bonnie

Delving into the Psyche, Edumacation, New Year New Me, Onwards, Philosophy, Spirituality, Wheel of the year, Witchy

The Darkness

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Yule – the Winter Solstice – is an ancient holiday dedicated to honoring the sun. For ancient people, this was the darkest time of the year (in the Northern Hemispehere, anyway). It was cold, people survived with food stored from the harvests, preserved by drying, curing, or fermenting. More dark means more danger, for a human is a daytime animal with poor eyesight for night movement. The Winter Solstice is the longest night, but within that lengthy pitch black time is a message that brighter days are to come. After all, if you’re in the longest night, logic follows that the next will be shorter, and science proves that each night after that will be shorter and shorter until the sun is back with a warm presence and the ability to see one’s work and one’s path for the majority of an Earth rotation.

The ancient people were, after all, scientists. We tend to forget that because we have had the benefit of millennia of collective human knowledge to build on and we consider our knowledge superior because it is more correct in the details, but in some ways this is a privileged point of view and it dishonors our ancestors by implying that they are less intelligent than we are. They were not. Their science might not look like ours, but they didn’t have the benefits we do of all the hard work that’s gone before us. They were the first. They marked the seasons and noted the calendar both on earth and in the skies. They learned how to cultivate gardens and farmland, how to breed animals to more fully nourish themselves. Tell me that’s not scientific genius. To take this planet, entirely from scratch, and to use it to sustain life, to eventually create civilization (and, yes, modern life has SO. MANY. PROBLEMS. but when you step back from that and realize that even the “synthetic” things in our life have all come from the genius of humans learning how to use the resources on the planet and nothing else, you can see how remarkable our species truly is).

I digress, but the point here is that these dudes knew their shit. Maybe not as completely as we know it, and maybe in different terms with different meanings, but they knew it.

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So. I graduated.

It is dark in my life right now, but life doesn’t operate as predictably as the seasons and I don’t know whether this day is my shortest one, and income is about to lift me out of poverty, or whether I am still early in the fall and I must wait for my darkest night still. That thought is terrifying. There is, of course, also the possibility that spring will never come back into my life. It sounds dark, but I say it without emotion: sometimes, terrible things happen to good people and that’s just how it is. The American Dream, the Bootstrap Myth—none of that shit is real. Capitalism is toxic and most do not thrive in it.

I am not really as pessimistic as that makes me sound. But I am humble enough to recognize that against the forces of fate and capitalism I am no more special than those who do not survive these systems. Just plain and simple: sometimes shit happens. *shrug*

I know it’s a couple of weeks on beyond the winter solstice now, but to face this time in my life – to graduate at the winter solstice – seems particularly apt. I am comforted by the knowledge that the Universe has a rhythm for this. It doesn’t ease my anxiety completely by any means, but it does comfort me to know that darkness is cyclical. Night ends, winter ends, and life changes take effect and the new normal becomes the expected and the comfortable.

I don’t know what my new normal will look like and if I am being honest, I truly hate that part of all this. But I am taking one blind step after another and eventually I will come out of the darkness into the day and I will see my way back to Summer again.

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Where I will hopefully stay for ever and ever with no more darkness or poverty ever again. Right? Yep. We’re just gonna go ahead and go with that.

Uncategorized

Media Archaeology: The View-Master

Introduction

Our world only exists to us through our perceptions, curated by our brains. But our brains are merely computers and they cannot show us more than they have been evolved to show us. There are countless more colors than we can perceive, for instance, with our mere three-cone eyes. “Bats can hear shapes. Plants can eat light. Bees can dance maps.” We are only human, really nothing more than a very fancy bundle of cells. We are, in some sense, prisoner to what our brains can decipher for us.

The View-Master knows how to work with our brains to trick us, to Master our vision, to make something simply two-dimensional into something magical. A simple device, really, it operates based on our binocular vision. Our eyes, being in two slightly different positions, give our brain two different sets of stimuli it must sort out into one image. This is how we perceive depth perception. A View-Master takes two 2D images and forces our brain to stitch them together into one 3D image.

Our understanding of things is not unlike this. The View-Master has a history made up of 2D slices throughout time, and when we place them in context with themselves, we can get a 3D understanding of the device that can shift our perceptions and create a better understanding of this technology and how it pertains to us and our understanding of the world, and maybe also a better understanding of technology in general and both how we relate to it as well as to how it shapes our perceptions of the world around us.

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Photo: Bonnianne Ratliff

In the introduction to their book on media archaeology, Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka write that “media archaeologists have begun to construct alternate histories of suppressed, neglected, and forgotten media that do not point teleologically to the present media-cultural condition as their ‘perfection.'” This is what this essay is about: to dig into the history of the forgotten View-Master and to examine what is excavated. To learn about the contexts surrounding its creation and usage, and to extrapolate from the findings what can be learned about technology and its uses, but also what we can learn about the human experience. Because, as it turns out, there are some very “human-ish” elements to the story of the View-Master which should not be forgotten or erased, but which it is hard to know, exactly, what to do with, particularly in the context of an excavation of technology which we tend to avoid associating with the humanities. But the fact is that everything we do in technology is for the advancement of our species and that makes it extremely relevant to consider all interconnected aspects of this device.

The View-Master itself makes an excellent analogy for this concept because it is all about what our minds perceive versus what we are actually looking at. It is time, then, to dig into this project and to be ready to perceive new things, in 3D, despite what we have believed we have been seeing up until this point.

