by Angeliska on January 14, 2016
After my last sweet visitor had headed home the night of the 10th, after a perfect and beautiful birthday, full of friends and children and kindness and sweet medicine and pierogis, I sat alone at my kitchen table covered in sweet gifts and roses and flickering candles burning down low. A last glass of champagne, chuckling and weeping over heartfelt birthday messages from dear ones faraway, and then the news: The Thin White Duke had left the building. A shard of sorrow in my hands, turning it over and over like a piece of obsidian: but no shock, no disbelief. I had known, somehow, that we would all be saying goodbye soon. Of course. This day, that moment, it was his time. I could feel the deep peace of a life well lived, of a life’s work well done, and the release that follows as such a bright star breathes one last and then evaporates into everything.
DAVID BOWIE – JOHN, I’M ONLY DANCING (AGAIN) 12″ (1979) I started to write a caption for this image & it ended up becoming this. I used to dance to this 12-inch all the time, before I lost it (& all my other records) in Hurricane Katrina. Photo of the record by Mat Maitland.
Capricorn brother. I always felt an affinity, with his birthday two days before mine, and now his death coinciding with the anniversary of my birth. So I’ll never forget – as if I ever could fail to remember my admiration for that elegant elfin alien, such an otherworldly, brilliant being. So full of passion and incredible talent and preternatural grace. Him passing on my birthday felt like a very peculiar gift. I cried tears of love, gratitude and deep happiness for the gifts he shared, for every soul that he inspired. I see so many people I love struck deeply by this loss, bereft and adrift. Grief’s arrow can affix you to a moment, can paralyze you – or it can spurn you on and motivate you in powerful ways. When death strikes, I see some people get lost, sink down into themselves, get numb under blankets of apathy and depression. I see others fired up, fucking in the bathroom at the funeral, staying up all night writing songs, stories, poetry, love letters. When you beat a tomato plant or a rose bush with a stick, it will think its life is in danger. Faced with mortality, it will attempt to reproduce itself hurriedly – just in case there won’t be another opportunity. This could be it, you know? Animals do it, fish do it – and we do it. Biology and creativity – sex and death. I am hoping fervently that more of us will fall into that fevered excitement instead of a sorrowful haze.
I want to ask you to stay present with this one. Keep feeling it, keep your eyes and heart open. Let his death wake you up, make you remember what it felt like to discover that you weren’t alone, that there was an anthem for your strangeness, and a guide through the wilds of self-discovery to the cosmos within. Countless flocks of blossoming freaks found their sherpa in him: he led the way up the mountain ahead of everyone else, sure-footed, brave and indomitable, leaping from rock to rock and scaling impossibly sheer heights. He kept going, kept pushing – against all resistance, laughing in the face of fear. He made it irrelevant. Singing onstage in a mini-dress and thigh-high boots, coming out loud and proud because someone had to, goddamn it.
That man worked so, so hard. He pushed himself to the limits of his own psyche and beyond. He let himself be tempered, hammered into different shapes – constantly transforming, an alchemist of creativity. He survived the maw that consumed so many of his genius peers to become a wise old man, (but not too old). Instead, he sacrificed his alter-egos on the altar of fame, killed off the worn out personae, and continued to fashion new masks to protect the man inside, the one none of us ever met, or saw.
David Bowie was a true genius, and in true saturnine sea-goat fashion, he endured, persevered, always working, growing, manifesting — and he was richly rewarded for all his efforts, all his magic. He held the glory, he wasthe glory. So, how could he be just gone? No, not gone — but here, closer than ever. Now he’s everywhere, all around us, like embers floating on the wind — let his spark alight on your skin: let it burn you, mark you, scar you. Let his essence surround you, embrace you, and ignite in you that same drive, that same passion, the willingness to push off and fly. Now he is immortal. He gave you permission to be a beautiful weirdo, so don’t forget to honor him by continuing to stretch yourself past your own internal or external boundaries. Please keep doing the sacred work of connecting, keep sharing yourself with the world by doing your magic, whatever it is, with the same dedication, focus and verve that Bowie brought to the table for us to feast on. Step up into his shadow, into the hole his absence has torn in the fabric of our reality: get playful, look deep, transgress (and don’t apologize), wander far away from your comfort zone, discover those other archetypes within, and let every wild facet shine. Be willing to be uncomfortable, to be fabulous, to be both elastic and silvered steel. Do all this in thanks for the gifts he laid at our feet.
He came here to do his work, and he really fucking did it. With such great aplomb! We only have a lifetime, however long that is, to shine, to do our big work. That’s all any of of get. We are mortal. Our time here is brief. Do something righteous with what you were given: your brains and body, your imagination and your own singular perspective. Ars longa, vita brevis: art is long, and life is short. We will be listening to the songs of this poet forever. We get to keep them with us. He hasn’t truly left us at all. Feel how close he is? Do you hear the music? Sway with his spirit, dance for him.
And then get to work!
David Bowie interview on the Russell Harty Show, 1973
“What do you worship?”
“Life. I love life.”
David Bowie interview on the Russell Harty Show, 1975
Some thoughts on the subject by wise friends:
“I see we have already begun with the “art and music are officially dead” rhetoric. What an insult to Bowie’s memory and legacy to assume that the gift he gave us is finite. That the inspiration, example and beauty of his work won’t fuel and drive literally millions of artists who grew up with, discovered him later in life, and cherished him. Enough already. Stop looking backwards. Good art is not an exhaustible resource.”
– Fyodor A. Pavlov
“I know you are all upset about the passing of David Bowie. I am too indeed… But something you should know. He is totally at peace and went back to the stars hecame from. He is home now feeling totally complete, and fulfilled all his earthly duties. No regrets… He did that all and more. Muse city… Now utilize this knowing to motivate you to do the same. He would certainly approve of you mourning him in the glory of following your muse.”
– Marcella Kroll
I’ve been taking some time to listen and read, to watch interviews and find treasures and glean things I didn’t know. Looking forward to a really beautiful, well-written biography soon – or maybe there already is a definitive one someone could recommend?
“The image of that gingery boney pinky whitey person on the cover with the liquid mercury collar bone was – for one particular young moonage daydreamer – the image of planetary kin, of a close imaginary cousin and companion of choice
It’s taken me a long time to admit, even to myself, let alone you, that it was the vision and not yet the sound that
hooked me up – but if I can’t confess that here and now, then when and where?
We all have our own roots
To this room”
– Tilda Swinton
“Something happened on the day he died/ His spirit rose a meter and stepped aside/ Somebody else took his place and bravely cried, ‘I’m a black star,’” Bowie sings on “★”, his voice multiplied and filtered for the line’s last four words. “I’m not a pop star/ I’m a black star.” For what it’s worth: “Black star,” in physics, can refer to a black hole or a white dwarf that’s cooled down to the point that it stops emitting radiation. Both objects are theoretical.
“Sometimes I don’t feel as if I’m a person at all,” said Bowie to Ingenue Magazine in 1973. “Sometimes I’m just a collection of other people’s ideas.” That was more than 40 years ago, but one line on “★” carries a similar idea: “At the center of it all/ Your eyes,” repeats Bowie with particular menace. Like his best lyrics, it could mean anything, but it reverberates in a particular way against the backdrop of his disappearance, his continued enigma, his withdrawal from everywhere but the distant planet he now finds himself. The core of Bowie — or of everything — is not what he is, but how he’s seen. Or really, the two are one and the same. There is no David Bowie except the one you imagine, and it is always possible to imagine him.
“There is a singular energy that moves throughout each person, but it’s all fluid. It’s transmittable. It’s like a disease. You can give it to somebody,” says Fortune. “It doesn’t have to begin and end with your birth and death. It’s something that can be moved through time and space, if you can separate your individual essence from your intellectual ego and allow it to become this broader thing that can be shared and passed along. Reincarnation, occult practices, interdimensional travel, eternal life — all of these funny ideas that humanity has played with forever that Bowie has tapped into throughout the arc of his career, I think it all comes down to this one basic concept. This is me, this is mine. I manifested this. But you can have it too. It’s not singular unto me. It’s singular in the sense that I have carried it to this point, and now you can take it, too. That’s what I think he’s all about.”
– BY SASHA GEFFEN
I held off on watching Lazarus as long as I could, but when I finally did, it just socked me in the gut.
Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth…
Oh, mortality. Mortal gods, mortal man. It’s rough, man.
