Fear of Commitment

If I’ve got a motto for 2018 I think it’s gonna be commit. I feel like I’m behind on everything and I have a ton of things I want to do but haven’t. I spent December working on a single project, a possibles bag for my magical kit, and while I did work on a few other small projects, coming back to this one again and again until it was done was fucking magical.

Last year when I decided to do it anyway, I got a little carried away. I said yes… a lot. To a lot of things. Over and over. It was awesome – I got some new opportunities at work and I tried new crafts and new things. And I didn’t finish all of them, which is okay! But I got really distracted, and I found myself feeling like I wasn’t actually doing anything, and that was less okay.

Follow through is hard, but it’s necessary.

To that end, I’m limiting myself to two of the many, many challenges that start at the beginning of the calendar year. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have no writing goal or commitment. I gave myself permission to stop banging my head against the wall after NaNo and I haven’t figured out what to pick back up yet.

Instead on the storytelling front, my only commitment will be #BeatTheBacklist. I’ve got a ton of books in my ebook libraries that I haven’t read yet, including some magic books I very much want to get to, as well as a fair-sized stack of physical (mostly craft) books just waiting to be read. I’m hoping for a book a week from the TBR Swamp, and we’ll see as we go if that needs to be adjusted up or down. (Maybe I’ll do short reviews here even! We’ll see.)

The only other thing I’m taking on is a meditation/shadow work course Tommie Kelly of Adventures in Woo Woo is offering through his Patreon. Meditation is definitely a thing I benefited from when I was doing it regularly, but I’ve let it lapse, so this is as good a reminder as any to rebuild that habit. I did a bit of guided meditation looking for someone to be a guide and got myself led to Luke Skywalker, thanks astral plane, so clearly there’s work to be done.

Keeping it simple, and doing my best to make it work, are the plan for this year.

Failure Mode

Well, I had intended to do #domagick, and then I didn’t have any “research” to share on what I wanted to do so I figured I’d just, you know, do magic. I’ve been working on sewing a backpack/possibles bag and the more I’ve worked on it, the more it’s taken on a life and personality of its own. She had very strong opinions about shape and structure that differed from what I’d planned, and now I’m working on a late addition – turning an old Captain America t-shirt into an applique that is being over-embroidered.

The plan is to work on it every day until it is done, because follow through is not my strong point.

So then why is the post called Failure Mode? Well, I woke up at about 4:30 AM and realized I had not worked on it the night before. It turns out I’m a great deal more okay with that than I expected. There was a time not that long ago when I would have been having a scrupulosity freakout – and a time slightly less long ago when I would have thought I was okay with it but still been worrying about how best to atone or whatever.

It was understandable. We’ve been working with Bug on self-identifying when she needs help calming down, and one of the ways we do that is by having her sit with me on the couch in the semi-dark and listen to lullaby music videos on YouTube. It’s not at all surprising that sometimes one or both of us falls asleep there.

So I woke up and I did last night’s stitching, and it is what it is.

And now I’m going back to bed.

Aspirations and Inspirations

Been a bit quiet… not just here, but it feels like everywhere in my life. I have been thinking a lot about being the kind of character I want to be, drawing on things I’ve done in the past like Working With Mary Sue and things I’ve read recently like Deb Castellano’s new book.

When I first started on Deb’s book a few months back, I started a pinterest board called #aesthetic, where I’ve been filing away things that appeal to me on a “yes I want to be the person that wears/owns/does that” level. It’s been an interesting challenge, since when I was Konmari-ing, there was a strong emphasis on facing down the aspirational things you own. Konmari says there’s no point in owning things for the person you feel like you should be or want to be rather than the person you are.

There’s a lot of truth in that, especially the “should be” part. Don’t feel obliged to own tools you aren’t comfortable using, books everyone says you should read, or things like that. Evaluating whether the things in your life are there because they’re serving you is important.

At the same time, though, aspirational things can go two ways. Yes, there’s the unhealthy one where you’re buying things you never use because you’re not the kind of housekeeper who’s going to keep up a Pinterest-worthy dry erase family calendar, or the crafter who has time for elaborate stained glass projects in your tiny apartment, or even the person who remembers to put the matching decorative pillows on the bed every day when you make it. This is the equivalent of having clothes in your closet for after you lose weight, but without any concrete plans for weight loss. They are made of spun sugar and guilt. They only sit there and make you feel bad. Why am I not a better housekeeper, crafter, parent, spouse? Fuck that. Trash the fucking decorative pillows. Trash the ritual that makes you feel silly instead of sacred. Burn all of that guilt and expectation to the ground.

