Friday, December 30, 2022

How Do You Spell, Skeptic?

Used with permission.

[Please remember my disclaimers and rules (linked here) if you'd like to engage this post here or in any of my social media spaces.] 

I am a polytheist pagan and I work with The Morrigan. This is my story of being called by Her. 

You can go back to the last part here

Or you can go all the way back to where the journey begins in the link here

In about mid-June of 2020, it had become clear that what I was going through was best explained by a magical awakening. 

To be honest, however, I was still holding pretty hard to my skepticism at that point. Spiritual awakenings happen in every spiritual practice (even including atheism) and are mostly just a psychological phenomenon. Even when they happen spontaneously (which wasn't exactly true because in my case, it was triggered by all the death that was happening around me), they're really no more than a profound emotional experience that can lead to a deeper inner calm. A spiritual awakening doesn't necessarily have to be numinous, and it certainly doesn't have to be supernatural. Sometimes things just get knocked loose.

The problem was that a "spiritual awakening" wasn't quite covering everything I was going through, and I didn't have a lot of answers. The dreams of black birds and shrouded women were getting weirder and weirder, and my inability to handle crowds was starting to make even things like shopping acutely uncomfortable. 

I'm a pretty open-minded person, and I had plenty of alternative friends who do everything from shopping at Whole Foods for supplements to acupuncture to full practicing witches. I mostly thought their practices meant a lot to them and respected that as long as they weren't running around trying to get me to believe in it, but I didn't really spend much time thinking it might actually be true. I thought what I thought about most woo-woo systems. That they worked because the people thought they worked, and because giving them power created brain hacks and focus and feedback loops of attention. It didn't have to be supernatural to be incredibly powerful. 

Nonetheless, I was in uncharted waters, so I began to ask around for some advice.

The advice I got ran the gamut from matter-of-factly declaring, "Oh, that's just your third eye opening in your sixth chakra" to, "Have you tried casting a spell?" 

Needless to say, I was probably needing to be EASED into the whole idea of a magic awakening just a little more gently. I've never loved how appropriative white people talking about chakras has felt to me so I ran screaming from that, but even the stuff about casting spells felt just a bit too off the rails. I don't know what I thought they were going to say, but…you know…not THAT. 

At this point (almost exactly halfway through June 2020), I was not ready to "cast a spell." I was still calling it "setting an intention" and focusing my entirely-mundane-and-not-at-all-magical energy upon it. Sure, I lit a candle, but it was just to help me focus my attention. Sure, I was using my willpower to change the world around me, but I didn't try to do anything more supernatural than getting over someone who'd kind of broken my heart a month earlier. 

As I pictured the emotional tethers between us being cut by a big pair of scissors, it was like my heartache simply shut off. I felt nothing but a calm friendly affection towards them. 

Still, the altered state of consciousness remained. My body crackled with frenetic energy. My mind hummed. My heart pounded in the base of my throat. I got two hours of sleep that night, and felt like I'd taken a fistful of amphetamines. It was two days before my body calmed down enough to get a good night's sleep—two days of energy pulsing through me from that one spe—um…setting of intention.

Now there were a lot of things I could say at that moment as a skeptic…as an atheist…as an artist who deals in imagery and metaphor…and as a student of human psychology. I knew nothing had happened that was necessarily completely outside the realm of the possible. Our minds can psych us out. Our visualizations can have power. Our ritual can create resonance. 

But there was one thing I noticed, and there was no getting around it.

It had worked. 

It had WORKED!

I cared about this person, but I was no longer heartbroken. I wished them the best, but I no longer felt my chest squeeze at the thought of them. My blood pressure no longer leapt at the sight of their name. Magic….worked. Maybe because of a bunch of not-supernatural mechanisms, but it had absolutely worked. I knew, in that moment, that I had touched some frontier of human potential, and that without a doubt, I was going to have to try it again.

That summer was rife with experiences…and I'll write more of them here in future posts, but one lesson I took from this experience was that, whether or not there was some convoluted, complicated, but perfectly rational explanation for the way "magic" worked, it had power if I treated it like it had power, and it worked if I treated it like it was real. 

A lot more happened in June and July, and I'll write more about that in future posts. I grappled with how much I "believed" every day (and had a bit of an atheist crisis of "faith" if I'm being honest). I tried to fit what was happening into skeptical language and acknowledge that I wasn't actually doing anything that didn't make sense outside of a good session of visualization, self-hypnosis, and intention focus. But as the summer went on, the dreams got more and more intense, and sometimes frightening. I didn't know what was happening or where the edges of this newfound power were, but one thing was becoming clearer and clearer to me. 

