THE AUGUST RITUAL

by angeliska on August 9, 2021

Every year when August rolls around, my body reminds me how full of pain this month has been for me – by keeping me awake until the wee hours, joints aching, mind buzzing with anxiety, and my nervous system cycling through all the motions of survival mode. This day, August 8th – my mother’s death day, and every day since, for the past 35 years carry the echoes of all the ways my life was splintered into fragments after she walked through that door, from her body into some other version of reality. August 29th, Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans, blowing my roof off and ripping massive holes in my life there, and destroying the homes, lives, and communities of countless others. Some wounds never fully heal. Maybe the scar fades away, but you feel that rough ache in your bones every time it storms. Healing is not linear, which is why these heavy anniversaries cause flare up of unwieldy emotions, of fear, of memories that our bodies hang onto and keep holding, even when our minds forget. I can’t stop thinking about how this current trauma we’re all living through will continue to affect us, years from now – especially when the idea of it being over one day feels like a distant dream. As I write this, hospitals are running out of beds as coronavirus cases surge, due to the proliferation of the new Delta variant, allowed to mutate by all the people who chose not to receive life-saving vaccines. Those people are rapidly filling up ICU units, making it impossible for anyone else who needs critical care to receive help. We are in Stage 5 here in Austin again. What comes after Stage 5? I really don’t want to know.

I’m already feeling a helpless rage flood my body when I scroll back to posts from the beginning of all this, made by people I used to think I had something in common with (spirituality and compassion, ha) – talking about how this virus was part of some nefarious global conspiracy. Seventy-two weeks or so later, and more than 614,000 people dead, I’m asking those people to tell me now what it’s all about – because I’m sure all the families of those who lost loved ones to an entirely preventable virus would love to know, too. I have grieved for so many friendships and spiritual communities lost, when people of incredible privilege chose spiritual bypassing, selfishness, and delusion over social responsibility and community care. I don’t know if I’ll ever really understand the level of cognitive dissonance they’ve subscribed to, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over my horror at seeing people who supposedly had devoted themselves to healing and enlightenment choose massive harm and idiocy instead. I’m still undergoing a pretty huge crisis of faith, and have stepped away from many of my spiritual teachers and practices, due to my immense disappointment at how they’ve chosen to basically ignore the fact that we’ve been in a mass death event for a year and half now. I was shocked to see so many leaders turning away from the moment where we truly needed them most – to speak clearly and passionately on how we need to step up and protect on another, on mysteries to be found in solitude and isolation, and to offer comfort and wisdom in a time of death and loss on such a large scale. With very few exceptions, most failed to rise to the task – choosing toxic positivity, ableism, and pseudoscience over care, reason, and nuance. As someone who is committed to devoting my life to compassionate spiritual service, it nearly broke me to witness so many people I once respected utterly fail their communities by choosing damaging nonsense, instead of showing up in the way we really needed.

My own journey with loss and the work I do holding space for people going through big life transitions has shown me very directly how profoundly bereft our culture and society is when it comes to acknowledging the ravaging effects that the death of our loved ones has on our lives. Living through a global pandemic has shown me all the worst ways we have come to live in a deeply death-denying and grief-denying society. I know that this inability to sit with the ugly truth of our mortality has fed the roots of the many of conspiracy theories about Covid being some kind of hoax as well as people’s refusal to wear masks, get vaccinated, or even take the most basic precautions to protect themselves and others.

When the pandemic began back in March of 2020, I started buying books about grieving – stocking up on them like other people were socking away cans of soup and rolls of toilet paper. I already had plenty of those, being the kind of person whose trauma tends to manifest in a constant need to be prepared for the apparent inevitability of any disaster. As if the extra bags of dried beans and rice and the loops of catastrophic thinking will somehow stave off any future apocalypses, both emotional and climate or war related. I remember those dark moments of that spring, having panic attacks about running out of dog food while doomscrolling the news reports, my lungs filling up with fluid as I struggled to catch my breath. I was still trying to recover from what was likely Covid-19, acquired in New Orleans in that late February Mardi Gras.

It took months for my lungs to fully heal, but I couldn’t get a test back then, because they still were basically only testing people who seemed to be actively dying. I rewrote my will, and tried to get my dad and stepmom to discuss a plan with me for what we’d do if they got seriously ill. My dad still didn’t understand at the time why it wasn’t safe to go do his monthly song sessions, where folk musicians would gather in a small enclosed room with no ventilation and sing loudly. There was so much we didn’t understand then about what was to come, but one thing I was sure of – big grief was coming, probably for me, likely for many, and I knew that no one was going to know how to deal with it. I was terrified for my beloved elders, for the family I still have left – my parents, my aunts and uncles, and my teachers, most especially. I was so sure I’d end up losing at least some if not all of them to this hideous virus, but miraculously (so far, knock wood) they’ve all managed to avoid coming down with it. I figured that even if I didn’t lose anyone I loved, people close to me likely would, and my clients would – and so, I bought Pema Chodron’s Welcoming the Unwelcome, Francis Weller’s The Wild Edge of Sorrow, The Crying Book, by Heather Christle, and The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise, by Martín Prechtel. I feel like I know a lot of about grief, from experiencing so much of it firsthand – but it’s one of my missions in this life to be able to support others through these experiences, and I always have more to learn about this work of deep feeling.

It feels dangerous right now to breathe a sigh of relief, and feel like we all dodged a bullet, even though most of the people in my life are now vaccinated, and hopefully will be protected from death and serious illness (though perhaps not Long Covid, unfortunately), should they contract the virus at this point – and I am so unbelievably grateful for that fact. I think it’s partially the fact that so many of us remained untouched by the wildfire that raged through so many other communities, along with the lack of images of the seriously ill and dying people that made the AIDS crisis really hit home that has contributed to a sense of unreality, or invincibility for a lot of people. For some reason the images of mass graves being dug, or freezer trucks converted into mobile morgues in New York, of intubated patients clutching latex gloves filled with warm water for comfort, meant to simulate the hands of their loved ones, who they weren’t able to hold as they lay dying – none of those seemed to make any impact on the thousands of people who’ve had a very different experience of this pandemic, blithely going about their lives, and around in public, maskless, undistanced, unvaccinated. I hate to admit it, but I’m running out of sympathy for those people – especially as I talk with my friends and family who are health care workers, exhausted and totally depleted of compassion because of what they’ve been having to deal with for the past year and a half now.

Out of all of the above though, the images that have stayed with me and hit the deepest are photographs from drugstores of empty racks of sympathy cards – all sold out, due to mass demand. Now that the delta variant is bringing the crows home to roost, I wonder if we’ll see more runs on Hallmark cards (as well as toilet paper, thermometers, and pulse oximeters), or has all the sympathy dried up as people become numb to the constant flood of loss? We don’t honor death the way many of our ancestors did during the influenza pandemics of 1918, weaving elaborate wreaths made from our loved ones tresses, and months wearing mourning garb in yards of black crepe, and jet jewelry. I wish we hadn’t lost all our rituals, or had them taken away from us by the cults of capitalism and convenience. I was never a big fan of sympathy cards, with their saccharine, trite platitudes – but something about the idea of this being our one common way of expressing care when someone is going through a personal tragedy has become more meaningful to me, over the years. Especially in this last one, as most deaths went without the rituals of funeral and memorials services, of rowdy wakes and sitting shiva. The cards I received over the past year meant so much to me, and brought me a lot of comfort in my darker days. Sympathy used to feel like lukewarm pity to me, but I’ve come to realize that even if someone can’t totally empathize with a major loss, they can show that they care – and these days, that goes a long way. I’ve often wanted to create a line of sympathy cards that feel more heartfelt and authentic than what you can generally find at the grocery store – and perhaps I’ll have to, before all this is done. I know that receiving a handwritten letter or note in the mail is a dying art, and it warms my heart to see that we haven’t forgotten it completely.

The writing I do here is my ritual, the thing that marks time for me, that shows me where I am in this journey of grieving – though it often feels impossible to properly convey everything I want to say about what I’m feeling, and experiencing, as I walk this rough road. All I can do is keep trying. Death doesn’t take holidays, I’ve discovered – and manages to creep in to our lives even when we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the obvious effects of the plague. I learned that lesson the hard way – in that none of the losses I’m grieving this year weren’t due to Covid. I’d had that feeling that I’d be going through some grieving when this all, but I wasn’t in any way prepared for who death chose to pluck from my life, or how. These deaths all felt horribly sudden and shocking – and were all incredibly traumatic, even the ones I’d had some time to prepare for.

I’ve learned over the years, that all the losses I’ve gone through have a way of echoing into the cavern of that one huge loss – the one that shaped everything I’ve become since age seven, when my mother died, and really even before that, when her illness started carrying her further and further away from me, and everyone who loved her. All the losses I’m holding from this past year or so (two in 2020, and two in 2021) feel too big to talk about. They’re like ganglion cysts, tangled up around my veins – I can’t separate them easily. I’ve been trying to get to this part in my writing all day, and I keep getting up and walking circles around my house, being with the hot August winds blowing, and the golden afternoon sun, and the ripening tomatoes. I come back inside to my noisy air conditioner and the candles on my mother’s altar burning brightly and call on her spirit to help me find the words to tell you what and who I’ve lost.

First there was Lowkey, my ancient kitty – I managed to write about him, and how he died, in the first days of the new year. But then the freeze came, that brutal winter storm that brought my state to its knees, covering Texas in thick blankets of ice and snow, and hobbling our power grid. Trauma on top on trauma on top of trauma. Hundreds of people died. Homes flooded with broken pipes, countless gardens and trees were destroyed, including mine. My garden came back, mostly – but I was pretty devastated by waves of PTSD from remembering what we all went though with Hurricane Katrina, and how similarly, that natural disaster’s worst effects were entirely preventable, if the people in power had done their jobs right. The pandemic is bringing up a lot of that again, too. As soon as the thaw came, I was able to take my beloved dog Grrizelda in for what I thought was an appointment to remove a rotten tooth. It turned out to be an aggressive melanoma. She died less than a month later. I’ve wanted to write about what her death did to me, but it has felt too raw, too close. I don’t know how to get any words around it. It’s too much, though – too big for one day.

I have too much to hold, too much to say – and I want to do them all justice, the beloved ones I’ve lost. Our complex relationships. My dog, my daemon. My Uncles. Jimbo, and Don. They deserve their own writings. I don’t know why I thought I could squash it all into one big piece – except that I’ve been trained to, by this fucked up culture we live in, to believe that grief is only allowed to exist in a certain time and space, a tidy allotment, that one anniversary a year that we offer to it. As if it doesn’t constantly spill over, go on and on, and messily colors everything else in our lives. Grief is the red sock that dyes the rest of your laundry pink. You can keep trying to separate it out, but it always finds a way of sneaking back in.

I’m so sad and angry today. I want to direct my anger outward, because I’m tired of crying, and I’m tired of writing, and my body hurts a lot today. I’m angry that we live in a culture that is so shitty and fucked up around death that most people can’t even acknowledge it – or be bothered to try and prevent it. I’m angry at people who don’t know the difference between the actuality of death and the experience of loss, & try to tell me how to feel because physics. These things are not the same thing: DEATH ≠ GRIEF. I’m angry at preventable death. I’m angry at all the people who are blithe or callous about death, because they’ve never had their life completely ripped apart when someone totally essential to their existence just disappears FOREVER. This pandemic, where over 614,000 have died in this country alone, really hits different for those of us who’ve had our lives shattered by death & loss.

My feelings are too big for this one little container, but I know that writing it all out, and being witnessed in it helps me more than anything else – especially after so many decades of hiding my grief from everyone around me. Suppressing all of that will make you sicker than anything – and I mean that on every level. I’m crying a lot today, all week, all year really – broken open in a hard way, but a good way. Really learning to cry, to let my whole body grieve, was truly the greatest gift I’ve received from all the unbearable losses I’ve experienced in this life. There have been so many. Learning to cry and let it out is part of why I’m still here walking this earth. I forget sometimes that I don’t have to do it all at once. I created this space, (this blog or website, or whatever it is now) many years ago as a space to write and share my life, to celebrate the beauty I see in the world, and often, to eulogize my dead, and process and honor my losses, my loved ones who have gone beyond. There are many reasons why I started to neglect writing and sharing here, not all of which are entirely clear to me yet, but I feel a need to reclaim it for myself. Perhaps there’s a bit a freedom in the fact that I think few people still have the attention spans to read blogs, and long form writing. I know most people do subscription services with personal essays that go right to your inbox, and I know from my own experience that I let those pile up and never really read them, even if I intend to. So, if you’re reading this right now, it’s because you care, on some level – and I truly appreciate that. Being seen in this hard work and heavy lifting of grief truly does make it lighter for me. I’ve joked that this space has just become my “dead mom blog” because I’ve really only been coming back to write in it on this day, and then when Lowkey died. That might shift eventually, as I figure out what I want to do with all the writing I’ve done here about my journey with my mom, and her death – but I don’t mind this container being held as a space for my grief for a little while longer, because I have a LOT of it, and because we don’t make enough spaces for grief, these days. And we desperately need to. It’s literally killing us, not to. A huge part of why this pandemic is so out of control in this country has to do with the fact that so many people are deeply in denial about their own mortality – to the point of inventing conspiracy theories to avoid looking at it.

I feel completely helpless to do much about it, other than keep speaking and writing truth, even if that alienates me from those in my life who are too terrified by the idea of death to take their thumbs out of their ears. Nothing is ever going to feel like enough, in the face of so much loss, but maybe if I can carve out a space here again to write about grief, it will help anyone who happens to stumble across it. I know it helps me, and honestly – that’s enough. So, I’m going to make a promise to myself here – with you, kind reader, as my witness: I’m going to come back and write about my dog, and my uncles. I’m going to share them here, because I need to, and because they deserve to be known. What I know, and what I feel I’m allowed to share, about their lives and deaths, and about our relationships – it needs to have a tangible space for me. Grief demands that of us, though we often fail to acknowledge it. It’s why we need the rituals, the altars, the ofrendas, the photographs and memorial portraits, the eulogies and obituaries and gravestones. We carve it out in stone because otherwise, our dead just fade away like dust. Like they never existed, like their deaths didn’t completely reshape our realities. Remembering them, and making a space to hold all those memories, gives them a space to be immortal, to be something other than just suddenly and irrevocably gone, even in this little ephemeral corner of the internet.

So maybe you’ll come back and join me to read the rest of it. I’d be very honored, if you did. And perhaps what I share here will inspire you to find your own little corner of space, wherever you can in your life, to make space for your dead. I invite you to try it, if that idea calls to you – and if you need help with it, please reach out. This is part of the work I do in the world – and as much as I wish I wouldn’t have had to experience so much loss in this life, I know I wouldn’t be able to offer the medicine I have, bitter as it sometimes is, had I not been traversing these black and treacherous mountain ranges. I’ve got some big hikes ahead here – so I’m very grateful for your hand in mine. Thank you for being here in this, with me.

I dedicate this grief work to the memory of my mother, Maggie – who gave me life, and whose death shaped my path.
Thank you, mama, for everything.

If you’d like to read more about this journey
of grieving, honoring, and remembering my mother,
here is an archive of my writings about her:

FALLING STARS + CACTUS FLOWERS
DOUBLE ETERNITY
MY ANGELIC INHERITANCE / THE HOLOGRAPHIC WILL
38 ON AUGUST THE 8TH
30 YEARS – SEIZURES
888 – HONEY BABE, I’M BOUND TO RIDE – DON’T YOU WANNA GO?
WILD BLUE YONDER
NO ROOM IN MY HEART FOR THE BLUES
FAMILY VACATION – HANK WILLIAMS’ GRAVE
STAR-CROSSED TROUBADOURS
Foxes in the Rain
Triumvirate Lemniscate
Gustav + Mama – August 8th

R.I.P. LOWKEY

by angeliska on January 13, 2021

You’d think that after being with Lowkey for 15 out of his 19 years on this earth, I’d be more prepared for his passing… But it was more brutal than I’d ever prepared myself for – even with so many close calls over the years. Lowkey ran through all of his 9 lives (and then some!) in his time on this earth. I’ve never seen a creature more dedicated to fighting to stay alive, despite all odds…

                            Lowkey almost a year before he died, January 7th, 2020

Lowkey was found by Colin and Jana on the train tracks, abandoned as a kitten with no voice (just little a hissy rasp). He must’ve had some damage to his larynx & vocal cords, because he was never able to make an audible meow. I’m guessing he was tossed out of a car, and injured in the process (sadly very common, and the second of my cats to have survived that). A few years after that, he was viciously attacked by dogs, who ripped him open from his gullet to his zatch. His guts became necrotic, and he was only saved by intensive hydrotherapy & echinacea tincture in glycerin for his wounds. It’s a miracle he survived that with only a hernia and a forever slightly crooked butthole. He never liked to be inside much after that, because he was stuck in one room while he was healing for weeks and weeks.

.  Several of these beautiful photos (including this one) were taken by Katie Cowden, who would come to petsit for my animals, and captured Lowkey so beautifully. I’m so grateful to have these images now, and so thankful for Katie’s help and loving care for my critters.

Lowkey was always stubborn, tough as nails, and extremely independent. When I got Rusty Jack Knife, the two became very close – always cuddling together and hanging out the porch together. They had a very deep, sweet relationship. It’s interesting, the way cats do that – or don’t. Lowkey and my last remaining, (but ever elusive) kitty Shrimp Scampi have never been fond of one another. I never imagined Lowkey would outlive Jack – not in a million years. Lokes always looked a bit decrepit, due to his crookedness after the dog attack, and a mosquito allergy that made him look very scabby and Chernobl-y.

.                  The “bad brothers” – tough kitties protecting their turf

. They loved lounging and cuddling together – especially in weird spots like metal sculptures, or on top of motorcycle seats.

October before last, Lowkey let me know that he was ready to be an indoor cat full time, and since then rarely left the kitchen – only making occasional nightly forays into the living room to be with the rest of the pack. He loved to snuggle with the dogs, and really just wanted to be close to us. He started have seizures not long after he moved into the kitchen, which resulted in him spraying pee everywhere. It got so bad, he was having several a day – until I figured out what was causing them, and got them under control. It was awful to witness, and no fun to clean up (amazing how much territory a seizing cat can hose down, man).

       Lowkey and I during one of the very rough spells where I thought I was losing him.

Taking on any animal is such a huge responsibility. A lot of people don’t really stop to consider the fact that their pet might live for multiple decades, and require much attentiveness and care, depending on the state of their health. My first kitty, Junior (who I got as a kitten, when I was five), lived to be 21 years old. Lowkey was close to that. My border collie Thelonious lived to be 16. Caring for elderly animals requires immense patience, unconditional love, dedication, and devotion. It’s really not for the faint of heart. It is also expensive, messy, heartbreaking – and an incredible privilege that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m so grateful to have been able to care for these beloved, incredible creatures until the end of their days. They taught me so much.

Almost exactly a year ago, on January 9th (the day before my birthday) Lowkey vanished. I thought maybe he’d crawled off to a hiding place in the house to pass in peace, the way some animals do. The night of my birthday, there was a wild storm, and an eclipse. For days afterward, I called, and looked, and sniffed – hoping to suss out where he’d gone to. After no sign for 10 days, I finally gave up, and figured that he had hidden himself very well to die, or had been transported to another dimension. I cried as I moved his litter box out of the kitchen. It hurt – not being able to say goodbye, and not knowing what had happened. That evening I came home to discover him on the front porch, looking a bit dehydrated, but otherwise fine. Where did this ancient cat disappear to for 10 days? It’s still a mystery. All I can think is that he must’ve traveled to another dimension for a bit. Cats seem to surf between the worlds, in their dreams – and maybe even sometimes in waking life. They have powers that we’ll never understand – unless one day, we have the good fortune to be reincarnated as felines.

After that strange foray into other realms, Lowkey had a few more near misses – nearly dying in my arms at least twice after small strokes. But every time, he miraculously recovered. There were so many moments where I thought for sure that he was passing in my arms while I wept into his ratty fur, but then he’d get up and seem fine – apparently having changed his mind about dying that day. I lost track of each time I thought, “Okay, this is really happening – he’s passing right here, right now”. I’d hold him and sing to him and soak him in my tears, and then after a while, he’d stumble up, and go wolf down some food. He never lost his voracious appetite for kibble or for being petted and adored. Most recently, he crawled back behind the refrigerator. I was was absolutely sure he was dead that time, but managed to rouse him with a can of salmon and lured him out enough to grab him by the scruff and pull him out of the narrow space between the fridge and the wall. It was like birthing a baby goat. He was really out of it, and covered with dust bunnies, but thrilled to gorge himself on salmon.

                                                     Snowy and Lowkey

I hesitate to share this part, but I think it’s important, and I need to tell what happened, in the long saga of this badass brown tabby cat. (CONTENT WARNING: violence/gore/trauma) – I had to put Lowkey down because my wild white husky dog Snowy attacked him for trying to eat his food. Snowy has always had pretty bad resource guarding issues from being neglected before I got him, & Lowkey was basically blind and dealing with dementia & for some reason constantly tried to get into Snowy’s bowl (why did he ONLY want the food belonging to the one dog that would fuck him up, I have no idea). I was just thinking this exact thought, and had JUST moved him away from Snowy’s food & turned back to my own meal for a moment when it happened. I guess he went right back over there as soon as my head was turned.

It was bloody, shocking, & very traumatic. I didn’t see it happen, but I’m guessing it was a classic shake and toss. He had no external injuries, but likely internal damage to his lungs. Blood was coming out of his nose, and he was struggling to breathe. I won’t go into anymore of the gory details, but trust me – it was fucking awful. I held him and sobbed and wiped his bloody, bubbly nose and called my amazing vet friend TomCat to come and help him go. I’m so grateful to them for coming to help us – especially in a pandemic, and on such short notice.

Other than this incident, Snowy & Lowkey loved each other, & used to snuggle all the time. I don’t blame Snowy for what he did. He’s a husky, still fairly feral, and went through some stuff before he came to live with us. I blame myself for not paying closer attention. Normally I sit on a stool throughout feeding time to monitor for bad behavior from Snowy, but I was trying to finish my lunch before my tarot clients for the day, and made a bad call.