Still, we have these bright candles, and…
I was 13 years old dancing to Rebel, Rebel and Changes in my best friend’s bedroom. Jean Genie and Suffragette City and this whole flamboyant world that was unfurling before us. I think she had the Changesbowie cassette. It didn’t matter that we were late to the party. It didn’t occur to us that this music had had its moment and the scene was dead long before we came onto it. It was timeless, and it belonged to us. I am finding that this is still true – that teenagers everywhere dance in their rooms to this music and feel completely as if it were made just for them. These are the songs that woke us up, that turned us on. Your body and the world around you and with in you is going through so many ch-ch-changes. All you can do is turn, and face the strange.
I used to play Hunky Dory over and over again in the little one-room shack I lived in when I was 17. I had the album, and would just keep flipping the record and moving the needle – never tiring of the process. I wanted the music. I loved Kooks, and Andy Warhol. I remember my friend Kathie Pandora singing those lyrics to me in her raspy voice,
“Andy walking, Andy tired
Andy take a little snooze
Tie him up when he’s fast asleep
Send him on a pleasant cruise
When he wake up on the sea
He sure to think of me and you
He’ll think about paint and he’ll think about glue
What a jolly boring thing to do”
I always think of her when I hear that song, or sing it myself. I still like to sing it. But The Bewlay Brothers will always be my favorite Bowie song, ever. It was, and is – so powerful. It was eldritch and mysterious, and it made me think of the beautiful, troubled men I thought of as my brothers back in the day. They were terrible and always doing dangerous, evil shit. I was worried constantly that they’d die. Two of them are dead to me now.
Now my Brother lays upon the Rocks
He could be dead, He could be not
He could be You
He’s Camelian, Comedian, Corinthian and Caricature
One remains, and he’s the brightest and best of them, anyway. Evan, who we always affectionately referred to as The Goblin Prince. He has always epitomized the Thin White Duke for me: effortlessly elegant and for a long time bleached white blond, with all the moves, the genius, the wicked grin. Dancing with a cigarette, drawing in the dark.
He wrote this, the other day:
“The star collapses, and when it has almost reached singularity,
when its influence becomes infinite and spacetime
cannot exist within it, it is transformed and
–despite its death– continues to release energy.
Goodnight, my oldest teacher, to you and your little white saxophone.
Goodnight, my Blackstar.”
I had a cassette tape of Low that I damn near wore out when I first moved to New Orleans. “A New Career in a New Town” became my personal soundtrack for leaving my hometown at the age of just barely 20, and strangely enough (I just realized this), it was then and there that I did embark upon what eventually did become my career: reading tarot. My first apartment there was in my beloved castle on Esplanade and Bourbon, in the tower room with the bay window on the third floor. I lived in there for a few months, until the much larger apartment I ended up staying in for many years became available. That time was very special to me: I was starting a new beginning, all by myself. The apartment was grand, only one room that was mostly the floor to ceiling bay windows overlooking the overgrown courtyard, with an odd little crooked kitchen. The big room was painted an ugly shade of blue that I never got around to repainting, but it made me think of the line in Sound and Vision:
Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live
My bedroom now is a much prettier shade of blue. I’m glad the song still applies…
David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King was my first human (sort of) crush. Before that, it was just anthropomorphic animals, like the hot fox in Disney’s Robin Hood, or Dangermouse (his eyepatch and British accent made the fact that he was a cartoon rodent easier to overlook.) I know I’m not alone in this, and it’s been a comfort, over the years to realize that the desires of so many young girls were awakened by that character. I had a poster from the movie that I would practice kissing on, until the paper his lips were printed on started to get faded.
I’ll paint you mornings of gold.
I’ll spin you Valentine evenings.
Though we’re strangers ’til now,
We’re choosing the path
Between the stars.
I’ll leave my love
Between the stars.
My friend Reiner insisted on buying me a cd of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) at a used record store on my first visit to New York. I think I was 18. It was wintertime, and snowing a lot. The hard edges and manic energy of those songs still bring back the feeling of exploring NYC, hunting for the lost ghosts of party animals of yore. I’d play the cd when I was getting ready to go out, doing my makeup and pinning things into my hair. We spent New Year’s Eve in a dilapidated concrete warehouse (or maybe it was a parking garage?). I was wearing my 1930′s cloth of gold dress, which was constructed of real metallic threads and thus conducted heat and cold. I was freezing and having my ear talked off by coked-up Russians. Reiner was really passionate about this album, and his love for it was passed on to me. I think he listened to it a lot when it came out, back when he lived in Berlin. Exciting times. My favorite track was Ashes to Ashes.
I’m happy. Hope you’re happy, too.
I’ve loved. All I’ve needed: love.
Sordid details following.
“There was a beautiful Art Deco house on six acres, an exquisite site property and a terrific value at just $300,000, but he took one look at a detail I hadn’t noticed, a hexagram painted on the floor of a circular room by the previous owner, Gypsy Rose Lee. ‘A great deal of codling and reassurance got us through that crisis, and I went and found the Doheny Drive house. Built in the late fifties or early sixties, it was a white cube surrounding an indoor swimming pool. David liked the place, but I thought it was too small to meet our needs for very long, and I wasn’t crazy about the pool. In my experience, indoor pools are always a problem. This one was no exception, albeit not in any of the usual ways. Its drawback was one I hadn’t encountered before and haven’t seen or heard of since: Satan lived in it. With his own eyes, David said, he’d seen HIM rising up out of the water one night.’ Feeling demonic forces moving in, David felt strongly that he needed an exorcism and asked that his new found friend white witch Walli Elmlark be called upon to lend her assistance to remove the evil from his surroundings. ‘A Greek Orthodox Church, in LA would have done it for us (there was a priest available for such a service, the people had told me) but David wouldn’t have it. No strangers allowed, he said. So there we stood, with just Walli’s instructions and a few hundred dollars’ worth of books, talismans, and assorted items from Hollywood’s comprehensive selection of fine occult emporia. There he (David Bowie) was, then, primed and ready. The proper books and doodads were arranged on a big old-fashioned lectern. The incantation began, and although I had no idea what was being said or what language it was being said in, I couldn’t stop a weird cold feeling rising up in me as David droned on and on. ‘There’s no easy or elegant way to say this, so I’ll just say it straight. At a certain point in the ritual, the pool began to bubble. It bubbled vigorously (perhaps ‘thrashed’ is a better term) in a manner inconsistent with any explanation involving air filters or the like.’ The rock and roll couple watched in amazement. Angie says she tried to be flippant – “Well, dear, aren’t you clever? It seems to be working. Something’s making a move, don’t you think?” – but I couldn’t keep it up. It was very, very strange; even after my recent experiences I was having trouble accepting what my eyes were seeing.’ Angie insists that she would peek through the glass doors which lead to the pool every so often and was dumb founded by what she saw. ‘On the bottom of the pool was a large shadow, or stain, which had not been there before the ritual began. It was in the shape of a beast of the underworld; it reminded me of those twisted, tormented gargoyles screaming silently from the spires of medieval cathedrals. It was ugly, shocking, malevolent; it frightened me. ‘I backed away from it feeling very strange, went through the doorway, and told David what I’d seen, trying to be nonchalant but not doing very well. He turned white but eventually became revived enough to spend the rest of the night doing coke. He wouldn’t go near the pool, though.’”
“Early in life, Bowie had established his interest in all matters extraterrestrial. As a Brit teenager, David had helped edit a flying saucer newsletter. He admitted to me that he loved science fiction and was fascinated with life in space and the possibility that quite a few cosmic visitors had ended up on our earthly shores.
During a conversation, Bowie had gone out on a limb revealing that he had once had a close encounter. In the book Laugh Gnostic, author Peter Koening paraphrases what Bowie said: ‘A friend and I were traveling in the English countryside when we both noticed a strange object hovering above a field. From then on I have come to take this phenomena seriously. I believe that what I saw was not the actual object, but a projection of my own mind trying to make sense of this quantum topological doorway into dimensions beyond our own. It’s as if our dimension is but one among an infinite number of others.’”
★ David Bowie: Closet Occultist!
Q: “So were you involved in actual devil worship?” A: “Not devil worship, no, it was pure straightforward, old-fashioned magic.” Q: “The Aleister Crowley variety?” A: “No, I always thought Crowley was a charlatan. But there was a guy called [Arthur] Edward Waite who was terribly important to me at the time. And another called Dion Fortune who wrote a book called ‘Psychic Self-Defense‘. You had to run around the room getting bits of string and old crayons and draw funny things on the wall, and I took it all most seriously, ha ha ha ! I drew gateways into different dimensions, and I’m quite sure that, for myself, I really walked into other worlds. I drew things on walls and just walked through them, and saw what was on the other side!”
