Conversational Chemistry

spells out beauty
according to my G+, I took this photo in 2013

Off and on I’ve started to write single essays about this person. But no single essay could capture on paper what played out in front of bemused witnesses: all our conversations had something in them worth reading, worth writing about. Even when trading barbs in anger, with one another we had wit, depth, and an intuitive understanding of each other I have never experienced before or since. When we started arguing, bemused witnesses, professors included, usually just stopped and watched us. We were entertainment. Television writers are only now coming close to our matched scathing wits. Heaving bosoms and bare chests were nothing compared to our intellectual chemistry.

But perhaps that’s perception – the view from twenty years ago, as a 18 year old. 18 year olds always think their own world is deeply involved and clever.

For awhile I thought we were enemies, and I viewed his appearances in my life with resignation and a degree of exhaustion. Usually when I spoke back the way I spoke back to someone like him, some sort of punishing behavior followed. Instead, as we walked away from class, he said “I really enjoy talking to you.” This was after one of our more vituperative exchanges during a discussion based class. At the time I didn’t believe him. Every boy I’d met prior found me sharp-tongued, tiresome, someone to punish. His persistent friendliness I saw as the slow, sure buildup to eventual abuse.

At the end of our freshman year,  he informed all of his friends that he had a girlfriend and had fallen in love/found God at the same time. That worried me. Many of our conversations involved his atheism and my deism. No, I wasn’t happy about the girlfriend – the pressure on my inner emotional footlocker wasn’t that tight, even if I was also sincerely happy to see him so happy – but I worried more that this changed friend might change our conversation quality.

To my relief, it didn’t. His habits were just as bad, his sense of humor just as quick, and the only real change I noticed when he expressed embarrassment/apologies when I overheard him making love to his girlfriend one weekend as I walked past his dorm room. The year before he bragged to me about every conquest he had, so the change startled me but not so much I initiated a conversation about that. (There was a later, hilarious incident where he forgot that I knew about his girly magazines and was mortified that his friends dug them up when I asked for them in his absence.)

5190922097_41a83b9884_oThis was the year I went through as “one of the guys.” For me this made a frustrating yet beneficial label, as it meant I enjoyed safety around young men my age that other girls on campus did not. It did, however, not so much create as force to the surface issues I had regarding my attractiveness, and whether I had to sacrifice all sexual enjoyment to experience a relationship of equals with men. Despite our verbal acuity, neither my conversation partner nor I had fully developed language centers yet, and so in this one area of intellectual meeting we failed each other.

I tried to express my mixed feelings. “So basically I’m not ever going to be a girl to them,” I said one day, as, over beer some of his buddies went “let’s get some girls in here!” At this I had glanced down at my breasts, then shrugged.

“When they get older they’ll get it,” he said. “When it counts, men want a woman they can really talk to.”

I already knew that all men did not exist at all, the same as all women did not. There is no what men want. There is no what women want. Trending tastes are one part miracle to two parts brainwashing. I decided not to take the bait on his unusually weak semantics because right then, with what he said, I really just wanted another beer and a chance to stop thinking about a life beside some guy who could “really talk to me” while I floated out, alone, intellectually dissatisfied and sexually ignoerd. By that time, I’d become the unwilling repository for everyone’s secrets. Everyone could really talk to me, but I wasn’t getting anything I needed in return for that. When it came to men, he was the only one I’d met that I could really talk to – the rest of his friends just weren’t smart enough to have conversations I found genuinely satisfying.

His tacit implication I was on some backburner also displeased me to a greater degree than I let myself feel.

By the second semester of sophomore year, a drift, conscious and unconscious, inevitable and sad, occurred. I started spending more time with other friends in our circle – still men, but men that saw me more as a “girl” even if they weren’t romantically interested. I began the process of transferring schools. It had leaked to my conscious mind over that winter break that I was actually rather desperately in love with him, my actual romantic prospects, illusory as they were, had more promise for me, and continuing as I had was just making me sadder and more withdrawn.

When I mentioned moving, my conversation partner became cantankerous about it, and implied he thought I was bluffing, so I stopped telling him what was going on with me and just went about the difficult process of restarting my life where my degree might serve a purpose.  It wasn’t conscious, but at some point I just sort of stopped talking to him about anything real, or intellectual, or unreal. I stopped even bothering to correct him on subjects I had actually changed my mind about, like the value of Greek life,  or my now dropped “six month” rule before sex. If the phone rang in his room, I simply withdrew, twice as fast if it was his girlfriend. I had begun the process of rolling up in myself what I had given of myself to him, which was everything except my emotional self. There was one moment, where he was on his bunk bed above me and I sat in a chair below, where he drunkenly demanded I promise to return for our junior year. I had just received my acceptance letter to Mankato State that morning. I had just converted to Wicca, during a time where promise keeping and personal honor was an enormous part of the practice. “I won’t make you a promise I can’t keep,” I told him. He pressed, and pressed, but I did not relent. He fell silent, jaw set, dissatisfied. I forgot about this. I continued hanging out with other people, often with him nearby, included but no longer close. I didn’t think whether he noticed the change between us.

