Tag Archives: identity

Gratitude for the second chances

Like most people, my life has been messy and thus far has not gone as I hoped or intended. I muddle along, as we all do. There was a younger version of me who was alive with plans, hopes, dreams and the will to try and make them real. I’ve had varying degrees of success.

I’ve been through things that broke me down and damaged me. I’ve lost parts of myself to those experiences. I’ve knowingly cut bits off myself and tried to be smaller on numerous occasions, in the hopes of being safer, or being left alone at least. There have been people in my life who hurt me by accident because they too were lost and scared and flailing. That’s always forgivable, even if I don’t always choose to stay around for more of it. There have been people who did the best they could, but where that wasn’t actually much or enough, and that’s forgivable too. We all have people like that, and sooner or later we are also people like that.

I’ve had a few years now where the best I could give in any aspect of my life wasn’t really enough. It’s been hard all round. I am hugely grateful for the time and space to recover from what’s afflicted me, and the opportunities I am given to try and do better.

What’s done me the most damage were the individuals who set out deliberately to harm me. I recognise that I’m not good at holding boundaries, but I’m also not into victim blaming. I have a lot of anxiety around not being good or useful enough and that’s an easy thing to exploit, which in no way excuses the people who saw those weak points and exploited them.

I have learned some lessons. I’m getting better at not appeasing people, and not being instantly persuaded that I am wrong and everything is my fault. I have some considered responses to conflict now. For the people I am really close to, I will get in and try to explain and work things through no matter what we’ve run into. If I commit, I commit hard. For most people, I’ll try and go at least a few rounds sorting things out if there is difficulty. I’ll check for miscommunication, I’ll try to understand their perspective better and so forth. If I can make headway, I’ll stay in. Decline to meet me half way with that, and I’m gone.

There are now a lot of things I don’t give people second chances over unless they genuinely matter to me. I just move away. I don’t want the drama or stress of people who want to fight and don’t want to listen. I do not stay if I’m just going to be a punchbag or scapegoat.

Alongside this I’m increasingly aware of having been given some amazing second chances recently. These aren’t second chances with other people, although I would not have got to this point on my own. This week I wrote a story that felt like the kind of thing I was writing in my early twenties. It gave me back a part of myself and I feel more whole and functional for that experience. I’m also becoming able to reclaim other parts of my previous self, especially how I used to think and feel.

I feel like I’m getting a second chance to be myself. I can’t unknow what I’ve experienced, and I remain affected by what’s happened in the last twenty years or so, but I feel like I’m back on the trajectory I had as a much younger person. I can carry all of what’s happened, and reclaim my whole self, and carry on from here as the version of myself I wanted to be, back before pain and shame taught me to think that person was not ok.

That person was ok. I am ok. I am not someone who deserves to be knocked down and humiliated. I’ve got to a place where I can get on with doing what I’m called to do and being the person I am. 

How do you know yourself?

Self knowledge is key to so many things. In understanding our own feelings, needs, strengths and weaknesses we are able to make better choices for ourselves. Knowing how we’ve been shaped by our families, cultures and experiences means we aren’t forever at the mercy of those influences. 

Contemplation can be a route to self-knowledge. Time spent reflecting on choices, preferences and aspirations can be informative. That can still leave us vulnerable to forming an opinion of who we want to think we are rather than an understanding of who we actually are.

One good source of information can be what other people reflect back to us about our qualities. The problem with this is that some people will reflect back harmful takes designed to hurt, limit and control other people. If you’ve grown up being told you aren’t good enough, it can be difficult to hear positive feedback from other people. Some people will try and project their own issues onto you rather than reflecting back anything about you. Some people simply won’t understand you and their feedback may not be helpful.

Criticism is not inherently more useful than praise. You can learn a lot from the good things people have to say, and the things they value about you. Those are firm building blocks and tend to be more reliable. Yes, there are people who will flatter because they think it’s going to advance them in some way, but they will likely try to be plausible. If you aren’t hurting people for giving you negative feedback you can afford to trust the people who speak well of you. Positive feedback is inherently more trustworthy than criticism because there’s a much lower chance that it is intended to manipulate you. People who want to make you feel good about yourself are a better source of feedback than people who want to hurt you.

I like to go into most situations with at least a vague plan and a clear sense of my own priorities. Every now and then I hit something that truly surprises me in that I react in a way I was not expecting. These are always rich opportunities for learning. It cheers me to find that I do not wholly know myself and am still capable of being surprised by my own responses. To feel something unexpected, or to be inspired into an unanticipated course of action is always interesting. Sometimes this is the only way to really measure growth and change.

