It is okay to not engage in figuring out what other people are thinking. It is perfectly acceptable, even, to not try and control what they are thinking. Trying to control other people is insanity, really. You do not want others to control you. Why would it be okay to control them?
There is a lot of stuff in the world that seems unjust, wrong, hateful. We like to categorize such things as malicious, as though there really is a super villain out there twisting a long mustache and rubbing his hands together with glee, saying “Mwahahaha!” Very melodramatic. But really think about that for a moment and consider whether it is rational to believe this. Or is it more rational to think that sometimes one person’s goals work counter to our own? And that to them, you might be the villain? You don’t think you are one. Neither do they.
Try stepping outside yourself, look at yourself objectively. You are not your identifiers. You are not your hair color, your shoe size, your parents’ upbringing, your possessions, your food choices, your illness. These are things you have. They are not what you are. It’s all illusion.
For the coming year, it is my hope to practice compassion and share it with others, and seek a better understanding of it. It is my hope that others do so as well.
Nothing quite compares to an evening with the extended family, having buffet-style foods (of which I eat very little) and playing silly games, ringing bells and listening to Christmas music. I am not a Christian, but my parents are and I respect that. It brought back a lot of memories, some almost 25 years old.
It’s too easy to become insular, to become calcified into my own space and to not venture out or reach into the spaces of others, despite being invited to do so repeatedly. Perhaps they’d come to understand who I am now (as opposed to who I was 20 years ago) if more time was spent together.
I told an untruth recently. Not here, elsewhere. On a forum. A toxic place that I keep finding myself going back to after walking away for months or years at a time. Like when you break up with that person you were seeing in high school, run into them again later in life and find yourself interested and attracted all over again. Then after a few weeks you are reminded of why you broke it off in the first place. It’s especially egregious when it’s been several years, you’re both getting older, and yet for some reason, they have not changed in any way that you can tell. Or perhaps they have changed in some areas, but are still clinging to some behaviors that are childish and annoying.
The person I told this lie to (and let’s ignore the fact that telling one person something in message board forum environment is the same as telling every one of the 8000 or so members) wasn’t even speaking to me; they were following around a newbie who had offended them in another thread, for having the gall to be ignorant about something (which she’d made no effort to claim otherwise). So I stuck my nose in, and in the end, exclaimed a lack of belief in the Fae. All because she kept admonishing others that “they are dangerous” and that she is “terrified of them”.
I know! How silly, right? What a thing to be bothered by.
But honestly. Someone has been reading too much Dresden Files lately. I stopped short of asking her to please provide empirical evidence beyond “the lore” (whose lore? which version? what year? which culture?) that showed we had anything to fear from invisible goblins that no one can see. And to please elaborate which culture’s Fae beings she was referring to.
That makes me a Bad Pagan (TM).
But there isn’t an actual Pagan Community. It is a lie. There are people who collectively agree “we do not worship the God of Abraham”, but agreement usually stops there. I find it hard to take seriously a group of people who will actively believe in fairies, while at the same time espousing their cleverness for pointing out that they always consider the mundane before the magical. I also can’t feel comfortable associating myself with a “community” that tries to pick and choose for you which orthopraxy you are allowed to embrace, based only on your ancestry. But only sometimes. You can be a Celtic Reconstructionist, if that is the only path you follow, even if your entire family lineage is traced back to Russia. (Except in the cases of people who think you can’t do that.) However, if you choose to honor Brighid on February 2nd, and you’re not a Recon, then you are appropriating. Except when you aren’t.
It occurs to me that when one involves themselves in a “religious community”, one is subjected to the opinions of your fellow travelers on a religious path. Paganism has so many differing opinions that newer seekers can become disenchanted and confused and maybe just give up. Paganism is not a religious path. It’s just some umbrella term to basically express what you are not (e.g. not a Christian). And to that end, I find the term fairly useless to me.
But what about that lie? Yeah, I said that so that person would shut up about the Fae already. I’m not actually sure I believe in fairies as an actual existing entity, but I sure do believe that the stories people told about them were meant to a) explain phenomena they couldn’t otherwise understand and b) scare the children into behaving. Confirmation bias – it became canonical that fairies are dangerous through generations of storytelling.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tendency of people to compete, even when it seems like an inappropriate time to do so. Perhaps compete isn’t the right word, but there appears to be a general mood of defensiveness amid web commenters and forum users.