Origins

A chance meeting by two men in a cave in Oregon in 1938 led to the first 20th Century virtual reality trend, but it was merely a midway mark of the technology’s long past.

Exactly 100 years before, a man named Charles Wheatstone, a British scientist, created a device to explain how stereoscopic binocular vision works in humans. His device was a tabletop one which used mirrors and relied on two drawings, nearly identical, but from slightly different perspectives. The drawings were, of course, two-dimensional, but when viewed through the device, they appeared in 3D.

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Photo: David Tett via King's College London
The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1859

A handheld stereoscope was designed about a decade later by David Brewster and, fueled by the recent emergence of photography, the stereoscope became another major trend of the Victorian era. American doctor and author Oliver Wendell Holmes created his own version of it and chose not to patent it with the desire that more people would be able to appreciate this innovative new technology. It worked and thousands of devices were made.

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Photo: Samantha A. Smith

“The technology was picked up by astronomers for scientific reasons and by educators to help teach children, among other scholarly uses. This was about more than education. It was about forging a new style of cognition and behavior. The science of psychology was new, and proponents believed that children’s mental apparatuses were trainable with rigorous practice. Studying 3-D scenes, the experts argued, would help sharpen children’s attention. ‘Educators would always describe kids as chaotic and unfocused,’ says Meredith Bak, an assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers University. ‘There was this idea that you had to train kids how to look,’ by giving them an ‘object lesson’ to closely study. The stereograph seemed to fit the bill perfectly: By sealing off a student’s vision, it removed the distractions of spitball-tossing classmates and sealed the child into quiet contemplation” (Thompson).

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Photo: Underwood and Underwood via the Library of Congress

Eventually the craze faded and VR technology waited in the darkness of the human imagination for the next idea.

Which brings us back to the Oregon caves in 1938. And here is where the story gets weird.

The Nazi, the FBI, and the View-Master

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Photo: TravelMedford.org, photoartistry: Bonnianne Ratliff

William Gruber, a German-born man living in the US, had combined the idea of the stereoscope with the technology of photography and created a new type of viewer. He was out in the Oregon Caves photographing their strange formations with a special camera he’d created by fixing two Kodak Bantam Specials onto one tripod. Harold Graves, an employee of Sawyer’s Postcard Company found Gruber’s setup intriguing and, once he understood what Gruber was doing, he saw the potential for Sawyer’s to work with Gruber on making the device marketable. It debuted at the World’s Fair the following year as the View-Master.

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Photo via TheStacker.com

Things got tricky rather quickly. In the absence of an American company able to manufacture the lenses for the viewers, Gruber suggested a German company he knew of. However, trade embargoes in the years leading up to US involvement in WWII ultimately made the deal with the German company fall through and they returned Gruber’s money.

Which the FBI noticed.

A German-born man receiving funds from Germany suggested potential spy activity and, while this wasn’t the case with Gruber, he was a member of the Nazi Party since shortly after it’s inception and he supported Hitler. It is said that after the war, once the world was able to see the extent of the Nazi atrocities, he recanted his former position, although, admittedly, the Nazi agenda to begin with is difficult to forgive so this leaves us to muddle through a complicated and messy history of a beloved toy. Most things in our world have complicated and messy histories, the important thing is to be able to hold both at once – to not allow our shame to shape our perceptions to the point that we erase the ugly so that we can more fully enjoy the pretty. That would be a false perception and therefore dangerous.

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Photo: Walter Sigg via eBay

Gruber was exiled to Idaho with serious potential legal ramifications, but his work with Sawyer’s and with Graves did not stop. He communicated by letters to help keep the project on its path, and the government occasionally allowed him trips to Portland to oversee certain aspects of the work.

This seems strange for a man accused of espionage. But, as it turns out, the US had interest in the project as well. They felt it could be used in military training and they had more than 6 million reels of aircraft and ammunition created for identification training.

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Photo: Unknown, Photoartistry: Bonnianne Ratliff

After the war, the soldiers came home and brought their fascination of the View-Master along with them and Sawyer’s original hope of selling a new postcard-type souvenir was fulfilled. The trend extended to the children of the Baby Boom as well and many children’s reels were made of Walt Disney films or other childhood stories.

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Photo: Scanned by Lance Cardinal, Photoartistry: Bonnianne Ratliff

The trend was such a success that View-Master even made their own camera so that families could have reels made of their own vacations, holidays, and lives, bringing control of the view into their homes and hands.

But wait, there's more!

That whole Nazi thing wasn’t the last of View-Master’s troubles. In 2001, after a half century of operations, they finally shut down their Beaverton, Oregon factory amid controversy of health conditions; it was found that there was more than 320 times the legal limit of a toxic degreaser in the well water the employees drank. The company had disposed of the degreaser for more than 30 years by dumping it into the grounds around the plant. Out of 633, more than 200 employees self-reported diagnoses of cancer.

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The View-Master craze has, like the stereoscopes before it, died down. But these things tend to become exciting to a new generation; as more modern technologies become standard the old become kitsch and cool all over again. Perhaps View-Master cannot fully compete with Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but they have iPhone apps which work with Google Cardboard (or their own product).

The app is fun and mildly educational, but lacks depth in terms of information provided as well as what you can do with it. In a sense, it’s more complex. Using modern technology allows it to become a wider 3D image. But the lower-tech View-Master and even Victorian stereoscopes created an image that felt magical whereas these new View-Master apps seem like little more than simply another screen to interact with. The absence of magic means an absence of emotional connection and the viewer becomes less likely to go back again and again because the draw simply isn’t there. It winds up feeling like View-Master is simply trying to keep a placeholder in the market until the technology catches up to the ability to create magic once again.