                                          Snowy and Lowkey snuggling

Lowkey’s quality of life had been steadily diminishing pretty severely for a long, long time. He pretty much just lived on the heating pad I put on his bed, (and was constantly turning back on for him, because it shuts off after two hours). He was mostly blind, his back legs barely worked, and he wasn’t really making it into his litter box or grooming himself anymore. But – he was just SO tenacious! That cat lived through so many near death experiences. I had been long delaying making the call to put him down – until it was absolutely unavoidable. But Snowy made the call for me. I didn’t wanna put if down unless I could really tell he was in pain. And that day finally came.

I know it sounds odd or bad, but I’m kind of grateful I didn’t really have a choice. Or that my hand was forced. I’m trying to see that as a blessing in disguise, but it was just so rough. I know it was getting close to his time, but goddamnit – I’ve just never seen a creature cling so stubbornly to life. Even when getting his injection, it took several tries (old kitty veins blow out like whoa) and he clung on until the bitter end. Toughest cat, ever. It took some doing, his dying. It was a relief to see him finally at peace, not hurting anymore. But after TomCat left, I just sat on the floor in a sunbeam holding my dead cat and wailed for a long, long time. It’s still just so fucking hard to let him go.

It’s helping me, though – to think that Lowkey chose a warrior’s death for himself – that he was so determined to go on his own terms to Kitty Valhalla that he orchestrated a sort of “suicide by cop”, with Snowy unwittingly playing a part. He just had to go out with a bang, a big ruckus – no quiet passing in the night. I think on some level, I knew he wouldn’t go softly – though for months and months I’d wake up and peek into the kitchen, wondering if he’d still be alive that morning. He always was – though at times it seemed impossible that any creature so decrepit could continue to keep going, day after day. My kitchen has felt unbearably empty, ever since I returned my cat to the earth. It’s wild to realize what an enormous presence such a small animal commanded.

Before Lowkey, I thought of life as being very fleeting, and fragile – and, sometimes, it is. But he taught me that life protects life. Our spirits will keep fighting to be here, often long after our bodies have given up the ghost. That cat had no business being alive as long as he was – and yet… I think he just wanted to stick around for more lovin’, more sunbeam naps, more of everything. I didn’t want to get in the way of that. Not until I had to, anyway.

There were so many times I would just look at him in awe, and think – “HOW is he still alive?” His coat was stinky, because he’d stopped grooming himself, and tufts of tabby fur would sometimes just fall out in patches. He was like the Skin Horse, friend to the Velveteen Rabbit (if you haven’t read those books, or if it’s been awhile, I highly recommend having a good cry over both. They’re incredible.) Lowkey was always a real cat, rather than a stuffed animal, but – when I would pet his ratty coat, and love on him, I’d think – “Oh honey – you are becoming so, so very Real.”

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

The day he died was so long, so traumatic, and so, so difficult. I felt like I got hit by a truck. I managed to get him buried by myself, though. I had my landscaper friends dig his grave at the beginning of the pandemic, so I wouldn’t be caught off guard when the day finally came. I cleared the hole of dead leaves, and put him in the earth, with flowers and herbs to bless him. I sang and cried over him, and pet his sweet black toe beans for a long time. Some wonderful mysterious person (who are you, sweet friend?) sent me a persimmon tree for my birthday, so I planted that over his resting place. He’s right near Rusty Jack Knife and Thelonious, now. I hope he’s with them somewhere across the rainbow bridge, cuddling and frolicking. If you’ve read this far, thank you for bearing witness to my and Lowkey’s journey. It was a lot to live through, for both of us – painful, scary, wonderful, but always, always worth it. I really needed to write all this out – for my own healing, and to bear testament to everything we went through together.

“Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.”

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Rest In Peace, Lowkums my love. You were the best, toughest, sweetest old man. I’m missing you so fucking much already – your grumpy little face, your short, curly white whiskers, your beautiful stripes that looked like the dark fudge-y ripple in Blue Bell Tin Roof ice cream. I miss your black lips, and your pale little chinny chin chin that loved getting skritches, and the way you used to drool on me when I’d pet you there. I miss your almost silent, raspy little meow, and your loud old cat snores. I miss all of you, buddy. Colonel Lowkenmuntz, fierce grizzled old sea captain. What a badass cat you were – tough as nails, and sweet as molasses. I love you forever. 💔

FALLING STARS + CACTUS FLOWERS

by angeliska on August 8, 2020

I don’t know whether I will ever be done writing about my mother. Last year, on this day, I thought I might be close. Close to being at peace, close to saying everything I’ve needed to say about her life, her death, and our brief and yet eternal relationship. Today, it feels endless again, boundless – the grieving, the writing, the call to honor her, to understand who she was to me and others who loved her in a deeper way. Maybe it’s this in-between time out of time that we’re in – the cascade of days marked less by happenings, travels, celebrations, events, or travels (all postponed, delayed, indefinitely canceled) and more by our ancient and eternal calendars – the ones our ancestors used to gauge the current of time: flowers blooming and going to seed, leaves greening, browning, falling, plants and animals growing, and the constant wheeling of celestial bodies overhead. Despite my adherence and attention to this more natural calendar, I still didn’t manage to get out to the country to dark enough night skies to witness the once in a lifetime passage of the comet Neowise, (or any of the spectacular meteor showers we’ve had this summer), but I found myself collecting incredible images capturing its passage across the heavens, fleeting, and yet – falling forever.

It reminds me of the comet birthmark carried by many of the characters in David Mitchell’s novels. That shooting star marked on their flesh somewhere in between the womb and whatever comes before, links the souls of these very different people over many stories, and many lifetimes. They are repeating reincarnations of one another, appearing again and again in different timelines, connected by that shooting star, forever falling. Fleeting. We are human, and the earthly envelopes we come in don’t last long, and usually don’t preserve well. But some part of us is eternal, is remembered, and is carried over to the next life, somehow. I do believe that. We leave little marks – scratchings in the stone that remain for centuries, our dearly-held mementos, our little legacies embroidered in DNA, embodied in our descendants.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
         Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
         Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
         Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
         Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
         Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
         Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

– BY JOHN KEATS

I’ve seen the brilliant Jane Campion film Bright Star (based on the life and death of John Keats, and his ill-fated relationship with Fanny Brawne) a few times now – and recently recommended it to my dad, hoping we could discuss it after, since I knew he’d love it. He did, of course – and also brought up my mother’s obsession with both John Keats and Hank Williams – two star-crossed troubadours, who romantically, tragically died far before their time, “half in love with easeful death…My dad and I have talked about this connection over the years – trying to understand why this woman we loved came to idolize these two geniuses that torched across the skies in a blaze of glory, only to gutter out prematurely – one in Rome with ruined lungs and mouthful of blood, and the other of morphine and whiskey induced heart failure in the back of a Cadillac in West Virginia on New Year’s Eve.

The woman who cherished
her suffering is dead. I am her descendant.
I love the scar tissue she handed on to me,
but I want to go from here with you
fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.

– Adrienne Rich, from “Twenty-One Love Poems”

When I watched the film the second time, what really hit me was what a fucking raw deal it was for poor Fanny Brawne – who’d found this deep true love with a doomed poet, and then lost him. The depiction of her grief is utterly wrenching, bottomless. I recognized myself in it – the hopeless fury of that immense loss that has ways of completely directing and shaping everything that comes after it – the course of your whole goddamn life. Meanwhile, Keats swans off into romantic immortality – and Hank too, leaving behind his own young bride, Billie Jean. Those two women were left to define themselves outside the shadow of their dazzling lovers’ arcs through life and death – how in the world did they manage it? How do I? Like this, I suppose.

Writing about my mother is one of the few ways I have to know her, to explore my relationship with her – and to know myself, through my loss of her. One of the other ways I get to know her is through the stories people who knew her tell me, about what it was like to know her. It helps me and heartens me to think that even thirty-four years after her death, my mother’s old friends who knew her back then still remember her, still think of her, and still carry these stories about knowing her.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately, particularly during these pandemic times, when most of us cannot be with our friends, can’t hang out, safely go to each other’s houses, or do any of the things together that we all used to take for granted. I really miss snuggling with my friends. I miss dance parties, and crowded concerts, and playing dominoes and drinking cocktails on patios. I miss it all – the physicality of friendship, of love. Sometimes I think that’s why I cling to and treasure earthly objects and mementos the way I do. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, and really didn’t have many friends (like really, only one or two – and sometimes none) until I became a teenager. I learned to be self-sufficient early on, left at daycares and then was a latchkey kid for years.

You could say that my mom’s primary love languages weren’t touch or spending time – so even before she died when I was seven years old, I was already bereft of a lot of the affection and attention children really thrive on. It’s probably no wonder that transitional objects like teddy bears and dolls never managed to transition out of my arms even as I grew up (yes, I still sleep with a stuffed animal!) and that I still save every letter anyone’s ever sent me. The physical objects my mother left to me are as much of her body as I can ever be close to. If I finally learned to play her guitar and fiddle, perhaps I could hold them to my body and it would feel like holding her, or being held? I dreamt once that I got to hug her – but in the dream I was grown, and she was in her twenties, hair in a ponytail, wearing cut-off jean shorts. She was surprisingly small – more delicate than I remembered back when she was the biggest thing in my life, even as she was shrinking away to nothing – cancer eating her life-force, her body that bore me, that fed me, that made me.

There is the experience of knowing my mother when I was a baby, when she was my everything, and for nine months, my world entire – the bubble of her flesh enclosed around me, my first home. I imagine I can see her in my first year of life outside her body – my blurry vision resolving as our faces bumped, my unsteady stem of a neck bonking my head into hers like a top-heavy sunflower. Surely that happened, right? I’ve seen mothers and babies in that posture hundreds of times – so maybe my child self can remember being so near, up close – able to count her every freckle, every gingery eyelash. But now – she’s farther away, somewhere off in the distance, transparent, elusive. I grasp at threads, and and left holding palmfuls of petals and smoke. Sometimes I wake up from dreams where I’m trying to find her, but she’s nowhere. It feels like cactus spines, lodged in the tender meat of my heart – impossible to pull out.

The mystical path is to return to our longing even when the pain of separation is excruciating. This is why longing is in the root of belonging. To be longing for what the soul hungers after, even when that hunger can not be satisfied, is to be truly alive. Paradoxically, it is in our deepest presence with those absences in our lives that we are returned to coherence.

– an excerpt from “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” by Toko-pa Turner

I’ve been leafing through my mom’s old scrapbooks again recently, as I often do when her death anniversary approaches. I have three of her glorious painstakingly collaged archives of life in early 1970’s psychedelic-folk era Austin. They are true treasures – time capsules of a lost Austin, replete with concert posters and ticket stubs, scraps of sketches, little paintings and love-notes, handmade valentines and incense wrappers, images of paintings cut from art books and magazines, and page after page of photographs of favorite musicians and old buddies and long dead beloved canine and feline companions interspersed with flowers cut from seed packet envelopes. They tell you so much – about what life was like, about what was important or exciting, what was worth saving, hanging on to, and remembering. I learned the hard way after Hurricane Katrina that a box of random scraps and photos stuffed in an old shoebox rarely survives the passage of time, or gets saved from the rubble. Scrapbooks like the ones my mom made, on the other hand, are rare documents – colorful testimonials to the zeitgeist of the wild and beautiful scene that existed here back then. They tell a coherent story, and preserve the memories of the dead.

This was the heyday of hippies and “heads”, of cool chicks and far-out folks congregating on colorful blankets at love-ins at the park, groovin’ at various shows and hang-outs, pickin’ parties and “red bean busts” in tiny Hyde Park bungalows – goofing off on front porches, smoking weed, listening to records, making art, and getting weird together. I lingered longingly at all the pictures of my mom and her pals hugging and rolling around, sitting smushed sardine-like on ratty sofas rolling joints, singing old country songs. Those were different days – before anyone knew what HIV or COVID-19 even were. Invincible days.

I wonder how many of the people in those faded photographs are still alive, now elders with many stories about living through those strange, heady times. My mother documented their vibrance, their flaming, glowing youth – all flowing long hair and bushy beards and big stoned smiles. She even managed to inscribe each of their zodiac sun sign symbols next to their names. For years, I’ve pored over those pages, and have been so curious about all the people so lovingly preserved within them. I’ve managed to track down a few of them, over the years – with varying degrees of successful warm connection. I’m going to share a few of those, below. I pray that the others I never managed to find, and who are still among the living will stay safe and healthy through this bizarre plague that is keeping us away from one another. I’ve been thinking about how many people will lose (and have already lost) beloved friends and family to the scourge that is this coronavirus. They say that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

I cling to the little snippets of casual knowledge about her, gleaned dearly from the people who knew her, who will occasionally drop a story or a reminiscence – a puzzle piece I can add to my forever unfinished portrait of who she was. Sometimes, it feels futile – knowing that I’ll never find all the scattered fragments that make up a whole, with the awareness that the big picture of her and who she was, who she still is, is always changing.

I must have gotten my passion for marbled paper from seeing the pieces of it she’d saved – and I realize over and over how much my sense of beauty and aesthetics was informed by my mother, by what she found to be marvelous and magical. I’ll never know what is nature or nature with us – what was her influence, and what are the ways we are just similar, the things I inherited from her, down to my taste in art and decor. I know that there are gestures I must make, postures that my body holds that retain an unconscious echo of her. It’s strange to think about. A couple of years ago, my Aunt Ruthie told me about my mom’s love of baths. I am also a dedicated bath taker, so it was fascinating to hear that my mother had to have her “soak” every day, no matter what. I like to imagine us communing somehow, in that bathing ritual.

I remember her friend Cathleen telling me that my mother’s favorite gemstone was the Mexican fire opal, (sometimes called a jelly opal) with its flashes of orange and violet, and that her favorite flower was the night blooming cereus. I would never have known that, otherwise. I would have guessed roses, or maybe irises. I knew she loved cactus flowers, and we had some that bloomed pink and fuchsia I remember her always being very proud of, and delighted by – but she never had a cereus (or any fire opals), I don’t think. There were a lot of things that my mother loved and wanted that she never got to have. Not in this life, anyway. Cactus flowers are usually quite ephemeral – even more than hardy wildflowers or garden blossoms. The night-blooming cereus often flowers only briefly, and in secret, under the cover of shadows. You have to be nocturnal to catch it making itself available to its pollinators, mostly moths and bats. I had a vision once where I shapeshifted into one of these outrageously beautiful beings – though I was a San Pedro cactus. It was wild – the sensation of being so extravagantly protected by my own sharp armor, shielding the moist green tenderness of me from the munching mouths of desert dwellers. A top my head, (or perhaps the flower was my head), I expanded my magnificent petals into enormous white lotus-like flower, attracting winged creatures to delicately sip my nectar. This vision made such an impression on me, that I’m turning it into a future Mardi Gras costume, if we ever get to frolic in the streets together ever again, that is… I want to embody that dazzling desert warrior queen – all intoxication, and fierce grit. So tough, and so exquisite.

It makes sense – my mother’s passion for cactus flowers, and that the cereus would be her favorite. Especially considering that she painted them into the two mystical portraits of Hank Williams she did, garlanding his image with their blossoms. The fleeting blooms forever fresh, immortalized along with Hank, framed like a Russian icon. An altar for her favorite country music martyr – the patron saint of lonesome cowboys.


“Hank Williams – Icon” by Maggie Polacheck

I sent a photograph of this painting to a man who knew my mother, briefly. He reached out to me with a memory of her he’d been carrying all these years, and told me he’d be honored for me to share it here:

“Please excuse me for intruding in your life, but I was thinking of your mom, Maggie, this morning. I knew her for a short time back in 1976, and I thought if you were amenable to the idea, that I might share my remembrance of her.

I lived in Austin for about a year and a half back in ’76-’77, or maybe it was ’75-’76, when I was stationed at Bergstrom AFB (now an airport of some kind). I don’t know what Austin was like before that, but I like to imagine that I was there at the pinnacle of its weirdness and that the decline began maybe ten years or so after that. I could see the change when I was there last, about fifteen years ago.

When I lived there, Half Price Books was located in an old ramshackle building on Lavaca near the Capitol, and they had a store cat named Toby, who curled up in a big plastic bowl of free bookmarks. There was this really nice arts & craft/flea market on weekends just off of The Drag, right across the street from the main campus of UT. You could still see classic movies at The Paramount. When the renovation efforts there reached a certain point, the movies stopped and they had ‘events’. Threadgills was still in the old filling station way out on Lamar, and hadn’t yet morphed into the upscale place near Barton Springs that it was the last time I was there. Schlotsky’s was still a funky little hole-in-the-wall on Lamar. And there were so many other places that don’t come to mind right at this moment.

Now, from what I hear and from what little I remember of my last trip there (about fifteen years ago, I think), it seems kind of like the entire city got gentrified. There’s a line in ‘Drifting Way of Life’ by Jerry Jeff Walker – ‘the real estate boom came roaring through my yard.’

And there were meetings of The Friends of Old-Time Music at The Split Rail (unfortunately no longer extant for some years), and fiddle lessons at Heart of Texas Music.

And since I’m here, and one memory triggers another…

There was the time my fiddle teacher invited me over to her house one Saturday. No, nothing like that, but you have to know that I was still young, twenty something, married only a year and a half or so, still pretty shy with women and strangers in general.

I was taking fiddle lessons at Heart of Texas Music from this lady, this girl, just a year or so (I think) older than I was. One day she invited me over to her house in the Hyde Park neighborhood to listen to records. At the time, as I remember, Hyde Park was an old neighborhood in decline, much like Fairmont in Fort Worth; it’s probably completely gentrified these days. I was really unsure about going. She had no ulterior motive, and it never occurred to me that she did, but I was still nervous, because, I suppose, one might say I was still working out all this man-woman stuff. Plus, I’ve never been one to, I don’t know, make friends at the drop of a hat the way some folks do.

So I went, and it is one of my fondest memories, not just of Austin, but of my whole life. She showed me around her house, and I remember a portrait of Hank Williams that she had painted. Based on a common photo of him that you would probably recognize, it was kind of stylized, with purple as a predominant color. I don’t know if it was her intention, but it brought to mind that line from ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’: ‘The silence of a falling star lights up a purple sky.’ I also seem to remember a painting of sunflowers, or maybe it was big white daisies. Or maybe I’m misremembering one painting as two different ones.

And her records. I remember one wall in a room that was solid LPs from floor to ceiling, mostly old-time music. Her husband (boyfriend or partner or whatever at that time, and who wasn’t present that morning) played old-time banjo, uilleann pipes, and fiddle.

So, the upshot of it was that we sat around and listened to records and talked music. Recently, at Doc’s Records (in Fort Worth), I came across one of those records that we listened to that day – Traditional Music For Banjo, Fiddle, and Bagpipes’ by Franklin George. I’d only seen it that one time, but I knew it as soon as I pulled it out of the bin, and, of course, I bought it; I would’ve snapped it up at twice or three times what they were asking.

A few years back, probably six or seven, I was thinking of making a trip to Austin, and I had it in mind to look her up while I was there. So I googled her, trying to find out if she was still in the area, and almost the first thing I found was a picture of her gravestone. I searched a bit more to try and make sure it was her. I didn’t find any specifics, but apparently she was stricken by something that was quick and bad, and she was gone in 1986. I will freely admit that I cried.

Truth is, I probably had somewhat of a crush on her. She was one of the prettiest girls I’ve ever known with a voice to match. Things happen as they happen, but one sometimes can’t help wondering how things might have been different.

That’s the end of the original remembrance.

I also remember hearing her and Dave play at a Friends of Traditional Music meetings at the Split Rail and at least one festival in Zilker Park. I remember showing her the new fiddle I had bought to take with me on my first tour in Korea in ’76, so I wouldn’t have to take my nicer one, neither of which I have now. I remember the fiddle lessons and trying to learn ‘Soldier’s Joy’ and ‘Flowers of Edinburg’.

I remember my Mom and Dad coming to visit from Fort Worth, and I took them to see her and Dave and, I think, her sister (on flute) play at a small cafe or bar. I just don’t remember exactly now, but it was someplace where one could have a Guinness. They called themselves something with “mule” in the name, I think. Or maybe the name of the establishment had “mule” in the name.

So, there it is, such as it is. It’s not much, but I sincerely hope that you find some value in it. Your Mom was a special person, and looking back, I think how nice it would have been to know her better or to know her still today, especially now that I have more music under my belt, so to speak..

I’m sure there are lots of other memories bubbling around in my mind, but what I remember most of all is how pretty she seemed to me at that time and how nice she was.

Memories are such slippery things, but I can almost remember standing in the hallway in Maggie’s house that day when she showed me this painting.”

– Clark Weddle

Back in 2011, around the time that I really started honoring my mother’s death day in earnest, I was thumbing through her scrapbooks and noticed a guy that seemed familiar to me. I’d recently been at a caucusing event for the upcoming election at the time, and had seen this person who just really caught my attention – Daniel Llanes, who is a local activist, dancer, mystic, and musician here in Austin. I reached out to him, and it turns out, he was indeed the one in the photographs. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and on one Day of the Dead, he invited me to his house to sing and dance in traditional Aztec ceremony to honor our beloved dead with he and his daughter. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and was so grateful for his kind welcome, and to see the portrait my mother painted of him all those years ago in person.


A portrait of Daniel Llanes – by Maggie Polacheck

During the quarantine, I found myself wondering how he was doing, as I’ve been worrying about all our precious community elders experiencing life during this pandemic. I reached out again the other day, and we had a wonderful long conversation about music and magic. Later that day, he sent me this letter (I’ve shared a portion of it here, with his permission):

Hi Angel,

Thank you for reaching out and talking with me today.  So unexpected and surprisingly nurturing.  Not only because of the isolation we are experiencing these days, but because it is you.  You who I never see and has such a connection with my personal and intimate history. 

Being an artist in America is unique and there are very, very few people who actually are that.  Your mom and I became such cheerleaders for  each other the moment we met.  She immediately appreciated and matched my passion for the language and lifestyle of art.  I can remember the first time we looked into each others eyes, brightness, wonder, enthusiasm – like, “ooh, what’s this about?”

Beside talking and feeling such commonality with you today, after our talk I actually missed you, and you have been in my thoughts all day. Missed you because you are part of one of the people who I felt so in sync with in so many ways, almost like missing her.  She painted my portrait for god’s sake. 

I knew your mom in her freedom and we had a lot of great times, fun public events and deep personal moments.  That was one phase of our lives.  Once she was married we didn’t see each other for a while, then I got to know your dad, and that started another era.  And now you reach out.  And of course, who you have become is even more fascinating now than when we first met, you and I.

