It's so bright out here in the darkness

Dec 22, 2011
So I see that I managed to keep up my one-year project for a good...five months. Not too shabby. My excuse is this: My theme for the month of June was "Hearth and Home," and I was going to work on getting my apartment closer to the kind of environment I really want to live in. And then I had a job interview in the beginning of June, and it went really well, and I thought, How great would it be if I could move in my Hearth and Home month, and set up a whole new apartment? Well, I didn't get the job - they called me on my birthday to tell me they'd offered it to someone else - and I was a little crushed.

I did the same thing last year. I had an interview I thought went well for a job I was sure I was qualified for, and I would have ended up starting right around Samhain. Perfect, I thought; a new start for a new year. Talk about things coming to fruition. I didn't get that job either.

Well, I managed it this year. After a year and ten months of job searching, I've finally gotten a position as an Adult Services Librarian - exactly what I want to be doing! - starting on All Soul's Day. Talk about things coming to fruition.

If I've been absent from here, it's because of a combination of fairly crippling depression and my work on my professional blog (which, you will understand, I am not really inclined to link up to this blog at all). Now, of course, I'm moving and settling into a new job. I doubt there's anyone out there still paying attention. I thought for a while about closing down this blog, but I just couldn't make myself do it. This is my safe space. This is where I can talk about depression, and magic, and the gods, and anything else I need to talk about sometimes, without having to worry about coming out to anyone. I'll still be here, sometimes. I hope to be here more often. But my life is so full right now - We'll see. We'll see.

I'm in a much larger city than I was before - greater Chicagoland versus Madison, Wisconsin - and as I sit my traditional Longest Night vigil, I really don't know if I'll be able to see the sun come up. The light from the city reflects off the haze and the low-hanging clouds. It could be discouraging if I wanted it to be (it's true I can't see very many stars) but I actually find it a little reassuring this year. Even if I did not sit vigil, there would be light enough to entice the sun back, if only so it can prove its superiority.

Less than two hours left to go. We'll see.

Blessed Solstice, everyone, and welcome the light back.

The Virtue Project: May - Work

May 17, 2011
There is a passage in Little Essays Toward Truth where Alestair Crowley talks about how the point is not just to learn the qabbalah, it is to learn the qabbalah so completely that it becomes part of everything, so that everywhere you look you see the connection between one thing and another. I think I am reaching that point with this project. Good. (I suppose.)

I had decided that May would be the month of Work. I took this on two levels; first, May marks my year and a day from graduation. I've been looking for a library-related job for a year and more, and while one is still not forthcoming, I refuse to give up. Second, work has always meant to me much more than the thing you get paid for; it is also The Work, that thing that is most important to you, your purpose in this world. I am not so confident as to imagine that I know what that is, but it clearly cannot be ignored. I am trying to figure out what I can do for it.

And then, because I was discouraged at having received three job rejections in quick succession, and because they asked, I volunteered to take on some more hours at my current job to help cover the summer rush. I figured I could use the extra money, and it couldn't hurt anything. I was wrong. I was immediately shifted from 20 hours a week starting at ten in the morning to 40 hours a week starting at 6:30 or 7. (Add in a half an hour drive to get to work, and you begin to see my problem.) Oh, and swing shifts for the day I couldn't get in in the morning because I was volunteering: working until 10 PM and then back at seven the next morning.

I panicked. This was NOT OKAY. And after a week of utter anguish, I told the scheduler that I couldn't do it. I think that was one of the hardest things I'd ever done, telling someone I couldn't follow through on a promise I'd made. But I was rapidly reaching the point where calling in for mental health days would not be optional -- and that was after only a week. I used the D-word, told her that my depression was getting worse and I just couldn't cope, and she's pared my schedule back down to 9 AM start times and no more than 30 hours a week. That I can manage.

So due to no particular plans of my own, I have learned something about myself this month. I cannot work for forty hours a week in a call center. I lose all respect for myself and for the rest of humanity. And I cannot get up at five in the morning, no matter how early I go to bed the night before, and stay sane. In fact, I am happiest when I have a couple of hours in the morning to myself before going to work, so long a those hours aren't before sunrise. I may not always be able to convince my employers to give me that ideal schedule, but at least now I know what it is and can try.

