30 November 2011

Be Who You Are. Completely.

I just can’t win.

As many of you know, I’m a nerd. I have a shitton of hobbies, interests, and things I’m generally good at. I’m also pretty damn smart. I wouldn’t say I’m a genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a good memory and school was always easy for me. I’m also pretty cute. So. There’s the background info.

Here’s some more: my entire life, I’ve been told not to brag. I’ve heard so many times NOT to talk about myself. Don’t talk about what you’re good at. Don’t talk about what you do. Don’t talk about being smart. Don’t tell people your talents. Don’t talk yourself up. Don’t talk about your awards, accomplishments, or experience. Don’t brag. Don’t brag.

And for goodness’ sake, don’t brag!

People hate you enough as it is because you’re good at everything, because you’re pretty, because you’re smart. SO DON’T REMIND THEM.

My whole life. That’s all I’ve ever heard.

I listened.

Very few people, out of the many bazillion people I’ve met in the fourteen countries I’ve traveled to, know even half of what I’ve accomplished in life. Not many of my friends are even aware that I have a blog, let alone what I’ve posted on it. A handful of my friends from high school know about my music, a few more remember my knack for linguistics. I think one year I was voted most artistic or something like that. However, I can probably count on both hands the number of people who can name at least 2/3 of my hobbies, interests, and talents and yet who also know who I am.

And today? I just got told, by three very authoritative figures in my current job the exact opposite of what I’ve always been told by everyone else, ever. These three men said: Talk yourself up. If you don’t tell people what you can do, we don’t know. If we don’t know, we’ll think you’re mediocre. We’ll think you’re just like everyone else. 

And then we’ll overlook you.

So here’s my advice for the day, dear readers. If you’re special, be special. Don’t let someone tell you not to shine your brightest. Don’t ever let someone tell you—no matter how close to you she is—to be less than yourself to make other people feel more comfortable, or to make them like you more. People will like you or not like you, and it’s completely arbitrary, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So just be yourself.

The world doesn’t need more mediocrity, and if the Army has taught me anything, it’s that perception = reality. If you try to blend in with the rabble, you become the rabble. Let yourself stand out and live up to your full potential. If you don’t, who will?

29 November 2011

Music As Magic: Feeling Pagan, pt. 1

So this isn’t exactly brand new news anymore, but…Florence + the Machine has a new album out, titled Ceremonials. It’s fabulous. I can’t pick out a song that will ever replace “Howl” as my F+tM anthem (I just adore the primal imagery and hunting references), but overall I like this album more than Lungs. Her voice is just magical, and whether or not Florence herself is Pagan, listening to her music makes me feel more like one. Currently my favorite song off the album is rotating depending on which one I’m listening to at the time, but the one that stays stuck in my head when the music isn’t playing is “No Light, No Light.” Here’s a video of a live performance. The quality isn’t spectacular, but you’ll get the idea. I’ll provide some sort of analysis later…for now, just enjoy the song ☺

24 November 2011

Bookshelf Updates: Welcome to Aorea

If you haven’t yet noticed, I’ve been slowly building another set of pages on my blog under the Bookshelf. One of the reasons I got into blogging was because of my love of writing, and recently I decided to take on a new blogular project dealing with the creative writing I do on the side (in addition to all the other things I do on the side, like draw and paint and sculpt and make jewelry and run and play Frisbee and make music and…and..and…too many hobbies). Thus, as an inspiration for me to actually finish the several novel-type projects I’ve been working on (for years), I decided to build a set of pages summarizing my stories and describing the world in which they all take place: Aorea.

I’ve been working on The Spinner’s Journey, which is the first book in the Circle series, since I was in 8th grade. Around 10th grade I discarded the original storyline and opted for a newer version, which I promptly began and have been slowly finishing since. I wrote about half of it by the time I graduated high school, finished up another five chapters throughout my incredibly busy college years, and I only have two chapters and an epilogue left to write before I begin the lengthy process of final editing and then attempting to publish. Because I cannot avoid having long delays in between finishing one chapter and starting another—often half a year or more—I edit the entire story prior to beginning a new chapter, so the editing of The Spinner’s Journey has been an ongoing thing. Nevertheless, the first few chapters need a lot of work, as you can definitely tell I was still in high school when I wrote them.

