life

Un/Whee

I can feel it.
Unreasonable.
Heavy.
It settles like an old velvet duvet — familiar and stifling.

“ENNUI,” I say out loud, “I declare an ennui!”

One thing I’ve learned about my mental health is that names are power. If I feel a panic attack coming on, saying, out loud, that that’s what’s happening makes it a tiny bit easier to deal with. This feeling is different, but I name it anyway.

I can always tell when it’s happening. It hits me when I’m in the middle of living life, and it’s like the color’s been sucked out of the world. Looking at interesting or beautiful things no longer inspires me. I don’t want to do anything. Nothing seems enjoyable. A tiny, evil thought in the back of my mind lies to me, telling me that this is it, I’ve reached the world’s level cap, life is about to be a long, tedious slog to the finish line.

I call it “ennui” because it defangs it, at least a little. Mental Floss points out that ennui has “connotations of self-indulgent posturing and European decadence.” It’s an oppressive existential apathy that’s hard to take seriously. Ennui isn’t as weighty as Depression, or as toothy as Anhedonia. If these neurotransmitters are going to attempt to seize power over me, they’re going to have to try harder than that. My absurdity is potent and not easily overthrown.

This feeling is scary, the lies it tells me are frightening. So, I name it something that makes it sound, to me, like the pseudo-deep affectation of a second-rate philosopher. As one of my friend’s uncles used to say, “Are you bored, or are you boring?”

Part of the trouble is that it isn’t enough to not be boring. I’d even argue that very few people are genuinely so. “Sonder” is a wonderful, if little-used, word that the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines as:

[T]he realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

With that in mind, being legitimately boring takes effort.

My partner argues that this is neurochemical. It happens too regularly, with no special reason. I could be having a perfectly lovely day, capped off by sitting on a roof and watching the sunset with a slice of Baltimore Bomb pie, and suddenly the pinks and oranges look flat and muddy and the chocolate tastes like glue.

This joy-sucking specter sticks around for a few days, perhaps a week, before being distracted by something shiny and sweeping off to go find another haunt.

Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.
Jeopardy is jejune now: naïve knight
finds ogres out-of-date and dragons unheard
of, while blasé princesses indict
tilts at terror as downright absurd.

The beast in Jamesian grove will never jump,
compelling hero’s dull career to crisis;
and when insouciant angels play God’s trump,
while bored arena crowds for once look eager,
hoping toward havoc, neither pleas nor prizes
shall coax from doom’s blank door lady or tiger.

Sylvia Plath, Ennui

I haven’t found a way to make it leave sooner (or, even better, keep it from bothering me at all). Energy cleanses and other rituals help remove some of the background static, but the ennui doesn’t budge. It’s another cycle to understand and endure, as surely as brilliant orange autumn turns to gray winter. The best I can do is give this unwanted guest a name, speak it out loud, and know that it never stays forever.

life

When CBT doesn’t cut it.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve been through some stuff — including several attempts at cognitive behavioral therapy. Here’s why it didn’t work for me, and what I did to get to where I wanted to be.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the gold standard for treating anxiety disorders. It’s a reputation that isn’t entirely undeserved — there’s a load of research demonstrating its effectiveness, both combined with medication and on its own. It’s often the first thing that a doctor will suggest when a patient presents with anxiety problems.

CBT relies on recognizing thought patterns that we have that don’t line up with reality. The underlying concept is that, when we can identify distortions in our thinking, we can prevent or intervene in those distortions and keep them from negatively impacting our feelings and behavior.

But what do you do when CBT doesn’t work for you?

If you’re me, that means feeling like a failure and going into a deeper anxiety spiral first.

I first tried CBT through a workbook. It was helpful, but definitely not a substitute for going through it with an actual therapist. So, when that opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it.
And left feeling like my anxiety was entirely my fault.

I was able to identify distortions in my thinking, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that identifying and reframing them didn’t actually seem to have much of an effect. My first therapist eventually cut me loose when I failed to make substantial progress after a few weeks, and oh boy did I feel like a lost cause.

There’s definitely something wrong with the messaging surrounding CBT. Because so much of it relies on the patient identifying and reframing cognitive distortions outside of therapy sessions, CBT comes packaged with a hearty side of moralizing — if it isn’t successful, it’s because the patient wasn’t willing to “put in the work.”

That’s not true.

When medication doesn’t work, you try a different one. When other modalities don’t work, you try another therapist or another type of therapy. When CBT doesn’t work, it might not have anything to do with your level of effort, willingness, or ability to get better.

