Tag Archives: life

How long should we live?

We need to be ok with the fact that humans die. It’s a key part of being alive and there is a point at which trying to delay death becomes cruel, painful and unjustifiable. 

I’m very much in favour of preventing disease, preventing accidents and enabling people to live peacefully and well. I’d like to see far more investment in both research and education to support health and wellbeing. 

I feel strongly that anyone who is alive should have the right to a decent amount of life in as good a state of health as possible. In reality, your quality of life and healthcare will most likely have everything to do with your economic wealth. So when we’re talking about interventions that ‘save’ lives we’re often talking about extending the lives of privileged people who already have better than average life expectancies. Unhoused people have far lower life expectancies than housed people in the same societies but this seldom comes up around conversations about saving lives.

I don’t have any definitive answers here, not least because I think what’s really needed is to ask questions. We need to each ask ourselves about the lives and deaths we want for ourselves and for other people. 

How long do we expect to live? For much of human history, life expectancy was about thirty.

What conditions are we prepared to live in? We may not know the answer to that until we get into difficulty, but we should keep asking anyway.

Why do we treat some lives as disposable, yet are willing to go to great lengths to keep other people alive for as long as possible?

In what circumstances would we consider death a kindness?

How do we feel about life before death? How do we consider or contribute to quality of life for those around us and those we impact on?


Beauty or death – fiction

Beauty or dead.

Doll or human.

Her face is marble smooth. No traces of those imperfections that speak of life and humanity. She could well be a doll. She might be loaded with botox and carved to lifelessness by the cosmetic surgeon’s blade. Equally, that waxy perfection might speak of death and careful preservation.

Life, after all, is messy. Her dress is vibrant, but anyone can put clothes on a doll. Fashion is not proof of life. Look closer and you will see five hundred feathers, each carefully attached to give colour to her costume. It does not seem likely that this bounty came from living birds. You wonder how much of a market there is, killing beauty to profit from the plumage.

You think about the softness of skin that wrinkles with time and use. The way pores open and close in a living face, and changing patterns of blood flow give away mood and emotion. Her pallid features will not flush with desire or embarrassment. She will not sweat in a hot room, or become flushed and undignified from too much alcohol. You will not find a stray hair growing from her chin, or a childhood scar on her forehead.

Still you cannot tell, is she a doll, or is she alive? You try to read her eyes, which are too large and too bright. But even so, you think there is something in her gaze that speaks of longing.

Does she envy your marked flesh? Can those perfect, glassy eyes see the marks that time has left on you? Does she know that your humanity is written in those countless tiny signs? And you, in your living skin with every story time has etched upon you, are more beautiful by far than she could ever be.

(Art and prompt by Dr Abbey.)


Life stuff

Usually when I post about my life it’s because I can use examples from my experience to explore an idea and make a point. Sometimes I blog about seasonal experiences in nature and about overtly Druidic things I have been up to. Mostly I don’t blog about what’s going on for me in an everyday sort of way.

This week, has however dealt the kinds of curved balls that are having an impact, and may well continue to do so. This year in fact has dealt a number of curve balls that continue to have significant impact, but not all of that is about me, and without explicit permission, I don’t tend to write about what’s happening with the people around me. Some of the impact I’ve been writing about while missing out the underlying story.

On Monday evening, my husband Tom had a mild stroke and spent the night in hospital. There’s quite an age gap between us – I’m 43 and he’s 60. We met online many years ago when a publishing house put us together for him to do me a book cover, and we fell in love with each other’s work. We’ve been married ten years this month. The age gap has obvious implications but even so, I didn’t think we’d be in this territory so soon. On the whole, Tom is a fit and healthy sort of person with a decent lifestyle, but he is also a stress bunny, and that may have been what caused this.

There are economic implications to needing to take time off – we’re both self employed. We have savings, and our situation is not as dire as it might be – this kind of situation can cause financial disaster all too easily. I’m still working, and hopefully Tom will be able to get back to the drawing board soon, although he’s going to be working shorter days for a while.