Seeking out unfamiliar experiences can give us the opportunity to test ourselves. Who am I when I am challenged? Who am I in face of opportunity and set-back? What has the power to sweep me off my feet? 

For me, this is the essence of adventure – this opportunity to know something new and discover things about myself. I have no desire to settle or become one definite and fixed thing. I want to change, and I want to be surprised by how some of that goes.

Visualising Yourself

One of the many things that I learned from traditional witchcraft author Lee Morgan is how good it is to explore yourself through visualisation. When we’re working meditatively in a deliberate way, how we picture ourselves is very much part of what happens. We can choose who, or what to be without making any kind of commitment. Visualising yourself as other than you are can be a great way to develop empathy. It can also be incredibly liberating.

I’ve never been especially comfortable with the body I have. I’ve experimented with all kinds of ideas about shape, gender and species. On the whole I think I’d like me better with pointed furry ears. I think I’d like the kinds of legs that fauns and satyrs have. There are days when I’m fairly certain I would make a very good dragon.

One of the things I can do with all of this is put it into stories. There are plenty of us who, for all kinds of reasons, need the escapism of imagining ourselves as something else entirely. My most formative encounter in this regard was reading Clive Barker’s Imajica as a teen. In that novel there is a character whose gender expression changes in response to who they are with. How they seem is exactly how you want them to seem – which really would be the ultimate in people pleasing and I have issues on that score. Only one character sees this person as their whole self, and that for me was a defining moment in forming my ideas about love and romance.

I write nonbinary characters because it is one way of having that space for myself. What I’m most drawn to are the kinds of fantastical nonbinary characters who can be all genders or no gender at all, and whose physical realities transcend what regular human bodies do. I’m working on one at the moment but it might be a bit of a spoiler to say which book that’s in!

The Power of Absence

It’s all too easy not to realise what you aren’t seeing. I grew up with stories about kind and helpful little girls who were neat and good. All of the wild adventurers of my childhood stories were boys. All of the pirates and scientists were boys. I could have done with knowing about Mary Read, and Mary Anning at the very least.

It’s still the case that the odds of finding a film or series with an all male cast is far higher than finding an all female cast in anything. I seek out authors from diverse backgrounds, but mainstream publishing remains so white and middle class and much of it doesn’t speak to me. There’s a lot more queer representation than there used to be, but I grew up with nothing on that score. I grew up not having the words for the person I was, and having no maps or stories for how to move through the world as me.

Things are improving. Female people get to actually do things in stories more of the time rather than just being victims, motivation sources and prizes. I have seen nonbinary representation. There’s precious little polyamorous content. What’s most lacking is the content that isn’t about the struggle of being different – so often what mainstream publishers want from diverse people is basically their story of what a hard time they’ve had being diverse – stories of racism, of prejudice, of coming out. Not stories where diverse people get to do interesting things while being themselves. 

I see a lot of talk about this online from authors with all kinds of backgrounds who would like to write escapism and fantasy that comes from their own needs and preferences regarding fun things. It’s depressing not being allowed to do that, and not having those stories to read. Of course anyone who wants to write about their struggles should be supported in doing so, but that’s not what happens, often it’s the only thing people who are ‘diverse’ are allowed to write, and that’s so problematic in so many ways. 

Being High Maintenance

I’ve spent most of my life thinking of myself as a difficult person and trying not to be too much trouble for the people around me. It’s a way of living that has involved a lot of masking, and muting, ignoring my own feelings and generally being uncomfortable. In recent weeks I’ve done a lot of deliberate re-thinking around all of this.

One of the things that led me to the rethink was recognising how I feel about the high maintenance people in my life. There have been people I’ve stepped away from because I found them exhausting – people who seemed invested in drama for the sake of it, and/or who were relentlessly wallowing in misery over relatively small problems. That may be judgemental on my part, but I took my time coming to those conclusions.

I have high maintenance people who need a lot of input – usually emotional and intellectual input. I’m not so good at the tactile stuff so the people in my life with significant tactile needs tend not to bring that to me. I’ve spent years figuring out the warning signs for people I care about needing more than they are getting emotionally and mentally. I’ve developed strategies for helping people be a bit more comfortable around this. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy the challenge, the figuring out and the getting things right. The people in my life who need a lot from me are not a problem to me.

