Category Archives: Books
One of the aspects of spring, easy for urbanites to ignore, is the culling. The birthing season for many farm animals means deciding which of the newborns will live, which will be sold, which will be food for the family. With gardening, the sprouts need to be thinned, the weeds need to be pulled, bushes are pruned and flowers are picked or left to bloom and eventually seed.
Part of the process of dealing with my kitchen cupboards falling off the walls is preparing to have my house torn apart for months. This isn’t just a kitchen project. It also involves the bathroom, the basement, the driveway, and some of the yard. I have water issues, mold issues and years of neglect.
My basement has been the land of denial for more years than I can count. I spend as little time as possible down there (because I have massive allergic reactions if I stay). There’s a lot of plain trash. Paper and fabric and wood that has been ruined by water and eaten by mold. I haven’t been able to deal with it because I can’t:
- touch it (without breaking out and/or having an asthma attack)
- haul it up the stairs
- stand to be there long enough to see what is salvageable
So, in fits and starts, I have someone (equipped with gloves and a respirator) doing steps 1 and 2 for me. Step 3 is a little more difficult. There is a lot that I never have to see. It’s undeniably trash. It walks out my door in a bag. I may sigh at a loss, but mostly it’s good riddance.
But there is plenty down there where the distinction is not so clear. Mostly that would be books. The books in bookcases are probably a little (or a lot) moldy. The bookcases themselves are falling apart. But the books look okay. The books are my references, my treasures, my comfort. They’re books!
If I’m a hoarder, it’s about books. There is always money for food, and books. There is always room for food, and books. There can not be enough bookcases. As soon as I get a new one, it’s full. I’m a writer, which means I’m a reader. My basement is full of books.
They come up the stairs box by box. They are no longer in any order, packed more for viability than placement. I have to sort, and cull. Do I really need 3 large boxes of children’s picture books? My children are 23 and 27 and I have no grandchildren on the way. How many herbology books do I need? When do the mythology references just become an indulgence?
There are memories in those books. Some of them survived the house fire when I was a teenager. I open them and smell the smoke, but they also hold the memories of childhood escapes. I spent late nights under the covers with a flashlight, long afternoons in hammocks, curled up on the limbs of a tree with these books.
“Declutter” is the catch word of the day. But this is not clutter. The books without places went out in black trash bags, damp and falling apart. These are the ones that had places on shelves that will no longer support them. These are the curated books that survived multiple moves and life stages. This is culling, and it’s necessary, and it’s hard.
It’s been a whirlwind of a weekend and it may take me a bit to come back into my regular routine. Paganicon happened, which was fun and exciting. I did a presentation on Friday. It was well attended and I got some very positive feedback. I have to think it went well.
I spent plenty of time socializing on Friday. This is a local convention, but it’s getting some buzz on the National scale. Some of the guests and folks coming in from out-of-town are good friends. It’s always nice to have the opportunity to touch base in person with those long distance relationships.
Saturday was our political district convention. Both Orion and I were delegates. This year Orion is excited about politics and I’m feeling fit enough to make it possible for him to participate at this level. We struggle with accessibility in these venues. On caucus night it was the crowds. For the district convention it was the convention set up itself.
The building this district historically uses for its convention is technically ADA accessible. There is a ramp and an elevator. There are handicapped stalls in the bathrooms. However the signage is horrible.
To make matters worse the convention was in the auditorium. You may know most auditorium seating has a small designated area to accommodate wheelchairs. Depending on the auditorium they may or may not have seating near them for companions. But at a political convention the rules require that delegates sit in their precincts – not in the special seats on the other side of the room.
We found a spot in a little used aisle. Little used because the door to that aisle was locked the entire day. Every time we left we had to get someone to go around and let us back in. The lighting was horrible. I had eye fatigue and a burgeoning headache from trying to read the amendments. Orion is legally blind. He can read, but he needs good lighting. I drained my cell phone battery using the flashlight.
In spite of being worn out we swung by Paganicon after the political convention. It gave Orion a chance to visit with some of his friends. He picked up a beautiful drum that he’s enjoying. Orion has an inherent sense of rhythm and perfect pitch.
Sunday morning I was back at Paganicon to do a book signing. It went pretty well for me after one of the organizers kindly found me a decent cup of coffee to get me through. I spent the afternoon actually attending the convention, going to workshops and participating in rituals.
It was a good weekend. I couldn’t have done so much, and at that pace, 3 years ago. I am so grateful to be able to do these kinds of things again, and to be able to do them with Orion in tow.
I was talking about my bariatric surgery and the outcomes with some folks I hadn’t seen for awhile. These are people who have been in that internal debate about their own weight issues. I said that I think part of my success is because I’m not focused on the weight or the numbers as much as I’m focused on the things I can do.