Currently I have two pages—Story Summaries and Aorean Geography—complete and posted under my Bookshelf. There is space for additional links (currently they don’t work, as I haven’t written those bits yet) that will be filled in as I finish them, to include some explanations of the weirder/more confusing terminology I use in my summaries as well as character profiles of my protagonists. Once I *finally* inspire myself sufficiently to get to work on the final two chapters and then the massive editing requirement, I may decide to post some excerpts here, but I recommend not holding your breath.

I remember writing in my college essays for Brown and Georgetown back when I was a senior that “I have thousands of years of history for a world that doesn’t exist cluttering up the interior of my skull,” and using that as an excuse for my inability to do mental math with any alacrity. All excuses aside, the statement is entirely true. I do have thousands of years of history for an entire world, full of creatures and cultures great and small, rich with magic and mystery and mundane acts of survival, all entwined with the rest of the knowledge in my head. I know every little thing that has ever happened and ever will happen within the context of three separate series of stories, each series occurring during a different time period in Aorean history: Circle, Haven, and Guard. Circle is the springboard, and the protagonists of Haven and Guard are descended the protagonists of the Circle series. I keep a giant three-ring binder of notes, sketches, summaries, bones of dialogue, and snippets of descriptions that I like to call my “Big Book of Aorea.” Honestly I don’t know how I manage to function in normal reality when I have an entire parallel reality I’ve created also filling my brain, but somehow I succeed. And, maybe, if I’m lucky (and if I stop being lazy with my writing), I’ll finish churning out those stories. Until then, sate yourself with the new and improved (and still improving) Bookshelf section of my blog. Enjoy!

22 November 2011

FTX + The Price of Greatness

Amazons from Xena: Warrior princess. Pic from here.
“There is no place or companion in the world, then or now, for a woman of implacable will and focus who will not compromise or yield in her determination to pursue her vocation.” – Athena Andreadis

We got back from our week intensive of field training. We all smelled pretty ripe—it was most noticeable once I got in my car at the end of it all, turning on my cell phone for the first time in what felt like forever, and then got a huge whiff of damp, mold, dirt, CLP, and metal and promptly thought to myself, “Holy crap…that’s me”—but it was definitely worth it. I love being in the field, even if “the field” is currently more mounted (on vehicles) than dismounted (running around the woods) operations, not to mention the focus on urban environments. Regardless, it was a lot of fun, and naturally I learned a lot (and remembered a lot of what I’m supposed to already know).

Anywho, that’s where I’ve been for the past seven days, and now we’re approaching another long weekend, which will officially begin for me tomorrow afternoon. Unfortunately, one side effect of playing in the field for a while with minimal sleep, irregular mealtimes, and high stress/energy activities is reduced immune system efficacy, of which I am currently feeling the full force. I love being in the field, but I hate being sick, and the two usually coincide for me. At least I’ll have the weekend to recover and visit with some more family & a few new friends who may or may not be accompanying me for Thanksgiving dinner at my Uncle’s place. With or without their presence, it will be a good time with good food and lots of wine. What more could I want?

Well, I want to make sense of some recent revelations, for starters. And this brings me to the quote at the top of this entry.

People are funny creatures with funny habits. I’ve encountered so many analogies over the years for human social interactions and patterns that I can hardly keep them straight anymore. We’re supposedly pack animals, and therefore function better when we understand our place within the hierarchy of our pack. I happen to like wolves, and one of my totems is the Wolf, so to an extent that analogy resonates with me. Alpha males and females, leaders, followers, lone wolves. You find all these roles played out in both canine and human interactions. However, human hierarchy is far more complex than the dynamics of any wolf pack, and often the individual and group relationships are far less loyal among humankind. (Not to say that wolf pack dynamics are at all simple; rather, I am merely emphasizing the complexity of human group dynamics.) As I could expound upon this a great deal more than a paragraph, I will save the rest of my musings on this specific aspect of my point—which I’ll get to eventually—for a later date.

