Swift, Celebrity, Stories and Sovereignty

Yes, I am a Swiftie. Unabashedly a Swiftie. Always have been, most likely always will. I’m loving the new song (total earworm!) and the video is a little bit of genius. It’s also gotten me thinking, which is what all art/social commentary should do, no?

Musician and singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt has spoken about the cult of celebrity for a few years now, how it has changed music makers from being artists to being commodities.  The face of music has changed so drastically in the last ten years that it’s becoming more and more difficult to express yourself musically, as an artist, rather than going for the superficial jugular of celebrity status. While I’m not saying that Taylor Swift has never sought celebrity, this clever woman has criticised it and examined it from many angles over the span of her career.

Taylor Swift’s most recent song and video, “Look What You Made Me Do“, is another critique of how people see her, based on assumptions made from the media, other artists, the haters and the Swifties alike. (She previously covered one assumption a few years back in her video, “Blank Space“, poking fun at the  media image of her being an over-emotional, co-dependent serial relationship junkie.) It’s a very good tongue-in-cheek look at the many personas that others have created for her, such as the leader of “The Squad” (a media reference to her circle of famous friends), her so-called “surprise face” when she wins awards, her “love” of playing the victim and more. Before the song was released, Taylor had wiped all social media, deleted all Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, as well as having her website simply showing a black screen. It’s a very shrewd move, personally deleting everything that the media could interpret about her, which she knows as well as we do that it’s only a part of who she is, a representation of a facet of a person. No one is their Facebook or Twitter account.

Taylor Swift ReputationThe song and video also points out that we need to take responsibility in our lives, which includes personal and emotional responsibility. The title, “Look What You Made Me Do” is referencing that fact that we often blame others for so many things, which engenders a lack of personal responsibility when it comes to the art of basic living. We need to take responsibility back for ourselves, for our actions, our words, our thoughts and emotions. When we do so, we pull of the mask that allows us to stay in our wounded selves, and to fly free with the wings of freedom and sovereignty. The reaction of others to this, well, what can I say? Some may praise you for it, some may criticise, some may hate and some may love you for it. The title is also a comment on how the media have created and fabricated all these stories about her, making her as a media-created character do and say things that are completely false. Taylor Swift’s new album (available beginning of November) is called Reputation, is yet another examination of the power of story, and who is telling it, and to whom.

This year, on a pilgrimage to Glastonbury, I met with the goddess Bloedewedd at the White Spring. She cautioned me to choose the mask that I wish to present to the world, otherwise others would do it for me. As I was watching Taylor’s video, these words came back to me, reflecting that everyone needs to choose, otherwise the choices will be made for them. Some would argue that we should simply take off all masks, and I would agree with this statement up to a point. We need boundaries, and certain barriers in place for different situations.

When I am working in a professional capacity, I can’t be the silly goof that I am in my dance troupe, twerking in the middle of a choreography just to make the others laugh. When I am teaching, I can’t be the child running to the bottom of the garden in search of faeries, or seeing how much of the alphabet I can burp after several glasses of Prosecco. We have different masks, different hats that we wear in different situations, because I am a daughter, a wife, a Druid, an author, a dancer, a woman, a teacher, a friend, a sister, a lover. To some, I am even a challenge, an enemy, a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar, and more. While this may not be true, other people’s interpretation of me is something that I have very little control over. They may have their reasons for believing in the story that they hold of me, they may not. But we have to remember: it’s just a story.

What is important is that our story is something that we can be proud of. Not in order to impress others, but for ourselves, so that we can move forward and add to our story with honour and integrity. We can shake off other people’s perceptions of us, because we have very little control over that anyway. We can choose to not be commodified inasmuch as we are able, and to take the reins in our journey and guide ourselves towards the sovereignty and the story that we wish to fulfill. Only we know the truth of our story, the terrible lows and the glorious highs. Only we can choose to move forward with honesty and good self-examination, in order to achieve our goals and to live a life that’s more integrated, with deep and sustainable relationships.

I’m proud of my story.

And so is Taylor Swift.

