Tag Archives: creative

Glass Herons and donations

A glass heron is a creature native to Hopeless Maine. Like most of the resident life forms, they’re a bit… odd.

There’s a glass heron front right in the image above and a second at the back and to the left.

Some time ago, in a fit of enthusiasm, I added a glass heron level over at Patreon. All of my Patreon levels are based on Hopeless Maine creatures, so at $1 there’s small things in bottles, and $5 is the splendid Dustcat level. They are about the size of a cat. I’m writing the dustcats a book about dustcats. I’m not the best when it comes to self promotion, so I put up the glass heron (size of a heron, give or take) and didn’t really spend much time telling people it was there. At glass heron level, you get things in the post – at least four times a year. Tom and I between us generate a lot of small things that can be posted, like cards, and dustcat books, little originals, handwritten things.

This week I was very excited to find that my first glass heron had sauntered in. There is a lot of validation for me in people liking what I do enough that they want to throw money at me. Not least because I appreciate that most of us don’t have a lot of spare cash to chuck about, so the decision to support creativity is a big deal.

Money is, simply, a great enabler. I’m living within my means, which are small. Extra cash means being able to afford research books, the odd course, getting to things that inspire me. Doing events as a creator costs money and you don’t always make it back – I’ve lost money on two events in the last year. Doing a print run for something like a dustcat book costs money. It’s a lot less stressful doing this sort of thing when you aren’t also obliged to carefully count the pennies. I’ve got very talented friends who should be getting their work out there and can’t afford to invest in it. I want to be able to help them with printing costs.

I like the gift economy angle with Patreon. I put free things into the world – here, on www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com, on my youtube channel, my Sage Woman blog column. I write regularly for Pagan Dawn and for the PF international. No one pays me for these things because there’s no money with which to pay.  Pagan magazine publishing does not make anyone rich. I know what it’s like to have no budget for fun stuff, and what a difference free, online content makes in that scenario. Now that I can afford to, I do buy books and music, and tickets for gigs, I support the creative economy as best I can. In turn, people who like what I do and who can afford to support me are doing so, and it really helps me make ends meet and feel like it’s worth carrying on.

Money of course is not the only thing to have that effect. Likes, shares, reblogs, comments, sharing my stuff on social media – these things cost nothing and they have a massive impact on me from one day to the next. At my lowest points when I’ve not known how to keep going in the desperately difficult economic environment of ‘creative industry’ it’s been this blog, the support here and the comments that have kept me moving and saved me from despair. That’s gift economy in action, too.

So, here’s a question. I’ve been wondering about putting a donate button of some sort on the blog. I appreciate that the commitment to regular Patreon funding is going to be too much for many people. A donate button is more like being able to throw small change in the pot when you have it. Would that be a thing? If you think you might like to chuck a dollar in a virtual hat now and then, can you let me know? No commitment required, just I want a sense of how people feel about this. If everyone following this blog chucked a dollar in the hat once a year, it would change my life radically. I’m also at the kind of level where small sums of money make a difference. I’ve resisted the idea of a donate button for a long time because I want people to feel comfortable about having things for free. I choose to give this stuff away, and I hate it when people tell me things are free and then demand a five pound donation… so I’m not doing that. Thoughts?


Into the Gallery

Those of you who have been here for a little while may have already seen the blog on The Hopeless Maine Arts and Crafts Movement and Fluffy Doom. Tom and I have been working for months now, alongside all the regular work we do, getting ready for a Hopeless Maine show as part of Stroud Book Festival. We’re setting up on Monday, Lansdown gallery will be open Tuesday through to Sunday, and on Saturday night we’re in Lansdown Hall with a show in the evening as well.

The canny amongst you will have noticed that this means a seven day working week with a late night near the end of it. There was so much to do this week, that although I can take some of this weekend off, I’m going to have to spend some of Sunday packing and sorting ahead of the setup. I’ve had a lot of extra work to do trying to get ahead on all the stuff I normally do in a week, and even so I’ll have to get up at seven and put in two hours of normal work before I hit the gallery each day.

