Tag Archives: creativity

Playing with clothes

Somewhere in my teens I figured out that I could take a scissors and needle to the clothes available to me and make them more to my liking. At seventeen I bought a new – entirely new to me – dress for the first time in my life and it was a memorable moment. I’ve never wanted to be fashionable. I’ve spent most of my life not trying to dress in a way anyone would find sexy. But I do like clothes and I like dressing up.

The fashion industry is wasteful, polluting and planet damaging. I’ve also never really understood why anyone would want mass produced clothes that you leave you looking bland and identical. For me, one of the great joys in upcycling and making from scratch is that most of what I have is unique.

I do buy new things – sometimes because I need clothes that do a specific job and I can’t afford to wait for them to show up second hand. As I walk for transport, I need robust and weather-appropriate attire. When items of clothing die, I do my best to re-invent them, or take what bits are still in good condition and turn them into something else. I have a lot of fun doing this, and it is the principle source of unique clothing in my possession.

In the last week or so, I’ve taken usable fabric from four shirts that where worn out, stained or damaged and could not be worn as they were. I have five items of clothing from these – radically different to what went before. To achieve this, I bought two meters of broidery anglais and half a meter of stiffening fabric – it has a name and I can’t remember it! The principle damage to two shirts was below the armpit, leading to two sleeveless tops, the sleeves from one top being used to replace sleeves on another top, where the cuffs were worn out. The other set of removed sleeves went into making a hat. Salvageable bits of sleeve from the dead-sleeve shirt went into widening the bust on the last shirt (not originally mine). I was, I admit, rather pleased with myself.

I needed some additional wardrobe items for one of the jobs I’m doing. I’ve saved myself a lot of money by working over items that were free. I look a touch eccentric, and I like that, and I’ve put far less in the bin than I would otherwise have done. The clothes I have created aren’t exactly smart, but they will do.

One of the great things about taking a scissors to an unusable item of clothing, is that the pressure is off. As it stands, the item is only fit for the bin or recycling. If you get it wrong, you can still do that. If you get it right, and can get a few extra wears even, you’ve won. It’s safe enough to play and experiment. I do sometimes buy extras to lift an upcycled item, but I only do that when I’m sure it’s going to work. It’s not necessary, often, so aside from the cost of the thread and needles, there’s very little outlay. You can get a lot of upcycling out of a reel of thread. You can get a lot of fun out of the remaking – so it can double as a low cost hobby and way to amuse yourself.

If you can’t sew – it’s not that hard and youtube has tons of tutorials. Your otherwise ruined and unwearable clothes are great to practice on as you build skills.

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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.


Worklife Druid

I’ve never felt easy about having my Druidry be something I do in my spare time and my working life being separate from that. I’ve been fortunate in that there are things I can do that lend themselves to taking my Druidry to work. However, I’ve done all kinds of odd jobs along the way, and there are all kinds of things that mean I can take what I believe into employed spaces. This is not about evangelising, but about walking my talk. I appreciate not everyone will be able to do all of these, but I float them out in case anything inspires anyone.

I can walk to work, or work from home. I can make a point of turning things off to reduce energy use and looking out for other opportunities to make wherever I’m working a bit greener. I can quietly support and encourage those around me in making greener choices.

I can refuse to support unethical working arrangements. Now, this one is hard and costly, and on one occasion meant me quitting a job. Being able to take that risk is possible for me because I’ve always maintained a financial safety net – there’s all kinds of privilege underpinning that. If you do have the means to vote with your feet, it is important to do so. The people who are most exploited in their workplaces are the ones with the least power to resist it.

I can stand up to workplace bullying, and support anyone who is badly treated in their workplace. I can’t always fix things. I’ve seen horrendous workplace bullying in situations where it was pretty much impossible for the person on the receiving end to get it stopped without quitting their job, and they couldn’t afford to quit. Someone who is bullied at work may have to weigh fear of poverty against what they endure day to day. They may be responsible for other people and unable to take the risks of getting out. They may be trying to find something else and unable to jump until they have somewhere to jump to. If the bully gets to write your reference, that can be difficult, and fear of how they will punish you for leaving is a real thing.

I can bring my creativity and my inspiration into any work situation. I can bring my desire to uplift, inspire and encourage other people into any job. It doesn’t have to be overtly spiritual work for me to try and be a good thing for those around me. I can give the best of what I’ve got and find ways to apply that. Much of the paid work I do is not conventionally thought of as ‘creative’ in the same way that music, fiction and art are. However, I use my bardic skills all the time. I find them relevant. I also find that the more I do this, the better I feel about myself and the jobs I am doing.

The desire to be seen as a creative professional can have creative people sacrificing their autonomy for the sake of success. You write what the publisher’s accountant likes the look of. You draw what the person offering the money wanted. You sing what you think Simon Cowell wanted to hear. Sometimes the price of fame and success is creating on other people’s terms.

