life

Pfizer, round two: Fight!

Last month, I wrote about my first bout with the Pfizer COVID vaccine. Things went pretty well, dizziness aside. I anticipated that this time wouldn’t be quite so easy — if the first shot really worked, my immune system should’ve been primed to absolutely lose its shit when it encountered the booster, right?

Right.

To recap: I have idiopathic intracranial hypertension. In addition to completely sucking in its own right at the best of times, it means that I can’t take a lot of medications, and need special consideration during many medical procedures. You’d be amazed at the sheer number of otherwise-totally-innocuous things that can raise your intracranial pressure. For most people, this isn’t a big deal. If you have intracranial hypertension, it could be the difference between life and death by stroke — or, at least, the difference between life and a sudden and very uncomfortable needle in the spine.

There’s not a lot of info about intracranial hypertension. Before the program discontinued, I actually signed myself up to be a research subject so I could help add to the limited bank of knowledge doctors and researchers have about the condition. That’s why I wanted to record how the vaccination process went for me — so other people with this condition, or who care for people with this condition, might be able to derive some comfort, know what to expect, and be adequately prepared.

Anyhow! The booster sucked.

I didn’t experience any dizziness, which I thought was a bit odd. It was my primary side-effect the first time around, almost to the point where it was the only indicator the shot was really doing anything. This time, though, I had the whole enchilada: a confirmed fever (about 101°F/38.3°C), joint pain, body aches, insomnia, a very-definitely-vaccine-related headache, nausea, and even some itchy irritation in my lungs. Just like the first shot, the side effects appeared about twelve hours after getting it. They lasted roughly two days.

The first night, I think I managed to sleep a total of forty five minutes, and every one of them was weird. At some point, I sent my partner a garbled and vaguely threatening message about manga, and said my joints felt like they “were made of legos.” Somehow, despite sleeping for less than an hour, I’m pretty sure I had at least six hours of wavering, half-awake dreams. I was so thirsty, I would’ve drunk a mug of ketchup if someone had handed me one.

All told, while things were very uncomfortable for a bit, I’m happy that my immune system reacted the way it did. It recognized the viral DNA, and mounted a defense against it. To be honest, it was at least as fascinating as it was deeply annoying, just knowing that this shot was deliberately triggering disease-fighting mechanisms as old as time. That’s a neat concept!

If you haven’t received your booster yet, I’d probably give you the following advice:

  • Your side effects might be completely different this go-round. I expected to be dizzy, just more so. I wasn’t dizzy at all — instead, it seemed like I got all the side effects I didn’t have the first time.
  • You’re probably going to want to have the next day off.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) doesn’t list increased intracranial pressure as a side effect. It’s also the drug recommended for dealing with vaccine-related fevers and aches. While I choose not to use any, it’s a potential option for other people in a similar position.
  • Have a lot of ginger tea prepped and refrigerated. It’ll help with the heat and nausea.
  • Drink a lot of liquids. They’ll probably tell you to do this when you get your shot.
  • Seriously, drink a lot of liquids. They’re not kidding.
  • Have some extra pillows to support any achy joints/sore arms/etc. during the night. I’m pretty sure my knee pillow was the only reason I got any sleep at all.
life

Intracranial Hypertension and the Pfizer Vaccine

Last Thursday, I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I chose Pfizer because one source I’d read (and have since forgotten) pointed out that it had a slightly lower instance of headache as a side effect when compared to Moderna. Since I have intracranial hypertension, I figured anything that made me less likely to be in brain-crushing pain was probably the way to go.

I haven’t seen a lot of resources related to how people with IH respond to the COVID vaccine, even in my support groups. This made me a little anxious and hesitant — at first, I wanted to wait to see what other people’s experiences were, even just anecdotally. When a few weeks passed and I hadn’t found any more information than I started with, I figured, screw it. Be the anecdote.