Something was trying to get my attention.

Next: Spaghetti At The Wall

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Death And Awakening (Woo)

Used with permission.
[Please remember my disclaimers and rules (linked here) if you'd like to engage this post here or in any of my social media spaces.] 

The Journey Begins in the link here.

Before I can talk about being called by The Morrigan, I have to talk a little about what happened before I could hear Her knocking at the door of my mind. Because in May of 2020, I was an atheist, but by the end of June, I at least acknowledged the possibility that there was something I didn't understand trying to get my attention. 

I had a few little woo-woo things I liked to do back then, but I didn't think they were supernatural. I had a charm necklace with talismans on it, but I considered them to be more like "reminders" and "foci" than magical. They held meaning because I gave them meaning. They worked because I wanted them to work. They were placebos and psychological cues—they were "brain hacks." I'm still not sure magic is much more than that, but I no longer attempt to talk myself out of some of its more spectacular applications. 

The spring of 2020 was the culmination of a year of death all around me. I'm old enough to start losing friends…and friends of friends. And Covid was still new, there was no vaccine, and back then it claimed a few people I knew. Death is always a part of life, but that year—starting in 2019—I went from losing one person I'd vaguely known every year or so to losing a couple every month.

I know this sounds melodramatic (and, okay, it is), but I brushed with death as well. At least I felt my clothes ruffle as it went by. To the best of anyone's knowledge, I got Covid-19 in April (the testing back then was pretty hard to come by, and I wasn't going to drive 50 miles in my condition to verify something I was 90% sure of). I probably should have gone to the hospital at one point, but I didn't want to be out hundreds or thousands for an ambulance. I remember being in bed, holding absolutely still, and barely being able to breathe—just feeling the mechanism by which Covid would kill me if it got ANY worse. I couldn't eat. I could barely drink or get to the bathroom. I recovered, but I had never been that sick in my entire life. I was down for two weeks, and absolutely debilitated for three days.

It's hard to explain how this succession of deaths affected me. After one of a friend's best friends and roommate died in their house (I had known him, but only a little), it was like every death began to resonate in a more and more physical way. I could feel them like a headache inside my forehead, running up and down my spine like shooters of chills and heat and spreading out into my extremities. 

In June of 2020, after getting the news of another death, my headache became unbearable. Right at the front of my head. It was like someone had smacked me right across the forehead with a white-hot shovel. Lances of agony pressed into my skull from the edge of my hairline to between my eyes. I have a usually-subtle birthmark there (that looks like a triangle), but it had flared a prominent crimson. I left work in mid-shift to go home and lie down. 

It's a little hard to explain what happened next. I started to sense people in my forehead. I could barely drive with my headache, but as I did, my forehead would flare when I felt people nearby. I managed to talk myself into believing that I was noticing them with regular perception (hearing their footsteps or seeing them out of the corner of my eye), and I was just getting a strange signal before my conscious mind would acknowledge them. Maybe I've spent a lifetime learning to tune out background noise or gentle movement, and my brain suddenly came up with a new way to let me know about it. But at least a couple of times, I really didn't know how that was possible. The person was behind me and moving quietly, and I just….SENSED them. And I don't know how to explain it, but the sensation was always different when I was in danger. (If someone who couldn't see me was trying to get into my lane when driving, I would feel it before they started moving.)

I drove home (though I really shouldn't have driven in my condition—I could barely see straight), crawled into bed with my forehead absolutely feeling on fire. I fell asleep, but only after hours of trying to calm down. The next morning, everything was duller and achier, but far from gone. 

Before I go on, I want to remind you that we were at the beginning of the pandemic. June 2020. Most people were still sheltering in place. Anxiety was high. I had been working 60-hour weeks as a nanny so that my clients could telecommute—and that was before I wrote a word. I was a physiological wreck from the anxiety. My shoulder and back muscles ached. My stomach was roiling whirl of acid reflux, and I was taking three different kinds of antacids. (A daily reset pill, a breakthrough pill, and those chalky tablets when the acid would flare up anyway.) I was plagued by intrusive thoughts and becoming an absolute wreck.

Two days after my headache, every symptom of anxiety shut off like a switch. 

I still remember exactly when it happened. I was crossing a bridge over the freeway in my car to go to the nearby Trader Joe's. And suddenly my stomach didn't hurt, my heartburn faded, my shoulders relaxed, and the thoughts just….stopped. A few minutes went by. An hour. Then a day. My anxiety was just….gone.

