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.
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 TheUntamed’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.)
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.
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.
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 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.
Nov. 23 UPDATE: Link to a blog post signal boosting the leadership of black trans women and other trans and gender diverse POC in the work against violence and for health and vibrancy in their communities. Includes links to several articles in Out Magazine and Essence by Raquel Willis, founder of Black Trans Circles (video here!).
On Tuesday, I pulled a weed in my yard, and found this–a baby rattlesnake curled in the warm earth. I placed a flowerpot (no hole in the bottom) over it and tried to find someone to come get it, for relocation. Of course, where there is one baby rattlesnake, there may be others. When the wonderful snake rescue woman arrived that evening, we found that the snake had somehow escaped from beneath the pot which I’d thought was far too heavy for such a little thing to move. We looked around, carefully, but did not find it under any nearby shrubbery or weeds. I hoped it had gone for good.
On Wednesday, as usual, I let Meowington out of Lokabrenna Tiny Temple, where he sleeps during the nights. Days, he wanders the neighborhood and guards my yard against other cats. But he can’t guard it against wildlife. My property backs up against a ridge of oaks and pines and wildness. (We’ve had a mama bear and two cubs wandering the neighborhood this week as well.) Yes, I was worried about rattlesnakes, but he made it through last summer unscathed and so I hoped for the best. I wish now I’d just kept him inside the temple that day.
By early evening I was calling for him, as usual, to come get his dinner. I called and called.
Meanwhile, I fed Grey Girl, the far more feral cat that–along with Meowington and one other–had been left behind on my property last year by a troubled couple who up and moved to Tennessee on short notice. I recall this with some resentment. I already have four indoor cats, and these folks basically dumped three of theirs on me, saying they couldn’t take them and would I feed them and yes they’d send money every month for food. I didn’t count on that money of course. I knew better. But perhaps I should have made them take these three “spare cats” elsewhere? But if I had, I wouldn’t have had the great pleasure of getting to know Meowington.
I called and called some more. And Meowington still didn’t come. I began to worry. And then finally I saw him tottering around the corner of the temple, a cobweb and a leaf stuck to his face. I brushed the leaf away and picked him up. He was shaking, breathing raggedly and hard. He kept trying to meow but couldn’t make a sound. Normally Meowington is an extremely chatty cat. He follows me around when I’m working in the yard. He’s also great at head-butting and adores tummy rubs. He’s also usually anxious for his meal, pushing his nose and mouth into the bowl as I dole out the food. But not on Wednesday evening. He was an entirely different cat, shocky, sick, unable to eat, though he was thirsty. I was worried he’d been bit, but I saw no blood. I set him down on a clean towel and left the temple to get a cat crate. I wasn’t sure who would be open for emergency care, but I was going to get him some.
Had he been bitten? Or had he been bullied by the big black and white cat who occasionally has it in for him? The only other time I’d seen him in something like this condition was after a fight with that cat.
When I returned, Meowington had somehow climbed up to the small storage loft in the rafters where I could not reach him. I tried to coax him down. He wouldn’t come. So I kept the food and water out, and left the temple with forboding, locking him in for the night. I half expected him to be dead in the morning. If was rattlesnake venom, I assumed his death would be quick.
The next morning (yesterday), Meowington was down on the floor again, waiting by the door as he usually does. I was touched that he made this immense effort, though he was still obviously in bad shape. He has always trusted to our routine, to his knowledge that I will always show up in the morning to feed him and let him out. I immediately put him in the cat crate, meaning to whisk him off to the vet at the earliest possible time. Unfortunately, the vet couldn’t see him until 3 PM that afternoon. That was yesterday. I kept him in the crate all day, with food and water, but he only ate a little. I showed up an hour early for our appointment, hoping we could be seen earlier.
When the vet assistant helped him out of the crate. there was a little blood. And when the vet examined him, there was evidence of a bite on his belly, with tissue already going necrotic. The vet explained that a bite on the belly was worrisome–that internal organs may be quickly damaged by the snake’s venom. Still, she gave me reason to hope. Some animals do recover, she said, and she laid out a course of treatment. She did not recommend the antivenin as she said some cats have bad reactions to it. We went for something more conservative (and less expensive): pain medications, antibiotics, laser treatment to improve healing.
