my household is getting by on the money I make as a book publicist. We get top-ups from the creative side, which is always cheering. It looks feasible that in the next few years, the Hopeless Maine project will start laying golden eggs for us. This is because we’ve made a choice to invest time in the creative stuff rather than Tom mostly working for other people. If we make this work, it will be because of the massive amount of time he’s invested, and because I’ve been able to pay the bills. I intend to keep talking about this because there are myths I want to dispel.