Two days after THAT, I started to notice colors and sounds and scents. Everything was vivid and bright. It was like I'd never seen a sunset or something. Eating became this incredible sensory pleasure. I'd had Covid in April, so naturally I just thought that I had finally recovered from long Covid or something. But it was like I was on a low dose of MDMA or something. And I started to notice that I couldn't really stomach junk food the way I had before. I still liked sweets, but I wasn't able to even stomach a lot of my favorite foods.

I started to have outrageous dreams (some of which I'll share here in later posts). They were visceral and vivid and filled with intense personal metaphors. Some of the dreams had imagery in them that I had never even heard of, and I had to go look these images up. I figured that I must have seen them somewhere (perhaps years before), forgotten that I knew them, and my unconscious had filed them away for dream fodder. Still Things I'd Never Even Heard Of™ started to stack up and more and more of them showed up in my dreams. (The Tree of Life, Trinity Knot, Triskeles, and Awens.) The dreams were filled with smokey, vaguely feminine figures and black-clad women—sometimes sisters, sometimes apart, sometimes twins, sometimes three, and sometimes five. They would transform into black birds sometimes and scream as they took to flight. Sometimes they would grab my face, look into my eyes and say, "See me."

My inner calm and confidence exploded during all of this. Despite whatever was going on, I felt profoundly in tune with myself, cool, and collected. I was hitting on people (something I never did before), messaging strangers on dating apps (again, I had never done that), and feeling at ease with who I was and who I wasn't. I felt comfortable in my own skin and strangely unbridled by my usual foibles.

I started to feel connected with everyone and their energy. (I have always felt this due to hypervigilance, but it became magnified.) I even began to feel the energy of crowds pulsing and shifting. I'd always been an introvert, and sensitive to lots of noise or motion competing for my attention, but I started to feel crowds in a different way. Like the ebb and flow of their energy was sometimes too much. At one point, I tried to take a hike on a popular trail and there were simply too many people for me. I could…feel them. I could feel their energy. They made my forehead hurt, and it was like the sheer force of it was pushing me back. I ended up going home.

At one point, I was on a hike, and I was out of shape from sheltering in place for so long. By the end of the first hill, I was done. Muscles screaming. Panting. Completely unable to continue. I had nothing left. I was ready to turn around and go home. But then I felt something click. I reached down into a deeper center and found some energy that I didn't even know I had. My muscles screamed. My heart pounded. My breath jagged. But it was like it was happening to someone else. I felt sort of like a passenger watching my body get driven by someone who wanted to test its limits. The next day, I should have been absolutely wrecked with muscle soreness, but I was fine. I've been working out (and sometimes overdoing it) for 25 years, and I know when I should be sore the next day—I wasn't.

I also started hearing voices. Usually in the twilight moments before falling asleep or driving in the car—places I've been hearing sounds most of my life. But these were clearer. These were distinct. I've spent my life hearing a random word or a sound that couldn't have been there. But these were whole sentences in clear voices. Sometimes they would say things I could understand like, "What would it feel like if you just stopped trying to date for a year and focused on yourself?"

And one thing that's hard to describe was just feeling…on. I just felt amped all the time. I was walking around amplified and energized. I felt like I was crackling with energy like a live wire all the time. I needed less sleep each night. I felt hyper-alert. I couldn't find the "Empty" when I was working out or writing deep into the night.

I tried to figure out what I was going through. I talked to my doctor. I talked to my therapist. I did research into long Covid (and getting over long Covid). I looked into brain tumors. I looked into Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Charles Bonnet syndrome, and more. Nothing really explained all my symptoms.

And then one day, I started working backwards. I started putting in all the symptoms first. And I got an answer that fit better than any of the illnesses or injuries I had been coming up with:

A spiritual awakening.

While this was definitely on the edge of my experience and understanding, I wasn't yet quite off the map. Spiritual awakenings—as weird as they can be for the person going through them, and as much woo-woo shit as gets attached to them—are still a documented (and explicable) psychological phenomenon. There's nothing particularly supernatural about spontaneously feeling more empathetic, aware, and calm. 

But threaded in with all those "Spiritual Awakening" Google results was one other result that kept showing up. A result that explained my forehead and my dreams even just a little bit better. A result that sent a corkscrew of tingles up my spine and made my forehead throb even as my face screwed into a bitter moue:

A magical awakening.

And NOW I was off the map.

(More to come soon)

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Journey Begins (Woo)

Used with permission

[Please remember my disclaimers and rules (linked here) if you'd like to engage this post here or in any of my spaces.]

About two and a half years ago (June of 2020) The Morrigan called me. 

