Posts Tagged sharing

Labels and Stories

I stare at the blank screen.

So much is going on in the world. What right do I have to ask your time to read my words? But the words want to be spoken.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved words and their power. Sounds, shapes, feel in the mind… so amazing.

And then I remember learning to Shut Up. That my opinion was stupid, laughable or just not worth hearing. People whose opinion I cared about deliberately turned away.

So I learned to stay quiet, to keep the words hidden in notebooks and boxes. To hide my tears, frustration and anger as it seemed others were allowed to speak – but not me.

Now, years later, I write for a living (sort of). I place these words with care, knowing that they might be helpful, interesting or inspiring for some, boring, difficult or annoying for others. That’s ok. I can’t control how my words are understood.

But I can control what I say. Tone, phrasing… and the ultimate point of Why I am Writing This.

Recently, the world has gone up a stage in madness. I believe it was inevitable – we really are in a Change Is Needed place right now, and such times are fuelled with passions. I understand (insofar as I can) and agree.

But our little individual lives go on. We try to help in our own ways, standing with our communities and hopefully acting honourably and with truth. Which is kind of what brings me here today.

I’ve often spoken about labels. How they’re more useful for the viewer than than labelled themselves; ‘Druid’ means something entirely different, for example, to me and then to a random stranger happening upon my work.

I’m seeing labels being used as weapons, as pigeonholes to box folk in, as titles to escape. Negative associations can be tough to remove. I see ‘protestor’, ‘looter’, ‘revolutionary’ being bandied about in the news, but each of those has an individual name – and a unique story.

Sometimes it’s easier to label someone and move on. If you’re not really interested, that’s your choice. But this casual laziness (and disrespect) means that you lose the chance to engage with something more than just a word.

It’s Pride Month right now, and I’m seeing so many different debates about relevance, meaning, identity and so forth. I’m glad people are still talking, sharing those stories and exploring their identities.

I hear them often, my rainbow friends. I see the slight nervousness as they speak sometimes, as if expecting a blow, or at least verbal abuse. The sadness, and then the joy as I continue to listen. Such a simple act, and yet so powerful – and I am honoured to be part of their tales.

Recently, though, it’s not been so much ‘they’ – as in, another person or group. I’ve been feeling more and more that it’s ‘we.’ That this is something I’m absolutely part of.

Years ago, I remember an elderly family member almost spitting at the television, they were so angry. Stephen Fry was speaking, and I wanted to listen. But to my relative… ‘Ooh, it’s that queer again, isn’t it.’

I stared. I quietly asked ‘What?’ He poured some more vitriol on The Gays and the channel was changed for the sake of peace. I felt sick.

I don’t understand that attitude. I want to know the person before I react to an amorphous group. And for this, I am myself a negative: a ‘wishy-washy liberal’. I’ve had similar bile thrown my way for standing up for friends who are somehow the wrong gender, colour, sexuality, nationality.

So many of us are standing up right now to protest this treatment. I can’t believe it still happens, but it is and we must. WE. Including me.

Difficult discussions are being had. Words have their meanings subtly changed and reclaimed. Understandings are being challenged. Normative thinking… may actually be a myth. And for those invested in it, that hurts.

I do sincerely hope that we learn from what’s happening in these times. I hope that positive change is crafted. I do my best, from my own positive of (white, educated) privilege.

I want to raise my voice. I am afraid of the brickbats that may rain down in response… but that’s actually always been something lurking beneath everything I write. ‘Who does she think she is?’ ‘Crazy woman, nutter, New Ager…’

And the worst, the laziest, most contemptible, gaslighting and negating insult: ‘She’s just doing it for the attention.’

I write and speak my truth as best I can. I try to use the labels that are given to me, as well as intentionally claiming some. I prefer Priest, because even as a child, I knew I was more than an ‘-ess’ stuck like an afterthought onto a man’s word.

I am both Priest and Priestess. Author and authoress. But I’m aspiring for the one that needs no ‘-ess’ to be strong and still female: Queen.

I will keep exploring. I will do my best to stand, to listen to all the stories regardless of teller. I will work to maintain safe space for those who need it.

And I’m taking on a new label for myself that I feel is overdue. Sod The Fear of reactions.

This Pagan, Druid, white woman is also Queer. Actively standing.

Let’s all work to make our stories good ones, moving forward.

Much love, my friends.

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Facing Dragons

I love walking in mud with no shoes. Because shoes weren’t really made for mud, were they? They get dirty so easily, and don’t really cling (unless they’ve got special soles). Toes were certainly made for gripping, holding us firm, telling us what’s underfoot and if it’s safe to proceed.

But we don’t walk barefoot in mud, do we. Pause now, think of all the reasons you’ve been told. You’ll get your feet dirty. Who knows what you’ll step in? It’s cold. It’s wet. Just the feeling of wet, dirty, squishy mud, full of horrors… urrrgh…

Have you ever tried? How about sand? Or grass? The worst surface to walk on barefoot, for me, is gravel or concrete. Hard, cold, with no grip. The natural earth is full of sensation, feeling, and it actually feels so much better. More natural, indeed.

