In Which Sam Eats Crow & Someone Else Gets the Bird

It’s been an interesting week. Interesting as in “May you live in interesting times”. Interesting in a “For the love of all that is good and sacred, make it stop” sort of way.  Interesting as in “Was the universe really so bored that it needed to send all this fuckwittery my way?”

(I’m going to serve up a little rant here. There will be a generous helping of sarcastic humor with a bit of WTF sauce on the side. No birds or spirits were harmed in the writing of this post.  I can’t say the same for the humans. You’ve been warned.)

My friend Michael invited me a picnic earlier this week. It should have been a fun afternoon, hanging out at the lake with a bunch of people, eating barbeque, and relaxing.  It started out that way, just a normal social gathering.  I pride myself in being able to get through my days without setting off anyone’s weird-shit-o-meter. I am also fairly skilled at blending into the background in any social situation.  I almost made it through the entire picnic without so much as a sideways look from anyone.

Almost.

My own internal radar started pinging when the crows showed up.  Crows are common as dirt here, so a random crow doesn’t even warrant notice. Even a dozen crows perching nearby won’t generate any interest.  When several dozen perch in a circle of trees, all turned the same direction without a single vocalization… well, if you need an omen, look no further. One for sorrow, two for joy, but forty-two for what? The life, the universe, and everything? For knowing where your towel is? For a Douglas Adams tribute flight? I don’t actually know how many crows were there, but this is where my brain went while watching them.

As it turns out, the crows were watching a latecomer to the party.  Because the universe has a sick sense of humor, the latecomer was Sam, who I haven’t seen since the “it’s not you” conversation last fall. I forgot about the crows momentarily in anticipation of an awkward reunion.  I expected things to be civil between us, if not a bit short on words and uncomfortable. What I didn’t expect was a confrontation.  When Sam saw me, he came over straight over and promptly start shouting.  We know enough people in common that he has been aware of the happenings in my life over the last few months.  Apparently, he does not agree with my decisions regarding my health and told me so in no uncertain terms while explaining what I ‘need’ to do. Bad idea.

In the process of telling me what he thought of my choices, he brought up and then immediately derided my spiritual beliefs. Really bad idea.

When then I tried to walk away, he demanded that I listen to him and seized my arm to keep me from leaving.  Very. Bad. Idea.

I’m not sure who struck Sam first – me or the crow that dived out of the tree. The crow was still trying to peck at Sam’s face when Michael stepped between us and tried unsuccessfully to shoo it away. Without thinking, I said “stop it” rather more loudly than intended.  The crow squawked once and immediately flew back to its perch in the tree. What followed was dead silence and all eyes on me.  So much for not setting off anyone’s weird-shit-o-meter (really don’t know what the crow thing was about, definitely not my doing). Fortunately, someone cracked a joke about Sam eating crow and the tension evaporated. Humans and crows both managed to get through the rest of the picnic without further incident. Although Sam did get a bit twitchy any time he looked at me or the crows. I think he was wondering which of us was responsible for his bloodied lip.

Sam has since made a half-ass apology for the way he approached the situation. When he expresses regret for his actual words, I’ll consider accepting his apology. Until then, the crows can bloody well have him.  I cannot continue to expend energy on someone who has consistently tried to push me away while at the same time refusing to let me go. I’m certainly not going to invest another minute in someone who disregards my personal sovereignty and attempts to use my own beliefs as a way to insult me. It’s been a fun ride, but I’m getting off now, thank you very much.

As if that drama was not enough, Michael has managed to break my brain. Since we met last Samhain, he’s become a dear friend and source of support and strength through the last few months.  I’ve actually been impressed with the fact that he always taken things in stride, no matter what I’ve thrown at him.  He’s been consistently calm and accepting of whatever is happening.  The weirdness at the picnic only seems to have amused him, as he’s taken to referring to me as “Crow Whisperer” at every opportunity and then laughs until tears are streaming from his eyes, cawing all the while. Did I mention that he’s very mature and reserved?

His laid back attitude was explained at lunch yesterday. When we were parting, a certain guardian of mine made a somewhat obscene but incredibly funny remark.  Michael snorted in response and I nearly fell over when I realized he’d heard the comment. Michael just grinned and said “What? Do you think you’re the only one who can see what others can’t? That you’re the only one on a god’s payroll?”  Bloody hell.  I bow to his ability to avoid setting off people’s weird-shit-o-meters. I was completely blind-sided. Michael escaped before my brain re-engaged, so he still has some explaining to do. So does my guardian. And so do some gods. The rest of the universe might want to chime in as well.