David Bowie, interviewed in NME, 1997
★ Station To Station
“One of the many lies we tell children is that there’s no limit to the imagination. Of course there is. Even the most consuming and perceptive of minds reaches its borders and retreats. Expanding the mind is dog’s work, as grueling as it’s often fruitless; few attempt it, fewer succeed in it, and those who do often come out twisted and torn. In 1975, binging on cocaine, living in paranoid isolation and making a rock record, David Bowie succeeded.”
★ The Fall To Earth: David Bowie, Cocaine And The Occult:
Here are two extracts from Peter Doggett’s excellent new book The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie And The 1970s, covering the star’s all time low, 1975
★ Bowie in Berlin: David Bowie moved to Berlin in the mid-70s in the grip of a cocaine addiction. But the city purged his demons and pushed him to new creative heights. Rory MacLean remembers their nights in his Hauptstraße flat – and one wild night out with Iggy
“He dressed in baggy trousers and dowdy shirts, and enjoyed the Berliners’ disinterest in him. No one bothered him on the street, unlike in star-struck LA. One night on a whim, he climbed onto a cabaret stage to perform a few Frank Sinatra songs. The local audience shrugged and asked him to step down. They had come to see a different act. Away from the limelight, he composed, painted and, for the first time in years, ‘felt a joy of life and a great feeling of release and healing’, as he put it.”
Wild Is The Wind
“He’s got more sense than anybody I’ve ever known. It’s not human — David ain’t from here.” – Nina Simone
photograph from my friend Stephanya Tyler
★ Sign the petition to keep “David Bowie Street” in Austin – won’t you?
by Angeliska on December 31, 2015
On this last day of the old year, I find myself a little at a loss for words. Or perhaps, with too much to say to even know where to begin. Sometimes, I just get all worded out. I talk for a living. I speak all day, from my heart, mostly to strangers and seekers who often become inspirations, and even friends. At the end of the day, I need silence, stillness. Lately, the words seem to flee my mind – names of people I’ve known for years, titles of objects. This tells me that it’s time to be quiet, to listen. Not to try and describe or explain, or make sense of. I’ve been working on this more lately – sitting still, being quiet, with intention. Watching my thoughts dart around from past to future like the inky floaters that mar my vision. This year, I want to get better at deep listening. I want to truly absorb the heartfelt stories people tell me, and never be far away, thinking of another thing. I want to listen to wise people talking and draw while I do, because I’ve heard that you learn and take it all in better that way, and I think it’s true. I think if I can get better at listening, I can be a better writer, a better friend, and better at what I do. So though I have many resolutions again this year, this is the main one I am thinking about tonight. In honor of being quiet and listening, I’m not going to write much here just now. My bed is calling me, and the clothes that must be packed in a bag, and the road out tomorrow to the land where I go at this time of year. It all calls me back, and I’m going to listen. I will let the images of last year’s journey out to the land tell the good story, and some poems that have been keeping me company this year. Let it be enough. It is.
that so many commonplace miracles happen.
An ordinary miracle:
in the dead of night
the barking of invisible dogs.
One miracle out of many:
a small, airy cloud
yet it can block a large and heavy moon.
Several miracles in one:
an alder tree reflected in the water,
and that it’s backwards left to right
and that it grows there, crown down
and never reaches the bottom,
even though the water is shallow.
An everyday miracle:
winds weak to moderate
turning gusty in storms.
First among equal miracles:
cows are cows.
Second to none:
just this orchard
from just that seed.
A miracle without a cape and top hat:
scattering white doves.
A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.
A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.
A miracle, just take a look around:
the world is everywhere.
An additional miracle, as everything is additional:
– by Wislawa Szymborska,
translated by Joanna Trzeciak
A year and some days ago I watched breathless as the Full Wolf Moon in Cancer rose, wreathed in haze over the sycamores. I had been drawn outside by the call of a Great Horned Owl, hooting in the treetops. It’s a rare blessing to hear one here – as my street is more home to the Barred Owls. At my table, candles were lit, truths told, and hearts resolved. A year later, it’s still a tangle. The heart still wants what it wants. I have recurring dreams where I can talk to owls, speak their language.
The front door of the stone house where my family has lived for generations. True pun by my aunt. Every year she opens her home to a flock of wild birds who come to roost in the trees to celebrate the new year. She makes us warm and welcome.
let it go – the
let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
so comes love
Ace of Cups. One of the many big blessings in my life, this lady right here. I feel so damn lucky every day to have Allyson walking in this world with me! She teaches me so mcuh about the joy of being alive, and about true friendship.
My cousin Luke made this amazing video of my dogs Grrizelda and Moon running and frolicking and I really feel like it is the best thing ever. I never get tired of watching it! My yin yang dogs are the best things that ever happened to me. Being a cat person for so long, I never would have imagined that one day I would have two German Shepherds! They are so amazing and smart and kind and funny and sweet, and it’s really hard to ever be lonely with these girls at my side. I love them more than anything.
Patient Grrizelda. Dark one, shadow dog. Sweet and sensitive and wise. So many feelings, this dog has. Very emotive. She is a huntress, and my guardian. Keeper of my heart. Most loyal. I don’t know what I would do without her.
Moon Kin. Little girl, puppy heart. She is my ray of sunshine, my happy moonbeam. Three legs. Indomitable, brave and relentlessly good-natured, my joyful playful companion. She makes me laugh every day.
I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And I have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if I know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And I believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
– by Assata Shakur
I had a minor head wound morning. Not an excellent way to wake up, but I was fine. Packing the car (prior to coffee, big mistake), I walked into the back hatch and nearly clocked myself out cold! Noggins bleed so much! My uncle was so perplexed by me taking this admittedly ridiculous picture – but it was so gnarly and giallo, I just had to.
Oh, and – my other intention for 2016 is to learn more about self-compassion. The more I can show it to myself, the more I can offer it to others. It’s good work.
“Be softer with you. You are a breathing thing. A memory to someone. A home to a life.”
– Nayyirah Waheed
Let’s all work on being more gentle with ourselves in 2016, yeah? I am more excited about the year to come than I have been about any in the past that I can remember. I think there has been quite a but of trepidation for me in contemplating the future, for many years now – because nothing felt steady or sure. Everything was still so unformed, and my source of stability had been uprooted for a long, long time. I’m changing that, healing it, fixing it – through a lot of dedication, hard work, and love. I’ve had a lot of really good changed this year – and finally changes I’ve created and initiated instead of merely having to surrender to! I am so grateful for all the good things that have come into my life in 2015. Lots of strong magic, and big healing. So today, I stand firm in the now, looking towards whatever tomorrow and the year ahead holds with open, clear eyes. Cold winter night, inner light shining. I gently rise and softly call: Good night, and joy be with you all…
More to read from New Year’s Eves of yore:
✶ AULD LANG SYNE
✶ YEAR OF THE HORSE
✶ NEW YEAR’S EVE FOXFIRES AT THE CHANGING TREE
✶ FUCK THE PLAN 2012
✶ AN EPICALLY EPIC AND FAIRLY TARDY YEAR IN REVIEW – OR, HOLY SHIT: 2011!
✶ A Bright Blue Wish
✶ New Year’s Redux
✶ Stargazer Honey
✶ Blue Moon
✶ Lone Grove New Year
✶ Pink Moons
✶ The New Year
✶ Lucky Stars and Garters
✶ La Nouvelle Année
by Angeliska on November 26, 2015
It’s Thanksgiving time, and the cornucopias are overflowing. Refrigerators are stuffed full, a fruitful spread laden with more dishes than the table can hold, bellies filled to bursting. It’s a harvest pageant, an ancient feast where we eat our fill and spit in winter’s eye, daring our good fortune to hold out through the bitter months. Fields that will soon lie fallow under dead leaves and ice, are now full of bounty. Our winter rituals teem with excess and extravagance – to prove our victory over the vicissitudes of the seasons, over nature. As this holiday season rolls forward, I find myself thinking often about the concepts of abundance and scarcity. I hear these words bandied about quite a lot, and many times, I am the one bandying them. How many times have you said a little prayer (or a big one), did a spell or ritual, lit candles and wished – for more abundance? How many times have I? Oh, plenty and plenty. The truth is: we have more abundance than we know what to do with. If you’re reading this on your very own computer, you know that that’s true. So much of the work I have been trying to do for the past few years really boils down to: “If you’re going to talk the talk, you really have to walk the walk.” For me, in this instance, that means figuring out what the hell I truly mean when I use these words, and understanding better how to come to terms with my own own beliefs about the ideas behind them. Being clear in yourself, in your truth, means that you have a much better chance of making yourself clear and true as you make your way through the world – and are much more likely to respond to others from that place of truth. So, I will do my best to convey my thoughts on this subject (even if I only end up clarifying things for myself). This is something I’ve been pondering and having conversations about with friends for many years, but I’ve never really tried to write about it until now. Recently, I had an experience that brought it to the forefront of my consciousness, and asked me to come to an understanding. I’m still working on that understanding, weeks later. Perhaps this will help.