Why CBT Wasn’t the Answer for Me

Don’t get me wrong, cognitive behavioral therapy has been enormously helpful for tons of people. I suggest that everyone at least try it, because it can be great for reducing some anxiety symptoms. There are two big reasons why I didn’t achieve the results I hoped for:

  1. It offered behavioral strategies for what might be a chemical and genetic issue.
  2. It didn’t help my specific worries.

Panic disorder can look like anxiety, but it definitely doesn’t feel like it. Panic attacks show up seemingly out of nowhere, and the idea behind treating them with CBT is that a panic attack happens when we catastrophize a sensation — like shortness of breath, or palpitations. This might be the case for some people with panic disorder, but may not be for all. Unfortunately, accepting the premise behind this treatment is what leads to some of the “victim blaming” mentality surrounding CBT.

If I’m bopping along, feeling perfectly fine, and suddenly get hit with a full-blown, unable-to-breathe-or-move panic attack, there’s no time. That overwhelming, unprovoked rush of adrenaline isn’t mitigated by identifying and reframing my thoughts. While cognitive behavioral therapy was helpful for reducing some manifestations of my anxiety, it wasn’t helpful for my panic attacks — the whole reason I was pursuing CBT in the first place. If I didn’t think my way into them, how was I going to think my way out of them? CBT gave me something to do for the twenty-odd minutes it takes for a panic attack to resolve anyway, but it didn’t actually seem to change anything. I couldn’t just think myself better. Knowing it was “just” a panic attack didn’t stop the chest pain, shortness of breath, terror, or inability to move.

It also didn’t help my obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Yes, I know that it isn’t logical or helpful to check the stove burners exactly five times each before leaving the house. I know that it doesn’t make sense to smell my hallway every hour to make sure there isn’t a gas leak. Even forcing myself to not do these things so I could achieve “mastery” over them did nothing to reduce the torment.

(I’m not alone, either. The NIH says that, “Unfortunately, CBT doesn’t work for up to half of people with OCD.” As it turns out, spotting activity in different areas of the brain may be a helpful predictor of what therapy might be the most effective for a specific patient. Not everyone with OCD has the same level of activity in the same areas.)

It didn’t help my cyclical bouts of minor depression, either. This was largely because they’re another thing I don’t think my way into, they just happen. I already recognized that they don’t last forever, but they were still as frequent and as soul-sucking after CBT as they were before it. Womp-womp.

My other problem with CBT was that there are some outcomes that just are catastrophic. If I’m afraid of performing in front of a crowd, it’s relatively easy for me to say, “What’s the worst that can happen? What am I afraid of? I’m afraid of bombing and embarrassing myself. That probably won’t happen, but what would be the outcome if I did? It won’t kill me. Nobody’s going to physically attack me. I’ll probably never even see these people again, so, if the worst actually did happen, its impact on my life would be momentary, at best. The people in the audience might go home with a funny story to tell about me, and that wouldn’t be so bad. I can defang the situation by being willing to laugh at myself.” It helps!

This was less helpful for me for, say, health anxiety. “What’s the worst that can happen? I die and it hurts the entire time. That probably won’t happen, but what would be the outcome if I did? I die, it hurts the entire time, and my loved ones suffer in the process. If I’m wrong, I’m fine, but if I’m not, it’s literally the worst possible outcome.” There’s only a slight chance that I have some potentially fatal undiagnosed health issue (something that I’ve actually experienced), but, if I do, I’m still 100% dead if I don’t act on it.

It wasn’t helpful for the anxiety surrounding a past sexual assault, either. I’ve been through that. I know how awful it was. The feelings are a product of experience, not catastrophizing. My reframed thoughts felt like lies.

In short, it wasn’t a great fit for me.

There are other issues with CBT, too. A big one is that it’s a bit of a darling for insurance companies. They love it because it doesn’t take long (a few weeks, as opposed to months or years for other therapies) and doesn’t cost much to cover. For this reason, your insurance company is likely far more willing to pay for CBT… and not much else. For a patient with significant trauma, a genetic predisposition to mental illness, neurotransmitter imbalances, chronic illness, life stress, or any number of other contributing factors, a couple of sessions and some homework probably isn’t going to cut it.

Another is that, even though CBT puts the patient in the driver’s seat, the therapist is still important. If you’re working with someone who comes off as uncaring, off-putting, or smug, you might not be in a great environment for you to learn and implement the therapy. This can be especially difficult if you’re working with someone who emphasizes the techniques over everything else — there were definitely times when I felt more like a collection of behaviors, and not like a human being with my own traumas, genetics, and brain chemistry.

The underlying premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is that your thoughts influence your behavior and mental health. If your therapist hammers at that to the exclusion of other factors, you could be missing a big part of the picture.

