The Language of Dreams

31 Aug
Remember the Google deep dream generator? Freaky.

Remember the Google deep dream generator? Freaky.

Since I’m being my authentic runcible witchy self on here, I wanted to talk about something that has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks: dreams.

Years ago I saw a popular blogger at a literary agency post an article about dream sequences in fiction. Her #hottake was that if your novel had a dream sequence, it was trash. You were a trash writer. That no dream sequence has ever been well written or necessary, and no one likes to read them. (I’m paraphrasing, of course.)

She had a lot of supporters for this idea! A lot of people nodding in agreement, not least of which because she was a popular blogger at a literary agency and they were probably authors looking to land an agent.

I was not among them.

Now, I don’t get legitimately angry very easily, but that kind of narrow-minded “these are the rules of good writing” assertiveness can definitely set met off.

First of all: I enjoy reading dream sequences just as much as any other well-written scene. Maybe even more, because dreams that are included in well-written fiction are automatically signalling that they are Very Important Scenes.

Second: Dreaming is a universal human experience. That’s a powerful way to connect to a reader and enhance a character.

Third: There’s this weird sort of hostility towards dreams I’ve noticed over the years, usually in the form of making the discussion of dreams something that only boring/stupid/gullible/insipid characters do. Why? I love hearing about other people’s weird dreams. I love talking about my weird dreams. I love trying to interpret what other people’s dreams might signify psychologically or emotionally. I think dreams are fascinating. They are fascinating. Dreaming is something we all do (whether we can remember or not) and something we absolutely do not fully understand.

Runcible Witchery aside, dreams have always been a part of how I navigate my own mental health. Whether it’s anxiety dreams or flying dreams or whatever, a dream that is significant enough for me to remember it the next day is usually telling me there is something I need to work through.

I’ve never had the classic “naked in school” dreams, but I have a lot of dreams where I’m suddenly aware of being in the middle of a situation I don’t want to be in or am unprepared for. Before I got married, I dreamed about inane things like my wedding was just about to start and I didn’t have any of the details worked out for the ceremony. After my divorce, I had a recurring dream that I was getting re-married to my ex. I would realize just before the ceremony that it was a huge mistake and absolutely something I did not want to do, but felt like I had to go through with it anyway because I didn’t want to let down all our guests.

(What’s interesting is that I no longer remember those dreams that were so vivid at the time. I remember having them, but I don’t remember them specifically any more. I do remember the specific dream where I realized I didn’t want to marry him, turned to my mother and said “I don’t want to marry him. I’m sorry to cause trouble, but I’m not going through with this.” And she threw her arms around me and said “thank God.” I remember that dream very clearly, partly because it was the last time I ever dreamed about marrying my ex.)

I don’t know what dreams are, and I don’t claim to understand them, but I know for me they have always been insightful. Sometimes they show me things I don’t want to look at, and sometimes they show me awesome things that feel auspicious. The other day I dreamed that I got money out of an ATM and ended up with three times what I was supposed to have, without taking extra out of my account. Cool, right?

The last couple of weeks I’ve had another recurring dream theme in the vein of being in the middle of a situation and suddenly realizing something: I’m partway to a destination for travel or vacation–already left home, but not yet there–when I realize I forgot to pack any luggage. These could be regular anxiety dreams, because there’s definitely anxiety when I realize how unprepared I am, but then something unique happens: inevitably, somehow this unpreparedness leads to a better outcome. In one dream, forgetting my luggage led to a day’s delay but ultimately better housing. In another, forgetting my luggage led to getting $1000 towards free clothes. So instead of the dreams focusing on the anxiety of being caught unprepared, the real message seems to be that even in a crisis things work out–often for the better. Fancy that!

These dreams aren’t really surprising, as they perfectly match my mood. I’ve been feeling pretty OK lately–appreciating where I am, but a little apprehensive about the future, but overall optimistic that things are going to be fine and if not I’ll get through it. But the extra minutes I’ve put into thinking about these dreams, and discussing them with people who also like to discuss dreams, have helped me to process that wobbly emotional place. (And emotional processing is historically An Issue for me, so that’s not a small deal). Something about the dreams gives me a little extra boost throughout the day. Whenever I face a moment of anxiety or feel like I’ve fucked up, it helps me say Hey. You’ll probably be fine.