Oh, and soap exists. We can wash our feet afterwards. It’s easy.

This thoughts came to me as I was navigating a tricky path this afternoon, walking the dogs. Yes, there was mud. Fields where cows had been. Slippery wooden stiles to climb over. Brambles.

Every step of the way, my shoes slipped and skidded, my coat caught in things… the very clothes I wore to keep myself warm and dry were actually impeding my progress. It was both funny and frustrating.

Yes, we do things a certain way for practical concerns. Of course we do. But it’s so easy to trap ourselves in the prison of what we ‘must’ do. Not because we decide, but because someone else has, and we obey unthinkingly.

It’s interesting to consider our own personal boundaries. Which ones have we put up, and why? Which ones did someone else build around us, which we might actually be curious to take down?

Not everyone likes bare skin on mud. But you could do it easily if you wanted to – that’s the example that came to my mind today.

I’ve also spun, arms thrown out wide, in a thunderstorm… on a busy high street, full of people scuttling past to find shelter. I’ve skipped down a London street with a friend, through falling snow, as people got out of our way. I’ve stood naked in a field in Oxfordshire, screaming at the sky.

For each of these, I either was (or would be) stared at. None are illegal. All are rather societally frowned upon. Not British, perhaps, or not done by ‘civilized’ people.

But oh, how freeing they were. To feel that urge within me and to follow through with it. To feel the fear-walls fall away: less like tumbling bricks, more like smoke, that faded as I pushed it, challenged it. Overcame it.

I think of close friends, and things they’ve done, which are marvellous to me. Walking alone through busy city streets on the far side of the world. Leaping from a plane, falling back to earth at the end of a thin rigging of cloth and rope. ‘Coming out’ – as a particular sexuality, gender or faith – in an unfriendly environment.

My little mischiefs seem trivial in comparison.

When I wrote my last post, I did worry. How many people would respond accusing me of ‘privilege’, of not knowing ‘how lucky I am’, of how I should ‘be grateful’. I was only talking about having photos taken, for goodness sake…

Words like that were the bars of my inner fear-cell as a child. Always being aware of how I appeared to others, and how I had to act. I always wondered why, how this sort of thing was known. I felt as if I’d been left out when the instructions on such things were being given out. My biggest mistake was often being honest. When I was, I usually got mocked, laughed at and ridiculed. I learned to stay quiet.

But the response that I actually got to my writing was wonderful. People thanking me for my honesty. For being so brave as to talk about such things. For putting into words what is so difficult to even feel, let alone express.

Whenever I let the words come. When I feel so full of emotion that I have to let it out, to express it in some way… people thank me. This confuses me – because as I said, that used to be precisely the wrong thing to do! But now I’m allowed to say it, somehow. Or rather, society has turned enough that we have learned to listen, both to the words being said and to the intention behind them.

I still see words being censored. I’ve had bosses tell me to ‘use different language’, that certain phrases are ‘too negative’. That’s because the situation is negative, perhaps? I see journalists fight in America to express bigger truths that need to be heard. I see everyone figuring out how to tell their own individual tale.

We can only share the stories as we live them. If this means identifying privilege as part of it, then so be it. I’m a white, cis-female, living in a wealthy country – of course my view is going to be limited to that. But this isn’t a prison either; it’s just a perspective. My story is no better or worse than anyone else’s, and by sharing, we can open the doors to each other’s experiences too.

I may be using hard language here. I’ve often felt ‘imprisoned’ by societal demands, by the expectations of others, of that strange ‘map of life’ that I’ve somehow stumbled away from (you know the one: birth, school, job, marriage, kids, death). I’ve often said that I left that behind a while ago. I’m in the back pages of the atlas now, drawing in the blank space. As the medieval maps would say, Here Be Dragons.

I’d rather the dragons of my own experience and exploration than those snapping at my heels. The adventures and stories give me the power to fight them… or fly.

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Dreams of Space

J.M. Barrie had a wonderful turn of phrase. “You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming?”

Sometimes dreams are so vivid, you wake up not knowing where you are. The world’s turned upside down as you’re forcibly pulled from one world to another. Sometimes you fight to return to a wonderful dream; others, you’re fighting to escape.

Last night, I had a nightmare so vivid that I woke up utterly confused, the realness of it so complete that I was almost bereft – at the same time as feeling glad, in the way of children repeating ‘It was just a dream, it was just a dream.’

I was searching for a place – my place. In the dream, this was a room that I had the key for, but which I kept being misdirected to. Rather than trying to escape from anywhere, I was sent wandering in circles through many different places, continually questing to find my place, where I could rest. Frustrated and tired, I found the room, turning that key in the door. It was beautiful, I was awed. But there were others there. It wasn’t actually mine at all.