What Does it Mean?

In 1838 when Charles Wheatstone understood that our eyes can take a simple sketch, doubled, one for each eye, and trick our brain into seeing an image with depth, as though one could walk right into it, he began this journey that eventually led to the virtual reality that is in its infancy today.

In 1938 when William Gruber began working with Sawyer’s Postcard Company to make the View-Master, the US Military was intrigued. Today, too, the military is interested in virtual reality. What civilians are interested in for games, the top levels of the government are working on for training soldiers. Does this sense of gaming have the potential for separating individual soldiers from the humanity behind their warfare? Does the military have a responsibility to make their training lack cool or fun impacts? How does this relate to the violent video games that children play as they are growing up? And is any of this so different than ancient tales of warfare like Beowulf, The Iliad, or the tales of King Arthur?

And, just like the Victorian children with their stereoscopes, educators are looking for ways to use VR with students today (in fact, View-Master’s apps are clearly educationally-driven as can be seen by the focus on imparting information than on simply enjoying a story). There are detractors to students using screens too liberally, but there have always been concerns about fads. Consider this article about the origins of the kaleidoscope and note how similar the Victorian’s concerns of the device sound to the concerns surrounding the iPhone today.

Finally, it is our responsibility to consider the darkness lurking in the history of the device. While I believe we have a responsibility as a supposedly enlightened civilization to not hide the darker aspects of our history, it does raise the question of how we might handle a person like Gruber today? It would be unethical to continue working with a Nazi, but it would be perhaps equally unethical to steal his intellectual property and to continue the project without him. Yet, I cannot fathom a childhood not enriched by the View-Master. Is there an answer here that is acceptable? Is there a balance?

A lesson we can learn from this excavation of the View-Master and, indeed, from the View-Master itself, is that what we perceive is purely in our mind; just as our mind takes two identical, or nearly-identical images and merges them into a 3D fantasy for us to perceive, so too are our other perceptions in the world and they may differ from the perceptions of another person’s. If we can accept that bats can hear shapes and that plants can eat lights, surely we can accept that other humans have different perceptions of the world than we do? This is our humanist duty to never forget. So, then, if this layering of the history of this device can give us a 3D understanding of the device itself, we must also remember that that understanding can be tweaked through our perceptions, even misunderstood or mis-used.

It becomes our responsibility to look to our past as we head to the future and choose to use a 3D view and use it to make ethical choices. It becomes our responsibility to not separate technology from the humanities because they are, in fact, inseparable, and doing so makes it too easy to lack consideration for our fellow people as we progress. After all, all we really have on this earth is each other.

Sources and Credits

The image of the classic red View-Master and reels is by Luke Fandrich of Editing Luke.

Much information was learned via the following links:
The Hidden History of the View-Master (Mental Floss)
Stereoscopes Were the Original Virtual Reality (Smithsonian)
Caves, History, and Invention – The Story of the View-Master (Oregon Travel Experience)

Scholarly guidance and inspiration found here:
Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, Implications by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka
The Forgotten Kaleidoscope Craze in Victorian England by Jason Farman

Delving into the Psyche, Feminist Shit, Literary Shit

Becoming the Medusa

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Art by Rainer Kalwitz

“[Who] hasn’t been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted woman has a . . . divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster?” (Cixious 876).

We are raised by the patriarchy, carefully tended, wings and instincts clipped so that we cannot escape or even think. We are crippled in our minds, confused. We believe what they tell us even though it feels wrong. Instincts, we are taught, are not scientifically based, not “real.” So we discredit them and disassociate.

“A feminist becomes she even if she has already been assigned she, when she hears in that word a refusal of he, a refusal that he would promise her inclusion” (Ahmed 4).

Something, somehow wakes us up, if we are lucky. There is still major disconnect, but we can see that something is not right, that we have been lied to and manipulated, that we have played a role in this ourselves. We cannot quite put our finger on it, but we know that something is very, very wrong.

“I think of feminism as poetry; we hear histories in words; we reassemble histories by putting them into words” (Ahmed 12).

“Feminist theory is world making” (Ahmed 14).

We see that the world is wrong. We understand that we need to fix it, but we don’t know how, and we are afraid of how we may fit into it when we are finished.

 “When you expose a problem, you pose a problem” (Ahmed 37).

We begin trying to speak up and are laughed at, silenced, threatened, or attacked. It is not safe work.

L’Engle talks about how every act of creation is risky, dangerous, even while it is worth it. “Creation is still wildly beautiful, and it is still wild” (L’Engle 16).

 “’To assess the damage is a dangerous act,’ writes Cherrie Moraga. To stop there is even more dangerous” (Anzaldúa 169).

And so we keep going.

To become feminist is to disassemble oneself. To look around the room and see your various parts strewn about. It is unsettling. It is alarming. You have no manual. How do you go back together?

 “Perhaps when you put the pieces back together you are putting yourself back together. We assemble something. Feminism is DIY: a form of self-assembly” (Ahmed 27).

“So I cut and paste and line the floor with my bits of paper. My life is strewn on the floor in bits and pieces and I try to make some order of it. . . ” (Anzaldúa 169).

There is no going back, you cannot fit the parts back together the original way, you must find a new way now.

 “Feminism involves a process of finding another way to live in your body” (Ahmed 30).

