Tag Archives: creativity

Being fast and slowing down

This isn’t my first blog about slower living, it is an idea that has interested me for years. I like life in the slow lane, walking for transport, reading, not being up to date with all the latest gadgets, not keeping up with everything via my phone. I like not rushing and feeling pressured. But, there’s a technical problem and it’s taken me until now to get my head round it.

Slow me down, and I go faster.

Over the course of this weekend off, I started work on a new steampunk outfit, I planned a handful of blogs, decided to try a collaborative project, figured out a new social thing I want to organise, had some big ideas about book events in Stroud, and got a lot of reading done. My weekend off was intensely productive. This is usually how it goes. If I take time off, slow down, don’t aim to do anything, the ideas start moving and I can end up doing far more productive stuff than I would have done had the day been structured and deliberately workish.

For years I’d been feeling this as a kind of slow-fail. I can’t do nothing. I’m useless at it. Leave me doing nothing and I’ll hatch some epic and totally workable scheme. This weekend, while ostensibly doing nothing but really doing a lot, I came to the conclusion that I’m no longer prepared to have a problem with this. It is simply how I am.

So, with all of that in mind, my aim at the moment is to keep my planned workishness to four mornings a week, and keep the rest of my time unstructured and slow, and give myself permission to do whatever comes along. I have noticed that I’m at my most productive when I have plenty of time to read, think, stare out of the window, go for walks and so forth. I don’t get the ideas if I don’t have the time and space. If I try to be disciplined about my work, the quality of my output dwindles rapidly. And equally, if my slowness makes me faster, I’m not going to relate to that as a slow-fail anymore.

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Bard Magic

Normally we talk about magic in terms of acts of will crafting deliberate change. For me, bardic magic has always had a distinctive flavour of its own, a very different form and highly unpredictable consequences.

For a start, bardic magic is something that happens as a consequence of doing bard stuff. It doesn’t always happen, it can be elusive, and is certainly not obedient. You can set out to be creative, and it often helps to be clear about what you want to make – be that a song, a story, a pie, a garden… The magic is not something you direct, but something you make room for. That room is made by the creative act itself, and it means what comes out at the end might not be as you intended.

For example… imagine a group of people getting together to share music. Often if the people are good, what you get is good. Sometimes, if the people doing the music are not just good, but open to each other and to inspiration, magic, awen, in just the right way, something else gets in. Something happens that changes the music into an experience of soul and wonder. What consequences that may have for each player, who can say? The music that comes out of such moments is often far more powerful and affecting than anything you can do by skill alone.

In regular magic, we draw our circles, put up our protection and steer things in the direction of our choosing. Bard magic is something you let in. You go to it vulnerable and exposed, and you let it come through you and into the world. It can break your heart, unsettle your mind, rearrange your priorities.

Try to tame inspiration as a force, try to keep it tidy, controlled and in line with your will, and you may never even glimpse it. Awen does not manifest on those terms. It does not come to do your bidding, although it may rise up at your call to sear its way through your soul and transform the lead of your plan into the gold of the sublimely unexpected.


People we pretend to be

We all put on masks, take up fictional identities and dabble with ideas of who we could be. Sometimes it’s a response to the company we’re in – your work persona may not be your Friday night social life persona. Sometimes it is a more deliberate process – role play games, computer games, acting, writing, cosplaying, and other such events can allow us to be people we otherwise are not. It’s a relatively safe way to explore who we might be, or to play out the fantasies of who we wish we were.

I know a number of Druids who started out playing Druids in games. On the other side, I don’t know anyone who has become a ninja or a great military leader by playing computer games.  I know I tested my notions of honour and appropriate behaviour extensively in role play games as a teenager, it helped me figure out who I wanted to be. People use other forms of creative identity to let out the parts of them that can’t otherwise find expression. It may be that many authors of horror and violence are able to be perfectly lovely people because they’ve found a safe space for that part of themselves.

I think it’s worth taking this stuff seriously. Who we pretend to be can all too easily become who we are. So many people get to their middle years and find that their roles – domestic and workish – have become their identities and they don’t much like how that’s working out. Pretending to be someone you aren’t can wear away at your soul over time, and those who hide to fit in can pay a hefty price for doing so.

