And the Tides They Turn Us Under

A faux selkie skin at graduation, I could not find my real one in time. How many children tell their tales, I’m a prince in exile, a princess kidnapped at birth by these monsters? They are not my parents. They are not my kin. And like them, I told my tales.

But my parents didn’t come to my graduation two years ago. They were afraid of seeing naked graduates… or so I let the story lie. Except I did not have my skin, so there was no risk, and so I had to cut one from synthetic fur, drape it over my arm, the one that held the diploma. Sometimes the one that held the unicorn. It shifted. I was gentle with it, as gentle as I would have been had it been real. It’s good practice.

I am a liar, yes. It’s why you love me. But I am also a selkie, and my secret origin is this: my mother told me a was a sickly babe, could not hold food. She said I got better, but I know the truth. The real child died, unable to stomach this world, and those who call themselves my parents wept for days, and did not report it. They knew myths. They had ideas. Such ideas are risky things, but sometimes they pay off.

They wandered Cape Cod. I know it was Cape Cod, because Cape Cod tugs harder than any other place by the sea. The further north I get, the more the sea sings, and I go a little mad, so I know it’s the right place. It stops up the coast and when you get to Maine, the song is from the south then, drawing me back, a bird circling on a tether.

That day they found her, a selkie, with a new pup, sunning themselves on the beach. Did they watch long? Did they envy? I only know the outcome: they scared off the mother, scooped up the child still in human form, and took the little seal skin. They must have loaded it into their truck– they were driving a grey Ford from the 70’s at that time– and drove the selkie child and her skin away from her home, away from the beach, away from her mother and all familiar things.

And so I grew up, fae and wild, never quite understanding all my longings, my desires, until I saw it. In the attic, I almost held it in my hands. The mother person caught my gaze and then caught my hands, and I never saw that dusty fur again. They hid it again, somewhere out of sight, and though I hunted the house entire, it never again soothed my sight, calling me just outside my range of hearing, tugging just beyond rationality.

Adult now, I still can’t pry its location from their smiling faces. So I cut its remembered shape from a bolt of fake fur to take with me. Because my graduation costume was myself. I went as myself as I see me from the inside, a contrast light and dark, bound to mortality by pomegranate seeds, a Pagan to the core, woven of the stuff that makes stars and beaches and computers. Winged, yes, but above all, a selkie. I needed at least a prop.

So my false skin does not fill the gap, but it comes close. We are remaking ourselves every day, retelling our tales. They get bigger in the telling.

To this day, I sleep with it next to me, scrap of faux fur in a familiar shape. A hint, a whisper. It’s what I need to keep searching, to assure myself the sea will still have me one day. It’s what I need to remember that I’m me.

Jacarandas at Sunset

Small things become infused with meaning: jacarandas are a time for endings. I had plucked the blossoms, wove them into my graduation wings, and I had crossed the stage in a white silk skirt stained with pomegranate juice, a black leather corset bearing a pentacle, an imitation of the selkie skin I had lost before I had memory, and wings of steel and shells and circuit boards; feathers, flowers, heat sinks; wire, leather and a state park boundary sign. Tomorrow the girl I kissed that day will herself be graduating. The jacarandas are blooming. Perhaps I will pluck one, give it to her, ask her to weave it into the wings she is not wearing.

And the Oxford English Dictionary Said unto the Poet…

A mystiskeptical seeker, my faith is strange. The spiritual truths that I have I know are mine alone, and they have been hard-won. Believe me when I tell you that I am aware of how silly this stuff can sound. Then again, from the right perspective, everything can sound silly. And I am quite fond of silly things.

I am a priestess. There are many who say that all Pagans are clergy, and while I wouldn’t quite put it that way, I don’t entirely disagree. I don’t claim a fancy title, but perhaps I am competent to listen to problems, and I know I am competent to conduct my own rituals. With a little work, I can lead a circle. It’s a skill more than anything else. But a priestess in popular conception is a priestess of a Deity. Maybe more than one.

This is where it gets sticky. If you laugh, I promise I’ll pretend I didn’t hear. I promise I won’t stumble through it, racing to have it done and to await your giggling, your snickers. See, my Deities are not the Greek Gods. They are not Roman Divinities. They aren’t Celtic, Norse, nor Egyptian. I do not worship the ancients of Sumer, nor do I appropriate Hindu Gods. I could make this list a lot longer but… you get the picture. I found my pantheon preserved in fossils, reading myths on the slant then watching the spiders weave. I discovered them in coffee grounds and in reference pages. They are Gods that span my world, and maybe I didn’t uncover them. Maybe one by one, they discovered me.

I call on them when I need them, when I dream them, when the moon is right, when my throat opens up and they are there. Metaphors a like that. They abound because they are bridges, balloons, and maybe pumpkin carriages, too. I call them by name: Arachne. Triceratops. Caffeina. The Oxford English Dictionary. It all seems so serious until I break out the bibliomancy, crack a page, set the maggot-frying-lens, and the definition upon which my finger has fallen is “mirth.”

Maybe it’s that all religion is really quite silly and it’s the traditions and trappings that let us think otherwise. If so, there’s no reason not to invent new ones, raucous with absurdity, riotous with glee. In that case, I’ll stick with a mirthful smirk and a coffee in hand, watching the spiders work and dreaming dinosaurs.

