Uncategorized

Goodbyes

Note: This was written in 2014. In the context of the changes that followed my move to San Francisco, it’s poignant how very much this was on my mind.

Goodbyes have been on my mind a lot lately. Certainly, I’ve said them a lot.

truck after an abandoned house is cleaned out. -photo by Diana Rajchel 2013
truck after an abandoned house is cleaned out. -photo by Diana Rajchel 2014

For those in my life with any degree of immediacy, the reason is pretty well known: I’m moving to Silicon Valley. My partner has been hired by a giant. When the Valley calls a techie from the Midwest, it’s THE call up to the majors. I had asked once about a dream job we are not people of dream homes and dream lovers, but ones of dream jobs – and the answer: “Valley Giant.” Not too long after, the Valley Giant called. It was part of a long, strange trip that began when we moved into our current dwelling that looks like it will continue once we hit the west coast. My feelings are complicated, sopping wet with ego confusion, hurt pride, frustration with the situations at hand, and love for along with pride in my sweetie.

I’ve uprooted myself twice in my life already, and both times were incredibly hard, and the first one would have been impossible if I’d let myself know how I felt about it while it was happening.

The most recent uprooting was in 2002, when I divorced my first husband and moved to Minneapolis. In some ways it was much more gentle than the one that brought me to Minnesota: I had friends in Mankato who acted like real friends. They packed up my house when they recognized for me that the emotional strain of placating my ex got to be too much. They helped me move.  My ex and I tried to be amicable, in part because we were both in denial about how very much we needed to split up. The same mysterious spirit that had moved me to wander as far from my family’s reach as I could get was moving me away from my ex as far as it could persuade me to go. There was even a small farewell/congratulations party at the wine café before I started my new job and new life in the apartment I couldn’t really afford but still look back on fondly.

-pic by Diana Rajchel 2013
-pic by Diana Rajchel 2013

By that time I already understood Minnesota treated all its outsiders like cattle thieves, and I was unsurprised that in the first year or so, new friends were not immediate, and few friends proved real friends in the long run. That is Minnesota, and that will always be Minnesota.

The farewell I received was loving, and when friends moved on they paused to tell me about it as it happened. By then it was easier – email and chat programs were ubiquitous; it was even a solid part of my social life, both with people I met in person that lived nearby and with those that lived farther away. My time on messenger services was roughly equivalent to what most women spent on the phone in prior years. I often am unsure about closeness; frequency of contact and initiation thereof are to this day the only real factors I have to go on.

There weren’t a lot of other dates before I met my partner – the as-yet unnamed specter of social anxiety caused me all sorts of weird misery, from tolerating people that didn’t deserve tolerance to trying to engage with people that I knew would reject me. I often wonder how my love life would be without that particular problem, but ultimately, like my fat, it has not limited opportunity so much as it has filtered out the bad choices for me…most of the time.

There were friends kept from my Mankato days, though divorce, consciously or unconsciously, caused some distancing. There were friends made as I became more involved with activities outside my very small core of immediate acquaintances.

It took a long time and there was a lot of hardship along the way but I did build a life in Minneapolis, one made easier when my partner and I decided to combine our living situation. I had married too young to have any real salad days as most single people knew them, so the years of tight finances prior to moving in with my current love were those days for me. My financial decisions were terrible and like most divorced women obtaining the divorce was bad for me financially. Still, I got a few years to live on my own, to learn how to hear my own voice (which was harder to do than I thought), and to only answer to myself. I cherish the experience, though when it ended, I was sick with something I still have, life was unstable, and I didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye to myself and that period of my life in a way I would have liked.

The last goodbye I had was relatively quick, pulling the band-aid off on a bad marriage. At the time I still felt the need to try to look good to society so I kept babbling some shit about working it out with my ex someday. I’m over that now. Pleasing society is a zero sum game, and the people that think poorly of me don’t think that way because of my behavior.

The first uprooting not fueled by a graduation, however, was different. It sticks with me to this day. Had I had a genuinely healthy upbringing, I never would have been there with those people in the first place. I’d have gone to school somewhere that actually suited my talents, that supported me, and the good parents I never had would have done what they could to help me towards independence.

Instead of that idealized past, I landed in rural Wisconsin with no car, complete with an unrecognized social anxiety disorder that was to bloom like mushrooms on a wet patch into PTSD as I managed to decrease but not eliminate my family’s control over my life. I of course had trouble making friends. My neurons were wired wrong, and I was told to admit it meant admitting craziness – and losing all social validity.

My newspaper editor persuaded me to skip freshman orientation – the time when most freshman meet their first friends – to help rearrange a newspaper office. Because of my conditioning it didn’t occur to me to say no to this request. If I had been normal –if normal is even the right word – I probably could still have recovered from that particular gaffe. But I wasn’t normal.  I kind of knew I wasn’t normal, even though my not-normal wasn’t named to me until I was well into my mid-30s. I was introverted, and struggled to approach people. So when people approached me, they faced lively, intense force – to the point where it only a few noticed that I almost never initiated.

This intense force at approach and constant quiet elsewhere confused people as I was quite outspoken in class – the terror of failing a participation grade was enough to prompt my tongue to movement – but when it came to approaching people outside of class, to have a friendly conversation, my mind would go completely blank. I could think of NOTHING TO SAY to someone I wanted to engage in conversation. I couldn’t even muster a question about “what are you doing this weekend?”

It got so bad I sometimes scribbled some ideas in the back of notebooks to help with those awkward moments. I even wrote down opening lines before I made phone calls, and I always erred on the business-like over the personal. Sometimes, someone would approach me outside of class. It was usually either out of kindness, someone who recognized my problem when I didn’t myself, and then the pity flavored the friendship in an uncomfortable way. Or it was someone who was as desperate as I was, but who made me feel uncomfortable, even burdened. To my frequent sense of overbearing guilt, I was often bored by these people but felt horrible at the thought of saying no to spending time with them – for myself and for them.

