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Singing to Chaos: Reading N.K. Jemisin


Image by Greg Razosky

I wish I could go to the book store and browse the shelves for “Fiction That Makes You Think.” But then maybe what has me thinking wouldn’t show up there, because not everyone thinks what I think. Not only that, but I discovered this year in my Mythology, Literature, and Fantasy Fiction courses that you can apply literary theory and Jung and Campbell to everything from The Wizard of Oz to The Hunger Games. So now the literary world is literally my oyster.

Related, and bear with me for a moment: last year I had an epiphany. A good deal of my reading has been about social justice because I want to educate myself better about race issues and undo some of the harm that our racist society has done in my mind, so that I can do less harm in the world. Reading is my answer to everything, so I read: White Fragility, The Color of Law. And some fiction, too: The Invention of Wings about abolitionists Sarah and Angelina Grimke. The epiphany was this: a large portion of the reading I’d been doing about people of color was not written by people of color. I recommend all of these books, because they are all amazing, but at the same time, even on issues of race, I was unconsciously centering white voices. Yikes.  

So over on Goodreads I made a shelf for Authors of Color and started being intentional. Over the last year I’ve read Ross Gay, Michael Eric Dyson, Solomon Northrup, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Richard Blanco, Ibram X. Kendi, Fareed Zakaria, Linda Hogan, Austin Channing Brown, Ijeoma Oluo. Fiction: Tomi Adeyemi, Ibi Zoboi, Toni Morrison, Angie Thomas, N.K. Jemisin, and St. Octavia Butler (I imagine she wouldn’t like that characterization, but given her army of converts old and new, and my discipleship, she is stuck with it). I challenge anyone reading this to make a point of reading more authors of color.  

I’ve learned a whole lot from Coates, Kendi, Brown and Oluo. But it seems weird to me that what resonates the most when I think of it is the fiction. Butler, of course. God is Change… But today I want to talk about N.K. Jemisin

Have you found theology in fiction? Hear me out. 

I am three quarters of the way through Kingdom of Gods, Jemisin’s third book in the Inheritance trilogy. This is fantasy. Butler is fantasy/sci fi. These genres have long been regarded as a “fluff” genre in which there is not much “meat”, something you read purely for escapism, and a lot of it is that, but speculative is my brain food. Butler is pretty plainly intending to speak on issues that deal with African American history, in addition to questions of immortality and Godhood (Wild Seed). Jemisin is much less obvious, b1ut there are topics of slavery and immortality here, too. 

I’m thinking about her theology and cosmology. Let me give you a brief rundown. (Trigger alert: there is a good deal of sex in these books, and occasionally suggestions, but not scenes, of rape. If you are okay with that, I can heartily recommend them. I am not dealing with any of that here).

The Three are the founding gods of the world. They mated to create godlings, and one of them, Enefa, created mortalkind. When gods mate with mortals, they make demons, who are mortal. Demons have been abolished because their blood is lethal to gods and godlings and deemed too dangerous to the cosmos to live. If one of the Three is killed, the mortal realm ceases to exist. 

Much of high fantasy has a pantheon of gods. A good bit of it deals with mortals’ relationship to gods. What is fascinating about Jemisin’s trilogy is that the gods and godlings are themselves characters in the novels. In the first book, four of them have been chained and made mortal, and made to serve the mortal (human) ruling family. In the second and third book, the tables are turned and the one who imprisoned them is himself imprisoned in a mortal body. By making the immortal mortal, Jemisin is able to bypass the difficulty of making the immortal, the deity, a character we can relate to. 

The Three are, in order of their birth from the unknowable Maelstrom: 

Nahadoth. He (he can manifest as male or female but is generally male/father) is darkness, chaos, change (…. God is change….). He can never stick to one thing for long. He is firstborn from the Maelstrom and spent millennia alone. He is lethal and capricious and often malicious. 

Itempas. Itempas is the perfect foil to Nahadoth. He is light, order, changelessness. Surprisingly, Itempas is dark-skinned and Nahadoth is light-skinned, in manifest form. Itempas killed Enefa and imprisoned Nahadoth and three of his children when they rebelled. He is presented as the villain in the first book, then becomes human, imprisoned himself, in the second and third books. And he thereby becomes interesting. His worshipers, of course, are rigid law-givers, whom we find not at all sympathetic. 

Enefa. She is balance, life, and death, the scales that keep the other two in check. She created mortalkind. Itempas used the blood of his demon offspring to kill her out of jealousy over her relationship with Nahadoth. She was re-manifested. I’m not going to go into details about that because of spoilers. It’s mostly the other two I want to talk about, anyway.