The other thing you can do with an aspirational thing, though… and I suppose this would be the point where the aspirational thing gives you joy… is bring yourself to it’s level. I want to be the kind of person who cooks, who crafts, who makes his own tools. I joke that my aesthetic is solarpunk maker, but there’s no reason I can’t be that weirdo in real life. I still need to go to work and take care of the kid and all that but even when my neurochemistry is kicking my butt, I feel better when I do stuff. Even if doing the barest minimum of stuff feels insurmountable, I feel better having done it. There’s satisfaction in a clean house, in mending clothes, in making things. In doing some tiny part to make better choices.

So I have two options. Wrestle the joy from something, or admit it doesn’t fit my life and let the expectation go.

I have been using NaNoWriMo as a sort of test run for finding joy. I struggle with hobbies because I want to throw myself into them, but I also want to do everything at once, and then executive function steps in and I do nothing. This is not optimal, obviously. NaNo was a good excuse to focus on just one thing for a couple of weeks and not feel bad about everything else, telling myself everything else would have a turn also.

I am not going to win NaNo this year. I did write some stuff, though, and I’m writing a blog post for the first time in almost six months. I played with some various tools and ended up back at 750words, where I used to write years ago and drifted away from. It’s simple, I can log in anywhere, it auto-saves and there’s no extra bells and whistles and game mechanics to distract me… plus there’s a motivation to write daily but no real sense of failure if I don’t. If I can keep it that way, it’ll work well.

Halfway through the month, I went to Wordstock looking for inspiration and I found it in the Laika exhibit. Not writing but I found myself wanting to get back to dolls, to sewing, to miniatures. So writing is good solid practice but it doesn’t quite fit into all the small niches of my life right now.

What’s next then? Well, #domagick’s theme for December is meditation, and I’ve got some magical stitchery I’ve been plotting out, so I’m thinking meditative needlework is a good way to go. I’ve got time to do some research and I have a project in mind to start so that’ll be fun.

Calling My Yaya

Originally posted on Pagan Bloggers.

I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky, U2, One Tree HillToday is my Yaya’s birthday. She would have been 85 today.

On the ancestor altar, she is represented by a tiny set of ceramic cats she let me have years ago.

I’ve written about her in bits and pieces. She took care of me as a small kid when my parents were working, and on school breaks and snow days until I was old enough to stay by myself. She taught me to hand sew, and thus I think about her when I embroider now. I used to make little pouches and dolls out of her rags.

She and my grandfather bought a small house and stayed there, in a small city that grew into a medium suburb. When I was a kid, all sort of stores were within a few blocks walk and the really fancy ones like the Woolworth’s were only a bus ride away. Time and the economy have chipped away most of the places she used to take me as a kid, but the lessons remain. I live in a walkable neighborhood now, and I knew I wanted that a long time ago.

She taught me to ride public transportation; she never drove. Being comfortable getting around on buses from a young age gave me a lot of independence. As a teenager I was able to take summer classes at the University near that old Woolworth’s. When I studied overseas, I was unafraid, even eager to conquer the public transit system there and get around on my own.

Tonight I tried a couple of times to tell stories about her to Bug. It’s always hard to tell how much she’s taking in, but there’s plenty of time in the future.

I brought down one of the little ceramic cats, the black one, and set it on the working altar. I lit candles.

Bug wanted me to “turn on all the candles” and I had to explain to her that there were enough.

I asked my Yaya to help me take care of my Bug, the way she’d helped raise me and my sister, my cousins and my niece. I could use the guidance, and Bug can use all the help I can get her.  I miss her a lot, but I also feel like she’s listening.

Our conversations used to be a lot of silence too, in person and on the phone. Lots of stopping and thinking, I guess.

I still think about going left, and whether I had anything else to say to her, but even tonight, or last year on Samhain, I feel like it’s more silence than poetry. Our relationship wasn’t complicated: I love her, she loves me, she cared for me, she taught me. She let me be and didn’t ask questions, so I didn’t feel like I didn’t know how to answer. She let me play my weird little one person imaginary games in the yard, or lock myself in her room when my sister was driving me crazy in the afternoon. If I hid out in the attic, or spent the morning scribbling in the old steno pads or dollar store notebooks she gave me, well, that was fine and did I want a Tastykake with my sandwich for lunch?

That’s the parenting advice she wants me to take from her, as much as she tells me anything… She let me be weird. In turn, I have strong memories of learning to talk to spirits in that attic room, of feeling safe in those spaces to exist and to do what I wanted without being questioned. I want Bug to know that she is loved unconditionally and without explanation needed. I want Bug to do better for herself than I did, just like Yaya and my grandfather made sure my dad and my uncles were able to do better.