Fascinating about bloodlines.  We are the current versions of our bloodlines.  When my grandmother died (raised by her) about a week later I started recognizing her in my gestures, mannerisms , speech patterns, laugh, and I noticed, even now, my yawn sounded like my grandfather’s yawn.  Double fascinating…So even though they are now invisible, they are visibly embodied in me.

These days I’m of the opinion that all is happening as it needs to, and timing is everything.  Last time you reached out, I felt that bloodline energy in you, almost a tease, too brief.  I’ve thought of you over time and did invite you to sing and such, but that didn’t happen, and I did not want to be pushy or presumptuous.  So thank you again for reaching our and sharing your light with me once again. 

I see you in her, I see her in you. 

Thank you for sharing your mom’s commemorance and making me aware of it.  I read what you wrote, beautiful. I loved the pictures.  You, like her have a very unique look, and feel.  And yes to all that you touched on.  And the passing of life, the days and nights with sun, moon and stars ever pulsing as we move towards perfecting our union with the Creator.  That’s what art, the spiritual pursuit, is to me.

You are a unique person, and like her, one of those so few and far between.  I am hopeful that we can get to interact and share some time and space going forward. 
 
–Daniel

We talked the other day about this story I remember my dad telling me, about the time Daniel lost his precious vintage Martin tenor guitar, his main songwriting instrument, in the trunk of a hippie couple’s car he’d hitched a ride with from San Antonio. They dropped him off on the Drag, and drove away before he realized that he hadn’t gotten his guitar from them. There was no easy way to find those folks again (no mobile phones or social media!), and Daniel was totally distraught. He went to the garage apartment behind the duplex at 4302 Avenue G where he was living with my mom and their friend Lenore (or with my dad – everyone’s memories are a bit fuzzy on certain aspects of this story, it being over four decades ago now…) They all sat down and problem solved about how he would conduct a search for it, but this was long before internet, of course – so they were talking about flyers and knocking on doors. My mom then sat down at their kitchenette table and pulled out her Albano Waite (Pamela Colman Smith) deck – (the same deck that I would later inherit at age 11, sparking my path towards becoming a tarot reader!), and did a tarot reading for the situation using the standard (for the time) cross layout. The only card my dad remembers is the outcome, which was the Star (non-inverted). From this, my mother concluded that Daniel would recover the guitar, which relieved his mind greatly, and as it happened, he did get it back some weeks of effort later. My dad also cast an I Ching oracle at the time, which he concluded was saying the same thing as the cards. It’s funny, but Daniel didn’t remember anything about the readings my parents did, as he was probably too upset at the time – but a few weeks later, somebody called the house, and miracle of miracles – the precious Martin guitar was returned!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the voluptuous solitude of The Star card – and how even in the midst of this craving for connection, I’ve been finding so much solace in the poetic quietude of this alone time. The Star is all about the place we arrive at when everything else is stripped away, and all we have is ourselves. This card reminds us to have faith in who we really are, and to let our strange magic and beautiful light shine. There is a deep peace that can be accessed by learning to be truly present one’s self – and in knowing who you are and being entirely comfortable with that person. The Star is a powerful emblem and guide for artists, weirdos, and all non-conformists – people who have learned to let their freak flags fly! It’s a lot easier to do when we remember that we are all made of stardust, I’ve found.

Counting The Stars At Night
(별 헤는 밤, 윤동주)

Up where the seasons pass,
the sky is filled with autumn.
In this untroubled quietude
I could almost count these autumn-couched stars.

But why I cannot now enumerate
those one or two stars in my breast
is because the dawn is breaking soon,
and I have tomorrow night in store,
and because my youth is not yet done.

Memory for one star,
love for another star,
sorrow for another star,
longing for another star,
poetry for another star,
and oh! Mother, for another star.

Mother! I try to call each star by some such evocative word,
names of school children with whom I shared desks,
names of native girls like Pai, Kyunh, Ok,
names of maidens who have already become mothers,
names of neighbors who lived in poverty,
names of birds and beasts
like pigeon, puppy, rabbit, donkey, deer,
and names of poets
like Francis Jammes and Reiner Maria Rilke.

They are as far away
and intangible as the stars.

Mother!
You too are in the distant land of the Manchus.

Because I have a secret yearning,
seated on this star-showered bank,
I have written my name thereon
and covered it with earth.
In truth, it is because the insects chirp
all night to grieve over my bashful name.

But spring shall come to my stars after winter’s delay,
greening the turf over the graves,
so this bank that buries my name
shall proudly wear the grass again.

Dongju Yun

Vernon Reed was another one of my mom’s friends who made a profound impact on her life. My mother loved Vernon’s amazing house with his golden mantle and yellow boat suspended mid-air, and his trippy bathroom with the cocoons of plastic sheeting filled with fairy lights. I always heard stories about what a character he was from my Aunt Ruthie, who remembers him as being one of the most creative and fascinating people they’d ever met – a true one of a kind star!

He and my mom both made silver jewelry (which inspired me to become a silversmith, too), and years ago, Aunt Ruth gave me this pendant he’d made for my mom – a star and crescent moon, one of my most sacred symbols) inlaid with garnets, which was her birthstone – and is mine, too. It’s probably my most treasured possession, along with her fiddle. I wore it almost every day for many years, until the finding got worn out – I need to get it repaired, so I can safely wear it again without fear of losing it.

Vernon and I have emailed back and forth too, over the years. I pray that when it’s safe to, we can get together, and finally meet in person – and that I can see some of the paintings he has that my mother gave him. It’s something to look forward to. I see a kinship in my mom’s friends – they are my kind of people, too. In reaching out to them, and making connection, I’ve found some likeminded kindred spirits – artists, iconoclasts, poets, and wild-eyed dreamers. Through knowing each other, we get to repair a piece of the puzzle that got lost when she left this earth. We can re-form the constellation of spirits that still inhabit this plane of existence, connecting via the spirit of one who is no longer in her body. Her art, her photographs, her stories are the threads that join us together, the ways we keep from getting lost in the dark morass of time and forgetfulness. This is the alchemy of healing, of honoring that art and writing provide for us. I am so grateful for it, and for them – for these bright stars lighting up the horizons of my life, calling to me over great distances, constantly falling, illuminating, dying, shining – for eternity. In our lifetimes, and beyond.

“I think of you often. Especially in the evenings, when I am on the balcony and it’s too dark to write or to do anything but wait for the stars. A time I love. One feels half disembodied, sitting like a shadow at the door of one’s being while the dark tide rises. Then comes the moon, marvelously serene, and small stars, very merry for some reason of their own. It is so easy to forget, in a worldly life, to attend to these miracles.”

– Katherine Mansfield


Artwork by ØJERUM

(the spirit likes to dress up)

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
instinct

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
sweetness
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is –

so it enters us –
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

– Mary Oliver

If you’d like to read more about this journey
of grieving, honoring, and remembering my mother,
here is an archive of my writings about her:

DOUBLE ETERNITY
MY ANGELIC INHERITANCE / THE HOLOGRAPHIC WILL
38 ON AUGUST THE 8TH
30 YEARS – SEIZURES
888 – HONEY BABE, I’M BOUND TO RIDE – DON’T YOU WANNA GO?
WILD BLUE YONDER
NO ROOM IN MY HEART FOR THE BLUES
FAMILY VACATION – HANK WILLIAMS’ GRAVE
STAR-CROSSED TROUBADOURS
Foxes in the Rain
Triumvirate Lemniscate
Gustav + Mama – August 8th

DOUBLE ETERNITY

by angeliska on August 9, 2019

This morning found me doodling figure eights, looping curves of lemniscates making fanciful arabesques in the margins of my diary. I sat at my kitchen table on this bright summer morning with a candle lit, writing. My friend Sophia Rose brought me the most extravagant double stargazer lilies in a brown glass bottle, to honor what this day is for me. They are exquisitely fragrant, filling the room with their scent, and drifting russet pollen over my page, my arms. My eye and mind comes to rest on this picture that hangs next to me as I write, something I picked up at my favorite antique store, where I used to work. It’s a postcard set into a vintage frame over an old handkerchief decorated with cabbage roses. I took the frame down from the wall, and pried the backing loose to peer and see if anything was written on the back of the postcard (nothing was), but I learned the image was from a watercolor by the the Swedish Art Nouveau painter, Carl Larssen. Modellen skriver vykort – Model Writing a Postcard. A naked woman sits at her table, writing a postcard, papers spread out all over, a vase of peonies and pussy willows fainting in the bright air from the open window – a look of total absorption and contentment on her face. Her body and her hair are like mine – and so many mornings, I echo her pose, with my writing, at my table that is just for me. There’s a delightful solitude in this picture – in her mind, she is alone, totally comfortable, not being spied on by anyone. She has no responsibility, no need to wear any clothes – and the total freedom to concentrate completely on whatever interests her, without the distractions of a family, or of children. That’s what my life is like these days, and sometimes it feels a bit alarming, but mostly it’s wonderful.

This picture also reminds me of my mother. The woman has exactly the kind of furniture she loved – elegant arts and crafts style precursors to Art Deco. She had an original Stickley dining set that somehow got lost or sold somewhere along the way. When I showed this to my Aunt Ruthie, she told me a story I’d never heard before – about how my mom used to go around the house all the time wearing absolutely nothing but a pair of red Converse hi-tops and a plastic shower cap. So part of me wants to make a version of the woman sitting at the table wearing these accessories, too. I love contemplating this side of her that I never imagined – an irreverent, playful and silly version of Maggie that I don’t remember ever meeting. Mainly because, by the time she’d had me, her time for lounging around naked at the kitchen table writing postcards was long gone. It’s ironic that this was most likely one of the big sources of resentment and tension in our relationship – how little time she had while juggling motherhood and scraping by at work to just be a person, to hang out with no clothes on, doing whatever she damn well pleased. More ironic still, is that this is my life exactly, for the most part. I’m living my mother’s wildest dreams. I’m totally free.

Thirty-three years today, my mother died. She let go of her body in a little bedroom in her parent’s home, built for her grandmother, in a tiny ghost town in Texas. Where she went from there, it’s impossible to know. Lately, I like to think that even though she didn’t choose her death, that perhaps some part of her chose to leave this earth on August the 8th, a day touted by many spiritual teachers to be the Lion’s Gate, a portal that opens up every year on this day – through which we can step into some kind of fiery and passionate infinite empowerment. This year’s astrological alignment apparently also coincides with the the beginning of a new galactic cycle. The last one began about thirteen years ago, when I was twenty-seven. It was around that time that I really began this journey of actively grieving my mother’s death, and started inquiring into the dark passages of my memory, where I’d stowed so much I hadn’t been ready to deal with yet.

Throughout my entire childhood, since the day she became ill – when I was probably about five years old, I’d been running. After her death when I was seven, I started having recurring tidal wave dreams. I had them all the time, for years. They were terrifying, disorienting, and strangely captivating. I’d be standing on the beach, and notice something rising over my shoulder, over my head – a gargantuan, shimmering, moving wall of water, rushing towards me faster than I could outrun it. I’d wake up before it hit, with the panic and terror of trying to escape that total annihilation vivid in my mind, my heart beating fast. For awhile, I thought that perhaps I’d had a past life in Atlantis, or some other ancient place lost to a giant wave. When I started studying the language of dreams, I realized that water usually symbolizes feelings, I finally understood what I had been running from all those years – an enormous wave of emotion that I had no idea how to deal with, the fear of drowning in tears. For a long time, it remained too big, too much. When I started to delve into those overwhelming feelings, the dream started to change. Sometimes, the wave would crash over me, and I would come to, floating in the water, grasping for my sodden suitcases which I’d been running with. Papers and photographs drifted around me, and I’d try to gather them up. I was alive, though I had lost some precious things. The waves would take the photos and the letters before I could collect them all.

These dreams were trying to tell me that I could stop running – that it wouldn’t kill me to turn around and face that grief, let it crash over me. That I’d be still alive after the waves receded, though soggy with saltwater, tears – and that I’d lose things. That I’d be trying to not let all the memories, the words, the stories slip away from me once I became strong enough to remember. That’s why I started writing about her death, and all the ways that it changed me, altered irrevocably the course of my life. Through that process, I’ve been able to see how much the work of healing has also changed me, and changed the way I grieve. Writing gives me a way to remember, to learn how to put back together that which has been dismembered, shattered, lost. There’s so much I don’t remember – because the trauma of loss has blocked it out, or because time erased it, or because I was too young to be able to understand it in the first place. Most of the people who experienced this loss with me choose not to remember, or not to talk about it much. They are still too lost in their pain, and set in their ways. They’re getting older, and so am I. Soon, who will still remember? In remembering together, we make ourselves whole again. This is how we heal – if we’re willing go there, to feel it all, to do the work.

I recently came across an image of a lightning struck tree – with a description expelling the concept of traumatropism, or “a modification of the orientation of an organ (as a plant root) as a result of wounding.” It’s also described as the “regrowth of a plant or tree, often in a bizarre shape or direction, as a result of earlier damage or trauma, like a lightning strike.” I looked at that image of the broken tree, and recognized myself. I was forced to grow in a different direction, all my tender green sprigs coming in at odd angles – due to the trauma of my mother’s death, and to the trauma I experienced in our relationship before she died. That loss, that castastrophe – it shaped me in ways I had no control over. It determined the course of my path in many ways – but not how I choose to walk it. I could have let the new growth sprouting from my broken branches emerge twisted from lack of light, from thirst. It’s taken real effort to not let this wounding twist me, make me into a victim who chooses to blame every bit of their bad behavior on that terrible tragedy. I’ve loved people who chose that, and early on, saw the difference between us – in what we were choosing.

My first love had lost his mother at twelve. Our shared wound brought us close, and I loved him without reason – long before I’d ever heard of a trauma bond. He was extremely magical, shockingly beautiful, and totally evil. I was fourteen or fifteen when I fell for him, and for about five years on and off, tolerated him sleeping with all my friends, becoming a terrible junkie, stealing from me constantly, and beating the shit out of me in shockingly violent ways. It hit me that he was using the pain of losing his mother to make excuses for the monster he’d let himself become – and I knew then that I never wanted to do that, never wanted to walk that path where I made everyone else around me suffer because I didn’t know how to deal with my pain. Though I probably did, in subtler ways – ways that are more accepted and expected for a female bodied person. We are taught early on to inflict our pain on our ourselves, rather than to lash out with it. I sucked it up, and kept on trucking – pretending that I wasn’t wounded, hiding the shame that seeps out of old wounds and infects them.

I saw all this clearly in a series of visions that bowled me over like the tidal waves I’d long dreamt about. For many years, I’ve sought and found deep healing in working with plant medicines. Anyone who has worked with those medicines before knows that there’s no more deep and incisive form of healing available on this earth. There’s an intelligence in those plants that knows exactly where the pain is, and exactly how to disarm you. All the armor you’ve spent years building up suddenly falls to the ground, along with all your defenses.

Which is exactly how I came to find myself sobbing helplessly in a heap, in the middle of a large room in broad daylight, filled with about thirty or forty people. I had been walking back from the bathroom to my spot in the circle, when I was overtaken by an immense wave of grief that literally floored me. I couldn’t move, couldn’t manage the long crawl back to my mat and the blanket I longed to pull up over my head so I could stifle my sobs into my pillow, and hide. I didn’t want to make my pain the focal point for all these other people’s experiences. I wanted to hide, to run away, to have the earth open up and swallow me. At the same time, I was completely consumed with anger and sadness at the utter unfairness of my mother’s death. That someone so amazing, so brilliant and talented and interesting could just be eaten up by cancer and then cremated and gone forever. That I’d had to live my whole life without her, when I needed her so much.

I saw the image of the lightning struck tree in my vision – the hacked off limb, the terrible lack of symmetry. The horrible wrongness it – like seeing someone whose arm has been hacked off. It’s a shock, right? You stare, and then you feel gross about staring, and so you look away. There’s shame inherent in being wounded like that – in what seeing your wounding does to other people. It turns their stomach, it makes them afraid, reminds them that terrible things can and do happen. And so you do your best to hide it, to pin your empty sleeve to your shirt, or wear a heavy cloak so that no one sees, so that no one notices. So that you don’t disturb or upset anyone with what’s hurting you. And they tiptoe around you, in fear of saying the wrong thing, offending you by reminding you of what you’re missing. Pointedly avoiding bringing it up, averting their gaze.

Of course, the more you have to hide it, the more infected it gets – and the more shameful. I often say that losing a parent not like having a scar on your body, an old faded wound where your mom or dad used to be. It really is like having a limb chopped off. Having an essential part of you torn away, forever. You might learn to walk or dance, or comb your hair, or brush your teeth, all without that limb – but it’s harder. You’ll never have it again, and you’ll have to learn how to do everything without it. How to live your life without that essential part of you. How to hide it from everyone so that you don’t remind them of the immediate and permanent nature of death and loss.

She thought of the women at Chicken Little’s funeral. The women who shrieked over the bier and at the lip of the open grave. What she had regarded since as unbecoming behavior seemed fitting to her now; they were screaming at the neck of God, his giant nape, the vast back-of-the-head that he had turned on them in death. But it seemed to her now that it was not a fist-shaking grief they were keening but rather a simple obligation to say something, do something, feel something about the dead. They could not let that heart-smashing event pass unrecorded, unidentified. It was poisonous, unnatural to let the dead go with a mere whimpering, a slight murmur, a rose bouquet of good taste. Good taste was out of place in the company of death, death itself was the essence of bad taste. And there must be much rage and saliva in its presence. The body must move and throw itself about, the eyes must roll, the hands should have no peace, and the throat should release all the yearning, despair and outrage that accompany the stupidity of loss.” – from Sula, by Toni Morrison, who died yesterday.

I remember hitting my fists on the cold concrete floor and screaming in rage and agony – at how fucked up it was that I had been so small, so young – just a little kid whose mother had been torn away. This felt like one of the tantrums I used to throw – my only way of dealing with the helpless grief and anger that constantly threatened to consume me, and yet had no outlet. When it’s happening to you, you don’t know how to stop it – and the awfulness of doing it in front of everyone feels like shitting yourself, like doing something totally unforgivable. Like kicking in someone’s favorite stained glass window. I remember wailing and kicking on the ground, with horrified adults all around me, murmuring about what an out of control child I was. It’s bizarre to me that no one realized that this was the only way I knew how to grieve, back then.

Those memories gave me even more reason to not be where I was, doing what I was doing – I mean, how mortifying! But as I slowly began to come back to myself, I peeked though my tangled hair and hands covered my face, and saw a circle full of people sitting up, beaming love and support at me. I couldn’t believe it. I looked around the room, and saw so many people offering smiles of encouragement and kindness – and I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. That I had needed to allow my grief to be witnessed, supported and allowed, for so, so long.

Eventually, I picked myself up, and was able to slowly make my way back to my pillow and blanket – but I no longer felt like I needed to hide. Something deep in me had changed forever – and it’s still changing. I remember later that evening, after the circle had closed, a friend of mine coming up and hugging me, saying, “You’re so, so strong!” and I thought – what is he talking about? I just spent what felt like forever paralyzed in a crumpled pile on the ground, crying my eyes out in front of everyone! What’s so strong about that? I’ve since realized that it takes enormous strength to be that vulnerable – to be willing to surrender completely, to turn around and face the tidal wave that has been chasing you your whole life, and let it crash over you. To let yourself feel it all – and to survive it. To come out the other side, disheveled and tear-streaked, with missing limbs, with your branches growing in strange new directions – but alive!

I’m contemplating finality, and eternity. I’m wrapping my head around the idea that death is not an ending – not really. I’m learning to embrace change, in a way that I was terrified to try before. The changes in my body, in my face, in my heart, in my spirit. It’s harder to hold with the acceptance the changes that involve losing people, or losing the way I approach my life. I try to remember that the waves on this planet will still keep flowing in and out – even if they’re rolling in over places that once were coastal cities I loved. It’s hard to imagine Venice, New York, New Orleans – all submerged underwater, modern Atlantises. But that day is coming. Recently I had a moment, out in the country, on a quiet summer night – staring up at the night sky looming limitless and bright above me, spangled with stars more visible away from the city lights. I was crouching on the asphalt driveway of this little getaway ranchette I’d rented with friends, feeling the night breeze on my skin, listening to the laughter coming from the house, and the lowing of the farm animals tucked away for the evening.

It hit me how fleeting this all is – and not just in the regular way, in the acknowledgment that time is passing, as Andre Aciman writes in Call Me By Your Name, “I suddenly realized that we were on borrowed time, that time is always borrowed, and that the lending agency exacts its premium precisely when we are least prepared to pay and need to borrow more…” But that I wanted to remember this moment as leading up to what might be the last of the good times, the last days of it being easy, and simple. The last of not knowing quite how soon everything was going to change. At what point will our unthinking ease evaporate? Will it begin when the grocery stores we frequent start carrying fewer and fewer items? Or when the air conditioning we rely on is suddenly longer available? Or when all our neighbors are rounded up and taken away? At what point will we long for the little day to day problems we complain about now, like sitting in traffic, or hot weather when few of us lack climate control in our homes and cars. It makes me want to go back and read accounts of people living through similar changes and horrors, to understand how they survived it. But truly – there’s never been a time quite like this. Our obliviousness, despite being overly informed, feels like another luxury we’ll soon lose. It shifts they way I’m thinking about my own mortality – as we move out of our natural cycles, and into something else completely. I keep imagining the Skull and Bones gangs that go around in the wee hours of Mardi Gras morning, rattling chains, waking people from their drunken slumbers, carrying signs that say in dripping letters: TIME’S UP!

This is an anatomical skull given to me by a friend more than twenty years ago, now. During a recent harrowing journey to the underworld, and subsequent ego death (story for another time), I was given a message that it was time to pass this skull on. That it wasn’t right for me to keep it any longer, gathering dust in an unfinished room I rarely venture into. It needed to be given to someone who would honor it properly. I immediately knew who that was – my jewelry teacher, Bob. I also gave him a human hand (also from an anatomical model) that had been gifted to me by another friend.

It was an interesting moment for me, to give away things that had once been among my most treasured possessions, part of my collection of oddities. Being someone who works with death and grief in my own journey, and in the work that I do, it’s always felt natural to collect bones, taxidermy, and other morbid bits. But something shifted for me, during those long hours in the underworld. I don’t know if I’m able to put it into words, but it has to do with honoring life and death in a more immediate way now. It’s not just conceptual for me any longer. So I let them go. I forgot even to photograph them, so I can tell their stories better. Maybe it’s the stories that interest me now, most of all.

