08 November 2013

Slavic Tarot: Major Arcana, Part 1

Perun, The Thunder God by
DusanMarkovic (Deviantart)
I’ve decided on what my next big project will be. It will likely take me several years to complete, especially all of the artwork, but I believe it will be a worthy endeavor of my time and talents, especially as my next big project represents the marriage of several of my favorite interests: Slavic mythology and fairy tales, art, storytelling, and the tarot. What will this next big project be, you ask? I will be creating my own tarot deck based on the gods, heroes and villains of Slavic lore. I will create a unique painting for each of the cards, and the originals will be for sale on my Etsy shoppe once they are all complete and scanned and turned into tiny pictures on the tarot cards…which is why this project will take me several years.

Thus far I have settled on the individuals that I feel best represent (or provide a unique and meaningful alternative to) the Major Arcana. Some of the archetypes in a traditional tarot deck, based on the Rider-Waite Smith version, do not have appropriate equivalents in the magic and myths of the Slavs. Thus, in some cases—such as the high priestess—the archetype wears a much darker face. Eastern Europe, especially the areas now known as Russia, was and is a harsh place to eke out a living. Their mythology—and thus, this tarot deck I am now imagining—reflect that harshness. Without further ado, I shall run down my summary of the Major Arcana of my Slavic Tarot.

0. The Fool: Ivan-Durak (Иван-дурак) - The youngest of three peasant brothers, Ivan-Durak is simple, straightforward, and friendly. His joviality often leads others to misjudge him as a fool, but his guileless and likeable nature assists him on all of his journeys. The unlikely hero, Ivan-Durak always overcomes his humble roots to achieve great rewards (and often marry a princess).

I. The Magician: Vasilisa the Beautiful (Василиса Прекрасная) - Vasilisa the Beautiful is the dutiful daughter of a peasant, whose evil stepmother and stepsisters drive her from their cottage in search of fire to re-light their hearth. Along the way she enters the hut of Baba-Yaga, who gives her a list of impossible tasks to complete by sunset. Vasilisa, aided by her magical doll, accomplishes all of the tasks. In return, Baba-Yaga bestows upon her the gift of a flaming skull atop a wooden torch. When Vasilisa takes the torch home, the skulls eyes glow and burn her evil stepmother and stepsisters to ashes. Vasilisa marries a prince and lives happily ever after.

II. The High Priestess: Vedma (Ведьма) - Vedma was the figure from whom all modern witch stereotypes stem, to include the riding upon a broomstick and cackling at the moon. She was always depicted as an old woman with great knowledge and power, and she was feared by all and respected by other magical practitioners. Neither innately good nor evil, the original lore of the Vedma is difficult to trace, as the medieval witch hunts came to Eastern Europe and tainted the stories with human victims accused of cavorting with the devil. However, as a powerful, independent and knowledgeable female figure, the Vedma is an appropriate representation of the dark and twilit magic of the Slavic realms.

III. The Emperor: Perun (Перун) - Perun is the supreme sky-god of thunder and lightning in most Slavic pantheons, with comparisons to both Zeus and Thor. He is most often depicted as an imposing figure of masculinity with a copper-colored beard and wielding a giant axe (or, in some cases, hammer). Those who displease him meet an untimely end as he hurls the axe at their heads, and he is feared by all the evil spirits who plague the land. The axe, once thrown, always returns to him. He is the consort of Mokosh, and he rules from the top branches of the World Tree.

IV. The Empress: Mokosh (Мокошь) - Mokosh is the supreme mother goddess of traditional women’s things, activities, and destinies; she watches over spinning, weaving, sewing, embroidery, and other such things. She is the consort of Perun as well as one of the handmaidens of Mother Moist Earth. She lives with Perun at the top of the World Tree, overlooking the realm of the mortals. She is wise and ageless, and often depicted with a spindle in hand, and traces her lineage back to the mother aspect in the Paleolithic goddess triad (where she was depicted with lozenges, spirals and horses, sometimes even antlers).

V. The Heirophant: Svarog (Сварог) - The god of fire, blacksmithing and other crafts, Svarog is the forger of divine weapons, a skilled god, and the father of Dazbog (the sun). His name means a place of brightness or fire, such as a forge. He is often compared to Hephaestus or Vulcan, but his associations with the bright open sky also earn him comparisons to Perun; as such, some argue that Svarog was the supreme deity in the Slavic pantheon instead.

VI. The Lovers: Jarilo and Morena (Ярило и Марена) - A tale of the seasons, full of life, love and death. Jarilo and Morena are the children of Perun and Mokosh. The twins were both born on the night of the new year; however, Jarilo was immediately snatched away by Veles and raised in the underworld. In the spring, Jarilo returned full grown to the land of the living to be reunited with Morena, and the two quickly fell in love. The beginning of summer marked their wedding, bringing peace between the land of the living and the dead and ensuring an abundant harvest. However, come autumn, Jarilo’s attentions wandered, and Morena slew him in swift revenge. In mourning over her dead husband, Morena transformed into a cold and frozen hag; as goes her nature, so goes the natural world into winter. By the end of the new year, Morena also died, and the two siblings could finally be reborn to begin their cycle anew with the coming year.

VII. Chariot: Sventovit (Святовит) - As the god of war and divination, Sventovit is often depicted riding a white horse into battle. Sventovit is said to have four faces that could look simultaneously in each of the cardinal directions, as well as the past, present and future (much like the Roman Janus). Like Svarog, Sventovit’s many faces and associations also earn him a chance to compete with Perun for the position of supreme Slavic deity.

VIII. Strength: Ilya Muromets (Илья́ Му́ромец) - Ilya Muromets was one of the old heroes from Kieven Rus, who suffered a serious illness in his youth that left him paralyzed until age 33, when he was miraculously healed by two wandering pilgrims. Shortly thereafter, a dying knight named Svyatogor gifted Ilya with superhuman strength. Ilya then set off to liberate the besieged city of Kiev and served Prince Vladimir Krasnoye Solnyshko. In his travels, Ilya Muromets singlehandedly defeated the nomads invading the city of Chernigov, earned a knighthood from a local ruler, killed the monster Nightingale the Robber (he was a douche—murdered travelers with a whistle—so don’t be fooled by the pretty name), and earned himself the right to be called the embodiment of all strength.

IX. Hermit: Koschei the Deathless (Коще́й Бессме́ртный) - Koshei the Deathless is not immortal, but rather very difficult to kill. He keeps his soul—or his death—inside a needle, which is hidden in an egg, which is inside a duck, which is inside a hare, which is locked inside an iron chest that was buried inside a giant green oak tree, which grew on the island of Buyan in the middle of the ocean. With his soul separate from his body, he is unkillable by conventional means. Known to live mostly alone and possibly a relative of the famously fearsome Baba-Yaga, Koshei occasionally kidnaps the wives, girlfriends and princesses of Slavic heroes in a vain attempt to assuage his own loneliness, and thus he often presents as a villain in the Skazki (Fairy Tales). But just think of all the knowledge he’s learned over all those years of deathlessness!