So here’s my totally subjective and not at all scientific experience with getting the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

First, let me begin by saying that I kind of saw this coming. Curious as I was, I did a small Lenormand reading so I could prepare myself. Let’s just say that Tree + Cross is not exactly a recipe for good times. Bummer.

I read advice suggesting to eat something before going in. My appointment was fairly early for my schedule, and I don’t often have much of an appetite most mornings. I drank a cup of soymilk and figured it was close enough.

The shot itself was fine. It didn’t even hurt. I felt slightly lightheaded afterward, which I attribute to anxiety. Since I have other allergies, I had to sit and wait for a half an hour of observation to make sure I didn’t react. Everything was fine.

I went home, still feeling about the same. Drank a can of Olipop (root beer, yessss) and had chicken pot pie for dinner. My arm was sore, and my stomach felt a bit upset. I was also getting itchy, though I didn’t appear to have a rash.

Twelve hours after the shot, however… Hoo boy.

I was dizzy. Very, very dizzy. I’d hoped that a lower instance of headache also correlated to a decreased risk of dizziness, but these hopes were misplaced. Fortunately, the dizziness didn’t seem tied to an increase in cerebrospinal fluid pressure. When my CSF pressure goes up, I get very definite visual signals. This time? Nada. Just dizzy. I also had a bit of a hollow ache in my cervical spine and the back of my head, but not enough to worry about.

I also experienced (more) brain fog. At one point, I forgot how to describe fevers. High? Low? I ended up telling my partner, “I think I have a fever, but not an important one.”

The day after was particularly rough, largely because it coincided with a big thunderstorm. Anyone who’s experienced IH can tell you how the weather impacts everything — we get headaches, neck aches, back aches, visual disturbances, dizziness, phantom smells, the works. Coupled with the post-vax feelings of general crappiness, and I had to strap in for a sucky night.

By Saturday, the headache and dizziness had receded into the background. I felt well enough to go out for a walk by Lake Accotink and a quick trip to Occoquan for Beltane supplies, but I definitely felt things more as the day wore on. Moving around a lot seemed to make the dizziness return, albeit not nearly as bad as the first day. I came home, took a nap, drank a lot of herbal tea, and felt better than evening. I had to put off my Beltane observance for a day, but I think everyone understood.

Ultimately, my experience wasn’t a bad one. For one, things could totally have been worse. Secondly, feeling gross is a sign that my immune system is reacting to the shot. That’s what’s supposed to happen. If I feel crappy, it means its doing something. A robust immune response feels bad, man. As long as I’m not experiencing side effects that aren’t related to my immune response, things are okay.

If I had to offer advice based on this experience, I’d say:

  • Schedule an appointment for when you’ll have some time off.
  • Have a snack before you go.
  • Eat lightly the rest of the day.
  • Stock up on cold ginger ale, ginger tea, peppermint, and other gentle nausea-fighting remedies.
  • Try to schedule your appointment so you can sleep through when the dizziness hits. For me, that took about twelve hours.
  • Have some ice packs ready to go. They’ll help a little with the dizziness and aches.
  • Keep an eye on the weather.
  • Maybe don’t do anything super physical for a few days afterward. Like, don’t plan to start a new gym routine or run any marathons or anything.
Uncategorized

PSA: This is not a water moccasin.

My partner and I were taking a walk through the park after work. The sun was still high in the sky — we had a few hours before sunset — and left bright, warm patches on the path. There was a brisk, chilly breeze that made me thankful for the mask over my mouth and nose. Everything looked like it’d been put through some kind of image filter: impossibly green and saturated blue, reflected in the million tiny ripples and waves in the creek.

It was really nice.

Unfortunately, the way back was less so. Right off the side of the path we saw a snake, flopped over on its back, sides pierced and streaked with blood. It was a recent kill — the body was still in one piece, and it hadn’t even attracted insects yet. Nearby, we could see some broken sticks, likewise spotted with blood.

I made it a slidey image for those who do not wish to see violence.