Another animal comparison I’ve heard (occasionally) equated with humans is the concept of mating for life. It’s understood in the natural world that some creatures, for whatever reason particular to their species, will mate for life. Squid, owls, penguins. Like the pack-animal comparison, it could be said that some human beings mate for life, albeit under more complicated circumstances. Love at first sight, true love, soul mates. All of these instances could be characterized as a type of lifelong mating, a knowing of one soul recognizing its counterpart in another, however long that recognition may take. Obviously, not everyone finds this. The list that comes to mind of failed relationships (not to mention skyrocketing divorce rates) attests to the rarity of mate-for-life occurrences in human encounters, but I also know that it does in fact happen. I know my parents are soul mates if ever a pair of lovers were. I know other couples in my family tree who clearly represent that kind of love as well. My brother will likely one day find such a love.

I’m also pretty sure I won’t.

The one person I’ve met thus far in my journey—short as 23 years may be—who I’ve felt any glimmer of recognition for, happens to live on the other side of the world. He’s a person of talent, vision, intelligence, and dedication such as I’ve never met in anyone else. He’s easily the most amazing person I know, but all the things about him that make him amazing are all the things that keep us apart.

For relationships to work, there has to be compromise. One person has to be willing to sacrifice their goals and dreams for the sake of the other’s. I could never do that. I could never give up what I do because it’s a part of me. I am my Work. I am my Beliefs. I am my Art, my Music, my Words. I am Bellatrix, Anden, Amazon. I could never change who I am or give up myself to align my path with another’s. I could likewise never ask anyone to do the same for me, and even worse, I could never love anyone who would be willing to do so. The only way I could find love is if someone else's preexisting goals and dreams happened to perfectly align with mine, no compromise or sacrifice necessary. That, my friends, is an impossibility. These recent revelations of mine coincided with my reading of Athena’s post on her awesome blog (Astrogator’s Logs) that discussed great women of talent and their inevitable loneliness. She's much smarter than I am, and so she explains it much better than I can.

Men of vision, talent, and drive can find love. For whatever reason, biologically or socially-induced, women will flock around them. In contrast, women of vision, talent, and drive often end up alone. Not necessarily for lack of suitors, but for lack of partners. As a whole society is unprepared to deal with them. And you know what? If loneliness is the price I must pay to accomplish my goals, so be it. If I am to be the person I want to be, then I will gladly pay that price. After all, one of my matron goddesses is a Virgin Huntress.

I am not even close to being who I should be, to living up to my dreams and goals. But I’ll get there.

One day, I promise. I will get there.

13 November 2011

Entropic Discord

To diverse gods do mortals bow;
Holy Cow, and Wholly Chao.
I got to see my family this weekend! Unfortunately they already left. Littlest Brother was in rare form, acting his absolute cutest. We were driving to do some sight seeing with my aunt and uncle, and we passed a bright blue motorcycle. Littlest Brother (15, autistic, and adorable) said, “Look! It’s a blue mocha-cycle!” Gods, I love his accent. He also calls caterpillars “color-pitters.” That little boy is amazing.

Anyway, while my family was here, we watched a couple movies and some random science shows. One of the shows we watched—NOVA, I believe it was called—dealt with the law of entropy, or in non-sciencey terms, the tendency of the universe to move from order to disorder. Now, thermodynamics was never my strongest point back in my physics classes, and we only briefly touched on it in my nuclear engineering courses, so I’ll let some quotes do my talking for me. Everything about my academic history makes me hesitant to ever use Wikipedia as a source; however, for basic definitions and layman’s understanding of key terms/concepts, it’s not so bad. I’ll never quote it in a formal paper, but here it is. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about entropy:

Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when converting energy to work. During this work, entropy accumulates in the system, which then dissipates in the form of waste heat. 
In classical thermodynamics, the concept of entropy is defined phenomenologically by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of an isolated system always increases or remains constant. Thus, entropy is also a measure of the tendency of a process, such as a chemical reaction, to be entropically favored, or to proceed in a particular direction. It determines that thermal energy always flows spontaneously from regions of higher temperature to regions of lower temperature, in the form of heat. These processes reduce the state of order of the initial systems, and therefore entropy is an expression of disorder or randomness. This picture is the basis of the modern microscopic interpretation of entropy in statistical mechanics, where entropy is defined as the amount of additional information needed to specify the exact physical state of a system, given its thermodynamic specification. The second law is then a consequence of this definition and the fundamental postulate of statistical mechanics.

And all of that just makes me think of Discordianism.

As I've discussed before, I don’t consider myself a follower of any one Pagan tradition, nor do I confine myself to one specific pantheon of deities (I myself am a hodge-podge of ethnic and cultural backgrounds; why should my spirituality reflect anything else?). Thus, I’ve always had a soft spot for the ideas behind Discordianism, namely that both order and disorder are constructs of the human mind. Neither is a statement of reality, and yet both are equally true and untrue. Anything is possible, and everyone is right. And everyone is wrong. It’s the ultimate interpretation of do what you will. I think it’s both poetic and hilarious, and also very, very (un)true. Apparently I’m also not the first person to read about entropy and then think about Eris, goddess of discord. Check it out:

The Principia Discordia contains the Law of Eristic Escalation. This law states that "Imposition of Order = Escalation of Chaos". It elaborates on this point by saying that the more order is imposed the longer it takes for the chaos to arise and the greater the chaos that arises. The idea is not new; it is mentioned in the Tao Te Ching: "the more laws and orders are written, the more thieves there are". 
This can be read as an argument against zero tolerance and hard security, or just a statement about the world and human nature. It can also be seen as a parallel to the second law of thermodynamics which states that entropy (the number of states a given system can occupy) never decreases over time. It is also reminiscent of Newton's Third Law, where every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

So, there you have it. I have once again come to the circuitous conclusion that I am not nearly as original of a thinker as I would like to think. Nonetheless, interesting parallels between the law of entropy (proven, time and again) and Discordianism, yea? Makes me proud to be Pagan.

07 November 2011

Merlin and Magical Names

Merlin the Great by Mark Stefanowicz
“And as you stand there, taking deep within your heart this gift of knowledge from the Gods, and having made your first steps upon the magick path, then are two things required of you. The first is that you must now take a magickal name known to none other than yourself, an the second is that you make a private offering of thanks unto the Gods.”
–Nevill Drury, Merlin’s Book of Magick and Enchantment, p. 64

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for high school again. Maybe it’s because I’ll be missing my five-year reunion soon. Really, does anyone even bother going to five-years? Or maybe it’s because I’ll be getting to see my family this weekend. Probably the latter. Regardless, all these nostalgia feelings inspired me to crack open a book that is and always will be near and dear to my heart: Merlin’s book of Magick and Enchantment by Nevill Drury. Naturally, the author’s name does not appear on the cover; you have to dig for it, or else what’s the fun in pretending it’s a book written by the famous Merlin of Arthurian Legend?

The first Pagan book I ever owned was given to me for Christmas by my best friend, Amphitrite, back when I still considered myself a good Catholic girl who sang in the youth choir every winter and executed faithfully the duties of an altar server the other four seasons. I went to mass every Sunday with my parents and brothers. I wore a crucifix almost every day. I gave up makeup, AIM, candy, cursing, and fighting with Little Brother for Lent. And then…my very Baptist friend gave very Catholic me an ornately bound, gorgeously illustrated, and poetically written book that explained—in narrative form—the basic tenets of (modern) Druidry. I doubt the irony of this situation is lost on anyone who regularly reads my blog.

