by Angeliska on August 8, 2016
Today marks thirty years since the day my mother died. Nearly half a lifetime, it seems – and so much of my life that I’ve had to live without her. I have spent most of those years hiding. Body hunched and curled over to shield the shameful wound of my unbearable, unspeakable grief. It lives at the core of me, every day. Everything I lost when I lost my mom. The door where I came in, that source of unconditional love and support, all her magic and wisdom and essential Maggie-ness, which I can only experience through the stories and memories of the people who knew and loved her, and through the precious objects she left me. Her absence has shaped my existence in countless ways. I tried to be tough and stoic for so long, even as a very small (and very scared) child. I didn’t cry, I didn’t grieve, I didn’t let on that there was anything wrong – even though everything was. When I was forced to admit to someone who didn’t already know that my mom had died, they would say, “Oh, I’m sorry!” and look very uncomfortable, and I would say “It’s okay.” But it’s not. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. It will never, never, ever be okay that my mother died and left me to have to figure out how to survive without her. I’m tired of pretending, tired of lessening the horror of my loss to make other people more comfortable. It is a raw place in me like the scar left when a tree loses a big branch, an essential piece of itself, necessary to uphold the structure. Children need their parents. For survival, for healthy growth and development, and really for everything. Those who have lost one or both to death or abandonment may walk with their chins up and their upper lips stiff, but they suffer every single day without the love and support of those people who should have been there to raise them. And they hide – from a society that has forgotten our rituals for grieving and honoring the dead, and from themselves, because reckoning with the enormity of that loss can be truly terrifying. This is the work that I have been doing. Learning to stop hiding from myself, and from the world. Step by step, year after year, I make slow progress. I have learned to cry, in front of other people especially, which is so hard. I have learned to let myself be vulnerable, to ask for help, and to seek it myself. I work on processing the deep traumas the trainwreck of my childhood inflicted on me, with therapists and healers who understand how to treat trauma in the body, in the nervous system, where it lives. And I write. I write to know myself, to remember my memories, and to feel things I had for so long been afraid to feel. I wrote this piece, or began the process of writing it, two years ago in a writing workshop with my hero, Lynda Barry. I could barely get through reading it aloud to the class because I was sobbing so hard. I still can’t make it through without crying, and that’s okay. I share it here for anyone who is willing to bear witness. I have learned that grief must be witnessed and shared to be fully processed, so I thank you in advance for reading, and for your willingness to be a part of this process for me.
I am seven years old, chasing madcap after my cousin Luke, who is ten. We are tearing through my grandparent’s tiny country cottage out in the Hill Country, where my family has lived for generations: a ghost town near Llano called Lone Grove. I don’t remember why I’m running after him like a crazy wild thing, but I’m determined to catch up, to escape the close confines of the little house with its heavy smell of burnt bacon, dust, and old people. Maybe we’re racing out to the ditch to go race dirt-bikes, me on the back clutching my cousin’s skinny ribcage tight. Though perched precariously, I want to imagine myself both as tough and romantic: like Nicole Kidman glaring cooly over Tom Cruise’s shoulder in the the Top Gun poster that hangs on my cousin’s closet door at home. It’s much less glamourous when we limp back down to the house later, our kneecaps skinned fresh into what will later become one big scab. For now though, we are exuberant – full of sweet tea with six spoons of sugar mixed in, desperate for some kind of life and action in this place where all the adults whisper in low worried voices and tell us to keep it down. I rush out onto the porch, Luke’s hair in a long rat tail just out reach of my grasp – the screen door banging behind me with a shotgun crack. I don’t know how many times we kids have all been hollered at not to do that very thing, but this time it’s him, who whirls on me with hazel eyes flashing. “Don’t you let that damn door slam when your mom’s in there having seizures! Don’t you have any respect?”
I don’t know exactly what a seizure is, but it sounds bad, the way we hear the grown-ups talking. I think of the word seized, seize the day, and I think it must mean: grabbed, taken, stolen. The cancer is taking my mom away, shaking her body like a rag doll in the mouth of a wild dog until there’s no life left in her. I stand on the front porch, shaking, staring blind at the magic rock embedded in the side of the door frame. It’s hot, hot in late July and a few minutes ago I was dripping with sweat but now I’m cold, cold. This stone cottage was built for my great-grandmother to live in, back in the thirties. Someone took the time to make sure that the very best little rocks were set right where you could see them, going in and out – the smooth edge of the speckled polished granite I always touched for luck, and my favorite: a piece of smoky quartz with a tiny phantom rainbow hovering at its core. How did those colors get in there, I’d always wondered? They seemed suspended somehow, like the blue glow on the tip of a match-head or a patch of iridescent oil skating over a puddle. My finger strokes at it, trying to make it move, but it doesn’t budge. I can’t go in or out now. The red number of my cousin’s soccer shirt is receding down the driveway, hazed and wavy in the heat. His shoulders are hunched up high like his body hurts, and I want to run after him but I’m stuck here. I want to say sorry but I don’t know who to, and I have the sense that if I try, it will knock something loose in me and Luke and all the grown-ups that will never be able to be put back together. No one is allowed to cry here, or we will all drown. It hasn’t rained in weeks and weeks.