This last week has been full of anxiety, stress, triggering, panic attacks and waking up in the wee small hours and being sleep deprived. I took yesterday afternoon off and walked, and it has cleared my head a bit, but by no stretch of the imagination am I in good shape going into this.

It’s going to be tough. I hope it’s going to be worth it. By Tuesday of this week, no tickets had been sold for the show, and other book festival events were in the same boat. Partly it’s because people buy tickets later at the moment. I assume it’s about the weather, and wanting to be sure you can go before you commit. Less money to throw around must be a factor. Stroud is also prone to people rolling up about five minutes after the thing started and buying a ticket on the door. But still, it’s a stressful situation to be in.

Also of course, like every promoter, every event, every publisher and music label and thing of that ilk… all the advance promotion went on the big names who least needed the advanced promotion and there is no budget for marketing. I never cease to be amazed by the number of activities that have a budget, but consider promotion to either be a luxury extra or not worth paying for. This approach becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, in which the not so famous are proved not to be worth it, so either get even less space, or even less promotion next time. It’s happening across the board in creative industries.

I hope, in a small way, to buck the trend, but it means having to do a lot of promotion work alongside actually putting together the gallery show and the evening show. That’s also increasingly the size of it for anyone not famous enough that their name alone won’t sell whatever they were doing. Most creative people now have to do most of the work involved in selling whatever it is that they do. Where big companies are involved, profits go to shareholders, while the creator who is both creating and doing all the promotion work, is the last person to get paid.

If you’re in striking distance and want to come along, here’s the webpage for the evening event https://stroudbookfestival.org.uk/event/tom-nim-brown/  – you can just turn up to the gallery.

A gathering of tribes

It’s interesting to think about where we fit and belong, the communities we call home and the relationships we have with them. I started pondering this a couple of days ago, and making notes, and the scale of it surprised me.

I have my blood family and the people I share history with – people who have lived in the same places, been through the same schools.

There’s the folk community – full of family ties and personal history. People I have played music with, people whose songs I sing, people I listen to. Also there’s the tribe that gathers for Genevieve Tudor’s folk program, and that’s an important weekly moment of belonging. I hope to put dancing back on that list.

I identify with the Pagan community, and with Druidry, and within that I belong a whole host of places – OBOD, The Druid Network, Druid Camp, Contemplative Druidry, Auroch grove, and through the bard side, it overlaps with the folk, and through my writing with the next lot…

Authors, book people, bloggers, readers, Moon Books, JHP fiction, other publishers. People I read and admire, storytellers, the local writing community and through those connections I branch out into…

Wider creative connections with artists, musicians, local creative folk, organisers of things, and I branch out into Steampunk, Comics, and geekery in general.

My Paganism also directs me to green activism, so that’s The Green Party, which is part of my local tribe, as is my engaging a bit with the Transition Network and other local, green, sustainable alternative outfits. People I know because they are local.

Eventually, I also managed to recognise that there are people who are in my life simply because they like what I do. I have a number of important connections based entirely on that.

Inevitably it’s the people who fit in more than one of those circles that I interact with most, because time is also a factor in all of this, and the more I share, the more time I tend to spend with someone. There are people I see once a year, or less, and there are people I pine for if I have to go more than a week, and I can manage an afternoon without Tom, but that’s my limit.

Of those people who I interact with in numerous ways, there are a few with whom I share creativity – either working together, or working alongside, swapping ideas and inspiration. This is a small tribe, and these relationships I pay a lot of attention to. They are the most defining ones in my life. It’s not any kind of coincidence that I married my artist… I am most emotionally invested in people with whom I can share creativity.

Beyond that, and overlapping with wider circles in all kinds of ways, is the tiny tribe I walk with. My most essential tribe.

Reclaiming my bloke

For the last year, this young lady has given me no small amount of trouble. When Tom wasn’t with her, he was mostly thinking about her, and that’s tough in any relationship. I knew about her of course – she was getting ten and twelve hours a day of his time, often seven days a week, I’d have to have been pretty oblivious not to notice her impact on our lives.

It’s the biggest project Tom’s ever had – a 200 page graphic novel for Inklit – a Penguin imprint. He gave it his all, because he always throws everything he has at doing projects anyway, and this being the biggest and highest profile one to date, really focused his attention.