I’ve read some other interesting theories on why CBT doesn’t work for some forms of anxiety. One of them proposes that executive function shuts down when anxiety gets too high. Some people are able to engage their cognitive techniques before this occurs. If you already have trouble with executive function, or your arousal ramps up too quickly, this can’t happen in time. In those cases, your brain needs to rely on automatic self-soothing mechanisms that trigger relaxation via the parasympathetic nervous system and the release of oxytocin. I can’t speak to this personally, but it would explain a lot.

What I Did Instead

So, cognitive behavioral therapy didn’t work. What’s next?

After feeling like I needed more therapy to overcome my feelings about “failing” at CBT, I looked at other options. I still had medication, so that was helpful, but not as helpful as it could be combined with therapy. I knew that part of my problem was that my ex-therapist’s approach seemed very inflexible — there was no room to consider what other factors could be contributing to the problem. Every negative feeling had to be proceeded by a thought, and, if I couldn’t identify and “fix” that thought, I was doing it wrong.

So, I read over the “About” pages of a number of psychologists, eventually settling on one who mentioned methods other than CBT. And I lucked out.

The therapist I ended up seeing — with whom I’ve been very happy — uses CBT as part of a larger collection of therapies. We’ve worked on my past trauma. We’ve worked on my self-esteem. I get things to read and homework to do that have helped me grow, not feel like a failure for being unable to think my way out of a panic attack. We’ve explored everything from my diet (did you know that fenugreek could contribute to depression? I didn’t!) to physical relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation. I feel like a person, not like a disjointed cloud of thoughts that need to be corrected. My panic attacks are less frequent and easier to deal with, and I can recognize the signs of an impending bout of depression and take steps to make it less disruptive to my life.

CBT doesn’t work for me. It’s the go-to treatment for anxiety because it’s very focused and able to produce results in a relatively short period of time, but the same things that make it work so quickly also force it to exclude other factors that can contribute to a patient’s mood. If you haven’t tried CBT, at least give it a shot — it teaches valuable skills. If you have tried it and you’re feeling disheartened, that’s natural. You aren’t a failure. There are plenty of other therapies out there that can help. They might take longer, you might have to try a few different things out, but they work. You’re worth the time and effort.

divination, life

I apologize for my tardiness.

I ate most of my bodyweight in melon and pasta and, like the mighty African rock python consuming the equally mighty springbok, I needed to sleep on a warm rock and not move for an extended period of time.

Anyway. I’ve been doing a lot of considering re: the Jungian concept of the “shadow self.” It’s a topic I’d like to delve into further, but really deserves a post (or three, or four) of its own. Suffice it to say that I think it’s what’s making the pandemic especially difficult for a lot of people — when it’s hard to be in the same room as yourself, you’re not likely to enjoy having a lot of free time on your hands.

This led on a short free-association jaunt through various meditations, trance work, and sound healing, and I landed on a specific need: a guide to what I’m trying to fix in the first place. I know my faults, and I like to think I’m relatively self-aware, but there’s more to integration than that. There’s really no road map for how this kind of thing is supposed to go, though.

In my search, I came across the Cleansing the Soul tarot spread by Emerald Lotus Divination. “Sure,” I thought, “Why not?”

It’s not a super complicated spread, but it yields a lot of information — from the needs of the physical body, to the soul, to the inner child, to how to stay connected to your higher self. I’m not really under any illusion that the general public is super into my own inner journey here, but, if you’re curious about how a theoretical spread might look and how the cards relate to each other, this might be helpful.

I used the Animalis Os Fortuna deck, and my own spread shook out like this:

What my physical body needs: Nine of Wands, depicting the iguana. In this place, this appears to mean the need to push forward. I’ve been engaging in more physical activity, so the message here seems to be to keep at it, and keep increasing my reps. I even bought a sledgehammer to make a shovelglove!

What my soul needs: Five of Wands, depicting the axolotl. Struggles, obstacles, and rivalry. I’m competitive by nature. I’m at my best when I have an opponent, even if they don’t know they’re my opponent and I make no attempt to take the competition out of my own mind. It’s practically what the concept of Instagram hate following was made for, if you substitute “hate” with “rivalry.” I’m not too enlightened to enjoy opposition. Comparison isn’t always the thief of joy — a little healthy competition keeps life interesting, and helps spur me to be a better version of myself.

What my inner child needs: Two of Wands, depicting the salamander. A pause, and to bide my time. Considering a lot of what I’ve been struggling with lately are childhood memories, it sounds like my inner whelp needs a break. I don’t blame them.

How my shadow self is impacting my life: Knight of Swords, depicting the magpie. Impulsiveness, aggression, and overenthusiasm. Consequences, schmonsequences, he has things to do. He goes for what he wants, and everything else be damned. His intentions are pure, but he’s kind of a dick about them. That’s… Yeah, that sounds about right.