And The Work? Right now, it is keeping myself sane and not giving up on all my other responsibilities while my schedule straightens itself out. My goals from the previous four months are slipping a little, and I never have managed to write every day. But I am still looking for that other job, and I have some ideas about working for myself, ideas that make my heart beat a little faster every time I turn them over in my mind. I am taking the long view, for now, largely because I can't do anything else. But I have managed to carve out enough space in my life to allow for regular glimpses of that long view, and that means a great deal.

The Virtue Project: April - Art

Apr 27, 2011
I have hit my first real slump. It's April, the proper beginning of spring in the upper Midwest, and National Poetry Month besides, so I decided that April's goal would be to work on my art. Every day, just a little bit of art. I have a lot of things I do - tapestry, embroidery, sewing - but it's my writing I've been wanting to work on the most.

I stumbled over an answer when somebody asked me the other day if I was a writer. I finally spat out a yes, and explained that I've been trying to convince myself that I could call myself a writer even when I haven't finished anything in years. He agreed that that was difficult, but said that he thought it still counted.

I stopped writing for a couple of years. Writing fiction, that is; I've been writing blog posts and analysis and journals for ever. But it's fiction that I think of as "real" writing, and I hadn't been doing any. When I first went to therapy and the therapist asked when I would feel that I wasn't depressed any more, I said, "When I start writing again." And I haven't been writing regularly since then, although I have been doing more in the past few months than I have for years.

Planning to write, though, is not writing. Sketching outlines is not writing. Research is not writing. Setting up a writing-only computer and workspace is not writing. Only writing is writing, and I haven't managed to write so much as a hundred words a day three days in a row.

I have managed more than half the days in the month, though. Well, almost. I have made progress on three big projects, which is more than has been happening. And just because it's difficult doesn't mean that's a good reason to give up on the goal.

My inspiration lately has been an interview with, of all people, Tim Gunn. A little snippet of it appeared in a Smithsonian magazine last year, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I won't let my students give up on something they don't like, he said. I tell them, make it work. You learn more from trying to fix the parts of it that don't work than you would from only ever finishing things that seem to be going well.

So that has been my watchword for the month. "Make it work." I'm forcing my way through last November's NaNoWriMo novel, even though it seems to be stumbling along helplessly through the second act, and I am still trying to write every day.

The Virtue Project: March - Money

Mar 27, 2011
I've edited my plans a little bit and designated March the month of money. I've already received my federal tax return, after all, and I still have to file my state taxes. More than that, since I'm working only part-time now but looking for more work, I've been worrying quite a bit about just what I can afford. It seemed like a good time to pay a little attention to that worry.

Money is a terribly fraught topic in our society. There's a little bit of that Victorian attitude still clinging to the subject, the sense that it is something that We Do Not Talk About, while at the same time money is the primary goal of huge parts of our society. That's what capitalism is, after all. And then there's that peculiar American belief that there's no such thing as class.

That's been bothering me a bit, lately. Socially I'm most definitely upper-middle-class, while financially at the moment, well, I could apply for all kinds of government assistance if I wanted to, and I might get it. I'm lucky enough - extraordinarily lucky, I know - to have a family that is helping to support me and can afford it without too much difficulty. As it is, I didn't owe anything in taxes for last year; I didn't make enough.

But between the help from my family and my generally frugal tendencies, I'm ending up with a little bit of a surplus every month. Not much, mind, but enough that I can spend a little money just for fun and not worry about checks clearing before I pay my rent. I still worry. I keep enough of a cushion in my account that I don't have to fret about the balance, but I worry about having to dip into my savings account. I worry about my long-term prospects. I worry about doctor's bills and the fact that I need new eyeglasses and the fact that I haven't been to a dentist in years.

I could probably afford to go. I can afford to pay the urgent care bill from the morning I woke up terrified I had appendicitis. It won't be fun, but I can do it. So I'm trying to teach myself to stop worrying. What else, indeed, is money for?