This experience (call it a dream, or a vision, perhaps) vividly catapulted me into an alternate reality – a place of barrenness and famine. It feels like there’s a part of my soul that’s been trapped in this place for years, maybe even eons – and I’ve been doing retrieval work to rescue it, to make right whatever went awry there. I got trapped in this place again for a bit – shivering and shaking with cold, feeling weak and ill, and dizzy with hunger. I went to that dark place where so many have perished, and knew the terror of being completely without the means to survive, firsthand – huddled in a ball and weeping with helplessness and empathy for all the people whose last moments on this earth were full of fear and wanting. Can you imagine what it would feel like to be so frail and unwell that you could not chop your own wood, nor carry it inside to keep your fire going? Provided that’s there’s even an “inside” to go to. Imagine having nothing left to eat, not enough blankets, and nothing to hold in your hands except the knowledge that no one is coming to rescue you. I was in a stone cottage on a high hill, looking over a desolate plain. Blackened tree stumps dotted the roll of the moor, and there was nothing growing there. The feeling of being completely alone in the world was pervasive. Only the sound of my own labored breathing, and the howling wind to keep me company. Think of all the people who have died in their beds, or on the cold earth, utterly alone. This is the part in the movie when someone is supposed to come, bustle in the front door, get a fire going in the grate, put the kettle on for you, make some porridge and spoon it down your throat until you get your strength back. Like a story from Dickens, where everything is awful and bleak forever, but then suddenly something wonderful happens, and there is hope again. I know that does happen, sometimes. Maybe more often than we know. The thing is – I do believe in miracles. Perhaps, too much. I never want to give up hope, always want to try and stay optimistic, because I know how dark and saturnine my Capricornian nature can be. It can drag you down, deep, and hold you there. I’m having a hard time even writing this, because it’s such a goddamn downer, but the truth is – this is how it happens, for countless people. This is how it happened, for many of our ancestors. This is how it is happening, for many people alive (or just barely) right this very minute. Having this experience put me directly into those beat-up shoes, and forced me to contemplate the harsh fact that for so many, there is no rescue, no respite. There are so many places on this earth where there is just not enough: not enough resources, not enough light, not enough compassion or awareness. People freeze to death, perish from exposure, from starvation. Every damn day. I don’t want to forget it. Once you see, you can’t un-see. But it’s one thing to see it: on television, on the news, on the street corner. It is quite another to feel it yourself, to be so enmeshed in that version of reality that you fear you may die there. At the time, I felt a bit despondent about having had to spend time in that terrible place. I learned what it is to feel hopelessness, and how to accept it. Later, I was so frustrated that I hadn’t been able to use my lucid dreaming tools, my breathing methods, every bit of magic in my bag to get myself out of there. I had to stay there a long, long time. I felt very sorry for myself while I was there, but my self-pity wasn’t the key that freed me. I’m free now, and I’m very grateful for it – and for the knowledge of what real poverty is. For the fact that I do not live that way.
My instinct tells me that some of this vision was given to me through ancestral memory. I came from people who starved, on both sides. The Eastern European Jews on my father’s side, who left Poland and Czechslovakia (before the Holocaust) escaping anti-Semitic pogroms, the Romani in my mother’s line, who have always been persecuted – and the Scots-Irish from her too, fleeing the ravages of the potato famine. All my people came to this country with next to nothing, desperate immigrants. This does something to you, changes you. The memory of going without, of dying without, stays in your DNA. For a long time, healers and lightworkers have known that your ancestors passed down more than their genes to us – we can also inherit their experiences, and their traumas. Many scientific studies have now been done on this subject, and the data is in: Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes
If your people were famine survivors, if they were the victims of persecution for their ethnicity or their religious beliefs, if they were abused and forced into slavery, if they were refugees fleeing war-torn homelands, if they clutched ragged shawls around them, crying, “No fuel for fire, no food for baby!” – then you might find yourself affected by what has come to be known as poverty or scarcity mentality. I perceive poverty mentality to be something passed down to us, inborn – but also something that has been intentionally cultivated by the society we live in to keep us always wanting, always hungry, never satisfied. It can be hard to shake, especially when we’re exposed to media that reinforces this constantly: there’s never enough – you always need more. Unfortunately, poverty mentality is often written off as a mindset that one can just make a choice to change when they are ready to adopt gratitude as their mainstay, and focus on their abundance. I want to believe that, but I had a hard time facing the agony of my ancestors watching their subsistence blackened with blight, evicted from their homes, dying in the road. Maybe I should have told them, “Well, you’re just really giving in to that poverty mentality, you know. Visualize abundance!” Granted, most of these terrible incidents in history would never have happened, or never have happened to the horrifying degree countless occurrences have – without other humans not helping, or more often, even taking specific actions to make it worse. Sometimes there’s a bad winter, and everyone suffers. Sometimes, there’s genocide. I can’t help feeling that extreme poverty is always unnecessary. No one should ever die from deprivation, or go without shelter – especially in this world where so few have more than they will ever need or use, and so many have next to nothing. There’s a sly, underlying notion I come across all the time in our society that anyone who is poor just didn’t work hard enough, or they did something wrong, they made foolish decisions, or they indulged themselves to the brink of poverty. That they’re somehow choosing to remain on the bottom rung, scrabbling in the dirt for leftovers and scraps. People make these judgements on the poor because it makes it easier to avert your gaze, to turn the other way, to do nothing. In Barcelona I remember being shocked to see the beggars there: always making an effort to dress very respectably, but kneeling on the ground (on a cardboard mat or their backpack), head bowed, with open hands or a bowl extended. The picture of contrite shame. Forgive me for being poor. Please help me. People would rush past, toss a few coins, not looking, crossing themselves. There but for the grace of God go I.
This subject brings to mind 5 of Pentacles – a card in the Minor Arcana of the Tarot that is associated with worry, and with shame. Two beggars huddle beneath a stained glass window, gazing up wistfully and wishing they could come inside and get warm, eat soup, feel safe. But they are riddled with wounds and injuries, they wear foul-smelling rags, and their bodies are weak and malformed. They have no money. No one can see them out there behind the colored glass – no one can hear their mewling, pitiful cries muffled by the snow. They are too ashamed to go around to the front door to knock and be let in. Shame is what disconnects us from each other. It’s this same emotion at work when you ignore a homeless person at a red light. Roll up the window, blast the AC. Turn your head and bob to the music to avoid the pleading eyes. I have found that making eye contact, and offering a smile, a peace sign – some form of acknowledgment, “Hey, I see you. You are not invisible, even if I can’t easily help you right now.” It does make a difference, a little one. You can try offering that, even if you aren’t prepared to give money, or your light is about to change. Just connect. Or connect, and then give, if you want to. You can’t help every person, but sometimes you can help one. Handing out water bottles on hot days could potentially save a life. I remember the fairy tales of my childhood, where the heroic fool, or brave true-hearted girl helps the grizzled beggar-woman who turns out to be a good fairy. You just never know. Helping someone can feel like such a blessing. This past summer in Texas was blazing, and being outside in the noonday sun felt like baking in an oven. I passed by an old woman trudging across the bridge carrying heavy grocery sacks. Without even thinking about it, I pulled over and asked if I could take her to wherever she was headed. It took me less than five minutes out of my way. To see the joy and relief in her beautiful wrinkled walnut face was such a gift, smiling big with not very many teeth, giving me a kiss and calling me “mija” – my daughter.
