Day 21 – And Now For Something Completely Different

This morning was pretty unremarkable – I got dressed, started the dishwasher, took out the trash, said morning prayers on my way to work, got on the phone. The usual. I started playing with the new to-do tracking in my bullet journal. Then around 11:30 I noticed something was weird on the edges of my vision. Some of my peripheral vision was missing, and more was weirdly blurry. It didn’t last very long, and was followed by a headache.

Normally I’d just try to forget it as soon as possible but I ran it by my spouse to see what they’d say and their reaction was “uh, nope. call Advice Nurse.”

So I compromised and emailed Advice Nurse, and you know it’s a bad sign when you email Advice Nurse and she calls you back almost immediately. I described it to her and she wanted me to come in today. Just. you know, in case. Because of my medical history.

(Have I mentioned how much I hate that phrase?)

So off I went, in the middle of the day, and it was resoundingly not awesome, but everyone agreed it was for the best that I came in just to make sure.

In other news, I have ruined my streak of not having migraines since the early 2000s.

The streak I have not ruined is doing this practice every day, because I dragged my sorry butt down the creek anyhow, and called out to Tuesday’s power, who’s starting to acquire epithets, at least. He is called the Stolen Crown and the Maligned One and Dread Fairness. He’s extremely formal when I’m in ritual but can turn around and smirk at me the next minute, and he’s not what I thought he was at all, but that’s just par for the course for me, ain’t it?

Anyway. Three weeks down and off we go again…

Progress? Week One

I went to the doctor today. I didn’t intend to, but the baby was sick and we were at urgent care anyway and I’ve been coughing for 2 weeks and my spouse told me I needed to. They were right. They were so so right.

It looks like I have bronchitis and maybe also mono or thrush or something just to spice it up a bit. We’ll see in a couple of days. In the meantime, National Novel Writing Month is going about as well as you might expect when you have bronchitis and maybe mono.  That is to say: I think I’m behind.

I am writing every day. That’s something at least.

If you’re counting, you know that means I’ve been sick since before Halloween. I did manage to close out the month the way I intended, and do both my final dark moon offering and the Global Hekate Rite. I started NaNo. I… sort of kicked off the King’s Ride?

I’m writing, but Tzymir remains elusive. I feel like I’m giving chase, and I’m not sure I’m doing it right.

Last night I actually dreamed about chasing and being chased – I angered an immortal elf queen and she tracked me down in life after life until I tried to turn the tables by chasing her down instead. At one point she hamstrung me and I kept going after her.

Which is, I will admit, an awful lot like how I feel now, having got back from urgent care.

It’s a weird feeling, especially given that I just happened to have no voice on the 1st of November, and had gotten the go-ahead from my boss to call off in that exact situation despite still being in my first 90 days. I was handed the holiday I like to celebrate on the 1st – but I was too sick to fully enjoy it and I got a little better but now I feel worse. Was that a gift? Is this a challenge? Am I reading too much into it?

Probably. I’m used to crappy things that turn out to be for the best in the long run (*cough*cancer*cough*) but if someone’s going to turn this one around for me, they’d better do it soon.

 

 

 

Agnosticism and Faith and the Hole In My Brain

I still don’t know.

You remember the MRI I mentioned back around Labor Day? The one where I was supposed to have the results on Wednesday? Well it’s a week past Wednesday, I’ve emailed and called my doctor, and I still haven’t heard anything. I haven’t yet had a nervous breakdown yet. I attribute this to Lady Prozac and my patient spouse, who pointed out that the last time I got bad news about a tumor it was very prompt, so it’s probably fine. 

After trying to reach my doctor’s office again today I spent a few minutes freaking out and then sitting with my fear. I’m scared of abandoning my spouse and my child. I’m scared of all the things I haven’t written. I’m scared of all the ways my mind can betray me. 

What I ended up thinking about, though, is that the tumor is there in my brain regardless. It has been there my entire life. It may be growing, and it may not be growing, but whatever it is doing, it was doing it before I had the MRI. Knowing doesn’t change what is actually happening in my head.

