Monday, October 15, 2012

E is for Ecstatic Religious Experiences

There are things I don't talk much about regarding my experiences in religion because I have serious baggage from growing up in such a strongly charismatic Christian background. I've always had spirit contact and mild psychic abilities and dreams. When it's treated as a special sign and the attention is frightening and predatory, you learn to not talk about the weird stuff.

This isn't church, and I'm going to talk about the weird stuff. Rarely do I know what to make of it right away. It might take a day or a week or a few months for it to become clear, and even then, it's often only the beginning of the riddle. I don't understand why sometimes something so great comes near, changes everything, and then goes away again, perhaps never to return. Perhaps the Gods can't help but cyclone into our lives. Perhaps it's not being bound to time and space.

The great fear is that whatever one does in the encounter is not satisfactory, that the answers given are found wanting. There's still an episode with the Horned God, from about a year ago, that makes me feel sick with worry and confusion. He asked me a question. I panicked and looked the gift horse in the mouth, only to find myself back in my room knowing I'd made some kind of horrible mistake. And then my puppy dropped dead a couple of days later, for no reason they could find, and I spent the better part of the year afraid that it was a punishment for my failure. I still don't know about that one, but I do keep serving, keep offering, keep praying.

My favorite times are when it's overwhelming in a way that makes the practices of devotion almost unbearably sweet and tender for a long time afterward. I get that with Mary, the Blessed Theotokos a lot. I get it with those women who reign over home and family and marriage. I get it with some saints. I have always loved the saints dearly, and their legends made me feel safe and less strange about my own when I was growing up. They have been generous in communication and in their teaching.

The strangest of all the experiences I've had was when I called on Lugh last year. What started as gentle rocking as I prayed became a full seidr trance where I blacked out and had a very powerful experience. I woke up on the floor. Later in the evening, all of the candle holders on the altar exploded - glass shattered everywhere on the table and onto the cement floor, and nobody heard a thing even though I wasn't six feet away. The dog that wakes up and barks if you sneeze didn't stir. It was the strangest thing. It had been so long since I had an ecstatic experience strong enough to black out from full consciousness, and to have such a strong manifestation! It didn't seem negative. It was just breathtaking display of power.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

D is for Doubt

Lately, I have been in a cooler spell spiritually. That's fine - it's part of the natural order of things and just as acceptable as when I'm in a warmer spell and being inspired. The part that has been challenging has been a sort of wistfulness that my path has taken me out into the woods to do my own thing. It's cold and lonely in the night. It's hard not to feel abandoned if I compare myself to other people who are re-constructionists or in a tradition. They have books of instructions, mentors, training, scholarly resources to turn to if they're stuck in a rut.

I just kinda have...waiting. Hoping.

While I love what I've learned and the gifts I've been given, it is hard to forge your own path. It's like growing food from seed. So much work and preparation for inconsistent return. Fruit borne wild and robust and in a completely different sector than you've been toiling in. I have eight pots outside on the front porch. Seven failed to turn into plants. One is growing a surprise attack cantaloupe out of season with a vigor I've never experienced in years of failed gardening. It's Texas and still summery here, so there is hope that the fruit will grow into maturity. We have named it Cantaloupi Wan-Kenobi. (Apparently, I'm not great at judging when the compost won't grow into things if I mix it in dirt...)

It seems nice to have the rock of tradition to stand on, to have a thread of history to follow into the dark. When it feels like I'm recreating the wheel yet again, I wonder if I've made the right choices. Have I been too proud or stubborn by not setting aside my discomfort with X or Y and just joining something? Should I have worked harder to find some hidden society? Am I alone because I've been too impatient with the mess that is Pagans in Public™ and feared being associated with the absurdity of a few more than I wanted to chance finding the right people?

Fear of success is there, too. If I found a wonderful tradition or moved somewhere that one existed, and I had the chance to join, would I be up to snuff? What if all the work I've been doing for years is my mind playing tricks on me? While I know this is false, I sometimes feel like my experiences count for less because they're not within established parameters. Sometimes, I worry that the ridiculous levitating objects trick TV witches do is real and will be used to prove that I'm a phony.

I know this won't happen, that it's silly. I trust that what I'm doing is the right thing for me in the place and season my life is in right now, and that when there are shifts in that, it may take me to new places, new ways of worship, new gods, new spiritual relationships, and maybe a different form of devotion all together. It's just hard to remember that sometimes when you're slogging along...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

C is for Cleansing

In the last year, I've moved to making all of my own household cleaning products (except for soaps and dishwasher tabs). It started with floor wash and carpet sprinkles and has moved to all homemade all the time. Y'all know I love dual purpose magical and mundane things that cut down on work and time spent for regular maintenance. The recipes I use are broken down below, along with a tutorial for my all-purpose kitchen spray. They're ripe for expansion and personalization.

Magical benefits: While one could enchant the Windex to act as a barrier on gateways made of glass (mirrors, windows) and the detergent to make your clothes give you an extra special aura of attractiveness, those things aren't going to be quite the same as controlling the ingredients and process of making them yourself. Natural ingredients, the ability to add herbs and oils, plus the option to make them at advantageous times make this a no-brainer. The ingredients are classic things you use for magical house cleansing and protection anyway. Now they're doing the physical cleaning at the same time.

Practical benefits: It turns out that making most household cleaners is dirt cheap. You'll be ticked at yourself for paying $3-5 a bottle for them. The homemade stuff works better, even on hard water stains, and it doesn't have the chemicals that irritate your respiratory system (ok, the stuff with vinegar still smells like vinegar). The essential oils great for cleansing magic-wise are also great at cleansing and germ killing physically. Plus, they're the cheaper oils like mint, eucalyptus, orange, lemon, rosemary, and lemongrass.

Helpful Hints: There's a big difference in quality and longevity between the $1 bottle and the $3 bottle: get the more expensive one in the cleaning aisle because it will last for years instead of weeks. Tap water is the enemy because it has trace mineral deposits in there that can leave a film of lime buildup on the thing you just cleaned. You can always add a little more of the active ingredient or of the essential oils if it doesn't have enough oomph.

Peeps' All-Purpose Cleaning Spray
This is for a standard 32 oz. household cleaning bottle from the grocery store. It's easily divisible if your bottles are smaller. It takes about 30 minutes to make, including cooling time.
  • Purified or distilled water - about 3 3/4 c. 
  • 3 Tb. Borax
  • 2 Tb. Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap
  • Essential oils of your choice (a few drops will do the job)
  • Optional: food coloring, herbs to infuse with the water
In a small saucepan, heat up the water and Borax together, stirring occasionally until the Borax is well-dissolved. Turn the heat off and let it cool down for about 20 minutes. Stir in the Dr. Bronner's soap, food coloring, and oils. (I got a little excited with the food coloring. It doesn't dye anything I spray it on, but usually a couple of drops will do it.) This would be an ideal time to enchant it specifically in conjunction with the oils you're using.

