A Tale of Cataclysmic Stagnation

I just clicked on a blog post for writers wherein the author listed the most popular books to read if you want to write. Scrolling the article, my mind responded to each suggestion as follows:

Got it

Read it

Hated it

Loved it

Borrowed it

Just bought it. Returned it.

Then I wondered, when did my inner dialogue begin to sound like Grumpy Cat (God rest his soul)?

Last night I was sitting in the chair where I sit and think quietly, one of my favorite things to do. This is an activity completely different from meditation, wherein one tries not to think, utilizing all manner of tools and techniques to invoke the serenity of the infinite within the confines of the human condition. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

That is not what I do when I sit and think quietly to myself. I stare at a wall and ruminate. I allow the flotsam of past failures to froth the edges of my mind like filth and foam on a shoreline. I tilt my head and remember an idea I once had and quickly forgot, resolving to write it down so I’ll remember this time. I don’t write it down, I forget it again. It must not have been that good of an idea.

Last night, whilst sitting and thinking quietly to myself, I remembered a day in the fourth grade, upon which I hear my favorite and most loathed sentences within one directive; “Class, we’re going to do a creative writing exercise.” Oh yes! Thank you Mrs. Glisten! “And we’re going to break up into small groups of four.” Also Mrs. Glisten, go f*ck yourself.

The fact  that I remember that teacher’s name and the kid who ruined my school year should give you ample information about the fourth grade. Kerry, long silky black hair and chipmunk cheeks that are not as endearing as the chubby nut cubbies adorning the visage of her rodent counterpart. Her eyes are so dark brown they are black and she has an earnest expression that won her the title of Hall Monitor. I imagined her taking the special hall monitor sash home each night and ironing it before lovingly hanging it on the coat hook beside her monogrammed book bag.

Just to get you up to speed, I didn’t have anything monogrammed, my cheeks weren’t chubby – I was just fat, and I was the kid the Hall Monitor monitored being late to class because even in the fourth grade I didn’t do mornings.

Alas, she was one of three other kids in my “small group” writing exercise. We turn our desks to make a large square with two pairs of children facing each other over the hieroglyphic-like carvings in the pseudo wood surface beneath our open notebooks. I am ready. I’ve dealt with PE, science, dehydration, the indignities of math including the insult of fractions I may never get over, an inedible lunch and a remarkably delicious juice box containing no less than ten percent fruit juice. I have earned this moment.

The school store sold those mechanical pencils with the stacks of re-loadable lead so there is always a sharp point. I relish the clear, smooth lined paper and the glittery cylinder of the pencil gleaming in my plump hand. I am already thinking something in a rain forest setting, as I look at the white board and regard the brainstorming outline with dubious curiosity. I’m not sure it’s going to be helpful, but the assignment is kinda based on using it, so there is that.

I am not kidding, it looked almost exactly like this:Image result for bubble outline brainstorming

Seriously, where did Mrs. Glisten find a brainstorming map on the internet in 1990?

I do not remember the other kids in our group. I think they were boys and participated at the level Kerry and I were willing to allow had we not gotten ourselves locked in a cataclysmic stalemate. You see, I think a rain forest would be a great setting for our story and she has become stricken with writer’s block. She is holding her head in her hands. Her rosy lips, shaped like two skis leaning against each other under her nose, pout in such a way that begs for drool. Her black eyes glisten as she stares at the page beneath her. This is the first time I have ever seen a person go into a trance.

I’m like, “Whaaat?” If you know me in real life, you should know the face you might recognize as accompanying this question has not changed since I was in the fourth grade.

“I have writer’s block.”

My ears go back. “What?” The “t’ is hard now, like I staunched the flow of more words behind it.

“I have it. I can’t think of anything. I’m blocked.” You know, you must be a writer to have writer’s block. The little smart ass, showing us all what a good writer she is with her block, before we even have a chance to begin our story.

“Well, I thought of opening our story in a rain forest…” I thump my unmarred eraser on the blank page.

All for naught my friend. Kerry is so committed to this writer’s block that she stares at her paper the entire time and the boys act scared, like this is one of those feminine hysterics they heard about in the opening monologue on The Arsenio Hall Show.

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in the fourth grade. I actually wanted to write as soon as I knew that there are people whose job is to compose those things I loved so much; books. On this day in the fourth grade, I learned I do not suffer fools well (unless, clearly, I am dating one) and that my well for bullshit must have dried completely up back in the first grade when Mrs. Jordan made a great big stinking deal about differentiating the enunciation between “pin” and “pen”. I can still hear her, god bless her Yankee heart, every time one of us chillen from Alabama said “piyun”. I think she should have been grateful we could differentiate between a pen and a Q-tip… but I digress.