Bob sent me this image so I could share it as part of telling this story for myself, and I’m grateful for that. I do want to come back to all the many stories of that skull, at some point, and I hope that I’ll have to time and luxury to do so – but for now, I just want to honor whoever this person was. I want to honor the fact that I have no way of knowing anything about them, about what they thought about, or what their life was like – though I cradled the container for those thoughts and experiences in my hand. I want to honor the simple fact that every single one of us looks something like this underneath our skin. And that every single one of us will look like this one day. The message of the memento mori: fui quod es, eris quod sum – As you are, I once was – as I am, you one day shall be. I often feel like I’m grasping at threads of a fraying medieval tapestry, when I try to tell these stories. I’m feeling the urgency more and more, realizing that the tapestry of memory and my own personal history may give way to dry rot at some point, or that I may run out of the time and space to sit and give an entire day to writing, as I’ve allowed myself today.


This is me, a month or so ago, with feral locks about to be dyed into brighter rainbows by my alchemist-artist hairdresser, Iana.

It’s odd to arrive here at 40, as a woman – partnerless, childless, aging into an uncertain future. To a place that many women deeply dread arriving at. Not all that long ago, the idea would have stuck me as the most terrible tragedy imaginable – to never have children, to never find partnership. There are rare times when I still feel a twinge of that sadness, but for the most part, I am trusting that this is exactly how things need to be, for me. Sometimes I feel totally untethered – floating out in space. Yes, but very free – and grateful for all the luscious freedom I have, where I can choose how I spend my hours.

I have arrived at a place where I am more content and happy with who I am and the life I have created for myself than I ever was in my thirties, or twenties, or really ever. It’s pretty magical! I can honestly say that I am more excited about life and what lays ahead than ever. I feel more vibrant, present, full and healthy – emotionally, physically, and spiritually than I ever have before. I love and accept myself more than ever, and I love every single goddamn thing about my amazing, incredible, unbelievably beautiful life! I have the very best friends, and the best community I have ever had. I love my work beyond anything I ever dreamed of, and just feel so excited to keep growing and learning how to better be of service to people. I love my home, and my amazing family, and – I could keep going but my point is, I just feel so much gratitude for where I’m at in my life, and every step of the way it took to arrive here.

I keep trying to get my head around planning for the future, for some sort of retirement, for my longterm health – because I know these things matter – but what is it to try to build any kind of stability in these strange times? I went to India for my 40th birthday, and told myself that if I hadn’t made it to Japan in the next ten years, that I’d go for my 50th. But will Japan still be there by then? And what of the toll that traveling by airplane takes on the earth? The ten years from 30 to 40 went by fast, and my life changed so much in that decade. Where will we be in another ten, and what state will our planet be in, if we don’t start making major changes now?

This is where my mind is at most of the time, these days. I’m thinking about eternity, and about the idea of a half-life. Specifically, the half-life of plastics, (which is believed to be 400-800 years, or even 1000 years, though “no definite number has ever been proclaimed”). I can’t stop thinking about the idea that every cheap plastic trinket I’ve ever bought and thrown away still exists out there somewhere, right now – in the earth, and a landfill, or on a boat to China – or in the ocean, choking some hapless sea-creature. It’s painful to sit with that – the idea the recycling is a lie. That I can’t just blithely toss my single use plastics into my single stream blue recycling bin anymore and tell myself that I’m doing my part. I’m seeing that part of real maturity means seeing things as they truly are – and taking responsibility, doing something about it. Changing my behavior.

One of my friends and teachers, Ishmiel, said something that really stuck with me – I’ve been mulling it over constantly, ever since I heard it. He said, “The work we do on ourselves in our middle age, really affects the kind of elders that we want to become.” This deep cycle I’ve been moving through over the past few years has really initiated me into doing some deep shadow work, and major processing and healing of old wounds that I know would turn me into the kind of bitter, entitled old person I’m terrified of becoming. I look to the wise, serene elders, who know that they still don’t have it all figured out, and likely never will, for inspiration. And I think on all the old folks I know who’ve calcified into their victimhood, ossified into their fears and prejudices.

It’s never too late to change, but the older we get, the less flexible we are. My friend’s mom who’s pushing 70 always says about aging, “Move it or lose it!” and I think that applies to our attitudes as well as our joints. It takes work to stay agile in our spirits as well as our bodies. I want to grow wiser, kinder, gentler – less attached to my pain, to my ego, to the part of me that (internally, at least now) still stamps my foot and howls when I don’t get my way, or feels slighted by something that probably has nothing to do with me. I think about the elderly coots I’ve seen throwing a fit at Golden Corral, being absolutely hideous to their poor server – not about their iced tea or their dinner rolls or whatever, but because they are scared and angry and sad.

I think about all the people who voted for Trump, who are ruled by those shadow of fear and entitlement. I know I’m not immune to that shit – and that if I don’t work hard at helping myself feel less afraid, that I could turn into that kind of person. Not a racist Nazi per se, but a sour-hearted, lonely, greedy old thing, eaten up by past resentments and scarcity mentality. Maybe that sound kind of extreme, but the truth is – every one of us is in potential danger of ending up like that if we don’t find some way to be kinder and gentler with our own shadows. It is our responsibility to tend to our woundedness, so that we don’t create more suffering.

I read this piece on Midlife Unraveling from Brené Brown that gut-punched me, hard. Here’s an excerpt that I actually printed out to read over and over, because I fucking need to, and maybe you do too:

“Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.

And, just in case you think you can blow off the universe the way you did when you were in your twenties and she whispered, ‘Pay attention, or when you were in your early thirties and she whispered, ‘Slow down,’ I assure you that she’s much more dogged in midlife. When I tried to ignore her, she made herself very clear: ‘There are consequences for squandering your gifts. There are penalties for leaving big pieces of your life unlived. You’re halfway to dead. Get a move on.’”


I looked nothing like this as a child.

Like so many others, I downloaded the app that can show you what you’ll look like as an old person, or as a fantastically perfect child, or as a different gender – before I realized with horror that I was giving some Russian entity access to tons of my private information. I deleted it as soon as I read about that, but honestly, whatever the Russians or whoever want to get from us, they probably can already, if we are on the internet and use social media. Something interesting happened though, in the interim before everybody got freaked out and stopped transforming themselves into old people. I saw people reckoning with aging, with the fluidity of gender, and via quite a few exuberantly snarky memes about climate collapse, with the reality that many of us may not live to see the visages of old age that FaceApp showed us. Will I look like the old woman the app’s algorithm showed me? It’s hard to say. The Russians don’t know that I slather my face in sunscreen and Korean beauty products made from snail slime and bee venom, so – we’ll see. I definitely didn’t look like an idealized Asian child when I was a kid, and neither did my mom – though it’s fun to see us all dewy and perfect in a way we never really were. What really struck me, was that I could see a version of my mother as an old woman – something no one ever got to see, because she never had a chance to become one. Most people who have moms get to see them as they age – and thus, get a glimpse of what might happen to their own faces as gravity and time have their way with sagging jowls, with the loose skin of necks, with eye bags, and heavy nasolabial folds.


So I wonder if perhaps I’ll look something like this when I’ve gone whole hag?

On a whim, I let FaceApp do its thing with an image of my mother, on her wedding day. It was a backyard hippie wedding, and she and my father were crowned with flower garlands. She holds her fiddle in one hand, and with the golden hour haze shining around her, she looks just like a painting of the kind of Pre-Raphaelite maidens she adored. The doctored image doesn’t look much like my Aunt Ruth, her sister, or my Nonnie, her mother. It’s impossible to say what kind of old woman she’d have become – but I am weirdly grateful to have this image, to imagine – my mother the crone. I remember my Nonnie’s crepe-like cheek and her wiry witch-whiskers brushing mine when she asked for a kiss. My Grampy Grover had wrinkles so deep he looked carved from a hunk of cedar like the ones here turned into tables and stool. Like the cedar table I sit at every morning, that he built with his hands. I trace its whorls and knots with my finger, though I was too shy to ever ask to trace his. And now that face is gone, that craggy visage that I loved, that fascinated me. Will I look like them? What kind of marvelous hag shall I become, I wonder. I’m planning to go full Vail Myers/Michelle Lamy, to celebrate living that long, if I get to – with thick kohl around my eyes, a hennaed tangle of curls, facial tattoos and gold teeth, like Baba Yaga (though I heard hers were made of steel.)

My mother never even got to be 40. Never made it “over the hill”, as they used to say. It’s fascinating to me that in just a few decades, that whole concept kind of just…disappeared. I remember that on my father’s 40th birthday, he showed up at the stereo and VCR repair shop (another bygone relic of a different era) where he worked to find a giant banner plastered on the front window that read “LORDY LORDY – DAVE’S TURNED 40!”. I didn’t understand the joke, or what was funny or embarrassing about turning 40. His friends and coworkers threw a birthday party for him that evening at our house, with black balloons and paper napkins that had gravestones on them and all read “OVER THE HILL”. Someone made him a big white sheet cake, with a beautiful tree limned out in black icing – but it read, “40’s NOT OLD… IF YOU’RE A TREE!” When he tried to cut it, it wouldn’t budge. He struggled with the knife, and everyone laughed, because it was made of styrofoam. All of this upset me a lot as a child, in a way I could never express to anyone. All the implications that my father was now closer to death freaked me out, as he was the only parent I had left. And all the joshing and jibing just seemed really mean. I didn’t get it, and I still don’t really. At what point did that whole turning 40 equals basically being dead stop being a thing? Maybe when people in their 50s and 60s and 70s started staying healthier and active for so much longer. Maybe we’ll see that trend shift backwards again as our quality of life changes. We might all end up looking like Dorothea Lange’s haggard and weathered Dustbowl women during the Great Depression – without a syringe of botox or a fancy snail slime sheet mask in sight.


My mother looked nothing like this as a child.

One of my dear friend’s Grandpa died today, at the age of 74 (not much older than my dad is now) – and I found myself thinking, but that’s so young! And maybe now, it is. He went through the 8/8 Lion’s Gate today too – maybe to another dimension, like my mom. She and I stand face to face, on either side of that 8/8 Lion’s Gate, like the sphinxes at the Southern Oracle, uttering impossible riddles with no answers. Frozen in time, mother and daughter, eternal. Our souls looping into infinity, joined by an umbilicus – the double helix of our shared DNA, of her death and journey beyond, and my path without her – where I am becoming more and more of who I was always meant to be. Double eternity: both of us as mother, maiden, crone – forever, and never, ever and ever. Looking at these images of us, I can let my eyes fast forward and rewind on our faces – here you are as you were, as you never were, as you one day may be, or never will be. Time is more flexible than we realize. Here’s a magic mirror, that will show you how to fold the river of time like silk, like parchment – transcend it, and it all falls away.


Is this what she would look like now, if she were still alive?

Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist practitioner, said that for the Lakota people, “grief was something to be valued. It brought a person closer to God. For when a person has suffered great loss and was grieving, they were considered ‘the most holy.’  Their prayers were believed to be especially powerful and others would ask the grievers to pray on their behalf.” I am starting to imagine my endless, ageless grief flowing through me and transforming into a multitude of blessings. The storm cloud of sadness and loss hovers over me, crashing lighting over my head, and pounding me with thunder. After the deluge, I am soaked with tears, that run down my face and radiate out of my eyes as rainbows. My Grampa Charlie used to say, “Tears are diamonds!” Which always made think of the folktales I read as a child about girls who cried jewels, who wept torrents of wildflowers. I’m starting to see the awful, heavy, black and smoking grief I’ve carried for so long, more like that thunderstorm that turns into rainbows, into a cascade of butterflies – because I’m learning to alchemize it. I’m learning to transform the pain I feel, the pain of those I work with, the pain of my loved ones, and the world pain felt by this planet – into something unexpectedly beautiful. Because it is all love. If grief is love with no place to go, what happens when you can send it through the glass crucible, the alembic of your heart and spirit, and like lead into gold, let it just be love again – knowing that death is an illusion, that time is an illusion, and that we are all part of each other, and everything. So, I’m not as ashamed by my grief any more as I once was. I can feel its grace now, feel it doing the necessary work. This journey of learning how to grieve, learning how to become whole, has been a long one already. May it continue long into my old age, and may I learn to do it more and more gracefully. I know I’m changing, and the way the I honor this day may change, in the years to come. I honor this journey of grieving, of remembering – this wounded tree that I am – who keeps growing in strange new directions, despite strong storms and rising tides.

If you’d like to read more about this journey of grieving, honoring, and remembering, here you go:
MY ANGELIC INHERITANCE / THE HOLOGRAPHIC WILL
38 ON AUGUST THE 8TH
30 YEARS – SEIZURES
888 – HONEY BABE, I’M BOUND TO RIDE – DON’T YOU WANNA GO?
WILD BLUE YONDER
NO ROOM IN MY HEART FOR THE BLUES
FAMILY VACATION – HANK WILLIAMS’ GRAVE
STAR-CROSSED TROUBADOURS
Foxes in the Rain
Triumvirate Lemniscate
Gustav + Mama – August 8th

My Angelic Inheritance / The Holographic Will

by angeliska on August 8, 2018

The 8th of August has rolled around again, as it is (thankfully) wont to do, and I am rolling my feelings around in my palms like the smooth sphere of pink rose quartz I meditate with – holding them gently, turning them this way and that, and just trying to sit with it all. As usual, it feels like a lot. This day holds so much for me, as death anniversaries tend to do. I’ve always used these special days to mark time, to examine my own emotional and spiritual growth and progress, and just to check in with myself. Where am I at? I feel: quiet, contemplative, heavy, grieving. My heart is full of longing and determination and love and sadness.

I’m thinking about inheritances, and what is passed down from generation to generation – intentionally and unintentionally. In the readings I give, I explain often about how lightworkers and healers have always known that pain is passed down through ancestral memory – but that only fairly recently, has it been acknowledged by the scientific community that trauma is passed down epigenetically, through our DNA. I’ve been working with my ancestors in a deeper way, in the past few years, and have found great peace in being able to integrate some of the painful stories that thread through my family line.

I’ve been focusing intently on healing, for myself, for my inner child, for the grief I carry, for my mother, and for all those that came before us. It’s a massive amount of psychic material to process, but I’ve had a lot of help along the way, from wise and generous teachers – and I’m so grateful for that. It’s been huge to step back and really take a look at how far I’ve come – how much I’ve moved through since I really became aware that if I didn’t, I might get seriously stuck in the sorrow, and in some really self-destructive patterns and coping mechanisms that I had no wish to hold onto. We inherit pain, and we inherit joy – or the capacity for it, and I’ve learned that when we protect ourselves from that pain, that we also protect ourselves from the joy.

I’ve been embracing joy more and more – and understanding that bliss is my birthright, is all of our birthrights. We didn’t come to this planet to suffer, believe it or not. We came here to love, and to be loved. So I’m holding that today – the love, and the sadness. I’ve discovered that it’s okay for them to hold hands, that it’s possible to feel them both at the same time, and came to understand that they don’t cancel each other out, but rather, support a deepening into both. There’s a saying about grief that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – that grief is just love with no place to go. This is the place I come to every year, to put all my grief, and all my love. Thank you for coming to visit this place with me.

cacti 3
My mother’s prized cactus blossoming on our back patio

Grief, I’ve learned, is really love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot give. The more you loved someone, the more you grieve. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes and in that part of your chest that gets empty and hollow feeling. The happiness of love turns to sadness when unspent. Grief is just love with no place to go.” – Jamie Anderson

mama in gertie

Here’s my mom waving from the open window of her pride and joy, her legacy, a white 1959 Buick Electra Sedan she named “Gertie”, after Gertie the Dinosaur. She was so proud of that car. It was the culmination of years of longing and fascination for classic cars that she’d had since she was a kid, most likely inherited from the deep appreciation her father, my Grampy. Grover was a mechanic, and the rusted hulls that became our inheritance still inhabit the back pasture out in Lone Grove, down the little dirt road named for him – “Grover’s Paradise Lane”.

My grandfather’s idea of paradise was definitely a place where he could haul all the gutted chassis of his beloved old Morris Minor trucks and Datsun pickups and Rabbit hatchbacks and tinker with them and all his other projects to his heart’s delight, which is pretty much exactly what he did, until his dying day. The steel bodies of those old cars loom like the fossilized shells of massive prehistoric armadillos that used to roam over the Hill Country, paint jobs flaking away into dust, backseats and wheel wells now home to snakes and scorpions. Gertie’s still out there too, with flat tires and lichen growing on her back bumper. My mom would be heartsick, furious to know that she hasn’t been driven or really dealt with probably since she drove her out there, and then died not long after. When I look at the photograph above mom waving goodbye, forever. If only she could have driven Gertie over the rainbow, through the clouds, into the land beyond. Or had a Viking funeral in that car she loved so much, instead of leaving it behind to sag and atrophy, the finned and rusted hulk reminding us how we failed her. No one had the money, the capacity, or the wherewithal to do anything with that legacy. We were all just trying to survive, to weather what a loss like that will do to you.

My mother’s death was a slow, inexorable hurricane that blasted our entire family to smithereens. Thirty-two years later, and some of us are still picking up the pieces, putting ourselves back together from the storm of her loss. My aunt Ruth dropped everything to take care of my mom as she was dying, and then she did the same for her parents, as they eventually became more and more frail. Her kids, my cousins, who were like siblings to me, got lost in the mix, I got lost in the mix – though I know that all of our folks just did the best they could to make sure everyone got what they needed, that the basics were covered. Illnesses and deaths wreak such havoc in families. We’re only now really fully grasping the impact of everything we lost in those years, and how hard it was on everyone. There are so many layers to that time that I’ve long wanted to understand – because there’s so little I remember, being as little as I was, and pretty severely disassociated from the very upsetting present reality that was happening then.

I remember one of these August 8ths, a few years back, I went out to Lone Grove to visit my mom’s grave, hoping Ruthie would be willing to talk to me, tell me stories about the months, weeks and days leading up to my mom’s death that are still just an amber blur to me. Three years ago, she just wasn’t ready. Maybe it wasn’t the right moment, or she wasn’t in a space to, or perhaps it was because we weren’t alone, there were other people there who wouldn’t be comfortable hearing those stories – or perhaps she wasn’t comfortable with them hearing them. I was so disappointed though – I really wanted to know, to get a better understanding of what it had been like for her, for my mom, for me – for all of us. In the past few years, the memories have been flooding back to my aunt, and she’s been opening up – telling stories rich with the kinds of details I’ve craved, that I’ve longed for. She paints a picture for me, of our shared history – and I help her hold it, now that I am grown, and strong enough.

Out of the blue last month, the floodgates opened, and we were sitting at the table in my kitchen that Grampy made from cedar, when my aunt told me that my mom had fallen into a coma before she died. I don’t think I ever knew that before, or if I did know, I’d either blocked it out or didn’t understand what I coma was. It’s strange, the way we talk about it – like a coma is something you could just trip and fall into, like a deadly puddle, or like quicksand. That it might suck you down deep and never let you come back up for air again. Well, that’s what happened. Aunt Ruth had driven the hour and a half back to Austin for the first time in weeks, and was at home, finally, trying to achieve some semblance of normalcy for her own little family unit. She had just made a meatloaf and put it in the oven when the nurse called from Lone Grove saying she needed to get back up there as soon as possible – that it might be hours, or a couple days, but that it wouldn’t be long. These stories told in flashback, me putting together the pieces, all the events leading up to August the 8th, 1986 – the freight train running on its course to one inevitable end: the tracks running out, a dark portal at the end of the line, the black hole that my mom fell through.

My bedroom window in the dawning, illuminating cobwebs & crystals. I'm trying to focus on tiny wonders in the face of such immense destruction everywhere. Bowing my head in prayer and supplication to Mother Earth's very warranted wrath, and asking her to
My bedroom window in the dawning, illuminating cobwebs & crystals.

Before that, there was the morphine in the big brown bottle my mom had to drink for the pain. It only could be procured at one pharmacy a few towns over, and one weekend, there was an emergency – it had been a rough week, and the bottle had emptied faster. My mom was frantic, inconsolable, and sent Ruthie on a mad dash to get the prescription refilled before the pharmacy closed for the next few days. My mother was horrified at the idea that she’d become a drug addict, and was really freaking out about it, until the lady from the hospice came by the house to talk to her, and explain that she really did need this medicine for the pain.

I didn’t know about this, or that my mom had become obsessed with the idea that all our food was was toxic, fast food and sugar and junk. She was terrified by the idea of cancer-causing pollutants in the air, in the water. She wasn’t wrong – but it wasn’t doing any good. By then, it was too late. I think that hit her one evening when she was taken by a craving for a cheeseburger and french fries. I guess she had maybe invoked the “holy fuck it”, and asked Ruth and Grampy to take to over the Marble Falls to the Sonic, because Llano didn’t have one of those back then. They decided to eat at the picnic tables instead of in the car, as they were finishing their dinner, a father and two little boys sat down at a table near by. The boys were dressed in cowboy costumes with had cap-guns in little leather holsters, and were chasing each other around the tables, making a ruckus. At one point, one of the boys turned to my mother and fired his cap gun at her, yelling “BANG BANG! YOU’RE DEAD!” It upset her so much, she totally let loose on the kid, yelling at him in a rage. Grampy was mortified, not understanding her reaction – saying “Cissie, now why’d you go off and holler at that little ol’ boy?” I can hear his voice in my mind, exactly, asking that question. The boys’ father didn’t get it either, until Ruth went over and quietly told him, “My sister has terminal cancer.” The man’s face turned white, mortified, and he gathered up his kids and left.

I don’t think I’d ever heard that phrase spoken aloud before I’d heard this story. Terminal cancer. Or, again – maybe I had, but I’d blocked it out, or didn’t really know what it meant. I think when you’re little, death is just an idea – a very foreign one. For many adults, it’s still a vague notion. Something we don’t often talk about, or address directly. There’s so much fear around it, and so much denial – which we think protects us from it, but really it doesn’t. I think it makes it worse. I think it’s better to look, with clear eyes, at the honest reality of it. I believe there’s more compassion in that way – in the way of truth.

My mother’s organs were shutting down, one by one. Ruth told me, “The heart is always the last to go.” She observed that with my mom, and from years and years of seeing animals make their exits, both at home and at the animal shelter where she used to work. She said, “That’s how it is when a living being dies – the rest of you can be completely shot, ready to go, but the heart holds on tight until its last beat.” Life preserves life, or tries to.