The oils you use are up to you. Orange is a great cleaner that dissolves dirt and brings in luck, love, happiness, and prosperity. Rosemary is an excellent protection herb that smells great and has anti-microbial properties. Eucalyptus wards off evil and is anti-bacterial. Lemon is an amazing cleaner that also cuts through bad stuff and clears it away. Mint breaks up bad stuff and repels evil.
Et voila! House cleaner! Shake it up before you use it to help distribute the oils evenly. It will get the nasty stuff off of the stove as well as 409.

Tub and Sink and Tile Cleaner
This works wonders on my evil and impossible hard water (yay country living). One thing I love about it is that vinegar is something I use anyway (with a little salt) to seal the drains as a gateway into the house. Now I just dump some salt on the drain when I'm rinsing this off. It cleans really well, but as with all cleaning, you will have to go over it with a sponge or scrubbing brush to work tough stuff loose. It's only a teeny weeny bit of elbow grease, I promise.

In a bottle, mix 2 parts Dawn with 3 parts white vinegar and add a few drops of an appropriate essential oil. It won't cover up the vinegar smell, but it will help. Spray it on, leave it for a few minutes, wash it off. It does great things for rust and calcium buildup rings at the top of the water in the toilet bowl, too.

Germs Be Gone! Spray
Instead of Lysol or bleach spray, you can use this. Grapefruit Seed Extract is an incredible anti-bacterial agent that you can use internally* and externally, as well as around the house. It's being tested as a hospital-grade antiseptic, so it should be up to the job of taking care of your household germs. It's available at health food stores like Whole Foods, and a small bottle will last you quite a while.
  • 4c./32 oz. distilled or purified water
  • 30 drops Grapefruit Seed Extract
  • Essential oils as desired
Spray down counter tops, doorknobs, light switches, bathrooms, produce, kitchen surfaces. It will kill mold and mildew and fungus without the odor of bleach or harsh chemicals.

*This has cured strep throat for me twice in the last decade. It's incredibly bitter, but you gargle with it several times daily. The blisters just went away within a couple of days while the other people I knew sick with it were sick for about a week. YMMV and read up on it some before taking it internally.

Glass Cleaner
The ingredients for a two year supply for our house costs less than a single bottle of Windex. Ammonia is nasty stuff that cleans like a dream. There's a reason it's in so many Hoodoo formulations for washes that get the nasties cleared out of your home.
  • 1.5 oz ammonia (the white kind, not the scented kind)
  • 5 oz rubbing alcohol (or vodka, whatever...)
  • Fill the rest of the bottle with purified or distilled water

Friday, July 13, 2012

B is for Blood and Bodily Fluids

Bodily fluids are a little less controversial than blood sacrifice over here in the US. People might be grossed out by them, but if they're scared enough or it's a big enough deal, practitioners who might be horrified at the idea of animal sacrifice will muster the courage to throw some urine or menstrual blood into something they're doing. And then there are those of us who wouldn't think twice about actually going out and pissing in the corners of our property to mark it as ours or asking our partner to ejaculate in a jar because we want to try an awesome sex magic thing.

These things are living parts of our selves, which makes them a really powerful tool and/or sacrifice. That doesn't stop people from yammering on about how horrific it is to use mingled sex fluids in a fertility ritual when you could use a rock and a leaf and call it a day. I'm in the camp that would paint fertility sigils on myself in jizz, bake vulva cookies to leave at the base of a sacred phallus, and anoint us with special infused oils before commencing the baby making. I'm ok with that. Maybe it's that it seems completely illogical to me not to use the physical elements of life-giving that we have as part of more serious workings. Have y'all ever asked deities about modern concerns like your body image or hangups? They're not going to suggest some nice tealights and massage oil and slow jams. They're going to wonder why someone with a nice big ass like you isn't out rutting up against the tree in your front yard where the neighbors can rejoice in your prowess and fertility.

I use blood in sacrifice and in workings sometimes. Maybe it was growing up is an alarmingly charismatic and literal Christian household where raining down the blood sacrifice on our heads and as protection was a normal thing to include in prayer. I don't know why it seems so ok, but it just does. Besides, I find that if I'm unsure about whether or not I should make myself bleed for a project, it will go ahead and stab me with a little sliver of something and take the sacrifice itself. I find that if I pray while I'm embroidering, it's the only time I actually prick myself enough to draw drops of blood while sewing. To me, that's a beautiful thing.

A note on animal sacrifice since it's part of blood sacrifice: I've never sacrificed an animal myself because I don't know how to kill humanely. I've never killed anything but an insect, so I'm not going to make that jump any time in the foreseeable future. It doesn't bother me in the least that it goes on. I try to take care of dead animals as I find them out here in the country. Bury them properly, help the spirit move on, leave offerings and blessings for it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A is for Aphrodisiacs

I'm going to do the Pagan Alphabet thingy because it'll get me back in the swing and also because what's happening in magic and witchery right now is that some stuff is settling in after some fast growth. I'm not quite sure what all I'm allowed to talk about, so I'm keeping my mouth shut.

I don't put much stock in the wonder working, lust inciting powers of oysters or sushi unless they're being served on a naked human platter. I do believe that adding textural and sensory varieties that please the tongue and the senses can heighten a romantic evening and draw the mind to other pleasures. Kitchen witchery can be very fun to play with, and I've had good success with enchanting dinner to get what I want afterwards. A certain orange and spice cake comes to mind... If you're interested in pursuing those routes and ramping them up magically, might I suggest Miller's excellent book, The Magical and Ritual Use of Aphrodisiacs.

Ritual is one of the key elements of seductive workings, particularly when what you're doing is part of keeping a long-term relationship steamy. There's huge power, psychological, psychic, and magic, in orchestrating events, actions, and sensory cues. It builds pathways you can tap into, both in the brain and in energy flow. I think rituals of desire and seduction are where it's at. Humans are easy to train and condition if it's done thoughtfully and consistently. We do it all the time in friendships, romantic relationships, partnerships, families. There are rewards for doing what people want you to do and consequences for stuff like not doing your chores. We form strong associations around sensory input, particularly when the result is an extreme (pleasure, suffering, anger, joy).

If you devise a ritual wherein you bathe with specific products or put on a certain perfume, meditate and get your intentions and energy all lined up and thrumming around you, then do the initiation on seducing your partner, you've built a powerful chain. Maybe it's a piece of clothing or jewelry. With action or scent or sensory ritual, you're conditioning yourself toward a certain head space and conditioning your partner toward associating a specific scent with feeling desired and sexy, then you reward the both of you with pleasure. It should go without saying that one would enchant or even ritually make from scratch the specific scent or products used in this.

Associating a sensory cue with behavior works really well. It's how working and service dogs are trained to separate work time from normal dog life. A different collar or harness or dog clothes conditions the animals to have a unique set of behaviors, tasks, and commands that go with wearing the thing. We do it with work: professional attire and grooming puts people in a different mindset and they behave differently.