This is not a sentence I write lightly. It is a sentence that has taken me every moment of those two and a half years to truly understand (not that I TRULY understand even now), accept, and be able to say without melting into a puddle of my own skepticism. It is one thing to have an open mind to the world that has renamed many known and understood physiological and psychological phenomenon and given them supernatural explanations (and to be open to the possibility that we may yet measurably discover the reason for a few of the phenomenon that currently exist within parascience). It is something else altogether to believe that a prehistoric Irish deity of war and death has taken a personal interest in an atheist living on the west coast of North America at the height of an isolating pandemic.

These days I work with Her. I train in martial arts and with weapons. I work out. I do shadow work into the deepest and most murky parts of my psyche. I study the lore that exists (and try to separate Her ancient identity from her modern neopagan and Wiccan appropriation so popular in alternative circles…to say nothing of Her deliberate misrepresentation by Christianity as "evil" or wicked). I struggle for social justice. I make offerings. I have an altar in my room. I speak of Her presence in my life without paragraphs of disclaimers about how I don't know for sure what is "really really REALLY" happening or that I know I might be somehow…still…in some way…talking to myself. I do daily devotionals—some as simple as drinking a sufficient amount of water, other as difficult (for me) as holding a regimen of meditation. Working with a deity in the pagan sense is not exactly "worship" in a way that a more mainstream (particularly a monotheistic) religion might recognize, but The Morrigan is an intense and pervasive influence within my life. I do things for Her, and in return She does things for me. This arrangement has served me well enough to agree to a lifetime of service.

I need you to understand some things about me. In June of 2020, I would have identified myself as an atheist. I wrote articles to help launch a group of atheist parent bloggers. You don't have to look around very far in my own writing to find my highly skeptical responses to religious dillholes telling me I'm damned and shit. The entirety of my "woo" practices involved things I could comfortably explain in skeptical language. (I use this charm for mental focus, and meditate for the psychological benefits.) I wasn't at ALL familiar with the Irish pantheon, having grown up an atheist in the U.S. And I'd never EVER heard of The Morrigan. (I'd heard that name in various media references, but it was applied to a fighting game succubus or from Lost Girl or something.) I was barely alternative beyond what mapped easily over a more personal spiritual quest for inner peace, mostly a skeptic when it came to extraordinary claims, respectful—but highly dubious—of religion, in no way pagan or polytheist, unaware of Irish mythology, and completely ignorant of a specific deity called The Morrigan.

Then the dreams started—night after night after night. Sometimes they were nightmarish, and I woke, with my hands in a vice grip around sweat-soaked sheets. The sense of being hunted (or haunted?) filled my nights. The inexplicable and vivid experiences that became increasingly difficult to explain away as somehow not actually supernatural. The shifts in my physical body. The warnings of danger that kept me from harm and at least a couple of times from probably dying. And the crows. A name echoed in my head ("Anu") and sometimes on my lips as I woke up, and every day I scoured the internet trying to make sense of it all.

But…I'm getting ahead of myself. There's a whole narrative here, and if being called by The Morrigan is the beginning, there is at the very least an opening scene. The first thing that happened was a death in my social circles that changed the way I see and interact with the world. I had a spiritual awakening, and if you are inclined to believe such things, I had a magical one as well. And to REALLY tell this story, I have to go all the way back to 2015 to tell you a prologue: personal and vulnerable prologue about addiction to ADHD meds.

I'm starting to write down this journey now, but I'm already years into it and there's a lot of ground to cover to catch up to the present. There will be many posts in this saga; this is only the introduction. 

Yesterday, on the last day of the (solstice-to-solstice) year—in the form of a phone call that my CT scan looked absolutely wonderful—my year of work with The Morrigan to simply survive cancer ended and the new shape of my work and service began. I must train harder. I must work out more. I must be better about my devotionals. I must renew my fight for body autonomy and social justice. But perhaps most importantly, I am to tell my story. To those who believe and those who don't. 

So here we go…

Next: Death and Awakening

Monday, December 19, 2022

Woo Filter: Disclaimers & Rules

Note-everything in italics will disappear in a few weeks.

Coming Soon: Woo Filter 

In addition to the jogging/running series I'll be updating regularly—as well as getting back into all the politics, social issues (that don't intersect with writing), and media reviews I was doing before—I'm going to be starting a new series soon. It's a series about woo—alternative spirituality and mysticism.

It is no longer possible for me to continue writing about my life without including the dimension of spiritual, sometimes borderline supernatural, experiences. So I'm starting a series about my exploits that are might be classified as "woo."  It's about being an atheist in a growing existential crisis. It's about a goddess I'd never heard of in a pantheon I was unaware of suddenly being in every dream I had. It's about occurrences I can barely explain. It's about the liminal spaces between what is real and what is true. It's about a life inexorably altered for the better. And it's about magic. 