It did not make for an easy year. Tom and I came together through a publishing house, many years ago. We were collaborating on www.hopelessmaine.com long before we were romantically involved, and our creative partnership was for years a defining part of our relationship. Only, last year, he was mostly working with someone else. I occasionally got to help out doing large areas of simple shading, but that was about it for me – I provided domestic support, and what other support I could, but I wasn’t part of the project that had taken over our lives. I found that hard.

It’s also a challenge in any relationship when one party shifts up a gear to become way more successful, and the other party does not. As the person not making huge strides forward, it was hard not to feel peripheral, and left behind at times. I’ve made my peace with that – there was nothing else to do. I’ve watched resentment of success eat other people up, and I don’t want to be like that.

I pick my collaborators carefully. Always did. I’ve probably made more careful and considered choices around investing in co-creators than ever I have in romantic relationships. In matters of the heart, I’ve been swept off my feet into poor choices more than once. I’d assumed that the focus and intensity of a creative collaboration would be too much alongside also living with someone, but apparently not. And, having spent this last year with my marriage stripped largely of its creative collaboration aspect, it is immensely cheering to find that we still get on well and can be happy in each other.

It’s a form of challenge any relationship can face – when the thing that brought you together, or defined you, is no longer part of the mix. For couples defined by their parenting, the growing up of offspring can cause real difficulties. Then you get to find out how many facets your relationship has, and whether there’s enough depth and breadth to survive what’s missing.

This last year, we’ve learned that while working together makes us both very happy, we can survive long stretches of being flat out on working with others. It’s been an interesting experience, and by ‘interesting’ I mostly mean that I hope we won’t do anything quite like that again! At least nothing quite that long and involved.

More about the aforementioned book here.

A novel year

It’s November, and around the world, vast numbers of people will set about spending it trying to write a novel. I won’t be one of them. I started a novel in November last year – not because of NaNoWriMo, but because I’d been pondering and planning for a while, and felt ready to start. It’s nearly a year on and I haven’t finished writing the first draft. I’ve written a lot, I like where it’s going and I could wish it had got beyond this stage by now, but at the same time, I’m not enormously troubled. It’s been a busy year.

In the same time frame, I saw a co-written novel come out (Letters Between Gentlemen) and started work on the sequel. I wrote ten new short stories and recorded them for www.nerdbong.com ‘s Splendiferous Stories for Slumber. Non-fiction title ‘When a Pagan Prays’ came out, and I’ve nearly written my next non-fic. I wrote a poetry collection, although am not quite sure what I’m doing with it, and a story that won me a place in Stroud Short Story competition. On top of this, I was a small part of the huge team effort that got Molly Scott Cato elected as a Member of the European Parliament, and took on managing two blogs for John Hunt Publishing. I spent a month working as a studio assistant. I’ve gone back to editing as well – the day jobs are many.

Alongside that there’s the more personal labours around being wife to a massively talented artist whose epic contract this year has meant he really needed me to keep the home front running smoothly. I’m also mother to a budding maths genius, with his rugby generated laundry and need for interesting and educational out of school options.

Along the way I’ve had several bouts of block with regards to the novel, a crisis over my creative work, and some serious run ins with depression. These are not unusual afflictions for authors, either. I’ve had patches where I needed to step away from the book to reflect on the structure, characters, and direction. I would not have had a clue how to finish it without some personal experiences this autumn that have made me realise what was missing, and what, therefore, will happen next.

It takes a lot of material to write a rich and engaging novel of decent length. I read all the time, I study people, absorb ideas and influences, and sometimes that radically impacts on what I was doing. What I set out to write is seldom what I end up with because I learn so much on the way. If I tried to write a draft in a month, I would lose all that space for learning and reflection. I would lose the real life events that feed into what I write. I know there’s a logic that says get something down and then hone it, but that doesn’t work for me. I need to like what I’ve written. It has to be good enough to justify the time and energy of a redraft. If I don’t give it my best the first time around, I won’t feel inspired to stick with it.

