Month: May 2008

Positive Art

I’m moving soon, and part of that moving means re-evaluating the decor in my home. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of visual arts that embrace the negative – women in tears, sarcastic comments posters and even T-shirts, even too much in the way of dark colors. As I choose materials for my dwelling/workplace, I am constantly asking myself the question: do I want to bring this energy into my home?

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The answer, despite my personal aesthetics, is often no rather than yes. It’s a complicated issue, since I do support local and independent artists, and many of them are creating art that reflects the pall cast across creative communities since 2000. I want to support some great artists, but when their expressive moods leads them to build images of darkness or print up sarcastic and mean-spirited commentary pieces, I just can’t embrace it. This is putting me in conflict with my peers, who are often giggling over T-shirts that say horrible things in various languages or who pride themselves on their sarcasm and cynicism. ((I have had a reputation for sarcasm since I was 13. It was wholly undeserved at 13, and while more deserved now, it tells me that a lot of people still mistake genuine intelligence and blunt honesty for sarcasm.))

Art is magical energy embodies in a physical form; that energy can still be positive or negative, and usually can be seen pretty plainly upon examining the object – or from looking for what the artist has named it. So when I see a beautiful piece in layers of reds with wonderful textures, and I’m about to fish into my savings for it, and I see it labeled “Murder” I pretty much put my pocketbook away. I do not want to bring that turmoil into my home.

I’m not suggesting artists restrict their muse – there are some things that need to be said, and the only way to get the message across requires expression beyond the verbal. Art has long been about awareness-raising, but awareness-raising is not and never has been a form of reality creation, and that’s what I’m about: I already know what is. I know what’s wrong. But I want to make something right. That’s where positive energy creation – positive thinking, as it were – begins.  This isn’t about painting puppies and rainbows and the world will be all better; it’s about starting with your version of puppies and rainbows at home and allowing it to become the first layer of the reality you want to create. It’s about having that positivity well of the home around you to draw upon as you confront life’s challenges in a proactive manner rather than a reactive one.

The images and objects we surround ourselves with have a profound impact on our psyche, and our psyche has a profound impact on our health. So when I’m choosing everything from a mouse pad to a shower curtain, I’m actually thinking about the daily imprint I want to leave on my brain, especially since that imprint will result in magical activity and personal creative expression.

I will opt, probably, for something other than puppies and rainbows.  And I fully expect to have to do a whole lot of scrubbing, no matter what I hang on the walls.

Microfame

I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people who approach me about articles I’ve written in the past year. Perhaps this is because I’ve become more available online again and just overlooked the conversation, or perhaps it’s because that Google emails me every time my name appears online so I know when I’m being talked about now, or when something I’ve written is being passed along in Internet forums ((I really wish y’all would instead create something inspired by what I’ve already written and post that in the forums and flora out there.)) It’s an odd feeling to get a letter or a Myspace comment saying, “Are you that Diana Rajchel???” I feel especially bad for the elderly lady living in the southeastern United States who also bears my name and possibly has some genetic tie to me. I can just imagine how she must feel if she flashes her credit card to the wrong employee at a Barnes and Noble, especially since odds are in favor of her being a Catholic with some degree of devoutness. While I am (usually) flattered at the recognition, I do cringe on her behalf, too.

I’ve also been experiencing increased recognition with my work on Etsy, and in other endeavors I have created situations where people know who I am. It’s peculiarly like being a senior in high school again, where all the underclassmen knew my name and I was thoroughly bewildered as to how they knew. Except this time, the how is much more evident, which does comfort me a little. It’s strange, though, to find my name travels when I’ve only been on television a few times in my life and when I write for a national but very narrow market.

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But I’m not alone in this experience – there are others I know who have achieved recognition in specialized areas, usually as a direct result of participation in the Internet. Everyday people are finding they have fans.

Celebrity Worship Syndrome (somewhat misnamed, according to the entry linked to) or Celebrity Obsession is, in actuality, pretty new. Before the distribution of mass media, we pretty much knew our leaders and our entertainers; if we thought of a person as a “great mind” it was likely because we spent a lot of time thinking about the same things. If someone whose worked we admired did not live in the same locale, then an exchange of letter writing would commence. Those connections formed on paper were far more intimate and personal than anything we would have space for in today’s view of celebrity.

Mass media led to depersonalization, which led to being able to see people and have the illusion of intimate familiarity without knowing those individuals at all. So when watching shows like the Real World, or even outright fiction (Buffy, anyone?) we have a sense we “know” these people when really, we’re simply projecting our interactive imaginings onto them.

