Travel interludes

I’m in a cabin by a lake, not far from where my mom grew up, and where we used to spend time some summers, visiting her family when I was a kid. I haven’t been back here in many years; I’ve rarely been to Minnesota as an adult. But my youngest cousin is getting married, and I thought it would be nice to see a lot of people I’ve barely seen in years.

This past weekend, I went to the Viridis Genii Symposium. It is a very well-run event, and very interesting. During one break between lectures, I ended up talking with another person and mentioning how I’d ended up working at an architecture firm (not doing architectural work) after being Told to stop pursuing architecture as a career, and how getting that job felt a like real twist of the knife.

He said something about how the path spirals, which means parts of it kind of look the same, because you’re going around in a circle, but you’re still progressing.

. . . True. (Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had that sort of repetition since things got Weird.)

I had to switch planes in Denver.

On the first flight, I started thinking about how I was actually going to (kind of, very briefly) see Denver again, and how actually emotional I expected to be over that, and how, gosh, wow, I moved away 8.5 years ago which means, holy shit, I moved to Denver eleven years ago and I kind of can’t handle how long it’s been since I went to grad school, since it means it’s been that long since then, and what I hoped/expected my life to be now is very much different.

It was while I was in Denver that I was first triggered, as in, trauma trigger, and despite having some intellectual familiarity with that concept, it took me a while to understand what the FUCK had happened, especially since what had actually happened was pretty fucking benign, but my reaction was pretty intense. (A classmate, a bit testy at the end of the semester, said something that sent me from the room with great force – panic, really, though I felt almost nothing but “I.must.leave.now” and then I spent an hour crying in a stairwell.)

I really liked living in Denver. Especially after several years in Boston, which was always never the place. Denver reminded me a lot of home.

I gave up my window seat on the first flight to a man who asked, because he had some sort of back pain. He promptly closed the window shade, and it stayed that way most of the flight. I was really peeved at that; I really enjoy watching the ground, or clouds, or whatever. Towards the end of the flight, there was some very slight turbulence, and I felt a shift in the energy, too. It didn’t occur to me to reach out and see if Someone was trying to reach me, but a short while later, the guy opened the shade, and I could see rugged mountains below, and I was joyful – and they greeted me very positively, and then I had to wipe away tears. I was not expecting anything like that, not that far from the area I call home.

When I got to the airport in the morning, I noticed my suitcase had a tag on with my married name on it. UGH. THIS WILL NOT DO. I ripped it off and stuck it in my pocket, I’ll deal with that later.

I had an hour in the Denver airport (and more tears seeing downtown from the air), so I took a looooooooooooong walk/trip on the moving sidewalks to get to the west end of the terminal to see the mountains for a while. There were some lowish clouds between me and them, and clouds on the mountains, so it wasn’t the most amazing view ever, but they were still THERE and I could see them, and it had been so long, and they were one of the best things about being in Denver.

It was an emotional view, the Front Range, and the amazing clouds in between them and me (the Denver area greats such fantastic cloud formations), and history, and stuff.

Having my ex on my mind, I remembered the luggage tag. I decided I would get it out, and rip his name off (we hyphenated our names when we married; some years after the divorce, I changed my name back, so periodically I find old crap that needs his name removed from it). I’d barely registered what address was actually on the tag, but yes, it was my second Denver address. Of course it was.

I waffled on whether to put the scrap with his name in the trash, or the paper recycling (symbolism . . . what do I want???), and decided on the trash. Be gone with you, be buried! I put the scrap with my name back in my pocket, I’ll deal with that later.

I felt remarkable good after that. And then I realized what to do with the rest of the luggage tag; on my (even longer) walk back through the terminal to my departure gate, I stopped to put the remains of it, with my name, into a recycling bin.

So I’m at a cabin on a lake because there’s a family wedding, and so family is doing wedding-prep things, which includes my aunt (who I’d forgotten had not attended mine) asking about mine, which was back in the mid-90s. I couldn’t remember the exact date, only the year and month. HA. Hahahahahahahahahaaa. (My mom could remember the date.) I couldn’t remember other details about it my aunt was curious about that my mom did – decorating plans and other preparations. I’d forgotten my aunt had not attended, but she remarked how she wondered what she’d had going on that was “so important” that she hadn’t come. I did not start trouble by saying “You didn’t miss much” but I was tempted.

I have not talked to any of my family about my post-divorce realizations about how abusive the relationship was, or what I’ve been dealing with since then. The divorce was amiable . . .

So that was a conversation I was very uncomfortable with. I’m afraid that the topic may come up again, because, well. . . Oh well.

There are fish in the lake; I watched them doing some interesting territorial sorts of things near the end of the dock. They are making nests for spawning.

The lake was welcoming; she wants me to come in, but the water is COLD, so I will give it a try some hot afternoon.

Some of the other land-associated spirits I encountered between Denver and here were not so welcoming.

I was admiring a really lovely landscape feature, with complex rugged edges – a plateau or mesa of some kind – and thinking how great it was, how that complexity and ruggedness would be great to keep humans away, at least from that spot, and that’s great, because so very much of the land around it was all clearly ranching or farming or /something/. And then I was surprised to get a very angry “GET THE FUCK AWAY” image from a spirit of that place, who pulled back and became less hostile when I told it I did NOT want to harm it or intrude, and that I hoped very much it would remain safe. I stopped looking at the feature shortly after that; it felt like even looking was too much.

Not far from there was another similar feature – but this one had a straight perfect scar of a road partway across it, with some buildings at the end, and the land looked plowed . . . This one had some even more complex and wonderful edges, the kind of fractal pattern when many small streams and flowing down to join together. That place felt more subdued and resigned; I said “nothing lasts forever; you can outlast this.”

