My Gods Are Fragrance-Free Part 2

Hel Hath No Fury…

No, I haven’t mispelled the word for the Christian underworld. I am deliberately referencing Loki Laufeyjarson’s daughter, Hel, ruler of the Norse underworld. (Hint: she’s not what the Marvel Universe portrays.)

I’ve just jettisoned myself from an online spiritual community where I’ve felt generally at home for about four years. I even served as a moderator, helped create online events, and edited and did layout design for two issues of its annual publication. But there was this one thing I just couldn’t take anymore.

Let me back up a minute. For the last 35+ years, my life has been extremely constricted due to multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness. My ability to access grocery stores, health care, public transport, education, spiritual communities, and social gatherings has been limited due to (mostly) ubiquitious fragrance use in all public spaces. If I come in contact with these airborne pollutants (volatile organic compounds), I get sick. “Sick” may include asthma, fatigue, spaceiness and brain fog, anxiety and panic, and impacts on various organ systems. Some days I bounce back fairly quickly. Others, not so much.

In spite of this, I’ve tried to live a life of meaning, service, creativity, and curiosity. I’ve raised two children, helped to run a family business, volunteered at my kids’ schools, immersed myself in various special interests, loved and lost (big time!), gone back to school earning two degrees and a number of other college units (thank you, remote education!), and written–written my little heart out, actually, throwing my words into a void which seldom responds. I did all this by building in recovery time, masking my symptoms, and pushing through being sick whenever I had to, if I could. I’ve grown used to life on the margins, preferring to experience being marginalized as a kind of liminal space for spiritual exploration and a unique vantage point for socio-cultural critiques.

However the ubiquitous use of fragrance products has denied me equal access to almost all aspects of modern, Western life: professional opportunities (I can’t network at those fancy business breakfasts because someone is inevitably saturated with fragrance! I can’t schmooze at professional sexology conferences, because, ditto!); and employment (I have so many skills, but finding a fragrance-free workplace? Forget about it!). I can’t even anticipate a book tour as a new author (if such things even exist anymore, post-Covid) because contact with the general public can be hazardous to my health. I can vax against Covid, but there’s no vaccination I know of that will halt the impact of toxic chemicals on my body. I know my chronic illness was a source of resentment and frustration in my marriage and it was boring for other partners. And last year, one of my children decided to cut ties with me “forever,” claiming that I am too much work. Damn, but that was cold! And ableist to boot! (Not to mention ageist and unfair. I threw myself into childrearing, body and soul.)

One of the things that has kept me alive–I mean that literally–is connecting with other people through social media and online affinity groups. Just as some disabled people have written that “internet friends are real friends,” so too is internet space “real” space. As such, it can be made accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities and it can become inaccessible and unwelcoming too. That “one thing” that just caused me to exit from my favorite affinity group was the increasing number of group members posting their advertisements for scented candles and other scented products that are made and sold, supposedly, to honor our deities.

To me, it’s like spraying the stuff in a sacred space that I’d hoped to occupy, if only for a little while. My entire body goes into fight or flight mode just seeing the pictures and reading the blithe postings of people who are making and selling these products. So, seeing that Loki-themed “cinnamon pumpkin spice” smelling candle for sale is like a sock in the gut. And I do mean that literally. My enteric nervous system ties itself in knots.

Far be it from me to get in the way of entrepreneurism, however, does this shit have to be EVERYWHERE? All witchy/pagan spaces seem to be chock full of scented candles and oils for sale: all the actual stores, all the online groups, and probably a lot of in-person rituals. Even my favorite online tarot reader always sprays his reading space first with some kind of cologne and I can no longer bear to watch him on a livestream because of this. I watch the recording later so I can fast forward past that part.

And what about the people and pets who have to exist in the polluted spaces created by witchy sorts who profess animism and spirit devotion, but can’t understand that they are HURTING other people and other creatures with this stuff? That these chemicals add to climate change? I’ve read the studies, folks! Peer-reviewed and everything!

I can’t do this anymore. The grief, the anger, the frustration, the sheer, relentless “Cassandra in a Coal Mine” history of all this is overwhelming. And the ongoing, unexamined stupidity of this seldom acknowledged aspect of ecocide makes me want to scream. I just posted a link to the original “My Gods Are Fragrance-Free” on FB and Twitter today, with the comment that I want this piece read at my funeral (not that I’m planning that anytime soon). I’m serious. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. And it’s my longest, most heartfelt cry I can make in my marginal wilderness. Please read it.

Thank you and blessed be.

The Post I Wrote in 2019:

What follows is imagined, an eco-parable. Gerda, a Jotun, smells only of rich soil, bruised herbs from her garden, and luscious Jotun pheromones. This was enough to dazzle the Vanir god, Freyr, from afar. His sister, Freya, adorns herself with amber jewels, but cares for her skin only with salves of honey, clear water, and powdered grains. The dry tips of her hair are moistened only with the tiniest bit of melted butter. She scorns the feckless chemistries, the unwise alchemies, of Midgard’s humans, which propel poison into every living thing. Freya has complained to Odin that dead warriors are no longer what they once were–they are now creatures with flacid muscles, except for their texting hands, and that they die now with withered sperm counts, and distortions in their DNA.

Even worse–“They (the humans) are even going after the roots of the World Tree,” she whispers, “with something called ‘Round-Up.'”

Freyr, the Corn God, nods. He dies each year for the harvest and comes back reborn, but it’s becoming apparent that the humans who once honored him for this would now rather manipulate the mysteries of the grain themselves. Perhaps an extended vacation in Vanaheim is in the runes…let the humans spend a year without him for once, prefereably after an Icelandic eruption, when ash clouds herald global famine. That’d learn ’em, he thinks, but in the next moment he backs away from such thoughts. He will serve as he has always served, all these long eons. “Perhaps Ragnarök will be a blessing after all…”

Freyr smells of rich earth too, and Gerda’s herbs and mead, and a not-unpleasant tang of godly sweat and semen. Vanir pheromones are also rather scrumptious, carrying a faint scent of apples. But humans, drunk on designer petrochemicals, can no longer detect them.

As for Ragnarök, Loki has no comment. What will be, will be, and has been–so many times. Contrary to his bad press, Loki finds no happiness in wanton destruction…but cleansing…the metabolism of poisons when all else fails…sometimes that is something to be desired. He should know. The next cycle has already unleashed forces powerful enough to bake the planet, to scour it of the unwise alchemies of the paltry, money-grubbing humans. Midgard will eventually recover (Gaia is strong) but Loki isn’t all that keen to be the trickster god of cockroaches. However, he recognizes the cosmic joke about to be played on them all. He’ll do his best to find some fragment of mirth when the time comes. But onlookers will mistake his battle grin for vengeful joy, misunderstanding the mask that hides his hot, angry tears. It was all so unnecessary! It always is! Meanwhile, cremation fires are at hand for another death of a too beautiful world. It’s Loki’s job to ensure that creation follows cremation. Somebody has to do it…

Loki bound, enduring poison. Sigyn trying to catch it before it can hurt him.