An article on Huffington Post about the benefits of yoga leads to a comment section devoted to each person telling the next that “nope, this other thing is better” or defensively expressing that they’d participate in what the article suggests, if only it weren’t for some malady/childhood trauma/personal roadblock. It’s as though those compelled to share those things can’t conceive of a world where articles are there for reading and considering, not to pass down judgement, as though not doing the suggested activity reflects poorly on them. Or else, they feel the need to share that this other thing they do is better, and therefore the article is wrong. And they feel quite clever for having figured out where someone is wrong. All because someone wanted to share an infographic detailing some of the benefits of yoga.
Discussion of the pervasiveness of pedantry and meanness in comment sections has been going on for a long time, but I don’t think this is what is happening here. To me, this looks more like the propensity of some to feel the need for a boost to their self-confidence, thinking that correcting someone else, or admonishing them that there’s something they missed, looking for where the other shoe could drop or the sky could fall, makes them look like the smarter person in the room. It draws the attention away from the blog post/video/article/forum post, and puts the spotlight on their big brain. With so much media from very smart people being available to us 24/7/365, is it any wonder that some of us feel like the least clever person in the room? Competition for eyeballs on social media (increase your followers! ask me how!) teaches us that the goal of the internet is to Win All the Followers. And then we try to perform for them like dancing monkeys. It’s like that high school popularity thing, except that phenomenon actually having an impact on our lives? It was supposed to end after graduation. Most people grow out of it, the need to collect followers.*
It comes back around to my decision some time ago to disable commenting on this blog. What I write here, it’s observations, thoughts, opinions. It’s not up for debate. And, if something I say needs challenging, there are other ways to reach me. But here’s the thing: I am no obligated to provide the platform for that debate. Because in providing that platform, I would be handing over the spotlight to a commenter, and detracting from my own writing. In fact, my position on this was solidified when I read similar thoughts from a blogger I respect, Teo Bishop when he closed commenting on his site, Bishop In the Grove:
[…]it doesn’t really matter whether or not the comments are positive or negative, for every comment that exists as an addendum to the writing I’ve done on the blog changes the context of the subject I’m writing about. The feedback re-contextualizes the original writing, and sometimes I find myself feeling the need to be in dialogue with this new, altered perspective rather than the experience that brought me to write in the first place[…]
Some blogs are meant to document a journey, and this is one of them. I feel confident and comfortable in the decision to keep the feedback out, where it isn’t asked for. Some people take that as an affront to their sensibilities. Call it censorship. Which is absurd. It’s not censorship to not enable comments. Readers are welcome to comment all they like, someplace else. The reason they get upset isn’t because they’re being censored, it’s because they don’t have the benefit of your blog’s readership to bolster their ego and compete for attention in this noisy, clamoring internet.
It’s been about 2 weeks now, since Mr. Luna and I moved ourselves and our kitties out of my in-laws’ rec room and into our own apartment. We’d been there since the end of February, and that was quite enough of that, thank you. It’s not that I ever felt unwelcome there in any way, far from it. But it was not our home.
So now, we have taken a very (VERY) small apartment about 3 miles up the road. And a lot of our stuff is still in boxes (either at the in-laws or in our storage unit) because it is oh-so-small. However, living minimally is an excellent lesson in non-attachment, specifically to material objects. I had thought we’d learned it well when we parted with so much before our move from Texas happened. Even after having done so, our moving truck was packed from bottom to top, front to back. It was amazing and I couldn’t understand how we’d accumulated so much, except perhaps the fact that we were living on a (defunct) farm by then, we had lots of room to spread out. And accumulate things.
So, we went from that to camping out in a rec room that already had a lot of stuff in it, and it compelled us to leave a lot of things stored away. Now that we’ve moved into our own (small) place, we’ve started to cull even more things. The washer & dryer we moved with (because we didn’t know how long we’d be without our own place, nor whether that place could accommodate them) are now being sold to my sister-in-law. The refrigerator will be passed along to my parents-in-law for use in their apartment building, in the next apartment that empties and needs updating. I’ve actually started to really examine things like clothes and shoes: do I wear this, ever? Am I keeping it for the wrong reasons? Closet space is limited, and sometimes it’s just time to say goodbye to something that I’ve been “planning to fix or alter” for a year or more. Let go of those things and it makes it all right to replace them. With maybe just one thing.