I like that there are psychological reasons that back up and reinforce the magic in this method. From experiments with candles and other quick and dirty methods, I find that they don't go as planned because everyone's head isn't in the game when the thing is launched. If I'm horny and snuggly and my partner is frustrated and stressed out, the lust spell candle isn't going to give one or both of us what we're after, even if it does lead to an encounter. Conditioning plus magic allows you to set the pace and do a slow burn thing if you want. You can pounce your partner or you can do it as part of date night prep for one of those nights where you can hardly wait to get home.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Experiments

We've been busy here with the last flurry of camping and weekend-long outdoor events that happen before it's too hot for us to do them without being absolutely miserable at best and sick with heat exhaustion at worst. It's over 95°F here already, which means I'm harvesting the herbs better suited to cooler climes, like lemon balm, cilantro/coriander, and something that I think is last year's miserably failed rue coming back victoriously. Mint and the Mexican variety of oregano just throw a middle finger up each and power on through the heat and horrid soil.

It may be far too hot to be trying this, but I'm doing a maceration experiment. A friend gave me deer antlers that have been collecting dust (and being gnawed by squirrels) in his garage. They were cleaned badly and still have bits of skin and fur attached to the skull caps. It's too stuck to pull off, so I'm going to see if I can't soften it up enough to take the tissues off before I peroxide them. It's the first time I've tried to remove remaining old tissue from anything, so I'm hoping I don't ruin them. I guess worst case, I can turn them into buttons for Medieval reenactment clothing.

Unexpected gifts and treasures, like this batch of antlers, are something that delights me for weeks and often months after the thing is in my possession. Just a few weeks ago, my guy and I were out shopping for Mother's Day gifts, and he happened upon some very nice stag's head stirrup cups that had been marked down hugely. I've been wanting stag's head altar stuff for ages, and what I find is always really expensive - even when it's on clearance at the discount store. Ice buckets and footed presentation bowls with great handles made of the horned heads cast in pewter would be lovely, but I'm not paying $160 for them at this point in my life. So when I've been secretly longing for stag things, most specifically for a stag stirrup cup, it makes me feel well-loved by the spirits and gods.

If you're not familiar with them, stirrup cups are small cups, often decorated with animal's heads, that were used to serve departing guests a small drink of sherry or port right before they were off - as in when they were already with their feet in the stirrups. It's a Scottish thing that turned into a fox hunting thing, and is now largely a posh royalty thing. Rather fitting since I work with Cernnunos. We'll see how he likes it since he's the one I make mead for. Proper he should have his own special vessel for it. I really wish I had bought more, so that there was a set. Oh well. Here's a pair similar to mine (only sterling and antique and MUCH nicer) that just went for auction at Christie's for almost $3700. Click the link if you haven't recently lusted after the historical wonders available to the highest bidder - like historical manuscripts. And furniture. And private islands.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Strategy and Cunning

Mundanely, I am a professional search marketing strategist and writer. It's my job to investigate, find and define problems, then find ways to make them better by utilizing a variety of approaches over time. I deal in data and analyitics and a rather good understanding of how people look for solutions to their problems so that when they go looking for an answer, the one I want them to find is right in front of them. It's a process that feels as dynamic as speed walking on those human conveyor belts at the airport while you talk on the phone and scarf a snack between flights. You never stop running or changing once you start the process.

You'd think all that strategy would be extra super handy in magic - and it certainly can be - but it's not easy to change pace from nonstop running to doing something and releasing it fully. It's my job to poke things with my sharp stick and keep poking them. A witch friend and fellow marketing person has been in town and staying with us for the last few days, and we've been talking a lot about strategy, restraint, and cunning twists in magical approaches to big nasty problems. Like people create wards for the house that recharge with certain weather phenomenon or activate in certain situations, you can do things where small bits you shoal together build and expand as things progress.

It's handy to think of this when working on relationships or interpersonal friction around the office. If I want a friend to have favor with a difficult boss at her new job, I want her to get credit for the good stuff, understanding and compassion when she messes up, and for the boss to have that quiet sense of really liking and respecting her when they interact. I can program that further so blows are softened if there are problems and opportunities for positive growth and increased responsibilities are available in a natural but accelerated way. Were I binding someone who was actively seeking to harm and manipulate as part of an abusive power game, I'd do things so that the harder they worked to do harm, the more easily their manipulations would be exposed by the people who need to be aware of them, plus the web of nastiness would turn in on them, tightening like restraints that get more constrictive the more you struggle. I want to see all that work for ill turned into good for the person they're trying to manipulate and harm.

We got a little drunk and were exploring a very old, very posh, very haunted hotel, talking about how our methods have shifted over time. Yeah, there are things every witch still needs to work on, but for the most part, we've both moved away from reactionary and panicked reactions to things toward calm, strategic, measured approaches. Aside from feeling a lot less doubt about if I took the right approach, it cuts WAY down on the odd overly-energized working that goes too far or too fast. Slow burn and honing ideal conditions is a better approach to keeping your relationship hot than, say, summoning a tidal wave of crushing lust that's neither satisfying or lasting. Better to have someone on your team who isn't pulling their weight have their eyes opened to the disparity in labor and have that realization prod them into lasting action than to grab them by the nose and force them into doing just the one task on your project. I still get what I want, only now I get what I want in a more lasting, long term way with a lot less angst and unpredictability, plus it seems to have delightfully rich unexpected benefits.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I'm Not Quite Dead Yet

I went AWOL with some March depression, work madness, cave lurking, and a broken mouse that made it even more convenient not to blog. In that time, I've managed to turn 30, tackle a huge fear as a sacrifice, and allow myself to just experience the season as it comes instead of trying to fight what it brings. Most of the funk has been fixed with a weekend with friends and Mercury going direct again. Look, let me show you nice, happy pictures of Texas in spring, where a great swath of the state is carpeted with flowers:

Bluebonnets! Indian paintbrushes! A Peeps! Missing a turnoff and taking an hour and a half detour on some back roads turned out to be exactly what I needed. It smelled really good out there in the field, too. It's against the law to pick bluebonnets that aren't on your personal property, so I always resist the temptation...

The thing I really wanted to talk about was that I was very, very brave and went to a trance dance session led by a local shaman. Dancing is terrifying to me. Since a really fun bellydancing class when I was 19, I haven't done it any other way that blackout drunk in a dark, packed club. And this was sober. In a dance studio. BUT! - and here's the wonderful part - it's a blindfolded session with a couple of spotters to keep the dancers safe. You can't get much better on aids for the self-conscious and timid than dancing where nobody can see anybody else.

I spend most of my life in my head and not in my body. It's an abstract earth suit that I put up with and only very rarely feel good in. I'm graceful and can be surprisingly good at physical endurance, flexibility, and stamina. I will happily go be the roly poly girl in yoga or swimming where I know that I can surprise people with my abilities. Dancing?!? That's all risk and smooth sexy moves and a level of confidence and freedom and comfort with your body as an instrument of art and performance and scrutiny and observation. That's scary stuff. But I did it, and it felt sublime to move experimentally, to be able to feel what it feels like to be fully present in my body without the worry of looking foolish or grotesque.