That day I wrote something about a rain forest; there was a monkey and a unicorn and I wrote about the sky. I remember Mrs. Glisten taught me a new word that day, vast. It was a more interesting, more writerly, word than the one I’d used. I liked it. I allowed the boys some input and Kerry shrank and withered beneath the weight of her writer’s block. As always, I was just glad when the school day finally ended and I could get on with my life.

I do not have writer’s block. I have had moments in which self-doubt stalled work so dramatically there are still skid marks across my laptop from the speed with which my story came to a halt, but that’s just getting too much in my own head. I have ideas, but implementing them isn’t my strong suite. This, I believe, is genetic; I’m working on it. If I were a smart cookie, I’d do some writing practice a la Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones. I’d go for a walk, I’d write anyway, if I may borrow from the now famous advice of Stephen King, “Writing equals ass in chair.” Sometimes I just stare at the wall. Eventually I make my way back.

Of all the books on writing I have read, some of which were pretty good, those are the two bits of advice that help me the most, and not just in the realm of writing. You must practice writing with the same focus, and mad devotion that you approach spiritual practice (Natalie Goldberg) and you must show up for it every single day (Stephen King).

These authors are nothing alike, as far as I can tell. I don’t actually even read Stephen King’s work aside from his book, On Writing (as far as horror goes, I’m more of an Ann Rice girl myself, but to my knowledge she never wrote a book for writers). Their success doesn’t look the same, either. But they are both unquestionably professional writers, which by my estimation means that writing is their only job – my litmus for success BTW. Writer’s block be damned.

 

 

 

 

Body and Sole

I was sore from exercises, the kind of exercises one might do if they learned they might be dancing in public, often, and for money. They weren’t exercises born from any type of mania, low self-esteem or from a history or struggling with my weight. I just decided I need to step up my fitness game for the summer, if I plan on being in any hula shows, and I do.

I’d been working out for two days and my back hurt. Muscles that are already normally achy from the mundane work that I do, sometimes aching from just how mundane that work can be, felt like they’d been schlacked in a thick coating of quickly drying cement. It’s about seven thirty in the evening, a perfectly respectable hour for me, but most respectable massage shops are closed by then. But not the Asian massage store in the mall. They are open until nine at night, just when I need someone to break this concrete off my back.

Whilst parking my car in the well lit parking lot of our illustrious Cordova Mall, I recall an incident in which I was in no little trouble with my family. It was a similar story, I’d made myself sore with exercise and landed myself in one of these Asian massage places on Davis Highway, you know the busy four and six lane thoroughfare laced with fast food chains, homeless people and a Firestone. There’s also a Cheddar’s and a massage place.

I step into the dimly lit lobby off Davis Highway. A woman greets me in broken English and tells me her name is Suzy. It felt like Suzy and I were the only two people in the building, from the hollow only two people in the building vibe the walls were giving off. I followed her into a pinkly lit honeycomb peppered with curtained doors. She stops in front of one such curtain and shows me in. She removes a small bouquet of plastic flowers from the massage table and tells me to undress, she’ll be right back.

Bare from the waist up like an Egyptian priestess – because I don’t want her wasting any of the precious 30 minutes I’ve requested on my legs and feet, which do not hurt the way my back does.

I’d put the tiny little sheet, just larger than a Kleenex, across the expanse of my back, which Suzy snatches right off me anyway. She proceeds to beat the hell out of me for about ten minutes. Between the brain scorching agony of her sharp elbows digging between ribs and excavating lost cities from beneath my shoulder blades, there are moments in which I feel the renewed flow of blood to my extremities and think she might be performing a miracle.

A ringing bell summons Suzy to the lobby. She does not close the curtain behind her, so there I am, smoldering on the table like a burned city, listening to her greet someone in hushed and broken words. When she returns, she only half closes the curtain, so I see the residue of those pink light bulbs on the walls in the hallway. I feel agitation translate through her hands into my muscles. There is a new quality to her work, summarized by the sentiment one might think when it is time to get this show on the road. But that’s the problem with working on services for a specified amount of time; no matter how fast you work, you still can’t rush. I was simultaneously uncomfortable and ready to leave and unable to move, barring a fire alarm.