The help, kindness and support flowing our way has been tremendous, and deeply comforting. If you want to help by throwing money at us, I have Ko-fi https://ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T and Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


Druidry and Life

What does it mean to live a Druid life? For some people it’s all about the magical side, the ritual, the deities. For some years now, my main areas of focus have been eco-activism, living in harmony with the planet, and how we think about being human, and interacting with each other. I’m interested in relationships with the land, and I blog about the bard path a bit. Often, I’m not making explicit how I see what I write about as being connected to Druidry.

Part of the ‘problem’ is that if you internalise something, it becomes less a conscious choice and more the water you swim in. Making the space to explore whether the water you swim in is the water you intended to swim in is always time well spent. Making things deliberate can be a good learning process. So, I shall try and take a step back and look more deliberately at how the Druidry is manifesting in my life and what I want to do with that.

I feel at the moment that I’m paused before a time of change. I’ve been making forays with my intuition and making space to invite magic into my life. My relationship with magic, deity and ritual is a bit messy, and for many years I’ve tended towards the pragmatic and had a complicated relationship with enchantment. I crave feelings of enchantment and wonder. I know how I got here, and perhaps I do know at this point how to change things. So there may be notes on the journey as I go along.

I’m going to make a point of writing with more explicit connections between life and Druidry. I think it will give me a good way to review what I’m doing, and I think other people may find it useful. Where, exactly, is the Druidry in my life? How do I reclaim magical possibility? How do I re-enchant myself? I’m curious to see if how I feel changes if I start making the Druid side of life a bit more explicit – even if it is only in my head.


Life and clutter

De-cluttering, like weight loss is often presented as a universal good. The ideal – of the tranquil, stuff-free home has some curious assumptions underpinning it, though.

The first assumption is that we have a lot of stuff we don’t need. Set yourself the challenge of getting rid of a hundred things! The second assumption is that the ideal living environment doesn’t have much stuff in it.

I imagine I’m not alone in finding largely empty, pristine spaces a bit intimidating. I like having things to look at – colour and disarray enhances that experience for me. I like the friendly feeling of being surrounded by life.

Not all clutter is created equally, but for me, life is messy. The table we work and eat at is fairly cluttered because it is also home to art equipment and books.  There’s a pile of things people are reading, or intending to read on the footrest. By the sofa, is the mayhem of a yarn stash being turned into things. In the bedroom, there’s a fabric stash I use for making, and rather a lot of books. There’s musical instruments, shelves of crafting gear, and the kitchen is a tad chaotic not least because food from scratch happens most days.

When looking at ‘clutter’ I think it’s important to look at the lifestyle that goes with the clutter. If you’re surrounded by things you don’t use and that are in the way, that’s an issue. If the mayhem is the side-effect of creativity, of people doing stuff (games, toys etc) then to get rid of the clutter is to get rid of the life. In a perfectly tidy home, with no piles of work in progress stuff, what would I do?


No one gets out of here alive

As far as I can tell, I have always had a consciousness of mortality. As soon as I had the words available to me, I started asking awkward questions about death, and god, and eternity and all that stuff. As a three year old proto-existentialist, I was sent to Sunday School. If anyone had taken me seriously, I’d probably have signed up in earnest. I needed answers. What I got was fuzzy felt and things to colour in.

During my childhood I managed to make some peace with the idea that everything dies, the distance between stars, and what it would mean to go on forever. Sometimes these things kept me awake at night. I hit my teens determined to live as though any given day might be my last. It’s a philosophy that has, on the whole, stood me in good stead. That ‘might’ is important because it creates room for long term thinking, too. Along the way I have buried friends, and watched friends suddenly bury loved ones as well. Disease, and accident can come out of nowhere. We do not know how long we have, and we don’t know how long anyone else has, either.

That consciousness of death stops me from taking anything or anyone for granted. It hardwires gratitude into my awareness, because every day I get to the end of without having lost something or someone precious to me, is a bit of a win. I tell the people I love that I love them, because I won’t take the risk that no further opportunities to say it may arise.

Death has taught me that the things we regret not saying and not doing can really stay on and haunt you. It’s not the mistakes that hurt, it’s the failing to sort them out afterwards. The questions not asked, the words left unspoken.