It wasn’t long before an observant, exploitative young man trapped me in a relationship and my isolation began in earnest. His attempt to make me into a beaten-down, soul-dead thing really should have worked, given my lack of real support. But it didn’t, even after he tried to discover and take advantage of every negative opinion I had about myself, and any one he could curry in those around me. Looking back, that was where the mysterious spirit really appeared in my life. Something gave me enough sass to see through his shit, even if I didn’t quite have enough power or support to disengage. I was the only friend I knew for sure I had – and when it matters, I am fucking loyal.

In the mix of this was a young man that took an intellectual interest in me. To this day I am unsure about what prompted that interest. From what he said to me, I loaned him a pencil during placement testing and for whatever reason that made an impression. The only thing I really remember about that day was my mother insisting I eat frozen custard instead of studying for placement exams, combined with social and test anxiety, and some guy  – apparently this kid, from later conversation – saying he never took the SAT, which inspired an irrational dislike in me. Oh Christ, one of those, I remember thinking. “Athletic scholarship?” I said aloud.

He was in two of my classes our first semester, and through some weird twist of fate he lived in the dorm room directly below mine. I did have a crush in him in that desperate-for-a-boyfriend way (or desperate for the social status safety of a boyfriend, really) that I had at that time, but when he introduced me to his sex-friend and frequently mentioned his girlfriend I pushed that hope aside – and it was likely what was best for us both.

I did want to get to know him better, but when I tried to speak in a personal way, no words would come out, or I would say something weird and aggressive that shoved him away, scrabbling and failing to put forth my questions free of judgment.  This was contrasted with our during-class discussions, where my persona was almost exactly the opposite of my true interior.

In class I was spirited, funny, pugnacious – and he loved it. When, after a day when our argument was particularly disruptive to the class, the professor suggested we go on a date and talk things out. I suppressed an eye roll, presuming clueless adult didn’t know enough to see real hostility. I don’t think this young man wanted to take me out on a date but he didn’t find the idea as objectionable as I did – and I was, at that point, very used to people making it clear that the idea of spending any time with me, especially a date, was very objectionable. I thought I was rejecting myself for him.

Somehow, he was always nearby the entire time I went to that school. He just kept showing up, long after most people gave up on talking to me. Every time I brushed him off, assumed he was an idiot, he just came right back. He didn’t do anything sexual, he never made a romantic overture, he was honest about every woman he hooked up with, and was quite vocal when he fell in love with his girlfriend.

When I was vehemently disparaging about sports – he was a football player – and the Greek system- he joined a fraternity our second semester – he acknowledged my feelings, explained his…and continued our friendship.

One day after I had solidified things with the abusive boyfriend, I surprised myself by turning to him and inviting him to study. I did this even after I told myself it would probably be a de facto tutoring session since something something dumb/lazy jocks. He surprised me by saying yes. He surprised me more by showing up at my room and actually knowing the material. My ex left when he appeared at my door, ostentatiously kissing me goodbye. “That’s your boyfriend?” he asked.

When things went far enough south with the boyfriend that I recognized the icky feeling I had had about the guy came from truth, and this friend finally got me to give him a straight answer about what was going on, my boyfriend somehow lost the ability to await me in my dorm. My friend used his considerable social influence to protect me. As far as I could tell, he did this for no other reason than that he believed it to be the right thing to do.

During that second semester we only had one class together; he borrowed my notes during his Hell Week and we did study together or at least side by side into the wee hours during midterms. I went to his initiation party and he and his brothers were shocked – one of them, fueled by drunkenness, literally ran around the party yelling “Diana showed up!” When I hugged each of his brothers and congratulated them, I told them “Some things are more important than my opinions.” I meant it. I disagreed with the fraternity life – but I could see that my friend and his pledge class got something out of it, and it mattered to them, and I was okay with accepting that even if I didn’t understand it. This friendship, and actually knowing this person, changed my mind about who frat boys could be, even as today I struggle with who the younger generation are choosing to be.

By that time we had become real friends, and while he likely doesn’t remember, my world filled with stories of him as an instigator. He had given me my first illicit drink – by accident, thinking I was joking about my “no drinking, no smoking,” and later, on purpose.  I tried to only come visit when he explicitly asked me to. I kept to that rule the entire time I attended that school. The second semester of our freshman year, he called me almost every night, somehow always timed to be right after I had taken my before bed shower. I would come down, my hair still wet, and we would talk about high concept nothing. I suspect those calls were placed when they were because his roommate at the time enjoyed women with wet hair, even if one of the women was me. I suspect it was also a way of making sure I was away when the creepy boyfriend found excuses to drop by – in many ways it was more about protecting a woman than it was about spending time with me.

Just knowing this young man was the most enriching part of my experience at that college.

There were days where he was the most empathetic and tolerant guy I knew, and other days where I would throw my hands up and yell “You’re fucking Zorg!” as Aquarian abstraction and obscure political views burst out of him, well thought out but impossible for me to connect with.

The last night of freshman semester I didn’t know if I’d be coming back – money was tight, my family was weird and silent, avoiding conversations about several promises concerning my education that they had roundly broken or were adamantly denying they had made. My mother had become steadily more vituperative and bitter every time I saw her; I didn’t want to give her excuses to deny me further education, especially not the excuse of a hangover. She had predicted that I would “go wild” and while I hadn’t, to her mind anything I did that involved interacting with other class members merited slut-shaming. When he asked if I’d go to that last frat party, and I declined, explaining about my mother picking me up the next day, he just smiled.

At one in the morning, he was knocking at my door, begging me to come down the hall. So I went – and there was a room party filled with people from the freshman class. I actually felt comfortable, and was joking and flirting with him when a guy that had taken to throwing beer on me at parties interrupted us. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” he demanded. My friend, by that time, had a girlfriend but apparently my boyfriend was an issue.

“Yeah, I have a boyfriend, technically,” I answered.

“So what, are you a slut?” My brain blanked out.

I started retreating into myself, the first retraction before leaving the party, when my friend bellowed, “Will you let her relax?”