It was good. I'll definitely do it again, even though at least half those in attendance are the kind of hippy dippy weirdo pagans that make most of us all do this because you feel the need to tell us to call you Polar Bear Starfruit and share that you've brought love goddesses from 8 pantheons, as well as the secrets of Atlantis with you while you work out combating office politics through this evening's dance. Luckily, I have one of those faces that's very expressive whether I want it to be or not, so I'm sure I'll make lots of friends with people.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring is a weird time for me. I have sleep problems, tend to get a lot more creative and a fair bit more reclusive. My mood gets off. In an ideal world, I could go out to a little house in the woods and be alone for a few days here and there in the season to write and cook and go on long walks and take naps and read and generally unplug. It's not an ideal world. I steal my moments where I can and resist the temptation to throw the breakers and plunge the house into something requiring quiet conversation, candlelight, and peace.

I have been baking bread. My God and I had an interesting conversation a little while back about what He might like for offerings. He was excited about my kitchen skills, saying that it seemed like nobody really makes the simple things that nourish and sustain anymore. So here I am, learning to get the basics of bread down so that I can venture into the specific kinds of things requested of me. It's pretty wonderful to have fresh breads around, to be able to turn out such good things with my own hands and a few simple ingredients (and about three hours to sit around the house). I am glad that He is patient, because this is harder than I had expected. Let's hope the mead I made mellows out soon since that's on the request list, too. So much of the mead I've had hasn't been very good that I'm not sure if mine is ok or not, or if maybe it just needs more time.

It rains here almost daily, and there is clover almost up to my knees and wildflowers everywhere. The dogs literally leap about in front of the door like baby goats before they go outside to play chase and hide and go seek out back. When they come in, their paws are stained green from the clover. We go on long walks at night, walking up our little country road listening to the frogs and toads, dogs and coyotes, and sometimes the small sounds of people inside their houses. It's a time for physically draining days and afternoon naps with the dogs where the breeze can wash over us.

Perhaps this week it will not rain so much, and the ground won't be too much of a bog for walks out into the fields to gather up plantain and thistles and dandelions and such. The herbs in my garden are rejoicing - exploding, practically! I hope I can get the seedlings to be as successful. The tobacco plants I picked up to make my own sacred smoke seem to be coming along steadily. The plan is to find a spot for them this weekend because they're outgrowing their containers...

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Whims of Gods

People don't talk all that much about their gods and goddesses. A lot of that interaction is private, personal, and decidedly weird. So what you see are declarations that someone works with X, or that they were doing something and Y made themselves known, and let's not forget people who pick a deity like they're ordering off a menu. Even in long running, happy relationships, the status always reads "It's Complicated". Do you ever truly know where you stand?

I think about this a fair bit. There's much warning to think critically, with some skepticism, because our minds can play tricks on us at best and we can go mad at worst. It's good to have your eyes open and ask questions. When not that many people talk openly about something personal, weird, and most definitely in the realm of Woo Stuff, it's hard to ask questions. You don't want people slowly backing away from you... There's the odd anthology or brief mention of something in a book that confirms the Not Actually Crazy hope I carry when it comes to weird experiences. It's not like there's a convenient repository of the weird stuff that happens so you can check out what happened.

How far will a god go to make a point or get your attention? A smack upside the head could be a warning or a sign of being favored enough to be corrected. These are not the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A theoretical understanding of the differences and an operational understanding are very different things. All-knowing, all-loving, omnipresent beings of goodness they are not. Forgetting that can be dangerous. It is not a place to be timid or trust too freely, nor is it a place to hedge your bets until you're scarcely committing. I'm sure that has different nuances and degrees for each individual deity, but the more ancient, atavistic powers have these ways that are sometimes ruthless, though it's clear they're not meant to be unkind. It scrambles my ingrained Southern ladylike sensibilities and habit of thinking in terms of modern diplomacy.

It's easy to be somewhat unprepared for the reality, when so much of what you hear about people's personal relationships with deity are those of the Pagan laity who don't delve into things like hedgecrossing, ecstatic worship, ritual possession, and such. It's one thing to appreciate warrior qualities or an emphasis on sex or death - akin to finding beauty in both the light and the dark. It's another thing altogether to have an intense, up close encounter with the more visceral expressions of those things. It means that you either have to step off the path or proceed while you sort out hard questions that aren't the sort we usually encounter. It's decidedly uncomfortable.

There are times when I know so many people would trade a great deal for the strength of experiences some of us have, and I am grateful. Then there are the other days, where the burden of what is asked is great, and the cost seems very high. Those days are hard. The burdens and tasks are squarely on your shoulders - no savior is coming to carry them for you or save you from the consequences of your actions. It's just you and some capricious gods...

Monday, February 20, 2012

NY, NY: Lessons Learned

The NY, NY project is over, so back to your regularly scheduled ramblings and experiments after this summation post. Here's what I've learned from tackling diverse goals in a reasonably systematic way with more than one kind of attack:

1. Look for the second right answer. Someone said that, because I have it on my wall of quote notecards at my office. We're good at arriving at the first answer that will change the way we're doing something. It's an improvement, but that doesn't make it the right answer. You need to find what comes after that. When everyone warns you that magic will take the path of least resistance, so be careful, the first response is to be really specific to control risk. The second answer, the right one, is to focus on what you want out of meeting that goal instead of how you presently think the best way to reach it is. The easiest path may not be the most pleasant, especially if you put a lot of boulders in the way because you're a control freak.

2. Fear and anxiety about doing it right take up way more time than just doing it and fixing any mistakes you make. The mistakes will happen no matter how much planning you put in because nothing is static. Acting with a reasonable amount of information to go on gets you a lot further a lot faster than trying to wait until you know everything possible and have planned for every contingency you can think of. It's good to be brave. It gets easier each time you try.

3. Caretakers need lots of care, too. I take care of people, feed them, comfort them, help them when I can. It's something I enjoy. Begrudging myself the same nurturing and love is not healthy, especially when it's in forms I can give myself. Everyone needs to take care of themselves, and it shouldn't take some sort of intervention to get you to take time to just chill out. (It didn't happen, but it got threatened.) Half an hour or so to meditate or take a hot bath or a cat nap is easy to find in the day and helps me be happier and more productive.

4. I need help. I don't have superpowers. Everything can't be done at once, nor can it be done well if you have too many things going to see each job through to completion. Even if I were able to manage juggling everything smoothly, I would still need help from the outside to get perspective, reexamine priorities, or be my backstop so that I can take time off. If I'm clear about the help I need, it turns out that it's no problem to get people to share the burden on a big project or on little daily tasks. Sometimes, you help yourself by having good boundaries and saying no to taking on more things.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

You know... I really DO need someone to help

The NY, NY prompt this week is about asking for help. How timely. As usual...

I need help. I definitely need it far more often than I ask for it. Despite being the kind of person who tends to do too much and offer help too freely, I feel as though my needing help is a failure. I'm so good at helping other people, surely I can help myself first, right? We all need it. I don't feel anything other than happy to be of service when I help. Why would me needing a hand from time to time be shameful?