Sometimes Loki wishes Sigyn had gone in for systems change, rather than holding the bowl for him alone. He imagines he could have borne his suffering–bound with his son’s entrails and scorched by viper spittle–if he’d known she was battling the powers that be, on behalf of all sentient beings. Sigyn might have known better though, and who really is to say? Her victory might yet be won.

It doesn’t take a völva prophecy to know what’s coming. Freya sheds tears. She and her daughter want to save a cat or two. Freya wants the falcons to be okay, and bees. Freyr puts in a word for boars and grains. Dogs too. Their father wants to save whales, sharks, sea turtles, guppies, and coral polyps, among others. His is a long list. Loki would like to send wolves and snakes and salmon and horses to Hel, for safekeeping. Gerda hides seeds in safe places, and waits. The souls of animals are already reluctant, but plants and fungi have not yet given up all hope. Neither has Gerda.

Loki says, “Don’t shoot the messenger (especially if I’m it!). Don’t ignore the voices of doom, of climate change, or the canary in the coal mine. Invite Cassandra onto your podcasts–she’s still got a thing or two to say! Don’t disregard the muttering sibyl, the trancing völva, or anger of witches and Jotuns.” He’d slap this message on t-shirts, even though it’s not a sound bite, in hopes that humans would pay attention, but he distrusts capitalism–particularly the kind that sells toxic petrochemical perfumes wrapped in bottles that look like Marvel Universe characters, especially his!

This last is a particularly painful mockery–big anime eyes and golden horns on keychains are one thing, but this is quite another–all those bottled endocrine disruptors ending up in the salmon, just so a few fans can pretend they have access to “his” scent.

Product of a toxic industry making a mockery of our god, adding yet more petrochemicals to the planet and its creatures, all in the name of money.


Meanwhile the big money laughs and this makes Loki mad. “Stick to cosplay,” he mutters. “Is nothing sacred?” but he already knows the answer to that question. Rather say that nothing is so futile as the sacred, and nothing is more powerful. After all, Loki knows how to stand with two, four, eight legs, or none, in the spaces between all the worlds you could ever name. (Some say that’s why he drinks so much sometimes. He’s so sick of stupid.)

All matter is alive and aware. If we could hear it, all Midgard is screaming at us right now, “Stop it! Go back! You’re hurting us!” The Earth is our hearth. Hearth fires are lit for warmth and nourishment, not destruction. But we have forgotten this. We have forgotten to extend our hospitality (our frith) and our care to all living things. Loki-as-Lóðurr awoke the first humans with his breath, which was clean and alive and full of strength. He warmed us with his breath and gave us fire to warm our hearths. He certainly did not give us a command to go forth and pollute.

I would like to think that human beings still yearn for that first clean breath, that pure air granted to us by a being as old and as vast as a star, and that we’d do anything to get it back. Instead we diddle with gadgets, toys, herbicides, GMOs, scented candles, and guns. We’ve poisoned our Midgard and every living creature in it. Our own bodies now shit microplastics. We’ve inflicted this same diet on animals and plants. Fragrance chemicals are harming aquatic wildlife. Our reproductive systems are drenched in endocrine disruptors (like phthalates) from deli food containers, Round-Up, shampoos, and perfume. Babies are born with birth defects as a result.  Our breast milk contains countless contaminants, including an array of self-inflicted consumer toxins from such beauty products as “Loki-Master of Mischief” cologne. Soon plastic golden Marvel Loki horns from the above bottle will find their way to the Pacific Garbage patch, floating among the discarded grocery bags, to be eaten by starving whales who can no longer find enough krill. I don’t think this (below) was the kind of “mischief” Loki had in mind…


Is there any hope at all? Or do I just put another gaudy, food-colored donut on Loki’s altar and sigh, “fuck this shit, Worldbreaker, we’re doomed. Bring it on…”

But Loki will have none of that. He absolutely refuses to let us dodge this wyrd. He says, “Stop buying this crap, especially not in my name. Use your breath for something decent, like saving the planet, while you still can.”

“Do this,” he says without winking, “and maybe you’ll get a whiff of my pheromones…”

From a hat sold by the Environmental Health Network of CA, http://www.ehnca.org. I was a board member and president back in the 90s.

“Oh no, love, you’re not alone!” – Remembering John

Both boys are in my clothes. John on the right.

The quote in the title is from David Bowie’s Rock and Roll Suicide, and those were the days of Bowie at the peak of his most androgynous glam. These were the days and nights of glitter, of dancing in clubs, of struggling to make ends meet in dreary day jobs and yet, still being fabulous. But the Bowie song that gets me the most, that most reminds me of John and who we were together in those days, was Heroes.

Today is yet another anniversary of his decomposed body’s discovery in a canyon in San Diego. I’ve had decades of these anniversaries now. So many of them. John died a suicide and broke my heart.

I’ve written in past years about John, here and here. Today I wrote this in Facebook:

John, you died in 1976 in that San Diego canyon, sometime between August 15th when you left my house without a word or a note (I’d just left for work) and September 1st, when the coroner knocked on my door and told me they’d found a badly decomposed body that they thought I could identify. That body fit your description. It was wearing jeans, a shirt with small Carmen Miranda cartoon women on it, and a heavy gold ring. It turns out that someone in your beauty college saw that heavy gold ring, which the police showed on T.V. news, asking the public for any info that could lead to your identity. That someone knew you well enough to send the coroner to me.


This wasn’t the first time you attempted suicide (pills, ground glass, drano…), but it was the time you finally succeeded.


And it turned out that some feckless, idiot acquaintance of ours who should have known better, sold you 100 barbiturates. You chose your moment, your day to die, and took them and a water bottle down into the ravine in the Hillcrest neighborhood where we lived. Eventually the police responded to neighbors’ reports of a bad smell coming from that ravine…


Missing Persons wouldn’t listen to me when I reported your disappearance, your history of suicide attempts. Your shrink simply shrugged. Mentally ill, queer youth on SSI were a dime a dozen and so what if one of them went missing? I hated these authorities, but the coroner at least spoke to me like a human being.


So today is the day I mark and dread every year–September 1st. It’s a date flanked by my children’s birthdays. For many years, that was a mercy, but that’s no longer true. Now it’s just the stark reality of a life that I have lived without you.


I hope you are resting in peace or incarnated among parents who would actually care for you as a child this time around. You were so uncared for in this life that you left, outright abused, kicked out into the street at age 13, again at 15, doing what kids on the street do to survive… Not all the attention and love you received from paramours and tricks would ever, ever make you whole. Still, I wish we could have stayed friends all these years, and shared our stories and arch observations over cups of tea and during walks among roses. I miss and love you and always will.

John Albert Suter Brennan.

☽☆☾

Shattered by The Untamed

Content Warning: Queer teen suicide.