 

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Compassion on a Tuesday Morning

22 people died last night in a bombing of a pop concert in Manchester. The first thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning was a post from a friend, who had said that they had reached compassion capacity, and that they simply shrugged and got on with getting ready for work, as there was nothing they could do anyway.

I hope never, ever to become this way.

It is my firm belief that we only allow ourselves to be de-sensitised. No one can de-sensitise us in today’s easy, modern world (I’m talking about people who have decent jobs, put food on the table, have a place to live and also have money left over for some nice things, like socialising). It is a choice that we make to turn ourselves off to the world.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who are seriously hurting right now. They can’t shrug it off and go to work. They have lost children, parents, brothers and sisters. Those who survived are in pain, undergoing or awaiting surgery at one of the six hospitals in the area that took these emergencies. If these people can’t turn off, then I certainly can’t.

There is no limit to compassion. Let me repeat that: there is absolutely no limit to compassion. We can have compassion for anyone. That doesn’t mean we tolerate bad behaviour or condone violence in any way. It means that we do not turn off that very essence of what makes us human, that ability to feel, to empathise, to look deeper into an issue and to offer healing, support, prayers and love where and when we can. There is no limit to that.

Yes, there are some cases in our lives when we have to walk away from a bad situation. But we don’t have to turn ourselves off in the process. People have been horrendous to me, and I have needed to walk away. In doing so, I have not turned myself off, but sought compassion for myself, and gotten out of a bad situation so that my compassion for others would not be compromised. And the people who were horrendous to me, well, I only hope that they truly find the healing that they need, so that they stop doing it to others, and themselves.

It is all about the choices that we make. I was going to write a blog post today about choices, but that will follow in a consecutive post later this week or next week. This morning, I needed to focus on the events of last night, and my friend’s reaction to them. It saddened me greatly, and also angered me that people could make the choice to turn themselves off. We live in such a narcissistic society, that we only focus on ourselves. We often use the excuse that the only thing that we can change is ourselves, however, for me in that context it is just that: an excuse. When we see suffering in the world, if we only focus on ourselves, then how do we stop the suffering of others? Yes, we need to heal ourselves, but we also need healing for the world at large. If we are always looking inwards, then we are ignoring the outer world that is very much a part of our reality and existence. Just because we choose to ignore it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

If everyone ignored the suffering in the world, then there wouldn’t be organisations dedicated to helping others, when human or non-human. Greenpeace, The Red Cross, Amnesty International; these would not exist. We have to look beyond the scope of our little world and realise that we are very much part of the whole. We co-create the world that we live in. We co-create our reality.

What do I mean by that? Well, I often hear the saying that “we create our own reality.” This isn’t true, because there are many factors in life that aren’t under our control. The child in Aleppo did not create the reality of a war-torn city. We are responsible for what we bring into the world, and we also have to realise that we share this world with others who are bringing their own stuff into the mix, and therefore into our reality. Ignoring this does not make it go away. If I ignored what happened last night and simply got on with my day, then this blog post would not be written. I would not be sharing my words and thoughts with you. I would not be exploring the themes of suffering and compassion, and how to make this world a better place for everyone.

I will not turn myself off to the suffering in the world. Sometimes, there may not be much I can do about it, but if I turn myself off then I will bring that into my own little world, my local environment, which leads to a de-sensitivity to that area. It will trickle down into my everyday life, from my relationship to my husband, to my friends, to the lady at the post office. When we de-sensitise ourselves at a national or global level, we are fooling ourselves if we think that doesn’t seep into our everyday life, our everyday interactions with people, with the world.

My thoughts and prayers for the families of last night’s tragedy may not have an immediate or direct affect upon them personally. The children who are orphaned in Syria, with no place to go, are again not immediately affected by my thoughts and prayers. Neither are the badgers being culled, or the battered woman seeking a place to sleep for the night in a non-government funded women’s shelter. But I am affected by this, and so is everyone around me. I will not lose my compassion, and open my heart to everyone who I do come into contact with. I will try to make this world a better place, to live in harmony and to promote peace. If I turn myself off to the suffering, how can I promote peace?