I really do need help. Asking for it is all about admitting that I can't do the work of two or three people, which is hard - especially for women who are often expected to give the effect of being domestic full-time while working full-time. For me, help is also about feeling like I need permission to take care of myself (very foolish). A lot of the way I understand my worth is in my ability to do for others, to help, to meet needs before they're vocalized. My life's dream has been to create intentional community that nourishes and engages all parts of a person. A big part of that is domestic stuff - welcoming and beautiful home, good food, peaceful environment, etc. The nature of life right now is that I desperately need someone else to shoulder the domestic burden with me equally, which feels like a failure at the deepest part of my identity. Loss of control. Someone else is going to do it wroooong. There are always excuses to not ask for what you need. My current favorite is that I would ask for help and get someone in to do a thorough clean 1-2x a month, but we have a deal that it's not an available option until all debt that isn't student loans is paid off.

What it comes down to is that I don't want to take my sticky fingers off the control panel and ask the bearded giant to fill in where I'm failing myself (he doesn't think I'm failing domestically, but his standards are very, very low). The last thing I want is for him to do something as wonderful as pitch in and do an equal amount of domestic work, then repay it with negativity and criticism because he didn't do it like I would have or thoroughly. All week long, I've been thinking about this whole jumble and how it ties into my explosion of job hours. I can either ask for help and appreciate what I get, or I can power through like an idiot and be worse off than I am now. My decision was leaning towards the, "Fuck it. I'll just work a couple of days straight through, get it done, sleep through a weekend, and not have to ask for help from anyone. I used to do it all the time!" I was feeling smug.

And then I had a couple of days peppered with anxiety attacks, feeling like I'm coming down with something, crying, feeling totally overwhelmed and under-appreciated with the eighteen things I'm juggling, and to top it all off, at a three hour wedding meeting today, Kevin tried to pull me out of Super Serious Angsty Tunnel Vision Mode by throwing zany wedding ideas out, and I was a beast to him in front of a half dozen people in the meeting. Classy, Peeps. Really classy. He finally can make it to a meetings, gets involved, offers to be helpful if someone will direct him, and I'm derisive, then spend the whole car ride home crying about how I'm never going to get everything done myself -> downward spiral -> nobody will love me anymore and the rats will chew my face while I try to learn to live in a cardboard box because I failed something.

Instead of just asking for some extra help around the house in specific ways and getting that, I get a two hour conversation about ALL the ways I need help, not just getting tasks done. Communication, understanding, needing perspective. So very much help is needed and got discussed. I need help relaxing and unplugging (very true), but it turns out that when you refuse to do it for yourself, you wind up receiving help in the form of a supervised grownup time out where you have to lie down and breathe until you've truly calmed down.

The lesson is: if you don't take the hint and do what the universe is nudging you toward in a major way, you may very well have it foisted upon you in an unpleasant form that probably strips you of a fair bit of your dignity (for your own good, of course). You will actually have to do the painful excavation and uncover that some of your strongest points are rife with cracks and shoddily built. It will be awful. A fancy bath won't fix it. Food and drink won't fix it. I think the only fix is to let yourself be vulnerable and human in some of the ways that are most uncomfortable, letting yourself be helped by those who offer. Few things feel more helpless than to actually let go and let yourself be loved and cared for when you're the one who does most of the tangible caretaking.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

NY, NY: Row Ye Bastards!

The actual prompt is Shoulder to the Wheel. I can't help but think of Eddie Izzard talking about the Druids co-opting people to move the giant stones of Stonehenge so many miles, and then making them move them around like living room furniture. Why? Fixing the last entrenched habits always feels just impossibly impossible.

I looked up my starter post with all the goals on it. I've been avoiding it a little, thinking I'd be horribly far behind. And I'm not! TA-DAAAA! How thrilling is that? I'm trying not to feel smug about it. The disorganization at home that I've barely grazed is tempering my pride and keeping it at manageable levels. There are weekend plans to cross some big stuff off the home organization list, like charitable donations, clearing clutter, and hopefully finding better places for the nitty gritty stuff that valiantly resisted my first round of serious organization. I really, really have to get this under control because 2012 is a nonstop running kind of year, which means discipline is required to get things done that I don't particularly like to do.

I'm working on my office stuff being more organized, which has suddenly become very important since we're shifting around the client load a bit, i.e. I have a lot more work and responsibility on my plate suddenly. That extra work? Totally the result of a long series of magical workings, naturally coming to fruition when I finally gave up hope, complete with details and timing that are a "be careful what you wish for and maybe you should put an expiration date on things" warning. It has the potential to be excellent, but a lot more hours and responsibility on top of a full life are going to be a challenge.
I can do it... I just have to be less complacent than I allowed myself to become in some arenas.

I'm doing great with my magic goals to take advantage of the place my life is in right now and do more things more often. That is due in very large part to Jason's fabulous Strategic Sorcery course.*  I love it. There are even visible fruits of all those daily works and being more action oriented. I'm working out my own recipes for elemental oils (a friend's request), one for a combo of clear thinking and understanding coupled with decisive acting on that understanding - so great for work or communicating through some difficult issues, and there's some candle making and Hoodoo oils.

I love that the water one on top has that murky swamp quality. It makes me think of the True Blood opening sequence.
And look! A semi-magical garden of seedlings! Gardening is one of those things I don't have much luck with but really want to do well. Those tall guys are the green beans, who grow a few inches a day. The goal is to grow a variety of plants to fruition so that one day I can order seeds from the splendid Harold and successfully grow plants intended solely for magic. A worthwhile goal since many of those seeds grow plants that are very hard to buy without growing them yourself or living in a place where they grow wild. That place is not Texas.

Beyond magic, the course responsible for my mental organization being much better (which is a byproduct of a more disciplined daily practice). A better mental environment means clearer, better thinking with more reason and less bull, which translates into a more realistic and far less caustic way of seeing myself. Mundanely, I've been taking better care of myself, dressing better, and I even got a new haircut today that can be either professional or wild and punky. The haircut was a shoulder to the stone gesture because it's an investment I'd been putting off, even though it carries an impact on several goals I'm working on. Getting out of my own way is a good thing.

My stylist seriously has some kind of supernatural gift for beautification and hair skills (not that this picture shows it, but I have a decade of experience to know that she's got something going on).
*For those of you playing along at home, you might recall that I've been a little bit timid with some of the Ceremonial Magic aspects of the course. Jason was reassuring, and sure enough, mispronouncing something doesn't open some Buffy-style portal into an evil dimension of wrathful spirits.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

NY, NY: The Caretaker Needs Care, Too

This is on the TL;DR side because 1. I have gnarly, tentacled self-esteem issues I'm working on, 2. I'm resorting who I am in the world with a new decade and marriage on the horizon, and 3. it's one of those things where the whole universe is saying, HEY PAY ATTENTION TO THIS, YOU!