I brought Meowington into the house and set him up with towels, food, water, and a litter box, in the shower stall since it was the only small, quiet area away from the other cats. They’ve only interacted with him through the screen door. I didn’t bring him into the household as he is very territorial and I was afraid he’d terrorize the other male cat, Niblet, who has been freaked out for a whole year about the two “extra” cats who joined our post-Hawai’i household. A month or two ago, I had Meowington neutered and got him his shots, in the hopes of finding him a new home–a one cat household where he could be adored and adoring to his fullest potential.
I wish I’d done things differently now. I wish I’d been more aggressive about finding him a new home. I wish I hadn’t let him out of the temple on Wednesday. And I wish yesterday that I’d had the courage to ask the doctor to just put him to sleep.
Because this morning he hasn’t eaten, drunk, eliminated, and he’s clearly suffering. He is lethargic, his breathing is ragged. I’ve been checking on him off and on, ever since I woke up. He wants to stay in the (unused) litter box, not the towel. (He used to love to roll around in the dirt!). I gave him more pain medicine. He vomited it up shortly after. I’ve pet him, stroked him, sang to him, and told him that it was okay to let go–that we’ve loved each other but that now it’s okay… he can go.
Sometimes I think we give our best love to animals, because they love us so unconditionally. We can give to them (if we give at all), without our stupid human complications getting in the way.
I love Meowington. I procrastinated about giving him up to another home even though I knew I should. I hoped yesterday that he could rally, could beat the venom. It was a selfish hope.
Later this morning, I’ll take him to the vet again–he was supposed to get another laser treatment–and then I’ll let him go.
I’ve asked Freya, Bastet, and Loki for the best possible outcome. I ask them now to ease his passage.
I’m pretty sure yesterday, December 16th, was the birthday of the late Michael Rossman, of Free Speech Movement fame and the All Of Us Or None political poster collection (which now lives at the Oakland Museum of California).
It’s been over ten and a half years since Michael died, and I miss him and his friendship. He was fascinating, infuriating, kind, abrupt, inquisitive, eccentric, deeply political, an avid reader and writer, scary smart, a devotee of entheogens and dogs–in all ways, a true original.
Here’s Michael singing “Tom o Bedlam” with the Rude Mechanicals on Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits.
We shared a tantric gazing practice that was so deep and committed that I began to refer to it as “extreme gazing.” We developed a profound and rather replicable familiarity with “subtle body sensations” or what Michael called “the gossamer realm.” In his bout with the leukemia that finally killed him, I believe these experiences helped to give him a bit of comfort. He was devoted to his family and friends and knew he would be leaving many dear ones behind, so his direct experiences of something beyond the physical body, subtle yet tangible…that might well give a dying man some hope.
I refer to Michael as a “trickster” because he was capable of mild mischief and smart ass remarks and seemed to experience, as I sometimes do, sensations of “unholy glee.” One of my favorite memories is the impromptu Bollywood style dance that we erupted into at a really dismal tantra “trance dance,” while Michael loudly declaimed a spontaneous poetic denunciation of the boring event. It was like dancing with Cyrano de Bergerac (a fictional character famous for composing a poem as he founght a duel).
Or there was the time he jumped off a double-hulled canoe in Hawai’i, stark naked, and swam to a nearby cliff and scrambled up it while the rest of us on the boat waited in astonishment. Was he ever going to come back? What had met him at the top of the cliff? We had no way of knowing what would happen next. Fortunately, he soon scrambled back down it and swam back to the boat. The captain, a Hawaiian man not happy with tourist shenanigans, was most relieved.
There was also the time he blithely asked my fourteen-year-old, “and what’s your experience with pyschedelics?” and then realized, ooops, the mom (me) was right there. Nervous laughter all ’round…
Michael’s complexity hooked me early on. And though he was in some ways a sly and dishonest lover, he became, among other things, a very reliable muse. I have written more about him than I have any other man in my life. Probably, if he were still alive, he’d cringe at that, but he was also quite capable of writing just as frankly and intimately about the women he’d known (though he never, to my knowledge, wrote about me. I escaped that fate. He had other fish to fry, and fry ’em he did.)
Perhaps my most stunning UPG moment during our gazing sessions was the realization that he was my first sexual partner ever in my first earthly body, during an early pre-human incarnation. (But I was not his first.) Such a thought had never crossed my mind before, but it slammed me good when it did.
Here is where my writing about Michael can be found:
Eros in Action (previously published in Carnal Nation, April 14, 2010).
These two poems, written about Michael, might give you an idea of some of my struggles in the relationship. The only time he directly expressed love for me was when he scribbled “but how could you not have known?” in the margins of a student study I’d done on Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality. He was reading my draft and shredding my numbers (he was a gifted mathematician) while getting a blood and platelets transfusion. And though he hurt me quite deeply near the end, with a completely unnecessary deception, he was still a better friend than I would have imagined and I still miss him much more than I’d like to admit.