As much as this scene absolutely infuriated me, I can understand the desire to get venomous snakes away from places where people — especially children — often go. I do. The thing is, if a person takes it upon themselves to kill a snake, they also bear the responsibility of being able to identify that snake. If it isn’t venomous, it’s better to leave it alone and teach children to do the same.

Nature makes it surprisingly easy to identify dangerous things. Some harmless snakes (and caterpillars!) take advantage of this by disguising themselves — compare milk snakes and coral snakes, for example. Even better, this area only has two native venomous snake species.

One is the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). It’s easy to identify because it has the typical heart-shaped, chubby-cheeked head of a venomous snake, a coppery head, and markings shaped like Hershey’s kisses.

Not chocolatey or delicious. Public domain picture from the CDC.

The other is the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). This species has dark crossbands or chevron-like markings that overlay another color, and a dorsal stripe. Their base colors can be light or dark, and the variability in their coloration can make them tricky to identify. They do have rattles, which fortunately tend to clear things up quickly.

Most snakes don’t want to mess with people, because we’re too large to eat, we’re dangerous, and we’re an enormous waste of energy. They’ll put up an aggressive display, but this is always to get people to go away. The problem with copperheads is that they’re ambush predators that do a pretty good job of blending in. They tend to freeze when faced with a threat, relying on their natural camouflage to protect them. This means they often get stepped on, and may try to bite in self-defense.

(Roughly 4 out of 5 venomous snake bites are “dry bites,” meaning that no venom is injected.)

If you see a copperhead or timber rattlesnake, the safest thing you can do is give it a wide berth. It doesn’t want to attack you, it just doesn’t want to get stepped on.

The snake we saw was neither of those. Based on its coloration, markings, absence of a rattle, and the shape of its head, it was an eastern ratsnake. Not only is this species not venomous, it’s beneficial. As its name implies, its diet primarily consists of small rodents — meaning that it keeps rat populations in check. I love rats and think they make fabulous, intelligent, affectionate pets, but I also know that they’re less than welcome in cities. (If you’re in an urban or suburban area and don’t live in a rat-infested building, thank a ratsnake. Seriously.)

Ratsnakes and other black snakes are often confused for water moccasins, which is likely what caused this snake’s untimely death. There’s only one problem: Water moccasins don’t live here.

Like most wild animals, even non-venomous snakes can act aggressively if they feel threatened. The solution is to leave them alone. They don’t want to expend the effort to chase down and attack something they can’t eat, because that’s energy that they don’t get back. Reptiles can’t carry rabies, either. Some people may experience an allergic reaction to proteins in snake saliva, or develop an infection if the wound isn’t cleaned promptly, the same as a bite from any other animal.

For hikers that spend a lot of time in areas populated by snakes, I recommend learning to use a snake hook. Foldable or collapsible snake hooks are the most portable, and therefore likely the best option for people on a trail. While they aren’t as sturdy as solid snake hooks, the foldable snake hook you have with you beats the solid snake hook you left behind for being too cumbersome. If you can get a solid walking stick that doubles as a snake hook, even better!

In the event of a bite from a venomous snake, there is no substitute for the ER. Never attempt to suck venom out by mouth. Some places sell “venom extraction kits” that purport to safely remove snake venom, but these don’t actually work the way they claim to. In many cases, they just cause bruising and other tissue damage without removing venom, which may make the situation worse and complicate the healing process. There’s even some evidence to suggest that they may make more venom stay in the body by preventing it from oozing out of the wound.

The majority of snakes aren’t just harmless, they’re beneficial. They keep fast-breeding rodent populations in check, which likewise keeps rodent-borne diseases down. Before going into places where snakes live, familiarize yourself with their patterns, behavior, and habitat.

As for people who can’t see a snake without wanting to kill it? Stay home.

Blog

I’m rethinking my feelings about spring.

Hi, sorry, I was asleep for the past few months.

(This is not code language.)

