The Power Of Not Giving A Shit

Apr 25 2023

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: unfurling ferns in the sunshine

This blog is an unexpected meander through the themes of effortless creativity and the power of not giving a shit. It starts with me exploring what is blocking my writing and goes off on a quest to seek wisdom from author Martin Shaw and artist Frida Kahlo. Between them, they manage to clear the block and make way for two stories about humans and animals falling in love. To end, we have a guest appearance from a bunch of unfurling baby ferns. Enjoy! Or don’t! I don’t give a shit! (I do, but I'm learning not to.)

Trigger warning: References to suicide and human-animal love.

Goose House Life

Only three retreats to go until my year at The Barn is over! 

It’s my week off and I’m sitting on a plastic bag on a damp bench, overlooking the great River Dart in the first light of day. The bench is outside the Goose House, a sweet little rustic hut with no electricity, a single bed, a table, two chairs, a wood burner, a sink and a stove. It’s where coordinators get to stay when we’re not running meditation retreats. This is probably the fourth time I’ve spent a whole week here, since arriving to volunteer at The Barn last July.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: The Goose House (taken last summer)

I’m wearing my old trusty zebra onesie that’s fraying at the cuffs and Maureen’s green wellies (I don’t know who Maureen is, but she left her wellies behind. I know they are hers because she wrote her name on them). I’m wrapped in my bobbled purple wanket (wearable blanket, as named by my fooling students, a long time ago) and drinking tea poured from a handmade lime green and blue spotted teapot. 

The birds, cows and sheep are all fervently discussing last night’s dreams and making plans for the day. 

I’m thinking about writing a blog. There’s a big one brewing, following on from last months blog about effort, but I don’t know if I’ve got the energy to give birth to it. Feels like too much effort. I’m tired. I’ve just co-led two back-to-back retreats and I need a rest. I don’t want to spend the whole week stressing over a blog. I wonder where the stress is coming from? Let’s find out…

When I think about blogging, what is the stress?

  • I want the blog to reflect the depth of my gratitude for this place and the people I’ve encountered here and all the treasure and insights I’ve received in the last 10 months.
  • I want to honour my readers by creating something that will add value to your llives.
  • I want to challenge myself as a writer and produce something surprising.
  • I want to honour my story and tell it well.

Oooof, heavy! How can anyone create anything in those conditions?

Don’t Think About Your Readers

Back in the chilly month of March, I sat in a freezing church in Ashburton, listening to a Q&A with local author, storyteller and mystic, Martin Shaw. He was being interviewed about his new book, ‘Bardskull’.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: 'Bardskull' book cover

When asked about the process of writing his latest book, Martin told us how he was called into the forest for 101 days to sit and listen. The book is what he heard the forest say. When asked about when his readers enter his consciousness during his writing process, he said, “They don’t.” When Martin writes, he’s not thinking about his readers AT ALL, he’s offering himself as a channel to allow stories to move through and be expressed. 

Can you imagine doing that? I can’t imagine writing without considering you, my dear reader. I can’t imagine performing without considering my audience. I am a clown and as a clown, everything I offer is a gift for the audience. I offer myself with open arms and notice how my gifts are being received, then I respond to the reactions of the audience, moment by moment, allowing the material to unfold in direct connection. That’s the beauty of clowning, it’s a co-created art-form where the audience can have a genuine impact on what they are watching. It’s a community experience and that's why I love it.

And here I am, a clown without an audience, still wanting to find ways to offer my gifts...

How would it be to write without considering my audience?

Make the Art You Are Called To Create

During ‘Becoming Frida Kahlo,’ the three part documentary about the Mexican artist, on BBC iplayer, they told the story of Frida’s painting, ’The Suicide Of Dorothy Hale.’  Frida had been commissioned to capture the essence of Dorothy Hale, a Hollywood starlet, who fell / jumped out of a tower block window during a party. 

Trusting Frida to immortalise her dear friend, commissioner Clare Boothe Luce left Frida to her creative process. What Clare didn’t expect was an immortalisation of Dorothy’s death. Frida had painted the tower block and three figures, one falling out of the window, one falling through the sky and one splatted on the pavement, covered in blood, dead. Seemingly that was the part of Dorothy’s life that most caught Frida’s imagination.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: ’The Suicide Of Dorothy Hale’ by Frida Kahlo

Unsurprisingly, Clare was pretty pissed off. She had Dorothy’s name taken off the painting and hid it in storage where no-one could see it for decades. I totally get that AND I also have massive respect for Frida for creating the art she was called to create. 

An artists’ job is to create art.

A writers’ job is to write.

An Interruption From Nimbus

Nimbus the big, black, burly cat has come to lay his weight on my lap. I like to think I’m special to him, but as Nina, our assistant manager says, I am merely his “self-stroking flesh-seat.” Nimbus knows our daily schedule and appears at just the right place at just the right time to get all the strokes he can elicit. He weaves through the legs of the retreatants as they are doing their morning Chi Gong and he pops up in the garden when we are weeding and planting. Wherever there are retreatants with free hands, Nimbus is there waiting for a stroke.

The Barn cats are not allowed in the main house, but Nimbus has charmed his way into my Goose House life. He scratches the door in the dead of the night when he can smell wood smoke coming out of the chimney. I am a sucker for a Nimbus cuddle; he’s a lovely, warm, affectionate fur-ball. Until he’s not.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Nimbus the cat

Nimbus has a limit to how much love he can handle and he’ll let you know when he’s reached his limit with his teeth or his claws. I have learned to read his wild eyes and twitchy ears and have been scratch-free for months now. This must mean I’m special (I know I am not). I’ve often wondered what he’d be like if he was human. Would I be attracted to him?