Apparently he did notice, and it hurt him – it didn’t even occur to me that my quiet withdrawal, mostly as unconscious as it was, could hurt him, let along be noticed by him. There was one warm spring day where I laid out next to a pond by our dormitory, napping in the warmth of early spring. He happened to come by on his bicycle and asked me to walk with him. I got up right away, happy for a little company. He asked me my life philosophy. Such questions were old, argument-starting fodder with us: I thought being asked for such a thing when still this young was obscene and absurd, as he insisted that everyone has a philosophy, and that he had totally expected me to answer as I had. I hadn’t been so engaged in a conversation of such good quality in months – since the last time we’d have a conversation like it.

Out of the blue, he said, “I’ve really missed talking to you.”

I pretended I hadn’t thought about it. “Yeah, I guess we don’t as much since we have different classes this semester.”

I think we both know I was full of it. I’d been avoiding him, shutting him out of my experience. I needed to leave and leaving him was the hardest part. The less engaged and connected I felt, the more easily that could happen – and he was the only thing that made me feel engaged and connected.

I suggested we talk more, maybe make it a point to go for walks, especially since my lack of exercise at times visibly disturbed him. I stopped by to ask him to go for a walk once after that, and he was busy. I immediately quit trying – I was tired of putting in effort without getting reciprocity. My conversations with most people covered that.

It was our tiny college’s idiotic and persistent politics that brought to the fore exactly how hurt he really was by my intellectual desertion. He was in a fraternity; the previous year I had loud and frequent objections to the Greek system because I disagreed with any system that separated people by gender. (The co-ed fraternities were professional associations only, to my chagrin.) I don’t even remember all the details of it, but his fraternity somehow ended up in hot water over an alcohol violation committed the year before that somehow did not become a problem until almost a year later. At the time, I worked for the campus newspaper. When the story rolled around, we had just experienced a huge staff walkout and I was the remaining “hard” news reporter. My attempts to beg conflict of interest were over-ruled and I was told to pursue the story about my friend’s fraternity. I remember constructing the question over and over in my head- I wanted…needed my friend to say no to my interview request. I foolishly assumed he would know I was on his side, and not the side of the Greek system, and not the side of the newspaper, and sure as hell not in the side of the idiotic school administration but his.

The words used, exactly, escaped me. “They’re making me ask…” from there, I wanted it clear this wasn’t something I wanted to do at all. I tried to structure room for him to say “no comment,” as fully as possible, or to refuse to talk to me on the record about that or something that would let us walk away from the subject.

His response, however, held far more hurt and confusion than I expected. At first, I thought he was joking. “So what, you’re just friends with us so you can get a stupid story?”

I said something flippant, and he glared. Then I looked in his eyes and I could see none of the smile in them that he had always had for me. “Oh my God, you’re serious.”

I can’t remember what he said. All I remember is holding on to his door frame as every piece of every fear I had ever had about losing him, about him hating me, about him, came loose from that deep-down footlocker I buried my emotions in. I managed to keep from crying in front of him, which was good since he never handled the sight of me crying with sympathy. Once his onslaught stopped, I told him “No,” in answer to his accusations. With all the control I could muster, I said, “OK, that’s fine. You don’t have to do it. Thanks for letting me know.”

I remember thinking I can’t lose him before I have to leave. He means too much to me.

Just having that thought terrified me.

I then went upstairs, and my roommate saw the look on my face, and just as she asked me what was wrong the tears exploded.

My beloved conversation partner had actually made me cry – and I was not one of those girls that cried. I remember stopping my roommate from marching down the stairs and kicking my friend’s ass.

The course of events right after that are something of a blur. There was a phone call and a meeting set up. It was all very cryptic.We need to talk, he said. On some level I registered that he used none of the language used when you talk to a reporter. I figured we would talk about our friendship, the time we had left. I thought of this, but didn’t know what to say. I was so tired of the politics that he pursued. It was after class, and still light out – it was around 6, maybe 7 at night. It was our first time alone together since sometime Freshman year.

I remember him pulling whiskey out of the fridge, chilled the way he knew I liked it (and that he insisted, was whiskey that was mine/that I had purchased); for some incongruous reason he had wine glasses. I remember telling him how horrified I was by that fight, that it seemed like he’d forgotten who I was, and that I had changed my mind about a lot of things since knowing him; we talked about the trouble the fraternity was in and I masked my disappointment that this was all about politics yet again.  Then the president of his fraternity happened to knock on the door- there was NO WAY his appearance was coincidental. The president looking down at the glasses between us and asked if he was “interrupting something” and I got the sense he wanted to know if he was interrupting our date. When my friend said nothing, giving me no leads on how he wanted to handle this or what he wanted kept secret about our politicized conversation, I spoke up and  assured the guy that no, there was nothing “interrupted” with us, that it wasn’t like that.