It's tempting to look at pagan societies' attitudes toward money, but that can only be misleading, because pagan societies were not really capitalistic. Which is not to say they couldn't have been, simply that they weren't, and trying to make a comparison can be treacherous. In modern paganism, money is often looked down upon; one is not supposed to pay for teaching, or supplies, or one is supposed to pay directly without any haggling. I can never keep the rules straight.

The rules do seem, as far as I can tell, to be aimed at reducing the influence money has over the magickal experience. Like any other rules, they can only work that way if the practitioner applies them with that intent, otherwise they're just details that are getting in the way.

My goal for the month has been getting the details out of the way. I don't know that I've succeeded - a month is a short time in which to do a lot of work, after all. I've spent most of the month fiddling around with this post, trying to make it say what I want it to say. This time, I generated the goals after the fact, because I needed a month to get them all lined up. I need to make more money than I do now, certainly. But I also need to remember what it's for: so that I can live contentedly the kind of life I want, now as well as in the future.

One of the points of this project is that the goals should be concrete, so here goes: By the end of the year, I will have another source of income. I will manage my budget so that I put money away in savings every month, so I stop worrying about the future. And I will manage my budget so I spend a certain amount -- a small amount right now, but more when I get that second income -- and no less on things I want rather than things I need. If that means going out for dinner on the last day of every month just to spend out my "wants" budget,'s a hard life, but somebody has to live it.

February: Energy

Feb 15, 2011
But first, the January wrapup

If I accomplished nothing else in January, I figured out what I was doing with this whole year-long project. I want to improve my status quo, to make the baseline of my life a little bit better than it is right now, and I wanted to do it in a way that integrated all of these parts of my life so that these new habits would stick. This has given me some excellent insights into planning out the rest of my goals, and I'm excited to see how it keeps going.

So how did I do with my January goals of daily recordkeeping? Pretty well, actually. Not perfect -- I didn't manage every single day -- but perfect isn't necessary. Trying is. I admit, the past few days have been an exercise in giving myself permission to fail, between two fourteen-hour days in a row, an appendicitis scare (fortunately it was nothing more serious than a strained muscle), and the resulting complete breakdown of my schedule at home. But I will start over again, and that will be enough. (Is it terribly cliché of me to admit to an Alanis Morissette song as my mantra?)

February: Energy

Although it starts with the festival of Brigid, February is, in the Upper Midwest, the absolute depths of winter, and for me usually the hardest month of the year. It's brighter, but not bright enough; still freezing cold and snowing; and spring seems forever away.

Usually, anyway. This year we had our January thaw just this past week, and they're predicting temperatures in the fifties tomorrow and Thursday. But I planned for the usual February, so that is the work I am doing anyway.

If the first component in achieving anything is optimism -- the belief that it can be achieved -- the second step is energy, the power to make it so. I thought about including the Magick 101 kind of energy work in my goals for this month, but that just wasn't what came to mind when I contemplated what I needed in order to make my life work. I have tried, in the past, to set goals like "honor the full moon every month" or "work through the exercises in The Inner Temple of Witchcraft" but they all fall apart when I get home from work and don't have the energy to do anything but cook dinner and collapse on the couch.

We are creatures made of meat, not just spiritual beings, and the body needs just as much attention as the soul. So my goals for this month are all very physical ones, the mundane list of things they always tell you to do to be healthier and have more energy: at least eight hours of sleep every night and get up at the same time every morning, a good breakfast and a snack midday to keep me running, and exercise at least three times a week. (Daily would be better, but let's be realistic here.) Since I also tend to get hit pretty badly with seasonal depression, I've added sitting under my daylight lamp for at least half an hour a day to my regimen. It does indeed seem to help.

And since it's already halfway through February by the time I've gotten around to posting this, how have I been doing? Not as well as January, I admit, but not too shabbily either. It does seem to help to have a list of things I need to do and a place to check them off. I've been using a little web widget called Joe's Goals to track my daily goals, and there's something very satisfying about a row of little green checks all across the screen. I shall keep my mantra in mind, and work on improvement rather than perfection. Perfection is boring, anyway, right?