I can’t apologize, and if I go back inside, I might get yelled at more, or worse – just recede into the murk of concerned murmuring like another shadow, get lost in the sickroom hush. There’s nothing to do in there but make myself very small, hunch up in the corners of the dim living room with a old National Geographic from before I was born. On the other side of the front door hangs one of my mother’s watercolor paintings: this one of a roadrunner with a dead lizard hanging half out of his mouth, pausing mid-dash. One the other side of that wall hangs a picture of a horse torn from one of my coloring books. With my black crayon I made the horse regal, a Black Beauty stallion with a starry white blaze, and emerald green eyes. A gift to my mother, to try and cheer her – to show her that I care. I do. I don’t know how else to say so except staying quiet and out of the way, coloring pictures, maybe being an artist, like her. The horse stares down its long nose at the wan figure in the hospital bed – but her eyes are very rarely open to see it. I had worked hard on making sure it was colored in as perfectly as possible, no straying from the lines, no messiness. I knew, as an artist, it would matter to her that I could do a good job, take care with making it just right. After someone tall tacked my picture up in her room, I worried about it. I had learned recently that black was the color of death. What if my black horse seemed like some kind of bad omen, or served as a dark reminder of what was coming? It felt like it was coming fast, the way Texas thunderstorms come up on you suddenly. One minute the sun is shining too bright – and then the air changes. The heady odor of tin is sharp and metallic in your nose – making you look up to see those bruised-looking storm-clouds pulsing on the horizon. Everything speeds up, like a freight-train rushing towards us down the track. My cousin Luke was obsessed with locomotives when he was younger, and he had these model sets where you could move the position of the tracks to your pleasure. The train could go over the bridge and into town, or it could careen off the edge of the kitchen table if you directed it that way – nothing was inevitable. This is not like that, some part of me knows. I don’t know how to shift the path, swerve the course of this juggernaut that screams towards my mother’s body tied to tracks, wrapped in white bedsheets. I am too little. A few days before, I was pushing her, grown so thin and frail in her wheelchair over the gouged out tire tracks on the dirt road. We go halfway down, to where the crepe myrtles are blazing vibrant fuchsia, so pink it sears the eye. I try to make encouragingly poetic and mature comments about the beauty of the blooms, but she is too tired to respond with more than a breathy whisper. I don’t know it yet, but this is the last time she will leave her bed and see the world beyond the robin’s egg blue room where her life is folding in on itself. This is the last time chance I will ever have, to talk with her, about anything before it all collapses. I want so much to say the right thing: find the perfect, magic words that will make her smile, paint the orange freckles back on her face where they’ve faded grey. Change the direction of the train tracks. Banish the black horse from high up on the wall. Unslam that damn door.
And, if you’d like to read more about this journey, here you go:
by Angeliska on March 9, 2016
The new moon in Pisces eclipse is inviting us to plunge into the depths, a voluptuous mermaid or wizened sea-hag who beckons us with long green fingers into her cold and wet embrace. Watch with round and wondering eyes the silver scythe of a moon setting on the horizon, that light coming down low – sinking slowly into the water. A fingernail paring belonging to a maiden goddess, glowing like an ancient opal. The reflection of your own face so familiar, wavering on the liquid surface. What shipwrecks lie beneath? Long kept secrets are being revealed. We are being given the opportunity to contemplate the deeper mysteries, to hold our breath and dive down to the ocean floor, hunting the pearls of wisdom until morning.
Pisces is my rising sign, and usually the first thing people guess when they’re trying to figure out what I am in the zodiac. The eyes give it away, probably. One astrological interpretation of my chart described me thusly:
“Generally, you have inclinations and tendencies for the following:
professions dealing with occult matter or mediumships, religion,
seafaring, acting, psychometry, clairvoyance, painting,
poetry, mysticism, and espionage.”
I’d say that sounds about right!
from The Symbolist Tarot (A project I sincerely wish had come to fruition!)