Fire-walk Stage Left
You are, my dear, at times more coy, Than any burlesque queen, Who struts the stage fan-dancing, Peekaboo.
Now you see it, now you don’t.
And I’m a front row, stage-door Jennie. With flowers at every exit and I’m fervent in applause. Hoping for a smile (oh see me too!) From the Glittering swinging Hide and seeking Whirlwind dervish–Hey! Which way’d he go?
I also know the sequined strut, The spangled life: The more I show, the less you see. Hiding it all by hanging it out in plain sight, yes? My eyes have said Too much that made it to the lips, But I can slip behind the curtain too, (peekaboo). Backstage my question is perhaps The same as yours: Who is brave enough To brave all this, and love me?
(Now you hear me, now you don’t.)
So what’s it gonna be? Your props or mine? Or do we toss ‘em all together, bonfire style, And fire-walk to stage left, Winking.
A Poem About Paid Expertise
Hey you got those Qualified Professionals For your sinks and pipes and CPU — Doncha got A Qualified Professional, To fix the stuff, That ails me too?
(It’s not the therapists who’ll do the trick. They ain’t knowing what makes me tick!)
What I want is a Qualified Professional For busted gut and leaky eyes. What I want is a Qualified Professional The kine detectin’ all kine lies.
Perhaps I need the Qualified Professional With voodoun magic and a bag of bones. Or maybe just a Qualified Professional Who’ll cleanse my aura with chants and tones.
(It’s not the therapists who’ll do the trick, They just can’t fix my kind of sick.)
If I could hire a Qualified Professional To soothe my hurts with warm clean hands, Perhaps I could find a Qualified Professional To paint my grief in colored sands.
If one had Band-Aids for my heart, As well as string and glue, Perhaps I’d find the Qualified Professional, To get me over you.
Rest in peace, Michael. I’m glad you’ve missed these last two years of extended misrule, but I’m sorry you’re not here to comment on them!
I’m a Scorpio sun with three additional planets (and an asteroid) also in Scorpio (fifth house). And with all that plus a Capricorn moon, you know I’m a woman “what likes a challenge!” My birthday, Nov. 1st, encompasses part of Samhain, so by that you can probably guess what kind of challenges I like!
Have I mentioned that I suffer from chronic fatigue along with the environmental illness? Almost thirty years worth? Even so, I feel driven to perform these almost muscular displays of esoteric endurance and concentration. My usual pattern is to drive myself to do as much as possible while I have energy, then collapse. But energy-building practices are part of what this is all about.
Anyway, I’m on Day 7 and the theme is “thinking.” It’s a day I’m supposed to “expand my own thinking and the thinking of others.” I can probably bring the fact that I’ve also just started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) too, as my second volume of fantasy fiction does contain some mind expanding elements! (I have to get cracking on Chapter One in a minute so I can acheive my daily word count!)
Tomorrow, Day 8, is “war” and, um, I actually will need to pay close attention to the guidance that emerges from this particular theme. Got a situation…
Before I touch on my reactions to the ritual so far, I want to say how grateful I am for it! Loptson’s book is an important guide for me and it’s wonderful to have these prompts and ideas for connecting with various aspects of Loki, who is a very complicated being. I can be scattered and such focus is helpful.
Day 1’s theme is “Pure Magic” and since it took place on a Saturday, the day I typically honor my ancestors, this was part of my awareness of magic. It was a day of preparation for the temple dedication so devotional activities were also a part of this awareness.
Day 2’s theme is “Death” and it coincided with the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple dedication. The temple, transformed from a sparse utilitarian space (it was a woodshop) to a beautiful devotional space, is almost a metaphor of life and death. The act of responding to the call to create this liminal “home” for Loki is also metaphorical as well as practical.
However, I didn’t visit a graveyard as Loptson suggests. I was just too exhausted after the dedication to trek around the lake to the nearest cemetery. Instead, I contemplated the sad grave of two newborn kittens that the vet and I had tried to save. (They weren’t even mine–I was catsitting a pregnant cat for some friends. Her kittens were born while they were away.) The early death of these helpless babies, which I buried in the front yard, is a frequent momento mori. Plus, I’m now sixty-four and recently made my will. That’s a momento mori too.