Let’s parallel these two, for the sake of a theological argument, with the God of the Bible (Itempas: light, order, changelessness), and Satan (Nahadoth: unpredictability, chaos, darkness). Jemisin makes no delineation that one of these gods is “good” and one of them “evil”. They have natures, and they have to be true to their nature. Even Lil the Hunger, horrific as she is, is not really judged. But from the beginning Nahadoth, a character in the first book while Itempas is a vague deific non-personality, is the more sympathetic of the two. All the world worships Itempas, while Enefa is dead and Nahadoth in chains; worship of them all but vanishes. 

This has me thinking (intentional on the author’s part, I am sure) about our ideas of light=good, dark=bad. First of all, she flips their avatars’ skin color. She flips our sympathies toward them. 

Humans do not like change. We do not like chaos. We think we like “freedom” but when we define it, it turns out that what we often mean is liberty to impose our own order on others, rather than having someone else’s order imposed upon us. We also, being diurnal and with poor vision and not easily able to defend ourselves without tools, do not care much for darkness. These are the things that make us feel secure: light, predictability, numbers (as in community). Is it surprising that we worship light and order in the person of Yahweh? Is it surprising that we make Satan, personification of chaos, temptation, and darkness, our villain, in our theology? The Fallen is dark. In this mythos, it’s not shocking that people who are dark become villains, as well. I’m not saying it’s excusable, of course. But even Yahweh sat in darkness for millennia before he decided there needed to be light, and he created both light and darkness, no? 

If we think of Yahweh as Itempas and Satan as Nahadoth, in which we do not judge either of them as good or bad before examining their deeds as we know them in the scriptures, what would change? Which characters would we find most sympathetic? If we took out every scripture that offered a judgment – “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.” (Ex. 34:6) – “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5: 19) – and left us only with the power of story, what would be left? Who would the characters be?

It’s an interesting mental exercise I invite you to do. I am not trying to tell you that Satan is Good and God is Bad (or even, necessarily, that neither is neither, though that is part of the exercise). I am inviting you to examine your own mythos without prejudgments. Read your mythos as if you’d never heard it before, as if you were telling it to someone who was born on another planet. When I was explaining my fading theology to a therapist who had never heard it before, I suddenly realized: this is not who I want to be anymore. It took me five years at least before I found another answer. Sometimes you have to say No before you can find your Yes. 

I learned that the truth you believe because someone else told you to believe can never be your Truth. But I suggest, too, that No is not enough and can never be enough. You cannot define your life by rejecting a theology or a personal philosophy without replacing it with something that is True for you. 

Ask Why and What If, and find your Yes.

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Lorraine Hotel & Civil Rights Museum

Here are a few pictures from my visit to the Lorraine Hotel & Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. I highly recommend a visit.

The museum seems to be frozen in time, with old cars in the front, and a very 50s/60s vibe.


Where this wreath hangs, on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on this balcony.


Further into the tour, you pass the room where he stayed here during his visit to lead black union workers in a strike for fair wages. The room is just as it was on that day, and the signs call for silence. The weight of it makes a deep impression.


The walk outside has stations that tell about the strike and the workers.


Inside, the exhibits tell about the struggle for civil rights from slavery to Dr. King’s day, and the present. This sculpture is a slaver selling a woman and her baby.


And this one, in the same room, shows how cramped the holds were in the slave ships.


And here is the bus Rosa Parks sat on when she refused to go to the back.


A sculpture of her inside.


These sculptures depict lunch-counter sit-ins that were organized all over the south, including many places in Tennessee.


And this was the bus that was attacked and burned on the famous “Freedom Rides.”

I came away from this museum with the weight of privilege on me. With modern-day police fatalities and one in three black men falling victim to the industrial prison complex, we have made strides toward Beloved Community, but we are not there yet. We are still waiting on the arc of justice.

If you’re in Memphis, definitely give the Lorraine a visit.

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How Much Is That Doggy In the Window?

Bandit, who is rescued and is the goodest boy

The text of my final speech for Communications Class, meant to be a persuasive speech. The fact that my semester is winding down means I’ll have more time for writing that’s not college assignments, yay!

Maybe you’ve heard the children’s song “How Much is that Doggy In The Window?” The answer is, several hundred dollars probably, up to a couple of thousand, but the real cost of that pup in the pet store is in lives. Roughly 4 million of them a year. One, every 11 seconds. While I’m talking to you, 50 animals will die in shelters.

We have a pet overpopulation problem. The annual cost to taxpayers to impound, shelter, euthanize and transport unwanted animals is 2 billion dollars. According to PetSmart Charities, There are 70,000 dogs and cats born in the United States EVERY DAY. Do you know how many humans are born every day? 10,000. So if every man, woman, and child can adopt seven dogs and cats (that’s 21 animals for a family of three), that number is sustainable. But I think you’ll agree that it’s not, not even for a serious animal lover.

So we can’t adopt our way out of this crisis. That makes spaying and neutering crucial. A single female dog can theoretically produce 67,000 descendants in her lifetime. ONE dog. That number for a single cat, which are much more commonly left to roam and reproduce at will, is 420,000.

