Coated In Ashes

Bukowski

Today I’m thinking about mortality, for pretty obvious reasons, given today’s news reports about the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. I was raised in a household where I was constantly being told that we were on the brink of WWIII, and that I should be ready to fight for my survival when the time came. My father wasn’t a survivalist, but he was – and remains – quite the pessimist. He scared the shit out of me, permanent emotional scars, lasting fears of a coming apocalypse that regularly play themselves out in my dreams (no, not nightmares…my nightmares are of much simpler, far more realistic things).

In hindsight, I guess I’d rather be frightened and knowledgeable about the risks of living than to be not at all worried, and completely ignorant to the world around me. I dunno. It’s a slippery slope between being a conspiracy theorist/alarmist and being well-informed. Today in particular, I’m seeing the headlines and thinking about all the chances people have had to do things correctly. Mostly, my thoughts settle on the fact that there are entire countries full of people just trying to live in peace, but then you add a few asshole nutjobs who feel like killing kids for shits and giggles, or maybe trying to blow up a plane because they think it’ll make them seem tough, and now here we are, millions of good men, women and children who’re about to be brutalized by war for what? Nothing. Idiocy. Pride. Machismo. Religious rhetoric. I’m scared, and I’m tired. Why must it be this way? What can we do, besides keep trying, like countless generations before us, to live lightly and be good to our fellow humans, and hope that it catches on?

I find it hard to believe in reincarnation, but a tiny piece of me identifies with a spinster woman who lives in the woods, away from the village. She helps ease difficult births, and treats common maladies. She is reviled for her knowledge. She will die for her love and goodness, and at the hands of those she’s cared for during their lowest moments. I feel for her. I feel like her. I am scared that I will become her. I’m scared that I will not be good enough to become her. I don’t want my fear to beat the goodness out of me. I refuse to let it.

And then what of hope and trust and love and happiness? And why now am I at the highest of highs in my personal life, feeling stronger by far than I have in so very long, when the world around us seems to be more frail than ever? Do I keep living like there’s more time to get things right, or do I throw caution to the wind, and rise along with it? Is my fear greater now because there’s suddenly so much more to lose? I’m forcing myself to bite my tongue lest I say too much. I’m digging in my heels and straining against my own need to run wild and frantic, this raw emotion burning away anything that stands between us. I am the Phoenix. I am the Crone. I am terrified of what will be, but confident that I can do no more than what I’ve always done: live. At least now there’s someone to hold my hand at night, to watch over as I sleep. The villagers will have to take us both, I guess.

My Heart Is A Drum

Anna Singing, by Crista Rock

Singing with my last band.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my passions lately. It’s gradually been dawning on me that I never do any of the things I love most, and I’m trying to figure out why that is. First and foremost on my list is making music, followed closely by writing, with watercolor painting and paper crafting following immediately behind. Dancing and running fall in there somewhere, though I can’t figure out if I like either more or less than origami. The hitch is that I do none of these on a regular basis. Why? My fear of failure, which at this point is appearing to be near-crippling, if I’m forcing myself to look at all of the things I avoid doing just because I don’t think I’ll excel at them.

I’ve taken lessons in piano, guitar, conga and basic percussion, as well as many years of voice. Not much ended up sticking with me; in fact, the only music I still make on a fairly frequent basis is a karaoke night. I love to sing. I want to do it professionally – always have. But I can’t read music (after multiple music theory classes – the terminology has never made enough sense to get stuck in my brain in a way that I can regurgitate it at will) and that makes it almost impossible to create music with other musicians who “get” the terminology required. I only know what sounds good, and can generally learn/remember an entire tune and cadence within a couple of attempts, then move on to harmony, so working in a band has been easy-ish, but not easy enough. I’m also scared of being on stage, so that doesn’t help. It’s not stage fright, exactly – once I’m up there, it’s generally OK. It’s just that I don’t know what to do with myself when all eyes are on me, and if I start thinking about it too much, it’s like when you’re driving and suddenly think about what your feet are doing. If you’ve never done that, try not to – at least once each road trip, I think about which pedal does what and almost kill myself in the process.

The other musical thing I love, and have always wanted to do, is play percussion. I used to have a djembe that I adored, but couldn’t ever find a suitable place to practice without annoying the neighbors. I’ve taken hand drumming lessons, but only one session – just enough to learn to love it but not get good. I’ve always wanted a set of congas, but sometimes I think that I’m getting too old to start something that takes so many years to master. But maybe one day I’ll get rich and have time, and I’ll hire a conga instructor to teach me. I’d also be excited to learn the bodhran (a traditional Irish hand drum), or maybe the tabla (small Indian drums that make this wonderfully deep water-dropping “wub-wub” sound). My favorite instrument, though? The clave, a set of two sticks that you beat together for Latin music in 3/2 or 2/3 time. Simple, yet effective. Plus, I love 3/2 time. It’s what my feet would sing if they could 🙂

It’s time to start trying. I don’t know how just yet, but I do know that I’ve always had a deep interest in making magick when I sing, or with singing. So maybe I’ll tackle this from that angle. I can never be “wrong” if I’m doing it for the right reason – even if it’s just for myself at first (as all things must be, were I to be thinking about this logically). And of course, percussion is central to shamanic tradition, something that has long felt like my natural path. I’m starting to cry, a sure sign that I’m vibrating close to the right frequency right now. I’ve found my answer. Thanks for listening, constant readers. Much love.