Then I felt like I had to stop looking at the land so much for a while. But after a while there was a dammed river, with thoughts of flowingrushing freely (“dams do not last forever”) and then we were getting close to our destination (acres and acres and acres of plowed land as far as the eye can see – where is any of the original prairie even left?!) and then again, I felt Something strong – and unpleasant.

Unlike the powers I felt near Denver, this one was angry, and bitter, and felt like someone who feels unable to do anything but rage against what is and has been done. He asked for a particular offering, and then when I agreed to it, somewhat scornfully asked if I really thought that would do any good. Compared to the scale of the problem, no, not really.

The conversation got a little easier after that. He said he’d be my guide while I am here. (Oh, lovely; an angry regional land Power wants to hang around.)

I can’t recall if I’ve always felt kind of sad or weird about the huge swathes of the continent covered by farms. I know people have to eat. But it’s so hard to see, especially being aware of the history of what’s been obliterated, the richness that is gone. And while I wasn’t born here, I am from here, after a fashion; I don’t recall offhand how many generations of ancestors I have in this specific area, but it’s a few, and my grandparents, and some people before them, they were farmers.

When there was a lull in the historic wedding discussion, I escaped to my room to get online and catch up with some communications – and to get runes out to have some more discussion with my “guide.”

I don’t know the specifics of what he needs from me, and he didn’t want to go into details, but I said I’d help. I got an official “yeah this looks fine” from Loki, so I’m not worried that lack of details will land me in trouble, but I did have a moment of suspicion (I HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE) and pulled runes to inquire as to whether this Really Truly Honestly actually about the land or whether it’s another cleverly-disguised way to get me to deal with my own shit. Because I’m really fuckin’ tired of the latter, I have enough going on as is, and I would like something that is simply what it appears to be.

If I read the runes right, it isn’t yet-another-can-we-nOT, but I expect I’m not going to be able to entirely avoid more of the awful topic no matter what.

Round and round we go, onward and – I hope – upward.

Posted in Land and Land Spirits, Shadow Work | Tagged , ,

Film-related approxiversary

I have non-specific plans to go see the latest Marvel film in the theatre sometime soon, which has been serving as yet-another reminder of the passage of time.

It was 4 years ago this month that I went with my then-girlfriend to see “The Avengers,” a film I was ambivalent-to-annoyed about, but she was a comics fan, and I generally like action movies, so hey, why not. I don’t think either of us would have predicted the type of impact that would have on my life (or hers).

Part of my feelings about the movie – and keep in mind, I had next to no idea who any of the characters were, in the comics world – were driven by who the villain was. It annoyed me. I’d been annoyed by little threads of “Loki = evil” I’d been aware of since my teens, and here was yet-another. Puh-lease.

I also knew there was a lot of fevered enthusiasm for this character among fans of the movie, and I didn’t get the attraction, at all, and felt relieved when the film ended and I found I still felt 0 attraction for him.

But then online fandom hit, and hit hard, and one thing led to another and I found myself with the absolutely bizarre notion in my head that the actual Norse god might have some interest in me.

That still sounds totally ludicrous. I remember that happening, I remember what I did to deal with that (“deal,” ha), and the whole process still seems absolutely bizarre.

So, yes, in case you didn’t already know, I’m one of the Lokeans of the “Avengers” generation; my becoming a polytheist also prompted my girlfriend to get back into her religious practices more, and while I don’t know just how that affected what unfolded over the next several months, or in what specific ways her gods and mine were collaborating, our relationship ended as other relationships in our lives took major steps forward, and we both ended up making very long cross-continental moves (to different places) not long after.

It’s been kind of a strange four years, but that particular bit of it still strikes me as one of the strangest parts.

Posted in General Religious Stuff, Loki | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Looking back at changes in practice (if that’s even the right word)

Several weeks ago, I caught myself thinking “things have really quieted down around here” and then I thought about what’s actually going on and realized no, they haven’t, they’re just different than they were for quite a while.

What I was thinking of as “quieted down” was “Huh. I haven’t spoken with l o t s of Them in months” but what I’d momentarily forgotten is that there are 4 or 5 of Them I talk to at least once a week (sometimes for only a minute or two, but still, it’s there, on the schedule), and several spirits I check in with basically daily.

This new schedule has been a change since last summer.

Things have also been trending towards even less formality than previously.

I asked Skadi probably a couple times if She wanted me to set up an altar for Her, and the response I got back was something like: *shrug*. Okay. I . . . won’t do that, then. That relationship is super casual/informal, so it fits.

Later, after things with Odin took a sharp turn into what they are now, and He started checking in regularly/I started reaching out to Him regularly, I figured I ought to do the usual customary hospitable thing and ask if He wanted anything, offering-wise.

He suggested a form of alcohol I don’t have in the house. I searched through the cupboard, mentioning what I did have, but He was disinterested. When I said I could go buy a bottle of the stuff for next time, He didn’t seem enthusiastic about that, either!

The next week, He suggested a different kind of alcohol I also didn’t have in the house.

I stopped asking.

Then several weeks ago, I acquired/was aided in acquiring some new shelving for my houseplants. In making space for them, I needed to find space for the former shelving, and ended up stacking it on my old altar spaces, which meant rearranging altars. As I was about to start putting them all back, I got a strong message to “ask” first. Like, ask if they should go back. The answer was “yes” – with the exception of Odin’s altar. Not that He’s shown any sign of going away, but “formal space” isn’t a necessary thing right now.

