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.

Day 28 – Lemon, It's Tuesday

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Tuesday’s dollhouse shrine figure. Clothes are still a work in progress.

Every week Tuesday has rolled around and I’ve somehow been sans prayer, despite having working models for everyone else, despite being completely sure I’m going to work on it this week.

On one hand, considering I knew almost nothing about Tuesday when I started, the fact that I now can contact him, interact with him, and know the outline of his mythology seems like some pretty good work to show for it.

On the other hand, well.  I hadn’t actually done the assignment. I started with the format anyway, planning to make something up on the fly as I had last week and promising myself that later on I’d do it properly, maybe following the format from Felix Warren’s course, or doing some meditative writing or something.

Nope. Sit.

He made it clear that I was going to sit there and I was going to write the damn draft, and despite getting distracted by a goose (goose necks are weeeeird y’all) and worrying about rain, I got it down. As a bonus, I got a few more notes on his personality, and a vocabulary edit. (Instead of “worker for my household” I’m experimenting with “voice of my household”. What do you think?)

Tomorrow morning I have another doctor’s appointment, because I think Wednesday is the only slow day at work that I haven’t had one yet. Maybe I have. I’d have to check my notes.

Anyway. I decided to pull a coin again tonight, and this time it was a commemorative coin for the 1996 Olympics with the logo for rowing on it. (Does anybody else remember those? They came in cereal boxes and I was obsessed with collecting them.) Sometimes you just have to keep plugging along, and sometimes plugging along hard enough is what wins you the medal.

Day 22 – Getting Specific

I was walking on my lunch hour, running through the daily prayers and thinking about some of the different ways I’ve been asked to do offerings last week by various powers. When I stopped by the creek to do today’s prayers to Pillai and Bluebird, I got a response from Pillai that was essentially ooh, we can ask for other things? I wanna ask for something different too.

 I’ve been enjoying the practical offerings, so I didn’t even whine about it.

I want you to write for me!

You know, there’s a lot of things I know I’ve been slacking on. Cooking. Laundry. Paperwork to update my birth certificate. And I’m not writing fiction the way I’d like to, sure. But I’ve blogged literally every day this month; writing is a thing I am actively doing every day. Surely there’s something else…

Picture, if you will, the sensation of someone giving you a skeptical eyebrow, and you can’t see or hear them, but you know the eyebrow is there, and it is arched.

The certainly is something I was meaning to work on, after all. And while it doesn’t have a due date, this was the best time to do it.

 

The result is my opening post on Pagan Bloggers: Now Entering October Country

Primary Sources

This is not a definition of “research” I usually picture, but hey ho…

I’m a big fan of synchronicity (fan being a word that in this context means “frequent target of clue-by-fours”) and rather than dive into a lot of books, I’m in large part letting Mara take the lead on where I should be going with #domagick. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to explain what I’m seeing and where I’m going because I’m aware it’ll look faintly ridiculous.

The result, though, is that my research is asking Mara to draw me to what I need to do, and then looking at that, and repeating the process as needed. Divination, meditation and listening for that little nudge are at least a change of pace from a stack of books.

I’m working on a set of daily/weekly prayers. I revamped the dollhouse altar. I’ve done some steps to make my workspace more craft-friendly and ready to go. The spine of this project is shaping up to be daily offerings that combine wardwork, relationship-building and personal shielding. I’m hoping to add a generous helping of luckbuilding and set-point-moving. (It’s really amazing how often I run into self esteem issues in protection work. It’s as if I have to remind myself that I’m worthy of asking for things and allowed to want to do better.)

I’ll be posting about the act of prayer-writing and prayer-refining, and I’m hopeful I’ll actually end up with stuff I want to post, but we’ll see.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention: I got accepted by Pagan Bloggers! (Dear everyone else blogging there: I apologize in advance for ruining it!) I’ll be doing a blog about building tradition and householdwork under the name October Country, because I’m still a nerd.

Preparing

You can tell how anxious I am about society by my canned good storage.