X. Wheel of Fortune: Sadko (Садко) - Sadko, a poor gusli-player, struck a deal with the Sea Tsar and became the richest merchant in all of Novgorod; however, he never paid his debt to the sea. Thus, one day as his ship was sailing over the sea, the Sea Tsar called him down below the depths. Sadko journeyed to the oceanic otherworld and settled an argument between the Sea Tsar and his wife. In return the Sea Tsar promised him the hand of the most beautiful mermaid in all of the oceans, and paraded each one before him. Sadko chose the last maiden in the line, a scrawny, nervous thing, as his bride, but did not consummate the marriage; rather, Sadko simply went to sleep. When he awoke, he found himself on the shoreline, with his human wife waiting for him, and his merchant ship returned to him from across the sea, laden with even greater riches than ever before.

XI. Justice: Leshy (Ле́ший) - Leshy are guardian spirits of the forest and protectors of all therein. They have long green beards and hair made of living vines, bright green eyes, blue blood, and pale white skin. They can teach magic to those who befriend them, or punish those who desecrate the forest. They steal the axes of woodcutters and cause other mischief to the unwary. The Leshy, if angered, can also tickle their victims to death. If a Leshy crosses a wanderer’s path in the forest, the wanderer will become hopelessly lost. To protect oneself from their wrath, wear clothing backwards and inside out, and wear shoes on the wrong feet.

And that is all the time I have right now; I will continue the list on another day, probably not until after my unit returns from the field. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of the rest of the Major Arcana you have to look forward to!

XII. The Hanged Man: Rusalka (Русалка)
XIII. Death: Baba Yaga (Баба-Яга)
XIV. Temperance: The Zarya (Заря)
XV. The Devil: Veles (Велес)
XVI. The Tower: Zmey Gorynych (Змей Горыныч)
XVII. The Star: The Firebird (Жар-птица)
XVIII. The Moon: Werewolf (Волколак)
XIX. The Sun: Dazbog (Дажьбог)
XX. Judgment: Vila (Вила)
XXI. The World: Mother Moist Earth (Мать Сыра Земля)

04 November 2013

Samhaine In Circle

Morrighan by Mary McAndrew.
Original painting and prints available here.
No tribal rite has yet been recorded which attempts to keep winter from descending; on the contrary: the rites all prepare the community to endure, together with the rest of nature, the season of the terrible cold.
~ Joseph Campbell

As the words of House Stark frequently remind us, winter is coming. Now, autumn isn’t much of an autumn here in Texas—it’s generally a few days of people wondering, “Wait, it was 100+ degrees last week, wtf happened!?” and then suddenly it’s wintertime, and by winter I mean cold, dreary, somewhat rainy and always windy weather that lasts until around Feb/March—but we are in the middle of the transition right about now. Here, when I tell people that autumn is my favorite season, they always ask me to clarify: “Wait, Texas-autumn or Eastcoast-autumn?” My answer, it should come without a surprise, is never “Texas.”

Mood: missing my two-up, two down (VA).

But at least the weekend, although all too short, was a refreshing step away from the stress and craziness of work and into the closest thing Texas has to a forest for another glorious camping weekend with my circle friends. We celebrated Samhaine by remembering our ancestors and dressing as some of our favorite deities if they were walking about in the 21st Century. I raided my own closet for a black wig, black leather leggings, black leather boots, a red chiffon dress and a black leather belt to represent the Morrighan, Celtic goddess of war, sex, sorcery, thresholds and general badassery. There was one other Morrighan in the crowd, as well as two Lughs, the Dagda, Brigid, Danu, Lilith, Isis, the Rainbow Spirit, Coyote, Mother Earth, three women who chose to simply represent the Maiden-Mother-Crone triad, and Kami (Shinto name for the life-spirit/force/energy/power that flows through and connects all of the universe). It was quite the gathering of deities in modern form. I’m sure I am missing a few, but those are the main ones I can remember right now. We each introduced ourselves and then hailed the deity we chose to represent.

Usually if I concentrate, quiet my breathing and focus inward, I can feel my deities watching over me along with any number of spirit guides and curious presences from the local landbase; however, while publicly calling to the Morrighan and inviting her into the circle, I felt almost as if I was channeling her words as much as I was inviting her, like she was already there and guiding me to speak what she wanted said. It was a pretty cool feeling. She may be a scary deity, but she protects those who can protect themselves, and she looks after those who please her. I count myself very blessed that I seem to be, as a whole, on her good side.

But anywho…now that the weekend is over, I’m back to the daily, stressful grind. As of Friday I will be stuck in the field again, most likely without internet for at least a few days and possibly the whole time. We should be coming back out just in time for Thanksgiving, and then I immediately start clearing my present unit. The closer I get to that magical date, the less nervous and the more disillusioned I appear to become. I really just want to leave, to just get it over with and move. I’m not leaving Texas—couldn’t be quite that lucky yet, perhaps next year—but at least I’ll be surrounded by my own kind again. Le sigh.

In related news, anyone know any good cat-sitters in the area? I can’t exactly take my kitty-cat with me to the field. I mean, I’m sure little kitty Hera would have a blast hunting ginormous crickets and snuggling up in my sleeping system at night, but she would get bored in the little 7x7 foot crew tent all day.

Not to mention the fact that I’m *not* allowed to bring her…

The cat-sitter hunt continues.

31 October 2013

Fall Festival And Other Updates

My vendor display! Check that awesome banner.
Well, the Fall Festival came and went, and then my unit went out to the field. We have a brief reprieve before we head back out into the wastelands and shrubbery that pass for woods in Texas, and then you won’t hear from me again for another two or three weeks. But alas, so many updates and so little time. I’ll just hit the highlights and then get back on my merry working way.

The Fall Festival was a success, all things considered. The weather held out, so the worst of the wind and rain didn’t hit us until it was time to take down the vendor tents anyway. I met some wonderfully nice people (only one of whom attempted to “save” me) and handed out numerous business cards. Did I mention I have business cards? Now, whenever someone makes a purchase from my Etsy shoppe, I will have a lovely business card to send with the item ordered! I might have overkilled the number I purchased but I plan on using them for many, many months and years to come. But back to the Fall Festival. I made several purchases, and my one regret is that I did not make a gift of one of them. There was a young woman, perhaps in her teens, browsing with her father. She absolutely adored one of the purple, leaf-shaped pendants I had made, strung on a black suede cord. She wanted it and she asked her father for money. It was one of my more inexpensive items, as there was not a lot of heavy beadwork and the piece did not require hours and hours to assemble, but her father—without even asking the price—simply growled, “No,” and then stomped away. Head hung, she followed after him. Now, looking back, I really wish I had just boxed the damn thing up and handed it to her with a whispered, “Shhhh…don’t tell anyone I’m this nice.” However, it all happened so quickly that she was gone before I could make a gift of the pendant. Le sigh.

The Festival ended all too quickly, although meeting that many new people and having to wear a smile all day was quite exhausting for me (especially considering my hermit-like tendencies). I could also have done without the grabbing hands of snot-nosed children tugging on my jewelry displays…I mean, is it so much to ask that if you are going to allow your four year old to touch EVERY single necklace and bracelet and pendant I have available—quite enthusiastically, mind you—that you at least consider BUYING one for yourself? Or them. Either way, ugh. Here endeth all discussions of Fall Festival until, well, next time.