He also indicated once that He wants me to take the lead (???!?) in that relationship. (A question of trust had come up, and that was how He responded. I suspect the trust issue may have been brought up intentionally to get to the other topic.) Not that I understand how to do that, lead, but things are generally pretty relaxed and pleasant. Informal.

I also got “just . . . leave it in the kitchen” vibes from Sunna and from the ancestors, on separate occasions when I was dedicated to the task of fixing a hot beverage as an offering, because that’s The Thing to Do, right? And it should go on the altar, right?? . . . No. Not any more.

I’ve felt a little awkward with this, dealing with the much-less-formal, more comfortable (??), familial tenor to conversations with Them. With Loki, informal has always been normal. And things with Skadi were like that right away. But there was a long period where normal offerings and formal stuff were normal, with all of Them, even if the conversations with Them felt more casual/familial than Handed Down from On High.

I don’t mind doing less work, except that I do, too, because like, I should be doing something? right?? not just . . . listening????? How do I do this. (I might ask “Do You want something?” more than once, but I’m also not going to force a cup of coffee on Someone who really doesn’t want it.)

I’m not as good at just-conversation as at doing-things, unless I am really really r e a l l y comfortable with someone. Formal traditional activities were a nice, comfortable framework for interactions. Me trying to do something formal for Solstice this past year and getting “how about you don’t . . . coffee’s fine, just leave it in the kitchen” from the goddess in question is not comfortable, especially when She’s someone I don’t talk to that often so don’t have a long-standing “casual” relationship with. (It wasn’t that She didn’t want me bugging Her; She had things She wanted to tell me. But any formal ritual this year? Naw, put that away.)

Hilariously, my routine for devotional activity where Loki is concerned hasn’t changed much in a long time; in fact I’m still doing a bunch of things I started up 3 or more years ago. I honestly don’t know what I’d do with myself if He decided to trash that whole lot of things. (No, I do know: Argue/express extreme skepticism, because sometimes He says things that seem intended to make me question Him. And then if He was serious, cry, probably.) Perhaps those are “safe” because I decided to do them more-or-less on my own, and not because I went to Him and asked for direction. Perhaps He even likes them. (Some of the routine does get tossed out from time to time, by me or Him, but that’s just a day-to-day choice, and then it’s back.)

I’ve looked at different definitions of “religion” from time to time and wondered if I’ve got any of that lying around, given the lack of ritual and so on and so forth. Well – with the exception of Loki, ’cause I’ve still got “normal” altar/offering/prayer type things I do where He’s concerned, but otherwise, it’s less “religion” than “relationships.”

This is uncomfortable enough that I wonder if He’s behind it.

(I don’t think so. And at any rate, if He is, the rest of Them are clearly in on it, too.)

Posted in General Religious Stuff, Loki, Polytheism | Tagged , | 3 Comments

General commentary; status report

I’d always intended to post “Life Support Systems” online, sometime after the journal was published, and finally figured it was a good time to do it, well, a couple weeks before it went live, I guess.

I was not in a frame of mind where I particularly wanted to reread it, and have all that fluffy nice uplifting stuff in my face, and after putting myself on the schedule, I got into a frame of mind even LESS wanting to reread it, and thought about cancelling posting it completely. Or putting it off for some future time, because I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to agree with any kind comments someone might leave. “Yeah, once upon a time I thought that was great, too, but now I kind of want to set it on fire. I don’t even recognize the person who wrote that. UGH.”

I didn’t have a very good time of things this past winter, and the thought of attempting to take my own advice was impossible (or Theirs, though They largely didn’t repeat any of the “focus on the good things” stuff this time; I was also very much not wanting to talk to Them, and things went very awfully several times when I tried). I didn’t even want to try to take that advice, that’s how angry and/or depressed I was.

It’s still lingering, but even awful moods don’t last forever, and we’ve had some unseasonably hot and very sunny weather, and that’s helped lift my mood up substantially (in some regards; I think some of this is going to hang around for months, because I’m still really bitter about how things went), but I still feel like I’m only just barely starting to emerge from winter.

I’ve also had some more reminders recently that yeah, it’s been right about 2 years now since Loki did the thing where I had that major breakthrough/breakdown regarding my ex-husband/his abuse, and hey maybe I’m still dealing with the results of that . . . two years on, for fuck’s sake (of course I know I’m still dealing with the results of the relationship). The massive wall got blown to bits, but I’m still tripping over the rubble, two years on, and what is there to do about the foundations? How long does it take to “recover” from that sort of catharsis anyway? I don’t know. How much is even from that and how much is just more awareness of crap I’d been carrying for many more years? (How much is job situation exhaustion on top of everything else? Fuck everything, that’s how much.)

A few posts and essays crossed my path, one I’ve read before but found a very needed re-read, about C-PTSD. I don’t know if I’d ever be diagnosed, but an awful lot of what people describe when they write about it sounds a little too familiar, so it’s useful to read and keep in mind. Helps remind me that this does take time, and maybe I should stop being surprised and confused that I feel so easily exhausted.

I haven’t felt much like writing much of anything here for a while (obviously); it all felt like too much effort. But I’ve been composing this stupid post in my head for like, a week or more, and now it isn’t behaving and staying brief or in the order I originally had in mind.

Anyway. I had a plan for this, and it was a good plan, it made sense! It flowed!! But I never could get up the energy to draft it up and so HERE WE ARE.

Since my original perfect segue is lost due to memory failure, one of the other things I wanted to bring up was a little bit more about writing at G&R, because that’s what started this whole post off, right?

Over the last several months, I’ve seen multiple people in different places who seem to have some misperceptions about how writing gets done there, and how much the 40-or-so different writers agree with each other.