Since we're talking glamour and enhancing what one has to gain glorious rewards, let's start with what I know I have working for me and can do a lot with (providing I remember to work it):
  • I'm reasonably attractive. People tell me I'm pretty a lot, so I must be. If I radiate that from the core outward, sometimes I see it, too. It's a useful thing to know how to do if you want people to treat you well or do things for you, like for the Home Depot guy to load your cart with cinder blocks, then load up your car for you.
  • My body is well-proportioned. It's big, but everything is distributed in a pleasing way. My ass is awesome and I've got a good rack and a perfect 0.7 wasit-to-hip ratio. That ratio thing means that I'm particularly well suited to being fertile, so men see me and their lizard brain says, "Hey, that one looks like she could carry on the species... I'm strangely inclined to bend her over that boulder even though she bears no resemblance to a bikini model."
  • I have really thick, manageable hair.
  • I've got lovely, soft skin.
  • I'm graceful, move well, carry myself well.
  • I know etiquette and style, so I almost always know what to do, how to act, and how to dress in any given situation. Not that I always do it, but I know what I should do.

My mom told me this once when I was crying in my late teens. She meant well, but she emphasized it wrong, so it sounded like something was wrong with any man who though I looked good or wanted me.  My reaction to someone thinking I'm hot is STILL to be instantly suspicious of what's wrong with them that they would find me attractive.

I turn 30 in a couple of months. This is exciting because, for whatever stupid reason, I've had it in my head that once I hit that magic number, it's ok to call my own shots and stop trying to please all the people in my life first and please myself last. That's just dumb. I should have done this ten years ago. For the occasion, I've been reassessing things, taking slow stock of who I am now and who I am not, thinking about goals and how to get there from here, and recognizing that my priorities have changed a lot since I set "adulthood goals" in high school and college. Like I'd rather have land in the trees than be a society wife, and the business world doesn't suit me so being a chick with a private jet doesn't look like something I want to work towards. But we're not talking about careers, we're talking about how hot I have the potential to be when I get out of my own way.

I'm an adult. A real adult with dogs and a partner and bills and a job and a commute and a house to take care of and volunteer work and all that jazz. Just as I'm ready to crest that peak into Real Adulthood, my favorite and best Real Adult Clothes have started dying. We're talking about the stuff that was paid dearly for and used as armor to get me through the first years in the corporate world. It's beautiful, impeccable, tasteful, interesting clothing that's been tailored to me. NOT COOL. Cash ate my favorite shoes a couple of years ago. Bleach spots on blouses. Dogs tearing pants. General old age. And last week, a strap ripped out on my favorite dress of all time. That leaves me with jeans and t-shirts mostly. I work at a company that's fine with that, but it doesn't feel good to wear that often or in that setting. I need new clothes, which sucks and costs money I don't have budgeted and should be going to debt or the wedding fund anyway. I've been pouting about it, if you really want to know the truth. I don't even have cute stuff to go out with friends in or look hot on a date. Even if the cash were there, I don't feel like I deserve it or that it's justified, even though HEY! I need to look like a professional and not a clinically depressed housewife at Target.

I don't think I look like a depressed housewife here. But it is a good indication of the kind of thing I wear most of the time - excessive cleavagey goodness and all.
Just to make it more difficult, I'm a big girl. I'm fat. But, like my best friend says, I'm "not a big fat fuck... just big." I've always been big. Even when I did triathlon stuff in college, I was big. When I was in the throes of an eating disorder in high school and my thighs finally, barely didn't touch and my hair was falling out, I was a size 14/16. I'm a big girl. That means whether or not I've looked hot for over a decade has been entirely a product of my mind because I've only fluctuated a maximum of two sizes in that entire time span. Huh. All that angst and loathing is ME and not my glorious ass.

Being fat means that my selection is cut dramatically down, and finding nice stuff at good prices is something of an advanced game where you have to know your fabrics, cuts, silhouettes, and body. It's one of the things I'm best at in the world, but it takes some doing and a lot of patience. I owned up to the fact I needed to invest in this maybe a month ago, but didn't really do anything much about it, except to buy a couple sweaters and try on the MOST unfortunate pair of pants to have ever been engineered, which promptly halted all forward progress.

Then, for the last few weeks, people everywhere are suddenly talking about how very, terribly important one's appearance is for magic and success and self-esteem and prosperity and identity. It's in Jason's book. It's in this week's NY, NY related writing prompts. It's on Tumblr and in conversations with my bearded giant about how caretakers need just as much care as the people they care for. It's the massage therapist having to tell me for the dozenth time to stop helping her and just relax because I do too much and care for myself too little and my body tells that tale (plus, I was only there using my massage credit because I sprained my neck taking care of a Very Drunk friend, instead of using it to relax - not cool). I was better dressed as a college nanny than I am as a senior-level professional in my field. That's not ok. So yeah... I need to rearrange my priorities. I'm definitely not putting my best self forward anywhere, ever. I'm tired of taking care of other people and angry that they're not doing it for themselves, let alone doing it reciprocally. I'm tired of grinding myself into the ground so that other people can have the things I wish I could give myself.

If you hate everything AND you're the only common thing in those situations, you either need to change yourself or change all the hated situations, right? Changing yourself changes an element in the situations by default, but I think you should strategically change elements of both self and situation. I don't know how to change all the situations that suck right now, but I can make myself better in all of them. Appearances are a superficial part of that equation, but they affect change in further-reaching ways than most people want to admit. Believe it or not, I've been paid to change people's appearances, change their homes, help them find their style and voice and be comfortable with it. Why I haven't done it for myself is beyond me. (I mean, seriously Peeps, WTF?) But I'm supposed to be doing just that this week for the writing prompt.

So I went to Nordstrom Rack with no expectations and only a little bit of time. Lo and behold, I found a gorgeous sheer blouse that works for going out and dates with a tank top under it. Age appropriate, looks expensive but understated, and it was on sale for $16. Then I found a lovely, classic navy wrap dress that's a marvel of engineering and hourglass figure flattery for $20. It's grand for work, and if I work the top a little differently, more breast enhancing for a nice evening out. A coup, to be sure. I think some sort of haircut or change is in order soon, especially since I stained/varnished a section of my ponytail this morning while working on a piece of furniture I'm building.

I'm working on me in fits and starts, but my bearded giant is helping me give myself permission and take time and resources to do a better job balancing the care I give myself and the care I give others. He's helping around the house more (which is a miracle), we're talking through money to find something we both feel ok with me spending on myself on a regular basis, and we're both taking time to realize that life is better for everyone when I can genuinely feel good about myself and being in my skin. The issues around self-esteem, self-worth, the pressure I feel in the gender role I most strongly identify with, and my jumbled priorities are way too big to knock out with a ritual or two. I'm thinking through the idea of Shoaling a long series of them. If I see any notable success, I'll tell y'all about it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

NY, NY: Maps

Prompt here.

I have moved too many times, lived in too many overcrowded nooks of the same city, and still I haven't found a space that feels sacred and set apart every time I go there. When I need places for something, they will speak to me and call me to them, letting me know they are willing. They are sacred for my purpose, and then that door is closed. Austin has grown up too quickly and aggressively, and the spirits of the land don't seem to have adapted well to a population that's nearly quadrupled in size in the last thirty years. I don't blame them. When they started to build McMansions cantilevered off the hills in the wild places, I'm pretty sure my mom started to pray for them to fall off the cliff faces. This is sort of beside the point, except that those McMansions are at the places that used to be my refuge for wandering and sacred space free of the traces of people. No more.