However, if your desire is to be creative, you can take that into any kind of work and find a way to apply it. I say this having worked on checkouts. I spent one summer washing and packing glassware. How we are in the world does not have to be defined by the role we are cast in, and anything can be made better if you can find even the smallest ways of bringing your inspiration to the job.


Together we can escape into other worlds

Role play games are seeing a real renaissance at the moment, which I think is really interesting. Computer games are amazingly complex, high tech and visually stunning (not that I play) but they don’t answer every gaming need. You can’t get that far off script. With a role play game, imagination rules and a determined party can take a game anywhere they want to go. I think it’s interesting that more people are choosing a way of playing that prioritises their own imagination, not the shiny graphics.

I played a lot of roleplay games as a kid, and I’m old enough that there was an expectation you’d grow out of it. Adults do not get to play many games – sure the odd board game with granny at Christmas, and we’re allowed to get excited about sports, but computer games and roleplay games like other forms of childish make believe, we’re not things we were not supposed to keep. Only we did, and it#’s become ever more normal to keep playing. I firmly believe that adults need imaginative play just as much as children do, and for much the same reasons.

Playing allows you to safely test and explore all kinds of ideas. For teenage me, it was a safe way of exploring my own identity. I experimented with ways of being and doing and thinking to see what felt comfortable. No real people were killed, seduced, robbed, rescued, or taken on unreasonably long walks through the woods while I did this. I played two different druid characters along the way, and it helped me decide that the resonance I found in that word mattered to me in some way. We all grow and change, many of us benefit from the chance to try on other identities now and then.

There is a magic that happens when people share their creativity. For much of my adult life, that’s had a workish angle as I’ve co-created books with people. My experience is that co-creating also creates a depth and breadth of relationship that you can’t get other ways. A role play game is a process of co-creation and it does interesting things to relationships. It also means that all my best stories from my teenage years are about the things we collectively imagined.

Hopeless, Maine has always been a collaborative project – Tom worked with several other authors before me, and we’ve tended to draw other people in. We’ve had an online project for some time – www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com – where people come and play with us. However, we can only include people at the rate of one or two a week. That’s all about to change.

For some time now, a very nice chap called Keith Healing has been working to develop a Hopeless Maine RPG. The mechanics are unique because the island setting with all its strangeness really demanded that. It’s already the best magic system I’ve ever seen and he’s not finished yet. It means that anyone who wants to come to the island and play with it, can.

I’m really excited about this. I know people who are planning to play this weekend. I know that something I helped create is about to take up residence in other heads and that there will be room in those other heads for creative responses. At some point I’ll jump in to write a scenario as well.

You can find the game here – https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HopelessGames


A sense of direction

When I dedicated to the bard path, I promised to use my creativity for the good of my tribe and the good of the land. The land part has always been easy to identify, if hard to protect in this exploitative, destructive age. ‘Tribe’ has always been trickier. Who are my tribe? Who should I be helping and supporting? Where can I do most good? I’ve put myself forward in Pagan groups, in politics, and I’ve stepped up to try and help fellow authors and creatives, all of this in paid and unpaid configurations. I’ve been looking for a tribe to serve.

It’s tricky. I need to work in ways that achieve something and that I feel good about. I’ve fallen out of a few spaces along the way simply because I didn’t have the resources or information to be able to do anything well, and the frustration of it ground me down.  Creativity depends on inspiration, and volunteering depends on energy, and I am more motivated by results than anything else. I’ve fallen out of some spaces because of internal politics, and I’m not good at dealing with people who are afraid I will become too prominent and important, and for whom keeping me under control is more important than getting good things done. I’ve fallen out of spaces through sheer boredom as well.

What I want is to build community, sustainability, and resilience. I want to help people flourish and do more good. I want more joy and better things for as many people as I can manage to bring that to.

I knew at the start of this year that I’d likely be picking a place to stand – or a few places. I’ve eyed up various groups and I’ve waited to see who made moves towards me. It’s been an interesting six months, and at this point, I feel I know where I’m going. I’m building a worker’s co-operative around the Hopeless Maine project. I’m putting more energy into Moon Books, and Sloth Comics. I shall carry on volunteering for The Pagan Federation and The Woodland Trust and writing for all the magazines I’ve been writing for. I shall be investing more energy in Transition Stroud as well – this is about transitioning to more sustainable ways of living.

I’ve learned not to work with people who are half hearted about me, or grudgingly make a place for me. I’ve also learned not to work with people who simply see me as a resource to exploit. You can’t build better things if what’s going around you is crap. You can’t bring good into the world if the project you’re in is inherently unethical in how it gets things done. None of us benefit from being treated like objects for use. Breaking people for causes isn’t good, and making personal influence more important than the cause isn’t good either. But all of that said, many good spaces exist full of people intent on doing the best they can with what they have, and those are the places that deserve energy invested in them and that reward you if you give what you can. In such a space, giving what you can becomes rewarding of itself.