Last night–for the fifth time–I experienced the final numinous moments of the Chinese drama, The Untamed, which has been playing on Netflix for the last year or so. And then I returned to the beginning for yet another pass through this sword and sorcery fantasy series (a hybrid wuxia/xianxia story). And why not? It’s still the pandemic. I live alone. My sources of happiness and indulgence are few. And…The Untamed is purely excellent in just about every imaginable way. It has almost everything I love, except for Norse Loki, cats, Elves, and Jane Austen (and I can get that stuff elsewhere), so why not? Why not indulge? So having thoroughly convinced myself of a right to wallow in unrestrained fandom, I was not prepared for what came next, for what arrived this morning.

This morning started well enough. I prepared for an 8 AM meeting with one or both of my hypnosis students in India, and had a client session booked a couple of hours later. While waiting for the India students to show up on Zoom, I decided to listen to some music. I clicked on this link to The Untamed’s main theme song, translated as Unrestrained. It is sung by the two main actors, Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, who are also wildly popular in China as singers, dancers, and public figures. It’s a song that has made it onto “my final playlist” even though it is not my usual thing. And then I went on to have my meeting. So far, so good.

And then, in an idle period before my client session, I recalled Wang Yibo’s tweet from January 23rd, which is the birthday of the fictional Lan Wangji, the character he played in The Untamed. (Xiao Zhan’s character, Wei Wuxian–the “grandmaster of demonic cultivation”–is of course given a Scorpio birthday, Oct. 31st.) In Western astroloogy, this makes Lan Wangji an Aquarius not far from the cusp of Capricorn. And his soulmate is a friggin’ Scorpio born on Halloween and the front half of the Celtic Samhain. Perhaps you see where I’m going with this… (and if you do, great, because I’m not so sure…)

Anyway, I found this tweet touching. It showed the actor’s compassion for the character and situation of Lan Wangji (aka Lan Zhan), who will probably always be one of Wang Yibo’s most beloved roles. I have also seen a touching video of many of The Untamed’s cast saying goodbye to their characters. Fifty episodes is a long time to be in any character’s head and this can’t help but have an effect on an actor’s life. Whether actor or audience, writer or reader, I think it is a very human thing to have strong feelings for and about fictional characters. (I know I adore my own and love them like family.) Fictional characters often reveal something to us about ourselves or our situations. I even feel that some great characters take on a spiritual life of their own, almost like demigods. I am not kidding. (But that is a whole other blog topic.)


Screen capture of Tweet.

Back to this morning. Back to the “shattering.” Back to the crazy, sad, and ridiculously obvious thing that I never saw coming. Somehow all this came together in my brain through the translated subtitles to the song–“preparing a jar of happiness and sadness of life and death to mourn a young man”–and the above Tweeted reference to “no more painful longing” for the character’s soulmate, Wei Wuxian.

Let’s talk for a moment about the understated but strong emotions of the character of Lan Wangji. Here is someone who has had his unrequited love literally slip from his hands to fall into an abyss, to be lost forever, just as Lan Wangji has come to realize exactly what Wei Wuxian means to him. (This is no spoiler–this happens in the first few moments of the series). Later in the series we get hints about what this loss has meant for Lan Wangji in the sixteen long years before Wei Wuxian is revived in another form, through someone else’s sacrifice and revenge curse. We see that Lan Wangji has whip scars on his back and a brand on his chest, identical to a brand suffered by Wei Wuxian during a conflict with a peevish courtesan and a giant Tortoise of Slaughter. The brand on Lan Wangji’s chest is self-inflicted, perhaps to bring him closer to his lost soulmate through shared suffering. We also see that Lan Wangji “made a mess” (as the subtitles put it) and “fought everyone” and then is severely punished (the scars) and banished for three years to a cold place, in solitude except (we hope) for a few little white rabbits. We also learn that Lan Wangji has fostered a child that Wei Wuxian had cared for.

In other words, Lan Wangji’s loss and long grief has shaped his young adulthood just as the loss of his mother (and absent father) shaped his childhood. But because he is naturally taciturn and was sternly raised as a “cultivator” of Taoist practices and swordsmanship, Lan Wangji has very few ways to express his “untamed” emotions. Even his music is restrained, though it aches with longing underneath. In fact, I think some of my favorite moments are when Lan Wangji sits down at his stringed instrument to calm or heal Wei Wuxian and perhaps himself as well.

Though The Untamed is based on Mo Dao Zu Shi (Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation), a sexually explicit novel, Chinese film censorship forced the romantic elements of the narrative into a very delicate tension. The relationship between Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian is allowed to be fond (though chaste) and perhaps even passionate (though chaste). The pair are called “confidants,” “soulmates,” and “cultivation partners.” Though I am a clinical sexologist by profession and can talk freely in mixed company about all sorts of things, I actually like the lack of physical sex in the series. The sexual tension between the two main characters–which is not even acknowledged as such–makes the series so much more interesting and romantic. Given the choice between the sex scenes in Outlander and the merest whispers of flirtation and devotion in The Untamed, I’ll take the latter every time.

Now I haven’t said much here about Wei Wuxian. I can relate to him as a trickster, as a “left hand” practitioner of magic arts; as a queer person; as someone scorned by a sibling who has become his enemy; as someone who is generally misunderstood; and as someone who has become weakened (he donated his golden core to the enemy brother) and is at times dependent as a result. He’s a gothy teen turned visionary outcast. He dies once and returns. He survives. He laughs. His birthday is right next door to mine. Plus, I’d like his wardrobe, thank you very much. (I’m partial to black.)

So what is so shattering about all this? I’m getting there. In fact, I’m here.

John Albert Brennan Suter.

Here is my Soulmate. We met in our teens. I was seventeen. John was fifteen. John killed himself at nineteen. I’ve written about him before. John was more than a soulmate though, he was also a harbinger, a shape of things to come. I had a hard time telling the difference between the two of us at times. We were also very chaste. He was bi-sexual but more into men. This wasn’t the best option for me but that was the breaks. He’d gone in drag as me a few times and selected clothes for me that he would like to wear–and I, I never realized that part of me was loving him and identifying with him as if we were both queer, not just him. That I wanted my own beauty, my own being, to be as nonbinary as his. It took me several decades but I finally figured this out not long ago. Too late for the beauty part…

With John gone, I tried to piece my life back together. I was alone in my grief, mostly. And I struggled with the sadness and the strange emptiness of missing “my other half.” Yes, it did feel that way. I don’t necessarily think it is a healthy thing to feel so similar and bonded to another, especially when the other is self-destructive and mentally ill, but there is no denying that this kind of bond is very real. If you ever experience it, it can feel as if you’ve exchanged soul pieces with each other or were cut from the same cloth. Decades later, it is hard for me to believe that John is not somewhere in the astral or etheric realms (or wherever), waiting for me. But I actually hope that he’s gone on to some peaceful realm or incarnated again into a happier situation. If he appeared to me suddenly, in another form but recognizable to my heart and spirit sight, would I even know how to react? I’d feel old, and ashamed, and perhaps even angry.