The Annual Brigid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading

Feb 1, 2011
(Are we doing this again this year? Why not.)

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.
Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go: but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains - but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,-
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

It's not very springlike today here in the upper midwest as we buckle down for what the weather service is calling a "historic snowstorm," but that doesn't mean it's not coming. Happy Imbolc, everyone.

The Virtue Project: January - Optimism

Jan 6, 2011
I chose to start out my Project with optimism because it seemed to me to be the one thing absolutely necessary to making this happen. Optimism means the belief that things can change for the better, the sense that there are good things out there even if you can't see them yet. I suppose the more traditional word to use is hope, but I think there's a distinction there that I want to draw. Hope, to me, does not necessarily imply that you will ever get any closer to those good things, while optimism seems to contain more motion, more actual change. I need actual change, not just the promise of change to come.

I picked the Dagda for this month because he is, quite literally, the Good God - the caretaking father, the provider. And in most of the stories about him, he has a damn good sense of humor about things, which is a necessary component to optimism. I've been looking forward to reading up on more stories about him, and catching up with the great and glorious backlog of the Celtic Myth Podcast.

One of the things I'm focusing on with this project is having concrete, achievable goals to help me actually apply the principles I've chosen to focus on. (This is where the Happiness Project model is really useful, because there are so many good examples to draw from.) So I have three main goals for this month: to keep a daily journal, to stop reading things I've come to refer to as "Schadenfreude porn," and to visualize success.

First off, the daily journal. I started doing this when I was really depressed a couple of years ago, in an attempt to track my mood, and discovered that it was a great motivation. Basically, at the end of the day, I would write down everything I had accomplished. My goal was to have done at least three things. What "doing something" meant might change from day to day - on a good day, I might write a story or a blog post, finish a piece of embroidery, and clean the living room. On a bad day, getting out of bed, making lunch, and resting might count. But I always had at least three things I had done that day that were of value. I'm adding a component to it this time: a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It is a terrible thing to wake up in the morning and realize that the only reason to get out of bed is to go to work, so that you can afford to pay the rent so that you have someplace to keep your bed. Not worth it. So I've been adding a list of things happening tomorrow to the daily journal. I find this really helpful, because these aren't necessarily goals, just things I'm looking forward to doing (or sometimes, things I'm looking forward to getting over with).

Schadenfreude porn. I read a lot of complaint logs -- The Librarians Who Say MoFo, Customers Suck, Not Always Right, The Art of Trolling, to list just my daily rounds. But you know, reading a lot about how people suck and are kind of stupid is not the most encouraging daily entertainment. Time to switch the blogroll bck over to Cute Overload and away from this kind of negativity, which is realy the last thing I need right now. It's also generally a pretty nasty form of gossip -- I tell myself never to say something behind someone's back that I wouldn't say to their face, but it's pretty easy to tell yourself that when you know you would never meet these people face to face.

Visualizing success. I waffled for a while about including this as a goal, because it seems so froofy The Secret kind of thing. But then I realized, there's nothing wrong with visualization per se; the problem with The Secret is that it stops there. Visualization is not enough, but it is necessary; it is impossible to achieve success if you don't know what the victory conditions are. When I first graduated in May, I had all these ideas about where my life was going to go next. And as I continued to not get a job, I slowly stopped making those plans. I want to go back to planning agan, to having real goals for myself and my life. I've been working on the actual stereotypical five-year-plan, as well as a more self assessment-based set of goals for the year and a much stranger, larger, and more exciting list of things I would like to be able to say about my life at the end of it.

My original thought for choosing optimism for January was that it was not only a necessary precondition, but a nice internal sort of thing to be focusing on here in the depths of winter. I expected it to be much harder than it's turned out to be, actually. I'm finding it a little bit like writing turned out to be during NaNoWriMo -- scary to start with, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, until you're drowning in ideas and have to start organizing in self-defense. It's an encouraging way to start out the year, I must say.