Fox Woman

Way back in January, at the New Year retreat at Sharpham House, I heard Rupert Marques tell this story. He originally heard it told by Martin Shaw (the forest listener from earlier). This is my re-telling.

There was once a hunter who lived alone in the forest. Every day he would wake up in his cold little bed in his cold little hut and go out hunting. Every night he’d return to his cold little hut, eat strips of raw meat for his tea and crawl under his crumpled up, damp blankets and sleep. 

One day when he came back from the hunt, he saw smoke billowing out of his chimney and as he opened the door, sure enough there was a fire in the hearth and a beautiful fragrant pot of stew hanging over the fire. The hunter sat down and demolished the whole pot of stew before laying on his warm, dry bed and gazing at the glowing fire until he fell happily to sleep. 

The next day it happened again. On his return, the fire was roaring and a delicious pot of stew was waiting for him.

By the third day, he really wanted to know who was doing all this for him, so he decided to come home early. He tiptoed through the forest and when he peered in through the window, there was a beautiful naked, red-haired woman stirring the stew. As he opened the door, he noticed a foxes pelt hanging on a nail on the back of the door.

The woman turned around with a kind smile and said, “Hello hunter, I am Fox Woman. If you let me stay here I will take care of you.”

Well, the hunter couldn’t believe his luck! A beautiful woman wanted to stay with him and take care of him! Wow! “YES PLEASE!” he said, dancing with glee.

I’d just like to take a pause to consider Fox Woman’s needs here, for in my opinion it is not enough for her to just receive shelter and meat. I would like her to receive love, appreciation and support to pursue her own creative explorations, not to mention a wonderful wardrobe full of clothes. Let’s have the hunter be her biggest fan, let’s make him a creative collaborator. Let’s have him learn from her how to make the fire and the stew so she can spend time exploring her voice as a singer or a writer or an artist or whatever she wants to explore. Let’s make him a great lover, a fantastic storyteller and a laugh-a-minute joker. Let’s give him practical skills so he can put up shelves to display her art and help her build a travelling stage for her performances. Let’s have him learn the guitar so that they can sing together. Let’s make him truly empathetic, so that she feels heard, seen and held. Let’s make this relationship nourishing for them both.

And so it goes that they fall in love and their love helps them both to grow, until one night in bed, the hunter says to Fox Woman: “My dear, my love, you are my heart’s delight, I am so thankful for all that you are, but the pelt on the back of the door - it is starting to smell a bit musty, can we put it outside?”

Fox Woman’s eyes flashed bright green daggers and the hunter knew he’d overstepped, “I’m so sorry my love, I can live with it, it’s OK. I love you.”

So on they went, loving each other into fullness until the smell of the pelt could no longer be ignored, “Darling Fox Woman, you know I love you and want all the good things for you, but that pelt…”

Fox Woman’s eyes narrowed. 

“OK, OK, I can live with it. It’s your pelt. I can try to love it.”

He tried putting a clothes peg on his nose, he tried stuffing bog roll up his nostrils, he tried sleeping with his head out the window, but try as he might, the acrid smell wouldn’t leave him alone. “I’m sorry love, but the pelt has got to go!”

The next morning, when the hunter woke up, the pelt was gone and so was Fox Woman.

What’s The Moral Of The Story?

I don’t know. What’s the moral for you, dear reader? 

The moral for me might be:

“Take me as I am, wildness and all.”

“Appreciate what you have because everything is impermanent.”

“I spend way too much time in the Goose House wondering whether I would fall in love with the cat if he were human (I actually think he would be a narcissist, a very handsome narcissist, but a narcissist all the same).”

What’s The Conclusion Of This Blog?

I don’t know. The day is calling and I’m off out for a walk.

Later That Day

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: more unfurling ferns, this time in sepia

Amongst the bluebells and the wild garlic, the baby ferns are quietly unfurling.

They’re not doing it to show off or to prove anything to anyone.

They are just following their nature, allowing themselves to uncurl and become their full size.

Their tendrils are fragile at first, but the sun and the rain and the other plants and trees help them feel at home.

It is in our nature to create and express.

We don’t have to curate our creativity around our perception of our audience’s needs.

Some will like what we offer, some will not.

We need to find our own sun and rain and plants and trees to help us feel at home.

My clown pelt is on a nail on the back of the Goose House door and I am naked. 

An Afterthought

This blog contains absolutely none of the material I'd been accumulating around the theme of effort, but it is still a blog about effort. I enjoyed the process of writing it. Once I'd named the blocks and sought out permission from creative heavyweights Martin Shaw and Frida Kahlo, it flowed with very little effort. Or perhaps I could say the effort was pleasurable. 

What would your creative output look like if pleasure and ease were acceptable / desirable / respectable qualities in your creative process? 

References / Links

Martin Shaw’s’ Bardskull’ is published by unbound and is out now. Check out Martin’s website here.

The three part documentary ‘Becoming Frida Kahlo’ is available to watch on BBC iplayer.

Rupert Marques told 'Fox Woman' during the New Year retreat at Sharpham House. You can check out an interview with him here.

If you'd like to follow my year at The Barn, check out The Barn Diaries or sign up to my mailing list at the bottom of this page.

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