Upon relating this tale to my family, I was met with no little horror. They were certain I could have been human trafficked, and that I’d narrowly escaped some horrible fate. I told them in no uncertain terms that I’m too old for them to want and that, if anything, I lent a legitimacy to their business unbeknownst to me at the time. I did concede, once properly dosed with the toxic level of guilt every family knows how to portion, that I would never return.

Now, here I am, walking into the mall for the same purpose, perhaps safer simply because it is in the mall. I manage pass a going out of business sale at Pay Less Shoes, a true litmus of my willpower and a testament to my level of discomfort. Passing by, I recall the white, low heeled shoes I wore to fifth grade graduation, and wonder if somewhere in their stock the same pumps might be found.

The massage shop is right in the center of the corridor. Two people stand in the doorway, both wearing red collared shirts. They stand casually until they see me, then they’re like carnival barkers someone activated by a hidden button. I lock eyes with the woman, who smiles at me from beneath her straight, sleek bob. She reaches out with both hands, as though we are kids on the playground who want to spin each other around. She tells me her name is Leena.

I tell her twenty minutes, point to my upper back. She puts me face down and fully clothed on the first table in a row of about ten massage tables in this large, square room. It is dimly lit compared to the bustling mall. I hear noise from people; a loud whoop from a post-pubescent Navy recruit, a child crying, a pack of women chatting. Leena begins to pinch and knead my shoulders, drops elbows between vertebra, runs her hands like electrical currents from my shoulders to my heels. I have not shaved my legs in two weeks and am glad I’m wearing long pants.

While she frames the middle of my spine with her hands and rocks me side to side, I feel a presence at my feet. The man, who was standing with her in the doorway, wants to to rub my feet for an additional fee.

“No, thank you. Just my back.” I feel him retreat, perhaps grateful I declined. He’d touched my ankles, no less furry than a well groomed Clydesdale. That’s what he gets.

In his retreat, he asks Leena something in Chinese, which she puts to me in English, “Do you want man or woman massage you?”

The audacity of that fool! Trying to swipe her client right out from under her hard working hands! I say, in no uncertain terms, “You’re perfect.” When she relates my response in Chinese to her co-worker, I detect a melodic glee akin to Nanny Nanny Boo Boo. He remains close, talking to her from a stool behind the register.

I feel lulled by the conversational tone of a language so foreign to me, with its soft shh sounds at the end of long words and the way consonants begin or end with a resonant jin sound or end with a pitched inflection and ing like little bells ringing. Leena sits on the table by me and and braces my armpit against her hip as she drapes my arm across her lap, so she may renew blood flow to the muscles barely holding my shoulder blades in place. I decide she might be a visiting Goddess and tip her accordingly.

Dribble pools on the side of my low lip and I manage to refrain from drooling on the floor. I adjust the single paper towel, the only thing between the corners of my mouth and the face cradle, knowing full well it’s the only thing between my own mucus membranes and the countless members of the public that Leena and her co-workers have massaged. To tell you that even this was like a distant concern born from the mythology of pathogens should tell you how desperately I needed a massage.

I didn’t need an Advil to go to bed that night. And I’m probably going back tomorrow.

 

 

Food = Happy and Why I Want You to Sponsor Me in the Kashi Atlanta Yogathon

I just ate some noodles. If we have interacted for more than five minutes, this shouldn’t surprise you, noodles are my favorite food group. Noodles = Happy.

In a way, Food = Happy, doesn’t it? When my sister and I go out to eat we can’t wiggle into the booth at Mellow Mushroom fast enough. Of course, that’s for pizza, so perhaps Carbs = Happy. We love to eat.

Conversely, when I’m hungry I get this sorrowful feeling I usually inflict on those around me. You know, the grumpy and tense mental landscape we’ve all experienced when we waited too long to eat. Welcome to the twenty-first century, where you’ll probably get so distracted you’ll forget lunch. Those Snicker’s commercials didn’t come out of nowhere, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” But what if you hadn’t eaten because you forgot, but because you didn’t have any food or anyplace to cook it?

When I was in Atlanta over the summer, seeing Swami, standing in front of a life size bust of Sekhmet, Egypt’s golden Lioness whose breath created the desert, sleeping in an ashram and eating delicious food at Yeah! Burger – I also had the opportunity to participate in the Street Meals program. Every Tuesday evening volunteers go to Kashi Atlanta and prepare food and every Wednesday volunteers deliver and serve the food at a homeless shelter.