We must rewrite our body. We must stitch it back together like the Patchwork Girl.

 “I see that your scars not only mark a cut, they commemorate a joining” (Jackson).

Sometimes, we must share body parts and become one, covered in lines, crisscrossing. Another form of skin-writing.

 “Scar tissue does more than flaunt its strength by chronicling the assaults it has withstood. Scar tissue is new growth. And it is tougher than skin innocent of the blade” (Jackson).

Put back together, we need to bring ourselves back to life because, at our core, we still need work. The patriarchy has done quite a job on us.

 “I began to realize what I already knew: that patriarchal reasoning goes all the way down, to the letter, to the bone” (Ahmed 4).

“Stories are medicine,” says Estes (15). This is how we heal ourselves, how we learn to reassemble, how we stitch ourselves back together into a new person, this is how we write ourselves into existence. We listen to stories, we listen to others. We write ourselves, we write poetry and lyrics, we sing over our bones like La Loba.

 La Loba, Wolf Woman, collects bones. “Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures: the deer, the rattlesnake, the crow. But her speciality is wolves.” When she has a complete skeleton “she stands over the criatura, raises her arms over it, and sings out. That is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more and more of the creature comes into being; its tail curls upward, shaggy and strong. . . . La Loba sings so deeply that the floor of the desert shakes, and as she sings, the wolf opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs away down the canyon” (Estes 25-26).

Once ourselves are healed and whole, again and for the first time, we can see that hysteria is not a problem just as the womb, the hystera, is not a problem. Now we we get to work.

 “Our emotions can be a resource; we draw on them. To be a killjoy is often to be assigned as being emotional, too emotional; letting your feelings get in the way of your judgement; letting your feelings get in the way. Your feelings can be the site of a rebellion. A feminist heart beats the wrong way; feminism is hearty” (Ahmed 246).

“Her appearance would necessarily bring on, if not revolution . . . at least harrowing explosions” (Cixious 879).

“You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful, and she’s laughing” (Cixious 885).

You have gotten past her snake hair. You can truly see her. Why? Because you chose to look at her straight on.

What’s more is that you are not seeing the Medusa, you are seeing you. She is the mirror that was supposed to be her downfall, but that part of the story was a lie because the Medusa always saw herself through truth. The mirror, for Perseus, was his shield, metaphorical and literal, his tool for gaslighting. He saw her hair as snakes and thought it would scare her as much as it scared him so he showed her who she was. Naturally it did not, and so he used it to avoid having to see her straight on, to avoid seeing her truth, her mortality, her beauty and her emotions. Using a mirror allowed him to remain unengaged in the interaction, he remained on this side of the Looking Glass, avoiding crossing into the realm of understanding and growth. Who was really gaslighting who?

To look at Medusa straight on is to see all of this.

We have disassembled ourselves, laid the pieces out, and stitched ourselves back together, singing over our bones to bring us back to life. And now we become the Medusa. We take her crown of snakes and place it atop our own heads in our coronation ceremony through which we become truly ourselves. We reclaim our feminine words and shout them to the world: hysteria! pussy! cunt! bitch! We reclaim our emotions and refuse to be ashamed of them any longer: we cry, we rant, we scream, we rage! Heads turn, confused, because the uninitiated do not know what to make of this spectacle, this sensation. “Feminism is sensational. . . . When you speak as a feminist you have to deal with strong reactions” (Ahmed 21).

And now what? Now, we write.

 “And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you!, you are for you; your body is yours, take it” (Cixious 876).

“Write your self. Your body must be heard” (Cixious 880).

Write yourself into existence. Write on you, write you on paper, on walls, on canvas. Speak the language of watercolor and oils and HTML. Become the hypertext; you are the cyborg that is one and all.

Is this, the last form of the feminist, the end?

Dear god I hope not.

The moment we are “finished” with ourselves, we die internally.

It is not easy to be the Medusa, to refuse to be ashamed of those parts of us that we are demanded to shame. “To expose a problem, you pose a problem” (Ahmed 37). It is hard work and it is exhausting. All psyche-work is spiral-shaped. Sometimes you will come back around and need to re-disassemble yourself all over again. Sometimes you will need to forget how to be the Medusa. “No wonder feminist work is often about timing: sometimes we are too fragile to do this work; we cannot risk being shattered because we are not ready to put ourselves back together again. To get ready often means being prepared to be undone” (Ahmed 27). Sometimes we hibernate mid-spiral, sometimes we power forth. But each time around we come closer to being wholly comfortable as Medusa.

This is the gift we give to our friends and to the next generation: a template for becoming the Medusa and a community in which we can comfortably be gorgons together, doing our gorgon work together.

And then?

 “From now on, who, if we say so, can say no to us? We’ve come back from always” (Cixious 878).

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. 2017.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. “Speaking in Tongues.” This Bridge Called My Back Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, SUNY Press, 2015.

Cixous, Hélène, et al. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 4, 1976, pp. 875–893.

Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. 1st ed., New York, Ballantine Books, 1992.

Jackson, Shelley. Patchwork Girl. 1995.

L’Engle, Madeleine. The Genesis Trilogy. WaterBrook Press, 2001.