I didn’t know my family was poor, growing up. I never saw it, never thought it – until much later. It was just normal, my family’s humble life – I thought we were no different really, from anyone else. Even when I went to a wealthy family friend’s mansion as a kid – I was too little to register that their relative opulence meant that our financial status was far lesser. They just had a much bigger house. More stuff. A larger television set. When I was young, I thought that boll weevils were called “bowl weevils” because they floated in your cereal bowl and you had to just eat it anyway. For some reason that didn’t seem as bad as at my best friend’s house, where there was never any milk, and you had to eat your generic cheerios with water instead. I didn’t know we were poor when us kids would be behind the old Ford Falcon, push-starting it in the pre-dawn November blue, our ears burning with cold, the smoke from our breath and the sputtering muffler making big clouds shaded scarlet from the taillights. The elementary schools I went to were all built in the 1950′s or so, low brick buildings with aluminum casement windows and cold bathroom stalls that had banged up metal doors, enamel paint scratched with 30 years of naughty children leaving their marks. All the kids were kind of scrappy there, except the girls who had mothers to put matching bows in their hair. There was no obvious class distinctions that I was aware of, other than that I couldn’t participate in the weird trend that developed in 5th grade of wearing double socks and double t-shirts, both matching. You’d wear a pristine pink t-shirt with a white one underneath, the sleeves of the white one rolled up over your shoulders so contrasting color cuffs showed. The socks would be pink over white, rolled and scrunched perfectly to show both colors. It was dumb, but I wanted so badly be able to pull it off and just be like other girls. But I was lucky to not wear the same grubby sweater days in a row. Even then, I knew I wasn’t as bad off as some. I still didn’t think of it as being about money, really. I thought it just had to do with having a mom to dress you. My dad did a great job raising me on his own after my mother died, but I looked pretty feral during those years when it was just he and I: long tangled locks, strange outfits I picked for myself and wore continuously, and a perpetually grubby face.
I first learned that we were poor when my dad remarried, and I had to switch schools. Even though we lived way out in the boonies, in a neighborhood bizarrely populated with shitty suburban tract homes, fancy mansions, and trailer parks – but all mixed up together instead of designated into either gated communities or the wrong side of the tracks. We lived out there so my step-brother and I could go to the “good” (i.e. rich) schools in that district. My eyes goggled the first time I saw my new middle school. I thought it looked like a shopping mall. Everything was new, shiny, and well-lit. I felt instantly alienated. Perhaps the timing of puberty played a part in the sudden awakening to my own awkwardness and outsider status, but it all became very clear to me that I was a have-not, surrounded by haves. Forget double-stuffed t-shirts and socks (with matching double scrunchies, how could I forget?) You were less than nothing if you weren’t wearing Z. Cavaricci, or Marithé+François Girbaud jeans with a Hypercolor t-shirt (that actually changed color according to your body heat! Whoa, so cool – and it really kind of was, except it did show when you were all nervous and sweaty like if you liked someone, I guess. So it’s probably good that I never had one.) I wore no brand names, but only because I had access to none. Our clothes came from garage sales, or discount markdown stores called Solo Serve, or Wiener’s. Buying clothes or anything other than some curly fries or gummi worms at the mall was out of the question, and even those were a stretch, a very special treat. I remember hearing my stepmom sobbing late one night, crying to my dad that we only had $17 dollars in the bank to get through the month. We went on the dole for school lunches, the special card you had to flash to remind everyone that you were one of the scrappers. My parents seemed to be worrying always, and then came that feeling as a child when you start worrying, too. You wonder if maybe you could sell some of your toys to help out (and then you start worrying about the day you’ll have to sell off all your toys). Your folks tell you with grim faces not to get your hopes up with your letters to Santa, because “Christmas is going to be light this year.” It didn’t help that I was a deeply traumatized kid, who often dealt with my overwhelming grief by having tantrums and acting like a spoiled brat. I associated things and stuff with love and attention, but no matter how much I had – I always wanted more.
I didn’t know the phrase until recently, but looking back, I think that there were times we were definitely “food insecure”. There never seemed to be enough to eat, though my parents always managed to scrape together our simple meals. Macaroni and cheese with frozen peas and tuna. Arroz con pollo. I left home at 16, to get away from the discord in my struggling blended family, and to hang out with my friends in town. I was technically homeless, but I never had to sleep on the street. There was always somewhere to go, even if it meant sleeping on the floor of the kitchen in an older friend’s garage apartment. Big cockroaches would march over me en route to the dirty dishes piled in the sink, but even though I could have moved back in with my parents, I picked bugs crawling on me over dealing with the situation at home. I just didn’t want to be there. Eating out of dumpsters felt adventurous and resourceful, like a smart raccoon foraging in the wild. I met so many of my dear friends at the food pantry where the gutterpunks and homebums filled their packs with donated dry goods. I felt like I had found my people, and I claimed my place among them as a proud rag-tag urchin, spare changing on the street and scorning the yuppies who avoided our eyes. I moved to New Orleans when I was 20, and began to learn what real economic disparity looked like. I used refer to myself as “poor” all the time. I’d say, “I can’t go to the movies with you, because I’m too broke right now.” I’d call myself “a starving artist”. But “starving” does not mean living off of beans and rice and cheap tacos or even packages of ramen. Starving means that your body begins to eat itself, when it has gone too long with nothing else. A group of my friends and I went down to the Yucatán, to Tulum, back when it was still cheap as hell and not too full of tourists. We were all fairly skint, staying in concrete block cabanas painted Pepto Bismol pink, with sand floors and ghost crabs dancing sideways over our toes. Still, it was a real vacation, and I realized seeing the way the street kids looked at us there, that in fact, we were quite rich. I have friend who has taken to saying that to remind himself, “I am so rich. My life is so rich!”
There have been plenty of times have I sat at my kitchen table with my head in my hands, wondering how the hell I was going to scrape up the cash to pay my electric bill, my credit card debt, the errant payment for my root canal that was sent to collections, the money for a reliable car after my 30-year old Volvo finally crapped out. And it’s always come. I’ve always been able to work, and I’ve worked since I was 12 years old or so. I’ve always worked, and I’ve always worried. About the rent going up, about not having enough, about always being stuck behind. This worrying though – it almost always occurred within my own (more or less) structurally sound shelter, with a roof over my head, and food in the pantry. There have always been enough clothes to wear (way more than enough! Too many!) and plenty of friends and family who would readily come to my aid, if I ever found myself otherwise. I know this, because so many did – after I lost nearly everything I had in Hurricane Katrina. I do believe that it is possible to shift the energy that we carry from the past – to try and move in a healthy way towards healing, towards a feeling that there is enough. Maybe not much, but enough. To find the abundance in what is already around us. Making use of what we have. Trying not to want for much more. This has an alien concept for me. I have a wishlist a mile long. I inherited my mother’s champagne taste – and her beer budget. Her letters to my grandmother are rife with money worries, and wishes for better things, a better life. It was during the recession in the 80′s, and jobs were scarce. She soldered computer circuit boards in an unventilated basement where she probably picked up the cancer that killed her – for $2 an hour. She had a fine education, intelligence, and was brimming with talents galore. She worked her ass off, and scrimped and saved for decently nice belongings. My mother never got to travel, never left the country she was born in to visit all her favorite paintings in European museums. I did that for her – I was able to travel widely, and to explore the world. I am privileged to live in a time and place, (and in a body) that affords me to have a much higher standard of life than she was ever able to experience. Did she suffer from poverty mentality? Reading her stressed out, embarrassed, always needy letters, yeah – I would say so. But her poverty lead to her untimely death. It wasn’t a concept, or a state of mind – it was her whole fucking reality. So much of abundance versus poverty is just the luck of the draw. Born into a rich family? Lucky you! Go do something awesome with it. But don’t believe for an instant that it has anything to do with your worth or value as a person. Born dirt poor? Well, shit. You could say this one ain’t your turn to be lucky, but sometimes you can turn it around. It does happen, that rags to riches story. It doesn’t have to be riches, even. Just enough – however much that is.