1- I don't know what I capital-B "Believe."

I don't sit around and worry about what is true. 

I sit around and marvel at what is real.

I swim in those previously mentioned liminal spaces, and I've given up trying to pin down exactly where the edges of "belief" exist. I know some things are explainable and probably not supernatural, alternative, mystic, or even spiritual beyond a particular kind of psychologically understood altered state of consciousness. I know I am a mammal with a cerebral cortex that makes me a heat-seeking missile for narrative, and that I will latch on to stories and patterns even in the face of coincidence and chance. I know I will look for explanations with a bias for magical thinking. 

I've given up trying to figure out exactly what I "officially believe officially" and have found much more comfort in channeling my attention and focus on what works and how I feel. Whether I'm really really really interacting with supernatural forces or I'm interacting with a long-dormant aspect of my own psyche brought to life by humanity's capacity for interactive storytelling, magical thinking, and confirmation bias, it makes no difference in what has changed in my life and how I have been perceiving and interacting with the world.

This means you can save your "gotcha"s and your incredulity and your takedowns and debunks. I have beliefs, but I've given up trying to galvanize them into "Beliefs." They are bendy reeds that are as likely to shrug and say, "I don't know if that matters" than shatter.

2- This is my experience.

I am just going to tell you my story. My story has some extraordinary moments. It has some things I can't explain. It has some things I can. It has some things that I increasingly feel like the absurd guy in Men In Black if I try to explain them away. ("Now what you saw was Venus and a lightning flash reflecting off of swamp gas…") Maybe this is all a brilliant cascade of coincidences that, according to the law of large numbers, was going to happen to someone, somewhere, eventually. Regardless, I don't have a way to speak of it other than to tell my story.

My religious experiences are as doubtful as anyone's and as valid as anyone's. A Christian might think they've got it all figured out, but I find that to be extreme hubris. An atheist might think they've got it all figured out, but I find that to be extreme hubris. An alternative practitioner might think they have it all figured out, but I find that to be extreme hubris. Everyone will try to figure out how my adventures fit into THEIR paradigm. I've given up on any attempt to have all the answers. All I can tell you is what I've undergone, how it's landed on me, how it's changed me, and how I've moved forth.

Perhaps I'm talking to myself and kidding myself and in a vast self-deception. If so, I have had the most profound conversations and transcendental moments. Those are real…even if they aren't verifiable truth.

3- I will make no metaphysical claims.

I might navel-gaze conjecture once in a while. (I have this whole idea that the things we pray to might exist outside of time and space in some other kind of dimension like right out of a science fiction novel, and that we lack even the cognitive ability to fully understand the ways they interact with us, so we create these stories as a way of interpreting our perceptions as best as we can. Or I might think that every living thing is interconnected and the "filaments" that bind us to each other have their own sort of awareness and as they become vast webs and networks of people with commonalities, they form a kind of social sentience—and these sentient webs and networks are what we perceive as "deities.") But when I think about this shit, I'm just doing mental masturbation, and I'll say as much. I don't know the true nature of the universe. I wouldn't even know how to figure that out. I certainly don't think that one geographic region somehow nailed the Truth, and the rest are wrong. 

Save me from those people, and save me from ever being one. 

To that end, I also don't claim that beyond the water's edge of human knowledge, nothing can exist that we might be incapable of understanding…or of understanding YET. I'm a reasonably educated layman when it comes to science and logic. I know the flaws in religious thinking. I know that most woo-woo claims (that don't already map over things like the physiological benefits of meditation or the psychological power of altered states of consciousness) have been either debunked or cannot be proven in a double-blind scientific study. But I also know that the exact moment of knowing where a profound, life-altering experience from a clinical point of view ends and a fully supernatural event begins is not exactly clear, and I resist people who deny the (admittedly flawed) language to express those things we can't fully yet understand JUST as much as I do those who simply deny science whole cloth. 

I don't know what is true. 

I only know what is real. 

4- I will not proselytize.

I don't care what you do.

If I give you something to think about, great. If you want to know more, I'm happy to be a guidepost (though I am not myself a resource). If you want to ask me personal questions that don't require me to answer as some sort of authority, I'll probably answer them. 

But I'm not here to drum up followers or do outreach. I'm not here to convince you. I'm not here to convert you. I just need to tell my story. 

You do you. 

5- I know how I sound.

