Sunday, June 16, 2013

52 Weeks III : June 10th - June 16th

I almost failed this week -- I kind of picked a bad time to start my 52 Weeks Project. For the past two weeks, I've been concentrating most heavily on my summer trip back up to New Jersey (and all the stress of school work I need to do while I'm up there), and having to get my house in order for that. So by the end of today, after running errands and cleaning for nine and a half hours, I remembered that I hadn't taken a self portrait this week. I actually had a pretty intense argument with myself about whether or not to take one, while doing the dishes. Eventually, I just sighed out loud because I didn't want to mess up this soon into the project. So here it is, working title: My Feet are Dead and I Need Coffee.
Normally, I would have dressed up, made sure Loki and Sól were in another room, taken the time to move shoes and iPads out of the frame, make everything perfect. But I decided to be super honest with this one. These are the clothes I've been working in all day, this is how the table looked at that moment. As always, the pets were following my every move around the house. In some ways, this might be the truest self portrait I've ever taken because, although it's not candid, it shows a totally "normal" moment in my private. Moments that few people have ever seen. This is definitely not the version of myself that is seen publicly very often. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Egg Treasure

So about a month ago, I heard the new prompt for Round 11 of NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest: write a story in under 600 words in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. Due to the contest rules, I couldn't publish the story until after a winner was chosen, and now that that has happened, I can share my own story here. I worked very hard and continuously on it for three days, even printing it out and bringing it to work with me so I could edit it on my break. I had a lot of fun and will definitely enter future contests if those prompts inspire me as well. Disclaimer: Blogger doesn't allow the formatting to make this story actually look the way I wrote it (with line breaks and indentations), so if interested, I have the original .pdf that I can show. Thanks for reading!

✦ ✦ ✦

I was walking, following little shreds of found objects in the dirt. Strips of newspaper and magazine pages, bits of colored thread and yarn, a discarded trail of human material left for the birds. My neighbor collected these things in shallow dishes placed around her yard: tiny pieces of shredded denim, leftovers from knitted socks, even locks of hair she pulled from her combs. She sat on her deck on Sunday mornings, offering me sweet tea when she caught me watching her. I watched her studying her birds, the orioles and robins that browsed through the ingredients she left for them. I watched her beaming at the new nest taking shape in the tree above her chair. She was so proud, and I so lonely.

One Sunday, just before noon, she called me over, quietly, in hushed excitement. Her mouth was opened wide and dumb and she was flailing her hands, almost spilling her tea.

“Come here,” she implored, “come see!” Still swinging her tea with one hand, she pressed the other to her lips and, signaling silence, she called out another stifled plea, more sounds than words. Her eyes were wide. I stood up out of the shade and walked to her fence, stepped over it lightly and waited at the stairs by her chair.

“Come up here, there's an egg, look at the egg!” She could barely sustain the effort to keep from squealing. Her gardening stool was next to her and I stepped up on it to get a better view. Tucked in among the wool and fragments of Reader's Digest, it was there. Small and white, with dark drops of brown and black speckled across its poles. It looked warm and alone, and I didn't want her to have it. I wanted it in my hands only, cupped in my palms and moving slightly. I wanted to hold my breath and see if I could feel its heartbeat.

It was dark and still and my neighbor was asleep in her room. I was walking, following little shreds of found objects in the dirt, the discarded trail of human material left for the birds. Like breadcrumbs, I followed them up the stairs, climbed up on the stool and was met with the face of the mother bird looking back. Black eyes I could see in the dark, reflecting the moon glow off the clouds and staring at me in recognition or in anger. She shifted her weight and I could see the egg there under her wing, even whiter in the absence of daylight.

“I will have that egg,” I breathed, hardly moving my lips as I exhaled my promise. She bit and flapped at my hand, scratching across my knuckles with a shrill scream. It was easy to take that egg, easy to ignore the mother following me down from the stool, down the stairs, pecking at my hair as I stepped over the fence, cradling the little egg in my hands like a pearl. I could feel the movement inside it, the vibrations of insects trapped in a jar. The mother left me, and I curled up alone and happy with my egg treasure, a living jar with a child inside.

My neighbor remained sad that spring and her sweet tea tasted like salt. The nest above her chair was abandoned and her dishes of paper and fibers were full, but ignored. While thinking of the egg I stole, I skipped into her yard, smiling, and took a seat on her deck next to her chair.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summer's Arrival

This past Saturday we celebrated Summer's Arrival at my church. Usually in Paganism, summer's decline is actually celebrated at the Solstice (around June 21st), but the Summer Solstice -- also called Litha -- is a huge time for Pagan festivals around the States, so our church instead does a simple celebration in early June. This year was one of the funnest summer celebrations I've ever attended!