I can get down on the floor and up again. I can go up and down the stairs. I can walk from one end of the convention to the other and not sit down. I can stand for my entire presentation and still manage to pack my stuff up when I’m done. Gratitude keeps me on track. Excitement about what I can do keeps me pushing to do more.
So I missed last week’s blog because I was still in California – giving my presentation. I had a great trip. I talked to some fabulous people. I learned some things and was inspired. I also hope I taught some things and was inspirational.
I think I’m pretty much back in Central Time, but even that’s challenging. My darling daughter wrenched her ankle in a bad fall coming home from work this weekend. 2am in Urgent Care doesn’t help me adjust. But the sun has been shining, the days have been warm. (In Minnesota if the snow is melting it’s warm – even at 39 degrees.)
Looking at traveling as part of a career I’m going to have to find a way to do the body/time adjustment thing a little more gracefully. At least I was kind to myself with scheduling. Aside from the unexpected (there was a trip to the Apple Genius Bar as well) I haven’t had any “extras” on the calendar. That’s about to change!
One of the things I got to do at Pantheacon was Tarot readings. When I do readings I always get good feedback from the clients. This was no exception. But I also had some down time with the cards, so I asked a question for myself about preparing for my presentation. That was a little frustrating. I was committed to being “on my game”. I wanted to be a professional level presenter. I’m invested in preparing to do my best. The cards kept saying, “Give it up. This is something you can’t prepare for.”
My time slot was unfortunate. I presented early in the morning on the last day of the convention. Most people are packing to check out or catching early flights. The audience I was targeting are, as a rule, worn out by this point. I had no idea what kind of crowd to expect and the cards were not helping.
However unhelpful, they were correct. I had a small enough group that sitting down and having a discussion, a personal conversation, was much more appropriate than a presentation. In that kind of setting my goal is always to address the specific needs of those present. It’s not something you can prepare for. You just have to know the material inside and out. I do and I thought the workshop went really well.
I didn’t take a lot of photos. I did get a lovely sashimi dinner one evening. My roommate (who I met when I arrived) was fabulous and we had a pleasant evening together over dinner as well. I sat in on conversations about accessibility for People of Color and for the Gender fluid community. I actually went to one of the ritual presentations (something I’ve not had the energy for in previous years) and enjoyed myself. I spent some time with old friends and made some new ones.
I still have to finish unpacking. I need to sort through all the cards I picked up and find new contacts on Facebook. I need to remember to check my email and gather all my receipts. It’s less than a month until the next one. At least I won’t have to change time zones!
My parents are 80 years old. My Mom had her birthday last month and my Dad is this spring. It is becoming more and more apparent I won’t have them around forever and so the time I spend with them becomes precious.
My blogging buddy Andra Watkins speaks about the importance of making memories. She walked the Natchez Trace with her Dad, and then wrote a book about her experience: Not Without My Father. She’s got a twitter feed at #makeamemory where people share their stories.
When we asked my Mom what she wanted for her 80th birthday she said she wanted to go out with just her girls. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. There are schedules to shuffle, kids to arrange for, and some history of unpleasantness between us. But it’s what she wanted, so I got on the phone.
We kept it a secret until Mom’s actual birthday. Then my middle sister (the one who lives closest) gave her a card with an “invitation” inside. Lunch with your daughters, January 2nd. She was SO excited! We didn’t “do Christmas” until just this past weekend so it was nice for her to have something to carry her through the actual holiday.
Even on the day we had a few minor scheduling issues. I volunteered to pick up my little sister and forgot she’s outside of the GPS maps so we were a little late arriving. My middle sister was babysitting and needed to drop off her Grandson “on the way”. She was driving Mom, who also wanted to stop and pick up a few groceries.
In the end we all made it to lunch. The waitress snapped a photo to prove it. It was a pleasant leisurely afternoon. We sat and ate and chit-chatted about nothing important. We kept it all light and friendly.
My Mom was thrilled. She still talks about how wonderful it was for us to do that for her. She says finally, for the first time in her life, she got exactly what she wanted for her birthday. We made her a memory.
For me, it’s not the lunch that’s the memory. It’s being able to make my Mother so happy, with such a simple thing. Aging is hard for her. She struggles to continue to be relevant, to be heard, to participate and she does better than she thinks. But this day, for her birthday lunch, she could be the center of attention, “the Mom”, and not have to work at all.
The latest Anthology has been released!
The Pagan Leadership Anthology edited by Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood published by Immanion Press.
This book is filled with essays written by authors from the Pagan community. Many of them I know and respect both as writers and leaders.
This may seem like a “niche” market book, but I think it has a lot to offer outside the Pagan community as well.