Yesterday, I bought a used velvet sofa from the 1940′s off Craigslist. It’s the first nice sofa I’ve ever had in my life. I paid $375 for it. Until I have a place to put it, it’s stashed in my friend’s storage unit. It’s such a bizarre concept: storage units to keep stuff we don’t need or aren’t using – protected and secure from the elements, climate controlled. We’ll pay for buildings to keep our stuff safe, but not provide housing to the homeless. There’s a guy who lives out of one of the units – a shitty one made of corrugated tin, with no electricity. His clothes are on a rack in there, and he gets dressed and puts on cologne before he goes to work. He has a place to sit inside where he can read a book. He might sleep in there sometimes. It costs $100 a month. I write this tonight, in my beautiful bedroom, with many candles burning in honor of the full moon, from a bed piled high with silk pillows. I went to the fancy grocery store today and navigated a hectic press of shoppers filling their carts with last minute feast preparations. I bought raw honey, lavender blueberry lemon pancake mix, and bright carnations the color of a Revlon lipstick: Cherries in the Snow. Luxuries. I lay these things out in the memory of my ragged ancestors. I enjoy all that I have thoroughly, and hope that somewhere, my mama’s spirit eases up a bit, knowing I’ve found a way to do alright for myself. I work hard, like her. I’m luckier than her, too – and I know it. I am fully aware that despite the humble way I was raised, that a combination of focus, determination, and privilege have aided me in being to pull myself out of that cold place. Privilege is another word that’s being used a lot lately – often in a way that’s meant to be negative, to invoke more shame. Check your privilege: like, check your fly – your wiener’s hanging out. Your privilege is showing. If you have it, yes – check it. But check it with a sense of gratitude when you take a minute to think on how truly blessed so many of us are, with whatever we have that affords us a privilege. Not to feel guilty, or shitty about it, because that never really helped anyone – but to acknowledge it, and to honor all you’ve received. To do something kind and loving with it. To be aware and awake. To remember where you came from, and honor the memory of your ancestors, whoever they are. To honor the ancestors of those who have not been so lucky. Offer help when and where you can. I guarantee it’s more often than many of us really do – and that includes me. We are so privileged to have roofs over our heads, and food to eat. To be able to feel safe in our homes, and to sit on the internet and read articles about whatever the hell we want. We have clean water to drink, showers and flushing toilets, and electricity so the lights stay on. Many of us have air-conditioning, heaters, and washing machines. Most people I know are still dealing with crippling debt from student loans and credit cards. Most still don’t have health insurance. It ain’t easy out there – but we’re still doing okay, way better than okay. My parents are really struggling this year – physically, emotionally and financially. So our Thanksgiving is going to be a small hodgepodge we’re cobbling together, with pre-made stuff from the grocery store, and dishes donated by friends. I’m bringing food and pies and love to the table, to my little family – in hopes that we can just be grateful for what we do have. Still, so much. More than enough. I’ve been thinking of some of my friends who I often see bowing their heads in a silent prayer of thanks before every meal. I’d like to be as mindful as them, to always stop before I dig in – and say thank you for all that I have. They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone – and that you can’t take it with you. This is true. Be glad for whatever is there. Hold on to that, your thankfulness. Try not to hold too tightly to anything else. Share what you have. There is enough for everyone, if we could all do that.
The Irish in America: Long Journey Home: The Great Hunger
Ashley Davis – Na Fatai Bana (feat. Paddy Moloney of the Chieftans)
Ashley Davis, one of my wonderful singing teachers at the Irish Music retreat I attended recently, taught us a song in Gaelic about the terrible blight that killed so many. She originally heard it sung in the documentary above, and tracked down the lyrics, which are a powerful paean and love letter to the humble potato. Peatsaí Ó Callanán (1791-1865) wrote “Na Fataí Bána” (“The White Potatoes”), originally a thirty-three verse lament on the state of Ireland in 1846.
Na Fataí Bána/White Potatoes
A thousand farewells to the white potatoes
For as long as we had them, a pleasant hoard
Affable innocent, coming into our company
As they laughed us at the head of the board.
They were help to the nurse, to the man and the child,
To the weak and the strong, to the young and the old
But the cause of my sorrow, my grief, my affliction
Them rotting away, without frost, without cold.
What will buy a shroud for those to be buried?
Tobacco, pipes or a coffin of wood?
And, of course, it would be a release if we could.
Mo mhíle slán do na fataí bána,
Ba subhach an áit a bheith in aice leo,
Ba fáilí soineannta iad ag tíocht chun láithreach,
Agus iad ag gáirí linn ar cheann an bhoird.
Ba chabhair don bhanaltra iad, don fhear is don gharlach,
Don lag is don láidir, don óg is don chríon,
Ach fáth mo dhocharna is ábhar m’angair,
Gur lobh na preátaí gan sioc ná síon.
Céard a cheannós bráithlín don fhear a sinfear
Tobac ná píopaí ná cónra chláir
Ach Ard Rí Fhlaithúnais le cabhair is slí ‘gainn
Agus ar ndóigh b’aoibhinn dhúinn dhá bhfaigheadh muid bás.
And, some more food for thought:
“In some First Nations tribes, if a person begins acquiring too much land and possessions they are considered mentally ill and a shaman is called in to heal them.”
“Own it if you want to be rich. Claim it if money is important but don’t hide behind the word abundance, because it’s now just a fancy word for greed.
I’ve changed my thinking around “abundance” since my mom died. I used to think I had a poverty mentality and I needed to work harder at getting comfortable with money. But now, I’m just grateful for the small. Since being gutted, I see clearly the fragility of the earth and how little control I have over my day. I’m dedicated to my path, almost militantly sometimes but I don’t do what I do in hopes of making more money. I do what I do because it fills me to the brim. I’m so fucking abundant it’s hard to bear but this has nothing to do with my bank account.”
In 2014, 48.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including more than 15 million children.
This means that 1 in 6 Americans, and 1 in 5 children, lack consistent access to adequate food.
Forty percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten.
Americans throw away a pound of food per person, per day — or well over 100 billion pounds of food per year.
This number does not include the huge amount of produce discarded by millions of backyard gardeners.
“The Arabs used to say, When a stranger appears at your door, feed him for three days before asking who he is, where he’s come from, where he’s headed. That way, he’ll have strength enough to answer. Or, by then you’ll be such good friends you don’t care. Let’s go back to that. Rice? Pine nuts? Here, take the red brocade pillow. My child will serve water to your horse. No, I was not busy when you came! I was not preparing to be busy. That’s the armor everyone put on to pretend they had a purpose in the world. I refuse to be claimed. Your plate is waiting. We will snip fresh mint into your tea.”
– Red Brocade
by Naomi Shihab Nye
by Angeliska on November 11, 2015
I woke this morning of November the 11th to strange dreams again. My subconscious likes to dredge them up for me on this day, make me face them in the wavering dawn light, parse their dark meanings, sit with their harsh truths. I dreamt that I was pregnant, with a stillborn baby. This is the second dream I’ve had like this. I’m always wearing black in these dreams, smoothing the soft jersey over my roundness, a glass alembic flask, churning a nigredo. Last time, my belly was too small, the child unformed, not ready to be born yet. The crones, grey wise women are gathered around me in the dim center of my unfinished house, listening to my belly with a long funnel, shaking their heads sadly, saying “Her heart’s stopped beating… She was too little to live. A partial birth.” I know I will have to still give birth to what’s left, and I am distraught and howling, banging my head and hands into the wall – making a hole there in the rotted wood through which bright sunlight and cobalt blue beams break through. I feel like that was my last chance: that what I had will never come again. This time, there are many doctors are there to guide me through. Maybe it’s the wise crones again, but in white scrubs, their long grey hair tied up, wrinkled faces hidden behind white face masks. I have to expel the baby, give birth to what’s dead. I am squatting over the kitchen table, crying. Blood, sweat, and tears. All for nothing. Earlier in the dream, I helped a fearful woman give birth in just this way – successfully. These dreams are fraught with anxiety and sorrow, wrought in themes of birth, sex and death. I wake thinking: well, of course. Today is the New Moon in Scorpio, the sign that is all about just those very things. I scroll through the morning’s pages, and it’s all there: friends dying, their babies born, terrible tragedies, miraculous blessings, all at once, on the same day. Just like always, but sometimes it feels like it comes in these big black rainbow waves, these monumental tsunamis of birth/sex/death/life/love/tears/loss/joy rolling over you so fast and so hard you can barely see straight. What’s what? Which is which? It’s all together, all the time: this life. I’ve been having these birth dreams for a while, and I think I understand them better now – even as they get more and more complex.
For a long time, I dreamt I’d given birth to babies that ended up misplaced or neglected. I’d suddenly remember the infant I left on the sideboard and guiltily go hunt for where they might have gotten to. It was a self-abandonment, because the babies were always me! Then I started to have lots of raw and bloody labor dreams. These often felt full of trials and triumphs, I suppose the way most births go. Giving birth to myself. It’s almost as if I’m going forwards by falling backwards: into my own symbolic death. You see, I thought for a long time that these dreams were about motherhood – about this long held wish I had to be a mother, to nurture a tiny life inside my body, to feed my child from my breast. If it’s still possible one day, I hope to have the opportunity to experience that. If I can, if it’s right. But there are no guarantees, and I don’t have too much time left for it to suddenly be even a little bit closer to right than it is now. I’ve realized that until I really and truly get a firm grip on this whole self-love and self-care thing, I have no business trying to love and care for a small person who requires so much of that. I believe that goes for everyone, though I realize we are often forced to figure it out along the way. There’s no perfectly right time, and no one is ever really ready. But I am doing my work, and we’ll see what happens. One of my teachers said to me recently, “Do your work, and all things will come.” He keeps telling me this, so I keep trying, keep working. I know this dying into life is part of it. Being willing to let the old dreams, the dead dreams go. Flushing out what’s left, what’s stagnated. Clearing the air, the space for something new. I do not know what this newness looks like, so I just have to trust. Grieving the death of the old me: the tragedy of the sloughed selves, the old shades, cast off aspects of who we once were. I know in dreams I’ll likely continue for a while to be pregnant with myself, with possibility – learning how to carry those dreams to term. Finding the right ways to make the new dreams stick, to nourish them into being.