But one of Loptson’s questions for the day is, “How do you feel about Loki, knowing that he is one of the gatekeepers who will one day remove you from your body?” I want to cry with gratitude just thinking about this, actually! So that’s cool!
Day 3’s theme is “Wealth,” particularly wealth of talents. I haven’t drawn much in a long, long time. I used to be the kid who was always drawing–in school, at home–whenever, wherever. I decided I wanted to make a new portrait of Loki, but was very hesitant to do so. But after several false starts, I let my hand move and create something, even if it is rather minimal. The lesson I learned was that I want and need to draw more, and that I need to get Crowquill pens and india ink, my favorite art tools. Even so, I was satisfied with the rather seductive look of mischief that emerged in this drawing.
Day 4’s theme is “Love.” But instead of having a day of childlike fun and frolic, recapturing the lost innocence and joy of youth (as suggested), I gave several hours of hypnosis and counseling time to a friend who needed to quit smoking and who had some heavy issues to confront in the process.
Day 5’s theme is “Ego.” Loptson suggested breaking a personal taboo “that challenges your current identity.” Well, I ended up making a phone call to someone I’d worked very, very hard to leave and it resulted in a reconciliation of sorts (but on much different terms). I also made a gesture of love and forgiveness to another person who has hurt me very deeply. That was definitely an ego challenge, forcing me to connect with the vulnerable humanity of others, and to be vulnerable myself. So… unexpected, that! And I won’t say I’m comfortable, but I am glad.
Day 6’s theme is “Sex” and it coincided with my birthday! But since I spent the day driving to the San Francisco Bay Area to see my children for a lunch date, perhaps the day for me was more about “Reproduction!”
Plus, as a sexologist, sex educator, and tantra practitioner, there aren’t really a lot of ways to challenge myself about sex these days. Especially since I lack a human partner. I’d say I’m also well aware of Loki as an almost tantric deity who is very connected to the deep, cosmic aspects of libido and sexual energy.
So we’re back to Day 7, “Thinking.” I’ll report on today and tomorrow in my next blog. I also feel as if I want to repeat this series of rituals in the Spring. I don’t know why, I just do.
Hail Loki! And big thanks to Dagulf Loptson for his excellent book!
It was the flock of birds that did it, silhouetted against the sunset, wheeling over the lake, spiraling as if drawn by the gravitational force of something huge in the air, hovering unseen. Evening is often a melancholy time for me, but while driving home on Highway 20 just outside Clearlake Oaks, the movement of the bird flock spiraling around that unseen center made me acutely aware that I was going home to a house empty of everything except cats, gods, and furniture. And this phrase rang through my mind, “the illusion of someone at home.”
Or maybe I can blame this mood on E.B. White, who could have set me up for this. While chowing down on Thai eggplant (spicy) and jasmine rice, I was snickering to myself over a collection of essays in an ancient volume titled One Man’s Meat, particularly his essay, “Clear Days.” But tucked in among the mirthful elements White writes as a city slicker self-exiled to rural Maine during World War II. He fit in with the hearty locals who hunted, fished and farmed about as well as I do here in Lake County. At least he had a wife, child, a *turkey and quite a few chickens.
“It is not likely that a person who changes his pursuits will ever succeed in taking on the character or the appearance of the new man, however much he would like to. I am farming, to a small degree and for my own amusement, but it is a cheap imitation of the real thing.” (E.B. White, One Man’s Meat, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950, p. 21.)
Is this evening’s melancholy a reaction of anti-climax? For the last three months I’ve focused intently on (1) developing a consistent spiritual/devotional/magical practice and (2) creating and dedicating the first incarnation of the “Lokabrenna Tiny Temple.” (The dedication took place earlier today.) So when I decided early this evening to take myself out to dinner at the Chinese/Thai restaurant three miles down the road, I did it partially to reward myself. I usually don’t mind eating alone as long as I have a book. Sure, everyone looks when I arrive alone and am seated (alone!), but I soon cease to be interesting. I’m too old to be worth much attention. My Jezebel days are over.
I usually order my main course, tea (either hot green tea or Thai iced tea) and a “to go” order of pork satay with peanut sauce to enjoy later. That “to go” order puts a different spin on my situation. Now I look like a woman who may have gotten away for a little while (to save her sanity?) but who has promised to bring something good back to a someone who is waiting for her return. I can’t deny that I kind of like this faux conjugal narrative.
Life after divorce, which now also includes life after breaking up with the lover who disrupted the marriage, does take some getting used to. One could argue that I brought it on myself–and that I made bad choices that now result in my present loneliness. However, I wasn’t in this pickle all on my own, but I decline to diss the gentlemen involved. In a ridiculous way, I still love them both.