Who we pretend to be, and the spaces we create by doing so, have massive consequences in our lives and the lives of the people around us. I offer examples – the set of people who are all pretending to be professional and businesslike to operate in the same workspace. The group of people who are living their Pagan identity for a weekend at a camp. The group of people in a pub who are imagining how they’d live if their brand of antisocial politics got into power. All of these things form our lives, and can colour our sense of self even when we tell ourselves we’re only playing at it. The people we pretend to be can take over our lives, and may not take us in the directions we wanted to follow.

I’m wrangling with this a bit on the steampunk side at the moment. Most of the people who get into steampunk want to play with the extravagant period dress. It’s just that this is often about jamming on the fashions of the rich. I don’t want to play at being upper class. I don’t want to be part of that wealth and class system even in an imaginary and often subversive context. I’ve been looking at images of working class women from the Victorian era, the shawls and the bonnets, the absence of bling and glamour. I’m trying to find a way to be that lets me honour my investment in being a working person, and a thinking, creative person.

It’s good to pretend and play, adults need it as much as children do. I think we all play dress up and pretend to be certain kinds of grownups in situations, and sometimes it feels to me more like a child pretending to be a grownup. And often it feels good to take off the grownup uniforms and get back into my mud and tree seeking attire. It’s important to know when we’re pretending, and to know who we’d really be, and when we’re putting on a costume, and when we’re putting on our real clothes. I suspect there are many people for whom the work attire is a costume, and the velvet cloak, the pith helmet, the goth dress or the elf ears are much more the real self.


Doing things for money

My economic situation has improved significantly in the last year, freeing up more resources for leisure stuff and a better diet. Both have had a huge impact on my mental and physical health and on my creativity. A brain is powered by food, and the relationship between poverty, diet and poor mental health is something I intend to come back to.

Of course I have heard all the arguments the other way – art should be made for love, not money. Druid work should be given away freely as it’s not spiritual to ask for money. To do that you have to be independently wealthy, have a partner who can fund everything, or be in such good health that you can work two jobs. That logic leaves us with creativity and priesthood as options only for the privileged. I’m not cool with that.

The internet gives us the means to have many things for free – it is one of the great powers of this technology. It brings us to new challenges and new ways of doing things. It has never been easier for an indy creator to find an audience, but it has probably never been harder to earn a living in this way. It is one of the reasons I find Patreon so exciting as a model. Using Patreon means that, as a creator, you can just put your stuff out there. If people love you enough, they can drop a few dollars in the hat each month, and get some extras for so doing.

I’ve been using Patreon for a couple of months now. It’s got me writing short stories and poetry on a much more regular basis, and I’m using it to host a monthly newsletter as well. Having people willing to put in the hat for this, and to support my other work, has really helped me emotionally. At the moment, the extra money is not a game changer, but I’ve thought about how I would use extra money should this grow.

One of my goals is to be able to justify making at least one video a month. The odds are this would involve poetry, songs, short stories and filming things that are not my face. I’ve been dabbling a bit as it is and have a couple of videos to finish and release in the autumn. Beyond that, my goal is to be able to afford to use some of Tom’s time on a cartoon strip we’ve wanted to do for years. It’s called The Wrong Dog. Ultimately, my major goal is more space. This could be studio space in the short term, but longer term I need to live somewhere else. The living room /dining room/writer space/ office/studio/storage area arrangement frankly doesn’t work very well for doing any of the things we need to do.

Having more income gives me more scope to invest in my wellbeing. It might mean being able to afford a weekly Tai Chi class – something I really want to do. I could use some extra funding to take courses to develop my skills and ideas. I’ve done some single day workshops through the summer, and that’s been decidedly good for me. I have fantasies about going on holiday.

Here are the things my household is doing for money, should you feel so moved…

Patreon

Books for sale on Amazon   and Book Depository  (most of my stuff can be bought anywhere that sells books)

Etsy (for posters and Tom Brown original art) https://www.etsy.com/shop/MothFestival

If you want to support a creative person but can’t throw money at them, pointing at their work, reviewing them, and the like is a really great help and always appreciated. Feedback is good, too. Most of us unfamous creative folk keep going because we think someone might just want it – putting a hand up to being the person who wants the stuff can help keep a person making and sharing.