Anyway TL;DR: dreams are rad and haters can fuck off.

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Rise of the Runcible Witch

24 Aug
from the Ostara Tarot

from the Ostara Tarot

As some of you may know, my parents met in a religious cult.

I won’t get into which one, but they were out of it by the time I was in kindergarten. Did it influence me and my brothers? Of course. But it was less of an influence from the cult itself, and more of an influence from what my parents took away from it that still seemed worthwhile, even after the organization itself proved to be corrupt. And what my parents took away from that religion was essentially affirmations of what they had brought with them to that faith. They were and are both spiritual people, seeking spiritual answers. They agree with things that feel right to them, and disagree with things that do not. There’s not a lot of facts and reasoning behind that, but that’s really what spirituality is all about: listening to your gut about things that can’t be proven or disproven.

Part of their spiritual philosophy is that they don’t tell other people what to believe, including their own kids (i.e., me). The one exception to that is that they did encourage us to believe in our Self as something separate from our physical body–so, they encouraged us to believe that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. They were always willing to talk with us about possibilities–reincarnation, spiritualism, God/Goddess/divinity or the lack thereof–but it was always a conversation, never a lesson. And though I’ve gone through times where I wish I had a stronger spiritual practice and community, I am hugely and profoundly grateful for the independence I was given.

Whether by nature or nurture, I have also always been a spiritual seeker. My book shelves are equally as full of books on spirituality, religion, mythology, and magic as they are full of stories, and I’ve always been drawn to any kind of spiritual philosophy that implies humans have more power, more senses, more capabilities than we are currently aware of. So it’s no surprise that when I was in middle school I started reading about witchcraft and paganism, and by the time I was 12 I self-identified as a witch (though I did not tell anyone else that for quite some time).

My self-identification as a witch has had its ups and downs over the years, mainly because of what other people have told me a witch is or is not. Also, there’s a bit of…I don’t know…sensationalism attached to the word. It felt ostentatious to call myself a witch–almost like I was asking for a confrontation or a misunderstanding. So I called myself a witch in my head, where it felt right, but not out loud, to other people (aside from my witchy best friend, who I met when I was 19).

Now it’s 2018, and I’ve been a self-identified witch for 21 years. I feel comfortable saying this because, at the moment, being “witchy” is trendy as hell. This is not surprising after the 2016 US “election” (can we still even call it that?)–witchcraft is notoriously associated with people seizing power when they are feeling especially powerless (especially women, especially the oppressed). The most common witchcraft lore is concerned with death, healing, and harvest/prosperity, three things that can feel wildly out of our control.

But the power of witchcraft is not the same as the powers that oppress us, nor is it the same as the natural chaos that touches each and every one of us at some point in our lives. Witchcraft is subversive. It doesn’t operate by the laws of the patriarchal world. It’s not about using the same old tricks to claim the throne. Hell, it’s not about wanting the throne at all.

Witchcraft is about subtlety. It’s about intuition and intention. It’s about inner strength and guidance, communion with the natural world, loving and respecting your body, the bodies of others, the body of the Earth. It is about magic, but what magic is to each of us is subjective.

For me, magic has never been about casting spells* or performing rituals. I’ve never believed it was essential to have the right physical objects present to make magic happen (this is part of why I do not like my practice to be conflated with Wicca). Magic has always been about paying attention to how my inner life resonates or dampens in relation to my outer life. It’s about tuning the radio dial of my mind to match up with my heart and soul. When I do that, life is good. Not easy, but good. Magical things happen. Yes, butterflies land outside my kitchen window, and I find $20 bills fluttering across parking lots, and people offer me free stuff, and most importantly I just start to feel connected to the world around me. But also, I have more clarity. And with clarity of mind comes inspiration, action, and opportunity.

Can I prove it’s magic? No. But I know that when I don’t make the effort to tune into myself, when I let the outside world overly influence my inside world, the magic disappears.

Maybe it’s all just brain chemistry and mind games. Maybe it’s something we cannot currently explain in scientific terms. All I know is that life is good when I’m witchy, and life is bad when I give my power away to circumstance.

