There’s something here.
I’d woken early, on purpose, though early for me is still much later for most. Rode my bike to a coffeeshop, groggy; rode my bike back one handed, sipping the hot liquid, still groggy.
There’s something here. Look around.
Groggy. Have stuff to do. Bike loaded on the bus. So much to do before work.
I’ve been working too much for weeks–excess judged not on having too much money (or even enough), but from having too little time to do what I need to do. Work, I guess, is a need, or the money derived from it is a need, but there’s the other stuff, the writing, the forest, the candles, the dreaming, the last bits of my late garden, the friends, the sewing, the crafting, but most of all the gods and spirits.
No. This wasn’t a mistake. Give attention.
I do Social Work. You don’t really ‘work’ as a social worker, you do Social Work. It spills over into the rest of your life; to do it, you have to train yourself to understand any sort of uncomfortable person, the very violent wielding-a-knife-at-you sort probably just needs to talk something out, the hasn’t-taken-a-shower-in-months sort may have a putrefying skin condition that she’s ashamed to look at and so won’t take off her clothes, the screaming-incoherently-in-a-sing-song-voice may actually be telling you that they were just raped if you can solve their riddle.
It spills over, builds on what empathy you had for others and constructs great “walls of caring” or “towers of sympathy” around what’s good about you, great fortresses from which you can then launch assaults against human misery and suffering without being destroyed yourself.
It spills over too much sometimes, drenching the rest of your life in too-much awareness. Your life changes. Friends who want to tell you about a television show they watched become meaningless. Companions who step over homeless people on the street become empty shells of humanity. You can no longer unsee the suffering in others.
This is very strange. Go the way you intended
You get tools, though. Discipline. You shake off the violence from a difficult shift, you sit a little while with the sorrow of a client death, you burn a little extra incense after smelling too many bacterial infections.
You avoid places where your clients will be when you’re not at work. You set boundaries when you pass by them–I’m not on the clock, I can’t help you right now. You don’t want to do this–you don’t want to see them about to get arrested for public urination or inebriation, but you must.
You start to get grumpy when you realize no-one else around them is helping them. And then your friends call you, asking for help, too. You have several client deaths in a week and you can’t look at another human being and yet a friend’s brother said he wants to die, or someone’s getting kicked out of their apartment and they want to know what their rights are. You can’t not help them, even though you’re exhausted. Much of your week was spent doing the same thing, using up all that kindness for others, but maybe there’s still a little left for those you love.
He can’t see.
Groggy, confused. Wrong bus stop. How’d that happen? Composing a message to a friend, distracted. I’ve been so focused lately, though tired. I’m hungry, I have to go to work, I have to scan a confirmation so I can go to New Grange, I really need more incense, I need to make more candles, I could really use a beer, I wish I could call off sick.
How’d it get this way? I’m always writing when I’m not working. I’m often writing while working, in those spaces in-between when no-one requires my attention. And then home, more writing, a video conversation with my lover who’s too far away right now. Prayers at the altar. New gods are arriving, new spirits introduced. Great gifts, great kindnesses, new Mysteries.
I’m running out of room on my altar. I need beer for some. The mead I made is running low. The candle I made is near burnt-out. This enchanted water here, that vow there. Things required of me because I offered, and I like to keep promises.
So tired, but this fatigue’s been strange. A month of my lover, and now he’s gone for awhile, and I almost didn’t notice I’ve been mourning his absence. Also, I haven’t eaten much.
He’s gonna walk into traffic.
It’s the same oath to all of them, a simple one. One that I know I can fulfill, though it’s open enough that it can mean more than what either of us intended. It’s alright. They give gifts to help.
I was warned. Fuck, was I warned. Over and over again a friend who knew these things told me to beware. They’ll take everything you have, he’d tell me. You’ll be theirs. Your life won’t be the same.
The warnings only made me more eager.
He walked into a wall, and now he’s gonna try to cross a street?
I know what I was isn’t what I am now, though I can barely trace the changes.
I used to be a lot more scared. I used to worry that sometimes I wasn’t attractive. I used to dig my bare fingers into garden soil and keep them there sometimes because it was all too much.
That was all before, but the garden soil is a really good idea.
When’s the last time I played a video game? Watched a movie and didn’t see its relationship to something else? When did I last sleep-in on purpose?
How long has it been since I saw a tree and thought it was “only a tree?” What was it like when I didn’t notice every crow calling on the street or outside my house? What am I going to do with all the rocks and feathers I’ve gathered?
I forgot what it’s like not to notice where the wind’s coming from, or to have an inconsequential fuck. What was it like to feel despair in a place and not want to figure out who had caused it, or to feel great joy in another place and not want to leave some gift?
What was it like to fear the dead, to fear death? What was it like not to even think on the dead at all?
He’ll never find it. Help him.