 

My New Smudge Stick

I bought a smudge stick while The Man and I were in Salem. I’ve seen them before in lots of other places, and have wanted one for years but always balked at the cost. Yes, I know they’re not that expensive, but for some reason I can always think of something else I’d rather spend the money on. But when we were in Salem, after doing a few hokey Halloween-y things and visiting a few historic spots, I dragged The Man into a couple of magick supply shops. I didn’t know exactly what I needed, just that something should be going home with me. I glanced over the smudge sticks in one shop, gently handling one, wondering if that was what I had come for. Instantly, a man called out “You don’t want that type – you’re looking for something with juniper!” I glanced up, startled, and he smiled. “You’ll prefer the juniper, it’s what you came for.” How could I refuse such a direct command? I quickly picked one of the other types of smudge sticks he was talking about, one with shasta sage and juniper, and sure enough, I loved the smell.

I’ve never smudged my own home before, though my roommate once cleansed our apartment, or tried to. It was a very negative space, and the cleansing didn’t work well, perhaps because neither of us really believed it would. My current home is a pleasant, safe place, and the only negativity in it belongs to the two humans who make it home. The Man and I are both realistic, with a slight dip in the negative direction. I wouldn’t call us pessimists, but neither of us is an optimist, that’s for sure! I’m slightly empathic, and I used to be much more positive before meeting The Man, but feel that I’ve picked up some of his emotional grey-ness over the five years we’ve been together. Today I woke up with this overwhelming thought that I needed to start over, to hit the reset button, and part of doing that would be expelling all of the left over negative energy that we have brought into this house since we moved in. It’s going to take a lot more than that, of course; it’s going to take changes in the way I encounter life, and let it encounter me, and it’s going to take meditation and prayer with intent, which is really a way to constantly hit the reset button, every day.

But first, smudging. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew that the most important part of the process was to believe in it, and throw all of my good energy into making it work. I prepared by lighting a candle, after reading that it’s easiest to light a smudge stick from a candle rather than a lighter or match (or series of matches). I also found a bowl and put a little water in it. Traditionally, the parts of a smudging ceremony have to represent the elements, with the herbs of the smudge stick representing earth, the burning end representing fire, the smoke representing air, and the bowl representing water. I didn’t have a shell (which new-age sources say to use, but some Native American sources say definitely not to use), but I had a large, beautiful brass bowl carved with rippling waves, into which I put a little water just to solidify my intentions. I lit the smudge stick, and first used it to cleanse my energy, passing it over every part of my body and envisioning the smoke touching the energy field around me and carrying away the negativity and sickness that I’m currently feeling. I thought of healing, and light, positivity and focus for my writing career and personal life. Pretty much instantly, I began to feel physically lighter and mentally sharper. I felt relaxed and loose in a way I normally don’t. It was a great way to feel, kind of the way I feel after an intense jam session, after I’ve sung my heart out for an hour or so.

After cleansing myself, I then worked my way around the house, holding the smudge stick at every corner, door, window, and around the perimeter of every room, then to the center. I didn’t know what to say at first, but a vague prayer popped into my head: “Bless this house. Take away all negativity. Allow only beauty and light within these walls.” I said it over and over as I walked through the house, letting the smoke work its way around and through, carrying away all traces of negativity. I spent some extra time in a particular corner that my cats always spend hours looking at, where I’ve never seen a bug or even a shadow of movement. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

A few hours later and I’m still feeling good, relaxed, mellow. I wonder what the medicinal properties of the sage and juniper might be, and if that also has an effect on mental wellbeing. If so, it’s a welcome addition to my normally addled brain. The smoke smell is still around the house, and it’s lovely. Like I said, I’ve never felt ill at ease here, but if I’m going to start to make our life together more positive, I’ll need all the outside help I can get. Plus I suppose it’s good for me to get into practice with making my home spiritually safe, given the fact that I know when we buy a permanent home, it will be historic and most likely in need of a good cleansing.

Other than that, I’m also pretty excited. On a whim yesterday, I searched for classes in magickal topics, and ended up finding an online college for pagans. I’ve been pagan for years, but have had a hard time trying to incorporate magick into my everyday life just through reading books. Finally I’ll have a chance to learn with other people in an open-minded setting that doesn’t just cater to Wiccans (which I’m not). I’m really looking forward to this semester’s classes, “Intro to Numerology” and “Intro to Sabbats & Esbats”. Best of all, the school is free! I’m really looking forward to learning more about this kind of life. My belief in magick is very firmly rooted in my belief in science, and the fact that everything we know and see is composed of energy. Magick, like Reiki or more basically, like a defibrillator, is just collecting, optimizing and releasing the Universe’s energy for a specific purpose…in this case, to beautify and simplify life and help me bring health and happiness to those around me.