I worked as a veterinary technician for 20 years, and I currently serve on the Board of Directors of Friends of White County Animals, so I’ve seen this problem up close. Please, please spay and neuter your pets, and if you haven’t yet, contact your local humane society for low-cost options. But, I think we’ve all heard the reasons we should do that, so I want to talk today about why you should heed the slogan, “Adopt, don’t shop.”

Even though we can’t adopt our way out of the pet overpopulation problem and concurrent pet slaughter, when you’re ready to get a new dog, it’s really important to adopt to make the problem better, not worse. Let me tell you a little bit about what you are supporting when you buy a puppy from an online breeder or pet store, versus what you are supporting when you adopt from a shelter or rescue. I’m going to cover puppy mills, backyard breeders, accidental or one-time breeders, shelters, and breed specific rescues.

First, puppy mills. A puppy mill is basically a dog farm or for-profit factory. Because they are purely for profit, the dogs’ welfare is secondary. If you want to spend a horrific afternoon, you can find some dream-haunting pictures of the dogs kept in these facilities online. HSUS estimates 10,000 of these in the US, but only 3,000 are licensed and regulated. The regulations are much too lax for the dogs to be well cared for: the cage only has to be 6” larger than the dog, they only have to be given water twice a day, there are no regulations on the temperature in the facilities so they sometimes freeze or cook to death, and on and on. In addition, when breeders violate these regulations, they are just given a slap on the wrist and allowed to keep breeding.

In addition, there is no regulation on the quality of dogs bred, either by the USDA, or by the AKC. So you should be aware that having AKC “papers” does not assure the quality of the dog, only that both its parents were of the same breed. Since these operations are for profit, cheap dogs means more money. They are not well socialized, and so the dog you get may be prone to inherited disease, communicable diseases, and behavioral problems. If you take nothing else away from this talk, don’t buy from puppy mills. The dogs are overpriced, poor quality, and you are supporting an industry of cruelty.

There are also for-profit, smaller scale backyard breeders. If you buy a dog online or from an ad, beware: they may be dealers selling puppy mill puppies or not much more reputable. These are the things that should throw up red flags:

  1. They have many breeds or “designer dog” mixed breeds.
  2. They won’t show you the parents or the facilities.
  3. They have little to no paperwork on the dog’s previous care.
  4. They don’t offer a guarantee if the dog turns out to be ill.
  5. They are more interested in making the sale than the quality of the home the dog is going to.

While we’re on the topic of so-called designer dogs, I’d like to tell you a bit about the history of them. Mutts are, of course, as old as time. In fact, purebreds are more or less a recent human construct within the last hundred years or so, when eugenics became all the rage and people started breeding for bizarre traits. This is according to Adam Ruins Everything. However, in the late 90s, a group in Europe started breeding what they hoped would be an ideal seeing eye or service dog — Labrador for friendliness, poodle for brains and a non-shedding coat. Labradoodles. They were carefully bred for this purpose, and they were ideal, and within a short time they became all the rage in the US. People imported them and were paying up to $3000 for one.

Predictably, people in the US caught on pretty quickly and started breeding labs and poodles here, with no regard for health or behavior, and selling them for exorbitant prices. Then they started mixing small breed dogs — which are always more profitable to breed because they’re adorable and sell well, and you can stack up cages and breed tons of them — and calling them “designer dogs” like they were a Gucci bag — puggles, pomchis, Maltipoo. My brother had a Chorkie he paid $1500 for. With money like that on the line, it’s not surprising that these dogs are being churned out at a rate of 2 million pups per year from large-scale operations.

But what about the simple dog owner who just wanted one litter. If they are charging more than one or two hundred dollars for this dog, you’re likely dealing with a for-profit breeder, regardless of what they say. And, buying from this person is still unethical for a couple of reasons.

  1. Paying someone who bred a dog, intentionally or not, is basically a vote with your dollars. It’s saying “I support this practice; keep breeding your dog for profit.”
  2. For every dog bred and bought this way, another dog dies in a shelter.
  3. Purebred dogs bred without regard to their health history or behavior profile (i.e. “my sister-in-law also had a yorkie”) are very likely to develop health and behavior problems.
  4. All this said, this IS a better option than puppy mills or for-profit breeders.

The third option is shelters. Why should you adopt a dog from a shelter? First, the obvious, because you’re saving a life. In reality, you’re saving two or more lives — your dog, and the dog who fills the cage he vacated, who might otherwise have been euthanized due to overcrowding. Also, your money funds more rescues, not more breeding, and part of it funds the vet care, spay or neuter for the dog you’re taking home. If no one buys puppy mill puppies, profit-driven mills will cease to exist because their reason for existing will be gone. And, supporting your local shelter means it can continue operating. Communities with no shelter often have horrors like shot dogs and drowned puppies and kittens, as we’ve found out in White County, where we have no shelter options for cats.