The hostess, who had no qualms about cheating snapped in, “What are you, the boyfriend police?”

My attacker faltered. He had not expected this turn of events – he did have a weird fixation on me, and was often very nice to me in class only to come very close to assault if I let him anywhere near me outside of class.

My friend turned to me and said, “If you want him to leave, I’ll kick him out of here.” The hostess seconded this notion, asking me to make the call.

I thought about it, and if I’d asked him to be removed, I have no doubt it would have happened. But I decided it was better to make an ally than exacerbate an enemy, so I said he could stay.

Shortly before the party was broken up by an over-vigilant and bitter hall director, my friend persuaded me to tell him my childhood nickname. He climbed up my outstretched legs when I refused and said “C’mon, I’m your friend.”

I knew what he was doing, and he knew I was vulnerable to him. I also told him. I actually wished he had called me by that name, something specific and private for him and me. But he never did. He stuck with Di, or Diana when he was mad at me or talking about me as an academic.

When the party broke up, someone with serious beer breath demanded a kiss, he got one on the cheek, someone yelled “I love you” down the hall at me and while I think it was him and certainly wish it was, I am unsure of my own memory after this long.  I also recall assuming that whoever it was had beer goggles and would not want a kiss or anything else from me while sober.

The ex-boyfriend thought he’d set things up so I’d pine over him that summer. His plan failed. I was relieved to be free of him, and recovered fast, having a summer full of friends, playgrounds, shitty jobs, and random make-out sessions.

Almost every day, I thought about my friend, and how he opened me up to fun. I tried to make a courtesy breakup call to my ex and his mother – herself quite awful – insisted he wasn’t home. They weren’t important to me. I also called my friend, because I really wanted to know how he was doing. He sounded puzzled when he answered the phone, causing my stomach to make an unhappy drop, but he was nice enough when we spoke. He was really enjoying his time with his girlfriend and family. I had just gotten a job offer at the horrific newspaper customer service job, and I was considering it – it meant I might stay in Indiana and never go back to Wisconsin.

Right after this, my mother worked herself up to fever pitch in the controlling and invasive department, which included her finding an excuse to delay taking me back right on move in day. Rumors sped. So when I came back, most people were surprised to see me, and my friend was at football practice, unavailable to help me unload my mother’s car. I told his roommate not to tell him I’d stopped by – that I would surprise him later.

I remember brushing my grown-out hair and putting on lipstick. I put on a funeral home T-shirt I’d been given the year before, assuming it would evoke a smartass remark from him. I figured I’d see pictures of his summer and his girlfriend.

I knocked on his door and he opened it – and froze. I was standing their with a half-smile, expecting him to read my T-shirt and mock me for it. Instead, he looked in my eyes for a moment, and without smiling, pulled me into his arms.

Our bodies fit really well together,  I remember thinking, followed by Lay off the romance novels. This is your friend. If he wanted you like that, he’d do a lot more than this. 

We just kept hugging, not letting go of each other.

Some girl in the room behind us yelled “Get a room.”

I yelled back, “We’re in a room!” and felt him laugh, surprised by me saying such a thing. It was something I absolutely would not have said to anyone the year before.

It was just one girl jeering at us – most people just looked and went “Uh…what?” since no one saw any reason for her rage at me.

He asked me how my summer was, and I told him it had been wonderful. He told me he’d fallen in love and found god. I wasn’t surprised – he’s been heading that way after some weird hypnotic experience the previous spring. I felt a dip of disappointment I shoved aside and said, “I’m happy for you.”

The second year was different from my first. I spoke to him with ease, without thought. I spoke to several people with ease, especially the men in that corner of my dorm. Women were still more difficult for me then – there was a constant underlying fear of attack, made worse by the newspaper editor who actually did attack from time to time, usually with late-night phone calls where she raged about any petty insult she could concoct. I showed up at frat parties, especially those thrown by his organization. He still asked me to stop by and hang out. We studied. He got a bit vicious about a crush I had on one of our professors, and I snapped, “You’re lucky I love you!” He made an unpleasant face at that, and it was clear he was biting his tongue. I took that to mean I should never go there again – like most men, he didn’t ever want to hurt a woman’s feelings, but he’d tell me to fuck off if the situation was warranted.

Even though we were comfortable, even though we almost always wound up laughing together, some part of me always wondered how close we really were. I knew I had to take a lower priority – he was in Love, big love, life-changing love. Sometimes he would make a face when I talked about my love life, partly because the ex-boyfriend was still on campus, and still vying for my attention, even getting his new girlfriend in on the action. He got angry once when my anxiety over a new boyfriend’s upcoming visit left me in tears. He told me everything would be just fine – and he was wrong. Mostly he wanted me to stop crying. So I stopped telling him about my love life, except when he specifically asked. When he did ask, I left most of the details out.

I desperately wanted to ask him how he felt about me, or about what we were, and I didn’t. The thought made me so anxious my brain would shut down.I did what I did with my love life: I took those needs to give to the people that I cared about less than the one I cared about the most. And it was OK, because the guys I did this with either got it, or just didn’t think about it, accepting what I had in the blind entitlement of men who don’t think of women as people.

I fooled around with a couple guys, and when I got to the second semester of sophomore year I realized a few things. First, that I had to get as far away from my family as I could or I would have a career dead and loveless future filled with unwanted children, and the path of least resistance was Minnesota. Second, that my romantic feelings for my friend had caused me to fall into a caretaker role that was starting to make me hate myself, especially since there was no one on campus that wanted to date me and therefore distract me, and third, for the first time we had no classes together. While realizing I was in love with this friend was a fairly bleak moment, I admire how my brain went to an avoidance-and-dealing plan with immediacy.

I simply stifled my urge to get him out of bed on time for class, taking myself to breakfast and turning all my anxiety energy towards getting myself into a college that I could afford, since the school in Wisconsin had added to the pile by deciding I was more trouble than I was worth and cutting my financial aid to nothing.

It didn’t occur to me in all this that my friend would notice my absence – I assumed he was too busy to care – or that he might, in turn, have doubts about my real feelings about and for him.