First, we dedicated two new altar spaces. Most of our camping and worship area are large fields with full sun, but in one spot, there is a great little island of flowers and trees that provide shade. In this space, we planted two new willow trees, and set up rough drafts for a healing altar and a Buddhist/Pagan peace altar.
Our church has a really long tradition of incorporating healing work into everything that we do. Having an outdoor altar that will be set up every time the land is used is a natural extension. And it's in such a great, shady place. I'm excited to see how it grows. 
Petitions for healing are written on popsicle sticks that are then thrown into a sacred fire.
One of our members has also been working on a Buddhist/Pagan peace altar that honors the goddess Kuan-Yin (she's one of the many Buddhas of the world and is known for her healing powers and compassion). He described "peace" in this instance as a sky that is totally clear, without clouds. It's a deep kind of peace that goes beyond just relaxation or feelings of tranquility. He will be gathering up the contents of the altar as it grows and carrying them to different Pagan events, where it will grow even more. I think it's wonderful that we will have that altar space to connect to the Pagan community and the world in general through the peace of Kuan-Yin.
After dedicating these two new altar spaces, we planted some very young, tiny willow trees as the head of the "island." Willows are a tree that have long been associated with healing, and they're special trees to the church. All of us brought dirt from our yards at home to the church's land and filled in the holes around the saplings with that dirt, symbolizing how we all come together as a community, despite our different backgrounds, locations, origins. Our priestess read a really beautiful poem to the willow tree. I'm excited to watch them grow!

We also had a great ritual to welcome Summer. Though I'm not very into the heat and getting tan, I always love the spring and summer time of year. The rituals are fun and light-hearted, but also very powerful. It's a time to celebrate strength and growth and the gathering of momentum toward change (or solidification). We created the sacred space by singing "You Are My Sunshine," and also sang chants celebrating the trees and the earth. We used colored balls to represent the Elements and had fun throwing them at each other to raise energy -- it did start getting a little similar to dodge ball. We also had pieces of colored paper cut in the shape of leaves on which we wrote blessings for our community. These were all put into a cardboard boat that will be sent down the creek near the land to carry our blessings out.

One of the things I love about our Summer's Arrival celebrations is that we also take time to identify those negative things in our lives that we want to remove. We do this using water balloons. We concentrate on what that negative thing is, whether it's a bad habit, an ailment, destructive relationship, etc., and push that energy into the balloon. Then, when ready, the balloon is smashed into the ground or crushed in our hands. It's a great way to feel some resolve and encouragement to change our lives and selves for the better.
My balloon represented procrastination and apathy. I allow too much of both to interfere with what I want to be doing.
After ritual was over, we all ate our potluck feast, and then started playing with fire! One of the ministers at the church does poi and other fire-spinning techniques, and always is willing to teach us and let us practice. Our priestess's son is also really good at the fire staff and he helps out a lot too. I've always been really shy to try them because I don't want people to see me mess up, but I decided that enough is enough last night and gave it a shot. I have a cousin who also spins poi, and my minister gave me a practice set to use at home, but I've never felt totally drawn to it. It takes a rhythm that feels really foreign to me. Instead, the more I watched, the more I wanted to try the staff, and when I finally did, it felt so right! 
A friend got this photo of me with the staff. I just couldn't stop laughing. 
I did feel awkward moving it around, but the more I got used to the weight, the better it felt and the more fun I had. I am definitely hooked now! I can't stop thinking about it. Over the coming weeks of the summer, I'm going to see what I can do about making a staff of my own so I can keep practicing. I'm keeping in mind that I made the promise to myself to not let procrastination continue to interfere with my life, so I want the fire staff to become a new project that I really dedicate myself to. It's also a good upper arm work-out, so there are more benefits than just being able to spin a burning stick!

I might not be the most summery of people, but I don't think any person can ignore that summer is a magical time of year. It's really come to represent friendship and community to me, and I'm so grateful to know all the people with whom I can celebrate the Sun and nature and Earth. And since the rest of the summer is going to be a lot of hard work for me (securing and internship, preparing for my last semester of college, etc.), it was great to have this day to spend with my church before joining in with the "real world." So, Happy Summer, Happy Festival Season -- I am looking forward to the Sun's blessings in the coming months!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

52 Weeks II : June 3rd - June 9th

I got myself a new camera toy...and I'm really excited about it! It's a remote shutter release, which allows me to take a photograph while I'm not at the camera, at any time that I want to. I've been doing self portraits since I was 17 and all those years, I've been using the self-timer on my camera, running back and forth between camera and scene in 10-20 seconds, and running back to press the shutter again. So I've gotten pretty good at getting into various positions in under 10 seconds, but it can be pretty exhausting. I had been meaning to get a remote shutter release for years and I finally stopped procrastinating. I'm so glad I did! I've had it for less than a day and I'm already obsessed. I doubt I'll ever go back to the self-timer again.

So I took my second self portrait in my 52 Weeks Project this evening, and got to try out my new shutter release.
And I didn't do a black and white again!
This is Untitled #2. I'm really trying to get better at lighting and that's why I decided to wait until it got dark out to do this. I ended up using a closet light (that you can see reflected in the window), my porch light, the street light at the end of my driveway, and a sparkler. I have a hard time getting the focus perfect when it's so dark (even with the closet light, I could hardly see anything inside), so I'm not very happy with that. But otherwise, it was so great using the remote shutter release. I'm not sure I would have been able to take this same portrait with the self-timer. Mine only goes up to 20 seconds, and getting outside, up on the railing, with the sparkler going would be extremely difficult in that amount of time. So a big, big Yay! for new camera toys!