So: I am an agnostic on the subject of my tumor. Most of the time I hope it is harmless, static, not doing anything much. I have no way of knowing unless it’s time for my alternate-year MRI, or unless something goes very wrong. (And depending on the wrong, I might not get the chance to know then.) I believe the thing that let’s me stay functional. I probably am fine. It’s statistically likely, and yes, they would almost certainly have called if something was worrisome. My OCD is better and my aphasia isn’t worse and I’m probably fine.

But I wonder: what if it’s not fine?

And I believe in the powers because the alternative if a lifetime of self-delusion and schizophrenia and a world where nothing makes sense, not even my senses. But sometimes I wonder: what if none of it is real?

I was asked recently who or what motivates me as a writer, and as I chewed it over, I realized that a big part of my motivation is fear.

I wrote that last line and then I thought about it for a while, stepped outside and raised my arms. I called: Hekate! Mara! Redbird!

I offered: I make a gift to you of my fear!

I doubted, and then I shook my head. My fear must be precious, because I give it so much space in my heart and my mind. It motivates me and it protects me. Many of my virtues spring from it. I either need to learn to work with it or I need to learn to cast it aside. Do with it as you see fit.

And then I made my offerings as I usually do lately, and since I didn’t bring another way to divine a response, I unlocked the car and turned on the radio.

I was greeted by: Every storm runs, runs out of rain
Just like every dark night turns into day

And it was so perfect an answer that I wondered if it could be that easy, especially when I’d just been writing a blog post about agnosticism. How am I supposed to make my point when the powers are being so obvious? And yet I know that it’s only really obvious to me. I’ve divined by song since the 90s, never in any kind of system so much as I know when a song is meant to be for me. But wasn’t that just the same thing – having faith that patterns meant something, when I had no way of knowing for sure?

About that time the song ended, and the next one I recognized almost immediately.

Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya
When I play the highway FM
I find my soul revival
Singing every single verse
Yeah I guess that’s my church

It’s a song called My Church, for fuck’s sake, about finding meaning in the songs on the radio and the heart of the wind and I thought okay, okay, you win.

You win.

And that’s the thing about my fears, and the gods. I can’t prove the powers exist in any objective way. I can’t prove that my fears are impossible, even if they’re statistically unlikely. That doubt worms in despite the drugs and the therapy techniques and the meditation… but throwing off that agnosticism feels so good, even when I know it’ll be back. Giving myself permission to believe things, to try them on and see if I’m happier with them or without them, is my big act of faith. I can always stop having faith later if it’s not working out for me.

So: You win. For now, I believe, because the alternative is worse. I need to go back to writing more, because the alternative is worse. I ask: Hekate! Mara! Redbird! I make a bridle of my compulsions, I make a saddle of my goals! Help me to tame my fears and to ride them out. Show me how to find motivation without being swallowed up!

And I say: Voice of Fear, I see you, I hear you. I call you out. Work with me. Let us have a partnership. 

I have a Muse who inspires me, but I suspect the Voice of Fear is a title for someone who’s been around, and pushing at me, for a while. I think I need to learn to take from, and give to, both of them.

Why do I write like I’m running out of time? Because you are, he whispers. But I’m running out of time whether I write or not. Energy moves whether I believe in it or not. The gods answer as they will, regardless of how I feel in that moment.

I feel better when I write. I am happier when I make. I feel better when I believe in the gods. I am happier when I have faith. I feel better when I accept that I will die eventually, and I am happier when I tell myself that it’s probably not now. I won’t know until I do know. I’m agnostic. But I choose to have faith, I pick a side and march forward, I keep going, because the alternative is to… I don’t even know. I just keep moving forward.

Uncertainty

I spent a chunk of my long weekend (and praise and thanks to the powers who helped me land a job where I have weekends off and paid holidays again) in a large tube, getting pictures taken of my brain and making sure the hole in it is right where I left it. Of course, thanks to the long weekend, it’ll be several days before a radiologist looks at it and sends their interpretation along to my doctor.