I’ve been digging deeper into the ugly reality of what it is to die from cancer – how debilitating, how incapacitating that process can be. I’ve needed to really absorb what it was like for my mom, because I was so protected from the process as a child, and so really couldn’t fathom how much pain and fear she was experiencing. I didn’t understand why she didn’t have the energy to talk to me, or engage with me. I took it hard, thought it meant I wasn’t lovable. I think I’ve always had this gothic, romantic idea of the invalid consumptive, coughing delicately into a bloodied lace hankie, languidly approaching death while still penning letters and posing prettily with hair fanned out on silk pillows like a Victorian painting. I was kept out of the sick-room, but I’m pretty sure now that my mom’s death wasn’t anything like that. Knowing this helps me forgive her for not preparing better, for not leaving any messages for me, for not talking to me about what was happening to her, where she was going. I always thought that was because she didn’t care. Now I know that it’s because she was too sick, too out of it, too scared and also – deeply in denial. Up until the very end, she was praying for, and believing in a miracle that would save her life. She appealed to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, and even a faith healer quack doctor up in Houston. Instead, she went into a coma.

cacti 4

I guess I always assumed I’d go the same way – that there’s was only one real, concrete way to die that I’d seen firsthand, and eventually it would be coming for me, too. I’ve always pictured a long and agonizing convalescence for myself, ending up with the same cancer that killed my mom. It was never a matter of being morbid, really – it just seemed logical. Lately, I’ve been second guessing that forgone conclusion. I mean – I intend to live for a very, very long time (if I have my druthers), and would prefer to depart this plane of existence well into my as a nonagenarian if not (ideally) centenarian. I’ve been looking at my astrological chart, and given that I have Uranus in the 8th house, this would indicate that I will instead, one day die very suddenly (and potentially painlessly!) in very unusual circumstances. This placement is found in many of the charts of people you read about in the news who perish in bizarre situations. I think about this when I travel, when I’m doing something foolhardy, like climbing a rickety ladder alone in my house, or when I would fall asleep directly beneath my chandelier in New Orleans, from which radiated cracks into the crumbling plaster.

Despite those potential pitfalls, I’ve intentionally sought to make this one a fairly risk averse lifetime – I mean, I’ve done a lot of insane shit, and probably will continue to – but I’m not a thrill seeker. I don’t fly in tiny airplanes, go bungee jumping, skateboard, or parasail. I keep my feet mainly on the ground, and will try to hold off the reaper, hopefully for decades to come.

That being said, I’m finally doing something that I’ve said for years that I would do – something I’ve believed fervently that every adult person should do, but somehow never got around to quite yet: I’m writing my will. You’re really not a true adult until you do this. I’m embarrassed at how long I’ve known I needed to do this, and yet not done it. It’s such irresponsible, inconsiderate, avoidant bullshit to not to do it – and yet, we exist in a culture of denial around our mortality that supports a kind of superstition around actually talking about and preparing for your death, as if to do so might bring it closer. Death is coming for each of us, whether we prepare for it or not. To tiptoe around it or pretend like it won’t ever happen is to potentially put your loved ones into a world of misery and confusion when trying to figure out what to do with everything you’ve left behind, on top of the grief and sadness they’ll already be dealing with. It doesn’t actually take much to put your affairs in order, and so like a dutiful Capricorn (going through some major Pluto and Saturn transits), I’m gonna lay it out for y’all (and myself) as best I can.

Rainbow prism appearing like a little benediction over scars on top of scars. Today, I let myself rest. I've been burning with fever and plagued by cedar, and so I welcome in the year from my bed. I've been working so hard hard hard. Now I am surrendering
A rainbow prism appearing like a little benediction over scars on top of scars.
My mom always hung chandelier crystals in the windows of my childhood bedroom,
so that I would always be surrounded by rainbows on sunny days.

As I set out on my mission to cross this looming behemoth off my perpetual to-do list, I came across a term I’d never heard before: the holographic will. What a wondrous sounding thing! You might imagine a document made out of refracted light and prisms, or perhaps a glowing figure, the ghost of your loved one dictating their wishes from beyond, as a hologram. Strangely, it is neither of these things. A holographic will is just a handwritten document outlining your final wishes. These are not legal in all states, and of course it’s best to bite the bullet and have an official document drafted, witnesses and filed by a lawyer. But I know many of us might not get around to that, and something is better than nothing, right? Check and make sure holographic wills are accepted as legal where you live, and then sit down and write one out. Just do it, okay? Even if you think you have nothing. Chances are, you have some debt you’re leaving behind for your loved ones to deal with, plus all your stuff, and most likely, your body. What do you want done with all that? Don’t say you don’t care, or think that no one else willing. Somebody is going to have to reckon with you when you go, so make it easier on them – it’s just the right thing to do. Once you’ve dashed out (or calligraphed, or whatever) your holographic will in your own hand, being of sound mind, delineating what you would like done with your stuff and your body, and who’s in charge of all that, you’ll have a some kind of document to take to a lawyer when you’re ready to be even more official and adult. It can be really simple, if you want. It doesn’t have to be daunting, or sad, though it might feel that way. Feel those feelings, and DO IT ANYWAY.

“Holographic wills are common and are often created in emergency situations, such as when the testator is alone, trapped, and near death. Holographic wills often show that the requirements for making a valid will are minimal. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the shortest will in the world as ‘Vše ženě’ (Czech, “everything to wife”), written on the bedroom wall of a man who realized his imminent demise and made a swift attempt to distribute his chattels before expiring. It clearly meets the minimum requirements, being his own work and no one else’s. On 8 June 1948 in Saskatchewan, Canada, a farmer named Cecil George Harris who had become trapped under his own tractor carved a will into the tractor’s fender. It read, ‘In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris.’ The fender was probated and stood as his will.”

So, at the very, very least – write something somewhere, and let someone know about it. As an additional note to creative people reading this – your writing, music, paintings et cetera are all part of your estate. What do you want done with that stuff? Who has the rights to it? Think on it, and then go read what Neil Gaiman wrote on the subject a while back on how to prepare. He even offers a template for a sample will that will help you figure out what to do with everything. As he says, “It’s a PDF file, which you can, and should, if you’re a creative person, download. Pass it on. Spread it around. And then, if you’re an author, or even a weekend author with just a few short stories published, or one thin book you don’t think anyone read or would want to republish, fill it out. Sign it and date it in front of witnesses. Put it somewhere safe. And rest easily in the knowledge that you may have made some anthologist, or some loved one, in the future, a bit happier and made their lives a little easier. Or better still, print it out and take it to your own lawyer/ solicitor or equivalent legal person when you get a formal will drawn up. Take it to a lawyer and discuss your choices. And the same goes for you artists, photographers and songwriters, although a few words may have to be changed or added.”

Quiet birthday morning in my bedroom. Sophia Rose came to visit me that day, & captured this moment. This is where I'm happiest.

Here I am, in my beloved bedroom, a few birthdays ago. What will happen to that room, that house, that bed and that Art Deco lamp and those blue bottles (all inherited from my mother), that chandelier, that stuffed goat head, that bathrobe, that body when the spirit has left it? Who will take down all the crystals I’ve hung in the windows, like my mom hung for me when I was little? Someone will have to, eventually. Again, it’s not morbid to think like that. It’s just real. Someone’s always left behind to pick up the pieces – even when you think you don’t have anyone. Chances are, you do. I’ve got a lot to sort out, it turns out. Tons of stuff to leave behind, to be dealt with. All my collections, my precious accumulations. Someone will have to sift through it all, distribute it elsewhere. What will happen with all my creative work, my writing, my home, and my dogs, should I not outlive them? I have some ideas, and it’s time to sit down and consign them all to paper, even if it’s just roughest outline. What is the legacy we leave behind? This is a good, and necessary question to contemplate. I come from a family of earth signs. We like our stuff, and we tend to kind of end of with a lot of it. You could call us collectors, though there is a marked tendency towards hoarding, on both sides of my family line. It’s something I have to watch, be very mindful of. A kind of sickness around objects can grow when you’re not looking – a fear of losing that turns into a hunger for acquisition. Being an antique dealer for so many years, and an intuitive/psychic being, I became very aware of the resonance carried by objects, the memories they can hold. Trawling estate sales showed me the intense pathos of a home stuffed to the brim with junk and treasures, the meanings and stories lost – only to to be pawed and fought over by strangers. It’s a very invasive and strange process, and eventually turned me away from wanting to work with stuff and objects, and towards wanting to work with people and their hearts instead.

Little me, rockin' a bowl haircut...
Little me, rockin’ a bowl haircut…

This picture was taken only a few years before my mom died. She was already sick, already struggling. I was so, so little. That pink shirt with the rainbow and the pot of gold was my favorite, and I was excited to wear it for picture day. It’s weird to think about someone this young not having their mom – and by weird I mean totally wrong and fucked up. I really needed her to be okay, and she couldn’t be. We didn’t have a choice in the matter. My mother made a holographic will, before she died. I’ve had a copy of it for a long time, since I was pretty young. My aunt gave it to me when I was a teenager, and I’ve pored over it endlessly, because it’s one of the only documents I have where my mother mentions me directly, aside from some letters, and the one journal entry I found. “The” List (as it is titled) was handwritten on a yellow-lined legal pad, in my mother’s clear and determined print that still reveals the pain she was in. It seeps into every line she inscribed. It’s only six pages, but holding it in my hands, it always feels very heavy. She wrote in these pages that she wanted us to treat her possessions as extensions of her, and she really meant it. I took this very literally.

When my Aunt Ruth started giving pieces of my mom’s jewelry and little things when I was just 13 or 14, of course an earring would fall by the wayside, the antique rosaries I wore to be punk rock disintegrated, rhinestone chokers fell away at raves and concerts, and I would feel this sinking sick dread in my stomach. I was losing her, pieces of her body, slipping away from me forever. And I thought she would be so mad, if she knew – that I wasn’t taking good care of her stuff, wasn’t respecting her treasures, her legacy. It was a lot of pressure. Sometimes it still is. After Hurricane Katrina, when people tried to tell me that line about everything I lost being “just stuff”, I tried to explain, usually fruitlessly, how it was for me. What if your mom told you that she lived on in the objects she left behind, and then died? How would you feel if any of those aspects of her were destroyed. It’s like losing her all over again. Thankfully, I have most of her beloved things intact, and I care for them and try to be a good steward for them, because I genuinely love and treasure them too. Not just because they were hers, but because I too find them beautiful and valuable.

the list

the list 2

This is my inheritance, from my mother. Her tarot deck, which has given me my life’s work, my livelihood, and one of my greatest passions. I inherited her banjo, her fiddle, her red cabbage teapot. Her perfume bottle collection, her rock and fossil collection, her car. The things that were most precious to her, and now are, to me. It’s a legacy I embrace, and have tried to uphold. I learned to silversmith, to make jewelry like she did, from her pottery shards turned into cabochons, like she did. One day, I hope to play the fiddle and her guitar, though her banjo was sadly stolen years ago. I’m working on the rest. It’s heavy, like I said. It’s a lot to carry, but I’m getting stronger and better at it, more able, every day. My cousin and I dreaming up a plan to get Gertie the Dinosaur Buick Electra converted to electric, and up and running again. I know that would make my mom happy, and I dream of the day I could cruise in that majestic boat down her favorite hill country backroads, in wildflower season.

angelic aura
An aura photograph of me taken by MOOD by MOSS. It shows deep love, eros energy, and the rare white lights of protector spirit guides. My angels. My mama watching over me.

What else did I inherit from her? Angels to guide over me and protect me. My name. My face, my body, every bit of me that she made in her womb. She gave me every eyelash I’ll ever have, my nose, my bones, my kidneys, my eyes. From her, I have astigmatism, and an appreciation for antique roses and piña coladas and Pre-Raphaelite art and freckles on my knees. Even though we only had seven years together, I’ve inherited her gestures, her way of carrying her body. We stand in the same way, one hip cocked, head tilted, the same appraising gaze. The crooked, self-conscious, knowing smile. We both hate drafty winds and fans blowing directly on us. There are so many other things I’ll probably never know, but am always hungry to find out. There are probably so many things I’m unaware of, or that I’m forgetting. It’s overwhelming. How are we the same? What of her is left in me? Is it nature or nurture? The things I go wild for – do I love classic cars and old country music and Czech Art Deco glassware because my mom was gaga for those things, or because they speak to my heart on some core level? I’m gonna go with the latter, because that’s what feels true. I’m a part of her, and she is a part of me. We’ll never really get to know each other beyond what we got, and I think that’s the part that pains me the most. Because I think we’d have so, so much to talk about now. I think we’d be each other’s favorite person. I know she’d be mine.

fiorucci angels

This is my angelic, prismatic inheritance, received from the pages of a holographic, handwritten will. It shifts, like the crystals in my bedroom windows, it refracts light, and bounces rainbows off the inside of my eyelids. It is so big, and so vast and so heavy and so, so beautiful. It is made of memory and my mother’s whispering echoing voice, and the smell of her favorite perfume and the scent of the long gone cactus blossoms she grew. It is made of starlight and dawning, and thorns and tears. It is a totally psychedelic and transdimensional dodecahedron made out of sighs and rain and brilliant diamonds that is continuously serenaded by a chorus of baby angels wearing heart shaped sunglasses. It’s hard as hell, and heartbreaking and gorgeous and miraculous, and truly – I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is fractured and it is perfect and it is my life. There is no greater gift.

cacti 2

If you’d like to read more about this journey of grieving, honoring, and remembering, here you go:
38 ON AUGUST THE 8TH
30 YEARS – SEIZURES
888
WILD BLUE YONDER
NO ROOM IN MY HEART FOR THE BLUES
FAMILY VACATION – HANK WILLIAMS’ GRAVE
STAR-CROSSED TROUBADOURS
Foxes in the Rain
Triumvirate Lemniscate
Gustav + Mama – August 8th
cacti 1

ON SELF MOTHERING

by angeliska on May 12, 2018

Looking back now, I can’t remember exactly when or where on my healing journey I became aware of the undeniably unhappy presence of my inner child self. I do, however, remember very clearly the words that first helped that part of me really begin to heal. They were, “Do you have a stuffed animal?” I sat across from my therapist on the couch, squirming uncomfortably, and trying to evade the question. I mean, yes, I had always slept with a stuffed animal, or doll-friend, ever since I was little, and well into adulthood – but after my last cloth-friend, Swinelet (a once blue and pink pig, acquired when I was 17, now tattered, grey and nearly missing an arm and leg) had to finally be retired due to disintegration caused by an excess of love, I felt a little silly about replacing him. I was nearly thirty-six years old, after all, and surely too old to still need something to snuggle in the night. I answered that I still had a matryoshka doll shaped pillow, reminiscent of my original cuddle-buddy, the legendary angel doll, who I remember being sewn together by my aunt Melinda when I was four or five. She too eventually had to be retired, her fabric becoming translucent and beginning to shred. I always have held to a theory that when I was in the womb, I would clutch a bundle of my own umbilical cord for comfort – and ever since then, I have found it difficult to sleep peacefully without a smushy armful of something soft to hold as I drift off to slumberland.

Two of my oldest and dearest friends.
Two of my oldest and dearest friends.

Swinelet is Real. I know, because I loved him to bits. Still do, even though he's had to become retired from snuggle duty, due to the affection disintegration situation.
Swinelet is Real. I know, because I loved him to bits.

My therapist wrinkled her brow, contemplating the idea of my matryoshka pillow, and finding it insufficiently personable. It was true – I didn’t think of that pillow as having much of a soul or distinct personality in the way I had always regarded my past stuffed fabric loveys. They were alive, no doubt about it. When I was little, I’d apologize to my stuffed animals if I’d inadvertently neglected them, or if they’d tumbled to the floor in the night. I knew they had feelings, and souls. I couldn’t have explained to you exactly what it was that made them that way, but rendered my Barbies and My Little Ponies soulless, but I knew innately that they were just hunks of plastic that only moved and interacted when I made them do so. My stuffies on the other hand, I always suspected had vibrantly exciting lives and all kinds of adventures they got up to when I was asleep, at school, or just looking in the other direction. I was the kind of kid who sobbed reading The Velveteen Rabbit and The Skin Horse, and I am glad to have become the kind of adult who still does the same. So, when my therapist suggested that I go to the toy store and let my inner child pick out a stuffed animal, I made myself stop squirming, and decided to listen to her. She said, “Let your inner child pick it out. Whatever she wants, go with that. Even if it seems embarrassing or silly-looking to you as an adult.” The heart wants what it wants, right?


At Terra Toys, there’s a magical teddy bear that blows bubbles!

That’s how I ended up by myself at the toy store, one fine bright day, self-consciously grabbing a basket, aware that I wasn’t there to shop for any nieces or nephews, but instead, solely for myself. I went to Terra Toys, a truly magical wonderland filled with all kinds of treasures for children, and a place I had loved going when I was little. I quietly told the kid part of myself that she could pick out anything she wanted, absolutely anything, and that she could take as long choosing as she needed. I then proceeded to find myself methodically examining every section of the store with great curiosity and delectation, filling my basket with marbles, glitter bracelets, plastic animals, sparklers and candy. I lingered long over the dollhouse area, with its miniature representations of all manner of household objects: tiny braided loaves of bread, and itty bitty porcelain teacups housed within intricate reproductions of Victorian parlors. I had loved looking through the glass cases at these elaborately designed worlds as a child, and found that they had lost none of their ability to captivate me all these years later.

I allowed myself to ask about the finely made (and quite expensive) German Steiff stuffed animals, with their bristly fur and realistic faces, but none of them were soft enough to really snuggle down with. By the time I had made it around to the real stuffed animal area, I could feel the inner child part of me feeling a little braver about being able to ask for what she wanted, and I let her try hugging about damn near every creature they had, from red pandas and blue elephants to giant sloths and even a dragon or two. In the end, I kept coming back to a simple white owl, who felt extremely huggable. Her tag read, “I am Woodland Babe Cream Owl.” My inner child let me know immediately that her name was Owly.

Owly became a big help to me as I started delving deep into healing the wreck of my childhood, with the long illness and subsequent death of my mother, when I was seven, a move to another town and home, and navigating a new life with my grieving, overworked and overwhelmed father. These events and others too numerous to mention here shaped the way I grew, and left me struggling as an adult to overcome unhealthy patterns in relationships that emerged as a result of the developmental trauma and emotional neglect that I experienced. When I really started being able to see the child in me who had remained frozen within for all those years, longing for attention, connection and care, and found a way to treat her with compassion and attentiveness, my understanding of myself and my situation transformed radically. I finally started learning how to tend to those emotional needs myself, instead of enlisting the care-taking of inappropriate lovers or my still overworked and overwhelmed parents. With that dedication, everything began to shift for me. Owly gave me permission to feel small and scared, and my therapist told me to let myself tuck her under my arm when I felt lonely in my house, or hold her when I needed extra support. I slept with her in my arms every night (and still do) and (mostly) unabashedly took her along to dentist appointments when I knew I’d be having a stressful procedure. The dental hygienists never batted an eye.

Finding a way to connect with the child part of myself who had gotten so throughly lost in the chaotic mix of my childhood and adolescence taught me so much about who I really was, and all the stories that had been motivating me for years. I was an old souled kid, a serious little bookworm who tended to be fairly stoic about the traumatic changes in my life – until I would eventually reach a breaking point and erupt into hideous tantrums or piques of running away from home. In many ways, by ignoring that aspect of my being, I gave her more power. My inner child had taken over in many areas of my life, and was totally driving the bus – directly towards the kinds of people and patterns in relationships that felt familiar and safe to her (even if they were anything but.)

Recognizing how much she had been suffering alone for so long made me decide to commit to helping her heal, and I started taking baby steps towards making peace with myself. The first step was that trip to the toy store. I could feel that part of myself within feeling a little mystified and curious about what would happen next with all these goodies. Was it time to play with them? Eat all the candy at once? Then what? But before I let myself do any of that, I first found a photograph of myself from when I was maybe six years old, not long before my mom died. I remember the moment that picture was snapped, but I don’t recall who took it. I was sitting on a chair in the living room of our old house, with the soft light from the sliding glass door illuminating my face. I remember whipping my tiny glasses off moments before the photo was snapped, shy about wearing them already. Because the photo is slightly out of focus, it feels in some ways like the whole world was affected by that decision in that moment, by my own defective vision. You’re blurry when I look at you, and so I must be blurry when you look at me. I’m not smiling. My eyes are huge, and my mouth is set and grim. I look like a very sad, scared and lonely little girl, which is what I was. When I look at this picture of myself, I can really see me. I remember being that little person very well. This picture may be the most vulnerable and real photograph of me ever taken.

With this image of my child self, and the treats I had let her pick out at the toy store in hand, I set about building a little shrine for healing and honoring the wounded child within. You can do this yourself, if you feel moved to. I recommend finding a photo of yourself (if you can – if not, maybe try drawing one) when you were small, where you can really see your true self. Where you are allowing yourself to be real, for a moment. No fakey school picture day grimaces (unless that’s all you’ve got). Make a little space for yourself. Light some candles. I like using pink ones, for self-love. Make offerings to your child self: maybe little toys and candies, or crystals and flowers, or special rocks you found on the ground. It can be as simple or as extravagant as you feel called to offer to yourself. This is a space to sit with and honor your inner child. To let them know you care, that you’re listening, and paying attention. Ask that part of yourself, “What do you want? What is missing for you? What can I do for you? What would help you most right now?” Keep asking, and keep listening. I find that it’s much harder to be mean, neglectful or dismissive of myself when I look into the eyes of that little girl in the picture. I’ve found that often it’s easier to show gentle loving kindness, unwavering friendliness, and unconditional compassion to that child self, than it is to our adult selves. Show that little kid that you’re looking out for them, that you care deeply for them. See what happens. Do this every day if it feels like it would help. Be gentle with yourself. Be a good mama to little you.

I was called to put this practice in to action a few years ago, when I moved into my brand new bedroom. I’d been in the same room for ten years, and had recently created a shining new space for myself, a haven for rest and rejuvenation. As the room moving date got closer and closer, I had friends asking me if I was excited about my new space. I was indeed – but I was noticing something else… A creeping sensation of anxiety and trepidation that made absolutely no sense, given the circumstances. After all – every single thing about this shift was positive, and it was all self initiated and self created. No one was forcing me into making this change!