 


Finding more hours in the day

As a self employed person, how I work is something I find it necessary to pay attention to. No one else sets my hours or considers what would be the best use of my time from day to day. No one sets my breaks, or time off.

During the worst patches, I’ve worked seven day weeks, and long days. During those times, work has been a slow, inefficient grind, dogged by poor concentration, difficulty with decision making and a lack of creativity. It’s really easy when self employed to feel like you have to keep working, especially if you aren’t earning much Fear that the work will dry up if you don’t say yes to everything is certainly part of the problem.

One of the things I’ve learned this summer, is that it is better for me to work in blocks rather than trying to multitask. Writing blog posts, dealing with email and doing social media work can end up sprawling across each other, with a lot of time squandered as I shuffle between, unable to remember what I was supposed to be doing or where I’d got to. Focused bursts get a lot more done. Focused bursts with small breaks in between them are even better.

By not multitasking, I’ve been able to cut my working morning by an hour, reliably. That’s including having a bit of time – ten to twenty minutes each day of promoting my own work, which I’d been neglecting to do. I’ve also cut my regular work down to four mornings a week, freeing up Wednesdays for doing something different – an uncontaminated headspace in which to create, should inspiration strike. It’s working. I’m doing as much work as I was before, I’m just not wasting as much time as I was.

It’s hard to notice lost time when it comes as a few minutes here and there, or each job taking ten or fifteen seconds longer than it might have done. Over a morning’s work, the lost minutes and seconds totted up to that hour or more that I now have at my disposal. Efficiency is a thing.

When business people talk about efficiency, all too often what they mean is getting people to work flat out and more like machines. Flat out isn’t efficient, it slows because concentration is not an infinite resource. Working like a person, and taking care of my person-ness as I work is what makes me more efficient. Not stinting on the breaks, allowing myself as much window gazing time as I need, moving about regularly – all the things that don’t look like efficiency actually get the jobs done faster.


A Personal Agenda

One of the things I’ve taken to checking up on, is my personal agenda. It’s all too easy to find that what you’re doing and what you want are out of kilter. So, what it the grand plan? What’s the intended trajectory? Where are we going, and how, and why, and so forth.

In my own life, I’m making a deliberate bid to be more economically effective. I have long term goals about where I want to be living. I’m also aware that many problems can be solved by throwing money at them, and I’d like to be better placed to solve more of those problems. I’m still looking for a better work life balance that gives me more energy for fun stuff, but on the whole, I’m a lot happier with my day to day arrangements than I was. I’ve got people to feed, I’m not going to treat economic viability as some sort of sin. I’m looking for work models that avoid exploitation.

I want to support, encourage and enable creativity in other people. I want to make safe spaces where people can have a go at things, stretch and experiment. I want to help people who are professionally creative stay emotionally and economically viable. I’m looking at a number of ways of taking this forward.

I want to help tackle the stigma around mental health problems, share information on causes and ways of coping, and tackle the way in which our culture as a whole is making people ill. At the moment I can only do this on a fairly small scale, and mostly through this blog. I’m keeping an eye out for other options.

I’m a tree activist for The Woodland Trust (part of their Special Branch!) and doing what I can in terms of environmental activism remains important to me. Having done about half of an ecolinguistics course, I’m increasingly inclined to think that I want to deal with environmental activism from the angle of stories, language use, how we frame things, and the like. I’m at the early stages with this and still figuring out where to take it.

I’m very much interested in the kind of power that lets me get things done, but not at all in the kind of power that allows me to control other people. I’m looking around to see who is willing to give me a platform, where I might fit, where there’s enough agenda overlap that we might be functional fellow travellers for a while. I’ve got one significant development in the bag on that score, everything else is going to be a good deal slower.