So, spring marks the start of some really lovely weather here — the cherry trees blossom, the weather warms up, and the world seems to come alive with birdsong:

Unfortunately, it’s also the start of allergy season. Since my body interprets perfectly normal Earth conditions as some kind of hostile invading force, I have to take antihistamines every day. Not most normal ones, either. There’s exactly one type I can take, and it causes drowsiness. I’m on sertraline, which also causes drowsiness. I also have intracranial hypertension. One of the chief symptoms of which is tiredness. See where this is heading?

(It is heading to take a nap.)

It’s nice to be able to get out more. My partner and I have been spending more time outdoors as more people get vaccinated and the threat of COVID-19 becomes a little less dire. But man, sometimes I get to the end of a walk and want to curl up in the moss for two or three hours.

I’ve honestly really missed writing here. Between paid writing work and tiredness, it’s often hard to find the energy — but I’m trying.

Environment, Plants and Herbs

Aloeswood Folklore and Magical Properties

I always have a tough time writing this time of year — there’s just not much going on. This is especially true this year, for reasons I probably don’t have to elaborate on.

So, I did what I often do. Before I went to sleep, I asked for inspiration. Something to write about. Anything.

I had a dream of holding a piece of wood that wept golden tears. I held a flame to the raw, jagged edge of the wood, and it released a fragrance that I have trouble describing — woody, of course, but indescribably sweet, floral, and fruity. A mélange of beautiful scents that seemed to come together and complement each other in a way that even the most expert perfumer couldn’t hope to achieve. The dream was so vivid, I could almost feel the textures and scents still lingering in my senses when I woke up.

So today I’m gonna write a thing about aloeswood.

First, Aloeswood vs. Aloe

Aloeswood, also called agarwood, wood aloes, gharuwood, oud, or any number of other names, is not related to aloe vera. Aloe vera is a succulent in the Aloe genus. Aloeswood comes from trees of the Aquilaria genus. It also doesn’t have anything to do with agar, despite the name agarwood. Agar is the jelly stuff used in petri dishes, and is extracted from algae. (It might have sheep or horse’s blood added depending on what microorganisms are being cultured, but no Aquilaria.) Their similar names are just one of those quirks of etymology.

Aquilaria wood does not automatically equate to aloeswood. For the wood of an Aquilaria tree to become aloeswood, it needs to be injured somehow — usually by a boring beetle that digs into its roots or trunk. This injury allows the tree to become infected by Phialophora parasitica, a parasitic fungus. In response, the tree produces a fragrant resin and darker, denser wood. This dark, dense, resin-saturated wood is aloeswood.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of dominoes that have to fall perfectly in place for wood to become aloeswood. First, you need the right kind of tree. Then it needs to get all bit up by a beetle. Then it has to get infected. Then the infection has to be serious enough to warrant a large-scale immune response by the tree. Trees can’t produce aloeswood on a continuous basis, either — it comes from plants that are infected and dying.

It’s probably not hugely surprising that aloeswood is extremely rare. It’s also incredibly expensive. Part of this rarity is due to overharvesting (which is also not surprising), but habitat loss is also a contributing factor. Some varieties of aloeswood are illegal to sell because they come from endangered trees, which has increased the rarity — and therefore desirability — of the stuff that does make it to market.

Sometimes, you can find less expensive aloeswood. This is usually a product of deliberately injuring and infecting trees with fungus. It is also generally not as fragrant or desirable as the naturally-formed variety, and is given a different grade. Natural aloeswood is designated with a #1. Cultures aloeswood is designated with a #2.

Aloeswood Magical Uses and Folklore

Aloeswood is so precious, particular specimens have actually achieved fame. The Ranjatai is the most notable. Its full history is a bit long to get into here, but this particular piece of aloeswood has even shown up in popular culture. Two episodes of the anime series Mononoke (which is visually gorgeous and definitely worth watching) focus on it.