I’ve been thinking about the Queen of Cups with this moon, and what she has taught me about self-care, and the dedication necessary to re-route the urge to help and heal every other broken baby bird in our lives when it is often ourselves most direly in need of healing. It’s easy to become a martyr from this place of constantly pouring out, without ever taking the necessary time and space to replenish. Compassion must begin with the self: because there are no truly selfless acts. The gifts you share with others must be offered freely, because it is truly your pleasure to do so. The best way to prepare for that work is to know how to give to yourself, and how to graciously receive the kindness and self-compassion that you would selflessly offer someone else. The Queen of the Waters teaches us how to refill our own cups from the bottomless well of the spirit, and to drink deeply – refreshing the places where our spirits have grown frayed and withered. Take the time to sit alone, to reflect, be still and quiet as a calm tidepool. What would be most nurturing for your soul right now? Perhaps it’s taking the time to write by hand in your journal every day, to converse with yourself in a friendly way – to transcribe and meditate on the dreams that come through in sleeping time, when the subconscious mind wakes up and wanders through other worlds. This is a powerful time to be creative – to dance, draw, dream and let the hidden messages from our subconscious psyches drift to the surface. Take long baths, anoint your skin with nourishing oils, or maybe receive a massage, some healing touch. Watsu is a gentle form of relaxing bodywork that takes place in a pool of water. Spending some time swishing around in a salt water float tank can be incredibly restorative, and becoming more and more easily available. Go swimming, in fresh water from the springs, if you can. Spend time nurturing friendships that feel reciprocal and supportive. If you’re ready to do some serious emotional healing, it might be time to find that skilled therapist or healer who really gets you, (or who at least might be smarter than you) – ideally someone who practices a modality that is effective in releasing ingrained old patterns or trauma that you’re ready release. It helps to drink lots of water – always, but especially when doing deep emotional clearing work. Ingesting and immersing in good water helps reconnect us back to the source, the primeval headwaters from which everything originates.
This spring new moon is beckoning us towards a powerful time of renewal: of coming back into the body, and awakening consciousness. It’s time to open up our hearts like the bright blossoms and new leaves bursting forth outside! We are being given new opportunities to tend to our own healing and return to the work of nurturing new growth. Spring is a powerful season for clearing any stagnancy or old wounds from the past that have been hurting and blocking us for too long. This is a perfect time to do some spring cleaning and deep clearing of inherited pain from our family lines.
I have been seeing representations of that heavy ancestral energy show up in many of the tarot readings I’ve given for quite a while now, and have been actively seeking an effective method to assist my clients in moving through their familial baggage. I feel very called now to offer a way for my beloved tarot clients and dear friends to partake in a method I’ve found to be incredibly helpful, called Family Constellations. This April, I will be very honored to host a beautiful healer and longtime friend from the Bay Area, Akasha Heather Christy, who facilitates this amazing healing modality. Akasha will be leading a workshop for us here in Austin, at my home. Here’s some information about this work from her:
“This is Akasha writing you from the Bay to invite you to this workshop that Angeliska and I are cultivating. It is my great pleasure to have the opportunity to come to Austin and share this work of Family Constellations with you. Angeliska is herself an amazing healer, and I am honored to spend this time with her, and with you all, doing this much needed work. Family Constellations provides a means to identify the unspoken and unconscious emotional patterns which affect our lives. It reveals the stagnant patterns which extend through generations of ancestry in a phantom-like manner, showing up in unaccountable ways, dragging on our spirits – in order to open a door towards deeper soul level resolution and healing.
By revealing the places in which we have given over our attention, our life force, and our dreams, we can see how we are respecting those who came before us. We are always seeking to respect our families – our ancestors. That being said, when there is tragedy in the family line that has gone unnoticed or ignored, it wreaks havoc on our lives. We can spend our whole lives unconsciously focusing on these places that are unresolved. Whether it is genocide, war, lost love, lost children, displacement, addiction, mental illness or loss of fortune – any of these things in our family history can impact how we live our lives now. This weekend event is an opportunity for us to gather and go into these hidden places, and share the process together with the morphogenic field in order to offer resolution to ourselves, and those we love.
Because you have an issue which doesn’t seem to be going away – problems that take too much of your attention, and are able to trace sources of the issue back to your family of origin.
You are willing to allow your intuition and feelings be a source of exploration and resolution – you are willing to let go of logic long enough to allow the mystery to show you the way through to new perspective and opportunities.
You are open to working with others, to witness and serve those around you to discover new healing for old wounds.
You are thirsty for a new experience in your life – ready to make a change, and allow yourself to operate differently.
This experience stands to completely transform your perceptions around how you relate to your family and loved ones, and will offer you a greater capacity to let go, open more, and share more deeply. It will offer a level of internal resolution that will serve every relationship you have – including and especially with yourself.
We will be sharing this work on Saturday, April 16, 2016 from 12 noon – 6pm and Sunday, April 17, 2016 from 12 noon – 6pm
If you’d like more info, or to register, contact us soon!
“The Lost Correspondent” by Jason deCaires Taylor in the waters of Grenada.
