Democracy isn’t picking the nicest guy

You know what’d be good, and I accept this might be a radical and naive idea, would be if instead of MPs, we had ‘elected representatives’. Not people we voted in because we liked their opinions, but people chosen to listen to the people in their area and represent those views before the current government in charge.

I’d like to sit Nick Clegg down and say ‘Listen you spineless weasel (which essentially makes him a small and ineffective draught excluder, but that’s another story for another time), I don’t give a shit what you think. It’s not your job to have an opinion, it’s your job to represent the opinions of your constituents. You are not a leader, you are messenger, to whom WE have given power and authority to effect change. But not YOUR change. So do your fucking job.’ And then I’d punch him in the face and fly home on my unicorn. Sigh.


Rise and Root – a rune for the revolution

A few years ago a wonderful creative wild woman called Rima Staines posted on her blog a vision for subverting the blandness of the rat race we inhabit. She crafted this beautiful image for all of us to share, to draw and paste and print and stick and share as widely and as brilliantly as possible.


“I suppose I wanted to plant my revolution-seed in the dirt in the cracks of the pavements, in the dirt between the formica and polyester, in the dirt pushed to the edges of millions of touchscreens, in the dirt underneath escalator rails and hygienic hand-dryers. Like the gargoyles and marginal grotesques of the middle ages, I wanted to coax beauty in once more like a stranger to the citadels of public ugliness we all have become so used to. I wanted to surprise and unnerve and delight and disedge all the lovely human beings who have grown so unseeing in the unbeautiful subway of their daily rush through these places.”

I think we can all plant seeds like this. It’s what draws me to craftivism, and leaving my own art for people to find. It’s what keeps me looking up, when all around me hurry along with heads bowed against the wind and the dirt and the heaviness of surviving. Just seeing, just slowing down and looking around, is a radical act of dissent in this world of instant gratification and relentless productivity.

Rima also gives us a rune, which came, she says, through a dream, and via birch trees and sketchbook became this:riseandrootrune

Take this, Rima says, “as a symbol we’ll all recognise when it’s chalked on our doorsteps, and tattooed on our foreheads.”

You can (must) read her blog post here, and check in the comments for links to the full-size images, as well as wonderful discussion as to the etymology (for want of a better word) of this rune. These images are a gift for the revolution. Take them, she says; take them and run.

Checking in, and checking out

Gotta love a smartphone. It’s like I open my eyes, and the first thing on my mind is ‘I wonder what’s going on in the world? What are the media saying about Jeremy Corbyn today, have there been any terrible disasters in the last seven hours, who’s died, who’s been saved, who’s been taking cool photos, who’s liked that witty remark I made on Facebook last night, what’s happening in the Arctic, in Syria, in Australia, in somewhere random I just spotted a mildly interesting article about?’

I tried that this morning, and it was surprisingly boring. So I think I’m done checking in with the world outside, it’ll still be there later. I’m going to start my days checking in with where I am, with who I am.  I sat in bed this morning and ran a quick diagnostic – how’s my back feeling this morning? How is my stiff shoulder, any better? Hey brain, how are you? It’s grey outside the window, that’s going to have an effect – think you can cope with that today? I checked in with my heart, asked how it was feeling, what it wanted to do today. Aside: There is a reason the heart is associated with love, with emotion, and it’s probably more amazing than you think. Your heart has neurons, like your brain, did you know that? Have a wander round this conversation and its associated links. Anyway, aside from the science, it’s just how I work. I check in with my head, and I check in with my heart, and I learn from them both. So sue me.


I left the internet on my bedside table, and I walked the dog in the woods. I checked in with the trees, their leaves just starting to hint at a turn to autumn hues. I saw the moorhens looking for insects in the damp grass, and the crow family (two adults, one juvenile, and one extra – maybe a chick from last year, they do come back to help with future siblings) in their usual spot, pecking around, then flying up to a low branch to caw indignantly at my dog. I walked by the stream, which was chuckling faster and cloudier after last night’s rain, and paused to look for the brown trout that always spend the mornings swishing lazily under the bridge. I couldn’t see them through the murk, but they were there somewhere, swishing their tails and thinking trout thoughts. I listened to two robins, chatting to each other across the path, and I watched the grey clouds gradually break apart ahead of a band of clear blue sky.