This incense is referred to in ancient Vedic texts for its physical and mental healing properties. Some Ayurvedic medicine for cough and difficulty breathing calls for blending agar powder with honey. When the wood is distilled into oil, the resulting hydrosol is an antacid. A tea made from the leaves — not the wood itself — is said to be very nutritious, relaxing, and helpful for managing blood sugar.

Aloeswood’s scent is said to be an aphrodisiac, and it is included in traditional sexual tonics. Burning a tiny bit on charcoal during sex is believed to improve performance for everyone involved.

In Islam, oud is traditional. It has also been used in Buddhist practices, Christian meditation, and Zoroastrian rituals. It is a spiritually uplifting aroma that releases negativity, soothes stress, raises vibrations, and brings healing.

In ancient Egyptian and Semitic practices, it was used to prepare bodies for burial.

Aloeswood is considered to be ruled by Mars or Jupiter, depending on whom you ask. In western magic practice, it’s generally held to be akin to a “power herb” (like many herbs of Jupiter) and used for boosting the power of any working in which it is used. In the Key of Solomon, is it used to summon good spirits.

Using Aloeswood

Considering its history and primary virtues, using aloeswood in any way that doesn’t allow the practitioner to experience its scent would be a waste. High-grade aloeswood can even release its fragrance through indirect heating, and doesn’t need to be burned completely.

If I were in possession of aloeswood, I wouldn’t add it to anything. As part of an incense burning ritual, I would place a small amount on charcoal, by itself, prior to burning any other incense. Only when the scent has dissipated would I burn anything else. This allows the aloeswood’s full potential to be released, and lets you take advantage of its space-clearing and energy-enhancing powers.

Some modern perfumes contain aloeswood, like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood. These could make a suitable scent for anointing during ritual or meditation.

Aloeswood is a rare, treasured thing, more valuable than gold. It has been regarded as sacred by virtually every civilization that experienced its fragrance — out of a sick, dying tree comes a precious, fragrant wood.

Like sandalwood, this sacred wood is in danger. Ethically-harvested, regulated sources of aloeswood command high prices, but they’re worth it. It would be wrong to obtain a sacred scent through environmentally harmful means. Just like crystals, bones, sandalwood, or any other magical ingredient, make sure your aloeswood comes from ethical sources.

Uncategorized

The Second Birthday

My partner and I listen to a lot of podcasts. He’s into audiobooks, I’m not, but we can generally compromise on podcasts. Besides, over the past year, they’ve been a nice way to have other voices in the house. (Even when some of those voices are telling me about the Ant Hill Kids.)

One of our favorites is Hey Riddle Riddle (seriously, it’s adorable and hilarious). On one of their recent episodes, Erin Keif mentioned the idea of the Second Birthday.

To paraphrase, it’s something like this. You ask people if they’re okay giving up eight months or so to save lives, and most of them will say yes. They’ll endure it without much complaint. Sure, celebrating a birthday in lockdown isn’t much fun, but what’re you gonna do?

Then the Second Birthday happens. That’s when it starts to feel less and less like there’s an end in sight.

I’m lucky enough that it isn’t that likely that I’ll have to spend an actual second birthday in lockdown, but the Second Birthday isn’t so much about actual cake and presents as it is a feeling. To be honest, I’ve had a weird amount of ups and downs for a year where every day has been pretty much the same. Some lows, I can blame on The Ennui. I’ve also had my share of “I’m learning another skill!” “Let’s know languages!” and “CLEAN. EVERYTHING.” highs. Lately it’s different, though.

Part of it might be February in DC. Things have wound down from the doorknob-humpingly ludicrous events of January 6th, but there’s still tension. Tension, and cold, gray weather. As I write this, there’s an abundance of snow on the ground (well, an abundance for here), but the knowledge that it’ll be slimy gray slush by tomorrow still pulls at my mind like a fish hook.