This got me thinking that perhaps it is ok to be high maintenance. If I don’t find it an issue in others, why should I consider it a problem in myself? It is definitely true that I will be an issue for some people. I get bored with trivial, superficial things. I need a steady supply of ideas and creativity to engage with. I crave intensity. There have been people for whom all of that was a problem, but that simply means we were not well suited to each other – there should be no value judgement involved. That I was judged over it and found problematic is not a measure of me.

There’s a relief in saying yes, I am high maintenance in some ways. Yes, that’s fine, that’s part of who I am. I am not going to be ideal for everyone. Some people are going to find me far too much trouble and that’s also fine, they are allowed. I do not have to be smaller and tidier to make them comfortable. I don’t have to stay around placating people who do not meet my needs and who do not like how I actually am. It’s turning out to be a liberating, affirming sort of process.

Story Compass – a review

Story Compass offers the reader an interesting and original set of tools for self discovery. You could use it as a workbook, or as the basis of a set of retreats, read it flat out and take what suits you, or dip into it.

I think there are several kinds of people who would particularly benefit from this book. It’s very much aimed at the reader who wants to explore themselves in a contemplative way, and who needs tools and maps for this. It assumes that you’ve not done a deep dive into your ancestry, or the water you swim in, and that you have yet to figure out how your culture, background and life experiences have informed you.

It’s designed for people who are not squaring up to massive trauma legacies. If that’s you, then this probably isn’t the ideal book and you’ll need to find something more trauma informed.

I think this book also has ideas to offer to new bards. If you’re starting out on a creative path and figuring yourself out in relation to the work you want to do, there’s a lot here that’s usable. The relationship between self and creation, history and inspiration, how we draw on experience and work with the material of our own lives is all highly relevant.

Taking control of your own story, and being the teller of your own life can be an incredibly powerful and empowering process. The stories we tell define us, and if that is something you have no idea how to engage with, this is a book, and a process, to consider.

The writing style is easy going and enthusiastic. If you like the idea of taking your inner child on an adventure, then you’re going to love this. There’s a playful, open hearted tone to the whole thing – which isn’t for everyone. If you suspect you might find that patronising rather than engaging, you might well not get along with this book.

The work outlined in Story Compass can be approached in a number of ways. You could be fairly pragmatic about it and go for imaginative journaling and creative thinking. You could use it as a guide for visualisations and journey work and really go for that – depending on your needs and preferences. One of the things I liked is how unprescriptive the author is when it comes to these kinds of inner journeys. You’re given the gist of where to go and what to do, but how that plays out is very much down to you. It made me realise how normal it is to see this kind of practice described in a lot more detail, where you are told what spirits or ancestors are going to say to you. I found it refreshing to see such open ended explorations.

I came to this title as a book reviewer interested in working with story. It’s not come to me at a time when I could personally make much use of the contents – although twenty years ago it would have been a divine gift to encounter something like this. It means that a lot of what’s here is not material I’ve felt moved to test – I’ve already done this sort of work, in my own ways so there’s not much for me to delve into and unravel. However, I think the whole approach is useful and fertile, and likely to be worth exploring for anyone who is setting out on a journey of self discovery.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/story-compass-journey-discovery

Masks and Authenticity

We all wear masks some of the time. We adopt ways of being that are necessary or appropriate for the roles we are performing. Who you are as a family member is probably not who you are at work or when you are socialising. These kinds of masks can be effective, protective measures that help you get through aspects of your life. They can also be exhausting burdens. Too much time feeling fake can undermine your sense of who you are and crushes your spirits.

To what degree do we become the people others expect us to be? Are we playing out roles we have chosen, or ones we’ve been cast in, perhaps even without our knowledge. Handing out roles is one of the ways in which families pass trauma through generations. Family stories can sorely limit who you are allowed to be and this can be incredibly damaging.

Are you playing the part of ‘cog’ in the theatre production Crushed To Death By Capitalism? Are you playing a role based on how your society views your gender or sexual identity? Who are you allowed to be? What is forbidden? How much of yourself do you feel obliged to hide?

How much room do you give other people to be authentic with you? Are you using techniques like minimising, or toxic positivity to stop people sharing anything that might make you uncomfortable? Do you punish people for not knowing things, for being anxious or for getting things wrong? If you do, then they have to learn to be dishonest with you around anything difficult. How do you treat other people when they act outside of their designated role? Do you have room for that, or do you want everyone else to stay in their neatly labelled boxes?

Many adults seem to me to be involved in a great deal of pretending. They dress the part, learn the lines, collect the correct props. They do what they are supposed to do according to the people around them. Where the props and costumes are expensive, many even imagine that the performance makes them important. That they have more rights than other people. That laws do not apply to them. Some of these make-believe games are seriously out of control.