Philosophy, Political, Social Justice

In which the Universe sends me the most obvious message of all time

Over the weekend terrible things happened. And many people I know were devastated and angered. And they wondered where they would find the energy to fight darkness. I know I did. My life is hard. I am a single mom to two kids dealing with their own special needs. I am self-employed. I am a full time student. I struggle with depression and anxiety and numerous nebulous physical symptoms that leave me tired before I even begin to deal with my immediate responsibilities, let alone fighting injustice. My friends and I talked about this as we drove down to the vigil here Sunday night (“I’ll go if you go.” “Okay I’ll go if there’s coffee”). We all agree that we don’t have to attend every single event, we don’t have to do All the Things Every Time. But we also agree that it hurts not to. We are not sure how to balance that. t what point is it legitimate to not do An Important Thing, and at what point should we try to rally for one more rally?

I don’t have the answers.

But a funny thing happened at the vigil. It’s almost stupid it’s so blatantly obvious, but I swear I am not making this up.

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We are standing there lifting our candles and singing “This little light of mine/I’m gonna let it shine” and my candle starts to go out. Just mine. Some small breeze wound through the crowd and hit my flame, but not the flames around mine. So I brought my little light down and sheltered it until it was strong again, and until the little breeze went away. When I lifted it up, it shone as strongly as those nearby. The Universe was reminding me how community works.

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The estimation was that more than 1,000 people attended this vigil. Not every one held a flame, and sometimes our flames needed tending to, or went out entirely and needed to be refueled by a generous neighbor. But look at the crowd. Look at all those lights. They are working together and it is not obvious whose flame isn’t lit at this moment because, as a community, we are strong.

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I still don’t know the answers. I don’t know where the line is between when I’m legitimately too tired and when I can push myself a little farther. I’m sure I’ll have to reassess every time. And I’m sure I’ll make mistakes sometimes, either pushing myself too far or not taking my turn when I can. But so long as we just do our best – our honest best – the community has got our backs.

Looking for ways to contribute? These links have some ideas.

5 Valuable ways to use your white privilege to fight anti-black racism

Women’s March: How to get involved

Get involved in the fight for black lives

How to fight white supremacy after Charlottesville

Children of Hoarders, Delving into the Psyche, I Own a Home. WTF?, Witchy

Drainage

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When my mom died and I had to clean up her house, her kitchen sink was clogged. We didn’t get to it right away because, frankly, a sink full of gross water was not a priority in that house. It took a few weeks to drain fully.

Later, as I was sorting through all her old papers, I came across a move out list from when we moved in 1989. This was the house we lived in when she fell apart. It was the worst of all her toxic waste (literally) and her hoarding. She fucked that place up. Once the toilet was broken for I don’t know how long. But we couldn’t call a plumber because of the state of the house. In the move out papers I found that she’d clogged that kitchen sink, too. And then I remembered her telling me that an old landlord of her in the 70’s had charged her for a broken garbage disposal when she moved out.

The woman had serious problems with draining, with letting shit GO. And this is metaphorical as well as literal. She was a hoarder with clogged sinks and grudges that were 30 years old. I feel like the clogged sinks were a desperate cry from the Universe to JUST LET IT GO, WOMAN.

When we first came to view this house, I could tell the woman who owned it at the time was a hoarder. She was clean, but her hallway shower was storage and that’s never a good sign in my experience. I don’t know how I find all the hoarders in the world, but I do, somehow.

Anyway, she put these stupid metal hair catchers in the bathroom sinks and they are forever getting clogged. She couldn’t let things drain, either.

I haven’t done anything about them in almost four years for a few reasons including not really knowing what to do (cause they were STUCK in there), being super busy in other, more important, areas, and, simply, being lazy tired. But today I yanked them out with jewelry tools because that is how I roll and I replaced them with cute little plastic cups from Daiso. I am so ready to let shit drain now. DRAIN AWAY, SHIT. BEGONE. (Certified witchy spell right there.)

I pulled a random goddess card for my altar last night and it was Ostara. Fertility. At first I almost burned it and ran away BECAUSE THIS UTERUS IS CLOSED FOR BUSINESS OKAY (despite the fact that it would have to be the son of god or some shit bc the vagina isn’t exactly a party zone either right now) but then I read the card and it can also apply to the fertility of art, creativity. I read that as: the goddess who motivates you. So, yes, I am choosing to tap into Ostara’s energy of motivation and creativity. I did a deep cleaning of the living room yesterday, pulling all the furniture out and doing battle with the sentient dust bunnies who have been trying to set up civilizations back there. I feel so much clearer in my head without al that dust. I feel so much lighter in my core now that my drains drain. Household cleaning is the same as soul-cleaning and I too often let it go because it feels too overwhelming, despite the fact that I know damn well how much better I’ll feel once I’ve just sucked it up and done it already.

These past few months have been filled with a lot – a lot – of psychological work, much of which has been the Universe’s way of forcing me to do the work of psychologically untangling myself from my mother. I spend so much time and energy worrying about whether I’m turning into her and apparently the Universe has decided it’s time to stop that bullshit and figure it out once and for all. So I’ve been tested by being put in triggering situations that mirror my own traumas and I’ve worked it out each time. When I used to knit more often, sometimes I’d have to untangle yarn. Sometimes I’d have to untangle a whole skein of yarn. I’d declare THE YARN NEVER WINS and it never did. I untangled it every time (except one time, but that was some of that fancy yarn with fringy stuff and so that doesn’t count). That’s what this felt like. I’d struggle with it, and then suddenly, I’d find the key knot and I’d feel it loosen and come undone. And just like that I was me and she was she. And – surprise! – turns out I’m not my mom.