I still have not mastered non-attachment. There are things I continue to store because I love them, am really attached to them for nothing more than sentimental reasons. There are things that distress me when I have to let go of them. Losing some of my hair, for instance! I struggle with that constantly. Now that I’ve stopped chemotherapy, though, it’s begun growing back. My scalp is no longer this blatant pale line amid my otherwise reddish hair. Of course what is growing back in completely lacks pigment, so it looks a bit like I’d dyed my hair about 3 months ago and it’s grown out, like there’s a line of demarcation. Odd, that. So I guess I was both literally and metaphorically “attached” to my hair, and am quite glad that it’s coming back. It’s a ‘practice’, not a ‘perfect’.
In 1997, I was 24. I married the man I’d already been living with for nearly 5 years and together, we set off for San Francisco, California, like lots of people my age were doing at the time. The economy was doing well and there were jobs to be had, even with little to no experience. A friend was already there, and told us the company he was with had loads of openings, if only you were willing to work through a temp agency for the first 6 months (for me it ended up being a year – a hiring freeze happened not long after I started). Five years later, I was still employed there, even through 6 months of being on medical leave with my primary diagnosis of cancer. It was easier then – the company is enormous, and a sick leave pool was always on tap to make up for what the California Temporary Disability payments didn’t cover. But then, the Tech Bubble burst, and layoffs happened. We decided to take the opportunity to move somewhere else new and exciting: Austin, Texas.
“You can see a live band every night of the week for a year, and never see all there is to offer in Austin.” That was one of the phrases a friend of ours used to lure us there. He’d already been living there for four years and loved the nightlife scene. Well, I wasn’t much of a nightlife kinda gal, but my husband was keen and I was ready to move on to someplace warmer. (Boy was I in for a surprise.) We ended up staying there for 10 years (this is without the 10 months where we attempted to have a coffee shop in Pennsylvania on a “broken shoestring budget”, and the last 3 years were mostly because we needed health insurance. Really, we’d ceased being happy there about 2 years into it, but we were stuck, and kept trying to make the best of it, moving from one house to another and trying to “look on the bright side.”
In early 2013, we found an “angle” to get back home, to our landbase. And it has been the best thing we’ve ever done. There are challenges, and it’s not over yet. My husband keeps telling me that “as a last resort” we could move back to Texas, if it meant keeping my job (and thus, health coverage – which, with the Affordable Healthcare Act, should not be a problem after this year). I consider moving back to Texas a last resort AFTER every possibility is exhausted INCLUDING living in a box on the street in Philadelphia in winter. Yes, I am serious.
Because I am so in love with my home state, even my hometown these days, that I never want to leave. This region is absolutely gorgeous. Yes, it dies back in winter and looks grey and dreary. But when I was younger, I didn’t appreciate what the land was doing; it was resting after working so hard all spring, summer and fall. The colors of those seasons were always such a delight, how could we endure the cold and the grey for 3 months, right? Except it’s only 3 months. The rest of the year we get such amazing scenes all around us!
Everywhere we go of late, I have some deeply imprinted memory of my childhood that comes rushing back. And much of it is good, pleasant memories. We’ve been exploring a lot of the hiking trails and the streams that are open to everyone and the back road drives… and it’s breathtaking. Last night, we walked on one of the paved trails just at sunset. Part of it is a bridge crossing over the local reservoir where people fish and kayak during the day. We sat on a bench on that bridge and watched the clouds until the sky was dark, then started walking back to our car. As we reached a section where there were trees and long grasses, the night came alive with the sparkle of fireflies all around us. We had to stop and stare and watch the show, because isn’t this so much more real than anything portrayed on the TV screen? THIS is reality and it’s incredible. Magical. We stood for 45 minutes, watching and thanking the gods for their gift.
These are just some of the phrases favored by my mother-in-law, who is an inordinately fearful person. I’ve never met someone so afraid of the world as she is. Especially fearful, it seems, of the weather.
But also of trying new food. Leaving the windows unlocked overnight. Large dogs. Putting more than 3 pair of jeans in her large-capacity washing machine.
Comments she makes to me or my husband in nearly every conversation lead us to believe she may have issues with compulsion. She is compelled, beyond her control, to find the potential dangers of any situation, and point out what bad thing could be awaiting us. In part, it seems as though this comes from a lifetime living in the same small farming community. The rest, I think, comes from watching too much TV news.