Now, I have no doubt that psychologist-types out there will be making of that what they will. But the sense of that dream stayed with me long after I’d awoken. How often are we searching for our own space in life, whether this is a quest for freedom or just safety? Can any physical place be truly ‘ours’ – or is this just a state of mind? Or even nothing more than a dream?

The question of whether we can truly be ‘free’ is a philosophical debate that has run for many years, and will no doubt run for many more. Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people’ (from ‘No Exit‘) deals with it in terms of society and claustrophobia; the modern thriller movie ‘The Cube‘ unpacks the question of why we are here at all. Both are nightmarish, forcing the audience to face difficult concepts, but ones that we live with every day.

‘Freedom’ may be subjective, but I’m thankful for the fact that in the society in which I live at this time, I have enough freedom to be living more or less as I wish, with those I love, in a home of my own. And that I’m free to be writing this without fear of censure. Each of those things is a gift, which it’s easy to take for granted.

But our own ‘space’ is a little harder to define – for me, anyway. For some folk, it’s simple – demarcate with your ‘Stuff’, preferred decor, clear boundaries. Yet if you live cheek by jowl with family members, in a small apartment, in a loft, on a boat, or even in prison, personal space is brief and precious. It can be as necessary as locking oneself into the bathroom for a few minutes, or closing a door while housemates have gone out for a while. But such space is temporary. Energies inevitably ebb and flow, like strong-smelling cooking or loud music through a thin wall. That physical area may be ‘yours’, but others will intrude (knowingly or involuntarily). This may drive us to varying levels of crazy, but it still happens and we have to deal with it.

Being aware of boundaries is fairly crucial to Druidry. Where ‘you’ end and someone/thing else ‘begins’ – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, politically, energetically…

The ground inside a ritual circle is approximately of the same composition as the ground outside – except when we set the intention of that space through our work. And that circle isn’t just a circle at all: it’s a sphere, demarcating ground above, ground beneath and air around. Within which we stand – alone, and/or working with the combined energies and presences of others. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, yet that’s one of the basics of Pagan practice. No wonder beginners get overwhelmed easily.

But this, I think, illustrates personal and shared space. I may have ‘cast’ the circle, but that space is not truly ‘mine’ in terms of possession. I don’t ‘own’ the earth or the creatures in it, the trees around, birds, insects. Those innocently passing by have no idea what I’m doing. One fellow blithely wandered right through a ritual circle I was working on recently – with a cheery “hello”, but entirely ignorant. I had to laugh and carry on, factoring this in. No space can truly be ‘yours’ (nor truly ‘clean’), nor should such an impossibility be attempted.

But the space can be set for purpose. If that purpose is peace, safety, security, somewhere you can breath out and rest; or a workplace, designed to inspire thought and ideas. You cast your intention, pattern it with physical items that help (including such sensory tricks as incense or lighting), and voila – a cosy living room, inviting kitchen or sensual (yet restful) bedroom.

As humans, as individuals, we need to express ourselves and feel comfortable in places where we spend our time. Notably, our workplaces: a Dilbert-style office cubby-hole can be made personal and inviting (despite the best efforts of Health & Safety!). Our cars reflect our music tastes, or even our spirituality with rear-view mirror ornaments. I have a tiny Hedwig soft-toy under the dash, given to me as a ‘safe travel’ blessing.

And of course, there’s our bodies themselves, adorned with chosen clothing and jewellery, tattoos and perfumes. Exactly the same as our ancestors did, and our future ancestors will. We set our bodies as our own space, yes – but even this can be ‘shared’ (as anyone who’s allowed themselves to be ‘ridden’ by Deity will confirm). We rarely face the world naked; when we do, that in itself is a powerful statement, of both vulnerability and strength.

I think that my dream was reflecting my current concern about my work-life balance – or lack thereof. While I have set out ‘office-space’ in my home, what I do necessitates long hours, which is wonderful when inspiration hits in the small hours of morning or evening. But it’s very hard to walk away from. Conscientiousness goes too far – I find myself fretting over jobs not done, making it difficult to switch off and truly relax. My energy suffers, and I end up easily depleted and fatigued.

Ultimately, I need to reaffirm my boundaries. This does not mean panicking when others ‘invade my space’, whether physically or via telephone or email. I love what I do. But I need to reclaim my own space to recharge, reconnect, remember. Or I won’t be any use to anyone at all, let alone myself.

We can’t lose our sense of selves if we wish to be effective energy-workers – or workers at all. If we are truly aiming to help others, we need to be strong and fuelled, yet flexible and ready for anything. Because the Universe will throw it at us, if it thinks we need that wake-up challenge.

So I woke up. I will again tomorrow. With those I love, in my home, working within my community. I have the key to my space. Now to honour myself as I honour you all.

Questing & Magic: Painting inspired by my book (copyright Kenneth Walker 2012, may not be reproduced without permission)

 

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