When you first meet the gods, it’s pretty intense. I’d throw poetry at you to describe this, but that’s mostly what I’ve been doing this entire time. And my words are part of my oath to them, that I’d use my words for them.
You get used to the trauma. Brighid and Brân were pretty calm, though Brân’s been the only one who actually got physical with me. Arianrhod and Ceridwen were pretty dark, and also fiercely bright. Dionysos (I’ve said this before) has been a wild fucking ride, and that’s not just me being profane.
The Morrighan? I do not talk about this, except to say that I don’t think we’ll be working with each other much, except when there’s some overlapping need of another with mine.
Maponus lingered, was there and gone. Apollo shouted “don’t fuck this up” at me, I guess. Hestia seemed bothered by the trouble. Hecate’s like this big wheel of mysterious gifts that make no sense at all which I need every time and wouldn’t have thought to ask and never really know what to do with. And then there’s others, lingering, others waiting for me to have the time.
The land spirits have been awesome, except when they’re angry, and they speak even less like humans than the gods, and so it’s all confusion followed by picking up litter.
The dead, though. That almost broke me.
He’s blind, and this is new. He doesn’t know how to do this. He can’t see the path, or the cars, or the–
The man asked me how to find the hospital and I told him. He wasn’t far, a brief walk up a hill or an even briefer bus. Take the 60, I told him. It goes right there.
I watched him walk towards the stop, his balance off. Drunk, perhaps, though I hadn’t smelled it on his breath. Attractive. Looks a bit like my lover, though dressed like a professor.
I don’t know why I’m at this bus-stop. It was the wrong stop, a mistake I never make. And I’m rooted in place, confused, trying to fight off this sense that I’m missing something.
It’s the sense you get when five people say the same thing in the space of a few hours, a reference to bees, or some domestic task, or something about loud birds, or their dreams. There’s some pattern there, but you don’t know it, can’t find it, can’t be certain you’re not a little mad.
I can’t move from where I am, I’m so confused. It’s this voice. This is important. Give attention.
There he is again. He won’t make it. Why’d you get off the wrong stop? Why are you here?
I told him how to get to the bus, and I watched him take a different one, one that I needed. It was a bit far, I wouldn’t catch it, but maybe I could.
I caught it, because he was still fumbling with change to pay the driver when I got there. He’d inadvertently held it for me, saving me time.
I loaded my bike, sat down, took out my phone. A bad habit, one I loathe, one I try to avoid. I try to be open to the world around me, to hear the outside rather than listening to the inside.
I look up, and he’s gotten off the bus, and he walks into a wall.
You trust us yet?
Several people have written about what the gods and spirits can do to you. Morpheus mentions leg-breaking, and she’s right. Beckett mentions that demand of theirs, “keep working” and yeah, that’s sage. Asa West reminds us that “you’re doing okay,” and likely that’s true.
I think spirit-work and god-work might be best when it’s like Social Work, and sometimes I can’t tell the difference. A god needs something done, and so you help. A person wants to meet a god, and so you do what you can to help this. A forest is in pain, or a spirit is troubled, and so you try to make this better. Just like “normal” life, if you’ve got your eyes open, if you’re not cowering in fear of the ‘other’ or locked up in your car or wealth.
It bleeds out into everything else. You meet people who treat the gods like they don’t matter and you feel a kind of internal despair, just as when you watch someone step over a homeless kid. You hear someone say they don’t really exist, and it’s in the same voice as those who say the poor should just get jobs.
You try to let it go, but you cannot always. This is what you do, now, but there’s something else we forget to mention. It becomes, in retrospect, what you always wanted to do.
Working for and with the dead, and the land spirits, and the gods becomes a fulfillment of all that you’d been trying to do anyway. You’re not transmuted, you’re made more yourself. Unlike the Christian’s God, they don’t cleanse you of all that was bad or fun or broken. You’re not “fixed,” because there’s nothing to fix.
Just some stuff that could use a polish or a tweaking, a few things you really ought to have gotten over by now, and a profound sense that you can never go back.
But I never want to.
Good. Thanks. He needed that. So did you.
He’d just gone blind from some viral infection. It was sudden, and he was trying to get to the hospital. He couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him, and he didn’t know Seattle, because he was from somewhere else.
I’d given him directions that he couldn’t follow because he couldn’t see.
Took me a little while to notice he was lost. Took me a little while to notice he would not find his way.
He may have made it, but that’s not even a question I can ask. He found his way because I guided him
For him, directions were not enough. A companion, a voice–someone who knew the way, someone who could figure out what might be needed. It only took noticing–
–like it takes noticing to find a forest no one sees, to weave threads between events and events, to stitch tattered theories and misplaced theologies into a tapestry of meaning.
This is the work of a mage, the song of a bard, the lust of a priest, the love of a radical.
———(thanks to Rich Simpson for the use of his gorgeous photo. http://strihc.wordpress.com/)