This magpie’s probably choosing a new victim to swoop on.

A way that I can begin to accept my shadow aspect: Five of Swords, depicting the peacock. Defeat, and suffering from egotism. There’s an interesting pathology that impacts people in relationships with others who show signs of narcissistic personality disorder, no matter whether those relationships are romantic or familial. Laconically, it’s usually called “fleas.” They’re behaviors that seem to “jump” from a narcissist to a victim, and, if they aren’t resolved, from that victim to their victims. Essentially, they’re protective mechanisms — tiny things you do to protect yourself from narcissistic rage and other forms of abuse at the hands of someone with a fragile, wounded ego.

I can see a flea here. My shadow self impacts my life by making me impulsive and aggressive. I jump from one thing to the next if I’m not immediately good at it, because my upbringing showed me that failure meant mockery and pain. Aggression was rewarded, while softer feelings were mocked and rooted out.

How to better process my emotions: Ace of Cups, depicting an overflowing vessel. Interestingly, this card stands for optimism and new opportunities. It also shows a cup overflowing, and the suit of Cups specifically relates to the emotional self. This cup runneth over, sharing its bounty. The advice here is to process feelings by sharing them.

Something I need to be more aware of: Ten of Swords, depicting the vulture. Oof. Vulture and I go way back, and he usually seems to show up when some kind of purging needs to or is about to happen. (Did you know that vultures sometimes eat so much that they can’t fly, and need to vomit before taking off? Fascinating! Also super gross!) The Ten of Swords is despair and ruin. It’s the end of a cycle, and the ending ain’t a happy one. In this context, it means to let go and be reborn. This cycle is over, and it sucked, so get ready to start a better one.

They also poop on their own legs to cool off.

How to stay more connected with my higher self: The Queen of Wands, depicting the cobra. I love the Queen of Wands. She stands for generosity, creativity, and drama. She has power and self-possession, she’s courageous and hot-tempered. She’s beauty, she’s grace, she can probably wreck your face. The lesson is to temper that power with kindness, and invest energy into creative work.

The pandemic has done everyone’s nerves up wretched, and I think the shadow self has a lot to do with that. It’s not easy to have a lot of time on your hands if you don’t enjoy your own company, and it’s also not a simple problem to solve. This tarot spread doesn’t offer a quick fix, but it does answer some important questions.

life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

How Antidepressants Made Me Better at Witchcraft

Have you ever seen that meme about psychiatric medication? The one that’s all, “pills are trash, forests are medicine!” (Which, by the way, is a toxic, steaming load of horse puckey.)

It’s not an uncommon attitude in some new age and Pagan-adjacent circles. I could digress into a discussion of the destructive power of the naturalistic fallacy, but it’d take at least eleven posts just to contain it. Instead, I want to point out one thing:

Medication made me way better at everything, including witchcraft and Druidry.

A lot of people express reluctance at trying psychiatric medication, and I can’t blame them. It can take awhile to find the right one, and, after that, to work out the right dose. That’s frustrating, even scary. Some worry that medication will “dope them up,” reduce their creativity, or subdue the traits that make them them. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. Without the constant high-pitched background buzz of anxiety and panic disorder, I’m much freer. I have some side effects, but they’ve been a small price to pay.

I do occasionally feel stabs of resentment that I’m reliant on something “unnatural” — but that’s a me problem. If there were a “natural” equivalent to what I need, believe me, I would have found it. I didn’t, despite years of experimentation. I came close a few times, but there was no herbal remedy for my panic that didn’t also knock me unconscious, make me throw up, or worse.

The fact is, the idea of “perfect” physical or mental health is a construct. It’s not a birthright, it’s not even a natural concept. In Sick Woman Theory, Johanna Hedva explains,

“Sickness” as we speak of it today is a capitalist construct, as is its perceived binary opposite, “wellness.” The “well” person is the person well enough to go to work. The “sick” person is the one who can’t. What is so destructive about conceiving of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way.

By contrast, in nature, an organism that is “well” is one that’s able to meet the challenges of its environment. That isn’t a super high bar to clear — it also very often doesn’t look like the human conception of wellness. In reality, few creatures would meet the definition of “well” to which humans aspire. Animals live with parasites. Crows steal lit matches and bow over ant hills, seeking relief from mites when they need to. One crow with an injured beak needed the help of his mate to eat, and she gave it. We find deer that have lived for years with teeth or bullets embedded in them, muscle and bone growing gnarls over what biology apparently considered an impolite intrusion. We find creatures that have existed, eaten, and fucked for a lifetime, tumors and abscesses locked away behind walls of thickened bone. As salmon amply demonstrate, as long as you can survive to adulthood and pass on your genes, nature doesn’t much care what state you’re in. If you end up truly unwell, you don’t survive. If you’re surviving, even if it takes an anthill, a patchwork of scars, or an understanding mate to keep you there, you’re doing well.