It’s fitting that I’d finally get around to making my drains drain after all that. It was like closure on this chapter of the psyche work I’ve done recently (KNOCK WOOD, UNIVERSE, PLEASE NO MORE PSYCHE WORK FOR AWHILE OKAY). I untangled myself from the shit, and now I’m washing the shit away. Furthermore, I’ve worked to redo my drains in such a way that they won’t clog again. The little cups I’ve got in them are easier to clean, and semi-disposable. In the mean time I’m looking for a more permanent solution, but the point is that things are flowing away again. Just as they should be.

Delving into the Psyche, Political, Social Justice, Spirituality

Women’s March on Washington (San Diego), January 21, 2017

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I am Pagan and I call myself a witch, but I don’t do spells. Not the usual spells Wiccans do, anyway, with an athame or crystals or candles. I’m simply not called to them in any way. I think I’m a little too Atheist for them to speak to me. I have a need to be grounded in a spirituality which is very tangible.

But last night I took sharpies and poster board and did magick with them. I sat with my friend Sofia and made all these signs. I think this is magick. When you create some kind of art, any kind, even if it’s just markers and poster board, you’re constantly thinking about what you are doing. This is a prayer. Knitting a baby blanket is like a prayer for that baby. It is mind work. It is magick. It is spellwork.

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And then we took those signs and joined I-don’t-even-know-how-many other people on the streets of San Diego to show the world that we exist, that we are taking back our power, that we are here and not going anywhere. And we were answering the call of marchers on the other side of this country, this continent. And they were answered by marchers in countries around the world, on every continent, even Antarctica.

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This is spellwork, this is magick, this is a prayer that we all, of every religion and culture, can do together. We raise our voices together and send messages of hope and power together. Of course it’s magickal; of course it’s prayer.

But it won’t fix anything, said my inner voice. It’s not enough.

Of course not. Prayer is not the world’s work. It’s the spirit’s work. As Bethany says, prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes the pray-er. We still have to make the phone calls. We still have to vote. We still have to be aware and educate ourselves. We still have to stay conscious.

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But I came home today and, after napping for two solid hours, I watched a White House video and read some news stories without having to scroll past them before I could allow that horror, our new reality, to sink in. This sounds simple enough, but I’ve not been able to do it for weeks now. My mind’s eye is purposely not making eye contact with the concept of this new president, of his inauguration.

So that’s what the spell did: it gave me renewed strength. Where before I was too weak to do the work of the world that needs to be done, when surrounded by my sisters and brothers in that March today, and throughout the world, I was recharged. The spirit’s work lifts a person up to get the world’s work done.

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This is spellwork. This is magick. This is prayer.

Delving into the Psyche, New Year New Me, Philosophy, The Zebra

Word of the Year: Nourish

nourish

Oh my. It’s been more than two years since I last wrote here. That’s a record! Life has been overwhelming. There was a time when I was a stay at home, homeschooling mom who enjoyed cooking nourishing foods from scratch and finding ways to make it all work out even though our income was quite low. And then I became a single homeschooling mom and I still enjoyed cooking and making it all work on a meager income. And then my income became frightening small and I went back to school so now I am a full-time college student raising two kids who are both in school now on very little money and let me tell you that the current me has no time nor energy nor money to make nourishing foods from scratch these days. I’ve never been rich – far from it – but even then I was quite privileged compared to my life now.

I wish I could tell you here that I love it and that I wouldn’t change a thing, but that’s not quite true. As it happens, I definitely would not change anything, but only because the way my life is right now, is just the way it has to be right now. I’m finally finishing college and my kids are in schools that suit them well. There isn’t any room to change. I have no regrets in the life I have made for myself right now, but I cannot pretend it’s easy. These last six years of growth have had a toll on me and I am exhausted.

Don’t misunderstand – my life is not lacking in joy. My kids are growing up into incredible people that I am so proud to know and we have a lot of fun together. I am loving every minute of being at university and the fact that my responsibility right now is to read literature and discuss it and analyze it feels so luxurious and delicious that I have to pinch myself regularly to be sure I’m not dreaming. I somehow wound up with the two best cats I could dream of – they are just the perfect mix of quirky and not too troublesome. My apartment, while not my favorite location, is growing more and more homeish and lovely inside as I continue to, slowly, fix it up. There is a lot of joy in my life.

But I am tried. I am so tired.

And it’s made me get too far from my better habits. Where I used to eat whole foods cooked in wholesome ingredients, now I eat at taco shops way too often. Where I used to be regularly connected to my spirituality, now I find myself too busy to focus. Where I used to have time for art, now I find myself struggling to meet the minimums of all my to do lists. Where I used to feel good, now I feel terrible.

So this year I want to focus on the word nourish again.

I love the word nourish. I love the way it sounds and the way it feels to say. I love that it means more than just “healthy” – it means to feed yourself making holistic health the goal. And I don’t mean just food. You can nourish yourself with exercise, too. But also with kindness and better thinking. And sometimes with a break from everything healthy. The psyche is just as important to nourish as the physical body. Sometimes, let’s be honest, trashy TV is exactly what you need at the end of a long and difficult day. The key is to do it mindfully.

So I’ve made this little doodle. I plan to print it out in various sizes and post it in places in my life that will help me remember that nourishing me is the goal. I’ll put one on the fridge for obvious reasons, but also on my bathroom mirror to help me remember to nourish my health by flossing every night. One on my bedside table to remind me to nourish myself by sleeping well. I’ll make one my lock screen on my phone to remind me to use it in ways that nourish me rather than as a means of escape or mindlessly procrastinate (notice the use of the word “mindless” there, because surely some procrastination is nourishing). I’ve made this doodle in black and white so that, during the year when I inevitably fall into old patterns, I can color it up or decorate it in different ways to make it new and obvious again. Art is meditation is prayer. And new things in the environment remind me to refocus. Win-win!