From there, my friend fessed up the news story angle. The pres then pulled up a chair and filled me in on everything, while I felt deep irritation that my friend needed to establish such a manipulative scene instead of being honest with me, something he had always done in the past. So, despite my best efforts not to get it, I got the goddamned story anyway – a story I would have traded for my friend in a heartbeat, since it was an especially banal and stupid story involving college politics and fraternal rivalries.

I’m not sure why, but from there I was invited to go to the frat president’s apartment and play cards. I could tell there was something still up with my friend – we were playing Asshole, and I lost, and he offered to drink the punitive pitcher of beer for me. This was not a type of chivalry he had ever displayed towards me before. I insisted on taking the penalty – I was one of the guys, right? But when I lost the next round, the pres took the penalty after I explained I’d lost weight and couldn’t hold my liquor anymore.  At that point, I needed to go back to my dorm room as the emotional roller coaster plus the alcohol really wore me out.

My conversation partner insisted on walking me home. That winter alone he had witnessed me drink that much before a party, drink at the party, and I always stumbled home alone (and unmolested.) The distance between our dorm and his frat suite was at least half a mile. The distance between the apartment buildings and our dorm was that of a small parking lot. Still, he insisted on walking me home despite my protests. I assumed it was about covering up another potential alcohol violation. I wanted that time alone. I needed some time to process, and to set aside the frustration of all the things I had hoped to say that there just wasn’t room to say. I was happy to be numb, even if it did take an entire pitcher of beer.

I got to my door and tried to send him away. He refused. I started to kick off a shoe and tried to send him away. He still refused. He would not leave until he had removed both my shoes and gotten me to crawl underneath the quilt on my bed. This was all done in silence, and I could see his jaw working, see that something was happening with me that had him upset in a new way. Alcohol plus all that fresh fear in my blood kept me silent. He kissed my forehead, he left, and I fell asleep. I knew he’d done this for another female friend of his, but she had been far more fucked up than I was. I assumed he was just overcompensating after our fight.

The arguably dangerous part is when I woke up. What my conversation partner had missed, ignored, or just didn’t see is that, in my time away from him, a sexual relationship with another of his frat brothers had developed. Neither one of us was serious about it (though I think that my fuckbuddy assumed me far more serious than I was) and it had gone on long enough that sex while inebriated was part of our language of consent. I did try to reach my conversation partner first – although for what is unclear. He wasn’t in any haunt where I could reach him, so I went across the hall and knocked on my fuck buddy’s door, to whom I announced, “I’m drunk!”

I remember that night well, even now. It’s one of the curses/blessings of my neurology – I remember everything I do and say while I’m drunk. This knowledge is what kept me so quiet as I was tucked away in my bed. On the wake up round, with alcohol now coursing through my system unchecked, however, I was able to use my numbed skin to tolerate things we both enjoyed that were pretty transgressive and kinky for not having any toys available.

My only regret for this incident is that I did not own foundation or cover up – and I had bruises going down most of my body the next day. I had to wear a turtleneck in eighty three degree weather. I even asked my conversation partner if his girlfriend or one of his roommates’ sleepover friends left any makeup in the room. They did not. When he saw the bruises, the terror in his eyes was almost gratifying. “I didn’t –“

“I know it wasn’t you.”

“You were alone when I left you – “

“I remember everything when I’m drunk, you know that. We were both culpable for this.”

He looked down at the floor. “What does that mean?”

Shit, he still thinks I’m talking about him. “The guy I did this with. It was consenting.” I was too hung over to quite get the world consensual together.

I didn’t want to tell him who it was, but something about the way he looked out the window, something about the expression on his face, I needed to reassure him. “I know you’d never hurt me on purpose,” I told him.

Something about my saying that didn’t process well, either.

I cursed myself for the indiscretion but I told him who it was. This started a new round of processing. He finished with, “Interesting.”

I didn’t ask why.

If we had another real conversation after that, I don’t remember. He told me he hated that I was leaving as I hugged him goodbye. I did try calling a few times, after I transferred schools. The call stopped after I told him I was getting married. I never saw him again. We never had a real conversation again.

I don’t think I have ever had a conversation as good as the conversations I’ve had with him since.

I’ve wondered – if I turned a corner in Atlanta, or maybe around here in San Francisco, if I’d run into him. If, upon seeing each other and going through the ritual of trading baby pictures and wedding photos and overly-informational health updates, if we’d move into a coffee shop and then continue a conversation from twenty years ago, or better yet, have an updated one now. Can there be spirituality without a religion? What IS my life philosophy, now that I’m not young? Explain all this Kirrkegard bullshit, motherfucker. Now that there are women’s professional sports, now what?