I had no inkling he had doubts about me, too.

I had assumed he knew my opinion had changed about fraternities, that my concerns and energy were far, far away from the stupid teapot dust-ups of our college. I thought he understood that my friends were actually far more important to me than some stupid newspaper gig, but then, I had so few friends and I never felt safe enough to be open about who I did hold dear.

Then his fraternity got in serious trouble as a byproduct of some rivalry with another Greek organization. Things did not go well, disciplinary hearings were invoked, and the motivations of the fraternity that turned them in for a rule violation they often violated themselves never did become entirely clear. This friend of mine was a really laid-back guy – even when he took down the slut shamer at the freshman end of year party, he did it from a place of powerful calm.

One evening I was hanging out with my friend’s roommates when he appeared with his hand wrapped in a bandage.

What happened?

I was all pissed off about this fraternity suspension stuff that I put my fist through a wall.

I found that disturbing, but said nothing. I’d just been reading some peer education about warning signs and violence in men, and it flipped more of an alarm than he deserved. After he left, one of his roommates commented to me: He put his fist through the wall because he was mad about you leaving. 

I’d just red a Cosmo article mentioning something about red flags when guys did that.

A girl on my floor the next morning said something similar to me the next day.

I scoffed both times. He had a girlfriend that he was in love with. He wasn’t putting his fist through walls over me. He was him. If he punched a wall every time a friend left that school he’d be without knuckles. The fraternity was about to lose its charter as the situation unfolded and got worse – now that was some wall punching bullshit.

The campus newspaper wanted to cover this story, but no one else on staff could get anything beyond “no comment.” I insisted vehemently  on a conflict of interest, one overrun with “it’s a small campus,” and, despite my best to fight it, wound up assigned the story.

On the way to my friend’s room, I ran over every way I could phrase the interview request to get a “no comment.” I did not want to do this story, I didn’t want to feed the beast, and above all, I didn’t want to hurt him. I remember thinking “Please don’t be home, please don’t be open,” as I walked down the hall past his room, but sure enough, he was there, right by the door, saying hello an waving me in.

I asked. I even think I started with “It’s OK to refuse.”  At that point, I wanted to be alone with a glass of cold whiskey and my  Doc Johnson vibrator.

I was utterly unprepared for his response. For the rage. For the yelling. For the accusations that I was only his friend because I had know this story was coming. For the sudden, terrifying feeling that this person I loved so much didn’t know me at all.

I can’t even remember everything said, I just remember looking in those wounded brown eyes and feeling the depth of pain at the very idea of him believing those horrible things saying “No!” Him looking in my eyes, seeing something, and relenting. I remember in the middle of his tirade thinking, Oh God, it will kill me to lose you so much sooner.

I went upstairs shaken, and my roommate found me crying. I vaguely remember her saying “I’m going down there,” when I told her what happened. I told her to leave it alone, it was fine.

I can’t remember how the next part happened – a phone call? At the time? I just remember agreeing to meet him at his room, that we would talk, that yes, it was for the story. I hoped it might be a talk about our relationship, too – something I wanted, even though my social anxiety left me without the basic mammalian skills required for it.

I spent the afternoon putting myself as professionally as I was capable. I did wear jeans – just cleaned – and a sweater. I think I even put on some lipstick. I wrote extensive question notes. I cultivated as much distance as I could, because suddenly I had to deal with credibility as a reporter, and credibility as his friend.

When I arrived, he had cleared the room of the usual group of guys always hanging around, and he had pulled up a chair by his desk. It was a familiar position. I had spent hours in just that spot, in just that chair, chatting with him and his roommates, drinking, watching Lois and Clark (only when I requested it) and helping the guys spot the fake breasts on aerobic programs.

He pulled out a glass and some whiskey from the refrigerator. Evidently I had left the whiskey behind after a party months before, and he simply kept it in the fridge in anticipation of one of my visits. I had probably indicated a ceding of ownership to his roommate; I am not clear on why this rule of transfer had been refused. I certainly drank enough of their liquor.

He had just poured me a drink when his fraternity president showed up. It had to have been planned. I can’t imagine that it wasn’t. The president had always been polite and friendly to me, and I was always surprised by that. The pres looked at our glasses and said, “Am I interrupting something?” I played along with the setup, dismissing the idea and hoping my friend knew what to say.

The short story – I got my interview from my friend and his fraternity president together.

I’m not sure what led to it but we wound up over at the president’s apartment, located right behind our dorm. We played Asshole, and I lost – so I had to drink an entire pitcher of beer.

My friend had seen me drunk in other situations, and on more than one occasion got on me for trying to beg off of drinking. This time, he had an odd look on his face as I explained truthfully that if I lost a second round I’d like to beg off drinking the pitcher because, with some recent weight loss, I was having a hard time gauging how well I handled my liquor. He was ready to let me away without drinking the first pitcher. I knew I was in some kind of test, so I insisted on drinking it for honor’s sake.

Then, tired and deciding if I hadn’t won their trust with the truth I wasn’t going to win it, I decided to go back to my room and sleep off the beer.

I had walked home drunk and alone after midnight in the dead cold of winter all the way across campus more times than I could count. My friend had never been particularly concerned for me. This time, he insisted on walking me back to my room.

This isn’t necessary, I said. I don’t remember why, I just wanted to shake him off. The head of security isn’t going to see me – our dorm is just across the parking lot.

It was a very small parking lot.

The year before, I had gotten drunk by accident after downing a cup of some concoction he himself had handed me, not realizing I had thought he was joking about all the alcohol he had put in. It was the first time I had ever been drunk. At that time, after he realized I was drunk he had left me to stumble from the dining hall, to my overnight shift on the newspaper, to my dorm room (where the magnetic key proved a challenge), and then on to my room. He skipped the classes we had together the next day, either from his own hangover or to avoid my wrath.