When I arrive with the other volunteers on Wednesday I feel comfortable because I serve food for a living. I deliver countless plates of twenty dollar spaghetti, high-end meat balls, extra-terrestrial sausage and, ironically, all the free salad you could ever want. At the shelter, my first job was to put napkins and plastic forks on the tables while people come in. It is a large space with circular tables arranged for maximum occupancy. Women and men came in almost as eager to put down the burden of their packs and cargo with which they walk the streets as they were to eat. Everyone was friendly and glad to be inside; it was a hot Georgia day and the sun was relentless. Inside the shelter, they have cups of cool water and air-conditioning.

Everyone was seated before we started serving the food. I’d been waiting on that moment my whole life, trained like a samurai in the art of food service, my skillz honed to a razor sharp edge; I knew they’d need a water re-fill without even looking in the cup, I balanced three plates of pasta salad like a Zen koan poised at the pinnacle of my perfectly still mind, its solution as reasonable as the lady who asked for more bread so she could take some with her for later. She had pencil thin legs sticking out of frayed denim shorts and plugged into dirty white high-top tennis shoes. She looped the plastic bag containing the bread through a belt loop so the baguettes knocked against her leg like a gun holster when she walked.

There is one man who stands out in my mind, the friendliest face of the day. He came in late, his duffel on the chair beside him at the empty table in the back, near the water cooler. We were already offering seconds and chocolates to the children who were there with their mother, seated at the front in a row of chairs near the window.

He has black hair that stands up from his head like long, thick sprouts of grass. He is about my size with an ambling gate that makes me think he likes to dance or he studies kung fu. He has on a drab green collared shirt and loose fitting khaki pants with boots that are scuffed and worn. His shirt is tucked neatly into his wrinkled khakis. His face is round with high cheek bones like my friend from the Philippines. I hand him his plate and his smile turns his eyes into deep creases, so that they look like window blinds closed to the bright afternoon sun, only dark glimmering joy revealed through his sparse eyelashes.

Because I’m a good waitress, I ask him if he is alright. He looks up at me and curls his lips to speak in broken English, “I was hungry!” His smile adheres to his face while he chews. The exclamation is one of pure relief. Absent from his demeanor was any bitterness, sadness, or  shame. He was just so happy, and it was a happiness that was contagious.

I wondered about him after I left. I still see him so clearly in my mind. I wondered how he ended up there, what kind of work he might have done, what his dreams are. I wonder about him when it rains and I remember him when I wait too long to eat and then feel the elation of a delicious bowl of pasta or a veggie burger from Red Robbin.

Before I went to Street Meals, I wanted you to sponsor me in the Yoga-Thon Fundraisers because I love Kashi Atlanta and believe in the work they do. Kashi just had its twenty year anniversary, and in that time they have  fed countless homeless people and created who knows how many kids’ art projects in hospitals. Kashi Atlanta is my spiritual home and where I go to see my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. It is where I go for yoga training and to refill my emotional well. But now this fundraising feels personal and more imperative because I got to experience the benefit of it through that man’s eyes.

The money you donate buys food the volunteers prepare on Tuesday. It’s the bread that that woman takes with her when she goes back to her home on the street, and it’s the pasta salad that made that man so happy. We were able to offer second plates of food and pieces of chocolate to children because of the donations Kashi receives. This is the time of year most of the money that sustains the service programs comes in. As a yoga and meditation teacher who studies at Kashi Atlanta, this is an opportunity for you to show through your support that you benefit from my continued studies and training with my Teacher.

If we are fortunate enough to have everything we need, then it’s our gift to share what we have. Please follow this link to donate. Your gift is 100% tax deductible and you will receive a letter from Kashi Atalanta for your tax records. Thank you, thank you, thank you. https://kashiatlanta.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/KashiAtlanta2018Yogathon/Fundraising/tabid/1000163/Default.aspx?joinme=173207

 

 

Lightning Bug Lessons

I like twilight noises. I especially like the raspy lilting of cicadas and the throaty welp of frogs happy at night fall. As I sit in a quiet house on a quiet street in Atlanta, I can hear the steady cacophony of creatures beneath a twinkling urban sky; it’s early for night creatures but all the day walkers on the street seem to be sleeping. It’s just me and the alley cats, the crickets and rain.

After I arrived and unpacked, I went to the front porch to watch the day fade into that time when the landscape is in sharper focus because it doesn’t have to compete with the brilliant light of the sun. With my journal on my lap, I write a page about the marvel of a room in which I’m staying at the ashram during my trip to see my Teacher. I am in the room of a long time resident who is not currently home and the blessing of this is the photos, art and sacred objects in this cozy space. If I don’t have a dream about Jesus in this room, I can give it up forever, I’m just saying.