Authenticity is not something we can pursue solely as individuals. It’s something we have to do collectively, making space for each other to be real as well as questioning when and how we fake things. Sometimes it’s ok to fake things. Sometimes the job requires pasting a cheery fake smile on your face and making other people comfortable. But we should think carefully about the roles we ask other people to perform.

The trouble with being a person

One of my early memories is of going to playgroup for the first time, looking at the other children there and having no idea what to make of what I was seeing. Throughout my childhood, people and social situations were scary and incomprehensible. 

Over the years I’ve put in a lot of work trying to make sense of people – as individuals, and as groups. Being a person has never come naturally to me and I mostly feel that I just don’t qualify as one. I’m currently trying to imagine a more cheering approach to this, hence the picture. I’d probably cope better with all aspects of life if I had enormous, creatury ears. 

This was based on a photo of me. Something about the lighting and my head angle combined to make me look more like my mother and great grandmother than I usually do.

Choosing who to be

In my late teens, I set about deliberately constructing a set of values to live by, and some aspirations about the sort of person I wanted to be. My twenties brought me a lot of challenges. I was living with someone who went to some effort to make me feel awful, useless and miserable. The things I had tried to do were weaponised against me. He’d tell me, for example, that I looked down on everyone else and this was evidenced by my holding myself to higher standards than other people. How do you go about trying to be the best person you can be in face of someone who treats that like arrogance and superiority?

When I first started talking to Tom online, he offered me a reflection of myself that was wildly different from the feedback I was otherwise living with. I felt like a shabby, unacceptable sort of entity. At the same time I desperately wanted not to let him down. I wanted to be the person he thought I was. I think that did a lot to hold me together and to give me motives for doing my best.

I’ve thought for a long time that your most authentic self is the person you aspire to be, and work to become. That’s not easy to do when there’s someone in the mix who sees you as your worst possible self, attributes terrible motives to your every action and reduces any good you try and do to ’virtue signalling’. Based on what I see online, there are some people who cannot imagine any other person having genuinely good or kind motives. When you start from that belief, anything another person does that seems nice must in truth be really nasty, manipulative, part of some plot or scheme that is even worse than the honest misanthropy they themselves are in to.

There are qualities I try to develop in myself. I want to understand people, because for me that’s the best basis I have for compassion. I want to be kind, without that enabling other people to be unkind. I try to be patient, but I do struggle with that. I try to notice how my own assumptions colour my interpretations of events. I don ‘t really mind whether anyone else notices me doing these things – I’m not in it for the applause, it’s simply about how I want to be in the world and what I want informing my choices and actions. I don’t always get this stuff right, but I’m also trying to learn how to be kinder to myself when I mess up.

There are questions I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. Could I have been kinder? Could I have been more forgiving, or more generous? I know I’ve been dealing with things where my failure to understand the other person’s perspective really hasn’t been helping, but I don’t have a lot of information to go on. How much slack should I cut myself for the way panic can influence my responses? Am I allowing the other person in this situation the same kind of understanding if this is because they are panicking? Do I have unreasonable double standards?

What I’ve learned is this: I have no hope of being perfect for anyone all the time. What I can choose to be is as fair and as careful as I’m capable of. I can choose to try. I can act on my best understanding of what kind and reasonable look like in a given situation. I am allowed to protect myself if I’m overwhelmed or not able to cope. I need to be ok with being fallible, because I’m human and I make mistakes. I need to be ok with not always being good enough by other people’s standards, especially when what’s wanted of me hasn’t been made clear. How I’m doing in terms of being who I want to be is not something other people can measure for me, and I should not allow anyone to tell me whether I am good enough in that regard.

Half Human – fiction

It is a half human.
Half female.
Perfect prayer to make balance.
No bad, No good, JUST exist.

Do you see me? Do you see my otherness, my difference, or is what speaks to you the parts of me that are resonant, similar? Can you forgive my non-human half in recognition of the ways in which we are akin? Only half human, only half female, can you make that be enough?

How generous of you!

And you wonder why I do not rejoice.

Where is the being who can look at me and see wholeness, not fragments? Who is the person for whom I too would seem fully a person? Can you look at my many parts and see perfection? For I am whole in myself, I am true and real, and not a creature of pieces. My facets are not brokenness, this is not contradiction, it is a completeness that your apparent humanness cannot embrace.

I do not want your pity.

Don’t bring me kindness and tell me you understand how hard it must be for me.

Bring me the wild wonder of recognising my existence.

(First text piece and art by Dr Abbey)