A Daring in the Doing

There is something delicious in doing. Lately, I’ve paused to look on in wonder at the DIY community and how it grows as friends join Etsy, as I discover blogs like The Cheap Vegetable Gardener and New World Geek. All of this comes with a powerful notion: that I can. I can. I can.

Lately, I’ve been doing. Lately I’ve been blacksmithing, wood working, vegetable gardening, sewing, maintaining a vehicle myself. Until fairly recently, I hadn’t thought much about it, but in the making of things and in the using of what I make, it struck me that there’s been a fundamental shift in the way I think of objects.

Growing up, the things I used were formed whole out of the ether. I didn’t think about their construction because my parents suffused them with the myths of modernity: machine-made, these things were somehow better than what people could craft. Even my father, an electrical design engineer and a hobbyist wood worker, reinforced this idea. His daughters weren’t allowed into his workshop not matter what house we lived in, whether it was in the basement or the garage. He put off projects for so long that they seemed to be impossible tasks to a five-year-old, and not being one to overly inflate himself, he often shrank from praise of his hobby projects.

Now, I wasn’t a stupid child. Things literally didn’t pop out of the air and into existence. As a grew, I learned “how things were made” but the hands that made them in every image shown to me were mechanical, and the materials mysterious and unidentifiable, portrayed as though they were unworkable by human fingers. Even when people were included, they seemed dwarfed by machinery. A crayon factory shown in a Sesame Street segment. Images of Detroit’s auto assembly lines. Humans were no where to be found.

It was impossible, then, to make by hand any of the things I used every day. Oh yes, on an intellectual level I understood that these items weren’t always made by cold unfeeling robot arms, and I could imagine such “idyllic” times with all the condescension and longing that the present musters for the past. But because I had swallowed the line from childhood that “this is how the world works now,” I couldn’t envision myself making such things.

I’m not sure when that began to change, but over time, it did. I found myself working on things, helping one of my boyfriends make things, completing projects for others. Maybe it started when I began making food from scratch, curries, soup stocks, chocolate mousse. Maybe the floodgates opened when I watched my love put together our forge on a lark. Perhaps it all came together when I started crafting wands for Pagan ritual, learning the wood and learning the lathe, learning new techniques for carving, shaping, fastening. Whatever incited this mental revolution, I began to consider things i never had before: tools, materials, process, time; details about these, material strengths and weaknesses, limitations of techniques, how to attain certain results with the processes known. And then I was doing. Making.

Part of this sitting back in wonderment is my academic self calling a halt and saying “look!” So in observing myself, I am formulating questions. I want to know how prevalent the notions of my childhood are. By inference, I am not the only one who grew up seeing the doing and the making as fantastical impossibilities. Where are these ideas prevalent? I have guesses that I want to investigate, that present day Western culture posits these ideas, that consumption of objects, that the act of buying and not making, is rooted in Western culture as a marker of identity. Is that what is really going on? My gut says it’s only part of the picture. My mind wants to delve into the research.

I see in this a cycle, not just in the crafting of the objects, but in the growth of my mind. In the end, it’s this hard thinking which has allowed me to fully enjoy my efforts. It’s the reflection at the finish of a process which allows me to appreciate the whole. Is the same true for you?

Wisdom No More

I’ve never been detached from the thought of my own mortality. This is the kind of thing that happens when you almost die as a small child, or at least, I’ve been told that I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

When I was perhaps four or five, I nearly drowned. Small child, brave for a moment, wanted to play in the deep end of the pool, wanted to go down the slide and not get stuck because of the arm floaties. Wanted to whoosh! Wanted to race. So off came the floaties. And up she went, fearless and immortal for the only time in her life. The rush of the slide I don’t even remember. I remember only sinking like a stone and bubbles curtaining my face. I remember only one thought in my head: “I am going to die here.” I kept fighting reflexively, but there was a calmness to it. A gentle inevitability. It was my father who dove down under me, pushed me to the surface, my lungs on fire and under the weight of a mountain both. I didn’t know what to do, coughing on the pool deck, water coming up and air only sort of going in. But I never viewed death distantly again. There it always was, reminding me, asking me, “do you want to do this?” And my answer was a pause, a pondering, and more often than not, “yes.”

No, what I failed to consider was aging. Growing old. The thought of dying doesn’t frighten me, but what I know I will experience as I get older terrifies me. There is only some of it bound up in the body: children bounce. Their bones malleable, they are tiny superheroes able to withstand things that could kill an adult because they aren’t set and fused and ossifying. Even teenagers have a level of physical resilience I envy now.

But more than this is the thought of how the elderly are treated, even folk of middle age. I look to my grandmother who is never addressed or helped in a store, who is written off as infirm before she even utters a word. The times she has treated me to dinner, the wait staff ignored her, focusing on me as if I was the one directing it all. Taking care of dear old granny, when dear old granny could likely still beat my ass, even into her eighties. Her weathered pessimism takes this mildly from outsiders. It’s the disrespect she suffers at my mother’s hands that galls her. Talked down to as though she were a child, uncomprehending, stupid. Fussed over as though any one thing she did could destroy her.

Looking in from the outside, this is what I see: “The elderly should just hurry up and die.” “They’re so slow and stupid.” “Let’s shut them away so we don’t have to see them.” It’s this way of thinking that I fear. I can feel it already– the items marketed at me are entirely different than they were just three years ago. I am addressed differently in public when people know my age. It is a progression which ends in my disappearance.

And it frightens me more than death.