Most recently I enjoyed a poetry group filled with people brilliant and unpretentious. We shared experiences with a depth that I hadn’t felt since those first two years of college. There was a Catholic, a mythopoetic male, a young woman working as a stringer journalist for a local micro newspaper, a former teacher. I was the only witch. I loved them. They fed my soul, collectively, the way my old conversation partner did single handedly.

Conversations that good, that deep, that satisfying are very hard to find. I hope they find me again. I hope he finds me again. Even now, I feel like we have worlds more to say to each other, even though I know our lives have no parallels whatsoever.

She didn’t believe she could be loved

7664799948_eae27d055f_bStumbled on old pictures recently. I have few if any hard copies left: most have been scanned, shredded, incinerated long since. There is one of myself at 18, sitting in front of my first laptop. My hair is chopped in a pixie cut. My neck looks impossibly long, my lips ridiculously full, my face is a cut, distinct oval that is perfect and yet prevents me from being truly pretty. I can see the fear in her eyes, how she appears playful but is always watching, watching because the photographer can turn on her at any minute making the playful moment one of pain, recrimination and punishment.

It makes me think about my hair, about how my mother bullied me to keep it short. Growing it long wasn’t an act of rebellion. It was worse. I didn’t think about my mother as I grew it out – I simply didn’t have the money to get a proper haircut. Now I keep it long and feminine,  and the students at Aveda comment on how pretty my natural brown hair is.  Not one dares even suggest I cover the silver lines starting to streak down my widows peak. This would surprise her, that I do maintenance on myself like that. It would offend her that I don’t need or want to do the maintenance of dyeing my hair. I did it in my twenties. That was enough work.

I try to keep the memorabilia to a minimum. Memories hurt more than they help me and I’d rather just not have them. I don’t feel anything missing by the absence of photos; I don’t feel left out of Flashback Fridays or Throwback Thursdays. I really don’t miss seeing my younger self – it’s like having a responsibility and being wholly unable to do anything about it.

I don’t relish understanding her even though I liked her, even though I admire and pity her. While my tough streak is authentic, a thick skin paradoxically developed through learning how to be gentle with myself and others, hers is still an imitation. Younger Diana… her vulnerability screams from her every pore and she tries to hide it behind a certain no-nonsense/see-through-it bluntness, through politics, through seeing most day to day activities as shallow.

What she really wants is someone to love her anyway – and she really doesn’t have that. But she tries to convince herself she does, and when that fails tries to convince herself she doesn’t need to be loved. That’s what’s scary, how she lied to herself about what went on around her. The people that said they loved her but didn’t. Whatever it was, it wasn’t love – and that absence showed in their actions. There was no one to intervene back then, the only person to recognize the signs being a family therapist that booted my family out of his practice as hopeless. He had, after running into me at the local McDonald’s, told me I was welcome to come by on my own. I thanked him – but ignored his offer.

I can’t save her any more than that guy  and I’m pretty sure she would have a defensive fit and refuse to be saved if I tried to make her aware of the problem…tried to make her aware that she wasn’t the problem and that she was being conned into thinking she was.

It is weird to me to realize I really am one of those damaged people. I’ve read the tumblrs and self-help confessionals. It seemed weird and shallow, an understatement of that person’s loss because it was too simply spoken. I thought I couldn’t be treated well. I thought I deserved the abuse… by now most of us have seen the confessionals that provide fodder for Lifetime movies.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately – how the damage I carried with me hurt people, thwarted relationships and led me to destructive ones. I had no means for recognizing my own wounds; I just assumed I was somehow defective.  I was overlooked because it was my genetic fate, because I wasn’t as good as any of the other people around me, because I had some streak of ugliness that everyone saw but a few generous people forgave.

I honestly thought I could not be loved.

Believing that fucked me over in more ways than I will ever fully comprehend.

An old friendship/crush has been on my mind lately, one still full of unanswered questions. It is, after all, the unanswered questions that get me to hang on for decades where otherwise I’d forget it and move on.  I just hate not knowing the whole story. There’s probably some idealizing baggage there, too:

Somehow I expected him to be part of my life even now. That hasn’t happened. No one has stayed in my life that long, although there are others who I met after college in strange and adventurous ways that have breezed right through that first decade in a way absolutely none of my high school or college classmates did. Once, I would have beat myself up for such a failure – everyone has a friend that lasts forever, right? Well, no. Most people don’t – but nearly all people are trained to be embarrassed about that if they aren’t among the lucky few.

I was told several times he wanted more than friendship, but my disbelief was stronger than simple proof. None of these people could know how I’d been lied to about the feelings of others as a child – and how that made me refuse to believe anything from anyone after that.

But because of my absolute, ground-level – unacknowledged – belief that I couldn’t be loved, I couldn’t break this spell by simply telling someone what had happened to me. I was completely convinced he was setting me up for bullying. It took me too long to realize he was not like any of those people. I had to put serious effort into isolating him from the concepts strung in my brain. The trauma – and the persuasion that no one would just want to get to know me without having bad intentions – ran really deep.