In other news, I had a run-in with a “paranormal investigator”.  There’s a distant cousin many times removed who was interred in this area more than a century ago. I try to get out to his grave at least once a year to grave-tend and leave an offering. When I stopped by this week, the investigator was setting up to film in the cemetery and asked if I would be willing to try to provoke him (the cousin) into “giving a sign”.  I don’t think the sign he got was quite what he was looking for. For some reason, he turned down my generous offer to repeat the sign on camera.  *adjusting my halo so that it doesn’t strangle me*  Bless his little heart,he got so flustered when I was just trying to help.

I’m going to have to stop rolling my eyes now or I’ll end up with a bigger headache than I already have. I’m hoping for a normal week – no shouting, no revelations, no crows, and most importantly, no fuckwittery.  I’m sure that’s too much to ask, but one can dream.

Adversity, Adventure, and Some Other ‘A’ Words

I am running behind on the alphabetical posts for the Cauldron Blog Project, but since I’m one of the instigators of this year’s event, I feel like I should make a belated effort at an ‘A’ themed post. Trigger warnings may be needed, as this will be a bit of a rant exploration dealing with adversity in the form of serious illness.  Here we go, ready or not…


I am supposed to be angry at the universe, breaking down in sobs at regular intervals, falling to pieces at every opportunity, and endlessly moaning and bitching about my misfortunes.  At least that’s what some of my family, friends, and acquaintances seem to think.  I was recently diagnosed with a Very Serious Illness (TM) and therefore must respond in a Very Serious and Grave Manner (likewise TM).  When speaking with others about this VSI in a VSGM, I must have the inevitable Very Serious Mental Breakdown (also TM) accompanied by some Very Serious, Very Public Emotional Drama (aka TMI).  This, of course, gives the people expecting all these Very Serious behaviors a chance to have Very Serious Discussions (aka Gossip) about how the poor little thing is handling this… such a shame… so broken up…  tsk, tsk, bless her little heart.

Screw that.

That’s not me and, to the endless disappointment of some folks, it’s not how I behave. I have a way of dealing with adversity that’s rather Zen-like, mystical, and mysterious, but I’ll try to distill it down to a few words without getting into really deep metaphysical or spiritual waters.  Hmm…  how about this:  I put on my big person boxers, say my equivalent of the Serenity Prayer, and then go deal with the problem.  Notice that nowhere in that statement is a mention of wailing, breaking down every time the VSI is mentioned, or falling on the floor in a sobbing heap. Also absent are demanding to my gods that this not really be happening, or wailing the words “Why me?” or “It’s not fair”.

YMMV, of course, and I acknowledge that my attitude about adversity goes against the grain of our reality TV-loving, drama-embracing society. I don’t care that it does.  What I do care about is that I have several people telling me, in essence, that I’m doing it wrong (it= how I am reacting to having a VSI).   For those folks, another ‘A’ word applies (hint: 7 letters and ends in ‘e’ with the middle part reading ‘sshol’). Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I do draw the line at being told how I should react to something that’s happening to me by people who have not walked in the same shoes. Of the all the stupid things I’ve heard duringthe last month, “You need to cry and get it all out” is my favorite (because apparently I am holding back a sea of tears – news to me!); second is “You shouldn’t make jokes” (because this is a VSI and humor does not comply with the required Very Serious Very Grave Manner); third place is “Don’t upset people by mentioning it. Tell them it was an accident.” (because it’s much better to lie than to upset perfect strangers who ask very invasive personal questions).

The eclecticism of my path has given me a certain set of tools for coping with adversity – a mindful awareness of my thoughts and feelings that allows me to acknowledge them without needing to always react to them (Buddhist influence there), a distinctive lack of fear where death and dark corners of my inner self are concerned (Valley of the Shadow of Death? Have a summer cottage there with all the threshold work that I do), a desire/ability to learn from whatever lessons are handed to me (between Isis and the Morrigan, this is a requirement) and a tendency to find humor in everything including catastrophe (all Loki, all the time). All of those things meld weirdly together to produce the outlook that adversity should be treated as an adventure, rather than an occasion for self-pity.

Here’s the thing about adventure: It isn’t always easy, nor is it safe.  There are going to be monsters and traps along the way.  There will be those who will help and those who will harm and you won’t always be able to tell the difference.  There will be lessons that hurt and lessons that enlighten.  There will be fear, but there will also be laughter.  You can’t know what the end of an adventure will hold… it may be treasure, it may be disappointment, and it may be the end of this life and the beginning of a whole other kind of adventure.  You can’t always choose the adventures that you experience, but at every step, you get to choose how you act and react.  You can pine away for the comforts of the life you’ve left behind or you can embrace the changes that come your way.  You can try to withdraw and hide from what is happening or you can take an active role in the events that will inevitably unfold.  You can listen to the advice of those who have never set foot on an adventure or you can learn as you go, listening to your own heart and gut and accepting the wisdom of those who have walked the same road. What will you choose when adversity comes knocking on your door?