There is no group decision about what specific topics get written about. Essays do not get approved in advance by the other writers or by Rhyd or the board or anyone – unless someone wants someone else to review a piece in progress, but I don’t even know how often that happens. The process for the regular writers is basically this: you want to write a thing? Okay, pick a date, put your name on the schedule, then write the thing and schedule the post to go live for that date. If you think you’ll miss the deadline, contact the people who are acting as editors so they can see about moving someone else’s piece to your date.

We’re not a hive mind. There’s something like 40 people who write there; I’d be shocked if any two of them agree with each other 100% of the time. I don’t know if I’ve read anything there that I was 100% in agreement with, or could find nothing in it to critique, and hilariously, that includes some of my own essays.

I don’t feel much need to engage in public disagreement in comments, however, or write my own posts disagreeing with someone else. That’s pretty much a general operating rule for me, not specific to G&R writers. I have to think things through pretty seriously before I will do that, decide if it’s likely to be beneficial or necessary or will help clarify something – and sometimes, I need time to careful compose (and rewrite) what I want to say so that I’m sure I’m communicating what I really mean to instead of just having an emotional reaction at someone (and often, by the time I get to that point, I no longer feel a need to express anything, or I’ve decided it probably just isn’t worth it, too much time has passed, something).

There is a lot I could disagree with, publicly – I’ve seen a lot of writing where I’m not sure the ideas stated really flow well, or make the case well, or [various and sundry other flaws] . . . it’s always been easy for me to see those things in writing, and I used to spend a lot more time pointing them out and arguing with people about it, especially if it was about something I really cared about.

But gods, I got tired. I got so tired of fighting, so tired of trying to express my perspective and have it be acknowledged instead of dismissed or invalidated or told (one way or another) that it wasn’t acceptable for me to have that view and anyway, the audience sure as fuck wasn’t interested in changing based on what I said, and he always found some way to be “right” no matter what I had to say (oh ex-husband baggage, I wish I could just lose you in an airport). I kept it up for years after I was tired of it, because part of me will always be that critic, and part of me will always want to point these things out, and while I slowed down a lot, I hadn’t decided to just give it up.

I got even more fatigued with standing up for things I believed in while part of a (non-religious) community I was involved with back in Boston. It was important then, to say what I felt was the best way for the group to handle certain things (there was physical space involved), because this would have very real, tangible impacts on me and everyone else. There were some fundamental differences in worldview between the “management” and management’s closest allies/working companions, and me and what felt like a tiny minority. (I think most people simply didn’t care about some of the hot-button issues.)

I don’t regret it; it did make a difference, but it was so tiring. Even though they didn’t go with some of the worst policy decisions, it really felt like they never really understood, or wanted to understand, why we-in-opposition cared about it. (Possibly they felt similarly about us. Like I said, there were fundamental differences in worldviews.)

So when I see the people I hang around these days talk about the importance of community, and building community, and I start to think about getting more actively involved in pagan/polytheist/whatever community, my first reaction is to recoil in horror and think “fuck everything about community, leave me alone with my plants and gods and stuff.” That’s not how I really feel about having community, but gods, I got burnt and burnt out, and there are a lot of people skills I’ve never had, doing the nicey-nice people stuff isn’t one of my strengths, and I didn’t get the right “girl training” to have developed it despite myself.

And since two years ago, I am way, way more sensitive to dealing with conflict than I ever was before. Sometimes a short conversation with a coworker, explaining simply how what they did didn’t follow process, and creates unnecessary work for me, please don’t do it again, leaves me shaking, even if they’re responding in a neutral or even positive way. And those are the simple “conflicts,” where nothing about it is personal, and I don’t expect anyone to gaslight me or invalidate anything I’m saying. (Though I have had some bad experiences where a coworker seemed to take the worst possible interpretation of my advice, and that’s been a set back. But I have to tell them sometimes. I hate doing that. I especially hate telling the same people the same things. . . I hate my job.)

Now on the other hand, if someone asked me what I thought about what someone wrote, and we could have that conversation one-on-one, I’d probably be willing to engage, because then I’d know they were interested in what I thought, so they’d be likely to be open to hearing an opinion that might be different from their own. Otherwise, that path of disagreement too often brings on a level of fear that I’m not interested in trying to push past unless I feel really strongly compelled.

And I’m just so tired.

Posted in Miscellaneous crap | Tagged | 2 Comments

Life Support Systems

Resistance and Resilience through Love, Joy, and Hope

Author’s note: This essay was originally published in the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance, and posted online last month at Gods&Radicals; originally I intended to post it here the same day but. Well. That didn’t quite happen. Anyway:

Many things in the world today seem very dire: species are going extinct, ecosystems are being ruined, humans are waging wars and oppressing each other; all across the globe are signs that the state of the world, everywhere, is terrible.

There are those who look at these events and say that, as our life systems continue to collapse and take our civilizations and other beings with them, now is a time to treat the world as if it has gone into hospice, as if not only our death as a species is certain in the relatively near future, but the rest of the world’s living systems as well.

It is true that things like global warming and its massive side effects will get worse before they can get better (we have not cut global carbon emissions enough yet); many species on the edge of extinction will cross over. Many ecosystems will be changed significantly — permanently, from our human-life-span perspective — into something different from what we have known for centuries.

But we do not have to react to this by falling into despair and hopelessness. And we do not have to tend only to the dead and dying, or to treat every living thing as if our primary concern is to help it pass on.

We can also use our magic, our devotion, and our relationships with spirit allies to help mend the holes in these damaged webs of relationships as best we can, to restore function and resilience.