Room Eleven at the Eleven Inn for a girl born on the 10th day of the first month at 11:11am. Luckiest number. A month and a half ago, I was celebrating the full moon at the Eleven Inn in Balmorhea with a group of amazing friends. I felt that night that a part of all of us would be frozen in amber that night, watching the eclipse through a telescope, laying in the grass under the cottonwood tree, telling stories and secrets and wishes. Forever.
Last year, I dreamt of a botched wedding, a stranger bridegroom, and how it all went wrong. That cherished wish I had so much wanted to go right. I was willing to go through with anything, put up with anything, to be married at the end of the day. To finally belong. To have someone say to me: I choose you – forever. But that was in the dream only – in waking life, I called it off. It’s such a powerful thing, to be brave enough to do. To say: “I’m not ready.” or, “I’m not sure this is right. This may not be really what I want.” Or, for me – “I want this more than anything, I want you, us – forever. But not like this. If it stays like this is won’t end well.” And so it was done. I speak with so many people in my line of work who tell me how they knew, knew the awful truth while their maid of honor zipped them up in a sheath of white silk, knew it wasn’t right sitting in the limo holding their mama’s hand, knew it was too late as they walked down the aisle. But it’s never too late to say, “Stop! I am not sure I can go through with this. I’m sorry for disappointing you all.” No caterer or venue deposit or plane tickets or ring is worth getting married when you know you’re not ready for all that a marriage can bring. It is a real thing. I know this now. And now I can’t imagine sharing my life with someone again in quite that same way. Signing my name on the dotted line. Joining forces so completely. It would have to be so, so right. I don’t even know what that looks like anymore – and I’ve fought so hard to get my footing back as an independent person, a whole person who is doing all the things in life without a partner to lean on, to consider, to deal with. All the good things, and all the bad things. I heard a thought recently, that in a relationship, you’re either a project, or an ally. I don’t want to be anyone else’s project, and I have no time or will to think of fixing another person. But an ally – what would that be like, I wonder? The idea of partnership has taken on a whole new form and meaning for me. I respect the depths that two people can go to in each other when trust and desire are matched. The mysteries of relationship continue to unfold for me even though I’m choosing (mostly) to observe from the sidelines. The dance goes on around me while I practice the steps. I’d like to have a dance partner one day – a travel companion, someone to go on adventures with. Someone who will sleep out under the stars next to me, walk up the mountain with me.
She lives, the bird says, and means nothing
silly. She is dead and available,
the fox says, knowing about the spirits.
Not the picture at the funeral,
not the object of grieving. She is dead
and you can have that, he says. If you can
love without politeness or delicacy,
the fox says, love her with your wolf heart.
As the dead are to be desired.
Not the way long marriages are,
nothing happening again and again.
Not in the woods or the fields.
Not in the cities. The painful love of being
permanently unhoused. Not the color, but the stain.
– HOW TO LOVE THE DEAD, Jack Gilbert
Despite the heavy themes of my subconscious dreamtime wanderings, I had a very nice day. This day for me is reclaimed now. It’s mine again. Sometimes mine to spend wrestling with the old things, the things that happened, and the things that did not happen. Those things are mine, too. I don’t mind. I can claim it all. I let go of my blame, my resentment, my anger. I let go of the story of hurt, and being fucked over, and lost. I released my victimhood into the wild, and it was the kindest thing I ever did for myself. It happened when I was ready, and not before. The time I spent in the bottomless pit was entirely necessary. We can learn a lot in the abyss, in our own oubliettes. When I was down there, I would hear friend’s voices calling down to me, “You’re strong, you’re strong, you’re so strong! You can do this, you’ll make it through this!” I knew they were right, but I resented it – having to be so strong all my life, having to muscle through all the loss, keep a stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on. I wanted just one person to tell me that it was okay to be weak and broken and lost for a while. I needed someone to tell me that it was okay to fall apart, to grieve. Luckily, I had those friends too.
It took a little while, but I found my true strength there after nothing else was left. I learned how to call upon reserves of inner resilience that helped me keep my head down and persevere through the tangled woods. Not to give up, but to keep walking through my own nightmare, until I came out the other end. I know my own strength now. It’s not a buttoned up toughness, it’s not machismo, or empty bad-assery. It’s all the times I cried in front of strangers, it’s in all the ways I asked for help, and it’s in being willing to take responsibility for all the ways I participated in creating this mess for myself. Now I know how strong I am. Nothing can take that away from me now. I mark this day with writing again this year, because it helps me to see and understand how far I’ve come. How much I’ve grown, learned, healed. I’m not the same person that I was. I am and I’m not. That’s part of it, part of the process, and what happens after big traumas, big life changes. You’re a different creature, after. You have to learn how to work your wings, how to dance in your new skin.
Sitting with these memories today, what strikes me most are the kind, true, wise words from so many friends – ones I know, and some I’ve not yet met: bearing witness, sending love, encouragements and blessings for where this journey might someday bring me. I remember reading them at the time, and trying to take them to heart – but I was so numbed with pain then. Blind, deaf and dumb in the face of so much brutal change. I nodded at these good words, and tried hard to absorb them, to believe in them. I know many of them made their way in. I am so grateful for all the ways I’ve been held, guided and supported by my family of friends. They are the ones who can truly see how far I’ve come, and imagine how much more I could grow. Today, it’s all of the friends who read and who reached out, who were with me on that journey all along that I appreciate most – because I see that I was never really so alone. I had to go it on my own – forge the rough waters, and cry in darkened rooms. I had to feel the full breadth of that terrible aloneness – to know its dimensions, its limits. And now I know. The descent into the underworld is necessary. It cannot be contrived, or planned for, or orchestrated. It plunges you straight into the depths before you have a chance to catch your breath or get your bearings. And once you get down there, you have to face yourself. That wounded, betrayed, abandoned, forgotten about self. The dark sister who took all your pain for you, who now will make you pay. Hag-self, a lone Fury – terrible to reckon with. I wrestled with her for a long time, until our battle became an embrace. Ereshkigal and Inanna in the underworld. The monsters I ran from were in me all along, and only needed to be shown love, tenderness, compassion. Mercy. Forgiveness. Peace.
What did I do today? I woke up and meditated and wrote my stillbirth dream down. I drank tea and ate homemade tacos with my sweet friend. I played with my wonderful dogs, and they made me laugh with their antics. I wrote and wrote at my kitchen table and the golden afternoon light poured in. It was a gorgeous day. I went out into it and took myself shopping for incense and candles and aromatherapy gadgets and moon calendars. I treated myself nice and took my time and found a quiet corner to nibble salmon tartines, drink mint lemonade and write about The Lovers. Ironic, in a way, that today’s the day I needed to write about that particular tarot card. I’d been dreading it, really. But it felt good to write about what love is, and what it’s not. The consuming fantasy of romantic love, and the magic of unconditional love. I still have so much to learn about it, to understand about this card, and this subject. The union of opposites, the powerful alchemy that comes from joining them. That’s heartening in a way, and I hope I get the chance. No one has ever figured this shit out, in the whole goddamned history of humanity. It confounds us all, and yet – we know it’s everything. Love is all there is. I found a beautiful golden hoop with garnet (my birthstone) and rose quartz for self-love, made by a friend. I asked another friend re-pierce my septum and now I have this little adornment again. It was originally pierced when I was 15 by my friend who died this year. Full circle, that little golden loop. That it came with some pain feels right somehow, like the tattoos I got to mark my passage through this wild and strange valley. Owning the pain of that transformation, the rebirth, constant regeneration. Afterwards, I took one of my dearest friends out to dinner for her birthday, and we talked and laughed and I drove home through windy streets alone, to my place, the place where I belong. My home. I lit the candles and ate a pistachio eclair, and now I sit here, writing. My dog keeps putting her toy in my lap and gazing at me poignantly, patiently. I am not alone, actually. In a little while, I’ll crawl into my big bed and rest. Most nights, I dream of animal spirits, guides: horses with very distinct personalities, little brown bats trapped in my house, giant condors that let me fly on their broad backs over the Andes.