Contemplating failure

There’s a lot of positivity culture out there to tell us we can have anything and everything we want. We have to be positive enough, never give up, keep visualising the glorious outcome. It doesn’t take into account that failure is a very real part of human experience. We will all fail sometimes. Being realistic about how and why we’ve failed and what the implications are, is really important.

We can fail through lack of knowledge, experience and skill. It can mean that we just have to pick ourselves up and have another go. Many things require patience and perseverance, and will not come to us quickly just because we want them. Recognising the work involved, and recognising that we may fall short makes us better able to deal with reality than going forth with relentless positivity.

The timing may be bad. We may be unlucky. Things beyond our control may wreck our plans. We may not have the resources to achieve what we wanted. We may need to change tack and study, or practice, or rethink in some other way. These are all common events. They do not represent a failure to be positive enough, and simply being positive won’t deal with them.

How do you tell when you really should give up? How much time and money and energy – yours and other people’s – should you pour into something before you’ll admit it’s a bad loss? When is it time to accept that a dream isn’t viable? There are only personal answers here. A consciousness of failure can help us shift our goalposts to more appropriate positions. When I was a teen, I wanted to be a famous and important author. Experience has taught me to accept that if I can make ends meet and some people like my stuff, that’s probably as good as it can get.

I could dream about one day climbing Everest, but this body is never going to be equal to it. I doubt I could get up even the smallest mountain these days. No amount of positive thinking is going to enable me to run long distances, either. When do we decide what’s possible and what isn’t? When do we give up?

One of the big questions here is around how chasing the dream impacts on others. Imagine the person who goes full time with their dream but earns very little, and whose family has to support them. Imagine that they put little time into their family or friendships, expecting emotional and practical support while they follow their dream. How long can that continue before the dream itself needs questioning. A year? A decade? It’s important to consider what we’re asking other people to sacrifice for the sake of our dreams. Are we making other people put their lives on hold for us? Are we killing their dreams for the sake of our own? Are we making them pay unfairly?

If your efforts and failures and aspirations only really impact on you, then how you live your life is really no one else’s business. Most of us don’t exist in that kind of isolation. Dreams need putting into context, and I think one of the most important measures for failure and for recognising the need to give up, is how much the unrealised dream is costing other people.


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.

 


Things I am up to

Thus far this year has not gone to plan. I’m increasingly fine with that. One of the things I didn’t get to do I’m glad I missed – the feeling of having dodged a bullet there. I’ve become involved unexpectedly in other projects as well.

I’ve just launched a new column on The Hopeless Vendetta – Mrs Beaten is judging you. Mrs Beaten is the sort of character who worries about whether the orphans are speaking proper English, and complains about their poor postures while ignoring the fact that half of them have rickets. She’s all about appearances. Writing satire always means the risk of people thinking I’m serious, and to make this even more exposed, I’m doing cartoons for it. Tom is now working on the next Hopeless Maine graphic novel and I really don’t want to take any of his time away from that. Mrs Beaten will be unleashed on Sundays, you can find her here –hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/category/hopeless-tales/mrs-beaten/ 

I’m still blogging alternative wheel of the year stuff for Sage Woman every month. I blog intermittently at Moon Books. I’m writing a regular Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn, and I’m writing about tree activism for the Pagan Federation International.

Over on Patreon, I’m putting up content every week, including new poetry, and fragments of fiction that may eventually turn into a thing.

Alongside this, I’m doing a bit of online campaign work for The Woodland Trust and helping out where I can with The Pagan Federation Disabilities Online Team. I am behind on learning sign language, but I do have a chant written for the next festival.

I’m supporting a number of authors who are at various stages of trying to get their work into the world. I feel strongly that getting your work out there should not depend on being able to pay. I don’t want to live in a world where arts careers are only for those who have a lot of privilege to begin with. So, where people need help and can’t afford to pay for it, I do what I can. Which is, I fear, a very small drop in the ocean of what’s needed. One of the reasons I’m reviewing every week is that it’s an easy way of helping people make their books more visible. I only review books I feel largely positive about.

Quite a lot of my time goes into unpaid work. Donating via the ko-fi link, (thank you those of you who have already done this) and supporting me on Patreon (thank you!) helps me stay viable while giving my time and skills to other people. It helps me afford to continue with Tom not taking as many illustration commissions so as to focus on getting Hopeless Maine out there. It gives me time for my own speculative work rather than having to focus on the things that are definitely going to pay. It makes losing money on events less scary, too. Train fares cost a lot, and we need to get out there to meet people and promote our work, but in the short term it is all too easy to lose money on this.