Being afraid of death may make a person wary of acting, nervous about living. To be oblivious to death can be to make poor risk judgements, or to fail to really grasp the moment. A consciousness of death keeps life in perspective. It shows up the petty dramas for what they are, and it also throws a thwacking great spotlight onto the bits, the people, the things that really matter. It means not putting off until tomorrow anything that can be done today, in case the opportunity doesn’t come round again. It means squeezing as much out of living as is possible.

I don’t always get this right of course. Some of my priorities haven’t been too clever, and there are still things I regret not saying, and things I cannot fix. But on the whole, my consciousness of limited time has served me well. It colours every choice I make, everything I say yes to and everything I decline. I have an awareness that you can turn out to be saying ‘no’ forever if someone dies, and not know when you said it, that it would be such an absolute. I take my smaller decisions seriously as a consequence. Often, the little things are all any of us has, and they become the big things by dint of timing and context.

It’s not a dress rehearsal, this, so far as any of us know. We might be collecting points towards a shiny afterlife, but then again we might not. I prefer to live as though this is all I’m getting – it focuses the mind somewhat. I know there are some schools of thought that without a sense of afterlife and consequences, we will live irresponsibly and without virtue. I don’t find that to be the case, but instead feel that the desire for a life lived well is motivation enough to try and do the right things for the right reasons.


Letting people go

When do we give up on someone? When is it ok to decide that the other person is not worth your time and bother? How much effort is too much effort? Who does not deserve your care, friendship, support?

These are questions we need to ask not just at a personal level, but also at a political level. There are a lot of impoverished, hungry, homeless people in the world. Refugees from war zones and tyrannies, more local victims of capitalism, the ill and disabled. A lot of our ‘leaders’ are of the opinion that we can let these people go, they do not matter. We can leave them to die. Internationally, too many ‘leaders’ seem to be viewing humans as either useful little units of production and consumption, or not worth their bother.

At a personal level, we are each of us finite beings. We have only so much time end energy to deploy. Who gets that time? Is it sucked up by a social media troll? Is it spent arguing with people who have no desire to listen? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking these things are good stands taken for your cause, but the energy spent to outcome ratio isn’t persuasive, all too often. What happens if we let the not-listening don’t-care people go? It frees up time and energy to connect more usefully with people who are doing something useful, certainly.

Again at the personal level how much time do we have for the ill, the disenfranchised, the fragile? Any of us could end up there, although we might prefer not to think about it. Many people who are in crisis can’t be fixed with a kind word or a good deed, often it takes a lot more than that. How do we balance that with our own energy needs? When is it ok to say ‘you are too difficult and I can’t help you anymore?’ How do we distinguish between real need, and people with leeching habits?

There are no easy answers here, because so much of this has to be worked out on a case by case basis. I am going to argue against impossible fights with wilfully deaf opponents. I can’t save everyone. You can’t save everyone. None of us has much of a shot at saving people from themselves when they are their own worst enemies. We need to be kind to ourselves alongside being kind to each other or we just end up with more broken people. As individuals, we really need to consider our responsibilities and recognise at the same time that those responsibilities have to be finite because we are finite.

At a government level, every life matters. No one should live in poverty in this world that clearly has more than enough resources for everyone. No one should live in grotesque excess while others starve, and people are more than production units. Any government that thinks some of its populous doesn’t matter and is expendable and not worth bothering with, is a government that needs to be replaced.


Speaking of the dead

For many of us in Western cultures, it can be the case that we get into our thirties before even losing grandparents. We’re a long way from the ancestors who would have lost siblings and friends as a normal part of growing up, and from a world in which death was a normal part of life. The Victorians had a huge culture around the etiquette of mourning. So many older cultures had complex rituals of death and grief, but we’ve lost that. And so, when death comes into our homes, it comes as a shock, with little framework to support you and little information about how to cope.

My friendship circles have always extended well beyond my age group, and I’ve always had a lot of people in my life – at least as casual acquaintances, which I think is part of why I’ve had more contact with death than many people my age. There are a number of things that can be surprising in the aftermath of losing someone, but which are entirely normal. If you can think of more, please do put them in the comments.