“Perfect wellness” is not a natural standard, and the kind of health sold by the wellness industry is not only unnatural, it is deeply damaging.

Natural perfect health is rare enough to be nearly mythical, because there is no real binary opposite to sickness. Everyone will experience a significant amount of pain and disability at some point in their life. Some are fortunate enough not to experience that until they are very old. For others, that point just comes earlier and lasts a bit longer.

We are pushed to consider caring for ourselves as temporary, which perpetuates the myth of being “well” as a default, natural state. As long as the aspirational standard of natural perfect health exists, we’ll keep working ourselves to death trying to reach it. So, the idea that you must be naturally, perfectly clear-headed in order to commune with the Divine or perform magic? It’s kind of crap.

It’s an idea that’s also used to delegitimize practices that use entheogens — practices where altered mental states are valuable, if not necessary. It derides rituals that use substances in favor of quiet, whitewashed sensibilities.

In my case, it’s just a lot easier for me to get things done when my brain isn’t dysfunctionally revved up on a constant stream of high-test adrenaline, neurons struggling to swap about four serotonin molecules between them. It doesn’t matter if the “things” I’m trying to do are dishes or divination.

It’s not wrong to prefer natural tools in ritual, but the standards that apply to a wand or an herb don’t work when you try to apply them to the self. Medication — the help that gets us closer to the functional, animalistic concept of “wellness” — isn’t an enemy or a detraction from spiritual experiences.

If you’re hanging in there, even if you need medication to keep you here, you’re doing well. Nature and the divine won’t reject you for that.

life

I guess it’s Brain Awareness Month?

To be honest, it strikes me as a bit egotistical.

I mean, the brain is the only organ that named itself. Now we’re gonna let it decide it gets its own month?

Anyway, I’m not a fan of brains, personally. At this point in my life, I think I’d rather have a sort of undifferentiated network of nerve tissue, or just be some kind of sentient alien gas cloud.

For Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, I want to talk about what a complete pain in the ass it is to be properly diagnosed with anything neurological.

The trouble with many neurological disorders is that they often don’t have a nice, neat, non-invasive blood test that can definitively tell you what you’ve got in a visit or two. There might be a weeks-, months-, or even years-long pattern of behavior that you need to exhibit first. There might be some other symptoms that, at first blush, don’t seem like they’d have anything to do with your brain. They might need to take a bunch of pictures of your brain and then stick giant needles in your spine. It’s kind of a crap shoot.

This isn’t to complain about doctors, per se — when they hear hoofbeats, they’re trained to look for horses, not zebras. This approach usually works pretty well, unless you’re a zebra.

All my life, I’ve had what I thought migraines. I regularly felt crushing pains in my neck and head, to the point of being dizzy, hallucinating, and throwing up. Sometimes, I’d notice my hands leaving “vapor trails” wherever they moved, like some kind of bootleg Etch-a-Sketch. I had an inhuman amount of trouble seeing things in my peripheral vision during driver’s ed, to the point where I never properly learned to drive. I was told it was anxiety and I needed to manage my stress level.

I could hear what sounded like distant drumming in my ears. The pressure in my head sometimes felt like someone tightening a belt around my skull. Sometimes, the thrumming and drumming sounded almost whispery, like voices. I was told I was hallucinating and paranoid and I needed antipsychotics.

After awhile, I noticed that I had double vision. A person I dated at the time told me I was a hypochondriac, and I watched “too much House.” Around the time I lost my grandmother to brain cancer, a doctor told me that these symptoms might not be something I could just keep ignoring — in fact, they sounded a lot like a brain mass of some kind. I was uninsured and couldn’t afford the imaging I needed, so I languished in medical limbo instead. (Naturally, I didn’t express my concerns to my then-boyfriend. Why would I, when he mocked me for being worried and told everyone around us that I was exaggerating?)

A few years later, I noticed that I always seemed to have retina fatigue. My eyes seemed to keep impressions of whatever I looked at, for way too long after I’d looked away. I had odd flashing spots. I thought it might be from my new contact lenses, but, just in case, I downloaded an Amsler grid to see if my eyeballs were just malfunctioning somehow. Sure enough, the wavy, warped, and missing lines told me something really, really wasn’t right. After one episode where I wasn’t able to see anything and went to the ER, I was told it was atypical optical migraines and I needed migraine medication.