When I checked in with the part of me that was experiencing fear and really listened, I realized that it was my child self who was feeling so freaked out – and that for her, even good changes could be really scary. That part of me was used to clinging to the familiar, even it if had grown stagnant and unhealthy. I felt a temptation to scoff at myself for being uneasy – to call myself a big baby, and tell myself to suck it up, get over it, and be happy, goddamnit! But, I’d learned from countless past experiences that this method was pretty ineffective when it came to confronting and comforting my inner child. She required another approach.

So – I asked her what she needed, what would help her feel more peaceful. She didn’t know! She was upset and ashamed for feeling scared when she knew she should be happy. I sat quietly with that part of myself for a bit, and checked in with what I was really afraid of. Unfamiliarity, leaving behind the good parts of the past and never seeing them again, bogey men, the dark. I let that part of myself know that it made sense for her to be afraid of these things, and that it was okay. I suggested doing a blessing ritual before bed, that first night in my new room, and leaving a circle of candles (safely, sitting in bowls of water!) burning while I slept. I perceived an internal non-committal shrug, but a willingness to try it out. I chased out all the bogey men, and sanctified my new space to be a sacred sanctuary that would only allow in good energy.

That night, I curled up to sleep with all the candles glimmering, and Owly in my arms – and in the morning woke to find my inner child looking around in wonderment and delight at the space I’d created for her. It was as if she was skipping around the room, exclaiming, “I love it here! It feels so good!” I’d designed my dream bedroom to be an updated grown up version of the beautiful childhood bedroom my mother had created for me – which was one of the clearest displays of love and affection she gave to me as a child, with periwinkle blue walls, and crystals in the windows making rainbows. Having to leave that bedroom when she died was heartbreaking, as was everything about my life at that time. I had never had such a pretty space to sleep in since then, until I chose to give that gift back to myself. I know very clearly that if I had chosen to ignore that distressed child part of myself and not tended to her lovingly, that the uneasy feeling could have gone on indefinitely. And, looking back – it really didn’t take an enormous amount of effort to shift it. Just a little love, and a little listening.


Goodies my child self chose at the toy store: neon sparklers, magic rocks, solar print paper, heart shaped sunglasses, fluorescent colored pencils, a mushroom eraser/pencil sharpener, and a chameleon.

I didn’t even end up eating most of these nostalgic candies myself (because whoa, sugar!) but my child self was delighted to receive them as offerings.

There are so many ways to lovingly reparent yourself. Regardless of gender, or gender expression, anyone can offer the unconditional love and nurturing support of mothering to one’s self. Doing this doesn’t take away from what your own mother (biological, adopted or stepmama) was able to give to you. Giving yourself love doesn’t mean that she didn’t do a good job. She did the best she could with the resources she had or didn’t have. She might have given you everything she had, and you might still find that you need more. That is okay. Give it to yourself. You can do this – you are allowed.

Sometimes you have to imagine that inner child, seeing them clearly in your mind’s eye, and picture opening up your arms to them – putting them on your lap and enfolding them, saying “I love you. I am here for you. I will protect you, and I will never, ever leave you.” You have to convince that part of yourself that this is true, through consistent daily offerings of compassion. This can look like making sure you brush and floss your teeth and wash your face, or taking a nice bath and putting on your pajamas and curling up in bed with a book (and your stuffed animal!). Sometimes a big part of self-mothering is taking the kid part of us out of the driver’s seat, and strapping them into the carseat instead. They’re just babies, so they’re not allowed to drive the car – particularly not towards people and relationships who will confirm our old and familiar patterns of neglect or abuse. The loving mother part of ourselves is able to say, “No, no, no” and redirect the inner child from running straight towards the fire, or playing in the muddy puddle of unhealthy or dangerous relationships.

A big part of self-mothering for me involves the care and feeding of my inner child. I never really hung out with my parents when they were preparing meals, and consequently never learned much about how to cook for myself. Dinner times in my house growing up were more about getting something in our bellies fast, rather than teachable moments with the whole family pitching in. So making sure I eat nourishing food instead of junk or just carrots and hummus or something for dinner is a big part of that mothering that I do for myself. When I first started doing this, my child self begged for kid food – pudding and pop tarts and treats. I compromised by getting myself the healthier, hippie versions of these foods when possible, and after a while of indulging that part of myself, she stopped asking for that so much. In fact, what I’ve noticed after participating in this practice, and engaging a whole lot of other modes of healing for my childhood trauma, was that the wounded, scared child part of myself calmed down, and integrated more deeply into the rest of me. When I first realized she was there, she was kind of hiding – cowering in the corner of my soul, shaking and crying. Now, when I check in on her, she’s quietly coloring pictures or looking around at stuff contentedly. She’s a part of me that doesn’t feel as separate and isolated anymore.

‘’The fact is that the majority of so-called adults are not truly adults at all. We all get older. Anyone, with a little luck, can do that. But, psychologically speaking, this is not adulthood. True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting one’s own inner child. For most adults, this never happens. Instead, their inner child has been denied, neglected, disparaged, abandoned or rejected. We are told by society to “grow up,” putting childish things aside. To become adults, we’ve been taught that our inner child – representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness – must be stifled, quarantined or even killed. The inner child comprises and potentiates these positive qualities. But it also holds our accumulated childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers. “Grown-ups” are convinced they have successfully outgrown, jettisoned, and left this child – and its emotional baggage – long behind. But this is far from the truth.” Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D.

We have a lot of different parts of ourselves, different aspects of our souls, our beings, our psyches. When I talk about having an inner child, it’s not like having multiple personalities (though I suppose it could sound that way) – the inner child part of ourselves is what stays stuck, or often gets frozen at the age when our childhoods went seriously awry, and our essential needs were not being met. We may have been raised in households where we were fed, clothed, and had a roof over our heads, but we did not feel seen, safe, soothed and secure. Those four S’s and whether we did or didn’t receive them consistently have so much to do with our ability to self-regulate our emotions, reactions and responses as adults. So how can we help ourselves feel seen, safe, soothed and secure?

Feeling truly seen and heard is a big part of my wounding, as I was the only child of a very sick and depressed mother who was extremely preoccupied and more often than not, left me to my own devices. Daily journaling helps me check in with myself, patiently listening and recording my innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and musings. There are times when I find myself wanting to skip ahead or gloss over what I really want to say – where I get impatient with myself like people often do with children for telling interminably long, rambling (and seemingly pointless) stories. But I’ve found that when I’m willing to stop and say to myself, “Hey, I want to know more about that. Please tell me.” I give myself permission to write about whatever’s in my heart and mind instead of feeling like I should only write what’s really “interesting”, or particularly insightful. It’s in those moments that I allow myself to be seen and heard, for myself, by myself.

Another way to practice self-mothering is to use the kind, compassionate voice of the inner mother to combat the harsh, needling messages from our inner critic. I learned this lesson one lazy morning when I was cooking scrambled eggs, jamming out to the radio in my underwear. Suddenly I got a text message that informed me that I was supposed to be somewhere else at that moment – in fact, I was supposed to be dressed in elaborate full costume and telling fortunes at an event about thirty minutes prior. I had screwed up the times, and thought I had hours until I needed to be getting ready! In a heated flurry of panic, I hustled myself together, got into the car, and started racing to the venue.

My heart was pounding, I was sweating profusely, and I became aware that I’d been listening to an internal monologue from my harsh inner critic ever since the moment I received that text, which was informing me in no uncertain terms that I was irresponsible, a failure, a total fuck-up, that no one would ever want to hire me again, that I had ruined a perfectly good opportunity, asking how could I be such an idiot? Oh man – it was awful! The more I listened to that internal tirade, the worse I felt, and I instinctively knew that if I kept that up all the way to the gig, I’d be even more of a wreck by the time I arrived, and maybe not even able to do my job well. So I made I conscious decision to switch the radio station in my mind to the loving mama channel. This voice was much gentler, saying “Hey honey, try to calm down, okay? Breathe. So, you messed up. That’s okay. Everybody messes up sometimes, and today it’s just your turn. All you can do is do the best you can, take responsibility, and try to make up for it. You are still lovable, you are still valuable. You matter. It’s going to be okay.”

Whew! What a difference that made! By choosing to talk to myself in a more loving way, I was able to calm my racing heart, and be ready to spring into action and (relative) professionalism by the time I arrived at the event. I did a good job, and it all turned out well in the end. I still think of that day during times when I’m being unnecessarily cruel to myself. Listening to that mean inner critic never helps – it never, ever makes things better. Now that I know how to access that sweet and compassionate inner mother within me, I can choose to listen to her voice instead – which always, always helps me feel calmer, more centered, more trusting, more loved. You can do this for yourself too. It takes some practice, some awareness, some dedication, but I recommend starting with even the tiniest of baby steps towards self-compassion. Even those can make such an enormous difference.

Owly these days…

SONGSPELL #1 – Sing a loving lullaby to little you. “You Were Born to Be Loved” by Lucinda Williams is a real good one – and that little me really needs to be reminded of sometimes. It doesn’t matter if you “can’t sing”. We can all sing. It doesn’t have to be “good” – just heartfelt. I’m singing this with raspy nodules on my vocal cords (when I’m actually not supposed to be singing at all) & traffic going by & my dogs barking & this is the first time I’ve ever recorded myself singing & shared it ever. Why? Because I believe in the healing power of radical vulnerability & the power of songspells. So, more to come. You can try it too! Let me know if you do! I love you. You were born to be loved.

You weren’t born to be abandoned
You weren’t born to be forsaken
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved
You weren’t born to be mistreated
And you weren’t born to misguided
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved
You weren’t born to be a slave
You weren’t born to be disgraced
You were born to be loved
Mmm hmm, you were born to be loved
You weren’t born to be abused
You weren’t born to lose
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved
You weren’t born to suffer
And you weren’t born for nothing
You were born to be loved
Mmm hmm, you were born to be loved

LUCINDA WILLIAMS

“Your origin story doesn’t get to change; your childhood was what it was. But your story is still being written. As we gear up for Mother’s Day please remember that regardless of your gender, it’s your job to Mother yourself through this life. May you be a kind, warm, strong, reliable, and loving Mother to yourself today and always.”
JESSICA LANYADOO

Here are more of my writings on the subject of mothering, being unmothered, and Mother’s Day:
MATRESCENCE
FLEDGLING HEART
MOTHER’S DAY

IMBOLC – Brighid’s Blessing

by angeliska on February 1, 2018

Every year on Imbolc, I honor the sacred wheel’s turning by doing some ritual spring cleaning: I like to clear out my tarot trailer, tidy my house, wipe down my hearth and altars with sweet oils. I sweep the cobwebs from the nooks and crannies, dust the bottles of herbs, resins and powders, and process the accrued bits of magical flotsam and jetsam that always seem to pile up on every surface. I make a bonfire for Brigid, and let many things go into it: old wishes, dead spells, and bits of witchery that have served their purpose, and are ready to become ash and air.

Imbolc marks the quickening, the first hints of turning from the old season into the new – the very moment when the first hints of spring seem finally possible. Imbolc means “in the belly”, something quietly growing, maybe not quite showing, but every day building strength, getting ready to emerge in the physical world. This is the time of new lambs, of new life, reclaiming eros energy from the dead world, the frozen barrenness of deathly winter. The buds have not yet appeared on the bare branches, and the world has not yet turned florid with bright blossoms, and yet, here and there, if you look closely, you might detect the first signs that the maiden is returning from the underworld.

Tiny succulents are peeping out from the soil in their planter on my porch, and yesterday, a little wood violet bloomed, the sole flower in my garden, for now. In the velvety soft gray mornings, I wake to the excited gossiping of the songbirds, who have been returning to the leafless sycamores in my backyard. I hear them talking amongst themselves about the return of springtime, about warmer days, and balmy evenings, about the eventual re-emergence of the fireflies, and caterpillars, about the tender buds and berries, the fresh new shoots, bright green tendrils emerging, sweet sap rising. The hag of winter’s face is slowly turning, back behind her tattered veil, her white shawl of snow, to reveal the strong young face of the maiden, of Brighid. The Cailleach returns to her home under the hills, and is reborn anew, as a bright and warm goddess, Breo-saighit, fiery elf arrow, a sacred well, a red fox, a meadow of snow-drops. The wind is in the trees, and spring comes!

Brigid's Cross Imbolc

Light all your candles, tend your hearth-fires. Leave pieces of cloth outside for Brigid to bless as she passes by, and these will protect your throat from unwellness.

My mother named me for Brighid, consecrated me to her before I was born. I have always been her daughter. My name was meant to be Bridget Angela, but at the last minute, after I had emerged and my birth certificate was being made, my mother frantically yelled out from her weak and wounded post-natal swoon that it needed to be switched, that my name was Angela Bridget. Her vehemence got the nurse’s attention, and here I am – though I’ve never really gone by Angela, and I never liked the name Bridget for years either. I thought it was too cutesy, bringing up images of a red-haired girl with a bob and curls, a freckled button nose, and a cheerful attitude. I had none of those things. Bridget the midget, Gidget who fidgets. I wasn’t into it. I didn’t yet know who the real Bridget was, or that I belonged to her.

As a young girl, I wanted to be Brigitte instead, also not yet knowing about Maman Brigitte, Baron Samedi’s wife, the loa of the cemeteries. I grew up in graveyards, always around so much death – and I found comfort in the company of the dead. There is so much that I didn’t understand as a child, with no one I felt I could talk to about these things. Young witches can be formidable, livewires of power they don’t know how to wield. I was changing the weather, bringing the thunderstorms at will – and was both terrified and elated at what I was capable of. When I realized last year that Oya, orisha of hurricanes, storms and sacred change was syncretized with Maman Brigitte in Vodou, and St. Bridget, it hit me with the force of massive typhoon that my relationship with this power, with this goddess, began long before I was born. It wasn’t something that I discovered. It just always was – waiting for me, somewhat patiently, until I remembered. When I see the synchronicities lining up, it shows me that I’m on the right path – and they have been there for me all along, those shining breadcrumbs, beckoning me to follow, to keep walking forward, deeper into her mysteries.

Brigid Imbolc Shrine

Bright Imbolc altar. Come in, Brighid! Come in, spring! Come in, light! Be welcome, fierce maiden! Welcome Brighid, keeper of the fire, forge, hearth and heart.

Goddesses are real. Not just in history books, or as ancient myths, or archetypes, beautiful images, sculptures carved in stone and worshipped long ago, but as real as you and I, and in fact, within us all. It seems so obvious to say it, but part of me didn’t really truly understand that until fairly recently. I appreciated the idea of the Goddess as an abstract, as an idea or a concept, rather than as a concrete reality, a truth I know and feel in my bones every day. They are with us, guiding our movements, our lives.

This knowledge has inspired me to dedicate my life to serving the goddess, to honoring her, in her various forms – not as a given, or in theory, but in practice, as a devoted disciple, as priestess, as daughter. When the Goddess calls to you, you must heed her. I realize now that I belong to certain goddess-forms, and always have. The Goddess Brighid is one of them – healer woman, fire spirit, who guides the hands of the poets, the blacksmith and silversmiths, shepherdess, rainbow mantled, dew-laden, fairy woman. She has many names, and many faces:

“Brighid-Muirghin-no-tuinne, Brighid-Conception-of-the-Waves;
Brighid-Sluagh (or Sloigh), Brighid of the Immortal Host;
Brighid-nan-Sitheachseang, Bridget of the Slim Fairy Folk;
Brighid-Binne-Bheul-thuchdnan-trusganan-naine,
Song-sweet (lit. melodious mouth’d)
Brighid of the Tribe of the Green Mantles.
She is also called Brighid of the Harp,
Brighid of the Sorrowful,
Brighid of Prophecy,
Brighid of Pure Love,
St. Bríde of the Isles,
Bríde of Joy,
and other names.”

– from Fiona MacLeod (aka. William Sharp) in his book “Winged Destiny”

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Brighid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs, protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.
Beneath your mantle, gather us,
And restore us to memory.
Mother of our mothers,
Foremothers strong,
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how
To kindle the hearth,
To keep it bright,
To preserve the flame.
Your hands upon ours,
Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light,
Both day and night.
The Mantle of Brighid about us,
The Memory of Brighid within us,
The Protection of Brighid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance,
from heartlessness,
This day and night,
From dawn till dark,
From dark till dawn.

– Blessing for Hearth-Keepers
by Caitlin Matthews

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Brighid of the mantles,
Brighid of the peats,
Brighid of the braided hair,
Brighid of the augury.
Brighid of the shining feet,
Brighid of the quietness,
Brighid of the shining palms,
Brighid of the cattle.
Brighid friend of women,
Brighid of the peats,
Brighid women’s midwife,
Brighid, woman of grace.

– an excerpt from Brighid of the Mantles,
Sloinntea rachd Na Brighid, translated by Caitlin Matthews,
transcribed by Brenda Francis

Brigid Imbolc Altar

Mar a chaireadh Muire,
Caim Bhride’s Mhuire,
Car an tula’s car an lair,
‘S car an ardraich uile.


As Mary would build it.
The encompassment of Bride and of Mary,
Guarding the hearth, guarding the floor,
Guarding the household all.

Cleaning for Imbolc

Out with the old, in with the new! Even withered blooms still have their corpsey beauty. Soon to be ashes of roses in Imbolc bonfires.

I wrote this last year, as I was walking through a deep dark time of loss and hurt, that transformed me utterly. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I can see undeniably how necessary those changes were, and how much stronger and more whole I am today, after it all.

I lit a bonfire for Imbolc.
I made my invocations to Brighid,
made offerings to her of aged honey mead.
I burnt my finger on a hot coal,
the sizzle of singed flesh and bubbling copal.
I cut my other finger to the quick
on a jagged piece of cavern stalagmite,
the hidden crystals inside glittering, painted red.
Blood offerings, life-force, soul-water.

I sacrificed two sacred paper deer to the flames,
one a leaping doe shadow puppet Pandora made,
that danced on a bedsheet screen in my backyard.
The other, a handmade papier mache doe piñata
made for me by Francesca and Annie
to celebrate my thirtieth birthday.
They stuffed the deer with frankincense and myrrh,
golden holy virgin medals, fine chocolates,
flowers of Jericho, little girl barrettes,
and other treasures I can no longer remember.
They wanted me to burn it that night, but it was
so beautiful, with a plaintive expression painted in tempera,
that I had to let it live for eight more years, a hollow effigy,
crumpled in the corner of the defunct shower, waiting.
Ghosts of sisters’ love, memories, circles broken and unbroken.

I am burning holy mite-eaten macaw feathers and prayers
for my loved ones, for all of the people who come to me
for tarot reading and healing, for myself, that I may continue to.
I am burning several smudges of cedar and sage and so many memories.
I am burning clumps of old wax and a huge bundle of lavender.
I am burning pieces of wood from the building of my house
cut and stacked and left behind by my last, past love.
I am burning three plum colored candles
for the fates in a deer antler candelabra.

It is winter now, but this is the day I mark to
trust that spring is coming, that the sap will rise.
It is cold and grey, and the sunlight is a pallid gold,
uncertain and watery, but the fire warms me.
I feel fierce and determined and deep down sad.
I feel like a warrior woman exhausted after battle
sitting on a bloody treestump to unhook her armor.

I feel a fire burning at my core,
a root fire that tells me I will survive,
and that my deep down anger will eventually
give way to passion.
I feel certain that
if anyone walked through my gate right now,
I would fuck them to death.
So my gate is locked with iron.

Iron nails crossed.
Bright blood berries,
the cedar waxwings get drunk on them
when they ferment in the spring.
I make my solitary prayers
and ask for her help in this,
that I may come through wiser,
so that I may better serve her.
I am bold, and I am braver.
My bones are tired,
but I’ll get stronger.
It is Imbolc,
and I am burning.

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This was my first fire of the New Year, for a full moon ritual with four solid corners holding it down and raising it up. This was so necessary for me – to be in nature, with the elements called in, gazing into the embers, drawing down the moon with strong witches. To honor the holy days.

“The original meaning of the word holy is “set apart”. In holy day time/space, we surrender our engagement with the outer world, go to be restored and renewed. In all cultures, to enter the tenemos (enclosed sacred space) is to be released from chronological time, to enter the timeless realm of the sacred. In ritual and ceremony, we and the world are healed and strengthened.”

– Sherri Rose-Walker

I have been feeling like a big mammajamma bear that just wants to go hide in her dream lodge cave and sleep until springtime. I keep reminding myself that it will be spring here soon enough, and feeling so grateful that I live in a climate where our current version of winter is considered somewhat extreme. For a winterborn being, I get worse and worse at enduring the winter season and better and better at enjoying the summertime every year. Perhaps I’ll like it better when I can invest in proper heating for my home. Dinky inefficient space heaters are the pits! Still, I’m grateful to have them, too – and don’t have to chop my wood or huddle around a cookfire.

God/dess is nature. Lifeforce energy and deathforce energy are a constant circle – a loop of becoming and unbecoming. We are all interconnected. Don’t forget your own divinity and place in all of this: you are every bit as sacred as the crane swooping over the water, as the droplet of water sliding off their wing, as the mite tickling their underfeathers, as the wee beetle sliding off the leaf. You are the seed slipping from the pinecone, you are the ripening berry, you are the rotting log, you are the moss and the fungus – and you are GLORIOUS! Life is a precious gift, and so is death. What a thing it is to be incarnate! I used to not think so. I am glad I remembered.


Spring in the Belly of Winter – IMBOLC: A CROSS-QUARTER STATION OF THE SUN

from Blue Moon Astrology – I love this post from Elaine Kalantarian about Imbolc, Brighid and the astrology and history of this holiday. Very informative, if you’d like to know more!

Brighid’s Blessings upon your hearth and heart,
and a merry Imbolc to you all!