While I twirl the pen around my ear, a message winks at me from my phone. A car passes. A bird lands on the sidewalk then walks across the narrow, car lined street. I love this street and I love this ashram. As the stars come out and quiet descends, I feel the pangs of homesickness, like the twinge in leaving a lover at the airport.

To my left there is a twinkle in the bushes. It is a slow pulsation of light in midair.  I’m not ready to start having visions, yet I see it again; a yellow light, hovering and blinking on – off – on – and I see the silhouette of the bug it belongs to.

A lightning bug. I’d forgotten all about those. They are a relic from childhood, a legend like dinosaurs. We know they existed once, but don’t think about them so much unless they’re in a book we read or show up in a memory. But there it is, like a velociraptor tiptoeing down the street, like coffee with a dodo.

My phone blinks less artfully than the bulbous butt of this bug, and without thinking I open the screen and reply. While I text touchscreen letters onto a sleek mirrored screen the lightning bug maneuvers over to the porch, blinks again, then disappears into the magnolia bush. I look for him, my phone screen face down on the wood planks. There’s a twinge of regret that I might have missed befriending him while I was screwing around with my phone. As the shadows lengthen around me and streetlights come on, I know reality is never found on technology. It is in the myths of nature, the turning of time, and the breath of light we must pay attention to.

I stare at the street. I think of my cats, of getting to see Swami tomorrow, the novel I intend to finish editing and who I might con into reading it. I contemplate the Cats of Ancient Egypt exhibit at Emory I’ll see while I’m here and delicious vegan hotdogs with my friend. There is no order of importance to the catalog of my mind, it is ambling like the lightning bug in the bushes. Twilight turns darker and the night creatures grow louder. These sounds are comforting, like the noise from an air-filter while I sleep. The buzz and chirp of the street relaxes my mind.

I gather my journal and phone, but before I lift myself from the stoop I see that yellow breath of the lightning bug, brightly floating and friendly. He is the only one I see, and I wonder romantically if he is the last of his kind and what he does with himself. How long will he live, how will he carry on his lineage?

I’m in my comfortable, borrowed lair still thinking of that lightning bug. He offers the message not to become distracted from what is real by the murmurings and winks of the modern world; otherwise we might miss the sudden flash in the magnolia bush, the spark of realization in the heart. The lightning bug says we don’t have to flash too quickly, a slow steady pulse will do. And if someone isn’t giving you the attention you want or need, pass on by and keep doing your own thing.

I looked up the symbolism of the lightning bug. I figure if an animal crosses your path suddenly after a 30 year absence or repeatedly in a short span of time, it’s interesting to investigate what they’re trying to tell you. That sparky little guy brings tidings of illumination and the message not to underestimate marvels and miracles just because  they may have an uninspiring appearance during daytime hours. The breath is intrinsically linked with Light – the lighting bugs flash bulbs are created by a chemical reaction between certain enzymes in the presence of magnesium ion, ATP and oxygen. This is not very different from humans; deeper breaths = more Light.

“That which is night for all sentient beings is like day for one whose senses are controlled. That which is the time of awakening for a sentient being is like the night for the introspective sage who sees.” The Bhagavad Gita chapter 2.69

 

Practical Magic

queen of cups

This New Year’s day happens to fall on the very same day in which the moon, our luminous satellite, is full in the night sky.

This is very auspicious.

Since getting on Instagram and enjoying all of the belly dance, tarot card and cat picture posts by resident witches, pagans and gypsies from around the world, I’ve discovered that everyone on the planet is an authority on astrology. I’ll be scrolling and see a long, emoji peppered post by a yoga teacher talking about how the moon is in Virgo so we better watch out, because it ain’t exalted there – or whatever.

I’m always like, “How do y’all know that? Where do you get your information?” Because I’m over here with my We’moon calendar trying to figure out what the symbol with the squiggly lines and horned dots is supposed to mean while the rest of y’all are planning your month around Pluto’s transits and solar flares.

The moon, on the other hand, is less foreign to me. The moon changes signs once about every two and a half days, so if you eff up a perfectly decent Moon in Libra by fighting with your spouse, you’ll get a re-do in about twenty eight days.

The new moon is a time for starting new projects and for setting intentions for what we would like to see increase in our lives. Think setting goals, re-aligning with your dreams, growing a business plan. Intention is something like a resolution, of which there are plenty at the New Year. Start a diet, get fit, finish the book, start the book, become a yoga celebrity, start college, ditch the loser, find a partner, quit drinking, quit smoking… you know what I’m talking about.