It was another three years and a cross-country move before I was actually properly diagnosed. After years and years of misdiagnosis, someone finally scanned my broken head (there was no mass) and stuck a needle in my spine (but there was an absolute shitload of extra spinal fluid). My opening pressure, the fluid pressure at the beginning of the spinal tap, was roughly twice what is considered normal — 29 mmHg (39.4 cmH2O) compared to 7-15mmHg (9.5-20.4 cmH2O). Whoops!

Your body has a lot of mechanisms in place to maintain your cerebrospinal fluid pressure within a range of ± 1 mmHg. Mine… doesn’t. For some people, this is because of medication — steroids, hormones, antibiotics, certain pain killers, and even antacids can all increase cerebrospinal fluid pressure, but it goes back down once the medication is discontinued. I wasn’t on anything at the time I was diagnosed. So, my case is considered “idiopathic,” and, in all likelihood, congenital. It will never leave me, I will never be cured. I’m stuck with it until I either go into remission, or die. Welp.

Munchausen Syndrome and hypochondria exist, but they don’t describe everyone that’s struggling with the medical industry.

Sometimes, you’ve just got a zebra brain.

life

Homeschooling, feat. Kuato the Martian Resistance Leader and Gwyneth Paltrow

It’s always a delightful feeling to discover new things about your partner.

Like, for example, the fact that they don’t know anything about Goop and have never seen Total Recall. (Him.) Or that they can’t stand hearing people call machines “pieces of junk” because they feel like it’ll hurt the machine’s feelings. (Me.)

This weekend, I sought to rectify these gaps in his cultural education.

I purposefully didn’t want to watch the 2012 remake, because there’s a heavy-handed charm in the original that I didn’t think would translate. Even when they’re trying to, there’s a ridiculous rubber-alien magic that modern remakes can’t really capture. Besides, I don’t know if Colin Farrell can really nail campy one-liners, you know?

Honestly, I’m kind of surprised by how well Total Recall has aged. All of the parts that look incredibly goofy and narmy were just as goofy and narmy years ago. It was a fun watch that was exactly what it said on the tin: A Schwarzenegger action flick on Mars that was just as Schwarzeneggery as it promised. We snarked. We ate kettle corn. We watched SpaceTrump get his eyeballs inflated by explosive decompression.

And then I led him down a Goop rabbit hole:

“Vagina eggs? What.”

“… That’s a lot of money for vagina eggs.”

“I keep reading the word ‘Goop,’ but it’s not sinking in as the name of an actual company. Goop. Goop.”

“There’s a very big ‘how did we get here’feeling. Like why did anyone think this was cool or a good idea?”

“Oh boy! The Goop Lab! That sounds very trustworthy.”

“Vampire facials! … Oh, your own blood.”

“I feel like these jade eggs are going to be in every article about her. Like they’re the crystal skulls to her Indiana Jones. They’re the common thread that will lead us back to the ancient aliens.”

“Oh, so you cowards aren’t gonna show me the $15k 24 carat gold dildo? You’ll show me the eggs, but not that?”

“Please stop doing that to science.”

In unrelated news, there are more birds in the trees outside my windows, and they’re singing their hearts out. Everything else is quiet around them — there’s no real traffic to shoo them away or drown them out. As much as I hate the reason for it, I love the fact that I can hear their songs like this.

Here’s hoping you’re staying safe, sane, and not succumbing to any cooter egg- or astronaut sticker-related problems.

 

divination, life

Getting closer, card by card.

Learning Lenormand divination has been immensely practical, especially now. It’s a lot more tangible than tarot — where tarot deals with emotions and energies, Lenormand cards deal with actions and circumstances. Both tarot and Lenormand readings give you a glimpse of the situation as it stands now, if nothing were to change, but having both at my disposal has been very helpful.

I’ve been doing small, two-card daily Lenormand readings for myself. Every day, I ask the same question: What can I do right now to bring me closer to the life that I want?

And I get an answer: Write something, deal with unresolved relationships, make something, focus my energy and attention on a specific area.

It’s nice.

Sometimes, it’s funny — since the readings are very straightforward and practical, the advice isn’t always profound. For example, for this week’s reading, I asked what I should focus on for the week to get me closer to my ideal life.

I drew the Tower and the Anchor. The Tower can represent authority, in a governmental sense. It can be the company you work for (or, in my case, my self-employment). It can be protection and isolation. The Anchor can be achieving your goals — as in, dropping anchor once you’ve reached your destination. It can be stability, or settling down. Most sources interpret this combination as a safe harbor, long-term protection, or a stable isolation.

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This image showed up when I was looking for a public domain image of a tower. Not gonna lie, social distancing would be a lot more fun there, I think.

In other words, “You want to know what you should do to achieve your goals? Really? Maybe stay home and don’t die first, nerd.” 