I notice that I do my best work when it can go at its own pace, when I can have a range of creative projects on the go – music and crafting, kitchen projects, learning things – at the same time. I write better when I have a good diet of creative and inspiring input, when I have time to read, walk, go to gigs, dance, daydream. To write a book in a month, and honour the day jobs, and care for my family, I’d have to write about 2000 words of fiction most days. Other things would have to give. What I’ve learned this last year is that when I give up that balance of things to focus on whatever is supposedly more important, my creative output goes down, and so does the quality.

We’re all different in terms of how we think, feel and create. If running flat out for a month at the expense of everything else works for you – fine. But if not, there are other ways. There are always other ways.

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.

Druidic Arts: Nurturing

I think that the art of nurturing is one of the most vital, rewarding and under celebrated things a person could set out to do. All of our lives will afford opportunities to develop this as a conscious, deliberate art, and by doing so we enable. A person who loves creativity but does not, for whatever reason, feel moved to create, can adopt nurturing as their art, and through that make the most stunning contributions. Most arts do not happen in isolation. Time, money, resources, space, publicity, feedback are all essential and rare is the aspiring creative person who doesn’t need some of that to come from outside.

Nurturing as an art form is not just about propping up creative people though. Gardening and tree planting are forms of nurturing the land, so is litter picking. Rescuing and healing animals is a nurturing art. Caring for the sick is a nurturing art. So is teaching, running events, library work. Raising children should be held up as an art that requires considerable dedication. No one is ‘just a parent’, if they are making any kind of effort, they are a practitioner of a most complex and demanding art form. Anything that we do that enables others to flourish, is part of the art of nurturing.

Making it more deliberate is not difficult. The easiest place to start is with praise or encouragement for whatever good stuff you see people doing. Be that a cleaning job, a fundraiser or a painting. Just saying ‘that’s brilliant, well done’ will help to sustain someone else in their work. Yoo don’t need pompoms and a tiny skirt to be a cheerleader, but most people need someone to cheer them on, to keep them believing that what they do is worth doing, and is valued. Being a good audience is a skill to nurture, knowing how to listen, how to ask good questions, when to applaud, both in a literal sense and a more metaphorical way.

Without people who create spaces and opportunities, far fewer people can grow or flourish. That might mean an after school club, adult education, running a poetry slam, or an open mike. It takes time, energy and skill to make an event, a class or some other nurturing space go well. One of the measures of having got it right is that people won’t even think about it. They’ll just be noticing all the stuff you’ve put centre stage. Often, to practice nurturing as an art, you need to be willing to stand back stage.

The other important consideration with nurturing in any form, is that you do not dictate the shape. It’s not about creating twenty clones of yourself, or one special person who can actually do what you wanted to do. If you mean to nurture, then those you enable have to be free to be what they are. No point planting potatoes and complaining to them when they do not produce rose flowers. It can be very tempting, with this kind of work, to go too far with the supporting so that it turns into directing, then ordering and demanding. When we nurture, we facilitate. The only thing you can want for yourself is the pleasure of seeing someone else take off, and maybe a little bit of kudos. But if you want to turn them into something specific, the most likely outcomes involves crushing them, destroying their potential or making them hate you. Even the people who turn up and say ‘teach me to do what you do’ will at some point need to take off in their own direction.

This is an art that calls for a lot of letting go, relinquishing desires to be reinforced or propped up by others. And if we do make a safe and nurturing nest for those who come to us, then we have to accept that one day they will need to leave it and strike out for themselves. The whole point of the nest is to get you ready for flying. It can hurt, watching them leave. It can feel like rejection. If they’re truly focused on taking the thing forward, whatever it is, it can feel like being left behind, abandoned. The person who takes up nurturing as their art knows not to cling at this moment. It’s all about taking pride in knowing that you aren’t needed now, and that’s as true for a parent as it is for a spiritual teacher, or someone providing a space to work in.

Nurturing as an art can very readily be practiced alongside other life arts, or the bardic arts, or just as a dedication to encouraging others and being generous with words. It can be a powerful calling in its own right, one that becomes the whole of your life and purpose. Someone who is good at it may make themselves almost invisible, but these are people too, and if you spot them, in the wings, behind the desk, holding it all together and making no fuss, remember that they could use some nurturing too and that this art is as worthy of your celebration as any other you encounter.