I have actually studied the psychology of religious experience. I know how people of all faiths have confirming events and deep emotional verification that they are on the right path—even atheists have them. I know that visions come with altered states of consciousness and dreams are Rorschach inkblot interpretations of random neurons firing. I know that it's probably one of the reasons my skepticism is so hard to shed, much to the frustration of the spiritual, magick, and polytheist practitioners around me. I know how we grasp for meaning from the meaningless. I know about burdens of proof and rational thinking and how poorly many belief systems hold up to that kind of scrutiny. 

I also know how hearing voices and seeing things are viewed by Western medicine. I know how dreams of the same thing night after night fit into a modern psychological landscape. 

I know I sound crazy. 

And sometimes I wonder if I might be. But there are reasons—a lot of reasons—I don't think that I'm mentally ill. Reasons from the commonality of these kinds of experiences among people who are open to them* to the fact that it has only improved my mental health in every other facet of my life. 

*Which isn't to say we're all "right," or even that we're not all deluding ourselves, but it isn't the mark of insanity.

6- I'm not going to use skeptical language.

Aside from the occasional acknowledgement that, AT THE TIME, I had skeptical theories about what might have been happening, this post will be the last time I will make a deep and concerted effort to tip my hat to a skeptical perspective. I'm aware of wish fulfilment, pattern recognition, magical thinking, placebo effect, altered states of consciousness, archetypes, unconscious desires, wanting to believe, confirmation bias, interactive stories, unconscious memories, using foci, meditation, power of positive thinking, and brain hacks into one's own unconscious.

This mode of language is insufficient to the task of describing the full scope of a spiritual experience. I will not tiptoe around it after this. I can say that I talk to an ancient Irish deity in my sleep a lot more easily than I can write an entire paragraph acknowledging all the possible things that could "really" be going on in my head to make me have such a dream.

7- I no longer care.

Of course, I will always wonder if what is happening is really supernatural or not. I will always have some doubt. I will always be skeptical of my own woo-woo explanations. I will never shed that particle that says my unconscious made all this up and religious thinking did the rest.



But a little while back, I stopped trying to figure out what the truth was. Like what was really really REALLY™ going on. Not only was it impossible to prove or disprove (and yes, I know it's impossible to prove), but it's not hurting anyone and it's made me a better person in almost every way.

8- I'm still holding back.

I'm willing to share some stories. But some of the things I've lived are just too personal, too "out there," or involve people whose story is not mine to tell. 


1- Check the truculent atheism at the door. 

I swear, it's atheists who are the worst about trying to convert people. They are SOFA KING insufferable with their "gotchas" and their "well actulista" moments. Busting in on every thread like the Kool-aid man. Missionaries going door to door got nothing on them.

If it's an explanation for what COULD be going on, I want you to trust that I've already thought it—probably thirty times…yesterday. I welcome your skepticism—I would honestly ask for nothing less in life—but I don't need it in my face every time I post. I don't need you telling me what you think I've misinterpreted as supernatural. I don't need your quashing energy trying to debunk my exploits. 

If that's all you're here to do, save it. Take it into your spaces and point and laugh if you want. That's the price of doing business to write about myself. But I don't need it in my life. 

And if you can't save it, I'll show you the door. 

I'm annoyed by people who think they have everything figured out. That's as true with people who casually say, "you just made that up in your own head" as people who say, "obviously that's your sixth chakra unlocking." I can't even IMAGINE going through this and thinking I understood ten percent of what was happening, much less that I had it all figured out.

2- I do not need your woo-woo dogma.

Do you think I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing with the forces I'm doing it with? ("It's dangerous to contact that deity directly—whatever do you think you're doing???") Do you think I can't be having the experience I'm having because I'm not an ordained priest of Globgar or a fifth-circle magus (or whateverthefuck)? Save it.

I don't want the titles of authority or leadership. I am not here to tell you that I'm a Celtic shaman or that I'm a druid or that I'm a priest. I'm not interested in anyone's stamp of approval on my experiences or some official decree. These things are HAPPENING to me. In some cases, I am incapable of making them STOP happening…or at the very least I am a willing passenger in one fucking wild ride that isn't always fun and games. 

I don't want or need authorization.

So if you're in the tradition it seems like I've been thrust into unwittingly, and you want to help me be a better practitioner, I welcome guidance (truly!), but if you want to tell me that I'm not leveled up or sufficiently accoladed or this or that enough to have it happen—especially if you want to tell me that if I took your ($2000) class, I would know that I'm actually talking to a trickster spirit named Quincy, and anyone ordained would know that, you can move along. Call me a heathen. Whatever.