Which… Okay, I get that. The world isn’t likely to be substantially different over the course of the next week. Safe harbors and isolation it is.

I asked my copy of the Crow Tarot deck the same question. In response, I drew The Heirophant.

The Heirophant is a religious leader. He’s an authority. He is tradition, convention, conformity, and a mentor in The Way Things Have Always Been Done. In a spiritual sense, he is ritual, routine, and ceremony. When he shows up, it’s often a sign not to rock the boat — if you want to succeed, it’s time to listen to people who have gone before you. Reinventing the wheel won’t get you any closer to your goal.

Taken together, I should stay home and take this opportunity to study and build more routine into my day. Structure and good advice will bring me closer to the life I aspire to, now’s not the time to take chances.
I agree.

 

crystals, life, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Cleaning House, and Don’t Try the Brown Mushrooms

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This weekend, my partner and I decided it’d be a good time to give everything a nice, solid deep-clean. Everything. The windows, the stove, the weird, hard-to-reach area behind the toilet, everything.

Cleaning house is a great opportunity to refresh the energy in a place. While there are small, day-to-day things you can do to keep the flow from going stagnant on you, nothing really beats a solid top-to-bottom scrubbing and airing out.

Due to a combination of frugality and scent-sensitivity headaches, I make pretty much all of our cleaning products. (What I save in glass cleaner and counter spray, however, I more than spend on ethanol, vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap.) I keep a canister of homemade cleaning wipes in the bathroom, and another in the kitchen. I’ve got pretty cobalt glass bottles of spray cleaner on my kitchen counter, and another of tub and tile cleaner under my bathroom sink.

Frugality and lack of synthetic scents aside, the nicest thing about these DIY cleaners is that the ingredients easily pull double-duty; the same things that keep stains from my counters and rings out of my tub also have a history of use as spiritual cleansing agents. Make them on the right day, in the right moon phase, during the best planetary hour for whatever you’re trying to do, speak your intentions as you add each ingredient, and charge them by whatever method is preferable for you. (I would, however, advise against using sunlight — depending on what ingredients you use, heat and UV light might denature them, leaving you with a concoction that’s mostly water.)

We opened up the curtains and all of the windows. We played upbeat music. We scrubbed everything.

When the physical cleaning was done and my partner was figuring out lunch, I worked on the other side.

I love tarot cards. Not only are they useful divination tools, they’re useful aids for focusing magic. Whatever you’re trying to draw in or push away, there’s a card for that. In each room, I set up a small altar with a candle or incense, a clear quartz,and three cards: The Sun, The World, and the Ten of Cups.

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Cards from the Tarot de Maria-Celia. Massive Herkimer diamond from TheElusiveHerkShop. Lavender and lemongrass candle from SweetgrassApothecary.

These three cards are among the most positive omens in the deck. The Sun speaks of radiant positivity, abundance, and optimism. The World speaks of auspicious beginnings and infinite possibility. The Ten of Cups speaks of ultimate fulfillment. Good stuff to bring into your life and home, right?

I treated them the way you might treat a crystal grid — placing them, charging them, and releasing the energy. It was a small ritual, moving room-by-room, setting up each grid, and putting them to work, but it felt more uplifting and powerful than I can say.

I definitely needed it after the day before that. Friday, I had ambitious (well, relatively ambitious) dinner plans. I made penne, a quasi-homemade mushroom risotto, and grilled vegetables marinated in balsamic vinegar and herbs. Everything came out tasty, and all was well.

You know how some people have genetic quirks that keep them from enjoying certain foods? I don’t even necessarily mean allergies. Some people are lactose intolerant, some think cilantro tastes like soap, and so on.
As it turns out, some people can’t handle boletes.
Like, really can’t handle them.

I am apparently one of them.

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More like “bol-eat-your-insides-apart,” amirite?

I know the mushrooms weren’t actually toxic, because they came in a prepared blend and I really hope Trader Joe’s knows better. I was lucky, though. Some pretty intense gastric pain and dehydration was the most I had to deal with, though I was legitimately concerned that I was going to need some kind of intervention if things didn’t improve quickly enough. I definitely didn’t want to need a spinal tap because my intracranial and blood pressure decided to shoot way up on me. I definitely definitely didn’t want to go to the hospital and have to explain that I was there because my dumb ass decided now was the time to try eating unfamiliar fungi.

Lesson learned. If you’re trying to avoid using ER resources, maybe stick with things you’re absolutely certain you can tolerate. Save the risotto experiments for the future.

Here’s hoping you’re safe, staying sane, and not eating anything weird.

 

life

Snared in the Silver Lining

Druidry doesn’t have commandments. In ADF, we’re taught Virtues: Wisdom, Piety, Vision, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Hospitality, Moderation, and (metaphorical) Fertility. Though it isn’t explicitly named as a virtue, the idea of reciprocity is big, too. It’s kind of bundled into the concept of Hospitality, if you really think about it.