I believe in magic. My kind of magic. A fluid, ever-evolving, deeply personal kind of witchery.

Runcible witchery.

At her lecture on poetry at the VCFA residency this past July, Louise Hawes introduced many of us to the work of Edward Lear, specifically his poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” which contains the passage:

They dined on mince and slices of quince,
which they ate with a runcible spoon

I could paraphrase the definition of “runcible” but why make extra work for myself? Here’s Wikipedia:

“Runcible” is a nonsense word invented by Edward Lear. The word appears (as an adjective) several times in his works, most famously as the “runcible spoon” used by the Owl and the Pussycat.[1] The word “runcible” was apparently one of Lear’s favourite inventions, appearing in several of his works in reference to a number of different objects. In his verse self-portrait, The Self-Portrait of the Laureate of Nonsense, it is noted that “he weareth a runcible hat“.[2] Other poems include mention of a “runcible cat“,[3] a “runcible goose” (in the sense of “silly person”),[4] and a “runcible wall“.[4]

The point is, “runcible” doesn’t mean anything.

Or, it means whatever you want it to mean.

That’s how I feel about magic. That’s how I feel about witchcraft.

The thing is, I have been in a crisis of faith for the last several years. For a while, I stopped believing in anything. I thought too much about proof, about evidence, about science and facts, and it ruined me for magic and synchronicity and finding meaning in anything at all. I was deeply, profoundly depressed, partly because I had lost something that had always been an essential, integral part of who I am.

It’s chicken or the egg, which came first. But I can tell you that once I began to emerge from my depression (thanks to affordable mental health care!), magic slowly started coming back to me.

Then I was at residency, thinking about runcible spoons, and the power of language, and the power of community and authenticity and following your heart…and someone I love and respect looked at me and, out of nowhere, with nothing but equal love and respect, told me: “You’re totally a witch. I know it.”

And I was like, fuck.

Yeah, I am.

I can’t believe I let myself forget that.

Since I’ve returned home from graduation, I’ve been on a mission of rest, but also of listening. I’m listening for that inner voice, or spirit, or anything that helps me reorient myself to my Self. I jokingly told myself that August was a good month to rest since not just Mercury (planet of communication) was retrograde, but Mars as well (planet of action). Then I discovered the night Mercury went direct that Mercury retrogrades are excellent times for self-reflection, and Mars retrogrades are best utilized by resting and recuperating.

Did I know that on some unconscious level? Did astrology predict my month of rest and reflection? Or did I find the connection after the fact because that’s what humans do?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. It was a little nudge of affirmation, a little “you’re on the right track, sweetheart, keep going.” And like most people I’m pleased with any affirmation I can get, especially when it comes to making a choice to do something that goes against my practical, semi-perfectionist brain. But especially as a witch, these little synchronicities feel like signs from some higher order.

So anyway, after 21 years of cautiously self identifying as a witch, I’ve finally found the name of my kind of witchcraft: Runcible Witchery. It’s whatever I want it to be, and I don’t have to explain it to anyone.

Just as a good spiritual practice should be.

Anyway, I have a lot more to say about all of this…but I think that’s enough for one post.

 

*for the record, I do believe in the power of spells. I have done some good ones. I have even been hexed and it was shitty and I still don’t forgive that person.

The Pie of Life

17 Aug

lyrics by radioheadSo, I graduated on July 18th, and immediately followed up with two weeks of non-stop family visiting from out of state/country. Once things were finally back to “normal,” I realized I have no idea what my new “normal” looks like. I’ve made a pact with my classmates to finish a solid first draft of my thesis novel by the end of the year, and I have general plans to submit short stories to various magazines, but also…I am exhausted.

So I had this idea that maybe August could be like…a break?

I mean, one where I’m still working my full-time job and taking care of my cats and my dog and my day-to-day living, but like…that’s all. As stress-free as possible. Just a normal person working one job. (And then I saw that there was a lunar eclipse plus TWO planets in retrograde, so, literally, the stars are perfectly aligned for me to not try to Get Shit Done this month.)