This is thinking in terms of, “I’m gonna do.” Not bad, but let’s turn it around.

The full moon is a good time to start thinking about what you would like to let go of, what you would like to see decrease in your life, what no longer upholds your dreams and aspirations or supports your work, whether that’s spiritually, mentally or physically. Think about what holds you back or enables procrastination. Y’all, the cosmos has set us up to do exactly that right here at the new year.

Turn your powers of discernment towards your day to day habits, contemplate what you want for your life and see where the two points are at odds. Question what you have set in place that keeps you from it. Instead of making a list of resolutions that you’re gonna start doing, decipher how you can get out of your own way and focus on that.

 

Now we’ve gotten around to the point of this post – your practice, should you choose to accept it. First, let me tell you that I have learned the fine art of using index cards in my spiritual practice from my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. She has us write stuff on index cards all the time.

So here we go, starting right now, start thinking about habits that get in the way of what you really want to be doing with your life. Immediately one or two might come to you, but stay with it and see if there is anything beneath the surface. You can even take this into your meditation and sit with a nice, slow fire breath for about a minute and then sit in the stillness to see what comes up.

There may be one big hurdle that you want to focus all of your energy and upon which you wish all of the moon’s brilliant rays to shine. However, there may be a lot of small ways in which you sabotage yourself, so just write that stuff down, too. Now is a good time to remind you to approach this practice without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just remember that you’re trying to make a little room in your life to start a flower bed but you have to shovel out some dirt, first. Full moon is for excavation, new moon is for planting.

On New Year’s eve or day build yourself a nice little bonfire. Invite the kids and get some marshmallows and vegan hot dogs. Invite your family and friends and have plenty of index cards. Say a sweet prayer for guidance and protection to whomever you entrust your path and practice then invite everyone to write on their index card. No one needs to read anyone else’s, but between bites of s’mores place your card in the flames.

You may not be set up for a bonfire. Don’t worry about it. A fireplace or a coffee can in the driveway works nicely, too. But let me tell you something, this practice doesn’t have to be so woo woo. You can write, think, text, email your list to yourself and then delete it, recycle it, bury it. What you’re going for is awareness of self-limiting habits and then a method in which to transform it.

Don’t expect overnight magic, though we can hope, can’t we? We’ll have to work at it and remain mindful, but this is deeply symbolic to the human psyche and a powerful method of solidifying your intentions. Consider what you put in the fire to be an offering to your highest Self and to the inspiration you wish to have and to be. I wish you all the luck and all the space to express your creativity, compassion and genius in the new year. Remember to work with fire responsibly, make an effort on behalf of the good and share your stories with me if you’d like.

* Image “Queen of Cups” from Danielle Noel’s forthcoming tarot deck Moon Child, shadow deck to the Star Child Tarot. @moonchildtarot starchildtarot.com

No Show November – On The Other Side of the Up-Side-Down

I like to get into the Halloween spirit just like any other witchy thirty something, but wanted to watch something besides Hocus Pocus for the hundredth time. Just because I watched every single Saw movie doesn’t mean I like them. I prefer a whimsical Halloween; I like my Halloween movies to have a certain amount of glitter, humor, romance (Practical Magic, anyone?) or be old enough to be considered a classic – Carrie.

Netflix has been telling me for a year that I need to watch Stranger Things, but I wouldn’t listen. I was too caught up in The Adventures of Merlin and Frasier reruns to take a gamble on something new. That, and the preview for it looked like a spin-off of TheTwilight Zone and X Files, neither of which I like to watch after dark or alone.

Well, about two weeks ago, smack dab in the middle of October, I took a chance on episode one of Stanger Things. Oh, goodbye forever! I felt myself getting sucked into the television like that kid in Poltergeist. The first night I watched three episodes.

I am not a t.v. person on the regular. I have been known to quit dating a guy whose idea of a good time was watching the director’s cut with extras and cast interviews. I hate that. That’ll damn the relationship like Akasha and her vampire offspring in Queen of the Damned.  Boy, bye!

After two nights of Stranger Things season one, I dreamed I was in Atlanta desperately trying to find an Eckerd Drugs because I needed a special make-up kit. In this dream, I faced all manner of dangers, a monster I never actually saw, a dark alley and a Walgreens, but no Eckerd Drugs, which was a popular pharmacy in the eighties.

After I woke up and figured out I was at home and still without the much coveted make-up bag, I resolved I’d give myself a few days away from Stranger Things. That night while I was watching episode seven, I gave up. A week later I was driving home from work and saw a man walking his dog and the first thought that came to mind was “Demigorgon” (for those of you not bitten by this venus fly trap, that’s the name of the show’s monster). I was in deep.

