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.