In the meantime… well, praise and thanks to Lady Prozac, handmaiden to Delirium, because I’m actually not a nervous wreck for probably the first time since the original tumor was found. I am still anxious about the results, of course. Despite the fact that I put off getting the MRI as long as possible (because I hate getting MRIs), suddenly now I can’t get an answer soon enough.

There’s been a lot of uncertainty to go around the last few months. I’m settling into the new job now, but there’s a learning curve and what makes me feel settled and sure in a job is feeling like I’m good at what I do. I don’t expect to have that feeling as a brand new employee but not having it is still leaving me feeling a little adrift. Not to mention that now that I have a job we’re talking about moving… 

I keep waiting for it to settle down, but it never really does. I can work to deal with that, though, and find peace where I can, now that I know what it looks like. 

On Shapeshifting

I was born with misplaced cells in my brain, trying to make it do something it was never meant to do.

This isn’t a metaphor. This was an epidermoid brain tumor.

Pagans talk a lot about being embodied, accepting and learning to love the body we have. Strange fences spring up when we talk about changing our bodies. “Taking care of” our bodies is a good thing. Exercising to change your appearance is acceptable, even encouraged. Tattoos and hair dye are common.

But surgery? Surgery is Too Much. There’s a point where you’re somehow rejecting the body you were “given”. If you’re talking to a certain contingent of the Goddess movement, or some conservative heathens, or other pockets here and there, changing your gender is somewhere on a spectrum between “lying” (to yourself, to other people) and self-mutilation. You’re supposed to love the body you were given.

My body is monstrous: it is incorrect, it is socially unacceptable, it has tried to kill me in multiple ways, with dysphoria and brain tumor and cancer cells. How do you love that which both keeps you alive and tries to kill you?

Embodiment is a crock, but it’s a crock we’re stuck with. I can’t just flip a switch and get along with my body, so I (and my doctors) do what can be done to make my body more comfortable and less murderous. Breasts are removed, taking cancer cells with them. A tumor is gently excised, the scar behind my ear largely forgotten except for biannual checks. Hormones are injected and dysphoria is reduced. A hundred smaller choices add up.

This is shapeshifting. My body and I are still monstrous, but at least we are monstrous on our own terms. I am doing my best to get my “mental self” aligned with my physical self. In the past, that included astral shapeshifting to reduce dysphoria, practicing having a “feminine” shape so that I would feel less uncomfortable in the physical body. These days the shapeshifting is much more bringing the body into alignment with my mental self. It’s more permanent that way.

It’s hard, but in the long run I’m learning an important lesson about embodiment: accept that the body you’re in is yours in the way you’d accept that an apartment you’re living in is yours. Change it so that it works for your life. Don’t have a dining room if you don’t have fancy dinner parties. Add a workshop for your woodworking projects. Embracing embodiment doesn’t mean settling. It means making what you have healthy for you.

Goal Evaluations, Two Years On

Cartoon showing baby representing New Year 190...
Cartoon showing baby representing New Year 1905 chasing old man 1904 into history. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Not long after I started this blog, Deb started her New Year, New You project and challenged people to come up with goals for the new year that we could work on, both magically and mundanely. These goals comprised some of the first things I talked about on this blog and I thought it might be interesting to revisit them.

 

  1. Health – Well, when I did this two years ago, I didn’t have insurance, and now I do and I’m seeing my doctor and all that good stuff, so that’s definitely an improvement. Goals like “eating better” and “working out” are up and down. I did join a gym this year, because my wife’s employer reimburses for it and therefore I don’t end up in a shame spiral if I don’t go all the time. I should probably go more, but it seems like I’m always busy lately.
  2. Wealth – What am I busy with? Mostly work. I’m still working at the job I started shortly after beginning the original NYNY. I’ve also started doing freelance writing on the side, and I’m exploring some other “hussles” as I’ve seen a variety of people describe it. I’ve had quite a bit of luck with financial magic, so I’ll take that.
  3. Mind – I haven’t been doing so good, but I did finally get my ass into therapy, so I’m hoping this qualifies as a turnaround.
  4. Creativity – I actually stopped counting words this year, in part due to the aforementioned freelance writing. On the other hand, I’ve made more progress on Theos Logos than I have in probably eight years. I suppose that’s a wash.
  5. Magic/Religion – Well, to a certain extent this ties into the last category with the Theos Logos and the Project Protagonist stuff. My practice has definitely come a long way in the last two years. But I could be doing more – I’m behind on the Strategic Sorcery work, for one. I think I’m going to make an effort there as well.