I got into prepping as an intellectual exercise in high school, as a side effect of being into radical outdoor survival, underground secret lairs, anarchism and eschatology. I mean, what other hobby is going to bring all of those interests together? I discovered the Loompanics Unlimited and Paladin Press catalogs back when they still sent out catalogs, and it was a short leap from there into the wild and wooly world of prepping.

The thing about prepping, as any good episode of Doomsday Preppers could tell you, is that basic, reasonable levels of prepping make a lot of fucking sense. Why wouldn’t you want to have some bottled water on hand in case of an emergency? Of course you want to know where your essentials are if you need to evacuate. I live a mile from a major river, in an area that’s allegedly going to get The Big One any minute now.

And hell , my stash of canned goods came in handy when I wasn’t working and we had my medical expenses to worry about. At its most basic level, prepping comes from doing a little bit extra just in case. 

Of course, then it gets a lot of uncomfortable baggage and automatic weapons and its all downhill from there.

In general, though, I can gauge my comfort with society by my stacks of canned goods and my friends… I have a lot of green beans, is what I’m saying, and not just because the dented tin store had a great deal. I like feeling like I have some measure of control over my well-being even when almost everything is out of control. If society collapses, or a train explodes, or we get a hundred year flood, I can’t stop it. But I can be ready to get my kid out safe, and to make sure we can manage in the meantime.

Devotionally, the equivalent of prepping is probably research. There’s no such thing as too much research, is there? But there totally is.

I don’t have much of anywhere to start with Tzymir and Redbird. Tzymir is kind of like his namesake and kind of like Hades and kind of like King Yama… Redbird is kind of like Persephone and kind of like Freya and kind of like her mother.

What does that actually mean? Not much. More red herrings than red birds. So I keep forcing myself to look up from my books at what is actually in front of me, to draw from nature instead of from a tutorial. It’s hard. It’s slow. It’s not as simple as green beans.

It’ll be worth it if I can break through. But first I have to keep going, no matter what tomorrow brings.

Voices

“What are you doing out here?” I’d heard the door. I didn’t have to open my eyes to know it was her. I was laying on my back on the front walk, letting the cold from the stones seep through my flannel shirt and my skin and my subcutaneous fat, and settle in the space in my chest.

Moping, I didn’t answer. Sinking into the earth, and failing even at that. “Thinking.”

“It’s cold.”

“It is?” It was an honest question; I hadn’t really felt it. Autumn was coming on slow, but it was coming.

I felt tiny hands on face. “Wake up, Daddy. Bye, Daddy.”

“Bye?” I opened my eyes and my daughter was right there, bent over my face and giggling.

“She wanted to go to the park,” my spouse explained. “I thought maybe you could get some writing done.”

I sat up like a glacier retreating. “Thanks.”

“Do you have something to work on?”

“I’m open to suggestion,” I sighed more than answered, and she gave me a peck on the cheek.

“You’ll think of something,” she insisted, confident. “Remember the conversation we had earlier?” Then she and the baby were gone, and the house rang with her silence.

I turned the earlier conversation over in my head and wondered what I had to add. Sure enough, my thoughts sorted themselves like salt through a shaker and I hurriedly began to type.

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.

New, Again

Happy Lunar New Year! Slightly late, as usual. I celebrate my third new year at this time, between Imbolc and Lunar New Year. This is the new year that really feels like a new beginning. Things are starting to grow, it’s not super cold and miserable every day while I wait for the train.

I certainly could choose, instead of multiple specific new years, to make some sort of “every day is a new year, every day is a new start” philosophy work, but to be honest, those sorts of changes don’t stick for me. I need a schedule. I like order.

I’m not necessarily good at order, but I like it and I try to seek it because my natural state is chaos. I make lists and plans and schedules. I make, for example, a neatly ordered outline of how I intend to KonMari my spiritual life.

But I still can’t find my jewelry and my bone runes so I can get rid of them and clearly getting hung up on this doesn’t help anyone, and all of the things that would be in that “group of stuff” are things I consider to be very personal and fairly valuable, so they’re unlikely to be tossed this early in the process anyway. What I learned from my first pass at the physical KonMari is that everything is more interwoven and more complicated than I thought, so I will definitely need to come around again.