By the time season two was released on October 27th I did manage to go to work, but beyond coming home and feeding myself, that’s about it. I watched three episodes unapologetically. Y’all I went off the rails with this show like at Thanksgiving when I have the pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato pie all on the same plate and look around waiting on someone to say something. I went off the rails like on my birthday when I get out the soup tureen so I have a bowl big enough for my cake plus ice cream.

During this haze of consumption I felt conflicted, not unlike when my sister and I would get our hands on the newest season of True Blood on DVD and succumb to the hilarity, humanity and gore that show produced. I’d think of all the things I ought to be doing, like knotting that super amazing jade mala I put on yellow cord, for instance, or doing something – anything – with the third draft of my novel.

I just didn’t feel conflicted enough to do anything about it. Finally, by the seventh episode of season two, I convinced myself that this show is so good it’s like doing research on good story telling and that binge watching it is, in fact, going to help my writing career. Yeah, I had it that bad.

Now I’ve seen every single episode and am content and satiated with a subtle longing for more – exactly what I hope to offer my readers one day, so maybe it was good for my writing career, like studying character development in Witches of Eastwick. 

While I was wondering what in the hell I am going to do with my life now that I’ve seen all the episodes, contemplating even getting back to relative normality, I considered the looming NaNoWriMo fast approaching. “National Novel Writing Month” is the entire month of November where writers are challenged to compose a fifty thousand word masterpiece in thirty days.

I have no intention of hopping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon this year, I have enough problems of my own right now with the third draft of a very not bad novel looking forlornly from the corner of my big ‘ole desk. I don’t need the drama of two novels fighting, it would be like Freddy Versus Jason around here!

NaNoWriMo did give me an idea, though more related to No Shave November; by the way, this year I’m participating. By mid-month it’ll look like I’m wearing cashmere leggings.

No Show November is a challenge to not watch a show any night of the week. No new shows, nothing hot off the press from Netflix, nothing I’ve got on DVD, not even the news. This also includes YouTube, Instagram videos and infomercials unless you must watch any of the above specifically for work or study. For instance, if Sahdia teaches the hagala shimmy in belly dance class and I manage to forget how to do it before I get all the way home, then bet your bum I’m going to find it on YouTube, however, this does not mean I’m supposed to watch two hours of Belly Dance Superstars Live at the Pyramids.

So I’m going to start No Show November today. The idea of this might make you feel kinda tense. It does me, too. I like to have the television on, even if it’s on the radio station. When I knot malas, I sometimes like to have it on a Disney movie, depending on the vibe I’m working on. I like to watch a program with dinner. This challenge might have to be amended along the way, but I am curious what the first week will be like. I don’t want to feel like my novel is, in fact, the never ending story, so I’m going to use all my free time from No Show November to see if I can finish this incarnation and at least get to draft four. I’ll periodically remind myself this isn’t forever but just a little mental detox.

Wish me luck and join me if you want to. If you do, I’d like to know how it goes for you and in what you would like to invest your new found free time. Good Luck. The challenge starts now!

 

A Storybook About Life

When I was fifteen I got my first deck of tarot cards. They were a Christmas present from my dad, though they were not a surprise because I made him take me to the store to pick them out – The Tarot of the Cat People by Karen Kuykendall and I loved them.

The Star Cat People

The Star can indicate the refreshment and re-alignment with life purpose. It can mean the harmonious blending of resources for self-improvement and inspiration.

Almost immediately my uncle had a fit. He is about as tall as I was in 1995. His eyes have a tendency to run out of their sockets when provoked. Tarot of the Cat People, with its retro vibe and muted jewel tone color pallet, was enough to provoke the hell out of him.

He had a marvelous fit over my tarot cards and they ended up back at the bookstore, both my father and I effectively frightened by Early’s histrionics. Yes, his name really is Early. A year or so later, with the distance of another state between us, I realized my uncle wasn’t mature enough for Tarot of the Cat People, which I promptly re-purchased and still have, wrapped in a piece of pillowcase from the eighties and nestled in a dark wood box.

Since turning seventeen, I read lots of tarot cards and collected numerous decks. My favorites were The Cat People and The Egyptian Tarot, which is now out of print.  I also had a fun, kitschy Halloween tarot deck that is whimsical and retro. Though I parred my collection down, I kept these. The Egyptian Tarot was a particular favorite because of the liberal use of deities and sunlight.