A Rosy Full Wolf Moon Unfurls: Year of the Earth Dog

by angeliska on January 1, 2018

It’s the dawn of a New Year in a few hours, and instead of loading up the caravan and heading for the hills like I normally do on this day, I’m curled up in front of a space heater in my living room, sifting through the last grains of sand that made up 2017, as it slips through the glass. An arctic cold front is currently blowing down through Texas, making the idea of honoring our tradition of camping out in Lone Grove for New Years somewhat untenable, hardy as we usually are. It’s strange to shift a pattern, to do something differently – to trust that it’s okay to go with the flow, and work with what is. This year, I’m getting a little bit better at letting things go, at holding loosely to the reins of control instead of gripping tight, at moving like water with the current instead of beating myself against the rocks. So, instead of pushing myself into the wind and cold, I’m hunkered down, writing, and trying to be gentle with myself. Maybe it’s this full Wolf Moon in Cancer rising, or the closing of the year, but I’m grateful that the weather has conspired to let me be easy with myself, because I feel a little shaky, a strange anxiety under what has mostly been a blanket of deep peace. I’m sitting with it, letting it be – observing where the roots lead, and breathing into the fearful places. My neighbors were setting off fireworks last night, enormous explosions that had my dogs on edge. I feel extra sensitive lately, picking up on outside energy, especially the distress of beings I feel very connected to. One of the big things that happened for me this year, was the addition of a third dog into our pack, which has been a wild experience – especially considering that I was never a dog person until the past ten years or so. Prior to that, I would have always described myself as a cat person, and if you had told me then that one day I would not only have a dog, but three large dogs, I would have thought you were full of poppycock. I never would have imagined that having three dogs would feel like the just the right amount of canine companionship. It’s definitely hard to get lonely when surrounded by this much unconditional love and affection, and – I learn so much from these creatures every day. They are my teachers. So, I’m thrilled that 2018 will be the Year of the Dog, and an Earth Dog to boot. That energy feels healing and balancing after the past few Fire years, which were so turbulent and intense, especially considering they were ruled by Monkey and Rooster. Being an earth sign myself, and a dog spirit, it feels like a relief to have some grounding, solid energy for this coming year. While the Lunar new year doesn’t really roll in until the second new moon after the Winter Solstice, I like to welcome in this new energy early, at the turning of the Gregorian calendar, and make a space for its wisdom in my life.
snow pea
My wild sweet Snow Pea. From the first moment I saw this dog in a dream, I knew we were meant to help and teach each other. The saga of how he came to be my dog is long and involved, but last year, all I wanted for Christmas and my birthday was Snowy. I would lay awake and worry about him, and wish on the moon and stars that he could come live with me. And one day, he did. I look at him all the time in wonder and think about how my heart’s wish was granted, and how amazing it is that this magical creature is my dog.
Earth Dogs are true and loyal, honest to a fault, and teach us to cultivate personal integrity in our character, in our words, and our actions. This is a time to show up, with both feet wildly one the ground. Your presence is everything. This is an action year, where having real skin in the game and making things happen will count so much more than just dreaming or empty talk. Saturn going into Capricorn will help us get serious about what will actually be required of us to really manifest what we say we want. It’s time to fight for the rights of the underdogs, sniff out corruption, and shine a light on the truth. I feel that dogs are the best teachers of what true friendship means – that steady, abiding light of simple, uncomplicated love that shines from their bright eyes, and is felt in the snuffle of a wet nose, and the brush of a wagging tail. I want to love like my dogs do, to have their lust for life, to stay in the moment as they do, seemingly releasing their troubles, frustrations, anxieties and angers so much more easily than we humans do.
Two concepts have made themselves more known to me recently, and I want to take this year (and hopefully many more to come) to explore them in greater depth. Both speak to a sense of true friendship, with ourselves, with our loved ones, and with the world. The first is maitri, which I’ve been reading about in a little book of essays by Pema Chodron, called Practicing Peace. Maitri is a sense of “unconditional friendliness towards your perfect and imperfect self”. I’d heard the word maitre before, but I guess I didn’t really know what it meant, because when I read that, my jaw dropped. What a wild idea! It just really struck me – how overwhelming the concept of unconditional love can seem, for whatever reason. Something about unconditional friendliness just seems more manageable to me. This past year, that’s the feeling towards myself I’ve been striving for – to be friendly with myself, especially when I feel like I’m at my worst. Because that’s when I need it the most. It feels doable in way that “falling deeply in love with myself” doesn’t on some days. I can manage that friendliness, that patience with myself when I’m feeling impatient and acting like a pill, that tolerance for all my many flaws. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I try to give myself a friendly gesture, a smile, if it feels natural, or sometimes a playful, silly face – a reminder to not take myself so damn seriously all the time!
I think about the way my dogs behave towards me, even when I’m unwashed, running behind on their breakfasts, grumpy or in a bad mood. Even when I’m like that, they still seem to think I’m the best person in the world. They accept me as I am, and they forgive me for not being perfect. And I feel the same way about them – even when they pee on the floor, chase the cat, escape the yard, or um, bite me. All of those things have happened this week, and honestly, it’s been really trying. But I don’t take any of it as a personal affront, because none of it is about me, or my dogs trying willfully to make my life more stressful. They are beasts expressing their nature, and it’s my job to learn better how to protect them and interact with them in a way that keeps us all well and happy. It feels miraculous to notice how my heart stays open to them completely, even when we’re struggling. They teach me so much about what loving unconditionally (and being loved that way) really means. And they have been such healers for me.
That being said, my wolfpack has really been giving me a run for my money lately, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – and it’s a lot to manage! I’m working to create better structure for us, and to be a strong pack leader for them. I have three dogs, and three cats! It’s a lot. A lot to take on, & a lot to be responsible for. They give me so much love and joy in return, it’s definitely worth everything I put in energetically, financially and timewise – but some days are easier than others. Today was a tough one. We’ve had a few kerfuffles & dust-ups the past few days over resource guarding, and I’ve gotten caught in the middle a few times. I’m working hard with a great trainer to be a strong pack leader and help everyone adjust to the new pack dynamic, and it’s very challenging. I have to be so strong, & so consistent – and always vigilant. Every day is different. I’m sharing this, because behind all the adorable animal photos, there’s another side I feel people don’t talk about often: the fact that these are ANIMALS. They’re not human, even if we dress them in funny clothes and babytalk to them. They are not too far away from being wild beasts, and if you want to have them in your life, you have a real responsibility to understand how they work and make a real dedicated effort to learn and speak their language – rather than expecting them to learn yours. Take the time, spend the money, study up – whatever you have to do: but train your damn dog! Be strong for them, so they’ll feel safe & happy. I’m trying, every day – and my only hope is that I can be half as good as my dogs think I am.
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Sonnet XVII
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
Pablo Neruda
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Rose medicine is good for when you feel unsure, so remember to put her petals in your tea, or bath. I’ve been carrying big rose quartz orbs in my pockets, and holding them when I sleep.
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Our earth altar on New Year’s day of last year
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Winter garlands
The other concept I’ve been working with is Anam Cara, which is also the title of the book I’m reading about that very subject, by Irish poet John O’Donohue. Anam Cara means “soul friend” in Gaelic.
A person to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an Anam Cara, your friendship cut across all convention and categories. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the friend of your soul. You are joined in an ancient and eternal union with humanity that cuts across all barriers of time, convention, philosophy and definition. When you are blessed with an Anam Cara, the Irish believe, you have arrived at that most sacred place: Home.
– John O’Donohue, from Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom
“According to O’Donohue, the Irish term anam cara originates in Irish monasticism, where it was applied to a monk’s teacher, companion, or spiritual guide. Edward C. Sellner traces its origin to the early Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers: ‘This capacity for friendship and ability to read other people’s hearts became the basis of the desert elders’ effectiveness as spiritual guides.’” I think about the work that I do with people, and who I want to be in the world, this path that I am walking, and this word really encapsulates it for me. I want to nurture and cultivate the relationships that feel like this in my life, and in my own heart.
I used to view all my close friendships as chosen family, my brothers and sisters. My concept has shifted in the last few years, somewhat. Those that I considered my spiritual family are still beloved, though time and distance has separated many of us. I also have started wanting to view all beings on earth as my brothers and sisters, and not drawing such a heavy circle of exclusivity around ideas like “us and them”, as I feel that all of our problems come from this division. In additions to that, I started defining true friendship a little differently, and exploring what it really means. I feel like I still have much to learn on the subject, and I hope to spend the rest of my life learning what it is to be a good friend, and to have true friendships. I learned that someone can be your family, and you can love them like a part of you, forever – and that sometimes it’s not possible, for various reasons, for you to be good friends to each other. Because I didn’t grow up with siblings, I didn’t really understand that you can totally just not get along with your brothers and sisters. You can have a deep affinity for each other, an abiding forever kind of love for them, and still not really be capable of maintaining a healthy friendship. This revelation came with an enormous sense of failure for me – because all these years, I’ve doggedly refused to ever give up on making so many of my relationships work – even when it was clear that I was only holding on so tightly because I was terrified of what letting go might mean. When you’ve experienced a lot of loss in your life, letting go can feel like a death. It is like that, in some ways. Growing up, I never had a lot of friends. I was quiet, deeply traumatized, poor and weird looking. I sat alone at most lunch tables, and my good friends usually lived far away from me, until middle school. Around that time, I started finding my people, and in many ways, they saved my life. So no wonder I would cling to them like the gold they are. As I’ve grown less afraid of being alone, and worked on healing the deep wounds in me that had shaped and defined my interpersonal relationships for so long, I noticed those dynamics shifting and changing. I am getting better at holding stronger boundaries for myself, better at receiving love, and more devoted to cultivating a sense of reciprocity in my relationships. I’ve always sought to emulate a dog’s sense of loyalty, and I tend to be a very loyal and protective friend. But I’ve learned something about that loyalty in the past year – which is that in repeatedly returning to the sides of people whose own personal pain made it impossible for them to treat me better, I was being disloyal to myself. I was like a dog that’s been kicked in the ribs too many times, but kept coming back. Until one day, I just couldn’t anymore. What an idea – to be loyal to your own friendship with yourself! Which for me, meant to know when to walk away and stop trying to make things work. It’s still a really hard lesson for me, and one that I have to sit with and breathe through often daily. I’m working on letting go, letting some things be unfixable, no solutions, no answers, no perfect words that will untangle the tight knots. They might loosen themselves with time, or they might not. The only person I can change in any situation is myself, so that’s what I’m working on. I try to stay in my own lane, and take responsibility for what’s mine, for my own pain – and heal myself, so that I don’t create more suffering. I want to keep an open heart. To detach with love, creating some space, while still sending love to those I can no longer sit with. This is hard work. But it makes me more available to myself, and more available to the friends and loves in my life that do feel healthy and supportive. And that has to be enough.
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Here I am on the first day of last year, donning a coronet of icicles and sparkly twigs and an attitude of fierce determination to keep my spirits up, to do the work I came here to do, and to do my part to dismantle the motherfucking patriarchy with witchery, wisdom, and an excess of glitter.
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Allyson, a summer queen in the winter garden. This lady has taught me so much about true loyalty and friendship. Her sweet steadfast heart is a blessing in my life.
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The lovers ringing it in with the first chess game of the year.
primrose pups
My sweet beasts, my healers, protectors, best friends, number one heroes.
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Laughing dogs in a primrose meadow, on a warmer day than this one. I look at these and am reminded that it will be spring again!
I had to step away from my writing yesterday, so now I’m here in 2018, and it’s colder today than it’s been in a long time. It snowed last night as we rung in the new year, here in Texas – for the second time this winter! It’s a rare and wonderful thing, especially considering that this time last year we were camping in short sleeves, basking in the warm sunshine. I know 2017 was just goddamn brutal for everybody, in so many ways – but I think it was also incredibly galvanizing. Many of us have been walking through the fire, and have been tempered in the flames. This past year was one of the hardest, most transformative, and probably most important years of my life to date. It started off with a series of endings, which took many, many months to heal from. Going through a major Pluto transit is no joke. It’s some heavy lifting. Pluto brings big endings, and I had to say goodbye to so many essential chapters of my life, and people I had loved for so long. I spent the first few months of last year plagued with intense sorrow, paralyzing anxiety, and horrible nightmares. I’d wake every morning to a flock of black-winged harpies taunting me with images and thoughts I didn’t want to see or think about – all the demons of the underworld and my unmaking flaying me alive every night while I slept. From the midst of all the rubble, crowfeathers, bad dreams and fear shits, I somehow emerged – raw bones and ragged edges, hairy legs and all. I gathered up all the lost parts of myself, and somehow came out on the other side, bruised up, but whole – and wholly myself, maybe more than ever before. 2017 was a year of major growth, and major healing. I’ve learned that those things often come with a healthy serving of pain and heavy work served up on the side, and I definitely had to work my way through before I was able to see the good stuff. It took a lot of trust. Looking back on the year that was, what I learned, and how I grew – I want to feel proud of myself, and most days, I do. But today, on the first day of the new year, I just feel bone deep weary, exhausted, and a little sad. Grey days and cold weather will often do that to me, as will the endings of things, and uncertain beginnings. I hold a flat round stone that I picked up a year ago today, when I was making some big promises to myself. I hold it in my hand and try to bring in the knowledge and the peace of coming full circle, of coming so far. This year was the culmination of big healing work, and it changed me in ways I am probably only just beginning to understand. There are quite a few things about my life as it is now that I never could’ve conceived of ten years ago, when I sit and think about it – and I love that, how unexpected our lives are, and how much we can change. I’ve been marveling lately at how much life can change in the space of one year. It seems like an obvious thing, I suppose, but recently I’ve been having a lot of revelations regarding things that seem very obvious, but are now somehow seen in a totally different, newly wondrous light. I hope to keep that sense of wonder and revelation close to my heart in the year to come, and I wish that for you, as well. Things can change. It’s not always so bad. There are glimmers of hope shining in the wreckage. We are stronger than we know.
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Even a light dusting of snow is a novelty and a strange wonder for us down here in Texas. I love seeing how excited every gets trying to catch snowflakes on their tongues and making tiny snowmen.
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Though the full Wolf Moon in Cancer (which is now rising as I write this) tends to be something of a doozy for me, on the whole, I am allowing myself to be serene. For the past week, I’ve been so exhausted, and then when I finally do go to sleep, my heart starts racing and pounding with a strange restlessness. It feels like a message to go deeper, to ground down, to do the things I know help me find calm. I go to my cushion in the mornings, and stay put. I’ve been able to hold my seat in meditation in a way that was never really possible before, and that feels good. Just staying still in my body, even if my mind is still trying to plan and solve, parse and edit and understand. I’m more comfortable in my skin than I ever have been before, and stronger in my body, because I’ve been doing another thing I never thought I would be able to commit to: working out consistently! This has been a year of intense spiritual growth, with some unexpected paths opening up, teachers emerging from the mist, bringing newfound trust and ancient wisdom. I wish for peace and presence in this bright new year – coming into it with sober and clear eyes. I wish to keep learning how to be gentle with myself, and with others. My wish is that we all keep letting in sweetness, and letting go of the bitter. Let’s keep going towards what feels good, unfurling petals, finding the warmth, and turning our rosy faces towards the dawn, okay? Let you fierce, feral hearts howl when they need to – and run wild when necessary. We can only be domesticated so much before we lose our souls. Don’t forget – we too, are animals. We too were once wild things. I want to be imbued with a dog’s relentless optimism this year! To keep believing good things can happen, even when the times are bad. My dogs seem to have simple wishes: for full bellies, clean water to drink, lots of cuddles, and lots of playtime outside in nature. What more could we ask for, really? I wish those things for us, too – and in addition to all of that, may you be blessed and protected in this new year, may your heart feel full, may your friendships sustain you, and may you always keep your tail keep wagging, no matter what.
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Happy New Year from me and my wolf pack! We love you.
More to read from New Year’s Eves of yore:
THE WHEEL TURNS: A PORTAL OPENS INTO A STRANGE NEW YEAR
OWL WELCOME
AULD LANG SYNE
YEAR OF THE HORSE
NEW YEAR’S EVE FOXFIRES AT THE CHANGING TREE
FUCK THE PLAN 2012
AN EPICALLY EPIC AND FAIRLY TARDY YEAR IN REVIEW – OR, HOLY SHIT: 2011!
A Bright Blue Wish
New Year’s Redux
Stargazer Honey
Blue Moon
Lone Grove New Year
Pink Moons
The New Year
Lucky Stars and Garters
La Nouvelle Année