The leadership models in Paganism tend to be more collaborative than hierarchical. The community as a whole is already “outside the norm” and so its members are practiced at stepping away from systems they don’t like. We often tease that leading Pagans is like herding cats!
We demand a great deal from our leadership and vote with our feet. Sure there is hierarchy and there are occasionally cults of personality. Sometimes personal issues and interpersonal dynamics interfere with the effectiveness of a leader in a larger group. But these kinds of issues also play out in corporate and other community settings.
I am proud to be a contributor to this anthology. Although the examples are clearly Pagan, the principles are applicable in any leadership situation.
The holidays are over, at least for most of us, and it’s time to get back to the daily grind. I suppose those New Year’s Resolutions are supposed to help with that. All those good intentions with the opportunity to put them into play. I don’t bother with them anymore. They seem to just lead to great disappointment when, by February, I’ve forgotten them completely.
There are still leftovers in the fridge. The last of the sweets are around the house. The decorations get packed up this coming weekend. It’s cold, and dark, and a little bit sad to see all the sparkle go away. Resolutions don’t do it for me, but this is the time of year when I lean heavily on Daily
Daily Practice can mean a lot of things. A diet requires daily practice, as does an exercise program (or physical therapy). Most spiritual systems encourage some sort of daily practice. Writing, learning a new language, honing a skill all good candidates for daily practice. And I’ve done them all, at least for a while.
When it’s dark, and a little depressing I use daily practice to “prime the pump”. I find some very small thing that’s easy to do, even if I have to quick do it before I go to bed because I’ve forgotten or put it off all day. Then I just commit to doing it.
Lately my daily practice has been making the bed. This is not a hardship. I have a duvet (and right now an extra blanket/bedspread). There are no hospital corners involved. All it takes is a quick tidy. I can do it in less than a minute. There is no excuse not to make my bed. I just never did it before.
This one small thing doesn’t seem like a spiritual practice. It doesn’t look like much of anything, but it makes a huge difference in my day. Every time I walk into my room and see my bed made it makes me smile. It makes me feel special, like I care about myself. It makes me want to be better at all the other things that need doing.
It does exactly what I’m looking for from Daily Practice at this time of year. It gets me started on the right foot. It sets me up for a productive day. It primes the pump.
It’s Monday. I wrote a blog. I don’t like it. (Critical grumpy-pants!) It’s not like I didn’t have a good week! We volunteered at Gilda’s Golf benefit. We went to my friend Karen Lund’s book launch party at the Como Park Conservatory and Japanese Gardens. We saw Inside Out at the Cinema Grill. I performed 3 rituals. Maybe I’m just tired. Here are some photos.
The conversation about privilege is difficult, because it’s easy to get defensive right off the bat. The thing is that most of us have experienced privilege in some form or other over the course of our lives. It’s hard to see that when we’re feeling downtrodden, but it’s true. Likewise many of us have experienced some form of discrimination based on sex, or height, or handed-ness and feel that gives us some insight into systemic racism. Having a discussion about issues of race can’t even begin until first privilege is understood.
Let’s start with the notion of systemic privilege and discrimination. There is systemic handedness bias in our culture. Left handed people live inherently more dangerous lives simply because the world is designed for their non-dominant hand. But generally handedness isn’t going to get you put in prison. It isn’t cause for shop owners to eye you suspiciously. It isn’t going to prevent someone from renting you an apartment and in most cases it won’t cost you a job or an education. Right handed people are privileged, the world is designed for us.
There are plenty of statics out there that back up an argument for systemic discrimination against women. (Google gender discrimination if you’re interested in going down that rabbit hole.) Women continue to make less in the workforce. We continue to be less upwardly mobile with families. When the same essay is graded by teachers with a male name or a female name the male name paper scores on the average significantly higher. When #allwomen first came out documented how prevalent street harassment is. It became clear that #allwomen have experienced being dismissed in a group, their ideas lauded when reintroduced by a man. There’s a universal uphill climb.
The counter argument is that there is privilege that goes with being a woman as well. The problem is that those cultural privileges are not as universal as the discrimination. Yes, some women can bat their eyes and get out of a speeding ticket. Yes, some women always have doors opened for them (I’d give that up for equal pay – it’s not really an equivalent argument.) And yes, in some cases being a woman means you can hit a guy and he won’t hit back. (Domestic abuse statistics will give some sense of how NOT universal that “privilege” really is.) But I would bet that most women have tried to lean on those alleged privileges to avoid something, or get something they wanted. That doesn’t make this a good counter argument.