In other news, I recently received confirmation that I am moving to a new unit. I’m not leaving my present station—that’s still a year or two in the future—but I am moving to the other side of post. I’m not sure what my job will be over there, but hopefully the grass is indeed as green as I imagine. Sure, I hate my current job, but I love the people I work with, and the people I work for could definitely be way worse. Nonetheless, I am curious/excited/nervous about the job move. It could be good or bad, and fingers crossed for the former.

My friends and I celebrated Halloween (well, sorta) last weekend, heading down to Austin in our LOTR themed costumes. The Hobbit among us was quite the hit, so we’d usually send him into the bar first, at which point people would giggle and ask for his photo amid “OMG you are a HOBBIT” declarations. His response—“Just wait, I have my whole fellowship behind me”—would be the cue for the rest of us to roll inside with our elfin gowns, wizarding robes and dwarven beards. We had a blast.

Naturally there were some confused stares and “Game of Thrones?” queries, but hey—we can’t all be lucky enough to be nerds.

Finally, I’m afraid I must leave you on a somber note with a request for prayers and healing thoughts. A friend of mine was recently struck by lightning while training in the field and has been in a coma since. Please direct healing energy his way, and light a candle for either a swift recovery or a painless transition to the other side. No warrior wants to go out that way; we'd rather live long lives with our broken knees and stories about the good old days and how the Army got soft, or else we'd like to go down in a blaze of glory. Training accidents and nature strikes are not what is supposed to slay us.

08 October 2013

Reviving Vasilisa

My Firebird painting? Totally relevant.
Trust me. If you copy, please link back.
Warning! This post references a LOT of my much older blogtacular ramblings as well as some outside concepts best explained by others, so it's a little on the link-heavy side. Now on to the updates!

As I posted over on the book of face yesterday, it’s official: I will be a vendor in a Fall Festival hosted by a local Methodist church this weekend! Not exactly my usual clientele, but perhaps they will still like my obnoxiously colorful jewelry with nature and faerie themes. I am leaving my post-apocalyptic paintings and goddess sculptures at home, and instead I will be focusing on showcasing the mounds of jewelry I’ve made over the past year or so. So, if you are in the central Texas region on 12 October, swing by Grace United Methodist Church’s Fall Festival, at which yours truly will be sporting a lovely table with all the sparkly goodies from The Shoppe Between The Trees and then some!

In other news, you may not hear from me towards the end of October and mid November. My unit will be in the field for a large part of the fall, and I will not have access to the endless interwebs (nor, much to my deployed fiancé’s distress, a phone). I will attempt to take a break from the insane amounts of Samhaine and Handfasting related crafting projects I presently have underway to post an update on how the Fall Festival went, but no promises! I have four more Halloween costumes to finish, another dress to make, a dress to re-size, and gods only know what else has slipped my mind. Our guest bedroom has become my room of unfinished crafts.

Bottom Line: posting may be sporadic throughout this Autumn, so I will try to make them worthwhile when I can. Now, onto the good stuff! Today, let’s ponder about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and has caused me much pondering of late.

Давайте поговорим о русских сказках, в частности, Василису Прекрасную! Or, for you non Russian speakers (which according to my stats are the majority of you, but believe it or not my blog does get regular traffic from all over Eastern Europe), let’s talk about Russian fairy tales, specifically, Vasilisa the Beautiful! This is not the first post I have written about Russian folklore, nor is it the first dedicated to that dutiful daughter who faced Baba-Yaga and won. Now, as some of you likely know, I majored in Russian and International Relations in college, and I wrote my Honors Thesis about Baba-Yaga as a symbol of initiation into adulthood. Thus, I have always had a soft spot for old bony-shanks. And, as the Slavic Cinderella, I have always had a soft spot for Vasilisa as well.

Vasilsa and Baba-Yaga represent two opposite ends of the spectrum of womanhood: one is an archetypal maiden; the other, undoubtedly a crone. One is just beginning her life, and the other is both ancient and timeless as death. Vasilisa undergoes a change in the tale, growing from an innocent child into a young woman. She comes from her humble, girlhood roots to earn her right to be an adult, and at the end of it all she is a woman ready for marriage. This is a common theme in Slavic folklore. What you don’t see as prevalent in Russian myth as in some other cultures, are the heroines who are clearly the heroine, but remain unmarried. Cue: Daphne. The endgame of every Slavic fairy tale in which a woman is the lead is marriage. Even in many of the male-centric adventure stories, the heroes complete their three tasks and at the end, they marry the princess. We see this theme repeated in Disney movies, in other culture’s fairy tales, in modern literature; this theme being that You, as a human being, are not complete until You are part of a Married Couple. Obviously I am making some generalizations here—there are plenty of counter examples available, even the Rusalki come to mind, albeit they are not heroines by any stretch of the imagination in traditional folklore—but my point is that, according to myth and other cultural stories, we as humans are not complete until we are aligned and bound to our other halves, and those who remain single—particularly if they are female—are somehow….wrong. Rusalki, the firebird, Baba-Yaga, crazy-cat-lady.

And I don’t necessarily agree.

Sure, Vasilisa is a great heroine, a wonderful role model for obeying her elders even when they are clearly full of crap and do not have her best interests at heart. She’s a great passive character, perfectly passive, even. She obeys her evil stepmother. She outwits Baba-Yaga by listening to the advice of a magic doll, for frak’s sake. But as naive as she may be as a child, I do not think she is necessarily more fully human once she exits the Yaga’s hut and marries a prince. To reference the all-wise Buffy, her cookie dough is done baking when it is done baking, regardless of her relationship status. The end game is to become more fully who and what you are, not necessarily to find that other someone to make you perfectly happy (and then by uniting with them, becoming complete). You are complete when you reach self-actualization, in psychological terms, and it has nothing to do with being single or married.

I know this may sound hypocritical for someone in a committed relationship; however, happy as I am with my fiancé, I am not necessarily a more complete human being now that I have him around. Or, had the case been otherwise, if I had settled on a her instead of a him. Things just happen, and sometimes you find someone who you fit with, who also happens to fit with you, and things work out so perfectly that it would take a clinical idiot to ruin them. I’m lucky enough that I found such a relationship. But I am still an independent, complete person. I am not an independent half. I am not a half of a whole. Neither is he, for that matter. Yes, I believe that he is my soul mate, and that we have lived many lives together already, and that we have been searching for each other unknowingly in this life until we finally met. Yet our being with each other in the present does not invalidate our time before we met. We were as human before as we are now.

Is my cookie dough done baking? Of course not; as long as we live, we are changing. We are in a constant state of flux. We grow, we deteriorate, we decay, and then new growth eventually takes place from the ashes of the old. Whether you are Vasilisa the Beautiful, Baba-Yaga, or Ivan the Fool (perhaps more on that particular hero one day), you are a complete human being simply because you are. You do not need another person to make you whole; you are whole already.

02 October 2013


I miss the woods where I grew up.
I miss the mountains, miss the trees.
I miss the ever-present, overwhelming
     sense of mystery.
I miss my friends from childhood
(even those who were mean to me).
I miss the way my heart would break
     every time a boy didn’t talk to me.