I’ve a lot of years of service behind me, and often what I’ve done is show up to do the things other people wanted. It was useful as a learning experience, but I’m not playing that way anymore. I’m looking for the spaces and people able to give me the space to do the things I think are important. I’ve also become very wary of the idea that we should all waft about saying ‘it’s all about the service’ because I’ve seen this too often. ‘I’ve got less ego than you’ can easily become the main ego game in town. I’m less self promoting than you. I’m a good little Pagan working hard and not drawing attention to myself. Enough of that! Platforms mean visibility. Changing things means visibility. Anyone who has to pretend they don’t want any attention while trying to do anything significant is getting into something with a whiff of cognitive dissonance about it.

Personal gain and profit are not the only kind of personal agenda available. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t need to keep dealing with the spaces that want me to be invisible, unnamed, and unable to get by financially. I’ve been through a few of those, where it’s apparently all about service, but in reality all about exploitation. There should be no shame in trying to be viable, and no shame in working on your own terms, for your own reasons.


Bard Magic

We tend to talk about the modern bard path purely in the sense of creativity, inspiration and performance. If you start from the belief that magic means transformation, then bard craft has an enormous potential for magic.

In creating a piece, be that poem, song, sculpture or cake, a person is using their will to manifest something in the world. Something new. Like any manifestation of will, what you create as a bard has the power to change things.

Bards usually commit (if they undertake any of the Bardic initiations I’ve encountered) to working for the good of the land, their tribe, their gods or however else they may express their sense of sacredness. To be a bard is to set out to be inspired by the sacred and to share that inspiration. In essence, you offer to be a doorway through which things can enter the world.

When you put yourself forward as a bard, you can have an immediate impact on how other people feel – a bard can uplift, cheer and inspire, create empathy and understanding, foster a sense of the scared, of magic and possibility. A bard can change how people think about themselves, each other, the culture they live in…  In practice the lines between spells and songs, poems and prayers, is not a clear line. A story can be an invocation. Art can heal, it can make sayable what was unsaid.

Bards can challenge how we conventionally think about things, can satirise politics and mock the ethically bankrupt. It is a path that enables subversion, radical reimagining and changing the stories that shape how we think and act. We can give voices to the voiceless, we can empower, uplift and enable others.

You don’t have to think anything supernatural is going on for this to work, but if your world view includes that kind of magic, the bard path remains relevant. Bard craft can make a good focus for spell work. When we set out to enchant and inspire each other, the world is a much better sort of place.


Away with the Steampunks

One of the things I love about Steampunks is the number of people who are full on doing the thing they love without apology. Many of the people I’ll see in Lincoln over the weekend will be playing at being something they aren’t, whether that’s with extraordinary costumes, membership of some fictional team (like The Mars Expeditionary Force), tea duellers, leather batpersons…. there will be a lot of happy messing about.

Alongside that, there will be a lot of people who are being who they really are. Makers, creators, musicians, performers, costumers, tea duellers, leather batpersons.

I have yet to figure out quite what it is about Steampunk spaces that allows people to deselect the mute button and let all the glorious passionate madness out into the world, but it does. No doubt this is a big part of why I feel so secure and at home in these spaces.

Most of the time, the expectation is that we will dress in bland, sensible, unimaginative ways to blend in with all the bland people around us. We’ll keep our obsessions to ourselves. We certainly won’t paint nerf guns to look like brass and carry them in the street in case of zombie bankrobbers. Most of the time, we won’t let ourselves love anything enough to let it come pouring out into the world as some large and dramatic wave. But this weekend there will probably be jetpack races, and it takes a lot of love to build a jetpack and then run with it in a public place on a warm summer’s day.

This weekend the odds are I will laugh loudly, hug fiercely, share without hesitation, dress outlandishly, and move confidently. For a few days, I won’t be awkward in my body because this is a space where I know I won’t be fat shamed, or ridiculed for any aspect of my appearance. I’m going to sing loudly too (on Monday morning at the Cathedral Centre) and talk about the project I love (Saturday afternoon 3pm, also Cathedral Centre).

And when I come back next week, I will wonder, as I wonder every year, why more spaces can’t be like this.