Something about not being able to directly touch or get an immediate response from that person creates that celebrity obsession, and it seems to happen on the Internet in the same way that it does with television and movie actors; people develop “net crushes” and individuals gather followings, whether it’s through blogging, through becoming a Big Name Fan, or becoming a well-recognized and followed voice in a message board. Sometimes just recognizing a person’s name from somewhere else is enough to accord them some fame, favors and privileges that they might not enjoy if those people were among the “hordes” of a given messageboard or blog.

A friend of mine was telling me about a forum she frequents, and about an unrelated issue where a friend of hers is solving a financial issue for her. I feel kind of guilty accepting her help, my friend tells me. She’s one of my fans. My friend has a very high profile on the message board she met this person on, and feels guilt about the privileges and favor people offer to do for her because she her persona is so well-known. And while I can tell she’s flattered to have fame, she senses a burden of responsibility – she admits herself that there are a lot of examples she’s set in her online behavior and in daily life that she would prefer people not follow. And while making mistakes is a necessary part of continuing adulthood, those who are observing our experiences from the outside may not recognize that we are finding out what lies at the end of the action, not just blazing a trail for them to follow.

In a fandom forum I frequent, some friends I met through fandom are being interviewed. They are highly notorious in this particular fishbowl, and I’m thrilled to see them getting positive recognition that they deserve. But the first volleys I see towards them are critical: Why are you so mean? is one plaintive question. The comment and work my friends have done in that particular fandom are exceptionally low-stakes; there is no possible way to build a career or solve the world’s problems  through this particular avenue. Yet they are treated with the most severity, though what they’ve done is the least deserving of criticism. The fishbowl has warped the perspective, and their impact is viewed as much larger than it actually is. ((I contend that perception equaling truth is corporate baloney, drawn upon conveniently to fire people at will.))

This suggests to me ever more that fame is not and should not be a goal. Becoming a household name is meaningless – our names are known around multiple households these days, whether by our given names or by Internet handles. And as each of us can pursue ever-narrower points of interest, the people we know who share those interests become inflated and more important – and strangely, ever the more disconnected.

Superstition…

I’ve been kicking this thought around for about a decade or so, and now I want to trot it out and give it a try. I use tarot cards to fish for any further information I can get about unknown situations. I do believe dead ancestors may drop by for a visit (but I try not to discuss this aspect of my life with medical professionals.) I honestly believe that when I have sex with someone, there is an etheric transference that occurs wherein I take up some of the other person’s characteristics, making it enormously important for me to be highly selective and limited in partners.

I do have a set of specific, mystical, to date unverifiable beliefs that are consistent with the way I experience life. I can’t reasonably expect someone else’s life experience to match mine, although there is always camaraderie formed from having similar experiences.

Now, having said all that, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m not superstitious.

((photo by zettmedia))
In fact, I suspect that those who are part of mainstream religions that get the “rational enough” social award are frequently more superstitious than I am.

Let’s start with tarot reading. Almost every time I’ve done readings at a street fair, some Christian type walks by and with real fear in their eyes, states that they “don’t believe in it/don’t mess with that stuff.” Now, I don’t think that everyone in the world should be forced to have a tarot reading. If you don’t think it has value, then you won’t benefit from it and I’ll be annoyed at the waste of my time.

But if you really don’t believe in it, why are you afraid? Tarot cards in and of themselves are not occult objects. They may be used to transmit that information, if you’re open to it, and yes, my call to Wicca did start with an energy jolt from a deck of cards. But the cards were just the medium of delivery; I’m lucky that the divine didn’t resort to dropping books on my head, because bird poop is bad enough. All those rules and rituals about how you’re supposed to obtain the cards (be gifted) and borrowing decks – they’re meant as etiquette, not energetic stamps.

Tarot cards are just pieces of cardboard with pictures on them. That’s all. I have yet to encounter a good reader who brings up dead ancestors, and the only dire warnings raised had to do with stuff I already knew about. Most of my readings have no spooky-ookie to them whatsoever; the majority frequently turn into low-level counseling sessions where someone just needs guidance looking over options they already have full information about, and the tarot cards with their western symbolism make a useful key for doing so.

Astrology is actually similar in that, once I lost my superstition that astrology had no relevance, it finally became useful to me. I really think there is something to Mercury Retrogrades – even if it’s just the timing of when every warranty ever made expires. I also think that progressive astrology is relevant and useful once you understand what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean your fate is in the stars – it’s in your own rump, and where decide to have that rump be, and the influences around your rump. The energies and gravities and influences of various stars will eventually be quarked out in a rational pattern by an overworked quantum physicist soon enough.