And I’ll never get it all back;
life goes on even when your soul is cracked
     in half.
I miss the wind over the lake.
I miss the sunburns, miss the rain.
I miss the utter certainty that I would
     never change my name.
I miss the grass beneath bare feet.
I miss playing the lava-game.
I miss a home where I belonged;
     since I left, nothing’s been the same.
And I’ll never get it all back;
life goes on even as the gods, they laugh.
And I’ll never reclaim those days;
innocence lost, imagination chained.

But if you keep holding my hand—
my love, my hunter, my king, my man—
I might just make it through;
even a perfect past can’t compare
     to a future with you.

01 October 2013

Not Fading

Dudes with horns holding Greenman masks?
Won't be for sale at a Christian-run Fall Fest.
First off, I promise I’m not going anywhere! I know it’s been a little while, but I promise I won’t fade away for half a year again…at least not any time soon. My day job has just been incredibly busy as of late, not to mention a very full social schedule as I attempt to fill up as much time as possible and therefore stave off the encroaching omg-my-fiance-is-still-deployed-and-I’m-trying-not-to-think-about-how-much-that-freaks-me-out loneliness. So yeah. I’ve been busy. Nothing new, of course, but some weeks are busier than other weeks, and the last two weeks I barely had time to breathe, let alone blog, and I probably only slept about two to three hours a night.

Secondly, MABON WAS AWESOME! I am aware that writing in all caps on the internet is frequently interpreted as yelling; however, yelling, in this case, seems very appropriate to me because it’s one of those things I really just wanted to shout at everyone I saw. The running commentary in my head, while I was busier than ever at work, was something along the lines of this:

Me (thinking): “Omg, I had SO MUCH FUN camping out in the woods and celebrating the autumn equinox and it was SO RELAXING that I just want to scream, and hello random person I work with who knows very little about me and probably already thinks I’m crazy—I want to tell you ALL ABOUT Mah CAMPING WEEKENDDDDDD YAY! But we are in a meeting so instead I will keep my mouth shut and continue doodling in my notes.”

But I digress.

Thirdly, as I recently mentioned on my public facebook page, I may be a vendor in an upcoming festival! I was approached through my Etsy shop last week about perhaps participating as a vendor at a local event, and so after some thought—the crowd didn’t exactly seem like the usual clientele for fantasy, mythology, and Paganism inspired jewelry/art, so I was hesitant to agree outright—I eventually accepted and submitted an application. I should find out in the next few days, after they review the photos of my merchandise (I decided to forego the art and just offer jewelry), I should find out whether or not my acceptance of their interest in my jewelry is…accepted. Convoluted, I know. The whole time I kept thinking, “Wait, you approached me…I have to apply to what? And then you’ll decide? Odd.” But I don’t make the rules; I simply must abide by them if I want the opportunity to share my sparkly, overly colorful jewelry with my local community. I figure, at a minimum, making things gives me so much joy, that this is my chance to share it and hope that my little creations bring as much joy to others. Once I know whether or not I got accepted to be a vendor, I will submit more information about the festival here and on facebook and twitter and and and….

So, definitely a little excited about everything going on in my life. Now, if only that Orion of mine can hurry up and come back from playing in the sandbox so that he can join in on all the exciting newness, that would be grand.

20 September 2013

Mulled Wine Rocks

My mulled wine simmering away
in my cauldron I mean crock pot
It’s been a long week. I’m used to having long days (are there any other kind anymore, seriously?) but this past week was especially hectic, and I am just thankful I made it through until Friday. Now if I can just make it until the end of the day, I have a gloriously relaxing weekend in the woods to look forward to in celebration of the Autumn Equinox and Mabon, one of my favorite holidays—second only to Samhaine. By the way, my costume this year is already complete :) I knocked it out a few weekends ago whilst watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended editions, of course. My friends and I are all dressing up as elves, dwarves and hobbits and hitting the fabulous streets of Austin, TX for the weekend prior to Halloween/Samhaine. So if you see an elegantly dressed lady-elf in forest-green satin, pine-green silk, leaf-green chiffon and ocean-teal velvet, that’s me! So feel free to come up to me and go, “Oh hey there, crazy person! I read your blog! You should really edit more.”

I don’t anticipate being recognized.

But I digress. Back to Mabon and the awesomeness that will ensue this weekend. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have recently started attending the weekly meetings of a local Open Circle. Thus, for the first time ever, I will be attending a truly group ritual, in the woods, with a bonfire. I am so unbelievably excited!! I spent all last evening gathering supplies and mulling wine, which I then bottled and put in the fridge to chill (gotta account for this Texas heat…no hot beverages here). Naturally I sampled the end product last night while it was still warm and fresh out of the crock pot, oozing spiciness and orange tang. I plan on sampling the chilled version this evening after work—you know, just to make sure it still tastes right—whilst packing my cooler and preparing my “milk and honey corn pudding” batter for the potluck. See, before Saturday’s sunset ritual, they have a potluck dinner; so I plan on using my trusty crock pot to slow-cook some corn pudding. It is a harvest celebration, after all. So I figure, I pre-make the batter, put all the mixed up ingredients in a giant ziplock bag (or two) and keep it in my cooler until it’s time to start cooking.

Thus, in light of it being officially autumn here soon (some lucky places have already started experiencing this most wonderful of seasons), I will share my mulled wine recipe. Once upon a time, I used to host a lot of Halloween parties (high school) and then Christmas/Yule parties (college). While I began with mulling cider, by the time all my friends—or at least most of them—were of age, I graduated to mulling wine. Before I had a crock pot I would just use a giant stock pot and let it simmer on the stove, so that method is also a good one, you just have to watch the pot more to make sure it doesn’t start outright boiling. You don’t want to be cooking off any of the alcohol, if it is wine you happen to be mulling. That said, in a pinch, you can always spike the end product with brandy or cognac if you are afraid your wine lost its kick.

First off, you need to be gathering your ingredients. Any fruits (preferably citrus) or spices of the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice variety (whole or coarsely ground is best so that you can easily remove them later) you desire. Here’s what I used:

  • One orange, cut into quarters
  • Four sticks cinnamon
  • Mulling spices (whole cloves, large pieces of allspice, some dried bits of orange peel)
  • 2x extra large bottles of dry red (I used a Gallo Family Merlot; you can totally mull cheap wine! In fact, the cheaper the better, because you won’t tell the difference in the end)
  • Sugar or honey (I used about 1 cup of sugar, but you can use as much as 2 or just go all out and make it super sweet)