He did win me over. There’s at least once when he complained about the effort that took: it was more than what he did just to get a normal, less damaged girl to sleep with him. Normally girls especially flocked to him.

When awareness of feelings for him finally surfaced, they were shoved aside immediately. No one could love me. Especially not someone I wanted to love me.

I like to think that I’m not haunted by belief that I am unlovable now… but I’d be lying to myself. I give love more easily than I receive it, in friendship and in romantic liaison. My current partner is a giving, generous, especially with me – and at times it chafes. The support feels like a loss of safety; some part of me is looking for escape, waiting for her to turn on me like all the people I trusted eventually did. When not feeling endangered, I have to deal with the overwhelming guilt of feeling undeserving. This is  none too helpful either.

The call to run, to block, to isolate, to insult into leaving isn’t as loud as it was at 19. It’s just there. I recognize the language in my head. I can talk it down. I can now have conversations with strangers without my guard going up…most of the time. I can now smile at the life guard on duty at my gym and make him blush without a voice telling me his blush is a rejection.

I still have trouble approaching people, though. It can be hard to tell: my social anxiety/shyness is subtle, the type you might not notice. Because if you don’t look hard enough you may see someone who is very outgoing. I smile. I make eye contact. I remember things about people and use those tiny details for small talk – especially as a small subset of my friends are now having grandchildren and that’s an easy way to get someone else talking.

The truth is, I still struggle. I don’t know how to start a conversation. I might say “hi” and then draw a total blank. Even with friends I’ve known for years sometimes I draw that blank, in part because I assume that they just don’t want to know about what’s going on in my life. It isn’t intentional withholding – I realize it is withholding in practice though – I just have trouble believing anyone cares that much about me. When I do go on about my life for any reason I often apologize or make a joke about boring the other person before shifting focus.

As awkward as all that is, it’s a big improvement. There are few people I’ve met where talking comes easily. My partner is one of those people. That old crush, who worked on me so hard and whose motives I so unfairly suspected, was another. I guess if I could I’d tell my 18 year old self that she is loved… she’d roll her eyes, push me away, ask me if I had any kids or pets and failing that do her damnedest to get me talking about my job, my college experience, my shoes. I wouldn’t even know her name if she was at her best.

But at least I’d have said something, anything before the standoffish behavior began.

A Dog Really Ate My Homework

For some reason that an astrology chart could likely explain, the last weekend of October in 1995 proved especially momentous for me. It was homecoming at the tiny Midwestern college I attended. My return to the school after summer off had been less than welcoming – I’d been ousted from an editorial gig on the student paper that had comprised my entire social life the year before, the boyfriend that had taken a coward’s breakup with me had spread quite a few rumors about the nature of our breakup angled to make him look blame free when I refused to do things that had high odds of getting me pregnant, and the semester before a friend leveraged my crush on him to drag me into a political situation that cost me dearly – a legacy that was playing out while he remained oblivious, completely unable to process that consequences for a female non-athlete were significantly more dire than those for a male athlete on any college campus. It was also parents’ weekend, and my parents were NOT interested in spending time with me, opting for some bus trip to West Virginia instead when it became clear I wasn’t going to drop out of school because they said so.

Yep, that's Norman Rockwell
Yep, that’s Norman Rockwell

The result was that, on that October weekend, what friends I had were off with their parents or entangled in festivities. I had no car and no means of escape, so I decided to work on a fairly complex project for a mass communications class, one where the professor had insisted on assigning us partners, I suspect out of some patriarchal urge to keep the women in the class from working with the men in the class, all of whom had piercings that made him suspicious. My partner, a very sweet Japanese woman, offered zero ideas on the project; it left me feeling like I had to carry the burden of the work myself. In retrospect, this was most likely an intercultural failing on my part – but ultimately I still prefer to blame the professor’s patronizing micromanagement. Plus, I wanted to work with the guy with the neck piercing. He was hot.

Meanwhile, the friend that had persuaded me to enter political hot water with him the previous semester had a football game that day. Per his family’s tradition, all the ones that could came to cheer him on – including his dog, Tiberius. I’d met Tiberius, a sweet, golden dog that always ran to greet me, tail thumping –  along with anyone else with a recognizable weakness for canines. On game days he had the run of the dorm, and he generally stayed on the first floor, while his family hung out with my friend in the room directly below mine.

The day was unseasonably warm for October, and I had just made a complicated storyboard that involved large amounts of glue. I propped open my door  and window, unusual moves for me thanks to an unexpressed but nonetheless abject fear of most social connection, especially since my immediate neighbors across and next to me were especially toxic. I turned my back for a second to look at my class syllabus and I heard paper tearing behind me. I turned around to see Tiberius, wagging his tail and chowing down on my mass communications project.

That was $15 of art supplies and ten hours of work blown all to hell.