The Temple of MSB: Poking the Sore Spots

A couple posts ago, I mentioned that I “won’t be doing any trail running in the foreseeable future.”  The unforeseeable future was another matter entirely.

Today I ran.

I ran because every single sore spot of my being has been poked and prodded in the last few weeks. I ran because I am tired of being held back by my own body’s failure to function correctly. I ran because February saw the deaths of five people with whom I was acquainted. I ran because I have spent the last few weeks once again dealing with an individual whose sociopathic behavior made my life a hell for far too long.  I ran because the person to whom I feel most connected nearly succeeded in ending his life.  I ran because I was reminded in a painful way of why I find trust and love difficult.  I ran because there has not been a moment this week, not even in sleep, when I’ve been able to process everything that is happening. I ran because there was no other outlet for the anger, anxiety, and fear that all of these things are creating.

I ran until my knee buckled, leaving me sprawled face down in a muddy patch of trail.  Falling made me furious, mostly at myself for being such an idiot.  The questions came screaming through my head loud and clear: When are you going to stop running from things that cause you pain? When are you going to stand and face your fears?  When are you going to stop letting your life be controlled by pain?  When are you going to thank that handsome guy Loki for all of his help lately?

What? Wait a minute…

Well now, that would explain a lot, particularly why a lot of hidden truths have been coming to the surface lately and why masks are getting ripped off of those who would wear them.  Why I’ve had a compulsion to burn red, orange, and yellow candles. Why I have been finding weird ‘goodies’ in my shopping cart that I didn’t put in there  (today it was Pop-Rocks and Cheerwine).  Why my mp3 player will not stop playing Combichrist’s “Kickstart the Fight” no matter how many times I try to delete the song.  Okay, maybe I’ve been a little slow on the uptake, but I’m fully aware now that Loki is not just lurking but actively ‘helping’.

Does anyone need one slightly used and somewhat demented trickster deity? Free to a good home, but I won’t promise that he’s housebroken.

Laugh Loudest When You’re the Punchline

I headed out to the trail that I affectionately refer to as The Temple of Mud, Sweat and Blood today for the first time in months.  It’s been a difficult week so far and I was in desperate need of peace and quiet, if only for an hour.  I’ve not been able to get out on the trail in months thanks to a knee injury and won’t be doing any trail running in the foreseeable future.  Today was more of a trail hobble, with knee wrapped up and walking stick for support. I think I would have went out today even if it meant crawling along the trail.

The slowness of the pace, I hoped, would give me a chance to clear my head a bit after a rough few days. There were two unrelated deaths this week, within hours of each other, that left most of the people that I know in mourning.  I found myself coping well enough with the passings themselves, as neither was entirely unexpected (both had been battling serious health issues).  Dealing with the level of grief and emotion of the people around me just left me drained, with no recovery time or ability to bounce back.  There hasn’t been an hour without a message, call, text, or email from someone coping with these losses.

Old grief gets stirred up at times like these and it’s not going to come as a surprise that Andy’s death has been heavily on my mind this week (as it was already in my thoughts before these new losses).  I was expecting a bit of flack about my last post, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when Andy’s friend, James, called me this week and said “So, you’ve publicly admitted that you lied to a dying man?” Looking back, I realize that I did not choose my words well or carefully and left a lot open for (mis)interpretation, particularly for someone who knows only the end of the story.  If I look at my previous post through that filter, I sound like even more of a jerk  than (I think) I actually was.  My tone was more callous than I’d intended and I can see how it could be taken badly.

After a few minutes of some very serious questions and answers, James finally summed it up with “So, you felt this intense, maddening kind of love for him that made  you want to be  a caretaker of all the broken bits of his soul?  You felt driven all along, at the urging of your goddess, to try to give him as much comfort, solace, and healing as you possibly could, even if it meant having to lie to him about your feelings and hid from him things that you thought might hurt him? Even if it meant doing so meant that you’d have to revisit some of the most painful times of your life?”  Yes, I told James, that was exactly how I felt- at last, someone gets it.  At this point, James snorted loudly into the phone and said “You are so adorable” with much the same tone and meaning that folks in the southern part of the States say “Bless your heart.” (For those not familiar, these phrases both roughly translate to “My god, you are such an idiot.”).  Then he started laughing, a cackle that would do any witch proud.