A) Crock pot method.
  1. Open wine bottles. Pour wine in crock pot.
  2. Squeeze juice from orange sections into wine. Plop squeezed orange sections into the wine afterwards for extra pulpy goodness and orangey flavor.
  3. Drop in your spices (cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and whatever else you want to use) and sugar. Stir with obnoxiously large wooden spoon. Cackle. 
  4. Cover and cook on high for about 2 hours or on low for about 4. You can cook it longer if you want, but you don’t want it to boil; just heat up and simmer and get the wine all delightfully infused with the spice and fruit flavors.
  5. Reduce crock pot to “keep warm” (If you have that setting, or else just keep it on low and remove the lid) and serve with a ladle. Be careful; it’s hot. Drinkable, but hot.
B) Stovetop method.
  1. Follow steps 1-3 above, substituting a large stock pot or sauce pan for the crock pot. The most imporant part is the cackling; if fascilitates the strirring.
  2. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Let simmer for about 10 minutes then reduce heat to medium-low for at least an hour.
  4. Keep warm on low heat and serve with a ladle.
C) If you desire to chill your mulled wine and serve it cold, more like a sangria:
  1. Carefully—it will spill, so do this process either over the sink or over the pot so that you don't waste the runoff—ladle the warm mulled wine into a bottle (or two, or three). Using a funnel would probably help, but I don't happen to own one, so this step was particularly messy for me.
  2. Refrigerate overnight or until it's reached the desired coolness.
  3. Serve over ice in cute little tumblers.
=And there you have it, folks! Hot or cold, mulled wine is delicious. It’s known as Glühwein (pronounced GLUE-vine) in Germany and глинтвейн (pronounced GLINT-vine) in Russia. I’ve drunk it both places, and I’ve made it several times, and let me tell you there is almost no way to mess it up. Whatever fruits and spices you thrown in there, it’s going to taste good. Kind of like tiramisu: the basic ingredients are just so yummy, that it’s hard to find a bad version of it. Some mulled wines are sweeter than others; some are more alcoholic than others. I prefer to preserve the wine of mine instead of spiking it further, because then it’s hard to keep track of exactly how much alcohol is in there, but either way, the bottom line here is that mulled wine rocks, and you should go make some.

Right now. Go.

12 September 2013

Circles, Antimatter, And Humanoid Gods

Ancient Egyptian art depicting
some of their gods of the
Underworld. I believe it is
currently on display at the
 Louvre, but unfortunately
 I could find out little else.
About the gods I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist or what they are to look at. Many things prevent my knowing. Among others, the fact that they are never seen.
~ Protagoras

Yesterday I did something I have never done before.

I attended an open circle.

Now, I have known of this circle’s existence pretty much since I have been living in Texas, but I was always weirdly nervous about getting involved. At first, the only information I found about them online seemed vague at best and mostly from the early 2000’s, so I wasn’t even sure if they were still active. Then, once I discovered they were still very much around, I instead found excuses for not reaching out to them: I was busy, I was a Platoon Leader, I never got off work early enough, what if I’m the only officer there, what if I don’t fit in, what if I’m not Pagan enough, what if I do something wrong, what if they make me call the quarters at my first ritual and I mess it up and forget which direction is north...

I’ve never been anything but a solitary practitioner, apart from working a few rites or occasionally reading Tarot with bestie Amphitrite, and those hardly counted as group rituals. However, after talking over my irrational fears (which I acknowledged they were, but still feared nonetheless) with Orion the other day, I decided that I was just going to go and see what happened.

So I went.

And it was freaking awesome.

We did not work any magic; rather, it was a class and a discussion on topics relevant to modern Paganism in preparation for next weekend’s Mabon ritual—which I fully intend to attend. They meet weekly to have classes and discussions, and then celebrate the Sabbats and Esbats in a sanctuary set up at a local grove. I am so beyond excited it’s not even funny. Everyone was super nice and welcoming—I got lots of hugs as the newcomer—and came from all walks of life and levels of experience. The group leader/sponsor described them as a collection of “chronic non-joiners, geeks, and crafty people,” so I knew almost immediately that I had found a home.

The discussion was themed around the harvest, with a focus on the concept of sacrifice: its origins, connotations, and modern representations. Now, another one of the things I was concerned about before meeting everyone, was that I would be too intellectual for the group; however, as soon as the discussion started, I knew that fear had been not only vain but completely unfounded. If anything, I felt like the dumb one in the crowd. I was certainly the quietest, but that was more out of respect for my position as newcomer. I did not want to rush right in spouting off my opinion on everything; I prefer to ease my way into group settings, and right now I have the luxury of time to do just that.

One of the most interesting concepts we discussed, however, was the way we as a species used to make our gods look like us, even up to the point of deifying famous figures (the statue of George Washington as Jupiter, specifically, was mentioned). Many cultures view/ed their deity/ies as, at a minimum, humanoid. There were variations upon the humanoid figure, such as the many-armed blue skinned gods from India and the animal-headed gods of Egypt, but even these were still basically humanoid in their design. And that’s what got me thinking. Why?

As one who was baptized Byzantine Rite and raised very strictly Catholic, the concept of gods and men reflecting each other is not unknown to me. That said, in my youth I was more accustomed to hearing that God (the Yahweh one) created men in His image; but as a student of Latin and the accompanying culture, I was also familiar with the reverse concept. According to the Romans, we created the gods in our image, not the other way around. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were avid proponents of deities being reflective of humanity, even (and especially) including their faults: the jealousy of Hera/Juno, the vanity of Aphrodite/Venus, the womanizing douchebaggery of Zeus/Jupiter, just to name a few of the more popular godly faults. “To err is human,” as the common phrase goes, and yet in some lost societies, to err was also divine—a direct contradiction to the much quoted Christian adage that “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

And yet we have all the evidence of the universe before us. Bad things happen to good people. Birth defects. Disease. Natural disaster. Poverty, hunger, famine. Black holes. War. And yet we also have the miracle of nebulae, the delicate balancing act of matter versus antimatter that allows the entire universe to precariously remain in existence. (In case you are unfamiliar with antimatter, basically it is the same as matter only the reverse, and when in contact, the two explode in a massive release of energy and then cancel each other out….but yet we are still here. Mind blown yet? Mine kinda is. More information here, which despite being from Wikipedia is actually a pretty fair summary.)

Divine mistake or not, we are here. We exist. Life exists, and is living, here on Earth, in this time and space. So here’s my theory. We make our gods look like us because we want to become god-like ourselves. They represent an achievable, attainable possible future: us, but improved. More powerful. More knowledgeable. Stronger. Sometimes we even make them omniscient, sometimes omnipotent. Eternal (literally, existing outside of time, rather than lasting forever, albeit both may be correct interpretations). We, as a species, strive to be all of these things, but in our struggle to achieve more power and knowledge and strength we leave a mass of troubles in our wake (war, poverty, and other products of pillage and plunder). We use our tools and technology to further the eons-old struggle for survival of the fittest, only we call it something else. We enact the dance of predator and prey on a global level, and we call it international relations.

We call it politics.

And here I will stop, before I start spouting off about something that could get me in trouble. I hope, at least, that I have provided some food for thought. Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.

10 September 2013

Remembering Smurf the Nordic Bard

How else do you honor a musician than with a song?
It has been a decade and your legacy lives on.
I’ve been trying to write for you a song all of these years,
but nothing ever fits, nothing ever fits.

I remember when we were twelve, we’d argue all day long
about which one of us played the better guitar.
Now I hope that when I die, you’ll meet me at the gate
so we can finally finish our musical debate.

You were so unique, walking your own path,
brave as any Viking with blue hair and an axe.
You lived with no apologies, excuses nor regrets;
I always envied that, I always envied that.