My lunatic hound didn’t spot any squirrels today (thank goodness, or I’d most likely still be in the woods now, whistling loud whistles and looking like a woman who’s pretending to own an invisible dog), but still had her usual fun five minutes, racing round in large circles, chasing off the pigeons, and spattering me with wet mud every time she charged past. Dogs know how to enjoy the world. Dogs don’t worry about the opinions or body images of other dogs they’ve never met.

OK, I've run, I'm good now.

OK, I’ve run, I’m good now.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, living in the Information Age, but I just like to know I can put it aside, and live in the moment.  Because isn’t that all life is, a series of moments? I don’t want to lie on my death bed and think ‘I never noticed the seasons change, but at least I know why Australians put their onions out that one time.’

Happy Tuesday everyone. How are you today?

Amanda Palmer, soft fruit, and sharing.

I was in Manchester yesterday, to see the one and only Amanda Palmer, and ask if she’d sign my book. Or her book. Whatever. Look, she wrote a book, and it’s really really inspiring and beautiful, and I have a copy, and now she’s signed it for me, and I’m very happy (if a little short on superlatives – I’m tired, OK?). If you haven’t listened to her music yet, or read The Art of Asking, then you absolutely should.

Title page of The Art of Asking, signed 'For Abi. Take the fucking donuts'

Read the book. You’ll understand.

ANYWAY. I was in Manchester yesterday, and it was gorgeously sunny, and massively busy, and I was hungry after standing in a queue in Waterstones (ZOMG so many lovely booooks) for two hours. There was a hot dog stand, which was tempting (and I can never work out why), but I decided to stop at the fruit and veg stall nearby and buy a punnet of cherries instead.  And as I walked back towards the station, through the sunshine and the crowds and all the people trying to give me leaflets, I discovered something amazing. Enlightenment through soft fruit choices: I had something to share. Giving people (especially strangers) things is often weird, and hard to stop from feeling like charity. But somehow sharing things is completely different.  It’s like people are happier to take something from you if you are still keeping some – or most – of it for yourself. That way they are receiving, but not really depriving you of anything, so they are not in your debt. And you know what’s great for sharing, on a sunny hot day in a big city? Cherries.

Punnet of dark red cheries

Tiny morsels of pure joy

“Leaflet?” “No thanks, but would you like a cherry?” “Oh, how kind, thank you!” That kind of thing. I’ll borrow from Amanda Palmer’s book here, but really, it’s exactly how it happened to me too – people were surprised when I spoke to them instead of mumbling  a ‘no thanks’, or just striding past, eyes averted. Handing out leaflets, or newspapers, that nobody really wants, must be a thankless job indeed, and it was lovely to look people in the eye and say ‘would you like a cherry?’ – which really meant, ‘I see you.  You are a person, like me, and it’s a hot day.  Have some fruit.’ There was a homeless guy with a massively chunky Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who asked if I had any change. I had to admit that I’d spent my last change on cherries, but would he like a cherry? He said no thanks, but we had a chat anyway, and his scary dog with a head the size and weight of a bowling ball climbed on my knee and licked my ear.  I may have made a complete cabbage of myself when I came face to face with one of my heroes (I have no recollection of what I mumbled at the lovely Amanda, it was probably cringeworthy), but through her inspiration and permission, if you like, I shared a connection, and smiles, and a lot of cherries, with some complete strangers – who I’m sure are somebody else’s heroes in their own right 🙂

Because sanity

My lazy dog lying on the grass in the sunshine

Be More Dog

Saturday was exciting, I had it all planned out.  Saturday Achivements:

1: Have shower
2: Get bus into town and meet up with IDAHOT (yeah, no B, as per always, don’t get me started) demo
3: Swish carefully across and join up with anti-austerity demo and march
4: Treat self and kids to nice cafe thing
5: Use opportunity of being in town to buy more school socks for Wonderboy
6: Shopping
7: Home, walk dog, make dinner, clear up, maybe watch a film. Etc.

Yeah.  I hate town even on a normal Saturday. I don’t like crowds, and I find having to juggle kids’ expectations/blood sugar levels/boredom thresholds/etc extremely stressful. But this was IDAHOT, dammit, and a country-wide anti-austerity protest; it was IMPORTANT.  Anyway, come the morning, both the smalls were telling me they were tired, and did they have to go into town, and how long would we be in town anyway, and blah blah blah. Yeah, you can see where this is going.