Finally, there is also the option of a rescue organization. Quite often, these organizations do not have a facility where they keep dozens of dogs. Rather, they have a network of volunteers who foster the dogs in homes, often training them in the process. Foster moms know much more about a specific dog’s temperament, health and habits than a puppy breeder can know, even a good one. Rescue organizations usually also require spay or neuter and your adoption fee pays for it and previous vet care. If you really really love a particular breed of dog, you can absolutely find a rescue organization for that breed specifically just by googling “Golden Retriever Rescue”. This can be an absolutely fantastic option, and is my favorite on this list. I intend to rescue a retired racing greyhound for my next dog.

Dogs have been our best friends for eons of human history, guarding our homes, protecting our families, herding our sheep, going to war with us, and just making us laugh and offering a furry shoulder to cry on when we need it. We owe it to them not only to give our own dogs the best life possible, but to make sure other dogs don’t suffer and die needlessly.

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Introvert Exhaustion

I’m tired. Are you?

I’m a social introvert. I love people, and overbook my social calendar all the time. And then, I hit a wall and I absolutely have to shut down. I call this Introvert Hibernation Time.

I love you. Go away.

If you’re a introvert I know you’ll relate. Introverts aren’t shy, necessarily; the difference between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts get energy on interaction with other people and introverts get energy by being alone, or with one (rarely more than one, but few at most) very special people.

I hit the wall this week. Stress from my husband’s illness, stress from college assignments, and I found myself with little or nothing to give and wanting to lock myself in a room and… what?

How do you fix this?

The answer, of course, is time, and being gentle with yourself, but I have a few other tips I’d like to share.

1. Know your limits and put them in writing. I can look at my jam-packed calendar and know I’m going to need to schedule IHT (Introvert Hibernation Time, remember?) afterwards, and I will literally put it in my planner that way, with SCHEDULE NOTHING at the top of the day(s). And hey, if you surprise yourself and feel great that day, then you can always dial up the social interaction to exactly where you want it. Coffee with your bestie? Snuggle time with your love? Go for it. Hopefully both of those people will understand if you don’t.

2. Know what drains you. I can do a whole lot of church stuff and it doesn’t drain me, but one craft show will usually knock me out for a few days. Phone calls drain me if they’re important, or full of conflict, or something I’m dreading. Settings where there’s a lot of noise and chaos drain me, even if I’m having a good time. If there are bodies in my personal space, especially in a crowd, my reserves are leaking like a sieve. Consider making a list in your journal, if you’re a journaler.

3. Know what re-energizes you. This is a much more fun list to make. Here are a few ideas: Spending time in nature. Doing something creative. One on one time with someone who is awesome. Spending time with animals — taking my dog for a forest hike is a double whammy for me, and if I add in a creative thing like taking wildflower photos to paint later. Ooh, that’s bliss. Finding QUIET. If you have to go somewhere away from home to get that quiet, find a corner of the library, or hit up that forest again. Music can fill some people’s wells. Indulging in a good novel (be careful here, sometimes lying around in your pajamas bingeing Netflix can be well-filling, and sometimes it can just make you feel like a bum and more depressed). Chances are, if you make a list of things you absolutely love, you can go back and highlight the things that are also well-filling, it’ll be most of those things. For me, a social introvert, they don’t match entirely, but it’s a good start. Definitely make this list too. In fact, consider making the list anew every time you’re feeling burned out.

4. Schedule a play date. Setting up a couple of hours of just-for-me-time/self care on a weekly or otherwise regular basis is good preventative medicine.

5. Know the signs of introvert exhaustion. Sometimes, we’re getting irritable, or depressed, we don’t realize it’s because we need a little alone space. We introverts can often get very deep into our own heads, with thoughts swirling endlessly, firing judgments at someone who is getting on our last nerve, without knowing that it’s really not them, it’s us. We lose touch with our actual feelings. It’s different for everyone, but here are a few that should make warning bells go off:

  • Noise drives you insane and you feel overstimulated just listening to someone talk.
  • You’re tired all the time even though you’re sleeping.
  • Or, insomnia.
  • You’re uncharacteristically irritable.
  • Emotional sensitivity.
  • Tough to get motivated.
  • Your eyes glaze over when you try to focus and you find yourself staring into the middle distance and shutting down emotionally.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms. You hurt somewhere even though you don’t remember hurting your back, your knees, your neck. Even of you understand that you have chronic pain in this place, did you ever injure it? If not, please do some research on Tension Myositis Syndrome and see if you fit this picture. Finding out about this changed my life.

6. Get mindful. This kind of links to the above, but if you’re zoning out and you’re not aware of your own feelings, you need to bring yourself back and be fully present. If you’re currently totally overwhelmed, retreat, and then get mindful. Sometimes we get so much in our head we can’t even feel our bodies. Meditation is the best training for this. If you have a hard time doing sitting meditation try walking meditation, or coloring, or Zentangle, or another meditative activity. Connect with your breath (hey, you’re alive, yay!) and sort your own feelings out.