My life is still overwhelming and it will be for the foreseeable future. I can’t simply decide things like “no more eating out!” when, quite frankly, that will be an unreasonable goal for me at times. Instead I want to relearn to take a moment to focus on the word nourish and decide whether eating out is the most nourishing thing for me at that moment. Maybe it is at that moment. The goal is simply to stop acting mindlessly and to start connecting with my whole self on a regular basis. Remembering to nourish me means to remember to nourish all of me.

Do you have a word for the year?

Uncategorized

OH HAI

I don’t think I’ve gone this long without blogging in a long time. But here’s what’s going on:

~I am taking two classes at school – Spanish and creative writing.
~I am homeschooling my son during the day (this is going quite well these days) and I am staying on top of my daughter’s homework at night.
~I am pretty much never cleaning the bathrooms. So. Like. Don’t come over.
~I am taking Prozac daily and I think it’s starting to make a difference.
~I had like 100 doctor appointments recently including an ultrasound of my heart and the opportunity to wear a monitor for a week, and then another appointment where people touched my eyeballs. No sir, I did not like that.
~That same week my son had two teeth pulled. Turns out he is a happy drunk. He said things like, “I LOVE the dentist,” and when the hygienist told him he was doing wonderfully, he replied emphatically, “No YOU’RE DOING WONDERFUL.” This from my son who has such severe sensory issues that he cannot even tolerate a teeth cleaning. It was hilarious and, frankly, a major relief.
~The kitten (you know, the fourteen pound 19 month old cat we call a kitten?) is just a general mess right now. She’s limping for some reason that is probably (hopefully) just an injury, and she’s barfing for some reason that is probably (hopefully) just a stubborn hairball. But it’s so very stressful and she’s so very sad and I just miss when she used to feel well enough to annoy me by climbing on the table and eating our food and stuff. *sigh*
~One day they shut down the building my Spanish class is in because ebola, but it turned out to be a total lie from a student making excuses for absences. But that was, you know, a really fun day. Who makes excuses like ebola?? I mean, really??
~It’s never going to be colder than 80 degrees again and I just cannot.
~My daughter has a terrible head cold and I just know it’s coming for me. It’s like a horror movie where you know you’re the next to get murdered except way worse because you have to live through it.

I feel like I’m forgetting some stuff, but that’s the general idea anyway. And that’s why I’m not here. I have a lot of things I want to say and then at the end of the day I have zero energy to say them. It’s frustrating, but I guess it is what it is right now. And that is okay. Smiley emoticon.

Depression/Anxiety

Depression is an Abuser

Here’s a novel idea: Maybe I’m not actually a terrible person who’s basically a lazy sinner?

No, but really though. This is something that, at 36, I am just now digging out of the muck of my psyche. In fact, this is such a recent and active mental archeological site that the use of the word “sinner” up there surprised me and then led to a WHOLE BUNCH MORE ARTIFACTS. Disclaimer for those new to this blog: there is a lot that is beautiful about Christianity, and certainly a lot of Christians actually act as Jesus would have, but the churches I grew up in were more focused on control and hate than on the love they pretended to preach. And, as it turns out, I just found a new layer of pain from having grown up with the belief system that if I wasn’t perfect I was sinful (full of sin, apart from God, alike to darkness, bad).

But backing up a few months. Sometime last winter my hands were doing the thing they do sometimes where they go numb or tingly or tingly-numb. I have been told this is stress. And lord knows it could be. But it also seems entirely unrelated to anything. It happens on its own schedule, independent of anxiety attacks. I don’t know. But I hate it. So every so often I’ll take a moment to re-Google it, in case I am missing something. And this time I fell down the autoimmune disease rabbit hole and, oh my goodness do I have a lot of symptoms. Throughout my adult life, at one time or many, I’ve had sudden exhaustion, weight gain or inability to lose, hair loss, and on and on and on and seriously on. And a lightbulb went off: mayyyyyybe when I get suddenly too tired to do something, it’s not just that I am a lazy sinner who’s just the absolute worst – maybe there is a real reason for it?

And of course, the thing is that there IS a real reason for it. I’m not feeling terrible just cause I think it’s super fun. And, regardless of what the spiritual leaders of my youth would say, there actually isn’t any such thing as sin.

And then just last week I read this (from this post).

Until I started taking my antidepressants, though, I didn’t actually know that I was depressed. I thought the dark staticky corners were part of who I was. It was the same way I felt before I put on my first pair of glasses at age 14 and suddenly realized that trees weren’t green blobs but intricate filigrees of thousands of individual leaves; I hadn’t known, before, that I couldn’t see the leaves, because I didn’t realize that seeing leaves was a possibility at all. And it wasn’t until I started using tools to counterbalance my depression that I even realized there was depression there to need counterbalancing. I had no idea that not everyone felt the gravitational pull of nothingness, the ongoing, slow-as-molasses feeling of melting down into a lump of clay. I had no way of knowing that what I thought were just my ingrained bad habits… weren’t actually my habits at all. They were the habits of depression, which whoa, holy shit, it turns out I had a raging case of.

I read that and started bawling. The bolded bits clearly came out of my own heart.