And then there’s the Harry Potter books. Fundies view them with such fear, and it’s hilarious. Perhaps in some parallel universe there is a Hogwart’s – and in that universe, magic is wholly necessary to keep the world running. In this universe, however, little kiddie’s minds will not be corrupted reading about the magical adventures of a little boy unless there are additional influences that make it appealing. If there’s real concern about children assuming occult practices because they look fun ((since real occultism frequently requires considerable discipline and discomfort; it’s really a tradeoff for some of our outward hedonism)) then perhaps, rather than banning books, perhaps it would be a good idea to find a way to re-engage children in their religion of birth. I recommend C.S. Lewis as a starting point for that.

Besides, I’ve tried leviosa.  Can’t float a damn thing.

So much for that superstition about needing to know Latin to practice magic.

The Skyway Matrix

Date of writing: April 24, 2008
Waning Moon, Void of Course
Moon in Saggitarius
Sun in Taurus

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I buy some coffee from the enthusiastic owner at Second Moon, and, fishing my dollar store umbrella, step out into the rain. I press the button and it opens part way and stops, so I set my coffee on top of a newspaper vendor and futz with it, but to no avail. So I must stash the umbrella and walk three blocks to the train station, in the rain.

I am wet and drippy by the time I get there, although my vinyl overcoat deflected the bulk of it, and the sweater I’m wearing over the T-shirt absorbed the rest. I sing a subconscious song in praise of synthetic fibers – I may be a naturalist, but I still appreciate human endeavor. I go to the stop at the end with the most people on it, and hit the red button on the way in.

A well-dressed well-spoken black woman raises her eyebrows. Heat? Are you cold?

It’s 55 degrees outside. Not bad, if you’re dry.

I explain that I am wet, that my umbrella broke, and I am consequently cold. I assure her the lamp doesn’t stay on that long – ten minutes, tops, and I suspect MetroTransit resets them in spring before shutting them off altogether. I’m sorry, I say. I should have asked first. She waves her hand. It’s all right. Really. She takes her long black umbrella with the wooden handle and moves on down to the next shelter.

A goth girl in platform leather booties walks up to the platform and immediately hops up on the shelter bench, to get as close to the heat lamp as possible. I feel vindicated. I compliment her on her boots, and she tells me she got them at Saver’s. I rise in her estimation when I tell her I shop at Saver’s too.

A Somalian girl in hijaab comes by and she has found some way to clip a full size cell phone to her ear. I am horrified.

On the train, I take a spare seat next to a black man. I’m breaking an unspoken Minnesota taboo – white women don’t sit next to black men, especially not if there are seats open next to women or white men. I read my book. Behind me I hear a couple, taking the train for the first time, try to figure out where to get off. There aren’t that many stops, but when you aren’t familiar with the line, the space between each stop can feel interminable. I butt in. If you’re going to go to the library, that’s two stops away.

We’re going to Government Plaza Station.

That’s just one stop.

The woman is very pregnant and has a baby in her arms, without the requisite baby carrier. It’s pretty much all her and the umbrella her husband carries. The announcement for Government Plaza station plays, that weirdly smooth robotic female voice. She stands up and immediately goes to the door. I butt in again, realizing I’m talking over her as I do it. It’ll be another half second before the train actually stops.

Everyone always gets up and goes to the door before the train fully stops. Pavlovian response to the dinging bells of the train. She calls thank you! on the way off the train.

At Nicollet Mall Station, I step off the train and struggle with my umbrella. It refuses to catch, and stay open. I walk two blocks in the rain before tossing the umbrella in a public garbage can in disgust. Downtown waste management hires unfortunates to sort the garbage for recycling and I know they’ll take care of it.

I start down the path to my first destination, and a car pulls up. A woman in the backseat asks me for directions to the Millenium Hotel. She rolls up the window, then realizes I’m actually going to try to give her directions, and I stumble through them twice. I hope I haven’t accidentally directed her into one of the endless traffic loops you can get caught on passing 7th Street. She’s amused when I tell her to look for the suburban mall in the middle of the city, but she nods with recognition when I mention fountains. You’re awesome, she says and she and her companions drive away.