7. Don’t make IHT a habit. I know this sounds contradictory to what I said above about scheduling IHT days. But what I’m telling you is, you need social interaction. If you find it incredibly difficult to socialize with any people at all, you might consider getting help for depression, because while introverts need their alone time, we need our social time too, even when it’s a struggle. Find a buddy, preferably another introvert, to help you with this. Get out sometimes and get social. Find a safe space/group or at least a safe person where you can be yourself. It doesn’t have to be in a crowd.

8. Love who you are. You’ll never change what gives you energy. What you can change is your level of confidence and the people you surround yourself with when you are ready to surround yourself with people. Choosing your companions is a form of self care. Find some who get it when you say you need a break, people you don’t have to lie to in order to get your alone time. Introverts are amazing people! We are the thinkers, the creators, the poets and songwriters, and often, we’re sensitive people who are so very good for others when we pop our heads out of our shells. We get people, we just don’t want to be in the middle of them all the time. It’s only a matter of finding a balance between social and alone, and you can use both of them to make the world a little better.

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Time Change Blues

Doggone it, what happened to the morning?

I woke up incredibly sluggish this morning because Daylight Savings Time makes me feel jet-lagged for up to 2 weeks afterward, every time.

Because of my sluggishness (which Otto feels too, as you can see), I don’t have a lot of time to write this morning, but in thinking about whether I should bother at all, I thought I’d share a tip.

If time changes bother you too, I found a way to make them much less awful a couple of years ago. A light therapy light, the kind used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. I sit in front of it while I’m journaling for about 45 minutes a day, starting two weeks before we fall backward. Trust me, it cushions the blow. My jet-lagged days usually last less than a week now. You can get one of the lights on Amazon for less than $30. Make sure it’s 10,000 lux or more.

And, I keep using it all winter long, up through the spring time change. I used to have a lot of problems with post-Christmas winter blahs, but February doldrums are now less of a problem too. Light=happiness.

Hope the sun is shining where you are!

Posted in Art and Life, Uncategorized

Don’t Be Afraid

Someone asked me a while back, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? And I said, “Don’t be afraid.”

The advice was given years ago by this lovely lady, Karen Walton. She was my painting teacher. It wasn’t something she said once in the course of my instruction, she said it rather often. She had a sense for when that “oh no.. what do I do now?” feeling was coming up. If you’re an artist of any kind, you know what I’m talking about. It begins with the fear of the blank page, and comes up again when you’re not sure what’s wrong with the thing you’re working on but something’s wrong, or when you’re not sure what the characters are supposed to do in the next chapter or whether you’re finished with the drawing or not. Fear, it seems, is part of art. The more attached you are to the final outcome, the more the fear paralyzes you. This happens to me every time I accept a commission.

“To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do — away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes. Believing that the artwork should be perfect, you gradually become convinced that you cannot make such work. (You are correct). Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit. And in one of those perverse little ironies of life, only the patterns itself achieves perfection — a perfect death spiral: you misdirect your work; you stall; you quit.”

— From Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Baylee’s and Ted Orland

Maybe fear is preventing you from making art at all. Maybe you wish you could make art, but ever since Mrs. Smith the art teacher in elementary school told you that your work was not good, you’ve told yourself you “can’t draw a straight line.” But you love to create, so you make regular trips to your local hobby store and do “crafts,” by which I mean follow someone else’s instructions for creativity. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a crafter and I am not downplaying crafting, which is a vehicle for the artistic spirit, but if you limit yourself to paint-by-number and adult coloring books and step-by-step Pinterest projects, you will never discover what you can do, and you will never learn to trust yourself.

So, back to my story about Karen. She would say this, “Don’t be afraid.” When I was working on my second painting, the portrait of a horse, I meticulously painted a highly detailed and perfect eye on it… and then realized it was in the wrong place. And then I froze. Karen came over with her paintbrush, dabbed it in my paint, and then painted out my carefully crafted, wrongly placed eye. That’s the glorious thing about oil paints: at any point you can paint over the thing and start over. I did. I was so proud of that painting.

I don’t know when I realized that this was a lesson for life, too. I journal every day (I will talk more about that later), and I thought about how fear paralyzes us in doing The Thing, whatever the thing is. We marry ourselves to the outcome in our minds, and it’s much nicer as a fantasy than it is as a dream that failed, so we take the safe route and don’t try The Thing. In our minds, we could have been amazing at it but life got in the way. It’s not life that gets in the way. It’s fear.

So I’m telling you this: Do The Thing. Don’t be afraid. And when your first efforts get painted out, treat it as a new blank canvas to start fresh, whether you had to paint over a tiny aspect of your project or the whole damn thing.

The world needs people who believe in themselves this much.