My temper frayed just a bit at that point and I demanded to know what was so funny.  “Ais, you and that idiot Andy are. I don’t think I’ve met two such stubborn, inconsolable asses in my life.”  I still wasn’t seeing the humor in this and told him so.  James went on to relate the conversation in which Andy had first told him about me.  “He was driven,” James stated, “by an overwhelming need to help you move past the things that had caused you pain. What I asked about being a caretaker of the broken bits of his soul, those were his words about you.  The things you wanted for him… he wanted those same things for you.  That was the work that he needed to finish before he died, trying to mend what was broken in you.” I ended the phone call feeling somewhat stunned and re-framing a lot of things in my head to fit this new information.

As I walked the trail yesterday, that conversation was on my mind.  Then the earworm started and I could hear Andy’s voice singing Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” (which, hooray for piling on the irony,  is the only song I’ve ever heard Andy actually sing – maybe I should have paid more attention to the lyrics at the time).  At that point, I started laughing at the whole thing because it was the only thing that I could do, other than become an atheist.  Oh thank you Isis, Mender of the Broken, for your ‘delightful’ sense of irony and your ability to fix the fixers.  To think that Coyote makes me nervous and that I refuse to work directly with Loki because dealing with tricksters is too squicky.  Leave it to the Boss of Me (TM) make those two look like mere amateurs.  *snorts* Sweet and gentle mother goddess, my ass.

At the end of the day, I needed that laugh, that moment of not taking seriously something that was, at the time it happened, intense and difficult.  I needed too the humor to get me through this week’s losses.   One of the people who passed this week had an uncanny ability to find the humor in everything and to laugh even in her darkest hours.  In facing another diagnosis of cancer, she said this: “Own your journey and find the humor in it, especially the hard parts. Laugh through the pain, laugh through the fear, laugh loudest when you’re the punchline of the joke.”  Good advice from a wise lady.

[Author’s note: I’ve recorded James’ comments with his consent and full support.  At least I think he consented… it was hard to tell with all the snorting and guffawing that he was doing.  I think he’s probably still cackling as I write this.]

All Hallowhain de Muertos

The title is a bit of a holiday mash-up, I admit, but I have yet to come up with a single name for the holy days that I celebrate this time of year.   As an eclectic practitioner who does a substantial amount of work with the dead and dying, this time of year has become my highest of holy periods.  There’s feasting, rituals,  offerings for the dead and deities alike, prayers,  a good bit of spiritual renewal… you name it, it’s a part of these important days.  Samhain has been my fallback term for the spiritual celebrations at this time of year, but I’ve realized that my way of celebrating the holiday isn’t entirely in line with the traditions of this holiday either.  So what is it that I’m celebrating then? Hallowhain? All Muertos?  The Grim Reaper’s Birthday? International  Psychopomp Awareness Day?  Damned if I know what to call it.

In any case, whatever you name it, that time of year has come around again.  I’ve had to scale back this year, largely due to mobility issues stemming from a recent knee injury.  Cooking a full blown Samhain supper was out of the question, as was hobbling down the steep embankments to the river to do my usual work there.  Even the usual purification bath got nixed this year  because getting up from slippery tub with a wibbly-wobbly knee wasn’t happening.  However, I did manage most of the usual offerings and prayers, libations and roll calls.  The deities to whom I owed offerings and thanks got those in plenty as well.  The vital work was done,  at the very least.  Maybe I should refer to this year’s celebrations as All Hallowhain de Muertos Lite.

Serving Deity

I’ve always envisioned a certain progression when it comes to contact with deity.  First is the raised eyebrow, my, doesn’t-that-god-look- interesting phase.  You know the one – you’re minding your own business and suddenly you spy something shiny that turns out to be a deity that you’ve never worked with.  This quickly progresses to the god-crush, which is probably the most embarrassing of the phases.  Let’s face, no one sounds intelligent when acting like a love-struck teenager gushing over the wonderfully fabulous new god on the block.  Wait, did he look at me? Oh my gawd, tell me he looked at me.  I luvvvv him so much I could just die.

I may be exaggerating a little there, but most of us have been through this particular rite of passage at some point in our paths.  Many of us are fortunate enough to get past that rather awkward stage.  If you’re one of the less fortunate ones who haven’t,  stop that nonsense right this minute, young one.  Save the giggling for pop stars and show the gods the respect they (mostly) deserve. You young whipsnappers ought to learn a thing or two about the gods.  Why, back in my way we had to walk uphill both ways in a snowstorm to even see a god.  Talk to them? Ha… we knew our place back then.  Who do you snot-nosed brats think you are….