Of course much of this is true for many creative people. Having resources to invest in developing your work can be really difficult if you’re barely scraping a living. Creating part time isn’t a good answer for many people and it brings us back again to only getting creators who are in good health and well resourced. If you support the creators you love – in any small way you can – you help keep them going. Review them, re-tweet them, tell a friend. And if you can throw money at them, know that it makes an enormous difference. A hundred dollars a month on Patreon can easily be the different between keeping going and not keeping going.

If you want to wave money at me, you can do so here.
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


Taking the politics out of art

It happens a lot on twitter; that fans will tell creators to shut up about the politics and get back to the art. From what I see, the politics are usually left wing. It seems a very odd idea to me, for all kinds of reasons.

Firstly, any creativity happens in a context. Artists and writers and musicians aren’t kept in little boxes where the rest of the world can’t affect us. We may be talking about politics because they impact on us – changes to working tax credits, national insurance the VAT put on electronic content in the EU – these things all affect creators directly, to give some recent examples. In America, lack of money for healthcare is a very big problem and one that kills creative people. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the politics that affect our everyday lives any more than anyone else does.

Most of us do not sit in high towers imagining how the world is. We have friends and families, neighbours, communities. Things that may not impact on us directly may well be impacting on them and we may need to speak up for them – and when you’ve got a following, of course you want to use it for good, and sometimes that means saying something about foodbanks, child homelessness, or environmental destruction.

To be a good creator, you have to care about your creative form. To make up stories, or to reflect the world through song, or visual art, you need to be interested in the world and to care about it. Good art is rooted in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination involved, but imagination that isn’t informed by experience doesn’t tend to work. It is a creator’s empathy and insight, their ability to speak meaningfully to people that makes the work good and gives it substance. You can’t ask people to care about the world as part of what makes their profession function, but never say anything about it to avoid causing discomfort to people who just wanted escapism. You can’t ask people not to put politics in their work – to only have irrelevance and silliness that has no relation to the rest of culture or human experience is preposterous.

Last but by no means least, silence is also a political choice with political consequences. To say nothing, is to support whatever’s going on. It is to enable, and allow. Silence leaves the voiceless unheard. It leaves questions unasked, and mistakes, and abuses unchallenged. Silence is often taken as tacit consent. And it allows people who can’t be bothered to engage with real issues, people who are comfortable and privileged, able to carry on in their untroubled bubbles. Which is what is being asked for when creators are told to shut up and stick to the art. Do we exist to supply amusement to people who only wish to be amused? No we don’t.

This post was inspired by something Professor Elemental wrote this week about politics and steampunk – you can read that here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/18350074


Welcome to Night Vale – a review

I started listening to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast about three months ago, and am about 90 episodes in at time of writing. Night Vale is an imaginary small town somewhere in a desert that exists in some kind of vague relationship with America. The podcast brings us Night Vale’s community radio station, and through that we become complicit in the life of the town.

Night Vale is a strange and troubled place, full of weird magic, inexplicable science, sinister rituals, and a vague yet menacing government agency. Learn about the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home, learn to fear wheat, and wheat by-products, learn where the badly hidden microphone in your house is in case you ever need to contact the secret police. If you can appreciate the humour of this sort of thing, Night Vale is a good place to conceptually take up residence.

The book of Welcome to Night Vale – written by Joseph Fink and Jeffry Cranor, who also write the podcast –  is just as prone to twisted whimsy as the podcast. It is odd, endearing, largely absurd and I very much enjoyed it. I was very aware, reading it, that this is a book which got into print because the podcast was already successful. It is hard to imagine an unknown writing team pitching a project like this and getting it picked up. Night Vale in book form breaks pretty much every writing rule I’ve ever seen written down, and probably a great many more that I haven’t. But, because it shares tone and style with the internationally popular podcast, it hasn’t been edited into conformity. It hasn’t been rejected as too weird, too difficult to market. Bean counters have not tutted over how hard it is to pitch something like this where there’s really no obvious audience…

Welcome to Night Vale is a triumph of creativity over the banality haunting ‘creative’ industries. It demonstrates that people with real ideas and imagination can find listeners and readers, and that the buying public does not simply want things that look pretty much like the things it already has. They’ve built something amazing here, and they’ve built it with love, and grass roots support, and it cheers me greatly to find that this is possible.

Night Vale makes me think a bit of strange, medieval tarot cards. (Bear with me). You look at the cards, and the things people are doing on said cards, and it all seems preposterous. This may in itself entertain you. However, pause for a moment, and think a little bit, and all kinds of relevance starts to appear. Because there’s something in the nature of it that allows you to project onto it, and see aspects of yourself, your life, your town, your country reflected there. What you make of that is very much up to you.

More about Night Vale here – http://www.welcometonightvale.com/