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Cronehood, Take 3

First off, you know you’re a crone when you post a picture of yourself in a witch hat on Facebook, and people say “This is the best picture of you I’ve ever seen,” and “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that suits you.” Ha! Y’all, it might be the makeup I almost never wear.

It’s been a lot of months since I’ve posted here. The last I posted, I was facing hysterectomy, and aware of some of the challenges I would face as a result (I was right about those, they were indeed challenging). What I didn’t know was that my hysterectomy would not go as planned. I had endometriosis so severe that the 40 minute procedure took 3 hours, in which my most excellent surgeon had to extricate my lady parts from my intestines. I thought I’d have three tiny laparoscopic incisions. I ended up cut hip to hip. I thought I would recover in six weeks tops. I am still recovering, three and a half months later, but I think nearly out of the woods? I thought I would get to keep my ovaries and enter menopause naturally, but it all had to go, and I was slammed into menopause. That, let me tell you, was an adventure. My husband is a saint. I am now on a hormone patch and reasonably sane or at least, as sane as I was before, which is to say, sane…. ish.

In addition, I lost enough blood to almost need a transfusion, and until I went to see my family doctor a couple of weeks later, no one told me I wasn’t going to get that blood back fully back for three months. Y’all, I look like a person again, not a grey-ish zombie, which might have something to do with how stunning I look in a witch hat and makeup. The hat would have been more convincing when I was greenish?

The hysterectomy is only half the story. As I mentioned, I was supposed to be recovered at six weeks post-op, and I was decidedly NOT, but classes started again at that point, so I stuffed myself into a pair of panties that are made to hold everything together (ladies who are looking at hysterectomy, listen to me, get some of these!!), and off to class I went.

The previous Sunday, my husband Russ thought he was getting a kidney stone, which is a not-uncommon occurrence for him. But he was really ill on the first day of school, with alarmingly shuddering chills (“rigors”) and an off-and-on fever, so while I went to class, his mom took him to the family doctor, who sent him directly to the ER, who put him in ICU for kidney stone/kidney infection/sepsis. He stayed there the better part of the week, then came home.

I found myself in crisis mode, and it took me these months to process it all. You know what I’m talking about? You kind of shut off your emotions and deal with The Thing(s), until you can get to the other side and ask yourself what the hell just happened. I had class to deal with too, plus a busy craft show season, which is just now over, and I’m taking a breather now to get my bearings.

One thing I have learned and am immensely grateful for, is that my support network is astonishing. Friends came to help every day when Russ was gone for a convention and I was still not recovered, and other friends offered to come and take me to church, and some brought meals, and lots sent cards, and people Russ doesn’t even know showed up to see him in the hospital and support both of us. My family here in Tennessee is amazing, and my church family is awesome, and my D&D family loves us too. If you’re reading this and you helped or showed up for us in any way, then I haven’t thanked you enough for all you’ve done.

You don’t know the strength you have or the support network you have until you fall hard. The net caught me. The strength let me climb back up out of it, and I am still here, still whole, and ready for the next chapter (SO ready…).

I had the idea to ask my Pagan/UU sisters to join me in a cronehood ritual. I have not done that yet, but I still want to. We mark a lot of the changes in our lives with ritual, why not the passage into menopause? This time of year is very much about cronehood in Pagan tradition. Women discover their magic when they become mothers, and I think when we can no longer have children, we discover that the magic isn’t just in reproduction, it’s in us. It’s not in a body part. It’s in mothering ourselves when we feel orphaned. It’s in reaching out and touching the lives of others. It’s in saying to our sisters in this experience of womanhood, I’ve been there. I understand. Tell me your story.

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Mothering and Cronehood

waning gibbous

Yesterday, I was on my way home from a grueling and excellent Yoga practice, and Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide came on my Pandora station. There’s always been something of this song that I didn’t quite “get”, but yesterday I felt like I understood it for the first time.  

I took my love, and I took it down 

I climbed a mountain and I turned around 

And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills 

Till the landslide brought me down. 


Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? 

Can the child within my heart rise above? 

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? 

Can I handle the seasons of my life? 

I don’t know… 


Well I’ve been afraid of changing  

‘Casuse I’ve built my life around you. 

But time makes you bolder, 

Children get older 

I’m getting older, too. 

There’s more but I’ll leave it there. If you didn’t hear it in your head as you read that go to Youtube and listen again, it’s a good song. The Fleetwood Mac version, not the Dixie Chicks, you heathen. 

I’m scheduled for hysterectomy in two months. I thought I had a grasp on what Cronehood meant when my chick flew the nest, but I didn’t. I’m glad I started wrapping my head around the concept then, though. This is cronehood, for me. There will be no more children. But it’s more than that. It’s six weeks of having to ask for help, and that is terrifying. 