I read the week's challenge to go out into sacred space and watch for omens, listen, and be open to what I'm being told. My yard doesn't feel right for magic or sacred space ever since Cash died in it. (I never knew grief could stay so raw and close to the surface, and I just can't be out there for very long, especially without some company and serious distraction.) The land around here is all fenced up ranch land, and it is not welcoming to intruders. No siree, Bob it does not want you there. So I've meditated. I've experimented with positions and energies and methods I don't usually use to create my own space. Dreams have come. Chunks of wisdom have come out of my mouth whole during conversations, as though someone far wiser than I possessed me for a minute to vomit up some wisdom and then bailed. There have been oddly portent conversations about how I could completely shift my career. I've gotten yanked back enough to see a longer timeline and get some perspective about how temporary some challenges are, and that gives me some answers.

Used under a CC license. By jbrownell.

The themes in what I've been shown are about valuing the important kinds of work I do enough to fight for the time to make them happen. They're not what I spend most of my time doing, but they're where I find and understand my worth as a person. I've been taken on some unexpected journeys to do that work, and the contrast in how I feel while doing it and after it's done vs. how I feel when I do my job has been a stern reminder that I am called to a very different kind of work. It's good, it's meaningful, and it's worth fighting for. There have been some special confirmations of that. I know it's cryptic to say all that without specifics. It would be premature. If there's one thing I have learned from being told to my face by the Lady, it's that part of being called to the craft means that you're permanently gestating one thing or another, hidden away inside yourself. It's never ok to rip it out, half-formed, because you're not patient enough to handle what you've been given. People, situations, and dreams all need help growing, being birthed into new phases, and being fostered in love. I've always known I've been called to do that for other people. It's been good to have a reminder that it's good and necessary to do that for myself, that mine are just as worthy, and that nobody's stuff gets taken care of if I don't take care of myself as a priority.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where are we going, and how the hell did I wind up in this hand basket?

I could make a big, long list of all the things I've heaped onto my life's plate right now. Over dinner the other night, Kevin said, "I'm so jealous that you have so much going on, and I only have one thing. You have like eighteen things! You're doing so much more, and I feel like I'm not doing anything." Right. That one thing? It's a freaking PhD. He's only becoming a doctor (but not the kind who helps people, the kind who knows way too much about criminal justice - this does not make him a criminal mastermind. I asked. Repeatedly. I even got him a dramatic and sinister cape.).

Here's a miniature overview of my glorious life that is totally way more impressive than getting a freaking doctorate: There's the normal productive adult stuff - job, commuting a couple hours a day, bills, running a household with a bearded giant in it and two dogs, cooking and cleaning, etc. There's that wedding looming out there towards the end of the year. Even though I have a partner, that stuff is almost entirely shouldered by yours truly because he's doing his doctorate. I have a glorious but involved historical hobby that has gotten me involved in sewing and camping and really, really heavily involved in calligraphy, which means I hold some sort of position involving special scribal projects. I spend a lot of time hunched over a drafting table and traversing the whole damn state of Texas because of it, and it's brought me some of the most wonderful friends I've ever had.

And, oh yeah, there's magic and witchery and herbalism.

I have my hodgepodge regular practice. It's like a toddler's interpretive dance to the organized ballet of high ceremonial magic. So I decided to dig in and put some outside structure and further education on that dance - hey! maybe doing the same thing a different way will be much better! I started with a Big Stack of Important Books. I read some of them. Then I got into NY, NY, which is a gentle but steady pressure towards practical goals and being mindful, but it's not a course of instruction. Deb's prompts kick my ass. With love.

And then Jason ran a little special on his Strategic Sorcery course that I couldn't pass up (I've been dying to take it, and I stupidly thought it might be less involved than cat yronwode's hoodoo course). It says right there on the site that it's a boot camp. You know how boot camp would probably explode my muscles and leave me flailing on the ground in the first fifteen minutes? It's like that, but with magic! Unlike real boot camp, it's like that in a good way. Honestly, lesson one alone made the course worth it because it answered questions I've been wrestling with for two years by actually enabling me to answer them myself. It's like each lesson distills what someone else would spend half a book rambling on about, outlines the stuff you need to understand and exactly how to do it. And then the build on top of each other - bam! bam! bam! It's hardcore. It's like the Matrix in my brain.

Here's the thing... I'm scared of the work. I have never ever done Ceremonial Magic. It's triggering some fundamentalist Christian dogma fears I thought I had rooted out, burned and scattered the ashes to the four winds a decade ago. This makes me feel like an idiot, to be able to understand the logic, reasoning, and methods laid out but sit there procrastinating because I'm afraid I'll do something wrong and the devil will get me. Or something. All the steps written out are intimidating, and I hate admitting that.

I'm trying to catch up on the current cycle of the course, which means I don't have a whole week on each lesson to be a delicate little blossom who dips her toes in. No, ma'am. I don't get to sew up bags and pull up weeds from the pasture or cook up oils. There are steps and mysterious sounds to vibrate and seals and sigils and angels that weren't in any Bible I grew up with. I'm being a ninny. The careful instructions are so I can do it right, not to enumerate just how very many ways I can screw up. Logically, I'm sure there are experienced high mages who might be intimidated to try some of the things that I think are easy as pie, that our experiences are different and not a one-upmanship thing. It's a big learning curve to hop into boot camp for a system very unlike your own. I'll let you know how it goes.

But seriously - I have no idea how I ended up juggling this many balls or how to actually prioritize. I know how I want to prioritize. Stay home all day doing magic and being a creative little haus frau. Becoming Samantha from Bewitched isn't an option right now. I had planned to use some of the NY, NY and Strategic Sorcery Course work to be even more productive! take on ALL THE THINGS! I'll do some of that. There are things that have to get done. It might be a better use to help me find balance, to say no to the unnecessary things, to set aside time for what will bring me joy and life, and to not feel bad about taking that time for myself. I think I might just be one of those women who does too much, and yet I never feel like I'm doing enough...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gradually, some magic rang out

NY, NY Prompt: What am I doing to further my goals with magic?

What am I doing, exactly? I'm doing some magic stuff, but it sure doesn't feel like I'm doing much or making much headway with it. I'm doing a lot better with small daily practices that go beyond manipulating slow drivers out of the fast lane. Meditation. Simple offerings that get done instead of elaborate ones that get put off far too often. It's been a rough, busy couple of weeks on most fronts, but I've handled it better than I usually do. Feels like I'm trudging through molasses, though.

It wasn't a week for grand flourishes or glorious rituals. Oh, no. It's the week I waded into my catch-up lessons for my Strategic Sorcery course. A lot of things started clicking and coming together, things buried all through my mind, half-gestated, and they began to form something bigger and with a shape I can almost make out. I've had some serious thinking to do. You chew on something for a long time, then bam! epiphany! Then it breeds more questions before you've even had time to loll about in your splendid revelations. Since these thoughts are about the most foundational parts of practicing magic, they deserved room and time to be explored.