It also forced me to give up on working for the weekend, and with my main focus completely ripped out of my grip, I decided to go hang out at the student pub, watch a comedy act, and when I ran into my friend’s family, I told them about the incident with their dog. Yes, I was mad, but I didn’t blame Tiberius. They stopped bringing the dog around after that, which made me sad. I liked Tiberius. Dogs were safer than people. Fortunately my professor actually believed me when I told him my friend’s dog ate my homework because I was and still am the Person that Those Things Really Happen To and he had already witnessed and heard hearsay of enough ridiculous shit attached to me that he didn’t question me when I asked for an extension.

This also put me in a position to talk to people. It put me in a position to answer my phone, and accept an invite to a Weird Al concert. It put me in a position to ask my yearbook editor (yes, this college had a yearbook, sadly enough) to let me off the hook for photographing a homecoming dance type thing that night. Having nothing else I could do, I got a tarot reading. The tarot reading, given by a friend’s mom, revealed exactly how spiritual my life was about to become, along with all the suppressed love and talent I was haunting myself with. It told me I’d meet a man who was wrong for me that weekend – which I did. The reader also told me that the friend with the dog was “very much in love with me,” (I hadn’t mentioned him, the dog, or the ill-conceived political dabbling to her) and I had her set that one aside since there was no way, especially not at that time.

I never got a chance to do a follow up reading with her, even though she very much wanted to see what was going to happen next with me. Even so – a friend’s dog ate my homework, which got me to leave my dorm room, which got me to have a tarot reading, which got me to open up to new people, which got me to a heartbreaking relationship that changed me for the better and got me out of that tiny school, which got me to start my witchcraft practice in earnest.

My only two regrets are the dog, and leaving his owner behind. They both meant more to me than they know, certainly more than I had the capacity to express at that time.





2016 #paganvalues Month Topic Suggestions #pv2016

pagan values logo

pagan values logo

It’s been a crazy month, and with it a necessary pause because of the coincidence of the Orlando attack and gay pride. Our values matter the most in times of crisis – when emotions must reign supreme, a value system allows us a means to moderate until we return to our emotional baseline. There may be no baseline to return to for far too many – and while some must drop out to care for themselves and their losses, I truly feel like the crises of the world is what makes the many topics covered under the header of the month so very important to discuss (or daily life, since most Pagan faiths are a way of life that makes every month Pagan Values month).

Here are some final topic suggestions for what remains of #paganvalues month. #pv2016. Please post your blog posts in the Pagan Values Facebook group, or the 2016 Pagan Values event page. If you prefer to use a social media page such as Twitter, Facebook, or G+, please use hashtags #paganvalues and #pv2016.

None of these are required for posting – if you have your own ideas, themes, or even a moral code to write from (such as Troth, Kemet, the Rede, etc.) then go for it. For those looking for more ideas, here are some suggestions:

1.What honor code do you follow?
2.What is “honor” to you?
3.What controversies seem the most unnecessary?
4.What is your ethically ideal way to handle bullies?

5.Reclaimed artifacts: should mummies be sent home?
6.Including outsiders in your faith
7.Self-defense: what are your parameters?

8. Fight or flight: handling religious discrimination
9. When someone claims psychic atttack

10. The place for magic in your practice
11. Is elevating poverty to a virtue a form of privilege?

12.Is there anything new to say about the environment?
13.Sex and sexuality: ethically handling lifestyle differences
14. It’s like a different worldview: when Pagans meet international boundaries

15. When a famous Pagan quits being Pagan
16. The privacy line: where is it?
17. Personal risk: when is risk worthwhile?
18. Evolution
19. When other faiths face persecution

Faith #paganvaluesmonth #preview

It seems like faith lives in a world of simplicity. “Have faith,” and that’s it, you’re supposed to just reach that weird place between contentment and complacency, a steady not-quite thoughtless state that leads to shelves lined with Chicken Soup for the Soul books and handy little rocks with words like “Laugh,” “Faith,” “Hope,” and “Love,” planted in random, ostensibly inspirational spots.

Right… but what the fuck does faith mean anyway?

How is faith different from trust? I know it is – but why?

I’m supposed to have a lot of faith right now. I keep being told to have faith. My life partner of ten years has dragged me 2000 miles away from our home and is now transitioning to female. I’m supposed to have faith. Apparently faith that it will work out to the good.

I’m supposed to have faith that I am in San Francisco for a reason. This, by implication, means I am to have faith that I am the reason, or that the reason involves me, or if it involves me that it’s actually beneficial to me. I can have faith and still have my assumptions stop long before I get to that beneficial place – and thus I can still have faith, and still feel like I’m getting fucked over.

Since I am myself morally opposed to using my shiny new pink taser on simpering twits just because they simper platitudes at me about faith from a place of zero genuine empathy, I am taking to the page instead.

Even before this latest heap of bullshit came down on me I have been walking around faith as though it’s a three dimensional, somewhat puffy statue that no one has thought to touch. People should touch faith. It’s really squishy.