But time makes you bolder, too. I’m unafraid of speaking my mind in a way I never could have been at 20. And that’s a good thing. There are many good things about cronehood. Yesterday I imagined the familiar three moon phase symbol many pagans use that represents maiden, mother, and crone. Waxing, full, and waning. I imagined my life as a cycle of the moon and wondered what it would look like right now. Waning gibbous, probably. 

Every journey is different, and I am blessed. My boys came over yesterday to pick strawberries with me, hang out, play video games, have dinner. Mothering always runs the gamut of emotions and phases, but if you get to this part of it and you’re still friends, you’d better be counting your blessings. And I am. When I am stuck in bed for six weeks after surgery, these two and my husband will be the ones I rely on, hard as it is for me to rely on anyone. But when my moon is a tiny crescent I’ll need to, and probably more times in between, so maybe this is a lesson in how to need someone, how to be someone other than the helper and caretaker. That’s part of cronehood too… letting the tables start to turn. Letting your children start to help care for you. That, for me at least, is going to be the hardest part. 

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The Sky In My Spoon

Spoon Moon Clouds Sun Cup Photo Montage Sky Star

This morning at breakfast, I noticed the sky in my spoon.

I guess this requires some back story. Like many people, I have an off-again on-again relationship with eating well. I do well for a while, fall off the wagon, then get back to it again. I track it for a while, lapse, decide I hate tracking. I’ve never been a fad dieter — that’s my mom — but it’s so much easier to just eat whatever comes along, slap something on the table when it’s you that’s responsible for what’s on the dinner table…  if you eat at the table at all.  Right?  When I decide to eat “right,” I simply choose to eat clean and eat things in moderation.

I’ve been in an off-again, off-the-wagon phase since vacation and starting college (did I mention starting college? I guess that’s a topic for another post).  And then last week I had an IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) flareup at the same time as a cold, and that was no fun.  Okay, back to the wagon.

But this time, I decided I’m not going to worry so much about what I eat, as how I eat. I’ll wager you’re like me and most of the time when you’re eating, you’re also doing something else.  Surfing the web, watching TV, reading. Talking to another human kind of counts and kind of doesn’t.  It definitely does count if there is another human present and you are both doing separate things at the same time while also eating. Don’t do that.  Look at your loved ones once in a while.  Across a table is a good time.

Anyway,  this time I decided not to “diet” or even “eat better/clean/whatever.”  I’ve been exploring the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in so many ways, and I thought that this time around I would change only one thing:  I will eat mindfully.  I will really think about whether I need that ice cream and whether I know what’s in it. If I’m unwilling to sit still and savor that thing I think I’m craving, did I really want it? Or did I just want something to mindlessly shove into my face to fill a different need? Am I actually hungry? If not, why am I eating?

A long time ago I came across something in a Thich Nhat Hanh book about mono-tasking. About taking the time to do what you’re doing and paying attention.  I played around with that for a while but I discovered that it was really hard for me to just eat when I was eating.

Last time I was at McKay used book store I picked up a book called Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.  I’ve barely started reading it, just the last day or so.  The irony is that I was sorely tempted to read it while I had breakfast. Heh.

But I know how to be mindful.  So this morning while I was making my breakfast, which was a bowl of bulgur hot cereal with dried cranberries a sprinkle of granola, slivered almonds, raw milk and honey, I paid attention to everything. It’s 25 steps from my bedroom to my kitchen. My refrigerator could use cleaning. I filled the bowl about one third with the cereal. Honey is beautiful, I love transparent things that catch the morning sunshine coming in my kitchen window. Cold, clear water readily available from a tap in my house, that also is a miraculous thing, have you ever thought about that? Not to mention ice. Imagine an ancestor even three generations back plopped into the middle of your kitchen. We have running pure water we don’t have to go anywhere for, and lights with the flick of a switch, and ice.

I sat down to eat. I actually set my meditation timer with background music, because I wanted to remind myself not to just let my mind wander, but focus on where I was and every sensation.  Eating is the only time, really, that you can mindfully indulge every sense:  smell and taste come into play in a way that is much more powerful than at any other time, and you can notice the sensations of the food, the sound of your crunching and any other sounds that are in your environment.  Sight really starts to take a back seat, which is why your brain tries to get bored and find other things to do, because sight is so prominent for most of us all the time. Entertain me.

Maybe that’s why I noticed, as I sat at my desk in my dimly lit bedroom, that as I lifted my spoon to my lips, the sky outside my window was reflected in it.

I’m pretty sure that if I was reading that book, or anything at all, I wouldn’t have noticed that.  Here’s an excerpt from John Kabat Zinn’s foreward to the book:

“But just like Blake’s grain of sand and his wild flower, you can see the entire world in one raisin, hold the universe and all of life in the palm of your hand, and then, of course, in your mouth too, as it soon becomes a source of nurturance on so many different levels, energy and matter and life itself enlivening and replenishing the body, the heart, and the mind.”

So it was pretty poignant that the sky was in the handle of my spoon and all the world and all five senses were in the sweet goodness at the end of it as I put it in my mouth.