We are making a choice, when we ignore the suffering. Sometimes there is a line, where we have to walk away from a bad situation because we ourselves are at risk. That is usually because we are suffering to a large extent, due to myriad factors, most of them beyond our control. We all need to retreat every now and then, to lick our wounds and to heal. On my darkest days, when the suffering in the world overwhelms me, when the aching in my bones and joints moves from the dull to the sharp, I need to take a step away. But that doesn’t mean I shut myself off completely. I still have compassion for others. I need to take care of myself, certainly, but I do not forget others. I do not forget that the world is more than just me.

Compassion is all about choice.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”
It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud
On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
Mesmerised as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night
No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away   – Pink Floyd

Being Pagan

Sometimes being a Pagan is simply not fun.

In my path of Druidry, I have to consider the ramifications of every action that I take, in order to maintain honourable relationship with the world around me.  I gave up eating meat nearly twenty years ago. I have since given up dairy altogether.  I recycle everything I can, even though that can be time-consuming and tedious.  I’m spending thousands of pounds on solar panels for my home instead of putting it into a personal savings account.  Every day I make choices based on my spiritual and ethical practice, most of which are “not fun”.

We as humans have been altogether far too selfish. Our endless consuming of resources, without thought for future generations, demonstrates this.  We as humans have the capacity for forethought, and yet we still destroy the planet, our future and the future of our ancestors yet to come.  The world population has doubled in the last 50 years, yet people are still having children, or visiting fertility clinics when there are millions of children already born who need good homes.  We believe in an economy that only works when it keeps growing, when we keep spending to keep this mythical beast alive, feeding it with our hard-earned cash.  We invest in nuclear and chemical weapons, sometimes unknowingly, through the banks we put our money in.  We take, take and take, and virtually give nothing back.

It’s easy to dismiss those people who take a stand for what they believe in, who care for the environment, for whom their religion would not allow them to do otherwise.  Call them overly dramatic, call them attention seekers, call them hippies, fluffy bunny new-agers, or just plain crazy.  De-humanize them, for it is easier to control them and dismiss their arguments then.  Their feelings don’t matter – they’re all just fluff and air.  We need to get on with having our fun, for crying out loud, and not listen to these whingers.

I have been called all these things.  I defy them all, and stand proud in my convictions.  I make my choices based on generations of humans and non-humans yet to come, not out of selfish greed.  I will take a stand against destruction of bluebell woods.  I will protest fracking.  I will sign any petition Greenpeace throw my way.  I will feed the badgers in my backyard and pray for their counterparts in the culling areas, and I will continue to write to MPs to ask them to stop.  I will eat as organically and as locally as I can.

This may mean that I have to give up a hobby with a certain company rather than see the destruction of a single plant, or give up a weekend away with my husband to go to a rally.  My internet time of looking at cute kittens will be limited.  My evenings will be spent ensuring the welfare of my animal cousins.  My food may not be as easy to get, or as accessible (being seasonal and all), but dammit – I don’t care.  This is my life, and this is how I am going to live it.

My Paganism is not limited to circles glowing in the candlelight, the swirls of incense drifting about my upraised arms as I pray to my Goddess.  My religion is in my every action in life.  It is not mystical in the least – it is real, it is practical and it is me.  Whether I am in my ceremonial robes or my pyjamas, my work is important, my connection to the world and my relationship with everything in it equally valid whether I’m waving a wand or not. I may stand at the clifftop and shout my thanks to the ancestors across the sea, or I may sit in the conservatory and stroke my kitty in the growing twilight.  Either act is an act of devotion, of dedication to the present moment, to this world, this time and this place.

I cannot leave my Paganism, my Druidry behind.  It is me.  It is my life.  Others may try to dismiss it, but with love and compassion for all things, I hear their words, and I smile, letting them know that I’ve heard them, and then get on with what needs to be done to spread peace, harmony and love in this world.

I stand proud in the starlight, gazing out at the Milky Way and knowing where my place is within that great spiral dance.