Imbolc was earlier this week for many Neopagans, signaling the start of the lambing season. We’re about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, in a kind of spiritual Wednesday. Still, while this time might be a drag for people, the turning Earth goes about its business. Daylight hours keep getting longer, snowdrops poke their heads through the chilly ground, and the new lambs come when they will.

Here’s hoping for a happy and peaceful Second Birthday for everyone.

art, life, Neodruidry

Double it.

We’re at the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, when things often paradoxically feel even colder and grayer than they did in the middle of winter. So why not have a holiday?

Celebrating Imbolc in a city doesn’t really have much of a resemblance to how it’s done traditionally, especially now. There is no lambing season here, and nobody’s gathering. There’s no well here to pray around, nowhere to offer coins or clooties.

I had a small ADF-style ritual, with a glass prep bowl for the well, a small cauldron for a hearth, and my cypress knee for a tree. I offered a bit of blackberry cobbler, fresh from the oven. to Brigid. I put on some Ani DiFranco and read aloud from Jarod K. Anderson’s Field Guide to the Haunted Forest.

When you were born, your enthusiasm was a red flame atop a mountain of fuel. As you age, the fuel burns low. No one warns you. Yet, with intention, you can learn to feed that warming fire long after the fuel you were born with is ash on the wind. Be kind to yourself. Learn this.

They say cut all the wood you think you will need for the night, then double it. Cut it during the daylight when fuel seems irrelevant. Dead limbs hanging low, sun-dried, hungry for fire. The night can be longer than we expect. The wind can be colder than we predict. The dark beneath the trees is absolute. Gather the fuel. Double it.

“The Wood,” Jarod K. Anderson

I’ve never been much for poetry — writing it, I mean. I recently read an article on creativity whose title I forget. (I was one of the ones that calls everything a “hack” and measures it in terms of boosting productivity.) It was mostly forgettable, but there was one bit that stood out: the idea of creating within limits.

Humans build at right angles. We have a sense of geometry, of corners, walls, inside, and outside. If we have rules to play within, we can create amazing things. Strangely, this gets harder when those limits are removed.

I know poetry has rules, I remember spending days on iambic pentameter, sonnets, and rhyming couplets in school. I remember cutting pieces of construction paper into diamonds, to enforce the structure of a diamante poem, lines meant to swell and taper from top, to middle, to bottom. I think I have a harder time with it, though.

Visual art is easy. I can grasp the limits of color mixing, knowing how to blend things so they don’t become muddy, to work wet-on-dry or wet-on-wet, to layer fat and lean. I can see the underpinning geometric shapes. It’s simpler to perceive. I don’t really get poetry the same way.

So, I offered my baking, played someone else’s songs, and read someone else’s poems.

My offerings were accepted. In exchange, the spirits of nature offered me the things symbolized by The Magician (confidence, creativity, manifestation). My ancestors offered my the things symbolized by Justice (cause and effect, balance, fairness). The Shining Ones offered me… also Justice. It looks like I need a lot of it.

Sometimes, they know me better than I know myself. I know my life hasn’t been balanced lately. I let this lack of balance serve as an excuse for not creating things, largely because I find the prospect intimidating. I haven’t been writing as much. I haven’t been painting as much. I haven’t even been taking as many pictures.

I cracked open a root beer and hallowed the waters of life. I asked the Kindred to bless and imbue it with their blessings and advice, so I might be able to internalize and benefit from it as much as possible.

It’s hard to really find the impetus to kick myself in the ass. To tip the scales and rebalance things. To tap into the confidence to keep from making excuses for myself. Hopefully this helps.

Gather fuel. Double it.

Witchcraft

Is energy manipulation necessary for magic?

Funnily enough, I got the idea for this post a long time ago — when I was reading up on reasons why cognitive behavioral therapy might fail. That, coupled with a lot of books and papers on traditional and folk magic, raised an interesting question in my mind:

Is energy manipulation requisite for magic?