And when you left us we asked ourselves,
if you knew how many lives you’d touched,
how many friends would cry at your funeral,
wondering what we all did wrong,
wondering what we could have done.

For ten years I’ve been haunted by my last words to you.
If only I’d known then how soon they would come true.
I promised you a story at 3am that night, but I was tired,
and instead I said, “There isn’t enough time."
There’s never enough time.

And when you left us we asked ourselves,
if you know how many friends you had,
how many messages left on your coffin lid
asked you what we all did wrong,
and what more we could have done.

And when you left us we asked ourselves,
if you knew how many lives you’d touched,
how many friends would cry at your funeral,
wondering what we all did wrong,
wondering what we could have done.

09 September 2013

Digging For Bones

Circle: The Spinner's Journey Cover Art painted by
yours truly, so if you copy it, please link back!
I have a very specific process for writing my stories, and it’s quite different from the free-style writing I use here on my blog or when composing lyrics and poetry. If anything, my method for producing a story shares more in common with my method for making statues: I start with the bones, then add in the meat and finish everything up with the skin and details. For statues, this translates into building a frame out of wire, fleshing that out with metal foil as necessary (for larger pieces, mostly), then adding the outer layer of clay in which all the pretty little details are set. Once it’s baked, the painting begins. In writing my stories, the process goes something like this:

  1. Stream of consciousness-style chapter summary (the vision)
  2. Dialogue sketch (the bones)
  3. Descriptions of action (the meat)
  4. Descriptions of place (the skin)
  5. Editing (the details)

My stories—likely a product of my obsession with any show created by Joss Whedon—are rather dialogue-driven, so the dialogue is where I start the active process. The summaries tend to be the freestyle, unedited, ungrammatical, hand-jammed ramblings of a writing-as-you-think-it production that is illegible to all but me. Thus, the real work begins with the bones: the dialogue. Sometimes the words my characters speak come to me in the way that poetry does; I don’t think about what I’m writing, I just let the ink flow and it miraculously sounds kinda good. Sometimes I realize I have a notebook and a few minutes to kill, so I’ll brainstorm briefly about what scene I need to write next, and then I’ll start the conversation in the middle. More often than not, a random line will pop in my head, and I’ll think to myself, “That is totally something Gren would say about Ruv when he’s complaining to Hal,” and so I write it down and before I know it I’ve got three pages of scribbled conversation between my protagonists.

I look at my pre-story dialogue as sketches, and so that’s what I call them: dialogue sketches. They outline the chapters, provide commentary on the action, and reveal aspects of my character’s personalities that occasionally I didn’t even know until, well, I just let them start talking. I’ve never written a play, but I have read a few. My dialogue sketches look something like a screenplay when they’re done, except my characters never exit stage left. Rather, they whip out a sword and start fighting a dragon only to discover that even the dragon is feeling a bit chatty.

The reason I bring up my dialogue sketches is because I’ve produced a LOT of them recently. As you may know, I finished the preliminary draft of the first novel in the Circle series, titled The Spinner’s Journey. (On a side note, if you are unfamiliar with my story’s premise, you might want to check out the Bookshelf tab at the top of this site; there you will find story summaries, character profiles, and explanations of Aorean geography.) However, as it took me so long to finish the novel, the first few chapters stylistically did not fit with the later chapters, and Present-Anden disagreed with Past-Anden about the way the adventure should ultimately begin; thus, I decided to rewrite the first three chapters.

Which means starting all over again with the dialogue sketches.

The prologue and first chapter are already complete, so I’ve moved on to chapter two, which is where the protagonists really come together as a whole. Three of them—Mari, Gren and Hal—begin the story as old friends; but they are not a complete group until they bring in Laria, and only when they are complete can they begin the journey to ward off chaos for another thousand years. How do they begin their journey, you ask? Why, with a song, of course! And here is that song, as a nifty sneak-preview of the revamped beginning to The Spinner’s Journey:

Through the mists of time and space,
Where rivers speak and birches sway.
Into the flaming forest land,
Bring us all, hand in hand.

Bring us all, our journey begun;
Bring us whole, each and everyone,
Into the mystic land of old,
Where all dreams and stories unfold.

Through the mists of space and time,
The shifting fabric, dark and light,
Into the flaming forest land:
Bring us all, hand in hand.

27 August 2013

Bridal DIY: The Dress, Part 1

Detail of the back of the dress, mild corset-like lacing
And the craftiness continues! As promised, this will be the first part in a series concerning How I Am Making My Wedding Dress. This installment of Bridal DIY: The Dress will cover the big muscle movements of the creation, such as the inner and outer lining, chiffon overlay, and tulle netting underskirt. I'm sorry there aren't more pictures of the process, but I didn't think of taking any pictures of the process until, well, very recently...and all of the big stuff is already done. I think the end result will reflect the cultural mish-mash I am going for, which is somewhere between Greek Goddess, Celtic Faerie Princess and Steampunk with a little bit of Hippie thrown in for extra flavor.

In the words of one of my best friends, “So basically it will be like everything else in your closet.”

She’s not wrong.

I will admit I cheated slightly, in that I half-used a pattern—originally purchased for a formal dress I wore to a Military Ball (see here for that post)—but I reused the pattern mostly to get my sizing right. I cut the inner and outer lining in the bust and torso region based on the pattern dimensions and then freehanded the rest (skirt, overlay, etc). True story. I didn’t even draw it out or pin it first (which, unless you’re psychotic like me, is not a method I would recommend attempting). The top part of the commercial pattern (this one, in case you’re curious) resembled the basic shape I wanted to use for my wedding dress since I am mildly obsessed with sweetheart necklines and firmly believe in showing off my epic shoulders with a strapless gown. Ok, so my shoulders aren’t all that epic, but they are mine and I like them, plus I have a very special tattoo that needs to be visible.

So. Here are my tips, relatively in chronological order, of things I’ve learned from the process.

1) Decide on a design. If your crafting process is anything like my crafting process, the original design is a fluid thing that will change a lot by the time everything is finished; however, it still helps get things started if you draw a few sketches first. The ones I drew are mostly doodles in one notebook or another. I am trying to post pictures, but either blogger or my computer is being lame because even though the photos are upright on my computer, for some reason when I try posting them on blogger they are either upside down or sideways...so hopefully eventually they will let me get this photo upload right.

2) Acquire your fabric. I actually purchased my fabric (this and this) before I had completely finalized my design, and then once the fabric came in and I was able to play with it, I had a better idea of what the end result would turn out to be. I knew I wanted a flowy, dreamy overlay, and I knew I didn’t want to wear white. I ended up with a champagne color that in person looks much more like a pale gold, and then a very soft, very nice ivory silk chiffon. I wanted to still look somewhat like a bride, but I didn’t want to look like every other bride. Shocking, I know. I also used a lot of tulle netting in pale gold that matched the taffeta, but you can find tulle pretty much everywhere.

3) If you plan on washing/dry cleaning your dress when it’s done, wash/dry clean the fabric before you cut. For this particular dress, I really only plan on wearing it once, so all I did was iron out the chiffon so it wasn’t so crinkled. The crushed taffeta already had a texture to it that ironing would ruin, so I did absolutely nothing to pre-treat that fabric. For the second dress I’m making (yes, I will be changing into a new dress for the reception) as well as the bridesmaids’ dresses, I will wash that fabric before I do anything with it since those dresses are intended for multiple wear.