3- I understand the burden of proof. But I'm not here to prove anything. 

Do I make unsubstantiated assertions? Yes. Could I be lying about all of this? Yes. Do I know exactly how my most extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but then I fail to provide said evidence? 

I absolutely do.

Here's the plot twist: I'm not trying to convince anyone. 

Believe me. Don't. Up to you. Some days I have trouble believing myself. 

This stuff is in my face and disrupting my life. I can't be bothered to try and get people to believe me.

But don't swing by as the supercilious arbiter of "Sufficiently Evidenced Claims™" to tell me that according to your superior grasp of rational thinking, I have failed to convince you. I was never really trying to, so at best that's just going to be annoying.

4- I don't want you to save me.

If you're working out of a monotheistic tradition (and I'm looking at you Christians and Muslims), I do not want your salvation. Period. End of line.

I gave up on that shit 25 years ago, and I had my reasons then

5- No decrying Western medicine. 

Don't do it. Not here.

I'm all for certain alternative practices in a holistic approach, and lord knows I think for some people a couple of doses of psychedelics might replace a lifetime of therapeutic psych meds, but Western medicine is going to pull a tumor out of you with laparoscopic surgery and save your fucking life. Your crystals won't no matter how hard you've charged them. If you have an issue with a specific protocol (particularly that is quagmired in scheduled substance laws, insurance bullshit, or litigation-dodging), I'm not going to flip a table if you talk about it, but the type of thinking that people just need kundalini and communing with trees instead of their depression meds or to do yoga instead of take insulin or to align their chakras to beat cancer will be shut down instantly.

Is this a case where I'm woo in one way and intolerant of woo in another? Maybe. But it's my space and I get to be capricious, and in this case, I've watched people die when they didn't have to because they turned down conventional treatments in favor of alternative therapeutics, and I don't consider the misinformation floating around about "Western medicine" to create an atmosphere of informed consent. 

There's a lot to write about, and I've been holding back for about three years, but part of my new phase of devotional is to share my story. I'll be attaching a link to this post to every article I write on the issue. If you can keep the disclaimers in mind, and abide by the rules, I welcome you to join me on a truly incredible journey.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Running Report (Such As It Is): A New Beginning

Back in May, I threatened to start a whole new series of articles about my running goals. My cancer recovery—physically, mentally, and emotionally—was closely tied to running. I was burning off anxiety, processing trauma, and getting my body back into shape. 

Then I injured my hip flexor.

I was trying to do a half marathon. Not an actual official event, but 13.1 miles around the neighborhood. I did it, but not without feeling the last couple of miles really kicking my ass. Naturally, I thought I was just sore from running that far. 

Unfortunately, I didn't know how a hip flexor injury would present. If you've never had one, it feels a lot like you just overdid it a little. For the first few days, I thought I was just a little stiff since running could work out the soreness. A little ibuprofen and a warm-up run and I seemed to be fine. It was like two weeks later when I was feeling the pain from just walking (and after two days of rest) that I realized I was injured and not just sore. I probably did more to injure myself trying to keep running than I did with the half-marathon itself.

Hip flexors are notoriously grumpy muscles and heal on geological time. A really good injury can take a month or more. 

Shortly after posting the first of what was intended to be an ongoing series of running milestones, I took a six-week hiatus from everything but gentle walking. At the end of those six weeks, it was slow runs of short distances, walks, and easy hikes.

I've been working up my distances slowly. When I am EXCRUCIATINGLY careful to keep distances lamentably slow, warm up and cool down, and stretch out thoroughly before and after a run, I'm able to keep running and, with GLACIAL slowness, add distance and speed. But anytime I step out of this discipline…any time I do an extra mile on the weekend or jump right into a run because I need to take the five-year-old to school in 30 minutes, I end up hurt and taking a few days off to heal. 

So I've had to reevaluate some of my running goals—perhaps most poignantly, my goal to do a marathon this year…or even next year. And all those really cool milestones that I was posting about are basically reset. Now, instead of hoping I can break seventeen miles in a single run, break forty miles in a week, or get under a 9-minute mile on a run over 5 miles, I'm excited about doing three miles without a flare, hoping that I can edge it up to 3.25 next week, and calling it a win if I don't have a flare.

Running is still my salvation. It's still the place where I find a deep moment to myself, and it's a place where my mind starts out chaotic and falls into order—something I can't even accomplish when I sit down to write. I'm just going to have to move on my goals a LOT more slowly than six months ago when I was starting to write goals don't. 