I’m convinced that mindfulness is the answer to everything.  Even if my IBS isn’t cured, or if I don’t lose weight, I stepped a little nearer to the center of being this morning while I was eating breakfast.  And if those two things do happen, that’s a win all the way around.

Try it.

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Is the Sky the Limit?

Bran stone door overlook 0821b.jpg

News first:  I’m going to college.  I’ve applied to Motlow State Community College, I’m in the process of working my way through red tape, and I start in the fall.  Tennessee has begun the TN Reconnect program that funds two years for returning adults who don’t already have a degree. After I have said so many times that my biggest regret is not going to college, I hardly have any excuse.  Well, I could have excuses.  It turns out I could have a lot of them. One of my biggest ones has always been, “but I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  I’ve always been afraid of “majoring” in something because I am one of those people who “minors” in everything that catches my fancy.  Tentatively, though, I’m thinking of majoring in Art for my Associates and then going on to Appalachian Center for Craft/TTU for a fine art degree in metalsmithing (but I’m keeping my options open, of course).

So I am beginning college in August and my son Brandon (pictured above) is beginning his last semester of college before he becomes the first person in his family or stepfamily to graduate college, with a degree in Fine Art/Painting.  That’s a big deal. He has his whole future ahead of him.  He is currently in Boston experiencing the world, and I am immensely proud of him.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about futures and dreams and new beginnings.  About the legacy of dreams that we give our kids.

I was listening to a podcast last week, which was very inspirational about “you got this, you can do this, live your dream” sort of stuff.  They interviewed a jewelry designer who is working on a line of $300 handbags for Nordstrom to go with her manufactured line of jewelry.  So not in my wheelhouse.  Anyway I was listening to this lady and thinking how much she reeked of Privilege.

And it occurred to me that I, liberal hippie girl who just wants to make art and make the world a better place for all sorts of people, have a slightly different aroma (it doesn’t come from a perfume counter at a mall department store, it’s more like patchouli and dirt under my fingernails), but it’s still pretty solidly Privileged.  I’ll just take a sec to thank my stars and my husband for making it possible for me to even think about going to college.  I dreamed of it once before when I was a single mom but couldn’t make it happen.

Then I started thinking about that message, You Can Be whatever you want, if you dream hard enough and work hard enough.  We tell it to every child.  Disney has been selling it for a century.

But it’s not true.  I think we’re killing our kids with it.  An increasing number of kids who live in families who are not middle class, who cannot afford to send their children to college, or sometimes to even feed them adequately.  We tell those children that they must go to college to realize these dreams and then we sell them into indentured servitude to pay off the dream before they can realize it and, side note, tell them they can declare bankruptcy on any kid of debt except for college debt.  Sorry.  Keep working.  When are you going to have kids?

And then we wonder why they get depressed when their dreams fail, why they fall into traps of addiction or mental illness.  We TOLD them that they could have it, if they worked hard.

They DO work hard.  Kids in my son’s generation are working their butts off.  They’re graduating college, or trying to and failing, and then saddled with years and years of college debt to realize their dreams, which may or may not happen for reasons that have nothing to do with how bad they wanted it or how hard they worked.  Or something else gets in the way and they end up enslaved to a job Wal-Mart or somewhere in corporate America so that they can keep having health insurance.

This has gotten depressing.  I think what I am saying is, if we’re going to sell them this story, we need to back it up.  We need more states to be like Tennessee, who already has a program to give kids $4000 toward college each year if they keep their grades up.   I was thinking I was going to college anyway, but TN Reconnect sealed the deal.  We need to make community college free for the asking.  We need to put our money where our mouth is for these kids (and adults) so that we can mean it when we say, You can be what you want if you work hard.

I got political, I guess, when I was trying to be philosophical, even introspective.   But this should not be a political issue.  I’m really thankful that my state legislature, which I generally despise ideologically, and which has dropped some real legislative stinkers in recent years, has made this a priority for people who want to pursue college, all ages.

So here’s a toast to Tennessee, a hope that other states will follow suit, and maybe even the federal government, eventually.  Here’s a toast to our dreams and our kids’ dreams.  Here’s a toast to our parents’ dreams.  When I told my 75-year-old aunt that I was going to college, she was very excited for me.  She said she wanted to go to college so bad, but girls didn’t go to college then.  My mother wanted to go to school for Art, but was told that my grandfather “wasn’t supporting no starving artists.”   I guess it’s progress that we let our girls dare to dream that they can be what they want, maybe?  I hope that in a generation or two we can back it up.

So I’m off to study madly for a placement test in two days — I said, Brain, let’s go back to school, and Brain said, You realize you haven’t asked me to do Algebra in a quarter of a century, right?  It doesn’t matter.  Let’s do this, for me first, but also for all the women and men in my family who had different dreams that didn’t happen.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.  Here’s to the American Dream, available to all.