18 months later, he wasn’t willing to let me walk 100 feet by myself. It made me wonder who he knew that had been roofied. In hindsight, I wonder if that was what really happened with his fraternity. Not their fault, but on their watch and thus under their realm of responsibility.

The sexual assault rate on that campus was abysmal. The investigative journalism I had done into it the year before had made that clear. It was why administration wanted me to leave.

I knew this, but I didn’t ask. There was nothing to fear with him, although the outburst with the punched wall hadn’t left my mind. What happened with me that night was the sort of thing used an excuse to call rape a “grey area.”

My room was empty. I don’t know where my roommate was. I told him to go, I’d be fine. I half kicked a shoe off and gave up. Instead of leaving, he leaned down and removed my shoes, got me under my covers on my bed and kissed me on the forehead. I gave up and just let him do it. Part of me wanted to say something, anything. Something needed to be said between us. But I was drunk and he was acting like it was a thing in a way he never had before. I didn’t know what to do with this, and as much as I wanted to blurt out “I love you,” was actually drunk enough that I couldn’t trust it any more than he would…even if that really was how I felt sober.

I went to sleep after he left, and then woke up an hour later, still drunk. I tried to call him and he was nowhere to be found so I wandered over to his neighbor across the hall. We had been messing around for awhile – to this day I am unclear on my motivations for doing what I did where he was concerned and for the most part chalking them up to deep flattery that someone that attractive considered me in a sexual light at all, and simple touch starvation.  I knocked on his door, announced I was drunk, and minutes later I was having the roughest and most ecstatic sex I ever had in my life – I certainly haven’t done something like that since, and if I hadn’t had a pitcher of beer I don’t think I would have done it at all.

Of course, the next day, with my entire upper body bruised and bitten, I had an outdoor lab and it was eighty degrees outside. I could not find any cover up and in my desperation I even asked my friend if his girlfriend had left any. If I hadn’t been hung over the look of horror on his face would have been priceless. As it was I found myself reassuring him that no, I had not been raped on his watch, and to stop him from going on some panicked interrogation of my ex, I told him who it was. He didn’t look at me. He just looked to the side, away from me, and said “Interesting.”  We didn’t really talk again until the bruises cleared up.

I think there was another attempt to talk to me but it went sideways, like it was some sort of mentalist game. Deep down I think it was his way of avoiding his anxiety and uncertainty with me. I kept expecting him to take me aside and say more, to say whatever it was he was really going to say when we had sat down in his room and he had poured me cold whiskey, just the way I liked it. Just the way he had noticed I liked it.

The day before I left for good, he had me come down to play poker with him and the guys. I lost, probably. I finally knocked off early – my mother was going to be there early in the morning and I had one last final. I wasn’t going to be given an extra day or two to party like everyone else, or like the year before. I hugged him last. He leaned his forehead to mine, and said “I hate that you have to leave.” It was followed by some promise to bring his buddies up to visit, one I chalked up to promises that would go drunken and unfulfilled. I wanted to say Don’t hate this, please try to be happy for me. Please try to understand why I’m doing this, why I have to, why I wouldn’t ever leave you if there was a better way.. Instead, I said “I would LOVE that,” so at least, this way, he would hear the word love from me, even if I never actually said the words “I love you” like I wanted to. I didn’t know if it would be welcome from me, and I didn’t want to ruin my welcome with him, the one he had given me so generously even though I did not deserve it.

It wasn’t the goodbye he deserved. He deserved so much more from me. But my social anxiety just wouldn’t let me risk showing him everything that was going on with me; one annoyed look would have shut me down anyway. When I think about that time in my life, I wasn’t saying goodbye to the school. I had my experiences there, but the school wasn’t what mattered – he did. He had told me once, our freshman year, that he was planning on transferring to another school in pursuit of his dreams. I remember thinking, unbidden, I can’t imagine this school without you. At the time, I told him I planned on seeing this school and its writing program through to the bitter end.

We both ended on far opposite ends from our life plans.

When I think about that time in my life, there were people I liked – but he was the one I loved. He was the one I gave a damn about leaving. But I didn’t tell him for fear of killing our friendship…although not telling him may well be what did.

Now, I’m facing a move that is just as emotional. The person I love most in the world is coming with me this time – a luxury I have not enjoyed in my previous uprootings. Hell, he’s leading the way. I’m a bit jealous and insecure about the support system he has out there.  But I am going to be starting life in Silicon Valley – the land of cutthroat youth – as an officially middle aged woman, who is aware she has social anxiety and PTSD.  I had those conditions the other times I moved, too, I just didn’t know what they were. I know I’m not crazy or sick – both of these “illnesses” are your mind’s sane pullback to really crazy shit.

Things are different in other ways now, too: I know how to pick female friends that I feel safe with. At this point in my life, I almost have more female friends than male friends. Making male friends is harder for me now, not because I don’t want to have them, but often because men feel a social obligation not to connect on a friendship only level with married women. This makes me sad, sometimes, but personal morality is complicated this way.

I have also made friendship work – including occasionally having to slough off bad or abusive friends – in the one state in this union where making friends is damned near impossible. And I am going to be leaving behind some of the finest people I could ever have the pleasure of knowing, and praying every day to find my soul family in California. My social anxiety has already jumped on its deep fears: what if people reject me because I’m fat (it’s an idiot filter, Di); what if people don’t like me because I’m not their trad, what if people just feel sorry for me and befriend me in the insulting way?

I don’t know if I’ll ever have a friend like him again. Probably not. It takes a unique person to take the treatment and projections I dished out, dig his heels in, and say “We are going to be friends, woman!”

They say you only regret the risks you don’t take. Now, there are plenty of things I actually did that I really do regret. But he is the one thing I didn’t do/say that I regret. But I can’t imagine he’s unhappy. He always had the astonishing ability to be happy most of the time. I learned a lot from that outlook.

So yes, I am preparing to say goodbye to Minnesota. I don’t know if “no regrets” is the right word. And this is going to take one hell of a lot of mental preparation. But I want to acknowledge that 1)I’m genuinely scared about it and 2)it won’t be like last time or the time before. This will be the first time I haven’t done this alone – and that in itself is a new adventure for me.