So here I am–with his pictures on my wall, with quiet gestures of remembrance, with objects he gave me, with a scar on my wrist from the quarrel where he pushed me into an aquarium, and my ears that were pierced by him with a needle and cork, and a heart still raw. Still raw–even with all the other people that I have loved quite passionately in my life. Who would I want as a friend and a “cultivation partner” right now, but him? Who would follow me into the oaks and make witchery with me, but him? Who could talk to the cats and make up stories told by birds, but him? Who would drink tea with me and talk about “husbands,” but him? Was he my spirit brother or my real first husband, or a part of me that went down into a canyon one day with a bottle of pills and never came back up?

I’ll never know. I can’t know. The mysteries of death and the futile search of the living for clues to the missing beloved–this is why I found The Untamed so shattering this morning. Wei Wuxian returned to Lan Wangji. But John will never return to me. This is so final.

Will I watch the series again, for a sixth time? You betcha. Because there’s some solace there, even with what I know now.

☽☆☾

All Alone With Magic, Sex, Loki & Liberation

This personal blog is the place where I write what I cannot express anywhere else. The main focus has always been “magic, sex, Loki and liberation,” but you can find other topics as well. The category I call “biohazard” is a pun for autobiographical material that I also write occasionally. But in these last few months of pandemic “sheltering in place” it’s been difficult to post, except for signal boosting and quasi-political commentary. My own feelings and thoughts have been all over the place and some days its difficult to focus.

I’ve been almost entirely alone, you see, confined to a pleasant house with a view — so I am quite lucky in that respect. I know that. It’s part of my (almost) daily practice to acknowledge blessings, make offerings to my ancestors and deities, and ask for guidance. But seldom seeing a human being, even at the distance of six feet or more, has been difficult. I already have lived an almost entirely hermit-like existence for the last three years since moving here, but not having the option to mingle safely, or sit quietly in a restaurant with a book, means that the last few chances for in-person social interactions are gone. Three months in, and I find the constant isolation is beginning to wear away at my resolve and resilience. And perhaps a bit at my sanity.

Why hermit-like? Three main reasons and I’ll try to make this brief:

(1) Multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness. Once I only dodged airborne toxins like fragrances (often with a mask), now I also hope to avoid a potentially deadly virus. (I’m in a couple high-risk groups.) This has been my situation for thirty years. I am so used to wearing masks in public, you wouldn’t believe it. And part of me is kind of thrilled that other people are now having to wear them, though I am sorry for the reason.

(2) I’m new to the area where I live and aside from a few friends in Lake County that I seldom see (and a brief period spent living with a roommate) I have been alone here for the last two and a half years. I have no community outside of social media. Older friends are far away, in the Bay Area and elsewhere. I have no lover in proximity.

(3) A divorce in 2015-2016 meant that the domestic community (aka family) that gave meaning to my life, especially in my role as a mother, is no longer available to me. My adult kids live far away. It was hard enough to visit them already but now with Covid-19 pandemic raging, I am afraid I will never lay eyes on them again. And we seldom talk via phone or Facetime. I’ve grown tired of begging for contact.

What I do have for company: seven cats to love. I’ve got social security. I’ve got an irrepressible muse/teacher/partner/deity named Loki Laufeyjarson (and a few other spirit guides besides), the love of my ancestors, and the ability to create and work, and the hope of moving from this rural, red-necky area someday. I’ve got curiosity. I’ve got passion for social change. I’ve got a working computer and social media. My sense of humor is intact. I’ve got one long-distance friend that I talk with daily. I have anti-depressant meds. I am blessed with water hot and cold. These are the blessings I count.

And there is my body. I should take better care of it, really. It doesn’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I am too fatigued or scattered to cook. It doesn’t get enough exercise, but sometimes this body dances. Often it sleeps and the cats cuddle and the air here is clean until fire season. I’ve got a car that will get me and the cats away from here if a fire rushes over the wooded ridge behind my house. If I can get out in time…

It feels strange to write like this. Sometimes I am aware of a gradual loosening of “strings” holding my life together. A resignation. Feelings of shame and regret about life’s mistakes. Other times, I have the simmering, unholy glee that I associate with Loki and with my bravest self. I will fight. I will dance. I WILL see my children again. I WILL be able to rescue myself and move to a place where I feel happy and whole and valued. Maybe I’ll even have a non-spirit lover again someday. So I’d better keep that body strong. I’d better call upon my ancestors and my deities for help–as no one, but no one, will ride to my rescue. I do have sources of support, though. I don’t want you to think I don’t.

For example, Loki indicated recently that he will sometimes “hold the bowl” for me when things get too tough or too sad. But he won’t hold it often or forever. There’s a lot that this old lady has to do for herself.

So, plenty of magic here. Plenty of study and writing. No sex, but I am a sexologist and I help clients with their problems sometimes. Loki? Yes, of course–sometimes distant, sometimes near, but always at the ready. And liberation? As I work for the world’s from my warrior keyboard (since I can’t get out much), I also ponder my own. When, and under what circumstances, will my “liberation” come looking for me?

Momento mori…and in the meantime, rock on.

Screen Shot 2020-02-27 at 6.28.16 PM

####

I Don’t Want To, But I Could Go

This isn’t personal drama, just the sober realization that I might not make it through this pandemic, just as others have not, and will not. I’m sixty-five. In this country, I (and so very many others) are expendable. It’s not just older people, it’s queer and trans and gender diverse people, and Turtle Island first nations people, and POC, and immigrants caged… poor people, homeless/houseless… Yeah, I try to put all this in perspective, and to be personally stoic but spiritually open to the fact that my “wyrd” may consist of dying alone, without the people I love.

I’m mainly worried about my cats: Popoki, Niblet, Freya, Varda, Keola, Kia’i, and Arya. Who will feed and care for them? Someone do that for me please!

And my kids–they’ll miss me–and any opportunity for closure they may have needed for some of my most stupid child-rearing mistakes will be gone. All the things they wanted to say, all the things I wanted to say… (I love you, I love you, I love you!)

Unless. Unless.

Unless they say my name and light a candle after I’ve gone. Unless they deal with me as an ancestor newly among many, part of a vast company prepared to shower blessings from beyond, as if I’m present to them in another way, and open to healing. The dead can change…

Thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, for the last couple of years I’ve been doing “ancestral medicine” work with my ancestors. My work is not complete but I’ve asked for and then felt healing with most of my stickiest, most painful family quandries (not all, but most). I am at peace with the lineages of my grandmothers and grandfathers. I ask for blessings for my mother (still alive) and for my kids. I’ve even mostly cleansed my relationship with my deceased, neglectful, narcissistic, alcoholic father. I don’t feel love for him, just a kind of pity, and the comfort of not having him as an ever-present, gaping hole in my life. My wounded child is mostly okay now, as far as he goes.

