That's how sick we all are of this bullshit nonsense. You're sick of it, too, I know. You're sick of the internet outrage machine. You're sick of controversy and condemnation. You reshare links to things you hate just to tell people you hate them, and somewhere inside, you hate yourself for doing it, because you know it's useless. You're sick of the noise and the fury, signifying nothing. You're sick of a society that asks you to hold onto everything so tightly, with so much certainty and righteous indignation, that your fingers are curled into fists and you can't remember the last time you gently traced the scars on another person's skin as if they were something beautiful.
I'm usually somewhat solemn around this time of year, sitting quietly at my desk listening to the quiet rain and even quieter fog outside my window, enjoying the damp quiet day in my own little way as my not-at-all-damp-thank-you cat quietly looks on.... But not this year. This year, something's gotten into me. A bit of trickster spirit, maybe. A bit of fire. Since March, which is when Sir Terry Pratchett died, a part of me has become really, really angry. Another part of me can't stop praying.
Druidic author Emma Restall Orr sets herself no easy task when she endeavors to articulate a philosophy of modern animism that can hold its own among the heavyweights of Western philosophy. In her latest work, The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature, she presents a compelling and intellectually rigorous case for nature's inherent value apart from our human judgements about its use or beauty. Although the book is a challenging read, the thoughtful reader will find much to ponder in her systematic treatment of a modern animistic perspective on concepts of self, soul, community, individuality and consciousness.
There is magic in good storytelling. In a world that can seem so woefully devoid of magic, we have a tendency to romanticize the writer, who is in touch with that magic in a deep, visceral way. But humans have been telling stories for as long as we've been human. Those who are lucky enough to call themselves professional writers have a particular set of skills and an admirable work ethic, but they don't hold the monopoly on good storytelling. The astrophysicist and the bank manager and the firefighter and the dairy farmer have stories of their own to tell. Storytelling at its root is a communal activity, something that can be shared by everyone. NaNoWriMo inspires us because it reminds us that storytelling is not about self-torture or perfectionism or asceticism, let alone popularity or profit. We can reclaim storytelling as basic human nature. We can recapture the creativity and imagination that is our birthright. We can push back against a society that would drain the world of its magic.
There are as many ways to keep a nature journal as there are people who keep them. Some fill their journals with sketches, watercolors and diagrams of the plants and animals they find in the natural world, while others take notes, jotting down lines of descriptive prose or inspired verse to evoke a sense of wonder, curiosity and care about the diversity and beauty around them. Anyone can keep a nature journal: whether you're traveling in exotic locations or observing the gentle, gradual changes of the seasons in your own backyard. The act of journaling can open us more fully to the world around us, and invite the natural world into those interior spaces within our own souls. A journal can be more than just a record of where we've been; it can be the beginning of a whole new journey. There are two powerful techniques that I especially like to use when journaling out in nature, in order to move me from a place of mundane consciousness into a state of contemplation, attention and receptivity. They are: naming, and questioning.
Embarrassment has been a hot topic in the Pagan blogosphere this week, and it has me thinking about my own relationship with the Pagan community. But it also has me pondering my relationship with embarrassment itself. I learned early on that when others perceived my embarrassment, they almost always assumed that it was because I was ashamed of myself, and I was encouraged — in all the subtle ways that culture shapes the individual psyche — to turn a critical eye on my embarrassment and question how it might reflect my various flaws. Maybe this is because, in our culture, male embarrassment is more often perceived as a value judgment about others, while female embarrassment is interpreted as a response to personal failing.
We're nearly a week into National Novel Writing Month, and I'm taking a break from writing The Fantastical Adventures of the Working Title to share a little bit about my process. Until a few weeks ago, when it came to fiction writing, I didn't have one. Enter: the Steampunk Tarot. Now my whole process takes about an hour, and I repeat it whenever my writing begins to slow down to a snail's pace and I find myself taking twenty minutes to describe the minute details of the brocade pillows on the chaise lounge where the heroine has been reclining awkwardly waiting for her narrator to realize nobody gives a shit about brocade pillows. Here's how it works.
About two minutes in to exploring Steampunk as a counterculture movement, it dawned on me — this isn't historical re-enactment. It isn't about the past. It's about now, and the kind of society we want to live in, and the ways in which we want the world to work. It's playful, with room for both the burlesque and the gentile. Anyone who wants a title, can have a title. Anyone more drawn to the 'punk' aspect can play it that way. It turns out that there's room for anyone who wants in, and you don’t even need a pair of goggles. The surface of Steampunk offers a burgeoning fiction genre, an aesthetic that seems to be catching on all over the place, a music scene — sepiacore and chap hop, and no doubt more to come. There's a growing arts and crafts movement within the community, and there are going to be inventors, I have no doubt. There probably are already. Steampunk is about innovation in every area of human endeavour, and it's about doing good stuff, with a social conscience and a sense of humour.
The flattery bears down on us, leveled like a weapon in the shaking hands of frightened and starving corporate titans groveling like great beasts before us, desperate and drooling, to convince us that their teeth are brittle and useless and anyway not smiling makes them cool, and meanwhile, we scrape along the earth as things keep getting worse...
The outpouring of warm sentiments and fond memories on the internet today about the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a reminder that what we accomplish in this life is deeply colored by who we are. We are flawed, imperfect human beings. As T Thorn Coyle says, "You try to do good work in the world, and die when you die." This iMac computer that I write on is just a gadget, hardly better or worse than any other in the grand scheme of things. Many ethical and environmental compromises went into its making and marketing. Yet it has also opened up opportunities for conversation and community that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.