There are too many women supporting the men in their lives to argue that being a woman means you can expect the man to pay your way. There are too many women in the workforce by necessity to argue that being a woman means you get to choose to work or stay home. There may be privilege, but the woman privilege may not even be the one that applies. It may be privilege by education. It may be privilege by “pretty” (being blessed with good genes). It may be age. It may be socio-economic status that gives any given woman her privilege.
The argument/counter-argument trap comes up a lot in discussions about privilege. It takes a willingness to actually parse out value to realize how silly this argument can become. For instance, my son who has never walked and uses a wheelchair and an aid everywhere gets “special parking privileges”. What people who make that argument don’t understand is how impossible it is to get in and out of the car without the extra space. What people who make that argument don’t understand is how much energy goes into adaptive mobility. Legs are made for walking, arms aren’t. Shoulders of wheelchair uses wear out much faster and more regularly than knees in walkers.
Most of the people I know with handicapped stickers are grateful for the days (few and far between though they may be) when they feel good enough NOT to park in those “special” spots. The handicapped parking spots aren’t guaranteed. I’ve driven around the parking lot, or decided not to shop on more than one occasion because the spots were full up. All they do is give an underprivileged population a fighting chance to be able to participate in the daily economy.
That’s actually the same argument for title IX to promote women’s athletics. It’s the same argument for affirmative action. It’s not a guarantee. You still have to fight for it, and earn the place. It just gives an underprivileged population a chance. That’s why it’s such an insult to assume that a minority in college or at a workplace got the position because of affirmative action. Remember the comment about grading papers? The same thing applies to resumes. Without affirmative action, with equal qualifications the female or ethnic name doesn’t get the interview as often as the “white guy”. In fact, even with better qualifications employers will often go with a lesser resume that doesn’t look “ethnic”. (National Bureau of Economic Research paper)
In order to better understand systemic racism it is important to actually listen to the experiences of people of color. I am proud to be a contributing author in the new anthology Bringing Race to the Table. This anthology is focused in the Pagan community, but the points it makes are universal. In the first section People of Color describe both overt and covert racism in our community. The second section talks about the historical and mythological context of racism. The third section talks about being an ally and shares ideas about awareness and support. I’m pleased and honored to be able to participate in this ongoing dialog.
My blogging buddies are walking. Tori at The Ramblings and Lisa from Woman Wielding Words are joining Andra Watkins (The Accidental Cootchie Mama) on the Natchez Trace. Andra has spent the month walking the 444 mile Trace to promote her book: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis.
Yes, that’s the Lewis from Lewis and Clark. He died, under questionable circumstances, along the Natchez Trace. Andra’s book is an engaging character study in a genre that defies description. In some ways it’s a historical novel, given the main character of Meriwether Lewis and a few guest appearances from people who could be his contemporaries. In flashbacks we learn about the parts of Lewis’ story that don’t get as much attention in grade school.
Much of the motivation of the story comes from what happened to Lewis after the expedition that put him in our history books. He was made governor of the Louisiana Territory, replacing a career politician who wasn’t happy about losing his post. A desk job didn’t suit him as well as leading an adventure into the wilderness.
In some ways this book is a ghost story. It is set in 1977 and Meriwether Lewis is sent back to “make things right.” The afterlife mythos is curious and complicated. Meriwether truly believes that because his death was deemed suicide he is forgotten by history. He was traveling the Trace in part to take his journals from the expedition to a publisher, but he never made it. But there is also a mission, something he is sent back to do. It seems he is destined to intervene in the life of a little girl.
Em is a plucky and precocious young girl. A native of New Orleans, her parents were recently divorced and her father forbidden to contact her. He’s a musician and Em’s hero. Her mother is not a nice person. She’s running a brothel and has essentially sold Em off for her divorce. When Em learns her mother’s plans for her future she becomes determined to find her father who has moved to Nashville. Running away she literally runs into Lewis and the partnership is formed.
The Natchez Trace runs from the Mississippi river in Natchez to Nashville. It was an important trade route, It aided the western expansion, it was a supply line during the 1812 war and it was a road familiar to Meriwether Lewis. Em and Lewis making their way along the Trace is the setting for the bulk of the story. It’s a road trip adventure novel.
I really enjoyed the book and I don’t care that it doesn’t fit neatly into a single genre. Andra’s writing style is clear and witty and well crafted. Her research into Meriwether Lewis and the history of the Trace is apparent but not intrusive. The pencil sketch illustrations by Helen Rice are beautiful and very reminiscent of the kind of sketches Lewis made in his own journals. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and if you get a chance get out and take a walk. I’ve threatened to take a walk in solidarity. Andra is going 15 miles a day and has been for a month. Tori and Lisa are going to do what they can, but don’t really expect to make it half way. I’ll be lucky to make it to the mailbox, but we do what we can. Have a great week!