So I thought for a bit, and explained to my kids that what we were planning on doing today WAS important, but that nobody can help others if they do not first take care of themselves, and what I was hearing – from both them and my inner self (I call her Sophia; she’s one smart cookie and I should pay her more mind) – was that we could put our shoulder to the wheel of lefty liberalism (for want of a better term), and break in the process, or we could step back, recharge, and fight better for it. They both reckoned that was about right.

Anyway, I think I’ve posted before about doing-it-all parenting, and how I’m done beating myself up for not keeping up with it, so it is without regret that I can list my Actual Saturday Achievements as:

1: Had shower
2: Shopping (bought lots of junk food)
3: Had picnic (took dog with us)
4: Made dinner
5: Watched a film
And, overall and most importantly, 6: Didn’t lose my shit

So apart from the shopping, I actually had quite a relaxing day, how radical is that? Yeah.

Gender inequality in sci-fi/action films. By my nine year old.

Guest post by WonderBoy (age 9 3/4). Homework: Having learned about protest songs in class, write a protest rap on an issue of your choosing. So…

When I watch a movie
With a snack and a smoothie
I notice that all the stars are dudes
And the women look half nude

When a female character’s about to die
They just have to get rescued by a guy
They’re never stars, they’re just girlfriends
And when they’re kissed, the movie ends

So what I really want to ask
Is why half the people in my class
Are told they can’t be tough
‘Cause they just ain’t good enough

Yeah, you’re a good egg, son. Happy International Women’s Day everybody!

What has Art ever done for us?

[Disclaimer: this made a lot more sense in my head. If this post is coherent to you, please leave a comment with your thoughts, so I know I’m not just babbling!]

I was talking to a new acquaintance recently, and – as it ever does when people ask what I do – the question came up: “So what is Dark Mountain then?”. No matter how many times I attempt to answer that question, I can never really answer that question.  When I started to explain I said things like ‘Well, it’s a bunch of artists, musicians, writers, creative types…’ and about events, and books, and conversations, and music, and what happens if we can’t change the world, what if we have to change ourselves instead, and stuff like that.  And as I talked there was this little voice in my head saying ‘no matter how you paint this, it’s just a bunch of self-absorbed navel-gazers making pretty things – how on earth is “Art” changing *anything*?’. But I ploughed on, and when I started describing The Telling, something suddenly clicked. It can change *everything*.

Wide view of festival space with a marquee and a yurt. People standing, and sitting, but all in small groups talking to each other.

Uncivilisation (Dark Mountain festival) – it’s people, talking to each other. [Photo: Bridget McKenzie]

When we put on The Telling, we knew what was needed to run an event. We all had the rules inside us – we need budget, a venue, sound, lighting, funding, acts, ticketing…. We had none of these things, but instead of working our way around these problems (we can run a generator from X, we can hire out a hall from Y, we can book Z and price the tickets to cover their fee, etc) – we scrapped them. We ran a successful event, by doing it wrong.  Because guess what, maybe it isn’t “wrong” after all. And isn’t this the essence of Dark Mountain? The rules we live by, the ‘right’ way to get things done – they are not rules, they are stories.  And stories can be rewritten. Stories are always rewritten. Look at all the excitement (well, I’m excited anyway) around the new publishing of “Grimm’s” fairy tales, now that we find the Grimms cleaned them up and smoothed their harsh edges once they realised people were reading their books to their darling children. The stories were rewritten to ensure certain rules remained untouched. (Digression for background: the original tales had mothers doing horrendous things to their children, the Grimms were not about to have the sacred pedestal of motherhood sullied by such cruelty, so changed the wrongdoers into stepmothers.) Anyway, back to the point (I’m sure I had one somewhere).  Art doesn’t tell, it shows. If you tell people to change the rules, you’re just giving them another set of rules to follow, and perpetuating the myth, the story if you like, of ‘them and us’. They are the people who do things, we are the people who watch them being done. If something needs doing, we ask the people who do things to do it. Witness: petitions, writing to the council/the papers/your MP and so on. I’m not saying this doesn’t work, I’m saying it is not the only way of working.Promo flyer for The GIfting event in Doncaster We were a bunch of artists, writers, musicians, storytellers, dancers, and we put on an event that didn’t tell people ‘this is how to change things’, it showed them. We were told this wouldn’t work, that we were doing it the ‘wrong’ way. But it worked, so it wasn’t ‘wrong’. Through the skills we have as artists and creatives, we showed people a different way of doing, and we encouraged them to join in.  And hopefully, all those people – you – will be able to think huh, maybe I could do something too. Well, you’re not wrong.