But everything I do has purpose, even if it’s choosing to do nothing. This month, I’m choosing to rest and recuperate. I’m choosing to ease my way into a new way of living, not just post-MFA, but post-being-forced-to-acknowledge-how-toxic-and-unsustainable-the-American-way-of-life-is (aka being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome). I’m still not sure what this new life will look like, but I know at its core it will have to be about putting my own well-being first, and listening when my mind and body shout NO.

The problem is, I’ve always been someone who strives to become a better version of myself. In and of itself, that’s not inherently a bad thing, but it walks a very fine line. Self-growth is essential. Self-improvement, however, has a quietly negative connotation dressed up as something positive with the potential to seep into every area of your relationship with your Self, until you wake up one day full of self-loathing and shame, ridiculing yourself for not powering through the flu to meet your deadlines, hating the scraps of your flesh that are too much or not enough, looking at the world around you for evidence of your worthiness and, finding it lacking, berating your Self for not working harder or being stronger or having the right innate qualities to win the world’s praise and acknowledgement.

Okay, so maybe that’s just me. But, given the epidemic of depression and anxiety in this country, I don’t think so. And even though I’m mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, it took me a full week to accept my decision (and my need) to just rest this month.

Why? Because it felt lazy. It felt like wasting time. It felt like letting myself go. It wasn’t until I could convince myself that rest is an action I can take to improve myself that I finally felt okay about it.

And that’s when I realized: in all my efforts towards self-improvement, I haven’t been striving towards growth. I’ve been fighting against my flaws, and not even necessarily real ones. I’ve been fighting against my perceived innate laziness, and I’ve been fighting against my body, and I’ve been fighting against the instincts that tell me “stop” or “no” or “slow down.” I’ve been fighting against being boring, or simple, or “basic.” I’ve been fighting against enjoying things that I can’t justify to other people.

I have valued authenticity so much throughout my life, but I’ve buried my own authentic self in my efforts to improve things that never needed improvement to begin with.

Of course, this doesn’t mean everything I’ve done to “better myself” has been useless. It’s just that the only things I’ve done in terms of self-improvement that have actually benefitted me are things that come from a place of self-love and support, and usually after reaching a crisis point where all my discipline and self-flagellation have done nothing to help the situation.

I know I’m not alone in this, and yet this realization feels like a revolution in my own life. I’ve heard it over and over again from other “self-help” gurus, but coming from a place of positivity and self-love really does make all the difference. I feel like I finally have permission to care about my own happiness, and to live my life in a way that is meant to impress only myself.

Of course, I still don’t know what that looks like…but it’s the foundation I’m trying to build from. Whenever I make a choice about how to spend my limited time and energy, I’m looking for what feels like the most self-supportive choice. Sometimes that means sitting in the sun listening to audiobooks in my backyard. Sometimes that means going to bed at 9:30. Sometimes that means learning Spanish. Sometimes that means lying on the floor with my feet on the couch while my cat eats my hair to get my attention.

This month, it means resting. And thinking about what I’d like to see happen in the next few months and years. And puttering around on my computer, organizing my writing into some kind of filing system that makes it easy to find the stuff worth working on versus the stuff I salvaged from my middle school days. And doing a few of the exercises from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.*Picture_20180812_134316856

For example, I did my own version of the life pie exercise and it was (pathetically) illuminating. I posted the results on Instagram, and I was actually surprised how many people were curious about it, so let me explain it here. The basic idea is, you draw a circle and divide it into even slices of pie labeled by the various areas of your life you want to focus on. I made an octagon because it was easier than drawing a circle free-hand. (This one is in my chic and sturdy Leuchtturm1917 Classic Large Hardcover Dotted Notebook.*) You usually see the pie divided into 8 slices, but you can go lower or higher, whatever is most beneficial to you. (Mine is divided into Romance, Wellness, Spirituality, Play, Purpose/Career, Family/Home, Friends/Social, and Money/Prosperity.) Then, you think about each area of your life and decide how satisfied or fulfilled you are on a scale of 1-10. Here, you can see I’m a miserable divorcee, but at least I’m fairly pleased with my home and my family situation. And, even though I’m not flush with cash by any means, I’m also mostly able to pay all my bills at the end of every month, which is better than it has been for me in the past, so I’m moderately satisfied with my financial state for the time being.