Hospitality is what ensures that no one is left behind, and everyone is taken care of — the person who turns up on your doorstep with nothing may be the person to feed you when you have nothing. It builds the reciprocal relationships that provide for everyone’s survival during hard times.

I have a hard time with reciprocity sometimes. Not because I find it unpleasant or mentally difficult to reciprocate; it’s just physically hard. I had a very tough time coming to terms with the idea of being disabled re: being taken care of, and all of the fear of abuse and abandonment that it brought up. Even when I got past those thoughts, I had to contend with the idea that I wasn’t always going to be able to return the favors I need to live. It severely impacted my relationships, even fractured a few of them.

All of this is to say that I think I’m having some kind of survivor’s guilt super hard, and it is extremely confusing.

The thought process goes a little like this:

  1. I’ve needed to be taken care of in the past, and wasn’t really able to return the favor.
  2. A pandemic strikes, and suddenly my efforts and expertise have a lot more impact.
  3. I feel more useful, and much less bad about all of the times that I needed help in the past. A silver lining!
  4. … It’s totally not okay to find a good side to a situation that’s causing so much pain to so many people.

See what I’m saying? It’s a hell of a thing to grapple with.
How much of a silver lining is okay to have?

My therapist recommends adding some joy to every day, in whatever form that may take. I’ve been painting more, and trying to do guided meditations that focus around the Law of Attraction. Usually, I don’t really want any truck with The Secret or Law of Attraction for reasons. Right now, though, I feel like being forced to listen to affirmations and focus only on the positive might be the nuclear option my brain needs.

I’m kind of kicking myself for not re-upping my supplies when all of this first hit the news — I’ve got some sweet orange oil, but not much else in the “joy promoting” area. It isn’t an area of magic I usually have to dabble in too often, but man I’d love to get my hands on a piece of genuine citrine, or even some dried hyacinth flowers!

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(Seriously, though. I can lay a hex, break it, flip it, and reverse it. I can draw in love, chase away enemies, cleanse a space, ward a house, protect a vehicle, revive a plant,  perform more kinds of divination than you can shake a stick at, and more. Joy, however, hasn’t been an area that I’ve focused on very much. Go figure!)

I hope you’re staying in and holding up well.

A sitting meerkat.
life

Happy birthday, here’s a spring roll.

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Kiko says, “Good morning! Wait, it’s what PM? Eh, whatever.”

It was my partner’s birthday recently. What do you do when bakeries are closed, grocery stores are picked over, and you haven’t seen a bag of flour in weeks?

Improvise!

In this case, with a tealight and some sweet mango and sticky rice spring rolls. It wasn’t a traditional birthday cake, but they were tasty.

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Right now, we’re trying to put off going out to the grocery store again until we absolutely have to. There’s a set of cloth masks en route to us as I type this, and we’ve got some  hydroknit shop rags for making ersatz mask filters. We’re out of fresh fruit and vegetables, and I’m getting to the point where I’m scouring Allrecipes for things I can cobble together out of a yam, a can of baked beans, and a bag of dry mini ravioli.

(I did manage to make a very tasty breakfast out of some frozen Belgian waffles, microwaved berries, honey, and crumbled goat cheese.)

We’re getting creative.

I haven’t taken pictures yet, but I’ve finally dug into my stash of recycled silk ribbon and beads — including some very pretty Czech glass and matte amethyst. I have a set of copper and glass frame pendants, unstretched canvas, and plenty of time to play around, so I’m going to see what I can come up with. I’m not usually a fan of trying to paint miniatures on medium-textured canvas, but necessity’s the mother of invention, and all.

I also have some idea for a spray. I’m not sure if it’s more accurately called a cleansing spray, maybe a “clearing” or “lifting” spray? I know I want to start with lavender water and some kind of citrus, but I’m not sure what type. Lemon doesn’t seem like it has quite the right vibe for what I’m looking for. Maybe bergamot? I haven’t worked with bergamot as much as I’d’ve liked to, so that’ll give me the chance to forge a stronger relationship with it. Then, I just need to feel out other ingredients to include…

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One interesting challenge for me is that I’m limited to working with whatever the grocery store has, and what I can forage from either a strip of gravel around a dumpster, or whatever manages to reach through the chainlink fence at the end of the alley. I don’t know exactly what kind of plants these are, I haven’t attempted an ID yet. If there’s one quality I’m positive they have, though, it’s resilience.

I think a lot of us could use a little extra resilience right now.

Here’s hoping you’re healthy, not too stir-crazy, and holding it together.