I’m not being morbid. It seems to me that the real work of this liminal waiting time–the time of social lockdowns–is to be spiritually and personally introspective and to make sure that all the relationships that truly matter are cared for in ways that are more forgiving and loving. And to shuck the others that are meaningless or toxic, to wish them well and wave goodbye. Out with the dross. Out with the pointless and thoughtless habits… in with the new, to make a new world. Can I live up to this lofty agenda? I don’t know but I will try. And if I can’t live up to it one hundred percent, I’ll die (eventually) into it.

I’m blessed. Past spiritual teachers of mine have recently come forward with new offerings to the world. Those of us who are clustered around the modern version of flickering firelight–the cold electronic light of our screens (if we’re privileged enough to have them!)–can easily partake. I’m hoping that other offerings of generosity and bravery are showing up beyond the internet: local mutual aid, more food banks, more emergency housing, grocery shopping for seniors and disabled people, and so on.

My affairs are mostly in order. I leave behind cats, books, trinkets, a house, a few bills, and my writing, whenever I do go.

So remember me with forgiveness if you can’t remember me with love. And children, light a candle for me. Find me among our ancestors. Say my name.

3:26:20
Amy R. Marsh, Spring 2020.

####

Wicked Fascinations

Living as I do in a chemically avoidant “bubble” (meaning I stay home most of the time), I confess to some envy of those who move freely amongst the populace without gasping for air or succumbing to unpleasantly dizzy brainfogs, making a swift retreat and bedrest a necessity. However, the people I envy the most are not those who casually sashay through the detergent aisle of the supermarket (though it would be nice, as cat food is always across the aisle from the really awful smelly stuff), but those who are right out there making outrageous stuff happen–art, music, revolutions, burlesque, whatever!–without getting sick.

Life is not passing me by–I get stuff done. I write. I teach. I create. I sometimes help people from afar. Sometimes I see friends or my kids. And I am in life-long service to cats… But I confess to an occasional vicarious fascination with people who puncture the norms in the outside world. I like to watch them do it (yay for the internet) and I cheer them on, also from afar or in the comments section of a YouTube video. My all too active imagination performs a sort of recombinant conceptualization of a world that doesn’t exactly exist, but that I would like to join. My favorites are all there. I won’t name them here but their music, performances, art, and words remind me there is more to living than the interior of my house.

Sometimes I conjure, then cut and paste their attributes into characters in my books. For example, my “Ornamental Hermits” and their magic companions are partial composites of the outrageous “friends” I’d like to have over for tea and magic rituals. Since there’s no way to socialize in the real world, I set these characters in motion against real estate developers and supernatural bad guys. Sometimes these characters fall in love with each other, which is often a surprise! And on the real world stage, similar things are happening. We (the arty, the weird, the transgressive) stand opposed to the truly monstrous and cruel, but we haven’t yet morphed into a global fellowship, combining our powerful energies and visions into an unstoppable force for renewal and joy, for sex and life, for art and transformation. Perhaps we never will.

I can only sense the pulsations, observe from the sidelines, and stir my witchy “thought potions.” My “wicked fascinations” are ingredients added to the creative cauldron. I stir winks and shimmies, a puffy clown suit button, swear words and sass, tears of anguish, shouts of triumph, a blackened eye, the sweetheart who died, and a pair of sequined pasties, into my brew and serve it up hot–or cold–as the writing demands.

And then I exhale over the simmering stew and invite my spirit companions to do the same, charging the mixture, bringing it to life. Thought forms emerge, pledged to carry my vision into the places I cannot visit in the flesh. They go forth in books not yet read.

####

Future PaganCons: Won’t You Include Us Too?

I’m getting some post-PantheaCon discussions coming through my social media feeds, with much said on the topics pertaining to inclusion–the need for great heaping gobs of it–for “everyone.” Reading these posts, I always have the pitiful question, “does that mean people like me too?” Generally, it doesn’t. 

Decorated Mask copy
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness. My decorated chemical cartridge respirator.

I ‘ve never gone to PantheaCon or any other neo-pagan convention because my disability is seldom accommodated. I didn’t go to this last PantheaCon either–the very last, ever, apparently–but some friends of mine just got back from it. These are people who have a long history with the event and with some of its founders. I’m talking “Old Guard Pagans” who have been active for a long time in Northern California. One of them brought back a stack of ephemera from the conference so I’m looking through the flyers and postcards, as well as the conference program, to see what I missed.

And, frankly I’m also looking to see if any one of these organizations, events, or teachers bother to put the magic words, “Come Fragrance Free,” on their ephemera. But before I get too curmudeonly and critique-ish about the program and ephemera, I need to say a few things first and ask a few questions.

Here’s the Pathos.

Please take a few moments to consider the following. Can you imagine:

Living like an “almost hermit” for a major portion of your life, simply because consumer toxins, including fragrances, are in wide use?

Becoming ill, asthmatic, or brain-fogged after ordinary outings such as trips to the grocery store, dental and medical appointments, buying new tires, meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant, going to a concert or event, attending a class, filing out forms at government agencies such as DMV or Social Security, venturing outside when a neighbor is doing laundry, taking public transportation, using a public swimming facility, and pretty much any other activity that involves other people and poor indoor air quality?

Finding out that friends, family members, and lovers or spouses prefer their toxic products to spending time with you?

Finding that you’ve lost the love and concern of people you deeply love, because accommodating you is just too much work and they’ve grown tired of it?

Not having a job, as there are practically no fragrance free workplaces, and not being able to get disability benefits either?

Having your options for affordable housing severely limited due to toxins used in building products and home furnishings, as well as by people who could have been roommates?

Finding that most of your social contact takes place online, but then being shamed for it?

Being told that your sufferings are imagined or exaggerated, or the result of negative thinking? Being told you don’t “look” sick or disabled?

Seeing medical and mental health professionals who have little or no idea what you are talking about?

Being constantly exposed to substances that make you sick, tired, brainfogged and frustrated, just in order to have something that remotely resembles a normal life?

And finally, can you imagine all of the above and also being denied physical entry to spiritual communities, fellowship, and solace? 

I could go on.

Welcome to my life and the life of every other person I know who copes with “Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance,” also known as “multiple chemical sensitivity,” “chemical injury,” or “environmental illness.” We not only cope with “invisible disabilities” but are also invisible ourselves, as we “don’t get out much” and most dialogue about inclusion & disability and environmental health & justice take place without us. For most people, we do not exist. And there are no social programs to assist us with our special needs. There are no celebrities or major philanthropists championing our cause. As for allies–there are only a few.

Now For the Curmudgeonly Part

Back to my examination of the PantheaCon program and ephemera. In the program, I don’t see any of those magic words that address disability accommodation and indoor air quality, such as “please attend fragrance free to allow people with asthma and enviornmental illnesses to attend.” The program also does not have a section with disability access information. I do notice “no smoking” and “no incense, smudging or candles” policies are in place, and those are certainly helpful to preserving some semblance of breathable air. However, the lack of restriction pertaining to fragrance use in public spaces, workshops, and rituals makes the PantheaCon (and any conference) a dangerous place for someone like me.