 

I suppose the important thing is that I can definitely see progress from where I was two years ago. That’s a nice perspective to have as I get ready for the second new year; I’ve been feeling pretty stuck lately, and I could use it.

 

The Broken Lock and the Path Not Taken

I was just reading a blog post about being ridden by Frigga, in which the author described the process of letting a god in as going inside herself and opening a door:

Somewhere, deep inside, where the mind, the soul and the body meet there is a door. A quiet little backdoor. I do not know if everyone has this door. I do not know if anyone can find it. I do not know if everyone could open it. I do not know if anyone could close it back up again. I do know it wouldn’t be safe for most people to try.

It’s a pretty good description of the way I used to let people in. Odin in the guise of Professor Dark taught the way to the door at about… oh, probably nine or ten at the oldest. That was how we went out and how people came in.

That note above about “I don’t know if anyone could close it”? Yeah, I had that problem. One of my regular visitors decided that she should have an in whenever she wanted, and so she basically jammed the lock.

I didn’t have any control for a long time, and nothing I did fixed the door. Probably if I’d been in the right place at the time, Odin could have offered some kind of fix, but he was MIA at the time. I might have ended up owing him, so maybe it’s for the best. More than once, I put a call out into the universe that I would do anything for whoever could fix the damn lock. The first time I did that, I got Delirium. The second time, I got my Lady of Suicidal Ideation. I tried one thing after another, and finally there was only one solution.

I stopped asking. I did the brickwork myself, essentially sealing off the door, Cask of Amontillado style. I broke the screen and blew up the battery and my godphone is permanently offline.

There’s a small amount of coming and going among us still, but it’s very, very limited. There was probably a point where I could have gone down the priest/horse path. I’m not sure if I left it when she broke the lock or when I closed off the door, though I’m pretty sure that trying after the lock was broken would have ended badly.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I’d gone that way instead. Presumably Odin would have stepped in and done the fix, and I’d owe him big-time for it, though it’s possible someone else could have. Pretty much anyone who did would have owned me when they were done. It’s strange to think about it.

I always visualized the door as being at the base of my skull, if it were to be physically located on my body. When I had my brain surgery a couple of years ago, it felt like the final act of blocking out that possibility, even though the actual incision is a little off to the side.

It’s also strange to think that the anniversary of my surgery is coming up. As always, the year is flying by. We’re up to R already! It’s almost September, and it’s started raining again. God, it’ll be first New Year before I know it. I don’t have time to worry about what might have been; I need to worry about what comes next.

I have the blessing of a life that remained my own. That’s worth appreciating.

Mental Gymnastics

Joining a gym. That was a thing we did.

It ended up being a pretty straightforward choice for us. The gym we joined has several classes we’ve been planning to pursue, a pool, and convenient locations and hours. When I did the math, the gym membership cost less than the classes and the community pool, as well as being more convenient than the latter, plus I can drop in before or after work and spend some time on the bikes or the weight machines.

I know there are lots of people who argue against joining a gym – it’s an unnecessary expense, it’s extra time, nobody ever goes, and so on. Believe me, I’ve thought through all of it. But the math for the classes Amber wants to take is pretty compelling, and paying some money to do a healthy thing versus paying no money to almost never to a healthy thing makes spending the money sound reasonable.

I’ve messed around with bodyweight exercise, with stuff you can do at home, with the paleo-style spontaneous exercise. But it comes back to the same thing everything else comes back to: I need habit. I need schedule. And I’m more effective when I acquiesce to that need rather than fighting it.