4) MEASURE YOURSELF. Or better yet, GET SOMEONE ELSE TO MEASURE YOU. If you’re using a pattern, you need to know your actual measurements, not your regular size. Pattern sizes are very different from commercial sizes. For example, in commercial sizes I am a 6 at my hips and a 0 up top, which makes for very difficult dress shopping (one of the reasons I originally got into making my own clothes); however, in pattern sizes, I am usually somewhere between an 8 and a 12. Luckily patterns come in multi-size cuts, so my ridiculous cartoon proportions are easily accommodated. (In case you’re wondering what my measurements are and why they’re so difficult to shop for, I’m 31in at the bust, 25in at the waist, and 38in at the hips…like I said: cartoon proportions, or else maybe a pear.)

5) Sketch, Pin, Cut. If you’re using a pattern, use sharp, small pins and use as many as possible with the fabric as flat as possible. I usually use the guest bed as my cutting surface because it’s the right height for me, but if you’re taller (which is likely the case, as I am vertically challenged) a table may work out better for you. Spread it out, double it over, whatever. It depends on what you’re cutting. Be cognizant of where your folds are, if the fabric has a noticeable grain, or a pattern. “With nap” versus “without nap” took me a long time to figure out, but luckily Google came to the rescue with the answer. If using a pattern, just follow the layout directions for with versus without nap, and it helps to highlight or mark which layout you’re using beforehand so it’s easier to not get confused. If you’re not using a pattern because you’re insane like me, it helps to still have a sketch. You can use chalk—I believe they make a specific type of chalk for sewing, but I don’t own any and I’ve never used it—or else you can purchase a disappearing ink pen, which I do own but have never used, so I can’t vouch for its efficacy. Or, if you’re truly insane like I tend to be, you can just eyeball and freehand cut. I wouldn’t recommend this method unless you are familiar with the trial-and-error method of getting the right size, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for something like formalwear unless you’re going for a boho look. My method was somewhere in between pinning a pattern and freehanding, as I used the pattern sizing for the torso portion and then just expanded it freehand-style for the skirt. As for the overlay….I freehanded the whole thing. Also not recommended for chiffon, but hey it worked out well enough for me, so you can probably do it too. I recommend cutting everything you need before you start sewing, so then you have ALL of your pieces already cut, and then you can just keep them organized in whatever order makes sense to you, or label them with a sticky note. I did no such thing, and in hindsight I should have, because let me tell you—all pieces of chiffon look the same, because damn that fabric likes to shift and stretch into a shapeless monstrosity. It all turned out ok in the end, but it was way more difficult than it could have been had I followed my own advice, or anyone’s advice, really. As you can see below, little Kitty Hera likes to help cutting the fabric by grooming herself on top of it.

6) Follow the directions, or else just start pinning seams. If you’re using a pattern, the directions—complete with illustrations, yay!—tend to be pretty clear, and they get easier to read the more times you use them. My first time using a pattern was for the dress I made for the Military ball, and it took me about four hours of just staring at the directions before they started to make any kind of sense to me. However, since then I’ve begun using more patterns for different little things, and now I can read them pretty easily. It’s just a matter of becoming versed in the pattern lingo. Once again, Google comes to the rescue whenever you have a question! Or if you’re still confused, I check my email daily—contact me here—and I can help clarify something in layman’s terms, or in crazy-person’s terms, or I can give you pattern-less sewing tips. Whatever. I ignored the pattern for this part because I knew what I was doing, so I just attacked it with pins. I made the outer lining out of the taffeta first, then the inner lining using leftover taffeta, then the overlay.

7) If you are less than well-endowed (like me), add boobs. They have all kinds of nifty padded, molded, foam, cotton, et cetera boob-shapes you can sew into a dress, and they go especially nicely with corset like creations. I used molded foam boobs with almost no padding, just the nice round shape, and sewed them into the inner lining after I had connected all of the fabric. I recommend adding these before you add the bones and connect everything, but I got a little carried away and had to sew them in by hand after the majority of the dress was assembled…my bad.

8) If you’re making anything corsety, add bones to the inner lining. Sewing bones in a dress/shirt is a total pain, but like anything it gets easier with practice. You can either sew them into the seam allowance if you left enough room, or you can make little pockets and sew them in wherever you want, which is generally the method I use, but as I’ve said a billion times already in this post, I’m a little crazy with these things and my methods are not the standard practice. I always have a hard time trying to explain how exactly I make the things that I do, because my thought process isn’t in words, it’s in seeing the end result and then and occasionally seeing the steps to get there, but more often than not I just see what I want in my head and I just start executing. It’s mostly pictures up in this brain of mine, at least where crafting is concerned, and the rest of the space is song lyrics and stories I haven’t written yet.

There’s no room for mental math.

9) Connect your layers! For me, this meant the overlay (chiffon), outer lining (taffeta) and inner lining (more taffeta, but this time with boobs and bones). Again, I was slightly dumb so I added the bones and the boobs after these three pieces were assembled, but that is not a method I would recommend because it was very difficult to add them in that way, and would probably have looked better if I put them in before. My philosophy has always been that it’s ok for the inside to look like a hot mess because no one sees it but you, but I’m trying this whole thing where I make the inside and the outside both look good, or at least more professional. So far I have one success in that department—my Samhaine costume for this year, but more on that later—an unfortunately my wedding dress is only halfway a success. I may add *another* layer of lining, this time out of an actual lining fabric, to my dress once everything else is complete just to cover up some of the messier seams.

Here you can see the overlay of the skirt with some
of the shirring detail I'm adding to the bottom.

10) Seal all your seams! You can do this throughout, which is usually what I do, but it helps to keep edges from fraying if they are not enclosed (i.e., French seams). I didn’t figure out how to do French seams until after I had sewed the inner and outer lining, but in hindsight I intend to only use those from now on because they’re freaking awesome and they look SO much nicer. However, if you have just normal seams, you can iron them flat and then put fabric glue (I’m a fan of this kind, it dries clear and is very strong, and doesn’t come off in the washing machine) or a no-fray type thing. Make sure you test a section first so you know how your fabric is going to react. Some types, like thicker satin, are perfectly fine because the glue/no-fray doesn’t show through; however, I didn’t use this on the chiffon, which is transparent, because it bleeds through (obviously) and looks bad. Hence, test. Then seal.

That’s all I have for now, as this is turning out to be quite the lengthy post, and I mainly wanted to hit some highlights for dress construction that a pattern may ignore, or online sewing tutorials seem to think you already know, or for the free-hand pattern-less constructioners like me. Surely I’m not the only one out there, right? RIGHT!?