At the beginning of the summer I had that, for lack of a less cheesy term, breakthrough that helped me so much. And I felt pretty much instantly better. And at the time I wondered if that wasn’t just the high of a release after having been trapped in my own head for too long – and it turns out that, yes, that probably is exactly what it was. I had a terrible week the week that Robin Williams died and all that terrible shit in Ferguson was happening, and I haven’t really felt consistently good since.

But there is still a difference. Because things are clearer now. I can see what I am dealing with (depression) and I know that it lies, and I know that it’s real, and I know that it isn’t me. I may not feel good, but I am working to change my inner dialogue so that it reflects the truths. Instead of, “Ugh. I am so lazy today and can’t get anything done!” I say, “Wow. Depression is strong today. That’s okay. Tomorrow might be better. If not tomorrow, certainly one day in the near future. Depression comes and it always goes.”

For the record, I am also working to find meds (or something) but for reasons I won’t go into right now, that’s currently at a standstill, and anyhow, hasn’t been a simple process for me this year.

And then, this week, I started noticing that the bad thoughts were sinking back in. The abusive ones. (I nearly wrote self-abusive, but it’s not me doing the abusing and I will no longer blame the victim.) But I could see them for what they are. Nearly, anyway. It was like trying to spot ghosts in the mist – I knew they were there and I could almost make them out clearly. But it didn’t matter. I didn’t need to be able to take a clear photo, I just needed to know they were there so I could work to stop them and to change my internal dialogue. To take back my power.

Late last year I wrote that I am so sick of writing about depression. And then shortly after that, I wrote about how everything was good again and depression was totes gone forever and ever. That has been the story of my entire adult life. Depression -> having a good day and feeling like Depression was gone -> being depressed and being embarrassed -> overly hopeful that the depression was gone for good this time for reals. And feeling like I let everyone down if I was, in fact, still depressed (oh look! Another new artifact!).

Aw, how dearly innocent I was 11 months ago. It’s embarrassingly hilarious that I didn’t see what was so obvious.

I think I see now that I’ve just always been depressed. It’s hard to see for a lot of reasons. Partly because it looks so much different than my mom’s did. Partly because it doesn’t let me see it (it lies, remember? it’s an abuser, so it puts the blame on me). But also partly because it’s not really that bad. I allowed it to let me believe that I didn’t suffer from it enough so I didn’t really have the right to be gentle with me.

In fact, yes, let’s take a look at some of the more subtle signs of abuse (from this list), here are the things my depression did to me:

#2 Incessant lectures. Your partner constantly tells you how you’re so flawed and how you still need to improve in so many ways.
#3 Painful comparisons. Your partner constantly compares you, either with your more prettier or successful friends, and tells you how much better than you they are. (Also comparing me to those who are “more depressed”.)
#5 You get blamed for no fault.
#7 Your self esteem is crippled. Your partner constantly tells you how bad or worthless you are.
#10 The humiliation.
#11 Big demands.
They set unreasonable expectations and make big demands from you.
#19 Emotional memories. Your partner constantly reminds you of all the times you’ve screwed up each time there’s an argument or a discussion.
#20 Your achievements don’t matter. Your partner glorifies even the smallest of their achievements and proudly brags about it. But on the other hand, no matter what you achieve or do, your partner always mocks your achievements and makes you feel silly for celebrating it.
#21 Denial. Even when you point out their emotionally abusive ways, your partner doesn’t accept their emotionally abusive ways as a flaw. Instead, they convince themselves and try to convince you that they’re doing all this only to help you become a better person and stand on your own feet.

I don’t know what the future holds. I know it will hold a lot of ups and downs. I know that depression will always be a part of my story and a part of who I am. I hope that I will continue to be able to make the distinction between it and me, but I also know that abusers are crafty and that I might not sometimes. I believe that the more I dig and the more artifacts I discover, the more I will be able to separate myself from the depression, even if the depression is here to stay. So, even though I feel like crap today and told Facebook that I was having a hard time humaning and was, instead, turning into blankets, I feel so much clearer than I did last year. And I’m holding on to that feeling.

Just Life, Ranting and Raving

IMPORTANT PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Just so you know... This exists now.

The past few weeks I’ve been exhausted. Like. EX.HAUST.ED. Like where I feel like I’m wearing a suit of weights and I cannot make it through the day without a nap. I have always had moments or days like this but never for a stretch this long. I have various other health concerns being checked out so I figured I’d have to bring this up to my doctor, too, and hope to god it’s not something deadly (mild hypochondria mayyyybe).

But then.

Earlier this week, I ran out of this super delicious iced coffee Starbucks sells in grocery stores now so I did my old standby of making an iced coffee out of a packet of Via. I felt great all day. I was so relieved to think the exhaustion might finally be clearing up. I even had the energy to run to the store to buy more iced coffee.

You know what’s coming right?

THIS STARBUCKS ICED COFFEE DOES NOT WORK. I REPEAT: THIS STARBUCKS ICED COFFEE DOES NOT WORK.

It doesn’t say it’s caffeine-free, but IT CLEARLY IS.

THIS STARBUCKS ICED COFFEE IS A DIRTY, DIRTY LIE.

I Googled but no one else online seems to be talking about this very serious problem. Of course, that could be because no one online seems to be talking about this coffee at all?

IDK WTF you did here, Starbucks, but I, for one, am personally hurt and I’ve lost some trust.

My lovely readers, spare yourself weeks worth of health-related anxiety and don’t buy this coffee even though it’s got a warm and rich, slightly nutty flavor. Sigh. What a loss.