When I first unwrapped it Christmas morning, I stared in awe at the cover and then proceeded to flip through all the illustrations. The artist in me salivated over the colors and the symbolism in each picture (if you can get you hands on a copy of this book, however cheesy its premise, I highly suggest it if for no other reason than the artwork). Of course, even at fourteen I was well aware that it wasn’t actually written by Merlin (I’d watched a thousand History and Discovery channel specials on Aurthurian legend by then, even, not to mention Mists of Avalon, so I was well familiar with the historical evidence versus the myths), but my spiritual world was still very narrow. I had never heard of Paganism, Wicca, Asatru, Druidry, anything. To me, the myths of the Old Gods were just that—myths. Fabulous stories created by men (and, perhaps, women as well) throughout the ages to explain natural phenomena they could not otherwise understand. I had studied the Roman and Greek gods since elementary school—the mythology curriculum was always my favorite—and then again in Latin classes. I had a basic familiarity with the gods of the Egyptians and the Norse from my own reading, just for fun. I knew that other ancient cultures had other deities, but that Christianity had replaced them all. I didn’t have the first clue that these Old Gods were being revived. At least, not until I started reading Merlin’s Book of Magick and Enchantment.

I can’t say that was the start of my journey to Paganism—that would have to be when I was seven and first questioned why God was a dude when (S)He always felt feminine to me (pretty sure my parents thought that I thought way too much for a seven year old after that one)—but it was a major milestone. Several years later I was writing my (high school) senior thesis on the resurgence of Goddess-worship in the form of Neopaganism. By college? Game over, Catholicism. You’d officially lost another follower.

I remember having a discussion with Amphitrite’s mother shortly after she had given me the book. Her mom specified, “Well, it’s not for reading, we just thought you’d like the pictures.” I nodded and smiled and said “Of course! Lovely pictures. Won’t read it.” I’d already read it. Twice. My own mother, giggling surreptitiously nearby, just shook her head. She knew. I do, after all, inherit my curious bones from her side of the family.

One of the chapters of the MBoM&E has to do with choosing a “magickal name,” or rather, a method for divining one. I’m aware that a magical name is a topic of some debate in the modern Pagan community, and there are good arguments from all sides on the matter. I have my opinions, which I’ll present briefly here. Anden Jade is not my given name, but I consider it my “working name,” or for you non-Pagan readers, the name I present to the larger Pagan community…on the rare occasions I encounter any members of said community, that is. It’s my public name, hence my using it for my blog and for my music website. However, I don’t consider it my true name, or the name by which I call myself when I come before my Deities. That is a name I hold close to my heart and only two of my closest confidants—Amphitrite is one of them—know it. They keep mine; I keep theirs.

Words have power. Names have power. Naming something gives it form, meaning, purpose. Naming begets understanding. What I can name, I can visualize. What I can visualize, I can recreate (through art, through music, through magic). What I can recreate, I can control. At least, that’s the theory of my perspective.

I did not divine for my true name. I did not consult runes or tarot or alphabet soup. I did not ask for it and get an answer in a dream. I did not stare at a crystal sphere until my eyes crossed and letters appeared before. I did not wait for anyone else to name me. My true name has always been a part of me, long before I knew what it meant. Ever since I can remember, I have called myself secretly by a name separate from the one my parents bestowed upon me at birth. I distinctly remember being five or six, scampering around the woods, spinning in circles and thinking to myself, “I am not Lissa, I am ____.” (Melissa is my first name, by the way. I was Lissa until I was around eight years old. After that, I decided “Lissa” sounded childish, and began to use the full version until college, when suddenly people just started calling me Mel.) Funny how these things work out. And to think it took me over a decade after that to finally figure out that I’m not a good Catholic girl, I’m a Pagan. Sometimes I think I’m not as smart as my family and friends and coworkers seem to think I am. You’d think between the statue of Diana my grandfather carved for me and my lifelong obsessions with running through the woods, dancing in the rain, Celtic folk music, Amazons, candles, history, and mythology that I would have figured that one out a helluva lot sooner. Oh well. Better late than never, eh?