If magic is making manifest your will in the world, then realizing (in the sense of causing something to become real) positive change– the conditions for further growth and the supporting of life — is a magical act with the intent to keep this going. It is to not let it be crushed by capitalism or kyriarchy or corporate greed, to defy and deny the people and processes that will destroy the life processes of the world, to say through action, “This world you create, dominators, shall not come to pass, it is not coming to pass. Another world is possible; I make it so.”

Life will go on. In abundance and beauty and joyousness.

We must honor and mourn the dead — species, ecosystems small and large, cities, ways of life … giving special care to those brought to wrongful ends by the dominant culture — but we must also build resilience, for us now and for those who will remain after our deaths, that we-and-they can better come through the harder times yet to come. This will take time, it will take care, it will take hard work — but this is a process of love, it is love-in-action, and of hope, and it can be very joyful, as it affirms the value and delight and small triumphs of life where it would otherwise be put down by the obliterators.

Building stronger networks provides not only hope and support for the future, it is an act of resistance against the forces behind our worst current problems. Working together, creating commons, valuing life for itself — these things are antithetical to capitalism, imperialism, to all forms of abuse and power-over that harm human beings and the other beings and life systems we are entangled with.

Resilience is strengthened through reciprocity, maintaining healthy networks of relationships in which members support each other (not necessarily directly:things can be passed on, or through, one member to another). Reciprocity can be viewed as a form of love-in-action – it does not require strong affection for other members of the network, but a desire for the overall network to live and thrive. Doing something beneficial for a person or a river is expressing hope they will benefit from it – and perhaps in turn pass good actions along to others, or back to you, as a consequence of having benefited themselves.

Wild systems (aka “natural” systems) function this way., though it does not appear to be intentional the way human cultural networks have intention built into traditions of gift-giving, mutual aid, reciprocity, etc. The members of a wild ecosystem support and feed each other, and the outcome of these processes, over millennia, has been an ever-expanding diversity of life forms, in configurations that, barring major geological events, tend to be fairly stable for centuries or more. But remove a part of the network, whether it is a plant or an apex consumer like a wolf, or dam a river, and the network becomes less stable, less resilient, more likely to change into a significantly different ecosystem. Some losses cause quick changes throughout the ecosystem; other changes take decades to become apparent. And sometimes a vanished species has its niche filled by another member of the system, but the biodiversity cannot be replaced without many, many more generations of evolution.

The dominant and dominating culture would flatten – is flattening – diversity, both biological and cultural. Anything that cannot be bent to feed capitalism and the kyriarchy is a threat to it, and has been ignored or attacked with intent to be destroyed. This flattening of diversity is the opposite of what life itself will do and has done for millions and millions of years.

We resist the dominant, dominating culture and its processes of obliteration of life’s great diversities by reaffirming the value of life and by supporting life-supporting processes to encourage greater diversity. Among our means of resistance are love and joy and hope.

Love, to act with love, to love as an act, is to direct your energy to the betterment of the recipient of your love (self or other), not to confine or limit, but to encourage growth.

Joy is to find delight in the other, in yourself, in existence, in whatever is here before you and with you right now.

Hope is to see, based on more than wishful thinking, that better is possible and achievable, and to create a way forward.

Love

Love is tricky. Love is an emotion but it is also a verb – to love someone is not just a type of affection, it is to act towards them, or with them, in a way that may not have any connection with how affectionate you feel towards them. It is to treat them with care, with respect, with a sincere desire for their well-being and desires. It is not to seek to dominate them against their will.

To love in this way, to take care with someone (self or other) and work with or for them for their betterment, is to break with the dominant culture and its reinforcement of the “rightness” of dominating and looking for power-over, to be the “victor” in situations defined to only be perceivable as win-lose (some have the potential to provide win-win solutions, if looked at differently). To love does not necessarily mean everyone lives together happily ever after with each other – leaving a harmful situation is being loving to yourself; loving a group or place can require setting boundaries and keeping harmful influences out.

Capitalism, having perverted commerce with its approach of power-over, of power through accumulation of material goods (or symbolic representations of same), both monetizes and weaponizes love.

It preys upon normal human feelings, like the need for reciprocation of feelings, signs of affection, jealousy, feeling like you fit in with others, and so on, and repackages them as symptoms in need of quick fixes, rather than processes we need to come to terms with in a more functional way. Romantic love, long held to a limited resource (one of the few resources the system believes IS finite! O the irony), is particularly targeted: the way to get it and hold onto it is to buy these things for your beloved to “prove” how much you care, so they won’t leave you.

In or outside of romantic partnerships, if you aren’t gaining enough under capitalism’s influence to be able to buy the latest trendy object, then you’re a moral failure, how can you face the rest of the social group without the newest widget? And what will you talk about?? (If you have the means to participate, but choose not to, then you’re another kind of outcast.)

Capitalism also perverts the practice of reciprocity by making gift-giving an excessive obligation that many people do not feel a need to be on the receiving end of, but feel forced into participating in and nobody is happy but the profit-counters; it creates social pressure through marketing techniques , not to help support a healthy social network based on the members’ and group’s true needs or desires or best possible outcomes – but to benefit the producers of the most popular trendy items. Things that will, of course, “need” to be replaced in a year or maybe five; they are made that way. Holidays that are theoretically about family, about strengthening social bonds, things that cannot be bought and sold, have been overtaken to focus on the things bought and sold instead of the people. The few federally-recognized days off in the United States are not days off for retail workers, because these “breaks” from work have become “special sale” days, shopping days, encouraging people to save money rather than go somewhere to relax or see friends.

Exchanges of gifts can be beautiful, wonderful things; this is a legitimate way to act in a loving way towards someone. Thoughtfully done, in the right proportion to the relationship, understanding what is really needed or wanted, it helps strengthen human relationships and networks.