[echoes, cricket chirping]

16 August 2013

Cano Vitae

While driving home for work yesterday evening, a twist of melody and some words popped into my brain, so I shut down my radio and started humming along like the crazy songwriter I am without any regard whatsoever to who sees me singing in my car. So. By the time I got home, I had the first stanza locked down pretty tight. I pulled out a notebook and knocked out the rest in a fraction of the time it took me to drive home in the first place. Thus, a new song was born. Once I replace the batteries in my guitar tuner--Princess, my Gibson Cascade, is decidedly out of tune and my ear is not quite what it used to be for matching the right pitch (thanks, Army)--I will work on the music portion. Having recently decided to ignore all of the sappy, annoying, broken-hearted emo songs I wrote in college entirely and revamp my sound with my present musical soul, this is the first song in that series. Recordings--eventually--to follow. For now, enjoy the words! The title, "Cano Vitae," means "I sing of life" in Latin. You know how much I love naming my songs in that wonderful, immortal language.

I’ve been listening to the silence,
     trying to figure out what it says,
     but the words are getting harder to decipher.
Because silence speaks with a voice
     that few have ever heard,
     and I am no exception to this either.

I’ve been looking at the wind,
     trying to see it clearly,
     but all that I can see is where it’s been.
I swear that it’s mocking me,
     casually floating through the trees,
     all the while keeping its face hidden.

I’ve been dancing in the rain,
     trying to feel the sunshine,
     but I guess Apollo’s sleeping in the clouds.
Everywhere I turn, the world
     is turning faster, and the music
     always seems to be too loud.

I’ve been running through the woods,
     trying not to lose your trail,
     but as for prey, you’ve proven yourself clever.
Perhaps you are faster than I;
     only one of us will eat tonight,
     but the song of life is never truly over.

The song of life is never truly over.

05 August 2013

Verba Immortalis

Giambattista Tiepolo, Venus Appearing 
to Aeneas on the Shores of Carthage.
Virgil's Aeneid. Now there's a hell
of a read (says 5 years of latin).
If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.
~ Benjamin Franklin

Color me patriotic but apart from their rampant sexism and occasional hypocrisies, I’ve always been a fan of our founding fathers, even good old Ben. I came across this quotation the other day, and it resonated with my present situation. I am standing at a crossroads, wondering what my legacy will be; hell, I’m wondering what I even want my legacy to be. Am I creating things worth reading, seeing, listening to? Are my voice and my presence affecting a positive, lasting change in my environment? Am I living a life worth remembering? I would like to think so, but for obvious reasons I do not have an objective opinion on the matter.

I have this really annoying, awkward love/hate relationship with my day job. The Army certainly keeps me busy, and while I was a Platoon Leader I felt that I legitimately was able to make a difference in the lives of my Soldiers, which was all that mattered to me. Now that I’m on staff, the difference I make is subtle at best and not nearly as gratifying, and it occurs to me that all of the preparation and training and education I received as a Cadet was to prepare me for a job that I have already done and will not ever be able to do again. My PL time, as much as I hate to admit it, is over. For the vast majority of my career, should I stay in, I will be on staff in a support role, not a leadership one, and I will only get further and further away from the Soldiers as I continue to get promoted through the ranks.

Part of me can’t wait to step into that next leadership role: Company Command. Part of me still believes that all the staff time and bureaucracy and sexism and frustration are really worth stomaching just for those brief, awesome leadership opportunities. Soldiers are amazing. Period. And being a Platoon Leader was the best experience of my life, this coming from someone who has gone cliff diving off of waterfalls inside a cave in the middle of the Belizean rain forest. (Yes, I know; check my privilege.)

However, an increasingly large part of me wonders if the brief rewards of the Army are worth the numerous, immense down sides. Sexism so ingrained in the culture of the organization that 99% of them don’t even realize they are being sexist, no matter how many Equal Opportunity and SHARP “training” sessions the organization swallows. Part of me is sick of always being the only woman in the room, in the conference, in the group, in the formation, at PT. It’s frustrating and it’s annoying as hell, and if I complain about anything at all, I’m told to stop being a girl. I could wear the subtlest, most natural of makeup, paint nothing but clear strengthener on my nails, or barely spritz on the subtlest of perfume and I get accused of trying to attract, distract, or otherwise act inappropriately around the men at work. I know because it’s happened too many times to count. Clear nailpolish! CLEAR! So I never wear makeup in uniform, not even mascara, or nail polish or perfume. Ok, I still use my scented hair products and deodorant, but come on. I’ve gotta have something.

But the constant, sometimes subtle but more often quite blatant, sexism isn’t the only headache of the military lifestyle. Prolonged separation from loved ones, for example. Even as busy as I keep myself, Orion’s deployment has hardly been easy thus far and I’m only 1/9 of the way through the wait. Based on my own experience with deployment, you’re as likely to get stuck there for an extra three months as you are to actually return roundabouts the time they initially tell you. Waiting isn’t easy, and unlike most “Army wives” I understand what he’s doing, what he’s going through, why I can’t hear from him as often as I’d like, precisely how much danger he’s really in that he can’t tell me. Being dual-military has it’s ups and downs. We have the mutual understanding of our jobs and how time consuming and mentally/emotionally draining they are, but at the same time, we have jobs that are time consuming and mentally/emotionally draining. Even when we are together, there isn’t much left of daylight (if any) when our workdays finally end, and those workdays usually begin long before the sun rises.

So I wonder what, and where, I want to leave my legacy. Do I want to make a career out of the Army, fighting tooth and nail for recognition as an equal in what will likely never be an equal organization—certainly not within my lifetime—or do I want to just fulfill my commitment and then pursue something else? I wonder what kind of wake my magical practice leaves behind me, if there’s even a dent in the ether. I wonder if all the little things I make and draw and paint and bedazzle will be appreciated by anyone other than me.

I wonder if my words are worth reading.

Sure, I like all the things I make, and I enjoy making them. I love the way my guitar feels in my hands when I’m in the middle of composing a new song. I love the satisfaction I get when I finish writing or editing a chapter in one of my stories (yep; editing the first and starting to write the second). I love the calluses on my fingertips from sewing and sculpting and playing. I even love how my fingernails bear the proof of my crafting, as they will never be long and luxurious, painted or no.

But does anyone else? I make all these necklaces and pendants and earrings and bracelets and paintings and statues and a bazillion other things, but I tend to either keep them myself or give them away to friends and family. My family has always been supportive of my “hobbies,” but that’s how they seem to view them: just hobbies. Just expensive habits I have that cause me to shudder with glee when entering a craft store, and they're not entirely wrong. I presently spend far more money funding my hobbies than I earn from them, but creation has never been about money for me. It’s always been about joy. My creations, my art, my music—they bring joy to me. They are an outlet for my emotions, the high ones and the lows, and when the act of creation is complete, I feel complete. I hope that my creations bring as much joy to those who see them, hear them, read them as they do to me, but the insecure part of me wonders if it’s possible that my intense joy in creation could transfer like that.

I’ve always strived to live my life as a beacon, a ray of hope to light the way for the lost and the, well, hopeless. I firmly believe in living by example, so I try my very bestest to walk my own talk. It’s not easy, and I’m human, so I slip up now and then; but on balance, I think I do a pretty good job. So I hope that is what turns out to be my legacy: that whatever I decide—to stay in the Army until I retire, or to get out at the end of my commitment and focus on family and my hobbies and whatever other career path comes my way—I can lead others toward love, life and hope, that my life was one worth remembering.

And, of course, one day I’d like to write something worth reading…but we can’t all be Virgil.