So, when someone says s/he has faith, it’s often presumed that that person means “faith in God.” Great, but let’s break that down:

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I believe there is a God/ess and/or a divine guiding intelligent principle to the universe.

This in no ways commits to what that person believes about said God/ess.

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I have faith that there is a God, and that that God is good.

By “good” I mean that that God deserves my trust, and that even if it looks like God is doing something to be an asshole, there is a Big Picture and screwing me over keeps the earth from exploding or something.

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I have faith that whatever is happening to me now is at some point either going to a)stop b)reverse or c)turn out to actually be a really good thing for me. Notice the absence of mention of God – it is simple faith in a good outcome.

“I have faith.”

Can Mean:  If I do x, y will happen. It may not happen right away, but it will happen. (Reference: Field of Dreams)

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I am choosing to believe that the voices in my head/the random occurrences etc. are connection with an external spiritual force/synchronicity and not just random.

“I have faith.”

I have no expectations of this situation outside myself – I just know that everything around me is going to do what it’s going to do because physics.

I often describe myself as a woman of faith. Lately, that definition has fallen to the last one – centrifugal force gonna centrifugate. Once, in a weird paroxysm of calm shortly after my father’s death,  I decided that faith is living free from expectations of God. I’m not sure I’m willing to change that one yet. It relieves a pretty big burden for me to go “OK, something is there…and that’s it. I’m not obligated to attribute anything else. If I doubt something is there, I am not burdened with the responsibility of disproof, either.”

There is a God, in my world view. That’s all faith is – I have faith there is one. All that other stuff about good and reasons and universal balance? They’re pretty thoughts but I feel zero inner obligation to have faith beyond is or isn’t. I don’t know what that thing is thinking or if the thing has a plan. I just know it’s there.

Believing there IS a God/ess is easy for me. Also easy for me is believing that other gods exist, immortals given form thanks to the power of collective belief American Gods style. Faith that magic exists is also a no-effort thing for me, because I think that there has to be something untraceably physical that lets us form thoughts at all, and whatever it is benefits from more and different pathways through our brains.

I need faith. I have faith. I am a woman of faith.

Real faith is not a burden. It just is, like the star and sky and sea. Not everyone needs faith, that “that is,” and I think there is some human distribution thing that prevents people from all having it. I think there is a profound, balance to nature reason that the world needs its atheists and agnostics, that they have a very important place in the universe, and sometimes I envy them since I don’t have the privilege of being one.

I think faith has been coopted by the same people that use “S/he’s religious,” as shorthand for saying “s/he is a conservative Christian who expects everyone else to conform to his/her sensitivities and ego needs.”

I am, as I have said before, very religious. I am just not Christian.

I am a woman of faith. I am just not a Christian woman of faith.

Christians aren’t the only people that inherited faith. That belongs to anyone that faith fits – not just who a group of egoists decide they want in their club.

Do I have faith right now?

Yes – I do have a sense of a divine intelligence. But purpose? Maybe not. I am a priestess and of late I am exhausted by the sense of relentless obligation, often without relief and support, that I suspect besets all women.

Do I think they’re about me – no. What about me says “drop her in the most expensive city in the country?” The intelligence is not looking to my good, or remotely concerned with it.

And I just gotta ride that shit out.

I have faith that something will change because change is oddly reliable.

Keeping Food Cheap in SF

Most people here eat out. Why? Because single, or money, or money plus single. That said, those of us stuck spending 60% or more of our income on rent can still have  night out, or a lovely meal, if we very carefully navigate the holes-in-the-wall that often serve amazing food in huge portions.  Food is an incredibly controllable expense in San Francisco. Any day of the week, any time of the year, you can find food that is fresh, cheap, and delicious. There are of course limits to this – you still need some money to eat well or at all…

Farmer’s Markets

There is a farmer’s market somewhere in San Francisco 7 days a week. Prices will vary by market – the most expensive one is of course the one on the Embarcadero, and often fresh food there goes for boutique grocery store prices. Find the smaller ones, or go to the one at Alemany.

Ethnic Markets

Thanks to spiraling rents and little to no eviction protection for longtime businesses, these are disappearing. Even so, you can still generally find plenty of Chinese markets in the Richmond district, plenty of Latina grocery stores in the Mission, and a small smattering of other ethnicities sprinkled throughout the city – but you have to be willing to look.

Safeway Club

If you want to enjoy Safeway at affordable prices you pretty much have to join their club. It reduces pricing from a direct poke in the eye to bearable, at-market food pricing. That said, Safeway is often used as a sort of meet-market on Friday and Saturday nights, especially in the Marina district. Best in and out fast for most of us.

Google Shop, Safeway Delivery

This is a more expensive option that can, to some degree, save you time or at least limit your human contact. You can, with a little fishing, have just about all goods delivered to your doorstep any day of the week. While it’s not a money saver in terms of availability, if your budget is often thrown by impulse buys this can eliminate the environment that prompts that behavior.