Winter's Embrace

by angeliska on December 21, 2017

Our Winter Solstice bonfire: a massive tower of flames burning 30-40 feet high. The tangle of mossy oak branches stood taller than me. The incredible heat and blaze was so intense after beginning our Solstice ritual in the cold and darkness - to better ho
Photo by Clint Redden
Today, the sun stands still – the scintillating convergence of the Winter Solstice is upon us, and at the darkest moment in our winter, the light begins to return to us. That light, the little candle flame inside us needs to be protected – so keep it close, let it build, and shelter it carefully against strong winds, because in these times, if your light goes out, it can be hard to get it going again. A year ago, I gathered with close friends in the country for a ritual to honor the solstice that ended with the lighting of the gargantuan bonfire pictured above. It was one of the most incredible fires I’d ever seen – looming above us nearly forty feet high. The tangle of mossy oak branches stood taller than me! That fire was started with a single spark, one lit candle burning in our hearts, passed from hand to hand around the circle, alighting a massive conflagration that towers to the heavens, the soaring flames illuminating the treetops. A cascade of shimmering embers, fire fairies flit around our heads like haloes and wink out into the cold night air. The incredible heat and blaze was so intense after beginning our Solstice ritual in the cold and darkness – to better honor and value the return of the light! We rang bells, howled and danced around it, calling in that light, soaking up that brilliant warmth. Opening our hearts to that magic.
I’ve been thinking about fire, lately: it’s not the element I feel most connected with, or have been very comfortable exploring. But I’ve been learning about its power, and how much we need it. Fire is sacred creativity, the vibrant spirit, an alchemical force. It keeps us warm, cooks our food, and is necessary in so many of our creative processes. I’ve been thinking about all our elements, and how essential they are for our survival, our balance. And I’ve been thinking about how when we are living out of balance, they react with a fury, often destroying what we’ve built up, tearing down buildings, incinerating forests, drowning the roads, and obliterating the structures that once seemed so permanent and fixed, ripped asunder in the blinking of an eye. I’ve been thinking about the terrible forest fires in California that are changing the face of the land and turning so many homes to ashes. The earthquakes and mudslides, avalanches. Tornados and windstorms. The hurricanes, floods and torrential rains that have been subsuming our cities. We need our water, the blessing of the mother, her tears – the earth, her body – the air, her breath – fire, her spirit. When out of balance, her gifts become terrifying. And yet, perhaps they are still gifts, in some way. Change is happening, and our old ways of being are falling away. We can resist it, but we’ll just exhaust ourselves. Like trying to swim upriver – you can fight the current, but after awhile, when you’ve completely exhausted yourself, the water will take you where it wants you to go anyway, whether you like it or not.
Power like this can be sustaining and nourishing, or consuming and destructive. Staying present, in clear integrity with our higher selves, with open eyes is the only way to retain or regain any sense of balance. I feel that this is also true of sexuality – Eros energy, our creative, generative spark. That passion can keep us warm, support and nourish us, stimulate and inspire our magic and creativity, and open our hearts. Or it can become, like any of the other essential elements, consuming and destructive.
On the Winter Solstice last year, I completed a vow of celibacy that I had initiated on the Summer Solstice. It was only half a year, and yet in those six months, I learned so much about myself, my sexuality, and my approach to love and relationships. But the real work and growth began in the year after I made that vow to myself and took it full circle. From the end of last December until now, I have experienced such radical change and internal growth, that has transformed nearly every area of my life. It feels very vulnerable, and a little scary to write about this here, and yet, I feel moved to share some of my experience, in hopes that it might be helpful to someone who finds it here.
I took a vow of celibacy because I wanted to find a way to channel and focus that erotic energy into my creative pursuits, namely my writing – and because I was in the process of doing some deep healing work on my relationships, and the wounding that I discovered was the origin for many of the unhealthy patterns I had developed around sex, love, and romance. I’m not going to delve into excruciating detail elaborating all the ways, for so many years, that I managed to keep beating my head against the same walls, and finding myself entangled in the same traps and pitfalls, because it would take forever, and really is just too embarrassing to enumerate. What I do want to share is how I discovered that it was possible to break these patterns, and with a lot of self-love and patience, feel like I have finally made some big headway in changing that way of being, and shifting into a new stage of growth. It can happen – but it does take work. Thankfully, there’s really nothing better than doing that human work on this earth. It’s why we came here – to learn, to grow, and to love.
This is the first time in my life where I have felt completely content with my current romantic status – which is, utterly and entirely, wholeheartedly and gratefully single. I think my heart had learned, ever since I was very young, to be in a constant state of longing, of wistfulness and wishing – regardless of whether I was in a relationship or merely burning a fervent torch for one elusive lover or another. It’s a hollow feeling, longing. And one I no longer wish to carry or resonate with. What is it, to be whole – to feel at home and happy with yourself, to be with yourself consummately – and to have that feel like more than enough. I’m discovering that feeling, and delighting deeply in my solitude, in my own company – with no more room for the tugging ache of loneliness in my heart or at my table. Sometimes it’s much lonelier when someone else is right there – so close, and yet so far away. I am right here, and I’m glad to be finally fully embracing these lessons in ways I had never before been able to really grasp. It look a lot of painful twists and turns to arrive at the threshold of this place, and I’m still learning the path. I’ve been thinking about a concept that I believe is from Rumi (as many wise truths are), that the goal is not falling in love – it is to BE love. That’s what I’m after. Starting with learning to be immensely compassionate to myself, even with all my many flaws and failings, all my gifts and shinings. I’m here to embrace my own sweet heart, that I shunned and neglected, ignored and spurned in favor of others, for so, so long. Coming back home, to my own sacred temple, long abandoned, now restored: my heart, my heart, my heart.
But how did I get from there to here? I spent years – years and years and years looking for love in all wrong places. Searching the world over with a hungry heart, hunting for someone to love me, to nourish me, to provide me with comfort and safety and stability. A baby bird looking desperately for unconditional love and validation, for proof that maybe I wasn’t the most awful, pathetic, unlovable creature in the world. Scanning constantly for security, for that person who could be the ONE who would save me, love me, stay with me forever and never leave, never die, never abandon me. And, yet – that loss and longing is all I knew of love. That was my polarity, a familiar home base. I craved love like fire, like water, like a drug. The thing is: that kind of love is actually essential to our survival when we’re little. Human children don’t tend to stand much of chance of survival without their parents, or if their parents (for whatever reason) aren’t invested (via that intense bonding that creates and sustains unconditional love and care. It’s not just a desire – it is actually a need. And I felt that I might die from the lack of it. If it hadn’t been for my amazing father, I very well might have. He has always offered me that unconditional love and care, but after my mom died, he was very overwhelmed trying to provide for us, and dealing with his own grief and broken heart. It was a hard time for us. I was alone a lot, and that loneliness became home for me. It was a place I knew.
From a very, very young age, I developed an unconscious plan for survival: my number one modus operandi became a quest to find the person who would offer me the unconditional love and care I lost when my mother became sick and died – and that in some ways, for various reasons, I never really had enough of before that. I was a practical child, an old soul who figured out the equation early on, and used my kid-logic to deduce that the next best source of unconditional love if you’ve lost your mom, according to all the fairy tales I devoured was, of course – TRUE LOVE! Prince Charming, on his glorious steed, ready to sweep me off my feet and adore me forever. Problem solved. I would be their priority, their everything! And I would finally be safe. As you can imagine, once I hit puberty, this led me to some deeply passionate obsessions with movie stars and later, to many (what I realize now) were seriously messed up interactions with unsavory, predatory people who zeroed in on me like wolves to a lost lamb. I was so desperate for love and affection, and so naive about what love and sex were all about, that I repeatedly ended up in situations where I was taken advantage of because I thought that if someone was paying attention to me, that meant that they loved me. Unfortunately, this continued more or less constantly until I reached near-adulthood. I eventually did wise-up a little bit, but I was still this totally precocious big-eyed starveling who threw myself into relationships and entanglements like my life depended on it – because on a deep, internal level, I believed that it did.
I did have some really wonderful relationships in all of that mess, with a few lovely, kind-hearted people who treated me right, or tried to. Usually though, I ended up feeling stifled and stuck with the people who were actually capable of loving me, and tended to eschew people who were too sweet, not cold or unavailable enough. I’d tell myself that I didn’t feel that magic spark with them – but truly, I was mistaking the sensation of being activated, that push-you/pull-me intense longing for chemistry. They aren’t actually the same thing at all. I’m learning that, and learning so much about my attachment patterns – about which, if any of this is resonating for you, you might really want to delve into studying your own attachment patterns in relationships. Understanding this piece has unlocked so much awareness for me around the loops and stuck places I found myself trapped in for so long.
Taking a step back from all of those patterns and getting some space for myself to establish a new perspective was another goal I had in taking a vow of celibacy. It really had less to do with having sex or not, and more to do with examining what happened for me when I engaged in that kind of intimacy with another person, and my own hidden motivations in finding connection. I want to make something very clear about this: I am extremely sex positive, and believe firmly that everyone’s relationship to their sexuality is entirely their own. What works for one person may or very well may not work for another. All I can share is what has worked for me, and what I’ve learned for myself.
When I was in New Orleans recently, I overheard a voluptuous lady walking by in the French Quarter talking into her cellphone say, “Estoy teniendo tremendo sexo con todo el mundo”, which means, “I’m having tremendous sex with the entire world!” I loved hearing that, especially as I was sitting on a stoop, making out with a very wonderful person at the time. It was a beautiful moment, where the air felt infused with sensuality and magic. I know there are many people out there who thrive by having many partners and exploring their erotic energy with a lot of freedom and playfulness. I respect that so much, and often, I wish it could be that way for me. For a long time, it was. And then things really needed to change. Because I was allowing myself to be in unhealthy situations, and I was getting hurt. I was connecting with people for the wrong reasons – and I wasn’t being especially conscious or present in my choices. The definition of an addiction, as I see it – is when we’re seeking a physical solution for a spiritual problem, and when we’re doing something that we know isn’t good for us – but we don’t seem to be able to stop ourselves from doing it anyway. I saw my six month vow of celibacy as a period of sobriety, during which I was still having great sex with myself (because let’s be real, I’d probably have ended up homicidal or definitely broken my vow, otherwise!) I wanted to be able to come back to physical connection with others from a place that was centered, and compassionate to both myself and them. You see, I’d made a lot of bargains for good sex in the past. I tricked myself into believing that in order to receive that good physical loving, I had to put up with a lot of bullshit from my partners, in their treatment of me. I came to believe that no one else was going to be into the way my body looked naked, or find me attractive or desirable. We find incredible ways to lie to ourselves, and then trap ourselves in feedback loops, get hooked into partnerships that aren’t sustainable or even particularly enjoyable.
It’s like this: when you’re starving, you’ll eat almost anything, right? If you go into a convenience store when you’re really hungry, almost any crap in there seems like it might be delicious. But there’s no really nourishment in a bag of Cheetos, and it doesn’t tend to last very long anyway. When you stop by the gas station with a nice full belly, you’ll find yourself realizing that there’s really nothing in there you want to eat, nothing you want to put in your body. A lot of the relationships we end up in when we’re operating from a place of inner hunger are the equivalent of junk food: addictive, extremely flavorful and delicious in the moment, but ultimately – they just end up making us sick. Learning how to feed my own heart and tend my own inner fire helped me have much more discernment around who I choose to share myself with than I ever had before. Sex on the first date was just a matter of course for me, and I would leap into situations with people without knowing them very well. I used to have basically little to no restraint, when I would actually meet someone I was attracted to – which is a rare enough occurrence, that thankfully I didn’t get have too many opportunities to create havoc for myself. It was much worse when I was way younger – and had no idea what I was really even attracted to. I have a lot to unpack about that time in my life, and what those experiences were really about. I’m working on trying to understand it, and heal it.
As Saturn moves into Capricorn this month, we’re being given a message about truly taking responsibility in the way we move through the world, and realizing how our actions effect other people. This is a good time to examine your boundaries, and your own personal rules about sex and relationships. A sense of soberness and a more serious approach may be replacing some of the unabashed hedonism of our past exploits. It’s a good time to perhaps be more judicious in our interactions, particularly because we’re really talking about consent, about boundaries, and about desire. This is a powerful time to have these conversations together – about what we’re really doing when we’re sharing the experience of sex and intimacy with another person. We’re finally having the conversations about how often we’ve had sex in the past we really didn’t want – or felt pressured into. When just doing it was easier, (or felt easier at the time) than saying no, or extricating ourselves out of these situations. In creating strong boundaries for ourselves and our partners, and making space for clear communication about what we want, and what we don’t, we are shifting the paradigm. There’s a lot of power in reclaiming that energy for ourselves, and in healing the wounds around our sexuality, and the ways that it may have been abused, exploited, coerced, or mis-used.
Our world is changing so much, and so quickly. I see so many of these changes being for the better – especially as we shift into a new way of relating. I think about the fact that for ages, if you wanted to get to know someone, and especially if you wanted to have sex with them, you had to get married. In this era, we have the freedom to take things slower, to really get to know someone. It’s been said that you really don’t know someone until you’ve spent four seasons with them, and I think that’s true. What would it be like to not make any big decisions about a relationship until you’d taken that time? When we start getting high on love drugs, which is what happens when we start doing stuff that releases oxytocin and vasopressin, like having sex, it makes us a little crazy. And it makes us bond with whoever we’re doing that stuff with. Which can be awesome. Or catastrophic. Because sometimes those bonds are not really appropriate – for various reasons. It’s very, very difficult, from even just a biological standpoint, for casual sex to stay casual for very long. So, as much fun as that can be (and often was, for me in the past) I’ve chosen now, after everything I learned from just hanging out with myself for awhile, that casual sex doesn’t work for me. I’m too sensitive, and too serious, and I just really don’t want to share myself in that way with someone who may not really care about me, or care to get to know me. And vice versa.
Sex is a ceremony, a mingling of our essential energies. It is sacred, if you approach it from that place. I’m interested in exploring, in getting really curious about a lover, and experiencing the same from them. I realize now that when I was coming from a place of need, and needing my partner to fulfill a space of lack in me, I didn’t allow much room to just discover them, and to be curious about really getting to know them as they were. I was just expecting them to uphold a certain way of being to make me feel safer, and then would get upset when they would turn out to be someone different from who I really wanted. It turns out, there’s something to be said for really taking your time! I’ve been relishing that, and also relishing saying no – something that was so hard for me to do, for so long. It gets easier and easier, and it is very empowering, to have that choice for myself, about what feels right for me – to get a clear sense of what works, and what doesn’t, without making a lot of concessions. I’ve been dating, for the first time in my life – a little bit, here and there. It’s pretty fascinating, honestly. And a little odd to be in a place where I’m not looking for casual sex, or a hookup – but also not convinced that I’m interested in getting into a serious, committed relationship again. Being partnered takes a lot of work, and it really is an enormous responsibility. It’s not something I ever want to take lightly again. Until I meet someone that really feels right, I’ll keep channeling eros energy into my creativity, into my writing. Sometimes, I fall into the fearful belief that I can’t be focused and productive if I have a lover in my life. I get afraid that if I meet someone I really connect with, I’ll lose myself again. I imagine scenarios where we get so high on from lovemaking that I’ll want to do nothing else but roll around in bed and then make blueberry pancakes and spend all day feeding them to each other and then rolling around some more. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad? Everything in moderation, right? It feels good to wait and see, and not to settle in the meantime for something that feels like a compromise. Compromise really means that one person gets what they want, while the other one doesn’t – and it’s interesting to me how often we’re told that we need to compromise in our relationships. I’m interested in collaboration – where we can both figure out how to mutually get what we want! It feels good to hang out in this space of not-loneliness. I still crave touch, of course – and sometimes that skin-hunger can be a little distracting! We need touch, as humans. But there are ways to receive it that feel healthy, and allow me to stay focused. I know I’ll touch and be touched again when the time is right, and when the stars align to put the person or people into my path who will teach me the next round of lessons: this time on true intimacy, on receiving love, on trust. I think that will probably be a little terrifying, or maybe a lot – and I’m excited to get out of my comfort zone of being alone and discover what real connection feels like.
As the sun is returning – the warmth is flooding through the earth’s body, and I feel it too. I went dormant for a long time, last year. Trauma can do that, sending the body into freeze mode. I shut down a bit, buried my spark deep beneath the earth, like a precious seed. But all this time, it’s been gestating, growing invisible roots, deep and strong. The ice over the water is breaking, and I’m cracking open like a pomegranate.
My sexuality is mine, and I am my own best thing. I preserve my sacred inner fire, honoring it for the precious thing that it is, and build it, stoke it so that it will keep me warm on cold nights. For now, it is for me, and me alone. My choice to share it will be based on mutual understanding, instead all the old reasons. How exciting it is to approach love now with this discernment, and to enter winter’s embrace with a bright flame in my heart, a beacon, calling in the new ways, the new loves, the new lessons. May your Winter Solstice be full of warm embraces, and may we all learn more this year, and throughout our lives in these bodies, about how to love, and to be loved.
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My writings from Winter Solstices of yore:
NORNS OF WINTER – SOLSTICE WISHES
SOLSTICE SISTERS
PERCHTA
POMEGRANATE STAR RITUAL FOR THE WINTER SOLSTICE
COLD WINTER MOON, SOLSTICE BLUE
WINTER SOLSTICE – BRIGHT STARS + FIRELIGHT
WINTER SOLSTICE – BLOOD MOON
Winter Solstice – Messe de Minuit
Winter Solstice – Dark Season

Lissa and the Lion

by angeliska on October 10, 2017

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I met Lissa (pronounced like “Lisa”) Driscoll nearly twenty years ago, when I first moved to New Orleans. I was only 19 or 20 then, and had just started working at an occult shop in the French Quarter notorious for its staff of saucy witches and reputation for casting a lenient eye towards magic that strayed to the grayer side of black. Lissa worked there too (in her odd way), and I learned the ins and outs of divination, and selling herbs, candles and other occult goods from this woman who was the kind of bohemian “free-spirit” the French Quarter used to be overflowing with: the kind of wild lady the famous Storyville sign, “BEWARE PICKPOCKETS AND LOOSE WOMEN” seemed to be warning about. I remember she had one of those signs hanging proudly over the stove in her kitchen. When she wasn’t slinging tarot cards, and ritual daggers, you could find her belting out songs and beating on a washboard down on Chartres or Royal St. on sultry afternoons, rain or shine. Lissa favored raucous old time songs and the rowdy men who played them with her. She’d arrive to work at the crack of noon with a big bottle of red wine and a black peppered salami from Matassa’s in her bike basket, and would proceed to spend the day holding court from the antique armchair in the corner, its stuffing pouring out in white curdles around her strong legs. She’d roll countless cigarettes with Bugler tobacco, tell bawdy stories and work her way steadily through the cabernet and the salami until we closed at 10, when she’d wobble off on her bicycle to go tear up the night, or back to her cozy roost: half a shotgun in the Bywater always filled with fellow musicians and friends. I got invited there for my first Thanksgiving in New Orleans. I didn’t know many people then, and I guess the people I did know were with their families, so I found myself at loose ends with nowhere to go for the holiday. Lissa’s house was steamy with good cooking and warm with company, all who welcomed me as if I’d been in town all my life. Biking home that night with a full belly and new friends, I thought, “It’s gonna be okay here, after all.” I had been feeling pretty alone, and little trepidatious with the process of trying to find my way in a new city after leaving my hometown for the first time. I’ll always be grateful to Lissa for really helping me trust that New Orleans was the right place for me to be.
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Washboard Lissa was the real McCoy – realer than real. She had no time for phonies, posturers, stuffed suits, or any of the pretentious fools pretending to be vampires, warlocks or voodoo priests that would flock to the French Quarter hoping to impress the naive. I watched her guffaw many poseurs out of the witch shop right out onto the banquette, their black tailcoats tucked firmly between their legs. She was frequently laughing – a raspy, good-natured cackle that would split her face in two like a walnut, teeth glinting and flecked with shreds of loose tobacco. Her skin had a ruddy cast, from hours busking in the sun, and her face was slightly weathered, but surprisingly unwrinkled. Untamed brows nearly met in the middle over dark eyes always squinting through laughter and glinting with sass. Lady werewolf eyes, feral and alluring. Her long hair seemed to float down her back, as if with a life of its own, brown as a wren, or sometimes hennaed red, and silvered in wavy striations, looking always as though it had recently been taken out of many tight braids. Though she didn’t shave her armpits, and I don’t remember her wearing much makeup, she was exceedingly feminine in the way of Belloq’s famous whores: not a classic beauty, or even quite pretty exactly, but she gave off such a brash aura of raw and somehow innocent sexuality, that you couldn’t help but be totally disarmed by her. Lissa had the total lack of insecurity or self consciousness of some woodland creature: a swamp witch fond of wearing long flowing vintage dresses, usually backless, braless, and often sliding off her shoulders. Her brown areolas seemed constantly on the verge of making an appearance, and her belly was beginning to get a slight baby bird booze bloat, centering her gangle of gesturing limbs. Being as young and dumb as I was at the time, I had no concept of how to judge someone’s age if they were much older than 30. I’m guessing she was in her 40’s, but she was a hard-livin’ lady, so it’s kind of tough to say for sure. I hadn’t seen her in a long, long time – not since way before Katrina hit in 2005, but I still remember a story she told me about when she was a little bitty girl. I’ll relate it as best as I can, though it’s been years since I first heard it, and so over the years and many recounting, my memory may have taken quite a few liberties. I got in touch with her a few years ago, and we struck up a correspondence, during which she got to read this piece, and make her corrections. She was entertained by it, and thankfully didn’t mind me stitching some fanciful embroideries around the edges of her story.
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When Lissa was maybe 8 or 9 years old, she went camping with her daddy – I want to say out in Colorado. They were up in the mountains, and had been set up there for a week or more, hunting some, I guess, or just being in nature. I don’t know if her mom was with them, or where her mom was, but I always imagine this story to just be about little Lissa and her dad. I picture him looking just like Sam Shepherd, with that same gentle wise smile, and a bright spark in his black eyes. You’d know from looking at him where his daughter got it from. A man of the woods, of the backroads. Quiet of footstep and a calm, sure shot. The huntsman with a heart of gold, like in the fairytale. Snow White as child of the forest, adopted instead and raised by her savior, the woodsman – no gnomes or prince in sight. I like thinking of it as just the two of them living for weeks out-of-doors. The way you start to set up automatic systems of survival in the woods: waking with the first light, cowboy coffee and oatmeal, gazing out quiet over the small smoking coal-fire in the cold and golden dawning, clutching tin mugs in this wild place not quite their home. Letting the grouse’s song be their only conversation. Wash up, hang the grey wool socks out, get the food up put up tight where bears won’t be tempted. Not too many people out on the mountain, this far into autumn. After the camp’s cleaned and tidy, Paw goes out to hunt, and leaves Lissa free to do her thing, which is mainly to wander off in the opposite direction down the trails, while he goes out into the brush and thicket with his rifle. He trusts her to mind herself in nature and not do anything foolish, and she’s old enough to know what to watch out for – the signs of predator scat and big tracks. She goes off with a tin bucket, whistling a winding song that becomes a chant, a whisper, a garland of secrets, child-spells. A language of her own, from so much time spent alone in the green. The singing sends any animals out of her way, and out towards Paw, or that’s how they think it might work, anyway. She knows not to go too far, and to make a bobwhite call from time to time, so he’ll know she’s alright. Off she goes, swinging her berry-bucket, knees scratched and dirty, hair a soft cloud tangled with seedpods and milkweed fluff.
He, her Paw, is looking for a rabbit, or deer, or turkey, or even that grouse that was singing bright so early. He knows how to be completely still in the woods, listening, quiet as a tree. For a long time, there is no sound other than his slow breathing, and the chew-whit-pip-pip of a gnatcatcher. He know how to wait in perfect patience for that rustle in the underbrush, the scatter of dry leaves and cracking twigs that might reveal dinner, or something more dangerous. A couple of times he thought, maybe – rabbits, and got happy thinking of the stew they might cook up that night. But it was only a weasel, and he wasn’t quite that desperate, or really even quick enough. After a long time waiting, a different sound began to unspool itself from back up the trails, like a tape unwinding itself backwards. A wrong sound. Screaming. It sounds like a girl-child screaming and screaming. He busts out of the brambles with a father’s fury, no longer trying to be quiet at all – but then has to stop on the trail to pinpoint her distress call. He runs back towards the terrible sound, brandishing his gun already at whatever is hurting his daughter: a bear, a wolf, a bad man. But when he rounds the bend and sees her up near the trailhead, it’s none of these imagined enemies that has got to her, is attacking her. What he sees is there far worse, because he can’t quite get his mind around what’s in front of him. An enormous mountain lion is standing on its hind legs, huge paws wrapped around Lissa’s shoulders. Her berry-bucket is overturned in the gravel, little yellow dress stained dark with red. Now is the time where he must focus, save his child from this monster that is currently ripping out her throat, or tearing off her face, its velvety head twisting eagerly at her neck. Everything slows down and he can hear the lapping tongue of the cougar, the high-pitched shrieks coming from Lissa, his own heart beating hard. A deep breath in and out, and squinting, Paw struggles to get a bead on the beast. If he pulled the trigger now, firing directly into the cranium of the cat, he’d risk blowing her brains out at the same time. He has to wait until he can see her face, and the take that window quickly. Hands shaking bad, now. He could miss. It might be too late anyway, she’s probably near to bled out by now – how is she even still standing? Half tempted to just throw down the rifle and rush the damn cougar, let it take him. If she dies, life won’t be worth living anyway. Still aiming, the window comes – for a half second he can see her face when the cats flicks its ears west, and times starts to speed up again: Lissa’s little elfin face changing expressions rapidly – but strangely, from delight to horror rather than the other way round, and then a figure moves into the clearing shouting, “Sheena, DOWN! Sheena, COME!” The mountain lion immediately releases the girl, gracefully lowering down to all fours and moving in a long dun stream towards the interloper: an old woman, gray hair wrapped up in a scarf. They all stand there, dumbfounded for a moment. Lissa’s dad lowers his gun, realizing that the sounds he’d interpreted as cries of distress were in fact squeals of ticklish laughter. She’d been screaming and screaming with laughter, with joy – communing with this beast. Lissa is running up to him now, Her cheeks and hands are stained red from raspberries, despite the sandpapery attentions of the mountain lion, shouting “Pawpawpawpaw! Did you see?! That big ol’ cat jumped up on me and was licking my whole FACE!” The predator is docile, an overgrown kitten, rubbing up against the woman’s leg. She says, “I’m so sorry – usually no one else is up on the mountain this late in the year, and most folks that are already know Sheena. She was rescued from some bastard that had her declawed years ago. Usually she keeps close, but today I got distracted and let her get off down the trail. I see she found a friend…” He shakes his head slowly, trying to work it out, willing his bowels to return to solid form again, gazing at his happy, living daughter dancing with excitement in the dusty path. The sun is westering, it’s time to get back to camp, huntsack empty of game, but he has no taste for flesh tonight. He takes Lissa’s small sticky hand and they turn back towards the place that stands for home, for now – and the comforts it provides. A fire to stare into, a little whiskey to calm his thumping heart, and this story she will happily regale him with all night, and into the years to come. Weeks from now, months, he’ll tell it too, and then he’ll be able to laugh with her. Tonight, he will stay quiet and watch her berry-stained face blushed copper in the firelight, singing her favorite old songs.
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Lissa slipped her skin this past September, after many years of truly living, as one of her friends put it, “like someone truly alive”. She had gone up to Quebec City to be with her beloved mother who was dying, while also struggling with lung cancer herself. In a letter to a friend, she wrote about her retreat from social life, in preparation for her death, describing herself as, “embracing solitude without distractions”. She also shared this:
“My mom had this quote on her fridge from Baudelaire in 1829.
‘I have quite given up the social struggle. I have scratched from the race of life. I have a room for 400 francs a month and at last will be living within my own and other peoples income.’ I think that parts funny but he goes on. ‘I am tired of acquaintances tired of friends unless they are intelligent tired also of extrovert unbookish life. I am for good talk wet evenings vins rouges en carafe reading relative solitude street worship shop gazing alley sloping Seine loafing exploration of the least known arrondissements and plenty of writing from this table in the window where I can watch the streets light up. I am far past the north. The world of ideas. I am for the Hotel de la Louisiane.’”
I am imagine her inhabiting that world now, forever. Long live Lissa!
R.I.P. Lissa Driscoll (a.k.a. “Washboard Lissa”) – left this world of from at 12:45pm, on September 14th, 2017
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Photo by Shannon Brinkman who said, “Bye for a little while, Lissa.
We will remember you for all the moments you here and especially when we got to join in for more. 
Here is Lissa back in late ’90s doing her singing rain or shine in a spot near Jackson Square where Chartres curves into St Peter.
I will remember this moment always – thank you.”

From WWOZ – In Memoriam: Lissa Driscoll
 I was listening to this Odetta song when I found out Lissa had left us. It felt like a perfect serenade:

No it ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never done before
And it ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear ya any more
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ wallkin’ way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I am told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right
So long honey babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
Goodbye is too good a word, babe
So I just say fare thee well…