Resentments

My aunt died of cancer at the beginning of my senior year. It had been a second or third time with it, and the treatment had run long, with my mother constantly using buzz phrases like “the miracle factor” and how “positivity allows greater room for healing.” When she wasn’t carrying on about my aunt, my mother was obsessed with my sister’s at-best dubious lifestyle choices. This left her approximately no room in her consciousness for me.

Sophomore and junior year of high school I became the ignored family member, as my mother’s entanglement with her sister and her preferred daughter grew. Sophomore year was difficult – I’d had a big, complicated breakup, a suspension related to that breakup, and different friends of mine noticed my depression and attempted to flag my mother. Yet, while that year was rough, I did heal, unimpeded by my mother’s attention. By junior year I thrived in my mother’s neglect, easily sidestepping her micromanagement and control thanks to her own distraction. I had my first serious boyfriend. I brought grades up without tutors. I had friends, all nerdy creative outcasts. I understood what was happening with my aunt was very, very bad but I understood constantly dwelling on it did nothing.

My aunt having cancer I understood as serious and dangerous, but it was not an upsetting part of my life. Part of it came from being a teenager living in hellish situation: I could only focus on so much at a time, especially during those hellish moments when mother and sister turned attention back to me. There were a few times, with stress and sabotage having nowhere to go, they would corner me – even though it was far less than typical years for them.  My aunt lived far away, almost four hundred miles; she wasn’t a big part of my life. That was part of why her cancer never became a Big Deal to me until the memorial service (she didn’t have a funeral) itself.

The other part was that I simply disliked my aunt. She was mean to me, at any given opportunity. When I was seven, she made a it a point to sit down next to me at a holiday dinner and monitor every bite I ate, editing all my food and making a celebration for everyone else a long-running humiliation for me. This activity was repeated by her nearly ever year, as though fat shaming me and encouraging others to treat me as less than a person might, in a single holiday session of elbows in my ribs until I had to run to the sole bathroom in my grandparents house and vomit, make me thin. She would bring presents for my sister, and then some yard sale crap for me, saying something about how she “didn’t want me to get jealous.” On my own birthday, the yard sale crap would continue – if she bothered at all. Since I’d never demonstrated jealous behavior about my sister, it was clearly a projection. My aunt had a very low opinion of fat girls, in part because like my grandmother, she used to be one.

When I was 12, she was having gall bladder surgery and had been transferred to teaching the sixth grade. She smirked down at me and said, “I’ll especially hate twelve year olds this year.” I knew she wasn’t kidding, and I knew my family including her would insist that I just needed to learn to take a joke – even if I was 12, even if she was especially a bully to me.

I was named after this aunt, forced to share an unsuitable middle name, but my sister was her obvious favorite. This aunt had two children of her own, older than us by 15-20 years. Over time my sister came to manipulate both her kids with the expertise of a South American dictator. One of these cousin’s wife persists in behaving as though she is connected to me even though she is not – another fat girl defying familiar expectations, and while her kindness has always been appreciated, she brought with it expectations that made me feel pressured for all the wrong reasons.

This aunt’s husband, however, was kind to me. I never fully understood why; maybe he just saw dozens of kids like me in his job as a high school band director or maybe he just liked to root for the underdog. We would take our clarinets to family gatherings, sneak off and he would tutor me in my technique. He and I both knew I never wanted to be a professional musician – but it didn’t negate his kids’ resentment of me, especially his daughter’s, since I suspect he gave me positive attention denied her.

This was, of course, compounded by my sister’s remarkable adroitness with manipulating negative feelings towards me, lying with just enough truth to qualify her for a job with Fox News.

I didn’t care about the attention from the uncle, though I liked him – I just wanted to get away from the room full of people that openly hated me, and get a break from being treated like wait stuff by his children, my uncle’s children, and my own family. In my teen naivete, I considered that my cousins might resent their father’s kindness to me, and dismissed it as too petty for adult children who were equal enough to speak honestly to parents. His daughter was near 30, beautiful, and successful – resenting a fat 14 year old girl made absolutely no sense. At the time I had no idea that almost no one in my family, or in adult life really, actually deals with feelings honestly, especially not when it comes to their parents.

There was one thing that my aunt did for me that was good. I don’t think she intended it to be a positive thing; in fact, I think it was the summation of her complaints about me, her unworthy namesake who reminded her too much of herself. “You can’t compare [my sister] and [me.] You can only contrast them.” It served as a reminder that my sister and I were indeed separate people and my sister’s choices would never be repeated in my life.

When my aunt died, this seeming awareness that I never imitated my sister’s choices died with her. When my sister got pregnant at 22 while still living with our parents, I had to awkwardly sidestep a lecture from my grandmother about how my trapping a man that way wouldn’t work for me and might not even be possible because of my size. Since I had not even been on a date in six months when she said this to me, it was especially bizarre. When I went away to college, there was shock and anger instead of the congratulations. Extended family didn’t really acknowledge my graduation at all – apparently doing it for my sister was enough, and since to their minds I was a mere shadow of her it didn’t matter. Even my father seemed to forget the years of pressure to go to college cultivated by my mother, trying to convince me to just go to massage school or become a paralegal instead of using the money I had earned, saved, and inherited over the first 18 years of my life to get higher education and real independence. Both he and my mother expressed an assumption I would flunk out, since my sister performed very poorly at both the private school and the state school she attended.

When my first semesters of college proved these assumptions dead wrong – no pregnancies, all dean’s lists – my mother acted like the straight As I got didn’t exist, and behaved as though I might be cheating on my coursework. In any phone call with her that wasn’t a monologue about every trivial detail of her life, or every trivial detail of my niece, she alternated between slut-shaming me and nagging me to hurry up and find a husband for grandchildren that I instinctively knew she would abuse.