Recipe: Lavender and Rose caramel

In 2012, my partner and I bought a house. Income is wonky for a writer at my level (with my health problems) but I still wanted to invest equally to make it our house rather than the house she bought and I lived in.

Since my cupboards bulged with baking material I didn’t care to move, I decided to use up everything in the cabinet and host a bake sale. A couple artist friends threw in with me and we had a holiday boutique in the common room of my apartment building. The food sold faster than everything else – I wish the ladies had done better, but we had a really squirrelly, nosy apartment manager to dodge so we did as we could.

One of the more popular items at the sale? My caramels. I don’t use corn syrup – it’s unnecessary and we made caramel before that stuff ever existed. I used the following recipe for the lavender caramel:


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups lavender syrup – purchased pre-made from Kitchen Window
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups goat’s milk.

You can substitute cream for goat’s milk or even evaporated milk. The syrups you can sub in can be flavored traditional sugar syrups, molasses, honey, maple syrup and the flavored fruit syrups popular at ethnic groceries.

There is absolutely no way around using a candy thermometer mix – the hard ball/soft ball method just doesn’t work consistently in all geographies. The closer you are to see level, the more likely you need everything to work at a higher temperature.

Begin by melting the sugar and butter, then add the syrup and one cup of the milk. Heat to 334 degrees (this has been the optimum so far for me.) When it reaches 334, take off heat immediately, stir in the remaining cup of milk and then reheat again to 334. Once it hits that magic number, take it off heat again and pour into a heat proof container. You may want to have parchment paper or wax paper laid down in it first. Then leave to cool for at least 12 hours.

The next day cut into small slices and wrap into wax paper – et voila, caramel candy!


I also made rose caramel although that was a bit more difficult – I’m not obsessed with the possibility of making a rose caramel with coconut milk. The delicacy of it is amazing but I can’t quite get it to hold up as candy – I did however use regular cream on the rose caramel and that worked well. It did, however, confuse some people who aren’t used to floral candies.


Uncut rose caramel. #baking

*note: I rarely consume refined sugar because it does terrible things when combined with the steroids I take for my allergies. I strongly encourage you to explore all unrefined sugar options for this and any other recreational food.

Getting Crafty: Elemental Cookies

Elemental Cookies
Elemental Cookies

Every so often, a witch has to get a little bit crafty.

Now that my smoke allergies have progressed to “walk past a barbecue, use an inhaler” I have to adapt a whole bunch of my regular practices. Not least among those is one in which I call upon the elementals and then promptly release them. I used to use a sheet of paper to etch the symbols etc. and then burn it. I then started converting the paper into flash paper – super smokey and satisfying… with the unfortunate side effect that leads to skin hiving.

I tried a few things that didn’t work so well – a bath biscuit recipe comes to mind as a rather famous fail. I needed to use something that could keep the shapes carved into it and that could then dissolve in water. Then I found this recipe for homemade craft clay: it’s 2 parts baking soda to 1 part corn starch. Heat in 1 1/2 parts water over medium heat and stir until it just refuses to stir at all. It comes out white and goopy but perfect. I stirred in some herbs while I was at it and after it cooled I kneaded in a good chunk of uncrossing oil. While pretty crumbly later on, they served their purpose well.

God Is not an Asshole: Installment 1

I’ve always found the idea that religious beliefs require academic backing well, insane.

Religion is the very department of the irrational. By itself that isn’t a bad thing – nor is it a good thing.

It just is.

Some of us believe in a divine intelligence, an intentional organization of the universe, a giant puppeteer making us all crawl eventually – whatever.

But sooner or later some asshole just has to be right and so the quest to “prove” God/ess begins. And it’s always pointless.

We don’t know. The point of religion is to not know.

Seriously, as much as I love my books and random facts, I have always been a religious woman. And that means there’s a chunk of my brain that a)believes something out there and b)is OK with not being too sure. In this context faith means “can function without proof.” It’s not my first priority in life, this state of non-proof. That’s good – it lets me keep friends who believe differently. It lets me put scientific discovery first, or better yet, incorporate that into my faith.  I am skeptical of other people, but terribly skeptical of phenomena. Also, it’s always fun to have an excuse to write “phenomena.”

That’s all religion is. I’m pretty sure it’s a neurological state and not everyone can or should be wired for it.

But because there’s so much “don’t know” the “not –alloweds” that actually do not impact anyone else’s daily lives or practices are a load of steaming hooey.

I think somewhere along the way people have lost their ability to discern the moral difference between “I am going to make stuff up and claim my ancestors did it since I am pretty sure I believe as they did,” “yeah, I made it up and I’m none too interested in my ancestors and as far as a personal operating system goes, it’s not bad,” and “you’re doing what? But I haven’t given your permission!”

The intention of a religion depends on the religion. The intention of faith is to delegate doubt to other places where it can come in handy.

This is the first, possibly only installment of G.O.D is not an asshole series.