I also skimmed through the “Event & Ritual Etiquette,” looking for some awareness of “share the air” manners, but there’s nothing. None of the hospitality suites, workshops, ads, or group events contain accommodation language either, EXCEPT for the following:

(1) Katrina Rasbold’s The Limpia: Cleansing the Mind, Body, Spirit workshop (p. 20) specifies that “no smoke, scents, or scented sprays are used in this workshop.” Reading this makes me want to adore her!

(2) Dree Amandi’s Aromatherapy Magick-Spellcraft warns that “we will be actively using essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils in this space.” Such warnings are also deeply appreciated, though use of such substances in a workshop may also affect my ability to attend adjoining workshops in that time frame, or workshops which take place in the same room or nearby afterwards.

Workshops that might be expected to use this inclusive accommodation language would include anything with a breath,  “eco,” or healing theme, such as: Selena Fox’s Circle for Planet Earth and her Brigid Healing RitualEcoActivism & Climate Change, which was put on by Circle Sanctuary EcoActivists; The Power of Yoga–Energy and Healing with Lisa J. Hamlin; Chants for the Earth with Starhawk and Evelie Delfino Sales Posch; Eco-Magical Activism with Starhawk; possibly The Healing Isle with Christopher Penczak, though the talk of “potions” and “plant essence” makes me nervous; Theurgic Activism Panel; Tomorrow’s Pagan Panel: and Envisioning the Future of Paganism with Solstice.

Such compassionate and inclusive language would also be nice for Elysia Gallo’s Pagan Speed Friending, as I couldn’t risk being “speed friended” by a well-meaning person off-gassing toxic petrochemicals in the form of personal care products. And for anyone talking about inclusion and diversity as part of their program–likewise. Set an example of inclusive welcoming by asking people to be considerate on behalf of those who depend heavily on the “kindness of strangers.”

Of all the many pieces of ephemera gathered by my friend, only one is inclusive of people with multiple chemical sensitivities and respiratory ailments. This is the postcard advertising the “JeWitch Camp,” an event with “Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Starhawk, and Friends.” It has the magic words: “come fragrance free.” (And again, I want to adore them!)

I think you get the idea.

I won’t say I never go to conferences, ever, but the ones I attend are professional conferences which enable me to gain CE credits to update my professional certifications and/or may help boost my diminishing private practice–my only means of work. Still, I don’t go to more than one every few years, and I build in recovery time and escape routes and limit my attempts to socialize. It sucks, frankly. Read my Fragrance-Free FAQ on my professional site to know more.

Why Are Pagans OK with Polluting the Air-One of Our Four Essential and Sacred Elements?

Ea is a word in the Hawaiian language that first means “sovereignty, rule, independence.” Its second meaning is “life, air, breath, respiration, vapor, gas; fumes as of tobacco; breeze, spirit” (Pukui, M.K. & Elbert. S.H. (1986). Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, p. 36). To me, the connections between these two categories of meaning are highly significant.

And I want to know why–when air is our sacred elemental symbol of mental powers and intelligence–we humans are short-circuiting our brains with deliberate inhalation of toxic, petrochemical fumes, via consumer products? And why are we so stupid as to deliberately pollute our air, INDOORS and out, along with our water and soil? As pagans, shouldn’t we be extra aware and respectful?

And why isn’t consensuality considered? Why is the physical violation of other people’s bodies with airborne toxic chemicals not a matter of discussion? We ban smoking in public places. Why not scents and fragrances and essential oils, which contain some of the same cancer-producing and respiratory irritant chemicals found in tobacco smoke and vaping?

The answers to the above questions have lots to do with capitalism, entitlement, and industry pressure on legislation and policy. And they also have a lot to do with who we feel is worthy of “accommodation” and assistance. There is something in the American psyche  that despises the “snowflake”–those seen as weak are deemed unworthy. And people with significant adverse reactions to chemical toxins are among the “snowflakiest” of us all.

In 1998, Scientific American published a study that claimed that the air in the average American home is MORE polluted than the air around most outdoor Superfund Clean-Up sites. Here’s the PDF: SciAM-EverydayExposure-3 As for me, I’d love to have a study done on the air quality in the average pagan conference in an average hotel. And then I’d like something done by way of solving this problem, so that we may all breathe freely in fellowship with each other. Pagan conference organizers, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. What say all of you? Or can you still not hear me and those who are like me? A 2018 study showed that one in four Americans suffer from environmentally caused illnesses (Ann Steinemann study–download here). So, with this increase in illness, how long can you ignore the effects on people in pagan communities? How long can you refrain from a proactive examination of this issue of indoor air pollution, and from creating policies that seek to diminish the health consequences of attending your events?

Spirits of the Air, I conjure thee–give us the awareness to do better, help us heal your sacred substance, and that of the earth, and of all living bodies–else we be doomed to choke on our hypocrisy and ignorance as all living things perish around us, through our selfishness.

####

I Was a Teenage Crone From Outer Space

While I do think there’s no better way to age-out in this life than to become an “old witch,” I do wish someone had warned me that this time of life is as confusing (if not more so) than adolescence! I feel like a teenager again: confused about sex and my changing body, experiencing weird hormonal shifts, pissed at the way society dismisses me, concerned about my economic prospects, the way people act around me, my place in the world…

I talk with my friends about how weird this is. We’ve not yet reached the point where we’re dying off (yet), but we’ve entered the realm of “near-death” experiences even as we consider a life on social security. What I mean by “near-death” in this case is the momento mori nature of becoming gradually more invisible to those who still exist, apparently, in The Land of the Obtuse Living. We who are visibly aging beyond what is fashionable no longer matter as we once thought we did, no matter what our accomplishments. We are pushed ever more to the margins of all human consideration–familial, economic, artistic, social…

A long-time friend called me a couple of weeks ago. It’s been about five years since we talked. She and her husband recently moved. They had an economic need to downsize and that meant leaving the city where she lived for so long, moving to a town on the outskirts. She’s socially isolated as a result. I was commiserating with her (yes, I feel that too) until she mentioned an 80-year old neighbor across the street who was friendly, but then she said something to the effect that this neighbor “won’t be around for very long so why bother?”

OMFG. When even the younger old can be this callous toward the older old, who are we as human beings?

I’m also preparing to move. I’ll be saying good-bye to this lake and those mountains sometime this spring. I’ll be moving closer to a real city, closer to people in general, nearer to some friends and medical care. I need to be in a place where I can access things like food and care if illness and infirmity strike. Here the nearest bookstore is twenty-two miles away. I’d like a situation that’s more walkable.

I moved to Lake County to be as near to my adult children as I could afford (150 miles away from the SF Bay Area). But after two years here, and not much in the way of visits, I have no hope of much attention from my children, so it no longer matters how far away I live from them. It’s difficult enough just to get an appointment to FaceTime with them once or twice a month. I can’t blame them, really. They are attempting to navigate the hell that is young adult life in a world of accelerating climate change, citizens of a fascist country that is greedily genocidal. (We elders are costly–I presume we’re among the “disposable.”)