Egyptian Tarot Death

The Death Card symbolizes transformation and releasing unhealthy attachments. Pictured here is Anubis, God of the Underworld.

Several years ago now, I dated “the wrong man” I wanted so badly to be the love of my life. We were a long distance hot mess couple who were terrible for each other but there was this gripping determination I had choking my heart and all reason.

I took to the cards to give me answers. I wrestled with them, demanded answers that fit with the way I wanted things to be. I was willful and tense until I realized I was wrestling with something so much bigger than I was. It wasn’t the cards but the Universe in question, and the Universe doesn’t so much win or lose but simply IS.

About the same time I realized I was no longer in control, or wanted to be, I met my Teacher and my spiritual practices changed. I wanted more to see where I was going than to dictate where I would go. I started to feel something uncoiling from within me which felt infinitely more freeing than investing in wrangling something outside myself.

Hanged man Halloween tarot

The Hanged Man, from The Halloween Tarot, can reflect that you’re feeling stuck or restricted, which is kinda why I got in touch with Uma in the first place.

Last December I was in turmoil because teaching yoga hadn’t quite worked out the way I’d hoped when I went into yoga teacher training seven or so years ago. I thought I was making a career change for the better but what I was investing myself in began to feel like a multi-level marketing business with fitness professionals at the top and raggedy ass cronies at the bottom driving all over the coast teaching yoga classes. This is not what I put on my vision board, people.

While contemplating where my vision board might have gone wrong, I had a random idea; Have a reading with Uma, the idea urged, and that’s what I did.

Uma Simon is a monk and resident at Kashi Florida, the ashram where my Guru lived and taught and where my own Teacher studied. Uma lives there and reads tarot for a living. I considered that, even though I’d begun to doubt the depth or purpose of tarot, certainly having a reading with someone who lives on the very ashram where the Teacher of my heart studied has merit! Uma greeted my email warmly and we had an appointment early the next week.

I felt like I’d met her before, and I very well may have when I was last there. She was easy to talk to even though I could hear myself as though in third person and felt like I sounded like a hot mess. Hot mess or no, she didn’t treat me like one. She was very nice to me and had helpful things to say.

Before we got off the phone I asked her about reading tarot. I explained that I’d lost confidence in tarot and that I felt like I’d just been swimming upstream with the cards. I didn’t even know what I expected to get out of them anymore.

There was a thoughtful pause at the other end before she said one of the two sentences I replay for myself often, “Reading the cards can just be a vehicle for your intuition…”

I felt refreshed by this, like I’d taken myself off of restriction and could go play with my friends outside. I went to my decks and unwrapped them, though they no longer felt familiar to me. Not sure if it was me or them, I turned to ye ‘ole reliable internets and shopped for a new deck.

Shopping for new tarot decks after a seven year hiatus has got to be its own blog post, but just let me say here that a lot has changed since 1999 and I had to order from the bookstore or mail order from The Witch’s Almanac. There is this thing called “indie decks” which are published by independent artists that’ll make you feel like the Universe is sending you post cards.

What I experience now with tarot is that my hope isn’t to be told what to do or where to go, but to experience the landscape of my mind and life’s events with both detachment and understanding. I am learning that tarot is not divination as we think of it as fortune-telling, but that it is a means by which we may communicate with clear consciousness from where wise insights and inspiration comes. It is by tuning into this visual, symbolic tool that we intuit guidance for ourselves and others.

Returning to this practice feels like writing again after ignoring my work or shredding my journals. I forgot how much I enjoyed it and what a comfort simply shuffling the cards can be. There is a difference in maturity in myself that I can see now, and that the break from the cards served an important task of giving me perspective. I am mighty glad for the inspiration to return.

I’d like to share a fitting quote from The Hoodwitch, a most excellent mystic I follow on my new favorite social media platform – Instagram. She says, Fear is dangerous, not the tarot. The tarot represents the spectrum of the human condition, the good, the evil, the light, and the dark. Do not fear the darker aspects of the human condition. Understand them. The tarot is a storybook about life, about the greatness of human accomplishment, and also the ugliness we are each capable of. @thehoodwitch

I could not have said it better myself.

If you’d like to know more about Uma or to book a reading check out her website UMASIMON.COM

Knight of Swords starchild

The Knight of Swords begins new projects with critical thinking aligned with inspiration and fresh energy. This card reminds us not to rush but to remain excited. This is one of my favorite cards in tarot.

Starchild Tarot by Danielle Noel – starchildtarot.com