We live about 50 miles from Philadelphia. Far enough away that it takes about an hour to get there by highway. But there isn’t a “local” news other than that of Philadelphia. So, every night, my in-laws watch the TV news, and I think they believe that the crime and the house fires and the danger is awaiting on their doorstep. In other words, it’s kind of not relevant. Even the weather forecast isn’t quite aligned with the area we actually live in.
When we lived in Texas, it really sank in that the weather happening in Austin was not necessarily going to match what was happening in Pflugerville or Buda. Some systems just didn’t spread out that far. Recently, there were some strong storms coming from the mid-west, and the forecast map suggested they would pass through southern Pennsylvania. But it really didn’t seem to cover the area where we lived. It didn’t even really cover Philadelphia. But the news team was reporting this incoming storm as though it was the next Hurricane Sandy. They put their Fear into my in-laws, to where they were hiding plants in the shed and battening down hatches like the Great Flood was upon us.
Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. The storm passed to the south with some damage outside the “viewing area”. One tree toppled (reported as “…and trees have been downed.” and there were some power outages, again, no where near our area. While it’s understandable to want to know of impending weather, the sensationalization of a coming storm and the Fear drummed into viewers seems to me as irresponsible and meant to do little more than keep eyes glued to TV sets. Check NOAA to see what the weather warnings are. They don’t have to please shareholders or get high ratings.
There doesn’t seem to be much I can do about my mother-in-law’s fear of everything outside her tiny world. For someone who has traveled (UK, Switzerland, Canada, various US states), one would think she would have shed her Fear-based living and embraced trying new things. But, evidently, one would be wrong.
And so, we continue to receive the warnings to “be careful” and “don’t miss your bus” and “don’t get hurt” instead of “safe drive!” or “enjoy the trip!” and “have a good time!” as though my husband and I are children in need of reminding of the simple act of not self-sabotaging our daily activities. It’s a head-scratcher, to be sure.
There has been a lot of discussion (and argument and frothing at the mouth) about the state of being paid for creative works. At least on the Internet, there is. Confrontational posts appear on Craigslist, in the music sections, imploring musicians to actually ask for payment for gigs so that bars don’t get used to getting all that clientele for nothing, while conflicting posts argue that “hired guns” are ruining music for everyone who plays for the love of playing.
On blogs and social media, artists and writers encounter similar arguments. You’re an asshole if you ask for art or writing for free, or you’re an asshole if you refuse to create for free. You’re an asshole if you insist people get paid or you’re an asshole if you insist on creating without payment.
One side says “would you do your job for free?” Another says “So you don’t believe in doing art for art’s sake?”
I’m here to say: stop. Just stop. At this point, people are just talking to hear themselves talk, and no one is actually listening to each other.
Each person has the freedom to decide if they do or do not wish to be paid for their services and work (and yes, creating is work – without it, there would be no industrial design, music, art, newspaper articles, movies, tv shows…. Each person has the freedom to decide they want no dealings with someone who doesn’t offer payment. Each person also has the freedom to say “hell yes, sign me up!”
Some people seem to be under the impression that the concept is new. That “back in the day” everyone always paid artists for their work. Or “back in the day” people wrote stories because they loved it and money didn’t matter! Nonsense. Authors were paid if they sold publishing rights to their work. Artists were also taken advantage of by art and design houses, where the ones who did the actual creating were never credited. Musicians played for the love it around the fire, but musicians were also hired to be the “house band” as it were way back to the days when there was more than one royal family in the British Isles.
The difference is – and this applies to lots of “back in the day” idyllic fantasizing – before 1996, it wasn’t such common knowledge as it is now. With the pervasiveness of the Internet, everyone knows about wrongdoings within minutes of its occurrence, even from the other side of the planet. It’s no longer something that gets talked about only at the local bar with your buddies. It’s Tweeted and Facebooked around the world.
I’ve asked myself if I have a “side” to stand on in the debate. And I’ve decided that I don’t. And that I don’t need one. Because nothing is ever that black and white. If pressed, I’d say it depends on the situation. Would I write something for a for-profit publication if there was no pay? Possibly, depending on what I got out of it. I find it’s a rare thing indeed that such a publication is offering absolutely nothing of value to their potential contributors. Copies and promotion? Well, that’s what they have to offer. If the payment is too low, move on.