So I call to her, and I think of midnight at her kitchen table when neither of us could sleep and we weren’t bothering to talk, either, just co-existing in a way I wouldn’t have the vocabulary to appreciate until much later. We don’t have to talk much. Ancestor work is much more about presence than working with the powers, maybe because ancestors can trip a full array of memories I associate with them in a way other powers can’t; the vocabulary isn’t there in the same way.

Maybe that’s why I struggle with working with ancestors I don’t have personal associations with, now that I think about it. It will be a challenge to bring Bug up honoring a great-grandmother she doesn’t have that kind of experience with, seeing if the relationship becomes real for her in some other way or if it remains an abstract sort of honoring.

Local Gods: Portlandia

I imagine that Portlandia wonders sometimes how Athena managed with Athens.

Portland wants desperately to be a city of art and craft, of good food and progressive politics, hip and clever, full of small businesses and neighborhoods that are still full of neighbors, a beautiful city full of art and nature. And it is those things! It is also a city shaped by racism and gentrification, a city that wants artists but where artists can barely afford to live, and a city that fails to live up to its ideals.

Portlandia has been on the city’s seal since 1878. A tall woman bearing a trident, she looks out over the Willamette River and her valley. She is described as the Queen of Commerce and a star shines over her head. I was first drawn to her because of this; I saw her as a relative of my goddess Mara. New to the city and job-hunting, I made offerings that we might find work. Ultimately we ended up in a suburb outside of Portlandia’s domain, but I kept circling back to her and to the city itself.

A bit over thirty years ago, Portland installed a large (second only to the Statue of Liberty) copper statue of Portlandia above the entrance to the then-new Portland building. This depiction of Portlandia does not tower over the river valley, but instead she crouches down, holding her trident out to one side and reaching out to the city inhabitants below. There is an amazing amount of emotion in her face and body, and it was this statue that helped me make that connection with her.

She is the city, and like the city, she wants to be better. She wants to make things better for her inhabitants. She reaches out to help. She offers a hand up. I have gone to her for help finding work and for help finding housing.

I’ve never seen her work alone; it’s always in concert with other local spirits when I get results. I call her with the rivers, with the bridges, with the city ancestors, and with the spirits of smaller parts of the city. The offerings she seems to like best are public praise (Portland is a little bit self-obsessed), taking care of the homeless, and taking care of the city itself. Supporting local artists, local presses and local businesses is good, too. When you can, battle gentrification and racism, and hold the city government accountable.

Do your part to take care of Portland and Portlandia will do her part to take care of you as well.

This post was inspired by Sara Mastros’s American Gods Project; there’s plenty of good stuff worth reading over there.

Ostara, Easter, Beltane, Overwhelm

Originally posted on Pagan Bloggers.

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. -Rainer Maria RilkeOne of the hardest parts of starting from scratch is having to evaluate absolutely everything to decide if we want to include it or not.

Holidays are complex and mysterious things for me. Left to my own devices, almost everything creeps up on me without giving me a chance to get much planning done, even for holidays I enjoy like Halloween and holidays that I have off work like Thanksgiving. If I was on my own, I’d probably just enjoy the quiet day off a national holiday offers. However, holidays are important to my spouse, and I want my kid to grow up enjoying them if possible, so I continue to think about it.

There are going to be holidays no matter what- the ones we already celebrate, yes, but also the secular and dominant-faith-narrative holidays. Some things are outside of our control. Bug goes to a secular daycare, but that means there’s Christmas and Easter celebrations at school… and Christmas in particular is hard to avoid. The Universalist Unitarian church we attend has an Easter egg hunt every year as well.

Good holidays require planning. Lent and Advent were great for that when I was a kid (plus, let’s be honest, my mom did all the work) and I think it might be nice to bring some of that sense of anticipation in. Adapting an Advent calendar would go over well, I think, as well as stuff like “looking at lights” and “engaging in service opportunities” that put one in mind of it being an important time. I’ve actually got a full twelve days of Yule that I’ve been doing in a religious sense for several years now, as well as my other two New Years, but almost none of that translates well to celebrating with a toddler.

This year, Ostara came so far ahead of Easter that it wasn’t even on my radar until I started seeing posts from other pagans about it. Ostara is a great holiday, and one that really ought to be celebrated for Mara, thematically. But it didn’t happen. I let it go and resolved to do a bit more with Easter instead, to make up for it.