Ahem, sorry, where was I?  Oh yes, as I was about to say, that brings us to the next phase, which would be the adoration and worship phase.  This might be the most pleasant of them.  Instead of focusing on whether the deity has taken notice you, you have the opportunity to pay homage to deity, to worship them, to leave offerings, to follow in their impossibly enormous footsteps.  In other words, you begin to serve your deity in some way.  This is the point at which many people’s relationship to deity ends.

If your luck runs a certain way – and I’ll leave it to you decide if the luck is good or bad- you will actually get called to serve in a particular way.  You’ll find your idea of what it means to serve is suddenly thrown into sharp contrast with your deity’s ideas about what service means.  At this point, you have to decide where your path lies – do you stay in the worship phase, paying homage in the way that you see fit, or do you take up the challenge of serving deity in the manner they see fit?  Or do you simply check yourself into the nearest mental health facility, because hey, the gods aren’t supposed to talk and humans aren’t supposed to hear disembodied voices, are they?!?

There may be steps beyond this one, but my deity has kindly not made me jump through those hoops yet.  Perhaps yours has.  My point, and there is one somewhere in these ramblings, is  that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to deity interaction.  There is also no single right answer to the question of how to serve deity.  Our relationships to our gods are so deeply personal that no two people will ever have the same experience.   The same god who asks nothing more from me than to be remembered with an occasional offering may demand of someone else that they dedicate their lives and livelihoods to service.  My patron goddess might tell me walk through fire in her name (don’t get any ideas, please,  my Lady) and only ask of someone else that they burn a candle for her.  We serve in the ways that we are most needed and  I’d like to believe that our service helps to give us the experiences and knowledge that we most need.  Whether it is our lot to hoe onions or to carry a flaming sword, we each play the part that is needed of us.

 

On a side note,  I’m going to own the typo (now corrected) that I made when naming this post.  I originally typed out “Servicing Deity”.  My friends, that is an altogether different topic, one that I’m not touching with anyone’s 10-foot pole. 🙂

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Lucky me, I stayed at a cottage near the beach for a week and spent the most of that time confined to bed with some sort of stomach plague.   This was just your run-of-the-mill stomach flu, complete with a low-grade fever and aches. There is nothing noteworthy in that.  Illness happens whether you’re on the road or at home. It’s the mundane stuff of which life is made.

What is not-so-mundane is that during the last night of my vacation, I managed to sleep walk from my bedroom into the back yard of the cottage, and then climbed a tree.  It’s probably worth mentioning that I get vertigo on anything higher than the second step of a ladder.  Even so, there I was, 20 feet up a live oak tree with a fever, stomach cramps, and acrophobia. Fast asleep.

At that point, things began to get weird – okay, weirder. I dreamed that Baron Samedi was sitting on the branch beside me, taking puffs of a cigar in between whistling a tune.  “What are you doing in a live oak tree?” I asked him.  He just grinned and said “This isn’t a live (adj.) oak tree; it’s a live (v.) oak tree.”  I told him there’s no such thing as a live (v.) oak tree.    “Know everything, do you, girl?” he responded. “Tell you what I know.  I know you need to learn the difference between just being alive and actual living.  You’d best live the life you got, because once you shed that skin of yours, party’s over, real work for you then.  They have big plans for you then.”  This was followed by a couple of lurid and suggestions about how I might ‘live the life’.  Things went fuzzy at that point, as they often do in dreams.

I woke up at some point before dawn safely tucked against a fork in the branches, convinced that the crow sitting on the branch above me had been reciting Puck’s final speech from A Mid-Summer Night’s dream (“If we shadows have offended, Think but this and all is mended, That you have but slumber’d here, While these visions did appear.”).  After that bit of fever-induced hallucination, I finally woke up enough to realize that I was up a tree, overhanging a salt marsh at no-such-time-o’clock in the morning.  It’s amazing how agile one can be when trying to get out of a tree quickly while simultaneously avoiding a fall into alligator-infested water.  Tarzan would have been put to shame.

I would analyze this for some deeper mystical meaning, but what do you do with a tree-dwelling Baron and a Shakespeare-reciting crow?  Just this… if I ever get another flu, someone please chain my ankle to the bed until I recover.  The gods only know what tree I might try to climb next time.*

 

*One could also conclude that I have a daft but successful guardian angel, considering I neither broke my neck nor went for a moonlit swim.  However, I wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers by suggesting it too loudly.