But I digress…
I noticed yesterday that I enacted another bit of faux conjugality at the grocery store. It wasn’t an intentional deception but when I bought that bottle of cinnamon-flavored whiskey for Loki, along with a gift bag to hold it and a very large cupcake that looked like a cheerful but modest birthday treat, it looked as if I would soon be celebrating something or other with a (human) friend or partner. To that young man behind me in line, who asked what the whiskey tasted like, I said truthfully that I had no idea, that I was buying it for someone else. I refrained from saying who.
I am not sure what to do with these thoughts and feelings, except to endure them. I certainly do not think that my devotional practices and magical fervor are ill-placed or directed at an illusion. My “most trusted” patron deity, Loki, feels very “real” to me in terms of a specific “energy” that I sense (sometimes more distinctly than at other times) but I do wish that there was also a human recipient in my life. Without the center of family (husband and children) I feel as if I am whirling into the gravitational vortex of an unknown realm, and that if I stopped flapping my wings in hopes of escaping this fate, I would instead drop like a rock into chilly waters below.
It’s these between-times that are so tough to take…these liminal spaces of waiting, not knowing…of becoming but never “arriving”…of not belonging completely to any one place or group… But wait! That’s Loki’s turf and apparently, it’s also mine…
*I have turkeys too–a wild flock strolls almost daily through my property.
Sometimes even going to the grocery store is a sad experience. People–couples–selecting produce together. Or one making sure the kids don’t get run over in the aisle while the other pulls stuff off the shelves. Perhaps you know how it is. Loneliness strikes at odd times.
I’m the woman with long grey hair who eats alone, with a book, at the Chinese/Thai restaurant three miles down the road. I usually bring something light to read, like one of E.F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia books, which are about aging women who live alone and have ferocious and hilarious social “Queen Bee” type duels with each other. (The British writers do this sort of thing so well.) But I can find that even these books are bittersweet. I am not good at social jousting, nor do I want to spend my days frothing with enmity over tiny matters (as Benson’s characters do), but sometimes I envy the characters with their daily marketing, out and about in the streets, exchanging gossip and thinking snarky thoughts about each other. Even that would mean some sort of regular social intercourse.
About reading in restaurants. It keeps me distracted, as I eat alone in a roomful of people. It makes me look… I dunno…not so pathetic? But I have to be careful what I select. If I brought some of the other books from my library (the witchy weird stuff), I might make the waitpeople nervous. I need them to be congenial, as they may be the only human beings I speak with, in person, all day. Ditto with grocery store clerks.
So the other day, I was driving back from the grocery store, saddened and frankly lonesome. But I thought about how much worse I used to feel during the latter days of my marriage. Is it worse to be lonely in a marriage or in a restaurant? I think there’s an easy answer to that one.
There was a period when I was really knocking myself out, going back to school, earning degrees, taking certification classes, trying to get a business together in spite of my multiple-chemical sensitivity difficulties–and trying to get my (now ex) husband to see me as a person of value, someone he could be proud of–not just the chronically fatigued wife and mother and the family business bookkeeper–but someone who really was trying to live up to her potential, in spite of everything. But in some odd way, it seemed that everything I did only made things worse. And it was a bad time anyway. Not faulting him–we had just grown utterly apart.
So I ventured into a lot of things, pretty much on my own. Neo-Tantra being one of them. And I went to pujas in Sebastopol sometimes and fancied myself as someone who was tapping into her sacred energy, and welcome to share it (in those brief tantric circle exercises) with others. The first time I went, I was pretty nervous. I didn’t know anyone. And there was one man there who seemed gruff and a little scary to me. But there is a magic that can happen when those events are done well–you end up pairing with “the right person” for each exercise (breathing, dancing, whatever it is). And that’s what happened to me in the circle that night.
I eventually made my way around the circle to “Mr. Scary.” Do you know what that man did? He simply put his arms around me, very gently and very respectfully, and held me as he said, “I’m so proud of you.” Words which I had longed to hear from my husband.
That was years ago.
“I’m so proud of you.” Even now I cry as I remember.
The air is finally clear of wildfire smoke. The turkey flock chicks have reached a robust adolescence (or perhaps they are the equivalent of human twenty-somethings now) and visit my yard once and sometimes even twice a day. They strut slowly when walking on asphalt, their feathers a dreary brown in the shade but flashing the copper and greens of an oil slick in full sunlight. I watched them this morning, and again this afternoon. I’ve had people sniff, “but they’re not indigenous wildlife,” but I don’t care. They are life.