But hey, you volunteering types, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. In my day-job we have loads of volunteers. Some of them seem to enjoy expressing disdain for those of us on the payroll. And to that I say, no one is forcing you to volunteer. If you are happy giving up your time and resources for free, great. If not, maybe it’s not the best way to spend your time.
Have you even tried to ask for payment? Several years ago, when I was running a cafe with my husband, a man who came in all the time gave me some of the most valuable advice I’d ever gotten. He told me “everything is negotiable. When they give you a price, ask ‘how about less?’ The worst they can say is no.” I think, when considering payment for your creative service, you might try thinking “how about more?”
I want it to be clear that none of what I write in this blog is in the spirit of “this is the way it should be done” outside of my own practices and experiences. I see a lot of New Pagans make that mistake, especially in the Pagan-centered blogosphere. Perhaps because I occasionally search the keyword “pagan” on Tumblr, where the median age of users seems to be 17, and it brings up the same things over and over:
“I am interested in Paganism. What are some good sites to learn all about it?”
“I’ve just started learning about Wicca and wondered if I should start a Paganism blog here. What do followers think?”
Listen, I get that you are excited about your first Wicca 101 book you bought from Amazon (which you are now diligently copying directly to your blog despite all copyright notices, etc). I just think it may be a little premature to start putting forth all this information in a manner that suggests you know what the hell you’re talking about. There’s no shame in writing a blog that comes right out and says it’s purely exploratory and you’re just a beginner. I’ve been studying various Pagan ideas for more than 20 years, and I’m still a novice. In my opinion, it’s a fine thing to just say that. I’m a beginner. Don’t take what I write here as “truth” or even “fact” when it’s just my own truth. When I see things like those quoted above, it makes me shake my head. In a way, the first person is trying to find shortcuts to answers. The second person is trying to collect more “followers” (“Friends” if you’re a Facebook user) in the usual social-media-as-validation manner.
My personal path has always been about personal experience and revelation, which is why Druidry speaks to me. Especially OBOD Druidry (there are multiple Druidic schools of thought) speaks to me for its focus on philosophy and harmony, and its ability to be blended with most any other faith. There are Buddhist Druids, Christian Druids, Wiccan Druids… you get the picture. Of course, there is ADF Druidry, which presents itself specifically as a religion (vs. a spirituality), but I have not studied their materials as yet.
I think that it’s great that young people are continuing to get interested in alternative religions, and that Paganism is becoming common enough that these kinds of discussions can be had in the public sphere. The Internet provides a means of connecting with others of the same or similar mindset and attitudes. But, the Internet is made up of documents (blog posts, blog comments, web pages, etc) posted by amateurs; said documents are often the result of a big game of Whisper Down the Lane. Things get truncated, misinterpreted, shorthanded and repeated without all the context, leaving New Pagans with more questions than answers, really. I have a strong memory of being on a newsgroup (the precedent of message boards) where the origins of Celts was being discussed, but in such disjointed, unclear ways that left me more confused than before.
It wasn’t until I took up the study from actual, physical, researched books written by people who make it their living to study and write about such things that any of it made sense.
“But I don’t have money for books!” you exclaim.
That’s okay, neither do I. What I do have is a library card, and inter-library loan.
“I’m afraid to ask for Wicca books! They’ll judge me! Right in the face!”
*shrug* Well, there was a time when none of us had another option. Maybe you could study mythologies and folk tales instead for a while; it all informs modern Paganism in some way, and no librarian will judge you for reading W.B. Yeats. Or, you know, you could just go for it and judgey people be damned!
Okay, admittedly, one thing the Internet is good for is connecting you to Project Gutenberg. Where you can get a copy of the Norse Eddas for free and nobody has to know you downloaded it. Although it’s not written by someone calling themselves Starlight Ravenclaw or Lady Fairy-toes, it is most certainly a very Pagan work. Does it tell you how to do spells? Of course not. But then, should you really be trying magic out already when you don’t have any training at all? Can you not imagine how that could go horribly, horribly wrong? (*sigh* All right, fine, check out The Golden Bough if you must.)
Listen, I certainly am not trying to tell you How It Should Be. Just, you know, putting thoughts out there, making suggestions. Specifically that if you want to actually learn something beyond skimming the Wikipedia entry, log off the Internet and hit the library.