Shock and disbelief are very normal reactions, and they can come and go. You think you’ve got to grips with the idea of the person being gone, and then you imagine telling them about something, and the enormity of grasping that you can’t have that conversation, comes back. This just takes time, unpicking your life from the life that is over, and rebuilding a sense of reality in which the lost one is no longer a physical presence. There can be a sense of guilt, sometimes especially when a younger person dies. There can also be a sense of being abandoned or in some way betrayed. This is really hard to acknowledge because, suicide cases aside, it seems irrational. The person did not choose to die and leave you, and yet it can so often feel as though they did. Why couldn’t they wait for you? Why couldn’t they still be there when you need them? It’s part of what death does to us, and the best advice I have is work it through, and don’t beat yourself up for feeling it.

Somewhere after the bereavement, you may start thinking about the future, all the things you won’t get to do, or share, all the things they will never see. These hurt, and again, there is a process of reconciliation to go through. I’ve found I also think about the past, the things I got wrong, the things I never thought to ask about. All the stories, knowledge and life history that I didn’t absorb, gone forever now, lost to me. I regret the things I never said, and never did, and I think we all do. Death tends to bring that into focus. The best thing to do with that focus is not to obsess over what cannot be changed, but to look to the living, to the people you still have and those other lives where there is room to do more. Older relatives, the ones who were always there, are easily taken for granted, death can teach us to do differently and view the time we have as precious.

When a younger person dies, the sense of unfairness is crippling. All the things they will never do, and the sheer lack of justice in it can make you question everything. For people who believe in benevolent deity, this can make for a very testing time. Why did it happen? Why did the benevolent deity not prevent it? People have been facing this one since the dawn of humanity. Standard answers include the gods having a plan we do not know about, the gods gathering the best ones to them, and so forth. Deep grief is probably not a good time for this kind of soul searching. Try and hold a space in which you can grieve, do whatever it takes to get you through and consider your relationship with reality later, if you can.

It can be hard to know how you are ever going to laugh, or smile, or feel good about anything, ever again. The idea of even being happy can feel like a betrayal of the dead one. Looking around, you see the potential for death in everybody else, and the certainty of loss. The world is terrifying when you can see death in everyone’s eyes. In many ways, this is a good sort of fear. It makes us hold more tightly and love harder. Take that fear and turn it into love, because that really is the only thing you can wield against death. Love survives, and what we carry of a person within us survives, and something goes on.

Tell stories. When you are in pain, tell stories about the person you lost. Find other people with stories and get them to share. Keep telling those stories. Even if you do it with tears streaming down your face and a lump in your throat so big you can hardly speak, keep talking. You honour the dead by remembering them, and you will ease your own heart by speaking in this way.

The most important thing to remember is that it is a process. It’s often not a coherent process, it seems to throw you back and forth. Grief is something that happens to your body and your mind, and that needs to be allowed to work through. Fighting it makes it worse. The deaths of people we care for are an inevitable part of life, and we do not talk enough about what happens to the living at that point.


Of work, time out, balance and crotchet

Technically you can spend your every waking hour working on something. I’ve tried, I’ve watched others. Mostly what happens is that inspiration, energy and efficiency decline in a steady and dependable sort of way until you’re left exhausted, miserable, thinking you should be working all the time, not knowing what to do if not working, and essentially unable to work. In terms of getting anything done in the long term, working yourself into a hole is no kind of answer.

Working on a computer, where most of my ‘product’ is virtual, I find I need regular doses of real stuff too. It’s nice when the physical versions of books turn up, that feels real, but it’s not the same as working hands-on. Balance is increasingly important to me, and I find I need to strike those balances over longer time frames, not just on a daily basis. There has to be time for play, time to do nothing, time to seek inspiration, and time for doing.