Gift-giving, whether material objects or gifts of time and attention, also strengthens relationships between us and the non-human beings we interact with through devotional practices, devotion being love and love-in-action. We are not alone in this world, and by strengthening our relationships with our Neighbors, we strengthen all parts of our ecosystems, the human-made as well as the wild and the Other.

Caterpillar met crossing a hiking trail; photo by Fjothr

Caterpillar met crossing a hiking trail; photo by Fjothr

Joy

Joy is another form of resistance against the dominant culture, and a vital part of creating resilience to what that culture does to us.

I was depressed for several years, and it was nearly impossible during that time to find anything that brought me more than a temporary bit of joy; it was hard to even remember what that feeling was like previously. While the worst is gone, I know I’m not always that far from the edge of that pit, and some things make the ground tilt towards it. In addition, I have a bad habit of seeing something bad, or potentially bad, and working it up in my head into something that will be absolutely terribly awful, and then there’s the ground pitching towards the void again.

I am pretty sure this is one of the reasons that, when I’ve been in distress and sought advice for how to handle the situation, the People Upstairs have advised me to focus on things I have in my life right now that bring me joy. It has been a good way to keep away from ground-tilting thoughts, or to pull away from them. It doesn’t directly solve any problems, but it keeps me from over-focusing on my distress and fears, and gives me a greater ability to act on the problems.

I’ve also found the concept of joy an important, powerful thing outside of my personal life. It can be a transgressive act.

In Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside1, she writes,

“The researchers of brainwashing and indoctrination discovered that people who knew how to laugh resisted best. The Turks, for instance … the soldiers who faced their torturers with laughter sometimes survived when others did not. Fanatics don’t laugh at themselves; laughter is by definition heretical, unless used cruelly, turned outwards against an opponent or enemy.”

And in an article on openDemocracy by Michael Edwards, about Sister Megan Rice2 (serving time in jail for breaking into a nuclear weapons plant to protest), he states,

“In the face of bureaucratic authority, the expression of joy can be both powerful and subversive, partly because it is so unexpected. It disarms those in power through an absolute refusal to be provoked or humbled, and it provides great inner strength for the struggles that lie ahead.”

In the broader culture I am familiar with, expressing joy doesn’t really seem to be encouraged (my cultural context is a white American from a basically WASP background). Acting “positive” is, of course, but spontaneous expressions of delight – not so much, though you’re probably okay expressing delight about something among like-minded enthusiasts or friends. But generally, it really isn’t the mature adult thing to do much of, is it? Unless you present it just right, dress it up in the right toned-down language, so it shows you know how to present emotions in a socially-acceptable manner. In addition, there’s a nasty strain running through the culture that says if you’re enjoying something, you’re doing something wrong, not working hard enough, or you’re merely getting your earned time away from “real life.” Because real life isn’t supposed to be enjoyable, I guess, unless you earn your pleasure through drudgery or pain first.3

I’ve seen similar things come up from time to time in discussions of pagan/polytheist practices, since they are embedded within this same context. A lot of people believe that, if you write too much about being happy about what’s going on in your spiritual life, someone will”helpfully” point out to you that this is hard, and it is supposed to be hard and unpleasant. There’s often a sense of an implied “Why aren’t you suffering or struggling more?” and outright statements that if you don’t find the hard painful parts in your spiritual practices, then you’re not getting deep enough into your practice, you won’t get out of it what you ought to, you won’t ever really understand your gods, and so on. As in other parts of life, you risk being met with all kinds of skepticism, nonconstructive criticism, and outright scorn if you express happiness without also describing enough of the right kind of “hard work” and experience of pain.

Of course it is important to understand that life, work, spiritual practices, relationships, etc., will have their ups and downs, and what those might look like in order to be prepared, but the kindest thing I can say to the people who feel obligated to respond to an expression of joy by squashing it is, “Please shut up. Come back later, in a different context, with your helpful advice about how things can be hard.”

Listen: Joy is life affirming.

Lots of things in life hurt and suck. People know this. It is thoughtless if not cruel to respond to expressions of joy – or hope, or love, or other expressions of optimism – with what amounts to the message, “It is wrong for you to feel that, and to make sure you understand it’s wrong to feel that, I’m going to hurt you for admitting you feel that way.” Everyone must toe the cultural party line, or be brought to heel, attacked until forced into the right order.

The dominant culture, the kyriarchy, all the -isms that keep people down, they tell you/us: “You are wrong for being [that], and you are most definitely wrong for feeling joy or pride in being [that] or doing those stereotype-denying things. By the way, you’ll also get put down for enjoying the things associated with the stereotypes.” And so finding joy in life while being [that], in being alive as you are, defining for yourself who you are and what you enjoy, refutes the dominant culture and its abuses – and make no mistake, it is abusive to tell someone, “You are wrong to feel that way.”

The ability to again feel simple joy-at-living, joy in what existed around me, was one of the first gifts I received after converting, and I find it precious beyond words. I thought I had lost that. Around the time I converted, I had gotten out of the worst depression – I felt real motivation and positivity for my future – but I still had no idea how to find that spark, that particular kind of easy delight-of-being again. Finding small moments of joy, reaffirming the goodness in life, now feels so much more important as a result. This excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” expresses something about this:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”

Take pleasure in simple comforts that come from being alive, whether it is good food, a soft place to rest, or the enjoyment of the wind, ocean, trees, or company of others. The basic things around us, things that are part of all animal lives – if there isn’t joy to be found here, among the circumstances in which we evolved, then where? How could an animal evolved to live surrounded by these phenomena not find some of them comforting and enjoyable? And how could finding joy in these things be wrong??