I’ve been dreaming, not surprisingly, of water for the past few nights. Water in dreams is emotion, and so I always try to pay attention to the currents: where is it choppy, with rough waves – or tranquil, clear and serene? Is the water a rushing flood, a tidal wave, a pristine spring, or a polluted puddle? Pay attention to what the water is doing in your dreams. It will tell you so much.
Last night I dreamt of inspecting exotic mushrooms for sale at the hippie food co-op. I can’t make up my mind about which fungus would be best (black and robust with thick stems like tree trunks, or slim pale straw mushrooms that look like little ghosts), so instead I select a petite aristolochia specimen, with intricate crazing designs on its heart-shaped leaves and big floppy dutchman’s pipe blossoms that are periwinkle blue with confetti sprinkles that look splatter painted on. The man I nearly married is sitting at a table nearby, and we amiably discuss my marvelous plant until the store manager approaches and asks if we’re “in loooooove“. We both pause awkwardly and are silent, not knowing how to answer, until I put my hand on his shoulder and say, “We were once, a while back – very much so. But not now. Not anymore.” It doesn’t feel bad to say this. We are at peace. I go to the lake, an old place, somewhere in Upstate New York. The water is clear, sea-glass green, but with fuzzy black shapes covered in algae, indistinctly waving beneath the surface. I start to wade out, to investigate what they might be, but something stops me. It doesn’t feel entirely safe. I say to my friend who is perched above me on the rocks that there has always been something about lakes that creeps me out. She says that the other lake we visited that one summer is truly ancient: formed millions and millions of years ago. There’s something in the way she says it that seem to imply that this lake is perhaps artificial, man-made, possibly polluted. I get the feeling that the Slithery Dee might live there. Something that might wrap an eel-like black tail around my ankle and yank me down. The dark shapes in the water look like people. Maybe the frozen statues of figures standing in circles. Lost ancestors waiting beneath the waves.
The night before last, there was a big storm in my dream – prophetically perhaps bringing the real thing not long after. I was supposed to go in to a doctor’s appointment, but they called me from the office, not wanting me to risk it. The sky was dark grey, and the wind was starting to pick up. Electricity is crackling in the air, making the new leaves shiver. Fat drops were starting to come down, but I was thinking about chancing it and trying to get on the road anyway, when I noticed that it had actually been raining heavily for days. My yard was flooded, but not in bad way – just, a water feature that got beyond itself. The long neglected pond had filled up and overflowed its confines. Two bright koi fish that had been languishing in the few inches of brackish water near the bottom were now swimming happily in lazy arcs around the roots of the lacebark elm. I’d thought anything living in the pond that my former partner created had perished years ago, but apparently not. Two shiny carp, like the dual fish symbol in Pisces, and not the first time I’ve dreamt of these magical totems. I wonder for a moment if maybe I should try to scoop them up and return them back into the pond, but then realize that they’d just swim right out again. So I start planting some seeds that I find instead, for little pale blue flowers called baby blue eyes. I find a buffalo skull washed up from under the porch and decide to hang it up. The flood hasn’t ruined or destroyed anything the way it used to in my dreams. The floods used to erupt suddenly, sweeping my rickety wood cabin down the river. It used to be enormous tidal waves I ran from, huge moving walls of emotion that threatened to engulf me, drown me, suck me under. They would sometimes crash over me when I could no longer out-run them, but I’d survive it somehow. Coming to, bobbing in the water, eyes salt-blind, grasping for the waterlogged leather handles of old suitcases stuffed with soggy family photos, old love letters with their carefully inked words of longing rinsed away, just blank wet paper now. Not much is salvageable, disintegrating cardboard boxes containing important documents, histories, memories, secrets. All gone. I would have these dreams often, before Katrina hit, even. But now maybe something has finally shifted again. My world can flood a little, and it isn’t a total disaster. The storm can come, but it doesn’t keep me cowering at home anymore. The overwhelming feelings rise up and can now be felt, and completely processed. The good things are made free again. What was neglected can now be restored with love. New seeds filled with potential appear to be planted. The old bones of what has passed can be reclaimed and honored.
☾ Dream Reliquary is a project by artist Caledonia Curry, also known as Swoon. It is a space for people who wish to participate in the creation of a sculpture containing a large repository of dreams transcribed from people all over the world.
☾ Many wonders are being revealed in the depths, including an adorable new species of octopus: Casper, the Friendly Deep Sea Octopus Who’s Entirely New to Science
☾ The Nuit Report March 4-10. Solar Eclipse in Pisces. There are so many fantastic astrologers out there right now, sharing their wisdom and expertise with us so generously. I have found that checking in with a gifted guide to the cosmos on a regular basis has helped me understand my own shifts and transitions so much more. Aepril Schaile has become a mainstay in that practice for me, and someone I feel thrilled to know in this life. I love her grounded and wise way of communicating, and the way she imparts even challenging or heavy concepts with grace, compassion and humor. Check her out:
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