One of the things I’ve learned it’s useful to do, is to draw breath between projects. Often projects are overlapping so that when one ends, it can be tempting to just carry on, transferring attention to others, but it’s not been a good strategy for me. I’ve often got a piece of fiction or two on the go, as well as the graphic novels (admittedly, Tom has most of the work there) and the Druid writing. But, the end points need celebrating. And it’s important to stop. So, I’ve finished a thing this week. It’s verse, light hearted and aimed at children, a huge departure from anything I’ve done before. I love striking out into new things, I hate being in a rut, the diversity I like in my work is definitely part of my sense of balance. Still running… words for a joint novel writing project and a poetry collection that could be assembled soon, and a story I’m still typing up. I’m in research mode for the next Druid book, and I’ve got the title of another project on my list, waiting for me to start. But not this week.

Having finished the verse collection for now, I’m having some days off – just doing email, editing and blogging, which are the things that give me structure. I find I need a little structure to offset the chaotic ways in which I work, and that these three things are enough to give me that. Another exercise in balance there. So, tomorrow I shall spend some time with some ducks, I think. Today, I have started a crotchet project. This is wholly different from having a writing project on the go, as its mostly restful for the brain rather than taxing, gives me time to daydream or listen to the radio, or chat, and results in a thing I can hold. I’ve always found a kind of soul satisfaction in making things I can hold in my hands. Tomorrow, I may get the paintbrushes out and make colourful splodges with the child.

I know, that through doing this, I will be able to write more effectively when I dive head first into the next project. Working with my hands gives my brain time to ferment ideas and brew things into new combinations. The daydreaming is essential. A life that is just work leaves little room to daydream, and soon there’s no aspiration, no longed for destination, and no content for stories. I also find a lot of inspiration in play, mucking about with friends and family, letting ideas and jokes build and roll. Some of my best writing ideas have come from just that.

I like the zen saying: before enlightenment, fetch wood, carry water. After enlightenment, fetch wood, carry water. It doesn’t matter what spiritual or intellectual, or emotional thing we’re doing, it’s vital to stay balanced, to be earthed by something real on a regular basis.

Before fiction writing, crotchet. After fiction writing, crotchet. At least for this week.


Laughing at Disaster

When the Gods close one door for you, they often make good and sure they’ve got your fingers in the doorjamb first.

Yesterday was just one of those days, watching thing after thing go wrong, fall apart, fall over, from the trivial – my punctured tyre – to the epicly bad – a promise dishonoured that puts us in an awkward position. When the final one came in, there was nothing to do but laugh at the sheer ludicrousness of it. I had said only that morning how little faith I have in any ideas of safety, security or things being dependable. Ah, the smug joys of pessimism!

The big, critical things I’ve needed to have go right, have done so. The last year or so has been an intense exercise in finding out what I can’t do without, and what is not so important. Every ‘disaster’ is a lesson in what really matters. Yesterday’s blow had really knocked my mother, but there I was, shrugging, figuring out the implications and how to work round them. Another day, another betrayal, another solution.

There’s been no shortage of blows and losses. With each one, comes a process of refining and clarifying. A paring down to the bone, that used to shock and distress me, but as there’s less and less flesh to hack off, it hurts less, and the bones underneath turn out to be strong and reliable.

There’s a strength and certainty that comes from knowing what is essential, and what is not. It’s so easy to be bowed down even by the small setbacks, the tiny losses that seem enormous if you don’t have them in perspective. I lost my home. Which is nothing compared to keeping my emotional freedom and keeping my child safe. Financially I’ve been totally compromised – but I’m still viable, and that’s all that is needed. I could go on, down a long list of things stripped away. The loss of community hurts, but I still have contact with people so that’s not all gone. Friendship holds even at a distance, and people understand why I’ve had to cut and run.

What can I not do without? My awesome bloke and my brilliant child. Beyond that, we need a roof over our heads, enough money for the basics, and the rest, if needs be, we can muddle through on. While we have each other, while we have love and friendship and plenty of imagination, we can get by without most of the toys and distractions, if needs be.

The Gods slam another door, fingers are bruised. We stop and swear, and we nod in recognition. Yeah, we see you. Fine, you’re sending us another one? We’re still standing and there are still plenty of doors. We’ve got what matters most – we’ve got each other. The rest really is just detail.