Oliver’s poem concludes:

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things. “

There are so many amazing things in the world, all around us, all the time, and acknowledging that awesomeness acknowledges their value for simply existing.

Joy is life affirming.

We are surrounded by so many life-denying forces.

Joy is an antidote to their poisons and a reminder that there is more to existence than what they offer.

Fungus and tree; photo by Fjothr

Fungus and tree; photo by Fjothr

Hope

The kind of hope that is wishful thinking is needed to get started – without a desire of some kind, there will be no action – but there is also a kind of hope that is based on seeing proof that things like that which is desired are possible. This provides encouragement to try other things, and a necessary reminder that not all is lost.

We create hope by resisting the dominant culture, by unlearning its lessons of power-over and learning instead what power-with means, and manifesting that in the world. Any change made to undo caused-harm is an act of hope, of enacting hope: “another world IS possible, I-and-we make it so, one action at a time. There can be – there will be – more like this.”

It took decades for industrial, fossil fuel-based culture to create terrible climate problems; it will take a long time to correct the problems, to help heal acres upon acres of strip-mined or chemically-soaked land, to address harms done to colonized peoples and places. To hope under these circumstances is sometimes to take many, many small steps towards something that will not see large results for decades. But this progress also provides hope for others working elsewhere – and some things can change dramatically for the better in a very short time. The Elwha River was dammed for over 100 years, but within a year of the dams’ removal (which came after many decades of political effort), salmon returned, and long-absent sandbars and beach area are returning to the river’s mouth, recreating tidal ecosystems. Many wild systems have a great deal of resilience inherent in them, and will eagerly return to pre-industrial states. Some will need much more, or ongoing, human effort.

Take encouragement from what others have done and are doing – and show others what can be done; mend the holes in the networks that they will be stronger when damaging forces contact them again. Do not focus too much on the harms being done – also find sources that tell you about the healing work, reminders that a better world is being made, and you are not alone. Look to those stories to help find your own way forward and to find other people to work with. Strengthen bonds through reciprocity and loving action, thus creating resilience in your human communities, in your places, and in your own life.

While this work of love and creating hope now and for the future is about webs of relationships, it is vital to not neglect yourself in all this. You are also part of many webs. Love yourself, hope for yourself (find it, make it), find joy in your circumstances.

That does not mean putting aside the harder things: If you need to grieve, grieve. Express your anger at what has been done. We aren’t “supposed to” acknowledge “negative” feelings, either, if they are feelings about things the dominant culture has done, or what it tells us isn’t valuable – wild things, people of the wrong skin color or gender presentation, the ability to find self-worth outside of a “real” job, etc. If we DID really feel those things, and even worse, talk to too many people about it, that would be a threat to the dominator culture–we might start understanding more how desperately it needs to be replaced with something healthier. Really allowing yourself to acknowledge and feel what you really feel, without bottling it up making excuses, or putting it down is resistance. It is resistance to being silenced, resistance to falling quietly and obediently into the power structure, and it can help you become more resilient as well. If you have a handle on your feelings, they will have less power over you, and this is a great act of loving yourself.

Acts of resistance to the dominant, dominating culture that is behind the damage to our living systems and to our diverse cultural heritages are acts of love and of hope. And in the face of this damage we can – and must – look to where joy exists, to support us in this work, to remind us what it’s all for.

Wasp sheltering under salmonberry leaf; photo by Fjothr

Wasp sheltering under salmonberry leaf; photo by Fjothr

Sources/Footnotes

1: Doris Lessing, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1987
2: Michael Edwards, “To remain in prison for the rest of my life is the greatest honor you could give me: the story of Sister Megan Rice,” openDemocracy.net
3: Why there is this notion that pleasure must be earned instead of being a birthright is another good question.

Posted in Environmentalism, General Religious Stuff, Values | 1 Comment

Politics and religion

I was 36 when I walked away from a lifetime of mostly-unquestioning atheism to worship the Norse gods; my political views and various values were pretty well set at that point, and had been for quite some time. As I’ve written before, my values don’t seem to conflict with my gods; in fact They seem to encourage me to keep doing the things I value (which includes more (and less) blatantly “political” things), and it’s hard to really separate those different spheres of my life, because they’re too entangled.

A few years before I converted, I had briefly – very, very briefly – taken a look at heathenry, because I’d met a heathen guy who seemed pretty cool and it got me thinking a little about it, though I think even before I turned to the internets for more information I had hesitations. And those hesitations were, for better or worse, enhanced by what I found online, because yeah, ugh, it all looked cold and rigid and then there was the racism pretty firmly attached. Nooooooooooo thank you.

I know I am not alone in that: I’ve seen many comments online from people who say things about how, the first time they looked into heathenry, the racism (and/or sexism, or homophobia, or ableism, etc.) put them off, really hard. Or that they are interested now in worshiping the Norse gods but they are worried they’ll wind up hanging out with actual real neo-Nazis (and/or less-scary racists, or homophobes, or . . . ), so how can they do one while avoiding the other? Is it even possible? Or: interested in Norse but not racism/sexism/etc. so just not going there. Which sucks but is not as bad as being someone who is a person of color, or gay, or disabled, and meeting people in person who worship the gods you worship and being told to go away or that you don’t deserve to worship these gods, or receiving threats of actual violence to yourself for having the nerve to worship the Norse gods while not meeting some narrowly-constructed shitty biases.

One of the reasons I decided from the get-go to not call myself “heathen” is that in the United States, “heathen” is, unfortunately, pretty strongly associated with all that hateful stuff. I know it’s kind of a pointless effort, because you don’t have to use that particular label to set folks’ warning bells off.