I’ve seen some experienced witches who poke fun at the spells created and posted by younger ones. I’ve even written about raising and directing power myself. Here’s the thing though — none of that shows up in the really old stuff.

Seriously. I can point you to a hundred different old bits of magical folklore and formulae, and not a one will mention anything about raising, directing, or releasing power. Nonetheless, these spells were important enough for the practitioners to pass them down.

If you look at modern spells and rituals, though, some manner of energy manipulation is considered absolutely requisite. If you skip it, or somehow do it wrong, you won’t achieve your goal. You could argue that the old wise women and cunning men raised and directed power without doing so in so many words, or even worked old magic without realizing that that’s what they were doing. If that’s the case, then who’s to say that this power-raising has to be done on a conscious level?

I have a theory that I find pretty interesting. It’s similar to one posed by Phil Hine in Condensed Chaos, when he talks about Spirit, versus Energy, versus Cybernetic models.
I don’t think magic changed. I think we did.

The Guardian posted an article a couple of years ago on the apparent decline in effectiveness of CBT. Oddly enough, this decline might be due to nothing more than CBT’s reputation. When it was first developed, it was lauded as a marvel of modern psychology. This perception may have influenced how effective it was for people who tried it — believing they were learning a miracle cure for their problems, they experienced one. As more and more people went through CBT with less than stellar results, this perception shifted. It’s declining in effectiveness because it no longer benefits from a reputation as a miracle.

This isn’t to say that all magic is a product of the placebo effect (though there are certainly branches of mental magic that rely on it to a degree). I’ve had experiences I definitely can’t attribute solely to that. But, as the article above mentions, a 1958 book by psychoanalyst Allen Wheelis stated that Freudian psychology no longer worked because people had changed. Modern humans were better at self-understanding. They now needed different tools.

The old techniques weren’t completely wrong; they’d just outlived their usefulness.

Oliver Burkeman

Modern humans are better at understanding the physical underpinnings of the world (arguably at the expense of our metaphysical understanding and psychic sensitivity). We have knowledge that would’ve been unthinkable to our ancestors. Learning changes us. We interact with energy — and therefore magic — differently. One of my ex-partners’ grandmothers cured people of worms by snapping a handful of straw over their stomachs. My ancestors did things that, if I posted them to an online grimoire, would have experienced witches laughing and poking fun at them for being ineffective “baby witch” spells.

The act of observing changes the observer as well as the observed, and we’ve done a lot of observing.

Does this mean that one way is better, more legitimate, more powerful? I really don’t think so. As Burkeman says, old tools outlive their usefulness. We’ve changed. Ten thousand years ago, nobody could digest milk in adulthood. (And don’t even get me started on what we’ve done to our jaws.) We occupy and interact with our environment differently — including the unseen world. It’s entirely possible we need to consciously manipulate energy because that’s what we’ve adapted to.

I’m curious to see what shape the future takes.

life

A man, a plan, a sledgehammer.

I’m firmly of the opinion that most people would benefit greatly from cultivating four disciplines: something physical, something linguistic, something creative, and something that pays the bills. It doesn’t really matter what those things are, as long as you’re able to keep at them. Some people can luck out and become multilingual professional musical theater actors and knock out all four at once. The rest of us, not so much. Still, even if you never become fluent in another language, even if your creative endeavors never turn into a profitable side-hustle, it’s okay! The real goal is to improve your physical health, release endorphins, and maintain your neuroplasticity.

Admittedly, I had a hard time finding a physical activity I enjoyed. My body’s been through a lot, between chronic CSF headaches, joint pain, deconditoning, this one weird, twisty rib that pops in and out ever since I got run over, etc. Activities that weren’t boring usually put too much stress on my body. Activities that were gentle enough didn’t keep me mentally stimulated. Then a friend introduced me to shovelglove. (Note: The original page contains some ableist and fat-shaming language.)

