Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight

Dec 21, 2010
It's never really properly dark when it snows, not in a city. You get the street lights and the house lights and all the other little light sources and they all reflect off of a billion billion snowflakes lying in treacherous heaps out there in the driveway, and the whole world seems to glow, even in the middle of the longest night of the year, even as the earth casts a shadow over the moon and the only light from the sky is ancient star-light years out of date. There's something I like about that paradox. It seems reassuring.

I like to sit vigil on the Longest Night, to keep a light burning and make sure the sun comes up like it's supposed to. It's important that the sun comes up, someone should be paying attention to it. Some years it's easy to do, and some years it's hard, but it's one of those things I have to do. It seems necessary somehow.

It's not an easy year, this year. Not quite four in the morning and my bed is looking reeealy comfy right now. I haven't gotten the work done on my Christmas-related projects that I'd hoped to. But you know, I really only have one thing to do tonight, and that is to keep an eye out for morning.

I like to think of this time as the opposite of faith, which isn't skepticism or denial, but stubbornness. Faith would be going to bed and trusting that the sun would come up in the morning; skepticism would be double-checking to make sure this thing is really going to happen. That's not really what I'm doing here. I'm more...willing the sun to come up. Or else. I mean, I'd get by if it didn't, if instead of the sun rising a mere ball of burning gas appeared over the horizon, but that is not the kind of winter I want to have. So I'll sit here, and yawn, and light one candle off the end of another, and wait for the sun to come up. It had damn well better.

The Virtue Project: An Introduction

Dec 12, 2010
It's getting to be that time again, time to think about the next year and what it might bring. While theologically I've always thought of the year ending at Samhain and beginning again at Yule, with the Dark Time in between as a period for reflection and meditation, there is something compelling about that new calendar, isn't there?

For 2010, I had three goals: get a professional librarian job, get a new apartment, and get a cat. Unfortunately those were sequential goals -- I couldn't move until I knew where my job would be, and until I had a steady source of income and a relatively permanent residence, I could not take on responsibility for another life. Well, I didn't get a job in 2010. Most of this is due to the economy, leaving me competing with 200+ people for every job opening, many of whom are laid-off librarians with more experience than I have. Still, it's a little discouraging.

I'm not abandoning those goals. They're good, valuable goals, and they're things I want deeply. But for 2011, I'm doing something a little different.

Earlier this year, I read the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It's an account of how she set out to spend one year pursuing definite, quantifiable goals to help herself be happier. I'd been reading her excellent blog for a while, and playing with the Happiness Project Toolbox, and I found the book an excellent addition to those resources. It inspired me to start making notes toward my own Happiness Project.

Last month I ran across those notes in my everyday notebook, the little blank book I carry with me everywhere to store ideas and plans in. And I thought, why not? Why not do this? As I reflected on the idea, though, it occurred to me that what I was planning wasn't really a happiness project, because happiness wasn't specifically my goal. What I wanted was to inhabit my life more fully, to become more certain in myself and my goals, and to deepen my understanding of myself and the world around me. What I wanted was to become more virtuous.

I have to thank Brendan Myers for giving me that word back. I grew up in a fairly Puritanized culture where "virtue" was a code-word for sexual abstinence and pious humility, holier-than-thou confessions and an overwhelming lack of fun. But I read The Other Side of Virtue last year, and it too gave me all kinds of ideas for where to go with my life and my plans. I wasn't equipped to do anything with those ideas at the time, but I think I'm ready for it now.

So my goal for 2011 is my Virtue Project, modeled very closely on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project, where she picked a particular aspect of her life to work on each month and chose direct and quantifiable goals to help make her happier with that aspect. I decided to add a patron deity to each month as well, as one of my ongoing goals has been to become more familiar, both intellectually and personally, with the Irish deities and mythology I feel such a strong connection with.

My tentative outline for the year looks like this --
January - Optimism - the Dagda
February - Energy - Brid
March - Health - Dian Cecht
April - Money - the Morrigan
May - Work - Lug
June - Indulgence - Finn
July - Creativity - Ogma
August - Freinds - Ferdia
September - Family - Anu
October - Love - Bres
November - Mindfulness - ?
December - Perspective - Nuada

My next project, to start after Yule when the sun returns and offers a little boost to this ambitious project, is to start writing out the individual goals for each month. The tricky part will be making them concrete enough to follow through on, yet realistic enough that I can get them done while working, volunteering, and applying for jobs like a crazy person (and hopefully interviewing, moving, and starting a new job!). And I'll be blogging about it all, of course.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about rereading The Other Side of Virtue, and if anyone has any recommendations for other Pagan books on virtue, ethics, or the good life, I'd love to read those, too. (I could have sworn I saw mention of a couple when Myers' book came out, but I can't find them now.) And if anyone has some suggestions for an Irish patron for that tricky mindfulness month, I'd appreciate it.

Little Epiphanies

Dec 1, 2010
One of the things I enjoy about reading so much is being able to get little moments of epiphany from just about anywhere. I was reading the first Cadfael book a couple of weeks ago, for instance, when an offhanded remark managed to highlight for me the important distinction between a worldview based on hierarchy and a worldview based on community.

The Cadfael books are a series of murder mysteries by Ellis Peters, which are really just as much about medieval monastic culture in England-almost-Wales as they are anything else. Cadfael, played brilliantly by Derek Jacobi in the TV adaptation, is a former Crusader who joined a monastery when he decided he was too old to go about soldiering any more, and now he's the go-to guy for mysteries, interpersonal politics, and forensic investigation.

Cadfael was born Welsh, and in the first book, Prior Robert (a Norman by birth) has decided that what their monastery needs is a saint to look over them, and he's decided upon a little Welsh saint from just over the border, so Cadfael goes with him to keep an eye on things, and to translate. This is just as well, since Prior Robert runs into some resistance from the locals, including Rhisiart, the most prominent landowner in the area.

And there's this little aside in one passage -- I don't have the book to hand, so I can't quote it directly -- about how Rhisiart and Robert are just never going to understand each other, since they're driven by such separate things. Robert comes from a world of hierarchy, where what he wants is to be more important than someone else, which he's trying to do by acquiring a saint to bring honor to their monastery; Rhisiart comes from a world of community, where what he wants is to play his particular role to the best of his abilities, because it doesn't matter if a landowner is more important than the man who drives the cattle or the woman who makes the honey or the priest who tends the church, because the community can't work without all of them doing their jobs.

And I realized, that is what I want out of my life. I want to be the person doing my job to the best of my ability, because it doesn't matter if someone else is more important, the whole system falls down if I can't do my job. Now, the world is a bigger place than it used to be, so one person not doing their job isn't as big of a disaster, but it all contributes. Every little bit helps. And I don't have to be hierarchy-important, I just have to be community-important.

Which is just as well, because librarians don't get paid much, and out-of-work librarians get paid even less. I'm still waiting for a job -- well, working for and waiting for, I'm writing job applications like crazy again. I'm not completely unemployed, I did manage to find a job that actually manages to be somewhat relevant in addition to paying my rent, but it's not quite the same. And it's hard, in this world where "what you do" means "what your job is," to keep doing your work when it's so hard to find someone who will acknowledge you for it. But every little bit helps, and every little epiphany puts me a few steps closer to being able to stand up on my own, to hold up my end of the community even now, in the darkest times.