The courting of poems

Everyone who writes will have their own process, or more than one way of bringing words together. For some it’s all about jotting down notes, mapping out ideas, sketching, doodling, trying things and putting together the bits that work. It’s rare that a good piece of writing comes together fully formed and straight onto the page, even those of us who don’t do much development writing expect to have to edit and tidy up whatever emerged in the rush of inspiration.

For me, a poem usually begins with a seed idea. That can come from absolutely anywhere, so of course every single day is full of hundreds of things that might be poems. There’s an unconscious selection process that makes me latch onto some things and not others. A sense of possibility, of something I can follow and develop is usually part of this, and I notice it happening even though I’m not in deliberate control of it.

Once I’ve got that seed idea, I’ll hold it for as long as it takes. Usually a few days, but sometimes longer – months, in a recent case. I’ll think about the idea I’ve got, feel my way around it, see what it connects with. I won’t pick up a pen and risk catching it on paper before it is ready, and I’ve learned that it pays not to rush. I’ll play with word arrangements in my head, testing turns of phrase against the idea.

For example, I recently posted a poem called ‘The Use of Cauldrons’. It was a response to the OBOD work I did with Taliesin more than a decade ago, and to Lorna Smithers’ The Broken Cauldron, which I read last year, so I’d been gestating unconsciously for a long time. I simply woke up with a sense of how to write about cauldrons. It then took several days of just letting that wash around in my brain, and then I was able to sit down and write a decent first draft fairly quickly. I left it alone for a couple of days and then tidied it up. A second poem written recently was sparked back in the winter, I knew what I wanted to do but not how to do it. Again, there were unconscious processes, and then an invitation to read locally, and things fell into place.

For me, the process of creating a poem begins long before pen meets paper. I can’t manufacture those little seeds of inspiration that stand out, and have the potential to become something. They are a consequence of richness in my life – that can come from time spent outside, time with friends, time being inspired by other people’s creativity and anything else with that kind of depth and intensity. If I don’t deliberately make room for that kind of experience, then there won’t be the ‘ping’ moments that give me something to write about.


Notes on creativity

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know I’ve had ongoing struggles with creative work. The creative industries are a mess, austerity means many people can’t afford books, art or music. It’s really hard making a living at the moment. There’s only so much time and energy available to me. However, over the last six months or so I’ve learned a lot of useful things about staying creative, so, here’s what’s been helping me get moving again.

  1. Not using writing to pay the bills. It’s incredibly stressful and requires a rapid output, which I have found depressing and exhausting every time I’ve tried it. I am more likely to make money from writing if I write the things I want to write and then try to find a home for it, and not have making it pay be my primary concern. If I’ve got my responsibilities to my family covered, I feel freer in my writing, and other forms of creativity too.
  2. Peer support. Knowing it’s not just me, it’s not my failing but an industry-wide issue. Feeling recognised and respected by creative people I admire and respect helps maintain morale.
  3. People to create for. For me an art is only complete when it encounters someone else. A book no one reads is unfinished. People to write for give me a sense of hope and purpose. This blog helps me keep going, I’ve also felt really inspired as a consequence of support for my Patreon. It’s more about people wanting my work than the money, but the money helps.
  4. Making headspace. I can do the disciplined churning out of words, but to really create I need time to daydream, wonder, question and whatnot. I need time when I’m not directly using my brain for other things. I need to be ok with apparently doing nothing in order to make a space for inspiration to come in.
  5. Time to study. I need raw material to use creatively. This means reading, experiencing, learning. I need time to take workshops or lessons, time to pick up courses – not all of it directly about writing, either!
  6. Opportunities to be inspired. Other people’s books, live music, theatre, film, walks, good food, nights spent dancing, conversations with friends, beautiful landscapes… If I don’t feed my soul, all the time, then I can’t create. Get this right and I’m much more likely to be inspired.

Put that together and what you get are creative friends I can spend time with, whose creativity I can be inspired by and who are up for reading my stuff as well. People to walk with, cook with, hang out with, go to gigs with… and as there’s been a lot of that in my life in recent months, it turned out all I had to do was start making better spaces for myself, and putting down things that don’t serve me, and creativity becomes a good deal more feasible.