The teal deer is this: You get a sledgehammer. You wrap the end in a sweater so it doesn’t heck your floors. For fourteen minutes a day, every day except weekends and holidays, you pick it up and you move it. It isn’t important how you do this — pick motions that feel good and get your muscles working. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re consistent. If it starts to feel too easy, buy a heavier sledgehammer.

As a concept, it appealed to me for several reasons:

  1. It only requires fourteen minutes a day, and nothing at all on weekends or holidays. That’s barely a blip in my schedule.
  2. It’s really freeform, so it’s hard to get bored. Turn it into an imagination game. Crank up Finntroll or Turisas, pretend you’re building a forest stronghold and fighting off bandits, and the fourteen minutes’ll be up before you know it.
  3. The movements feel useful. I never really enjoyed regular weight training because, while it’s certainly effective, the motions feel repetitive and arbitrary. This feels natural and functional, like my body is learning to do things (row a boat, chop wood, battle alien invaders) that I might actually have to do someday.
  4. You only need two pieces of equipment: a sweater, and a sledgehammer. One, I had in my dresser. The other, I got from a hardware store for like $10.
  5. It can be as intense or as gentle as you want.
  6. It makes me feel like a sexy barbarian.

I also enjoy it because I feel like it’s a good idea to have some familiarity with some kind of melee weapon, even if you’re not actually practicing a martial art with it. My partner has some pretty serious training in a variety of martial arts. I can at least brain a dude with a maul if I need to.

The only piece of advice I’d give is this: Engage your core. If you’re not familiar with the movements you choose, and aren’t careful to protect your back, it’s very easy to wrench something.

Other than that, it’s a fun, effective way to exercise, and one I actually look forward to. I’ve been able to achieve visible results — while before I had the noodly appendages of a heavy reader, my biceps and triceps are larger, more defined, and just generally better at doing stuff.

Plus spending fourteen minutes a day feeling like a Klingon is pretty rad, in itself.

life

Safe(ish.)

Man, where do I even start?

By now, you probably know that a bunch of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol Building, where they were more or less welcomed with open arms by the people tasked with preventing that kind of thing. At least, until some rioters apparently tried to make their way to Pence’s office, resulting in one tragic death. Excruciatingly stupid, but tragic.

We were put under a 6 PM curfew. There’s a state of emergency until the inauguration. People are already talking about disciplining the police, who seemed complicit at worst and mind-bogglingly ineffective at best, and having the national guard walk around the city with guns. The Department of Defense is blaming the police, the police are blaming the DoD, and I’m pretty sure the mayor has some solid ground to blame both. House Majority Whip James Clyburn thinks the whole thing may have been an inside job, as insurrectionists were able to target his unmarked office while ignoring his marked one.

Without doxing myself, I live near where all of this went down. Like, really near. To say this has been a nerve-wracking shitshow would be an understatement. I’m not even going to get into the difference in police response to the insurrectionists vs. BLM, because more eloquent people have already done that many times over, and, to be perfectly honest, I generally don’t express myself well when I’m on the brink of a rage aneurysm. I will say that it has definitely served to underline the idea that police apparently can interact with protesters in a nonviolent fashion, and choose not to.

There were pipe bombs. There was a hastily-constructed gallows.

About half of the population of various pro-Trump venues blamed antifa for staging the insurrection to make them look bad, the other half posted selfies from inside the Capitol Building. Others posted their relatives’ pictures with pride. It doesn’t really matter, because the insurrectionists learned absolutely nothing from other protests and refused to wear masks, so identifying them hasn’t exactly been difficult.

One of my S.O.’s co-workers had rioters on their porch, and had to chase them away with a bat. The rioters said he “better have a gun next time.”

We’re safe here for now. Word is there will be more riots. Even if there isn’t, it means there will be more curfews and guards. Even if the insurrectionists are punished for their actions, it’s the people who actually live here who’ll have to deal with the consequences. (Probably in perpetuity, too, considering the fact that people in airports still have to take their shoes off before they’re allowed on a plane.)

I just… I’m so tired.