All the sins of my sister were projected onto me, the way my grandmother would take beatings when her sister misbehaved. My mother assumed I was sleeping around and, on a surprise visit filled with aggression and need for control, said so to two of my male dorm mates. My dorm mates knew me. At that time I didn’t say a word against my mother, so their conclusions were their own. They were not \sympathetic to her constant derogatory manipulations like my cousins were, and made it pretty clear I was none of the things she was calling me. I don’t know what they said, but my mother told me she found them “disrespectful,” suggesting they called her out on the way she talked about her daughter.

My actual behavior didn’t matter. She imagined me a certain way, and despite a void of evidence in my behavior or results,she was determined that I was malicious, manipulative, and promiscuous.

I can only imagine how it would be if my mother’s sister had lived to see me get through college. I don’t think I’d have bit my tongue around her as I got older. As a kindness to my mother in her grief, I had my full name printed on my graduation announcements, even though it cost me more and I always hated my middle name. But my aunt, who was a community pillar, was not that for me.

I don’t want to bear the brunt of her name. I’m a good person who left behind the life of abuse my aunt contributed to. She doesn’t deserve to have me carry her legacy. Let someone else take the name, someone who has reason to celebrate her – she made a positive difference to a great number of people, even as she made a deeply negative impact on my own life.

13528360813632What she hated and feared in herself she took out on me.

My first name, Diana, is a sort of accident: my mother had ruled out Rosemary or Rose Marie after meeting my father’s cousins of those names. It’s just as well, with a wife named Marie. Diana is an expansive Goddess: in one aspect an independent hunter, in another a mother, in another an arbiter of wisdom, and ultimately one who frees the abused from slavery. Diana is an honor I bear with joy, and not just because she takes pleasure in it being a cosmic fuck you to someone she views as undeserving of the child in me she was given.

My last name is the name of people who had their lives taken away, and reclaimed them with blood, tears, and toil. My surname is the name of people escaping Krakau, it is the third name read off the list in the movie Schindler’s list, it is the name of the freedom fighters that somehow survived the uprising of the Polish Underground. Whatever the failures of my father’s parents – and they were considerable – these damaged ancestors are part of my power, and have given me the gift of just not caring that I might fail, because the fight alone is what matters.

This leaves me the middle as my missing piece. I have an idea, one that honors my relationship with plants, my love of herbs, my love of the rooted mystic. I will be making a legal name change soon – to disavow those who did not love me as a child should be loved, but also to honor the love I was given, from the land itself.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Why I dress like a muggle

Pagans as a group are social separatists. Like lots of counter culture and subculture people they like to have their own shops, wear a specific style of clothing and a lot only socialize with each other.

Me, all muggled up
Me, all muggled up

Some of this is a tough call: it is far easier to talk about Pagan spirituality and the consequent lifestyle with other Pagans. “Give me a minute, I have to check on some candles burning I’ve left in the tub,” or “Can’t go out tonight– it’s Ostara,” are things you can really only say to other Pagans without a long explanation having to follow.

Yet there’s a price to too much engagement with the Pagan community: the inability to communicate outside of it. Really it’s not a unique problem – too long with any in-group of any variety and you reduce your ability to connect to anyone outside of it.

My wake-up call happened about 10 years ago. At the time the whole of my social life consisted of Pagans and people I knew from work. I had a very hard time talking to the people from work.

After attending 2-3 parties in a year with heavy non-Pagan presences I found myself unable to talk about things besides witchcraft and RPGs. This embarrassed me. It also made me think – really think – about the role and purpose of my own practices. I had excluded myself from real friendships. Sure, I could have copped the attitude that they were a bunch of squares, stiff necked about the spirituality of others. But to do so is sheer narcissism. These people were plenty interested in me and really, I them. They just weren’t interested in the Pagan part of me.

It is possible to accept a person’s spiritual life without wanting to know more about it. It’s actually rather important to do so. It’s the best way to avoid sinking into the mentality that  the only true way a person can understand a religion is by converting to it. I’ve seen it said by certain rather controlling religious groups, Pagans among them. It’s a crock. It is possible to genuinely understand a religion and not convert to it. That is not, alas, what most people do – thus the weird religious bigotry issues we have that end in Highlander “there can be only one” spiritual warfare.

As it was, I realized I had to cultivate some interests outside of magic and Paganism. I was already running into the situation that very few of my Pagan peers had any interest in magic in the same way that I am interested in it. So I spent a few years frustrated by that, and then I moved to San Francisco where actual magical practice is common.

I also started cultivating friends outside of Paganism. Those not as close to me have no idea I’m a witch. It’s not something we really need to talk about – because it’s not the only thing I am. Others that might know I’m witchy may not know I am a Doctor Who fan, or that I write poetry or that I have an interest in vegetarian cooking even though I am not vegetarian. I’m a bit useless on politics – even the much celebrated DOMA strikedown looks like a manipulation and distraction to me (although it backfired in a most gratifying way.) Mostly I sidestep it – far too many people keep presenting their opinions to me as facts and it’s the political version of the religious situation I referred to above.

I have done so much to cultivate my outer resources that I have  very few people left in the Pagan pocket of my life. Of those close to me, none are Wiccan. This is in part because the way Wicca was practiced in the Twin Cities felt itchy and wrong to me- and I am not in any position to lead a coven and do it my way. I have gone to the Coffee Cauldrons and meetups, to the public festivals and rituals – and left dissatisfied. It isn’t that those rituals are bad or wrong. They are just wrong for me. I’ve been told by others many times that they have no interest in what I wish to pursue. I am fine with that. But then I get pressured to pursue spirituality in a way that others want me to – and that’s seriously not OK.

I would rather just have my Pagan pocket be empty of spiritual brethren than feel like I have to conform my spiritual practice to what makes someone else comfortable.  I’ll be thrilled if I do meet someone on the same page with me.

Minneapolis Folks – my Paganicon Schedule!

This month looks to be as hectic as last month – I’ve been prepping workshops, practicing, and trying to squeeze writing in around all of it in between tarot readings and baby steps towards having a life out here in the Bay.