Lent is harder than Advent since the dates don’t like up well at all, but something like that would not be inappropriate for that time of year… Ostara is Mara’s emergence from the Woods. We thank and celebrate Brhenti’s aid through the winter at Imbolc, but while the ground has thawed, there’s not much in the way of fresh fruit between Imbolc and Ostara (unless your grocery store is importing it from Mexico). It’s a time of reflecting on what strength we’ve left to carry us out of the winter.

We did manage some Easter for Bug. It was very basic, mostly an egg hunt on Easter morning. It was hard because Easter was the same weekend as her birthday, so there was already plenty of excitement to go around. (I’m honestly not sure if she understood where ‘party for her’ ended and ‘party about bunnies’ began.) In fact, this would have been an ideal year to celebrate Ostara instead… but of course that didn’t happen. No use crying over spilt Cadbury eggs.

Beltane… well, we did sort of celebrate Beltane, though it was largely by accident. May is when the city we’ve moved into starts coming alive for the summer, so the first weekend included a First Friday celebration with local businesses, musicians and artists, a Mayfair at the local Waldorf school, and the First Market on Sunday. We went out after work on Friday to look at the sights, and on Saturday spent some time at Mayfair until Bug got tired. I brought home flowers from First Market for my spouse, who immediately placed them on the new altar.

Ah yes, the new altar. I’m working on a project for my spouse the next two months, and this kicked off with repeating the ritual for Juno I did last year. I had some pokes from Star Wars day and some pokes from Juno and I ended up with the sketched outline of a syncretization of Juno-Leia I’m calling the Juno of Alderaan.

And then I ended up with a felted doll of her, because that’s what happens when you’re me. One of the ways I understand things is through craft, so I spent the hours shaping the body form, choosing the colors, studying Leia’s hair styles to decide what I wanted to do…

I’m very pleased with the result, actually.

Mostly I’m trying to get my head on straight. I’ve been making my offerings to the local spirits and to Mara every day, and I’m hoping to try some more organized magical work for the household in June. Summer is full of festivals and holidays and at the same time they feel much less formal, less set in stone. There will be a pilgrimage to the ocean, there will be fairs and fiber festivals, there will be the tracking of which foods come and go at the farmers’ market. All of these things matter, but the precise dates matter less than knowing when they happen in relation to each other.

I’ve got my rough shape. Some of the work to be done is hammering in details; some needs to happen when it happens. All of it will come in time.

Carnival Season

Just recently I saw my first carnival of the season.

As I see Wodanaz in both the Hunt and the Carnival, the first carnival of the year is a moment like the first farmer’s market, where I am seeing a power shift from their winter self to their summer self and I stop to acknowledge the passage of time.

This is, of course, entirely UPG, but the role of carnivals in pop culture is liminal and dangerous, a place where the bad are punished and strange blessings and curses both might come up, so it seems reasonable to me that archetypal Carnival might feed on the same energies as the Hunt. And of course, I first met Wodanaz wearing the face of Mr Dark.

I know other pagans who mark their seasons with nature-based observations, noting when plants first sprout or ripen, but I suspect I’m just not sufficiently earth-attuned for that. I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the signs of the seasons, what the plants are doing and so on, and I can certainly note and appreciate it. It just doesn’t resonate for me the way spotting the lights of a ferris wheel on the side of the freeway does.

Winter's Mara

who are you without your identity?
lay down, settle in your bones
let your self release above you,
a balloon you are disconnected from.
you are your body, too, what is left
when your soul leaves. feel your body
breathing, digesting, slowing,
churning, falling apart an inch at a time.

she keeps us alive, feeding us,
but in the Winter she will bleed us
and cut us down and leave us
to others who seek sustenance.
she is not concerned with
what comes after aside from
decomposition.

we break down with our
component parts. we go on to become
part of others’ cycles.

Fallen Off the Earth?

Not quite, though I’ve been trying to be more mindful about my social media and computer usage in general. April is for poetry, so I’ve been poeming.

Most of my poetry so far has been related to one of my fiction projects and posted on Dreamwidth as a collection and a second, longer piece. I also wrote a sonnet about lunch.

I also published A Home Made of Bells over at October Country.

A Home Made of Bells

originally published at Pagan Bloggers

Last year I embarked on what I half-jokingly called a “spiritual KonMari”. In the same way that the tidying program promises to put your house in order, I wanted to bring clarity to my spiritual house as well as my physical household. The process ended up going in directions I had not at all expected, as I was quickly reminded that hearth and mind and faith are all related in complex ways.

Sage’s post about hearthcraft rang true for me. I tend to be the kind of person more interested in mysticism than the mundane, and my practice reflected that – lots of meditation and direct interactions with spirits, lots of hands-on magic and astral travel and hours and hours in the library and the whole life-eating nine yards.