I wrote a post on Dreamwidth/Livejournal a while back talking about my conversion, and someone who commented on it remarked they were glad about the length of the post (I went on about a lot of things, including my dislike of the racism and related shit), because all they’d known previously was that I had converted and “not knowing anything more specific than ‘hey I’ve gotten interested in Norse pagan practice’ made me wonder if you were rolling with the sort of Asatru I personally would not interact with.”

There’s a lot of broader-community discussion I only catch bits of, but I do know that for months, anyway, there’ve been some pagan/polytheist people really unhappy about other pagan/polytheist people who are mixing religion and politics, and they’re being loudly enough unhappy about it again that I’m aware of it.

Sitting here with umpteen Norse-affiliated altars in the room, knowing that literally any and every day I might see one of my Norse/heathen online people talking again about the white supremacists (and transphobes and ableists and . . . ) who worship the same gods making all of us look sketchy, scaring people away from starting a meaningful religious practices or from an existing one, making people fearful to meet others face-to-face (because it can be literally dangerous) and practice in a community, and . . .

It must be awfully nice to be able to practice your religion and not have to worry about politics.

Posted in General Religious Stuff, Pagan Community | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Plant perspective

My job stresses me out and I want to leave. This would have been a true statement a month ago, a year ago; in fact, 2 years ago, going all the way back to when I first started. The nature of the work holds inherent stressfulness – I edit/proofread letters and reports and such, and most of them have to be ready within 1 business day. Or less! (Too often it is “less” and too too often those are the BIG documents . . . *aggravation rising*)

I’ve ranted at Loki multiple times since I started the job that I wanted to leave and find something better. I didn’t do complain like that for quite a while, because I really needed a solid, pretty decent job when I found this, and in many ways it is the best job I’ve had, and I was grateful for what it does provide (most of my coworkers are pretty great). However, I’ve also always known it was just “temporary,” that there are other kinds of work, and other kinds of organizations, where I want/need to be. When I asked Him once, after a particular bad bout of “hate this shit” for a several year look-ahead, it looked like I might be at the job for 4-5 years.

But then several months ago, Loki dropped a very strong hint/nudge/something that I would be leaving this job this winter. This joyful news relieved a lot of the typical job stress, and generally improved my mood, for several months. Then the office was closed for the holidays, I got nice and relaxed, and then . . . back to the non-stimulating, exhausting, occasionally extremely frustrating job . . .

Since Loki dropped the original clue, He – and some of the Others – have given me other hints about what’s next, and nudged me here and there to learn some additional things, but as of yet, I have no idea what the position I’m supposed to be looking for (or being lead to) will look like, or what the organization is. None of the information has been of the kind I could clearly map to my descriptions of such places, anyway.

A week or two ago I looked at my savings and I did some quick math and realized that I could actually just fucking quit and I’d be okay for a small number of months without immediately having another income source. And I’m sure I could get some temporary work while continuing my job search.

It’s very, very tempting.

I’ve experienced periods of 6-12 months of joblessness, did not enjoy the stresses that came along with that (some of it was quite nerve-wracking), and I’m not eager to reexperience anything like it again, but it is hard to weigh that against the absolutely known stresses of continuing my current job and have those be the lesser evil.

I’ve gone back and forth on this a lot. I really don’t want to be at my current job any more, but at the same time, I think a lot of my dislike/discomfort comes from reminding myself of how much I dislike it, so, you know, if I can district myself enough, it’s less bothersome.

Then I was at the co-op last night for my volunteer shift, and took a break to lie down on the couch in the staff area (it has been a tiring week+ at work) . I was thinking about this situation while trying to get some much needed relaxation going. There’s an asparagus fern overhanging the couch, and I was thinking about how when plants have shitty life circumstances, they pretty much have to tough it out, and what advice would they give me? Well, “stay,” is what came to mind, but it’s not quite that simple, because a lot of plants do have some ability to move on – or at least to expand their colony, and expand it towards better conditions.

This is from a lengthy page all about spathiphyllums (peace lilies) and what their lives are like in the wild vs. how people are typically instructed to care for them:

Obviously, these species can live in shade. Even though Spathiphyllum can and do tolerate poor conditions does not mean they prefer them. In nature it appears they prefer medium or bright indirect to direct light as well as adequate water and food. However, the genus is sometimes found in full shade …

Full shade does not indicate a plant should be eternally stuck in a darkened corner of a room either. In the forest tropical plants are living beings that are capable of slowly transporting their colony to better conditions when their current placement becomes inhospitable. Those that can climb trees just climb higher but Spathiphyllum must use another method.

It is not uncommon for the forest canopy to encroach on bright to moderately bright light to the point the understory plants that live on the ground cannot gather enough light to survive. Since Spathiphyllum species spread as they reproduce and grow they simply begin to reproduce themselves away from the shade and each new growth shares its stored sunlight with neighboring plants via their underground connections.

So. Stay – but also make movements toward better conditions, while maintaining connection to the place that provides known support. Which is basically the same (safe, practical, blah blah blah) advice I’ve been giving myself the whole time – but I feel a little more at peace with it now.

And as long as I am at the job, I have the option to say “fuck it” and bail, which, if I have misunderstood all the “winter” stuff, I might well do come spring, ’cause I’m past done with the job – and my previous experiences of not-entirely-intentional/desired joblessness, which stressful, did also come with some major benefits.

(The awful coda to this is I got home and found my spathiphyllum – recently acquired – drooping; it had been a few days since I checked its soil, and it had gotten dryer than it likes. AUGH :( I’m sorry!! It has been thoroughly watered and now I have a better sense of how often I need to do that.)

Posted in Animism, Land and Land Spirits, Miscellaneous crap, Plant Things | Tagged , ,