My life looks so, so different from how it once did, and yet I’m here, in the same place. My perspective has shifted radically, and I for once, am becoming the agent of my own changes – taking charge of what needs to be let go of, rather than always waiting too long and letting it just happen to me without my consent. No longer staying past the time where it made any sense to linger. Trying to hold on to what is falling apart. I’ve always been good at loyally loving the ones who don’t want to be with me, not really. And for some reason, not loving the ones who might love to be with me. I want to change this pattern, so much. I’m working on being okay with receiving. Working on wanting, but not needing. Taking action, embracing the transitions, and hopefully getting a little more graceful about it. These are the big lessons. A cold front is blowing in tonight, and the gales are tossing the trees, making the candles by the open window gutter. More change is coming. Count on it, because it’s the only thing that’s for sure.
I have abandoned the dream kitchens for a low fire
and a prescriptive literature of the spirit;
a storm snores on the desolate sea.
The nearest shop is four miles away –
when I walk there through the shambles
of the morning for tea and firelighters
the mountain paces me in a snow-lit silence.
My days are spent in conversation
with deer and blackbirds;
at night fox and badger gather at my door.
I have stood for hours
watching a salmon doze in the tea-gold dark,
for months listening to the sob story
of a stone in the road, the best,
most monotonous sob story I have ever heard.
I am an expert on frost crystals
and the silence of crickets, a confidant
of the stinking shore, the stars in the mud –
there is an immanence in these things
which drives me, despite my scepticism,
almost to the point of speech,
like sunlight cleaving the lake mist at morning
or when tepid water
runs cold at last from the tap.
I have been working for years
on a four-line poem
about the life of a leaf;
I think it might come out right this winter.
– The Mayo Tao by Derek Mahon
A part of me is living in this poem, walking alone on a rocky cliff by the sea. Pitching pebbles and humming a tune. A lighthouse rises out of the crags, the waves smashing around it, the air full of seaweed and salt. One day, I will be ready, and someone will be ready for me. We might go to the little warm place, a small cottage where the kettle is on and the bed is warm and waiting for us. I think that there is some kind of love waiting for me on the other side of this. I wonder what that will be like? We shall see.
A Small Love Letter
Will you meet me on the lava by the copper fire shore?
Will you find the fallow field & call it under-dreaming door?
When I find the broken button, when I cast the streaming line,
it’s your name I’ll thread so lightly through lithography & brine.
Will you keep the salvage open, heat & hold a running joke,
fish for peace & urchins, carve a gourd into a boat?
I will answer when you call me. I’ll ring hammers in the fog.
I’ll keep nightfall clairvoyant; build a bed from wheat & awe.
When you meet me on the lava, I’ll meet you on the ancient shore,
& we can sing to the dark center, paddle down with one long oar.
– Abe Louise Young
[Published in Borderlands]
This year has been filled with opportunities for me to work on doing lots of things that have intimidated me in the past. One of the biggest things for me is singing in front of other people. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I would break out into a sweat even attempting it. I’m feeling far more comfortable & confident lately (though I still get nervous!) and have learned so much in the past year. I was raised with traditional Irish folk music being played around me constantly by my parents and their friends, and it’s definitely in my blood and my heart. I remember way back 2011, when the wish began burning in me to sing. It’s taken me until now to really make it happen, but I’m doing it, and it feels good.
Here are two songs. The first one, Slow Moving Clouds, captures where I’m at pretty perfectly. And Lorraine’s Waltz was playing on the radio while I was writing this piece, and I think compliments the other song nicely. Both feel right for me right now.
This is something else that has been resonating with me very deeply, words of wisdom from an Irish poet who I adore:
JOHN O’DONOHUE — The Inner Landscape of Beauty – from On Being, With Krista Tippett
And all the words from before:
by Angeliska on September 4, 2015
As I was struggling to write my own recent piece commemorating the decade since Katrina hit, I found myself thinking about my friend Raven, a lady who has been in my life since we were both wee rag-tag teenage snippets, witchy little waifs haunting the sidewalks and botanical gardens of our hometown, here in Austin. We have both grown up into women since then, and been through all our up ands downs and backwards and forwards, and find ourselves now here once more: contemplating those journeys and all we have learned in walking our roads. Raven and Jayme (another dear old friend of mine) got married in City Park a few months before the storm, at the base of an enormous and ancient tree. We, her sisters and bridesmaids, are all gathered around the bride and groom. If you made the picture below black and white, it could easily be 1920.
They stayed in New Orleans through the deluge, and after, as worse (man-made) disasters struck down, and held on – as best they could, to the city, to what they had left, and to each other. They went back and visited their wedding tree, only to find that it had been destroyed in the hurricane. This is the second image: two tough survivors of a strange war – they could have come out right out of the Great Depression. The photographs of them before and after spoke to me so deeply. I have held them close, and ruminated on the power and meaning in these images for the past ten years. In the process of delving into my own feelings about impermanence, relationships, love and survival, I turned to these images again, and decided to ask Raven if she wanted to tell her own story about them, and about her experience. Her words, and those photographs are here:
Katrina, Ten Years Later – by Raven Hinojosa
Katrina came ashore a few months after my wedding. That summer so far had been a sink-hole of stupefied dread and fretful busy-making, as only New Orleans summers can be. In my case, the usual torpor of heat and humidity was aggravated by a sense of unarticulated isolation. I was even then coming into the need to come out of the closet to myself – and that made me half of a mismatched whole, only made worse by how much I loved my husband.
After Katrina – the storm, the shrimp that swam down St. Claude and over my feet as they rested on my porch, the carnival of looting that thinned into a horrifying march of beaten survivors who trudged towards the Superdome three days later – after all that, my husband and I bonded through the adventure of the aftermath. We were good at transitions, good at crisis. We left, came back, and resumed life newly defined by the long black line. We ate baloney sandwiches out of the back of the red-cross truck, wiped bleach over our surviving possessions, and traded stories by candlelight at Sugar Park with others from the neighborhood whom made it, or made it back early. Meanwhile, National Guard rattled in and out in the shadows, strangers wearing machine gun sashes. Squatting like troglodytes in the intermittent dark, we told our storm stories over and over. We were weaving a personal and collective narrative where we could hang our shattered faith. We eyed the armored soldiers, kids though they were, with resentful suspicion. Where were they when we were trapped and drowning? How did we, New Orleanians, become so vulnerable while oil companies and the politicians they own remain so untouchable? What “Heck of a job?!”
Five years later and shortly after I left my marriage, BP vomited 210 million gallons of oil into the gulf, twisting that same knife a full rotation deeper. By that time I had disentangled myself somewhat from the city. I have the habit of thinking of her as a lady, so you’ll understand when I say that New Orleans and I both acknowledged that even if I left, my heart would always belong to her. Now I live in Oakland, a place that doesn’t stir any strong feeling in me whatsoever. Things work here. It’s remarkably supportive of my goals. They collect compost for Christ’s sake. But I don’t think I’ll ever be in love with this place, and I’m ok with that for now.
That said, I am finding love here in abundance. I have little children in my life. I have my re-entrenched love for the stage, and I’ve recently met someone that feels like another exclamation-point full-stop next-chapter love. Maybe it’s this Venus retrograde summer of love’s-reckoning or maybe it’s the familiarity of new love’s frights and pleasures, but I’ve been lingering long and lovingly on relationships of the past. Abandoned memories surface. Pop-up panoramas bring new understanding. What stands out is the way that love abides after cycles of affection and disaffection complete themselves. That love is something that is carried for a lifetime, and even when it is heavy, it makes us stronger.
After the storm, when my Mamaw first visited the pile of rubble that was once her home in Biloxi, she didn’t experience her grief in that moment. Rather, she told me, she stood in awe at the wonderful power of nature to create and destroy. No one who lived through Katrina will tell you that Katrina destroyed their lives. It was people who betrayed us. It was power over compassion. It was the single most indisputable example in recent history that to those who hold the reins, black lives don’t matter. We live under an oligarchy, in a community deeply corroded by racism, and nowhere is that more apparent than New Orleans, before, during, and after the storm. I used to choose New Orleans because I felt closer to this reality there than anywhere else. Along the way, through the accumulation of broken marriages and neglected levees, my relationship with New Orleans shifted fundamentally. I won’t be running back into her arms any time soon, though sometimes I miss her terribly. I will always love that city with every chamber of my heart. On this ten year anniversary, that love is very heavy, and I am stronger for it.
– Raven Hinojosa
Photographs by Jayme Kalal