All the same, for four days or so I’ll be coming back to my home base of Minneapolis on St. Patrick’s Day, both for teaching a workshop at Eye of Horus and then on to the Doubletree in St. Louis Park for all my Paganicon official activities!

So while this may be subject to change (or overlap) here is my schedule. If you wish to schedule a private reading at a time I am not explicitly scheduled please contact me!

Thursday, March 17
Divorce and Handparting: a Self Care Workshop
7 pm at the Eye of Horus, admission is $25
Register here

Friday, March 18
Magic as a Creative Path: Corralling Crazymakers – 4:00 pm
For folks registered at Paganicon, learn about handling people forever giving you reasons not to move forward in spiritual and magical practice.

Saturday, March 19
Magic to Get on with Your Life – 9:00 am

Stuck? Oversensitive? Obsessed? Use these spellcasting basics and a few (dozen) mental tricks to move forward, whether you’re short of time, patience, or cope.

Book Signing11:00 am – 11:45 am
Stop by with your copy of Divorcing a Real Witch or one of your Sabbat Essentials series and I’ll sign it. Ask all the questions you like. I have no guarantee of straight answers, but you can certainly ask them.

Tarot Readings 12:00- 2:00 pm
Stop by the divination room and get a reading and/or coaching session from me at a special weekend rate.

Sunday, March 20
Numerological Spellwriting
Learn to use numbers for better spell construction and chants. Experiential, with a demo followed by a heavy focus on writing.

There is even more to come – workshops, projects, tarot, and more. Sign up for my newsletter to be kept up to date!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

Powered by MailChimp

Gods that championed the poor

When the person formerly known as Teo Bishop felt his spiritual calling pulling him away from Paganism and towards Christianity, he wrote a beautiful essay (that I can’t find for the life of me here in 2016) on what  made Jesus stand apart from Pagan gods and why that was important to him. His especial trait was that he championed the poor, and this set him apart  from other gods in other pantheons. This is a wonderful feature of Jesus, one entirely too overlooked by modern political candidates claiming to be Christians and those members of certain churches that think their positions of privilege are some cosmic reward for being so good that they no longer have to try.

But it is not true that he is the only deified figure to actually fight for the poor. Some of this is a matter of timing: most Pagan gods popularly worshiped did come from agrarian cults. They didn’t come from worlds of rich and poor – they came from worlds of survive/die. What affected the harvest affected everyone. Only after cities and land ownership became concepts did poverty and wealth become concepts, and concepts as we know them has changed drastically in the last 200 years.

Rather than poor or rich, ancient Pagan gods that were beneficial served who we would now define as poor: the enslaved, women, and the conquered.

Aradia, the legendary daughter of a more recent goddess Diana, also fought for the poor. While mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess, I’ve never been involved in a ritual that invoked her((though I may have done it and forgotten during my early experimental years.)) But in the history(?) left us by Leland, she also stood as a figure of salvation and a champion to the oppressed – and like Jesus, she had the anointed qualities required of a Christ.

From Aradia, Gospel of the Witches:

I wish we knew more about her.

Dionysus was ultimately a god of the disenfranchised. His cult – including maenads, who I believe to be real people and not fictional characters, included slaves, women, and the extreme poor. While the methods of the cult did not necessarily alleviate poverty, the orgiastic rites were a form of relief. Enough so that I look at modern BDSM culture and wonder if there is a Bacchanalian/Dionysian difference in the menu selection of activities and intent within the subculture.

The entire Orisha pantheon is a source of strength under the oppression of slavery and its modern police abuse equivalents.  They are the living preservation of ancestral memory, of who their descendants were before they were kidnapped and forced to come to the Americas.

Perhaps most famous of all of these is Prometheus, daring to give humanity fire and thus their first step out of enslavement to the vagaries of night and day, cold and raw:

With digging there are likely many other gods across other pantheons; I gravitate to Greece and Rome because that’s who I know and feel comfortable calling upon.

Pantheacon 2016 Report

obligatory pose with Krampus
obligatory pose with Krampus

Stats: second year going to Pantheacon
Differences: Presenter this year. More sleep had. Stayed in Fairfield – frequently confronted obnoxious assumption “everyone has a room at the DoubleTree” when that has become well-nigh impossible.
Crisis of 2015: Partner transition and new polyamorous relationship
Crisis of 2016: Best friend had died on Saturday of con
Companions of 2015: Wife, boyfriend
Companions of 2016: boyfriend (wife stayed home), new friends from Emperor Norton Pagan Social

Compliments: I found myself surrounded by support when I got the news about Joe, from boyfriend, friends, wife via text, and total strangers. It almost restored my faith in social contracts. The Llewellyn author parties were fabulous; I got to catch up with Nels and Judy as fellow Midwestern Pagans, I finally met Kat Sanborn face to face after years of handling book reviews for her, I found Tomas Prower, author of La Santa Muerte a delight, and I finally got to meet Judika Illes, Ivo Dominguez Jr. and his husband. Took malicious glee in telling people who I was and pretending I expected them to know my name. Absolutely loved the nagas ritual.

Usual complaints: Room lotto sucks. Assumptions suck. People assuming I’m in my 20s when I’m in my 40s sucks because it’s even more patronizing now, and I wasn’t exactly blind to the condescension when I was actually that young.
Pagan fame chasing is gross.

Specific complaint: Someone actually identified herself as part of an “entourage.” To be fair, this happened after I’d heard about Joe and my polite switch had gone dormant. I think the words “toxic” came out at one person and “your spouse is a freaking grownup,” at another.

Can’t say I’m sorry but it really WASN’T my best moment. …and I kind of do know a thing or three about functional marriages vs. co-dependence.

I didn’t make that many official events besides the one I taught. I was full of nervous energy, and a guaranteed target for Pantycon newsletter as it was. (Pretty sure the “break up magic” indeed referred to the divorce and handparting workshop.)

I’m sure my head was just full of fascinating spiritual insights and exciting adventures at the time. But the combo of con overwhelm and a huge personal loss kind of knocked all that out of the running.