I am bewildered. This is not what I thought would happen to me at this age. I thought I would be cherished a little. And though I remain interested in so much (and interesting too, I hope), and long to participate in many of the exciting movements and resurgences that are going on right now, I realize my role can only be as a quaint onlooker unless I galvanize a bunch of other pissed off older witches, artists, writers, and musicians to Do Some Stuff and Kick Some Ass. I’ve always been quietly audacious. I now find myself wanting to throw my aging back in everyone’s face much as I used to want to throw my youth. Here’s the story of (some of) my life:

“You want a pregnancy test? I’ll do it. You want punk rock vinyl fashion? I’m making it happen. You want a feminist space group? Already done. You want a sexologist for a wife or a girlfriend? Watch me! (Oh, you didn’t want that after all? Too bad!) You want a three-part fantasy novel? I’ve got one in the works! You’re expecting fierce commentary about what it means to age in the 21st century? I’m so fucking on it!

And so I find myself saying it still, the same thing I’ve said for at least fifty years: “World, don’t you dare underestimate me, not even now. Just watch what I’ll do next!” The funny part about all this, of course, is that no one much cares and I know it. But I really have no choice. It’s an all-out, bat-shit old lady thing.

What has kicked off this melancholy musing? A combination of things, really. Looking around at all the things I’ll either pack or give away. The boxes of family photos no one seems to want. Stuff I’ve collected, written, drawn. Business records and “archives.” More fine china than I actually need… It’s not that I feel I live in a museum (yet) but I’m still ravenous for dynamic interactions and transformations. And so I blog, leaving wordy breadcrumbs for the “children” (who may not be mine) who may teleport into my fragrance-free witch’s lair, filled with cats, books, art, and talk of sex and magic over tea.

I’m not done with this world yet. But it seems to be done with me. If the margins are all that’s left, that’s where I’ll be. Actually, it’s pretty much where I’ve always been. I’ve always drawn sustenance from the outer limits. I just didn’t know that life here could feel so diminished. It’s up to me, as a bat-shit old witch, to serve this up with fire and fury.

Baba_Yaga_by_I.Bilibin_(priv.coll)####

X-mas in the “Marriage Bed”

They say you “can’t go home again,” and yet this last couple of days I’ve had the closest thing to a prodigal return, though I was staying in a place I have never and will never live. I came down to the SF Bay Area on X-mas eve to be with my youngest, flu-stricken kid: a millennial living in a household that includes his father, and in the apartment downstairs, his brother. But everyone was away traveling, and Paul was taking care of the upstairs dog and the downstairs cat. He’d tried to go to the doctor the day before I arrived, but a $135 co-pay was impossible and he left. It was only after I assured him I’d pay for the urgent care visit that he went back and got the requisite medications (another $60 plus). Yes, he’s feeling better now but he still feels like junk and will for another several days.

So I barreled down the freeway on X-mas eve, with only my computer and a toothbrush (mostly), and with a mixture of longing and dread, once again called into action as a useful parental person. But I was also aware that I was going to be spending a couple of days in a household where I am not exactly welcome. (My divorce, though outwardly civil, still holds deep trenches of sorrow, regret, and resentment on both sides).

It’s unusual for this particular kid to admit to vulnerability with me–even though I’ve never been one to shrink from that–but he did say he felt scared by being so sick and all alone. Having my children want me still forms the apex of my bliss and so, you can imagine…

The home of a person who is very ill will often not be “company ready” and so I spent a few hours doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen once I arrived. It was fine. I was there to do that, to do for my kid what he was too sick to do for himself (and to make numerous cups of Throat Coat tea). But what was one part amusing and two parts freaky was the realization that I was handling many humble household objects that are familiar to me and/or that I chose and bought myself.

I’ve lately begun to take photos of my objects, because I am planning a book which tells their stories, and when I do that, I can let many of them go. Here I am confronted with objects that I left behind: some records, books, cups, bowls, cutlery. The knives my brother gave me when I married. The champagne flutes bought early in the marriage. The wooden bowls I purchased in the Japan Center hardware store, in the days when my kids attended Waldorf School and wood and wool were social requirements. And if these things I was cleaning weren’t things I owned and left behind, there were others that I’ve washed, dusted, and arranged over the years. What is it like for him, I wonder, to make daily use of these objects? To see them in cupboards and on shelves?

Perhaps he performed exorcisms by dissociating them from me, but I am not that capable. Objects speak or scream at me, their stories and place in my life are always connected with their use. Our children, however, are living links and I suspect that some efforts of erasure have also come into play in the last four years, not about him, but about me.

Sleeping in my husband’s room was a challenge. That bed, that dresser, those paintings, that stuff, the odor of tobacco over all. The same mattress, pillow cases, bedspread. The first night, I couldn’t get to sleep for the longest time. I was buzzing with the physical rememberance and energies of past pleasures and past pains. The deepest sorrows, the pile of resentments soaked into the sheets and the stuffing, the sad memories of a once-great love sunk into a swamp of conflict avoidance.

The second night I was more at peace. I could bless the past, bless our mistakes, bless the beings we have each become–no longer having enough in common to even be friends except in the most casual exchanges. We went separate ways long ago.

What baffles me though is the tarnished metal and red-bead “bellydance” belt of mine (dating from my tantra days) that he’s hung on the curtain rod in his bedroom, next to his bed. What does it mean? He has been in haste, previously, to give me boxes of “my stuff” that I left behind. But the belt–does he even realize it was mine? Or does he think it belonged to another? I have no idea, but seeing it makes a deep mystery. I don’t know if I should feel touched or not. Is it a form of silent communication? Is it something like the hands we held during family mealtime grace–the only touch for many years?

Is that tarnished belt in its unpolished state a communication or a commentary like the two paintings of his that I keep in my bedroom: the “Shade Tree” and the blue butterfly? Is it like the way I always say “my husband” and then have to add the “ex?”

Or is it just an off-hand gesture, placed there and forgotten, like the towel thrown on the bedroom floor or like the “Christmas” plates that he insisted on using throughout the year, diminishing (for me) their ceremonial specialness at this time?

In any case, I have left the kitchen cleaner than I found it. And I hope he perceives that as a “thank you” and not as a rebuke.

####

Learning to Be Human

Disclosure: I write from the perspective of someone who is quite socially isolated due to 30 years of living with multiple chemical sensitivities and environmental illnesses–finding most environments and many people harmful to my health due to use of consumer toxins. I am also isolated through geographical distance from my closest friends and family. Social isolation is the curse of my situation, but an outsider’s perspective is the gift. 

When my oldest child, Asher, was only three, he was overheard speaking to a dog: “Puppy, do you know what it’s like to be human? It’s kind of a job, being alive.” Three years old and already that perceptive. Yikes!

When my youngest child turned three, on the evening of his birthday, he turned a gaze on me that was clearly the spirit of the “big” Paul looking through the eyes of a little boy. It was a gaze that shook me to my core for hours afterward. I have never in my life had such a look from any human being.