Not quite drippy, but thoroughly damp, I make my way to the MetroTransit Store, relieved to see the familiar bus sticking out of the building. It is three blocks further down Marquette than I originally remember. I reactivate my Go-To card, the bus pas that saves me the hassle of scrambling for change or dealing with expired short-term passes, and after a brief and friendly exchange with a guy behind me – for some reason I feel the need to tell him, too that my umbrella broke – I wander into the elevators to the Skyway. I think I know my way around, but I’ve forgotten most of my standard landmarks and despite passing all sorts of familiar things, I wind up eight blocks away in the Thrivent Lutheran Financial Building. A wandering business man takes pity on me (or fears the woman mumbling to herself) and directs me back the way I came. I end up seeing patches of Skyway I never have before. I am also hot, and sweaty, so I take off my overcoat and drape it over my bag. Just past the Roanoke building, the coat falls off. A woman calls my attention to it, and as I go back, a youngish man in a business suit is already picking it up. He gives it to me with a genuine smile.

I hear a lot of conversation snippets as I wander the skyways. They are crowded for 10 am, and I wonder how many of these people are calling “meetings” just to get in what out of office time they can. A group of students are talking about balancing their work and family lives in the St. Olaf building lobby. I turn the corner in a building further out in the Skyway I don’t know, just off the International Center, and for a moment, it’s creepy and silent. As I move from grey marble to faux wood paneling, the noise returns. A see a lot of women wearing capri shorts or gauchos over hose with spike heels. I’m sure they feel fashionable, but no matter what size the woman, it looked awful even though I saw some really neat hose patterns. I hear a group of 20-something men and women talking about the weather and how it will affect their weekend plans; I also notice more packs of moving, young, mixed gender office cliques. I never see such packs among older employees. As I pass through the government center, I hear a lawyer talking about something that happened in a deposition, and watch an angry young man pace with his cell phone stuck to his ear, swearing about having to pay $70.

At last I find my way to the to the lone ATM on the skyway that will not charge me a fee. I extract my cash, cringe at the balance, and go to the City Center where I got to Marshall’s and dig up an umbrella.

It must be raining, a man says to me as he digs through the display beside me.

Yeah, my umbrella broke. I grin. Now I’m trying to find an umbrella embarrassing enough that my boyfriend won’t swipe it. I hold up a grey floral/paisley deal. This might work. I finally find a compact, hot pink umbrella. Now this will work.

My bin buddy agrees with me. It’s pink and it’s small. Most guys won’t.

The new Marshall’s set up forces people to wind their way through ropes to a long counter. Behind it sits a lone blond girl, staring off into space. I greet her, and she immediately starts telling me about her life. I’ve had to open and close for the last 3 days. She’s not a full time employee – they carefully keep her at 39.9 hours. She has no health insurance. I don’t ask, but I get the impression that she has a child to supprt.

What’s your schedule?

7 am to 7 pm. And I don’t get home until 9:30.

Yikes. Do you live in the suburbs?

Well, yeah, I live in St. Louis Park. I have to walk home.

That’s one hell of a walk. St. Louis Park is a nearby suburb – from downtown to its outskirts, it’s about five miles. If she lives further into the suburb, in the lower rent housing, that could be up to ten miles.

With what I make, it’s not worth the $1.50.

You know, I say, I know in the short run it won’t save you much, but transit passes are tax deductible.

She writes it down so she can look into it when she gets home.

Two farmer’s market stands are still out despite inclement weather. At one, I buy tomatoes, oranges and strawberries. At the other, I buy pink baby roses. The florist short changes me, and I can see she knows she did it – she takes my 5, and then doesn’t take anything from her pack.

I won’t be buying from her again.

My belt keeps dropping off my overcoat. People smoking outside the City Center point it out to me first. One is a large blonde woman, and I can tell from the way she’s smiling and yelling that she’s hoping for my embarrassment. I can tell from the way the East Indian men who are smoking next to her are looking at me, that she’s done this before, and they’re waiting fearfully for some reaction from me that never comes. Thanks, I call as I keep moving. I do try to tie the belt at my waist.

A short black girl comes up beside me, smiles and says hi. It startles me, and I drop the black zipped pouch that has my train pass. She apologizes for scaring me, and tells me my belt has come undone. I pull it out of its loop.

I guess I’ll just take the damn thing off. Even though I swear, I say it without rancour. We both smile – clothing really does malfunction sometimes.

On the train ride back, I have a seat to myself and upon exiting the train I wait only moments before the number 8 bus pulls up. It’s just me and a gregarious black man as passengers; the black man tells the driver he wouldn’t be there, but his ride flaked out on him.

I almost miss my stop. There’s no one to pick up, which is unusual on a Thursday.

At least it’s not cold, the driver says to me as I unboard.

Not today, I tell him. It’s going to get colder over the weekend. I had overheard multiple discussions about it getting even colder through the weekend.

No, it won’t. He shuts the door and drives off.

I look forward to the weekend to see if the driver is a prognosticator or in denial.