I'm going to keep posting here, but just remember that I've kind of reset and had to reevaluate….well, everything.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Running Report [Mid May 2022]

Achievements Unlocked: 

15 miles

9:05 min/mi pace (on a 3 mile run)

Running 6/7 days per week

Upcoming Goals

17 miles

9:00 min/mi pace (on a 3 mile run)

5+ miles 6 days a week/3 miles on "rest" day

40 miles in one week

I checked out some marathons coming up either late 2022 or early 2023. (I have until Feb 2023 to reach my goal), and I've got a couple that might work and aren't too far away. However, I'm getting into the territory where I'm going to have to think about starting one of the 16 week training regimens to prepare. Most of those take away your "rest" day and replace it with a slow and short run (three or four miles), so that's the next major change coming up. With childcare three days a week, that's going to mean really early runs.

Still the weather is turning here in the East Bay anyway, and 90s (low to mid 30s celsius), and it feels like running in an oven most days. Mornings will pretty much the only time it's not going to be miserably hot anyway.

That fifteen miles really slowed me down for a while.I am not the young man I used to be despite my epic cuteness. I had stiff joints for almost two weeks after every time I started. The last couple of weeks have been a lot of slow and easy runs between three and seven. It'll probably be a while before I get ambitious and try to do the 17. 

I'm so, so, SO close to the 9 minute mile, but of course that was before I ran the 15. I know 9:05 isn't really that much slower than 9:00, but I like round numbers and measurable goals, so it won't "count" until I'm THERE. 

I'm still making a lot of beginner gains all over the place, and learning some of the philosophy of training (who knew easy runs were going to be so much of my total?), but I'm still on good track (get it?) to do that marathon in under five hours.

Friday, April 22, 2022

I Wrote My Way Out (But Actually I Mostly RAN My Way Out)

Recovery from cancer (and the surgery to remove the tumor) has been hard. 

[That journey has been chronicled mostly in my main blog, if you need to get caught up.]

I've been writing. The occasional post. Facebook. Journaling. A little dollop of fiction. But actually writing has been a really difficult thing to return to. 

It's not my desire that has changed—it's my capacity. I actually do love writing more than anything (except maybe reading). Writing is my hobby, my passion, my creative outlet, and my emotional catharsis. The blank page is my confessional, my therapist, my friend, and my creative collaborator. I haven't really stopped writing—I even scrawled out a page in the hospital the day after surgery. What I found I had trouble with was things like concentration, routine, focus, and sometimes even sitting still. I would suddenly have a feeling of anxiety about my health or flashback to a medical procedure. Or I would try to focus and find that I couldn't think about anything other than all the Big Shit™ that's been going on lately (tough kiddo transitions, quasi-loss of a child, miscarriages, cancer, surgery, breakups). So while I could write out a personal journal, freewriting, or just a Facebook splat, I have been having a much more difficult time with deadlines, writing about specific topics, and sitting down for hours at a stretch. 

But running seemed to work for me.

I've always been a more kinesthetic person. I was a hyperactive kid. I had more energy than an arc reactor. I walk (sometimes for hours) when I want to clear my head. Even when I write, I take frequent breaks to move around, and one of my best purchases ever was a desk that could be raised and lowered so I could write while standing (and usually bopping to music).

So I started to run.

I walked the block my second day home from surgery. Walked a mile circuit around my neighborhood in the first week. After two weeks, I gently added in some slow jogging. Within a month, I was regularly doing distances of three to five miles. I set a goal to do a marathon in 2022. Recently I did a 12 mile run and I've been hitting distances of 10 miles regularly. I'm gearing up to try to do 15 miles, trying to hit a 9 min/mile on my shorter runs, and trying to keep my pace under 11:30/mile for my longer ones.

I always thought I would "write my way out" of something like this. That I would go to the page and find the words and that would be my climb back to myself. But instead, it's been running. My physical recovery has helped my mental and emotional state. Rather than running being little more than physical therapy and my mental and emotional healing happening due to other things and in other ways, running has been at the center of ALL of my recovery. I feel centered, grounded, and in control while running and that has helped me with my mindset. Focusing on goals has helped me mentally. Taking time with just me and the pavement has helped me do the long and slow work of processing through lots of complicated emotions. It's that perfect balance of quiet enough to order my thoughts but not so quiet that my traumas start to bubble up. Getting physical has helped me with my anxiety. Setting goals and hitting them reminded me of my own ambitions.

Running has been my salvation. Somewhere out there—just me and the pavement and the miles ticking by—I find my words.

So I'm going to start a new "series" here on NWAW. Mostly just reports on how running is going, what goals I've hit, what new goals I'm setting and maybe a thought or five about my philosophy of running.