Since one of the gym locations is on my way home from work, I can easily go there two nights a week. Amber will meet me there after she gets back from work. Bam, instant schedule. Add in the Saturday morning tai chi class (yang style, I missed you!) and I have a workout plan that sounds sustainable, at least to me. Now I get to see how that works in practice, I suppose.

H is for Hacks and Habits, Housework and Homework

The term “lifehack” has become so broad as to be meaningless, but it was originally created to mean all those little tricks that made your life a little easier – the real life equivalent of digging into the code of a program to make it run more effectively. It’s the art of figuring out how to jury-rig life to get the outcome you want. It’s actually pretty compatible with magic when phrased that way; it reminds me of the Virtual Adept mindset. Reality is code- hack it.

Reality is also weird. I had a sort of spiritual experience at the thrift store on Saturday. I don’t know how it is for other people, but for me, there’s usually a moment of Understanding! that’s internal and completely intuitive. Then, over the next few days, it filters through all the junk in my brain to make it into conscious, rational thought, and only then can I put words to it. Suffice to say it began with the idea that a wooden coffee table at the Goodwill Outlet is a manner by which I can more fully understand synchronicity and Mara’s generosity.

I’ve had a lot of complicated things going on lately in my relationship with Mara, related to the outcome of the prosperity magic I was doing with Amber. She’s asking more of me than she has before, both in terms of what she wants me to do and not do, and in terms of what she wants me to talk about. It’s not quite as intense as god-slave relationships I’ve read about, but I’m definitely “in her service” in a way that differs from my relationships with other deities. I’m not irreverent the way I am with the Norse. She is a whole different ballgame.

Mara has always made it very clear to me that she is the Lady of the Household – she always gets first choice of altar space, and the house very much centers around her. She’s not traditionally a hearth goddess but she practically functions as one for us. So I’m thinking about a series of posts about “House Work” – the things she asks of me are practical, down-to-earth things, mostly having to do with how I take care of myself, my family, and my house, but which are part of the Work she feels I need to be doing.

I mentioned to a couple of friends that I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in reading this, but a few of you actually are, so go figure. (I appreciate it, I’m just a little boggled.) Some of this work is going to require changing my habits – just because something is easy, doesn’t mean it’s the best option. So I’ve been looking at lifehacks and other ways to make changing my habits easier, and doing my homework so I can start in on this new phase.

A Place Called Vertigo

My official vertigo diagnosis is Benign Positional Vertigo, which is one of those catch-all diagnoses that means “You have these symptoms but we don’t know why.” The only medication I’ve ever been prescribed for it was something to fight off the nausea, and I don’t bother with that much anymore.

Only two things have ever really helped. The first was figuring out that half the problems I was having came from full-bore panic attacks triggered with the vertigo. Meditation and chanting for Kuan Yin helped me get that under control so that most of the time I can keep the anxiety down to a dull roar, or dial it back there when it does flare up.

The other is, essentially, sucking it up. Positional vertigo means that certain movements or angles trigger it. The only real way to encourage a reduction in symptoms is to practice exactly those movements and angles until my inner ear re-adapts to them.

I am fortunate in that I’ve never had a chronic illness that impacted my daily life that I couldn’t improve by working at it. When my bronchitis comes up, I use my inhaler and my breathing exercises. I tilt my head, knowing the sensation of motion is steadily decreasing. I work on my exposures and my CBT, and my OCD tends to recede. And the stuff I can’t affect, well, I don’t have to deal with it every day.

I think it’s very easy for me, then, to fall into a philosophy that the only way out is through. I just keep walking, and for me that works.

For someone with a chronic pain condition, this might not be the case. (Maybe I’ll ask Amber to write a companion post.) For someone with a degenerative condition, or my cousin with stage four cancer, I wouldn’t dare presume to give advice. It’s one thing for me to tell myself to buck the hell up, and another thing entirely for someone else to tell me that.

Just something to keep in mind…