In Spark Joy, Kondo speaks about honing one’s sense of joy and how many of her clients have trouble deciding what joy feels like when they start the process. I suspect this is why her clients boast a 100% success rate – what she’s teaching them is not how to throw things away but how to tell whether the things in their lives spark joy. Once you start applying KonMari-type principles outside of their intended context, you begin seeing them everywhere.

Jessica Abel talks about finding a single creative goal and sticking to it, fully committing. I have a long, long list of works in progress and plot cards and story hooks that I haven’t even started on yet. Abel is absolutely right about the tendency to spend a little time on everything and accomplish nothing.

I have plot ideas I’ve been holding onto since I was eleven. If I sat down and wrote out a list it’d be far too long to fit on the worksheet she offers. (In fairness, the worksheet itself suggests it might be insufficient.) I need to give myself permission to move some things to “not in progress right now” and then put it somewhere I can’t see it anymore.

Writing is so interlinked with my moods that I think doing this now instead of waiting until I’m done with the metaphysical KonMari is reasonable, especially because I’m still compiling my list of practices.

This is starting, but it’s keeping going. Abel recommends picking a project that’s comparatively easy to finish if you haven’t had a lot of luck finishing before. I have a few fiction projects that are in different stages of done. While I’d like to work on Unstuck, I’m still, well, stuck as I work on straightening out some plot kinks. While I let that simmer, I’m going to take Abel’s advice and work on something that’s a bit more complete.

There’s something to be said for the feeling of finishing something, after all, and the joy of keeping going is in making progress.

(If You're Going Through Hell) Keep Going

Well, guys, the year is wrapping up and since being a professional doll stylist is a limited time engagement, I’m starting to think about what I want to do in 2016 aside from braiding hair. Other bloggers are talking about key words and personal mantras and the frankly, the closest thing I have to a personal mantra right now is “if you’re going through hell, keep going.”

That particular quote has done a lot for me at various times in my struggle with OCD. I know from experience that I can do anything for a few months, and that no matter how bad my anxiety is at the moment, my brain weasels will break before I do, and eventually I will start functioning again. Looking at next year, though, I think I need a different kind of keep going in my life.

Finishing is hard. Finishing is particularly hard right now, as I’m working a lot and prone to wanting to spend my downtime doing fun things. But unfinished, unsorted or messy things hang over my head, and getting something sorted away and taken care of makes me very, very happy. So I should do what makes me happy. I should keep going until a project is done – either until it’s finished, or until I’m ready to give it up, or sometimes until it’s at a natural stopping point while I let it incubate more.

Puzzles, for example. I have drafted Puzzles no less than four times from scratch. I’ve completely overhauled the outline at least twice. Nothing I do makes me happy. It’s time to keep going instead of walking in circles – so I’m going to move on to Unstuck, which is named rather ironically now that I think about it.

I am planning to talk about writing a lot more. I am planning to really look long and hard at what’s on my In Progress list. I’m going to finish the lesbian mermaid story. Everything else is up for grabs.

Let’s see what happens, eh?

First New Year Time Again

First New Year was an interesting one this year.

I had to work on the 31st, so I wasn’t there for trick or treating. Nonetheless we read a board book about the Great Pumpkin and my child left her candy out as a sacrifice to the Pumpkin, who brought her Duplos instead.

Since I didn’t have time to cook this year, on the 31st I laid out a feast of tiny doll food for the ancestors, and yesterday night I did actually have real food to leave out for them. The Hunt got offerings as well.

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Sunday night I did the most formal ritual I have done in probably years, certainly since the baby was born. I’m still chewing on the results I got. The most difficult part is that I was told not to do any divination for myself or ask for any to be done for me before Yule.

This is an entirely reasonable request. I have a real problem with using divination as a checking behavior, continuing to ask questions when it’s useless. Hopefully this will help me unlearn that.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo out of habit this year. I’m not going to make any write-ins and I probably won’t make 50k but I’m going to write a bunch and count all the words and just… see how that goes.

Hopefully this will result in more posts here! I wasn’t intending to go radio silent – I have a couple of posts in draft stage, even. Life just got away from me a bit and I haven’t quite got it back yet. Life is good like that.