I am not saying my children are special (though of course I think they are) but that I was lucky enough to hear and perceive things that I might have easily missed. I believe all children provide such moments. Whether the adults heed them is another matter.

So what does it mean to be a human being? At the moment I write with a kitten in my arms. She has inserted herself between me and the keyboard and so I am leaning over her to type. It’s a perfect example of one kind of human role–as a mediator between tech and animal life. She dozes with her head on my left forearm. She trusts me. And yet I am a member of a species which has accomplished the most profound betrayal of all–the collective, burgeoning destruction of every ecosystem on this planet that we share. And so I love my cats in the way that I love my children–with deep regret and sorrow at my share in this betrayal of trust.

And yet I’ve lived for thirty years as a “canary in the coal mine,” an activist mom warning about the dangers of household and industrial chemicals. No one much has listened to me, or to others like me, so I now refer to us as “Cassandras in the coal mine” (because people at least paid attention to the warning songs of canaries). But I am still complicit. Every mouthful of food that I eat, the clothes on my back, and almost every item I own are the direct result of income or goods produced by someone working his/her/zir/their ass off in a toxic industry –from my ex-husband to workers I’ll never meet–and probably destined to suffer from health consequences as a result. (FYI–my own condition is also due to occupational exposure, years ago.)

Yesterday I wrote about the complicity of settler-colonist genealogy–of facing the almost certain fact of ancestors who perpetuated numerous incidents of brutality and cruelty against the first peoples of Turtle Island, and probably also against victims of American chattel slavery. And if there weren’t always direct actions on the part of my ancestors, there were/are the social, economic, political, system-wide benefits and privileges that came from being an oppressor, rather than one of the oppressed. I am struggling to recognize and disengage from the ongoing inclinations and assumptions that attend these genealogies while also trying to recognize and disengage–as much as possible–from my participation in malignant, toxic, consumer culture.

And yet, I reconize that in some essential way I lack the tools or skills or mindsets that could enable me to fully function with other people in a wholesome, collaborative, and productve way–a way that I identify (from afar) as being “fully human.” But it’s not just me. All around me are (mostly) white people who have good hearts, intelligence, creativity, compassion, some understanding of social justice issues and certainly the understanding of the urgency of our climate crisis, and yet we just can’t seem to function effectively together! There always seem to be egos and agendas, mean girl machinations and mansplaining obfuscation, and all kinds of other weird-ass territorial factors at play. Why is this?

And all around me are my cis-female friends of “a certain age,” who are also socially isolated, economically disadvantaged, and in other ways marginalized, who know we have entered the twilight zone of the socially disposable and thus need to band together to take care of each other, and yet we just can’t manage to plan and strategize on how to do this, how to pool our limited resources and join together to mutual advantage. We know the need, we might have some skills, but not the collective will? Why is this?

For several years now, I’ve come to understand that our settler-colonist, capitalist, consumer culture does not help us learn to Play Well With Others. I have watched other cultural communities, from the ally sidelines, do much much better in terms of coming together, organizing, and providing what is needful with a generosity of spirit that is–to me–miraculous. And yet I understand these capacities are what it takes to be “fully human.”

Earlier today I listened to the Democracy Now interview with Lakota historian, scholar, and activist Nick Estes, author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. His description of the camp at Standing Rock parallels the conditions currently at the Kia’i (protector) encampment at Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu in Hawai’i, at Mauna Kea.

Here are his words from the Democracy Now interview:


“And in the camps themselves you had sort of the primordial sort of beginnings of what a world premised on indigenous justice might look like. And in that world, you know, everyone got free food. There was a place for everyone. You know, the housing, obviously, was transient housing and teepees and things like that, but then also there was health clinics to provide healthcare, alternative forms of healthcare, to everyone. And so, if we look at that, it’s housing, education — all for free, right? — a strong sense of community. And for a short time, there was free education at the camps, right? Those are things that most poor communities in the United States don’t have access to, and especially reservation communities.

But given the opportunity to create a new world in that camp, centered on indigenous justice and treaty rights, society organized itself according to need and not to profit. And so, where there was, you know, the world of settlers, settler colonialism, that surrounded us, there was the world of indigenous justice that existed for a brief moment in time. And in that world, instead of doing to settler society what they did to us — genociding, removing, excluding — there’s a capaciousness to indigenous resistance movements that welcomes in nonindigenous peoples into our struggle, because that’s our primary strength, is one of relationality, one of making kin, right?”


Now there’s a danger in romanticizing this as something “those others” do–which can come close to the old “noble savage” crap of yore–and I am aware of that. I’m also grumpy about white people saying that indigenous people are going to save us all now from climate catastrophe (i.e. clean up a mess that was never theirs)–even though they often have little in the way of power or resources. This mindset sidesteps the need for settler-colonists and their corporations and political representatives to drastically change everything about the systems that are running dangerously amok.

In order to avoid that dangerous and ultimately unproductive mindset, we who are settler-colonists have to continue to swing back to a recognition of where we ourselves are now and with that recognition of our deficits and their origins, work double time to develop capactities and understandings necessary for “relationality,” as Professor Estes says above. Doing this is going to take a helluva lot of humility. I’m sixty-five now, and I’m willing to go back to human “kindergarten” (as long as it’s in a fragrance free zone).

What follows is a speculative question. Is it possible that the epigenetic expression of European-originating people was triggered toward self-centeredness, violence, conquest, and greed due to long histories of violent subjugation by Romans (as one example) and others, and by exposures to such things as wars and continent-wide plagues, where bodies piled in mass graves could have fostered a sort of despair and then an unconcern about the preciousness of life? An even bigger speculative question: can we willfully trigger another kind of epigenetic expression in real time, to call back the capacties our ancestors must surely have had in the long ago? The kind that enabled us to live in villages, farm or forage for food, and provide care and sustenance for all? The kind that enabled us to see other creatures in this world–plant, animal, and spirit–as worthy of respect and kinship?

And can this be done in record time, to meet the climate and environmental/political catastrophes that are no longer a train wreck in slow motion?

Personally, it is hard to reach out toward others in real life, to work on my skills for “relationality,” when my condition requires this degree of isolation in lieu of disability accommodation. My activist efforts in the past have seldom been met with understanding–because this whole environmental illness request for fragrance-free accommodation thing can look like a “special snowflake” or “white lady” way to, I dunno, derail or disrupt others and the work that is being done. It can look and feel like a request for more privilege and special treatment from a white settler-colonist who is already inherently privileged by other aspects of my circumstances. And so my blogs are the only way I can reach out. Writing about what I see and feel is all I can do at this point.

I wish it were otherwise. I truly do wish to be of use in creating a better world. Like everyone else, I have the future of cats and children–and all living beings and our only planet–to consider.

“It’s kind of a job–being alive.” And right now our biggest job is to keep everything else alive too. It’s really down to that.

Fractal Flame, Made with Gimp
Fractal Flames, Linear. Author: Nevit Dilmen. 2000. GNU Free Documentation License.

####