The feral cats are life. Khu, a neutered Siamese with vertigo; Meowington (a friendly tabby in need of neutering and much more petting than I can give him); and the nameless grey female (spayed) who hides in the “loft” of the small woodshop, were left behind on my property by people who suddenly moved to Tennessee. Fortunately Khu has been adopted by neighbors across the street but still visits to scrounge a meal from me. Meowington would like to move in with me, but I have four indoor cats already who are still adjusting to each other. The tabby and the grey cat must remain “temple cats,” roaming outdoors and sheltering at night in the former woodshed that I call my “meagre palace of Midgard” in honor of a certain Norse god.
The deer are life. The two fawns have grown. Next year, I’ll have deer fencing in place and will attempt to grow vegetables. This year herbs and flowers were devoured, and I didn’t mind as much as I could have.
Days are warm still, but that crisp nip is in the air. It’s a season I love and yet find mournful. This time last year I had sold my house in Hawai’i, was frantically packing to load the shipping container (badly injuring myself in the process), and was preparing to flee from a 14-year love affair that had wrecked my marriage and that I (foolishly) thought would last until the end of my life. Several months later, much of the neighboring area would be consumed by Pele’s May 3rd eruption in Leilani Estates. People used to tell me I got out of Hawai’i just in time, but that was before the Mendocino Complex Fires ripped through Lake County and its neighbors and I had to evacuate with my cats. Now those folks don’t make those comments any more. Fortunately, my home here has also survived a near brush with destruction, and yet, for how long? I feel like I’m living on borrowed time, on borrowed ground.
So I guess I’m still mourning those losses, as well as a few fresh ones recently added to my list of sorrows. I’m trying to stay positive, active, and creative–especially with regard to spiritual matters–but while these things are good, and I am in some ways at the top of my game, they don’t diminish my accumulated pain. It seeps into every enjoyment. The joy I feel petting my cats or watching the play of sunlight on the feathers of marching turkeys, or while talking on the phone with my kids or my friends, is weighed down by sadness.
As the days darken and shorten, another season alone could become…interesting. Here in Lake County, it’s a close knit community and I am a stranger. Worse, I am a single woman in a world of couples. I had no idea how hard it would be to socialize like this, after a life of long term relationships (mostly serial monogamy), where the fact that I had a partner branded me as somehow “safe” to know. (The environmental illness factor doesn’t help either. It limits my access to just about everything.)
It’s only now that I’ve embraced the Liminal Trickster that I realize that I was never safe to know. That I was always a slightly off-kilter social irritant, always occupying the frontier boundaries, never completely fitting in, and perhaps always inadvertantly “broadcasting my inner assessment” as Caroline Casey told me during an astrology reading. This probably affected my relationships more than I realized. I remember one ex telling me about a woman he’d fallen for and how she “looked good on paper.” At that time, I thought I looked pretty good on paper too–I’d racked up a pretty decent CV by then–but I think what he really meant was that she had social standing of a kind that would serve him, and that I did not. Sheesh!
Another ex used to enjoy telling people he was partnered with a sexologist, but once he acquired a local fan base, I think I became an embarrassment. My kind of outspokenness was also definitely not appropriate in that community. It took me a while to understand this, and why, and I have no hard feelings–just wonderment. Social cues were never my strong suit…
The only lover who never constrained or resented my growth, and who even seemed to glory in each new revelation of my abilities–including my quicksilver intelligence and tireless curiosity–which were in some ways a match for his own, still managed to demolish me with a horrible and quite unnecessary lie. That lie–I know it also took place around this time of year and I remember the surreal, metallic taste of it. Still, I think well of him overall because he saw me, mostly, and celebrated what he saw. And I tend to think more softly of the dead.
So it’s the time of the season, not for loving as the Zombies used to sing, but of taking stock, reaping the harvest of the year. At this point, I’ve got a bowl of fat acorns from the oaks in my yard, the newly minted recognition of my own Liminal Trickster nature (“mad, bad, and dangerous to know”), and a record for endurance. Loneliness is corrosive, but I hope to beat it yet. I may be looking for kindred in all the wrong places (since I seldom venture from home) but when the bright holidays beckon family members together elsewhere, if nothing else I’ll be toasting the dying of the year in a humble, homemade temple that I call Lokabrenna, keeping frith with a misunderstood, flame-haired deity, the only one now who truly sees and loves me.