But there was a point when I realized that that way led disordered thinking and unhealthy relationships, and I had to move away from a lot of those things. (Also, I’m too old to go without sleep for days anymore and Bug doesn’t like it when I meditate while she wants to play. C’est la vie.) To borrow Rowling’s terminology, I had to switch gears from Ravenclaw to Hufflepuff.

I spent years stripping layer after layer like paint from a Craigslist dresser. I’m still not sure there is hardwood underneath. It may be all paint and the memory of drawers. But I have gone far enough down and it’s time to build up again.

Once I stripped all of the things that no longer worked for me away, I found that, like Morag, I had a pile of good stuff left over, raw materials and things to upcycle with no rhyme or rhythm to them. I had a few practices, and a few spirits I loved, whose presence in my life brings me joy. I had trinkets that make my heart sing to touch them, and some habits and gestures that keep me grounded and happy.

I spent March working on a daily practice, inspired by #domagick. I learned a lot, chief of which was that I don’t want the kind of daily practice I started with. I began with the assumption that anything worth doing had to wait until after Bug was tucked into bed and I was alone, not going to be disturbed. What I realized when I was actually doing it is that doing that takes the fun out of evenings spent with Bug, because I’m distracted waiting for her to fall asleep.

As the month went on, I found I was continually being pushed to other things and I was prompted to think about why Brhenti wanted me to darn socks or why the best place to honor Pechak and Velos was at the confluence of two rivers. I started to understand why honoring differently put me in such a different mindset. It helped ensure I was able to see Brhenti in the small things. It helped me to understand some of the nature of Pechak and Velos’s relationship to each other and to Mara.

I finished the month with a few very concrete things that lay a solid foundation. Some of them are more practical than others but they all help with the building process. And it’s very much a building process.

I like reading about unusual styles of house construction – straw bale, earthbag, cob, I love them all. I keep circling back to the idea of building my own house, if I had land and time enough. I grew up watching This Old House on PBS, enjoying the slow transformation of a project over an entire season; HGTV is fun but it’s not the same.

I’m fascinated by the process of building something one step at a time, from almost nothing to a fully-functional modern home. Sometimes I dream of building a home with my own hands for my family, something we can settle in.

I don’t have land and I’m running low on straw bales, but I see this as the same kind of opportunity. Instead of Morag’s yarn, you could say I have a barn full of reclaimed materials, old windows, flea market furniture and empty wooden pallets. Some of them are in great shape and some need more work, but overall I just need to start slowly, lay a solid foundation, and then build up from there. It’s all about thinking about why I’m doing something.

For example, I was thinking about bells, mostly because I ran out of places to hang wind chimes. I’ve long used wind chimes as a part of my wards, but bells were one of those things I liked but didn’t end up using as much as I wanted. I’ve experimented with them in lots of different ways, but nothing quite clicked. I had a tube of bells in red and green and gold that I picked up after Christmas for 90% off somewhere, thinking I’d string them for some purpose.

Now, Bug’s been having a rough time sleeping, and I was trying to think of something that might help. We’ve got night lights and white noise and the like, but too often she wakes up scared and doesn’t calm for anything. It’s hard for her, because she ends up fighting sleep a lot, and it’s hard for me and her mama because if she’s not sleeping, at least one of us is probably not sleeping either.

Bug isn’t able yet to articulate what’s scaring her, so we’re coming at the problem in the metaphorical dark as well as the literal one. We’ve talked some about powers watching over her in a broad sense, and about how the visible wards on her room are there to protect her, but I wanted to see if something a little more direct would help.

I got out some ribbon and the bells and called Bug over to look.

“Which of these colors do you like?”

“All of them.”

I tied the first bell on one end of the ribbon, and then showed her how I was stringing them like her beads. They were fiddly enough that I had to start them on the ribbon, but I had her do as much of the stringing as she could. I let her pick how many bells she wanted, and we ended up with three clumps. While we worked on it, I talked to her about how the river sprites would hear it and come protect her if she rang it at night.

I made one for the back door as well while I was at it – mine’s fewer bells, and equally spaced, with more knot magic thrown in. It’s still pretty simple, though.

Even if I wanted to go into mysticism again, I couldn’t. Parenthood has taught me more about living in the moment than my flailing attempts at meditation ever did.

I need a faith for a household. Something I can offer my daughter, and something that brings me that joy even when I don’t have time for complicated daily practice. I need something with a solid foundation, with practical benefits, and one project at a time, I think I’ll get there.