I also went out of town for a few days to hang with some of my witch friends. There was much needed talking, creating things, and superb blackberry margaritas. Fruitful time as always, plus I got to do real potions work (not just pretend!) with one of my favorite kids in the whole world. After we talked her out of a "potion to kill all the bad guys so that the princesses don't have to worry any more", she and I sat down with some new Fiery Wall oil I made up and did what we could to make her new glasses less liable to break. Managed to stop her just in time when she decided to try crushing them to see if the magic worked. Kids are something else...

All in all, it feels like a have a more honest understanding of where things stand right now, some unexpected but very welcome answers, and feel more settled and sure of myself. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stirring Things Up

Is there a 101 book that doesn't tell you about the importance of having a clean space in which to work? That astral nasties live in dust and will hamper your doings? No kidding. Astral nasties is kind of an adorable term, and it's fine for the little lurking things that are gone with some well-intentioned vacuuming or dusting. It doesn't begin to do justice to the things that can get territorial and entrenched.

Confession: there's a box of books that never got fully unpacked from our old apartment. It has sat next to the bookcase in the bedroom for seven months (when did that happen?) serving as a place for dirty clothes to get tossed and ignored between laundry marathons. I know. My mother would be so disappointed in me. Anyway, I start cleaning that area up - vacuuming, sorting stuff into piles, deciding to move the bookcase somewhere else in the house. Lo and behold, there's this spirit lurking there all of a sudden, just watching. I can see him out of the corner of my eye, in the way you do. He says he's nobody and that he's just watching, since I was home alone with the dogs for a couple of days. He didn't feel quite right, but he didn't feel squicky wrong either....until the next night, when I had spent the day laundering those piles of things, putting them away or into donation bags, and he starts lunging at me in nightmare flashes, all teeth and fury and claws.

That guy was an asshole - and persistent, too. All the battle I had to do in the last apartment was good preparation. I don't know how people deal with these things if they're not ok with nature (and the supernatural) being red in tooth and claw. I've never understood people who cling so hard to the gentle and good that they almost don't acknowledge the existence of the other side of it, let alone treat it as necessary balance. They're probably the same ones who think they should get a CHL but refuse to believe that you don't draw that weapon unless you're ready to use it with lethal force. Dealing with spirits isn't that different. You talk to spirits, see what they want or need, see if they have something to tell you, see if you can diffuse a nasty situation, but if they attack, you don't hesitate to do what you need to do to defend yourself.

I wondered how he had gotten in, where I had gone wrong, what I had left undone. And then I realized that we must have brought him with us. Our last apartment was awful. Awful like a polished turd you can live in. Beautiful grounds, right on the edge of what turned out to be a really dangerous neighborhood and a complex with crooked management and dangerous people. The energy was horrible to the point where sensitive friends told me they couldn't come over and visit because it was too hard to be in there. It took an incredible amount of work to make it so that I wasn't having multiple anxiety attacks every week. The kind of magical cleansing people do annually, or maybe even outsource to a professional? It happened once a week or more. And in the new house, life and work and an engagement took over, and I never got where I felt I'd truly organized the house enough to do the great big magical house thing. I did it in bits and pieces, but I never blew it out of the water like a ferocious ninja because the new house felt SO much better, it didn't seem like a pressing need. Had I done what I should have done, I don't think I'd have been hosting a squatter from the last place.

Stupid mistake. Good motivation for getting things thoroughly cleansed and rethinking and reassessing the kind of protections that need to be in place for where we live and where we are in our lives right now. The city was very different from the country. The land here is more curious and alive but less active in intervening than I'm used to. It's peaceful, slow, and appreciates being appreciated. The drought was really hard on it, and no more farming means nobody came out to till and irrigate and reseed it. Makes sense for pasture land that's only been more than a pasture for a very few years. The last of the freezing weather should be over soon, and I'll tend it again as best I can and hope that it rewards me.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chill, Baby, Chill

NYNY: Relax, Don't Do It 

Having been sick makes this week's task to relax and indulge easy. My instinct is to say that the days I spent on the couch with the dogs watching Mob Wives and The Sopranos reruns count because they were the opposite of all the work I had planned to do.

But I was sick. So it totally doesn't count.

Balance is the key to everything. I don't get to fudge doing the all-important relaxation and go after myself with the lash to go above and beyond on the grunt work of making changes. It's not like any of us are ever going to run out of work to do. We're all good at procrastinating. That's not the same thing as luxuriating, as dedicating yourself to a period of enjoyment. Maybe I should take it as a giant clue that I need to do more relaxing and less doing that Kevin is forever telling me to, "Just. Chill. Out, baby. Chiiiiillllll. Breathe. Calm down."

So what am I going to do to fulfill my requirement to relax and indulge myself? Find ways between now and bedtime Sunday to consciously and fully indulge each sense in something ripe with beauty and pleasure, something that isn't meant to educate or improve me, something that is just for the pure enjoyment of it. I'm starting with a nice hot bath and climbing into fresh flannel sheets tonight with my love to read until we fall asleep. I'll be reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is the first novel I've picked up and enjoyed in a while.

Monday, January 2, 2012

I hope you had your peas this year

That pot holds a mess of blackeyed peas, my friends. They're my favorite, they're not easy to find fresh except for at New Year's, and I might have gotten carried away. There's at least 5 qt. of peas in there plus liquid and bacon and garlic, and for some reason, they're taking foreverrrrrr to cook. I've decided to blame it on the peas being less fresh than advertised and not take it on some kind of horrible omen about my luck. Blackeyed peas, cornbread, and some sort of greens is what my family has always done for luck, money, and abundance in the new year. It's funny - my family's not much for superstitions, but the blackeyes are a MUST. My mom calls me every year, usually more than once, to make sure I'm cooking some. Does everyone's family have something like this that they do for the new year?

I hope your year is full of pleasant surprises, useful knowledge, love, and all sorts of good things.

Mine is kicked off with a massive cleaning and organization project half-done, now lying disheveled along the roadside where I dumped it. Yesterday, I came down with a fever and some sort of cold bug. That will seriously get in the way of your Big Plans For Productivity. I also just might have maybe sorta taken on too many things at once without any help, believing that I have domestic superpowers. While the house is much cleaner (we're talking baseboards and window sills dusted clean, people), the great room is full of folded laundry and bins of off-season clothes and craft supplies that are being sorted for organization. Which is to say that it's clean, but it looks worse than it did when I started. My project to build a bar (which might get poached as an altar) out of a solid wood dresser I found by the dumpster got off to a great start. It's stripped, sanded, wiped down, has a new top, has supports in place, and now it's stalled. I can't find my saw anywhere. Oops.

I'm going to call this a lesson in being persistent and in not getting mad at myself for having human limitations. Or for not having the kind of stamina I had at 18. A lot has been accomplished. This is just the last lurch up to the top of the hill where I can admire what's been done and enjoy a smooth coast to the finish line. I have faith. I have dedication. And I think I have an idea of where my saw might be hiding.