For the most part, though, my life could use some major improvements.

It’s good for me to have a visual idea of what that looks like, though. It was a really excellent reminder for me to look at this chart and say, yeah, I’m actually in a pretty good place with my home and my family. And I may not be as successful in my career as I would like to be, but I’ve taken really big steps. Where I *really* need work is here, and here, and here…

The second part of the exercise, of course, takes a bit more thought. You should think about what your goals are in each of those areas, and write down what satisfaction and fulfillment in those areas looks like to you. And the third part of the exercise is to write down any concrete steps you can take to achieve those goals.

I haven’t done the second or third parts yet. I’m still figuring out what fulfillment looks like to me in each of those areas. It takes time to strip away the layers of external influence on what I think that is. It takes time to acknowledge and dismiss the toxic influence of my own ego on how I define happiness, too.

This is complicated shit.

But I know y’all have a bullet journal or something and you’re dying to try it out, so please do! And we can commiserate on our imbalanced, colorful, sketchy looking pies together over on Instagram.

***

* The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may get a percentage of whatever you buy if you click through those. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it does send some money my way, which is awfully nice of you. 

New Site, New First Post

11 Aug

(If you’ve been here before, you may have noticed some big changes to the site. What can I say? It’s time for a fresh start.)

I had intended, way back in January, to start updating my blog regularly. I had intended to do a lot of things in 2018, but, as usual, Life (and more specifically chronic fatigue syndrome) thwarted my intentions. But I am here now: a freshly minted MFA, taking a few weeks off from life to bask in my accomplishment, rest, and attempt to get my life in order before I embark on the Next Big Thing. For the time being, that includes doing a little blogging.

I have no idea what my personal brand is, or what I’ll be writing about here. Historically, I’ve written about personal epiphanies and the heart-wrenching joys and miseries of writing. Maybe I’ll keep doing that. But I’d like to do it in a way that, like the fiction I strive to write, has something more to offer than just my own personal catharsis (though, let’s be honest, that is the main reason to journal at all).

So. Who is this person journaling today? I like to think she’s different from the person who started this website, years and years ago. Different enough to warrant taking the whole thing down and starting from scratch, at least. I’m a Mistress of Fine Arts, for one (#sorrynotsorry but I’ll be bringing that up quite often for a while), and still grasping with that new identity, even though I spent the last 2 years working my butt off for the degree. In fact, “working my butt off for my MFA” has been my identity for the last 2 years, so there’s a big adjustment in the ending of that phase alone.

I guess that’s why I’m here, really. I’m trying on a new identity, that of a person who might have something worth saying outside of an academic setting. An unpublished writer developing her brand (and a big part of my brand is always going to be transparency). A 30-something woman managing chronic fatigue, a full-time job, and a fledgling writing career, while continuously trying to uncover and develop her authentic self.

Authenticity has been a big-ticket item on my mind for as long as I’ve been alive. Amazing, then, that my own authentic self could become so muddled and obfuscated over the course of my life–but not so surprising, really, when you consider how our culture informs a girl’s/woman’s sense of self. But I’m dismantling all of that, now. Day by day, I’m questioning the way I operate, how and what I desire, how I perceive myself, my roles in my relationships with others. It’s hard work, but worth it.

There have been big changes over the years, and there are still big changes happening. That’s probably why this new first entry is broad and vague and rambling. But then again, maybe not.

Things on my mind lately that I’ll be blogging about soon in no particular order:

  • Only reading female authors
  • Why “self-improvement” is toxic
  • The phoenix cycle is everything, I don’t care if you think it’s a cliché
  • Runcible witchery
  • The VCFA WCYA experience!
  • Words that feel good in your mouth
  • Recipes, because I’m a Taurus and apparently we’re all hedonists
  • What’s scarier, ghosts or psychosis?
  • I’m concerned about my family members reading this blog.

And more, probably. Who knows when inspiration will strike!

Anyway, that’s all for now. Enjoy this dramatic picture of my son:

Rusty, AKA Boof, AKA Lord Boofington, AKA The Beast of Boofington Hill

Rusty, AKA Boof, AKA Lord Boofington, AKA The Beast of Boofington Hill