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Hair, the Moon, and a little Faith

A couple of days ago, I was speaking with someone who had recently cut his hair and donated it to Locks of Love. He showed me a photo of his long hair and it was like staring at my dream. I love long hair, and have had it for most of life, until the past six years. Today, my hair is the longest its been in that time, and I want it to be the longest it's ever been, in my life! I want it to reach to my navel, but I'd love even more to get it to my hips. Some people seem to have no trouble accomplishing that, the kind of people who just don't really shed and can grow their hair to their ankles with nothing more than a hairbrush. Maybe it's because it's my own hair and I obsess over it everyday, but it never seems to get past the bottom tips of my shoulder blades. I'm determined to change that, and because of that recent conversation, I might have found a new way.

I've done lots of research on growing hair in the past, and many of the tips I've collected over the years are now established parts of my daily routine. I only wash my scalp, and not everyday. I only condition my ends (and not everyday). I hardly ever style my hair with heat (or otherwise), besides straightening the pieces in the front once in a while -- anything else, and I use a heat protectant spray pretty generously. I take a provitamin A supplement every morning, I use a split end treatment, I've stopped using chemical dyes altogether and am now working towards including natural henna and indigo hair dye into my hair care practices. Something I've failed at is keeping my hair tied back for most of the day. I vastly prefer the way my hair looks down, but keeping it that way, especially at work, exposes it to breakage constantly. I've also started trimming it to get rid of the inevitable split ends, which keeps it stronger and gives it the illusion of being longer, but admittedly I'm not doing that frequently enough. And now, I might have found a way to trim my hair that will be even more effective, and it comes from a very old source: the Farmers Almanac.

The man I was speaking with who donated his hair told me that he always had his hair trimmed during different moon cycles that he believes influence both the thickness and the speed at which hair grows. I know I believe some wacky stuff, but I am science-minded and was skeptical of that idea immediately. But then he said, "It's in the Farmers Almanac," and my interest piqued right away. For the past two days, I've been looking into whatever information I can find about cutting hair in conjunction with the various moon phases and I'm surprised to find that it appears to be a pretty widely spread practice with lots of positive (albeit anecdotal) evidence.
"I tested this by trimming my two daughters hair every 2 mos and after 1 year the one cut by the moon had grown almost to her waist and was twice as thick as her older sister's hair [sic]." --from a Farmers Almanac forum on lunar hair-cutting. {And yes, I realize this would be a better experiment had the daughters been identical twins with the same haircuts starting out, but at least there are people out there who are attempting to use the scientific method to test this.}
A simple search on the Farmers Almanac website will tell you the best days to cut hair to increase growth, as well as the best to retard hair growth, or increase its thickness. It seems that the moon phases are used to inform lots of different types of cutting, from haircuts to mowing the lawn to pruning trees to culling cattle from a herd. I was totally unaware of these common lunar timings for different activities, and although I'm disappointed that I've yet to come up with any good scientific evidence for the validity of the practice, I'm still tempted to try it myself. I doubt my hair will grow any slower at least!

The thing is, the moon influences a lot in my life. Many Pagans, especially those practicing witchcraft or different types of folk magic, rely on the moon for its (her) influence. Spells and tricks are timed according to the phases to harness the appropriate lunar energy for the success of the magical working. Spells to bring in money might be performed during the waxing or full moon, which symbolizes growth and increase; while work to break a bad habit is performed during the waning or new moon, that indicates weakening or decrease.

Each of the four moon phases includes a variety of energies that can be captured to positively effect our lives. The new/dark moon is about potential. It's a starting point without expectation and represents all the possibilities we can imagine. It also represents privacy, turning inward, self-contemplation. The waxing moon is all about growth, increase, exploration. It represents the energy of anticipation and adventure. This is why the Farmers Almanac says the best days to cut hair for length are during the waxing phases. The full moon has deep symbolism, even in secular culture. It represents accomplishment, the womb, strength, and vitality (cut hair during the three days of the full moon for thickness). It is an agent of great change, from the tides on the Earth, to the legend of werewolves. Moonlight from the full moon is considered both cleansing and energizing, especially when meditating under it. The waning moon is about decrease, maturity, slowing down. It is passive in energy, while the waxing is very active. It is shrinking and preparing to once again return the dark and inwardness of the new moon. It helps to think of these three moon phases using the imagery of the Triple Goddess that Wiccans and some other Pagans worship. The waxing moon is equated with the Maiden, the full moon with the Mother, and the waning moon with the Crone, three separate aspects of the same being.
One of my favorite phases: the very thin waxing crescent (this represents birth to me). Image found here.
The moon is a huge comfort to me. Often, getting off work late at night and exhausted, I feel so much better instantly when I can walk to my car and look up at the moon, and I know it sounds crazy, but just talk to her (I really think of the moon as female). When I feel sad or lonely or overwhelmed, I sit on my deck I night and look at the moon and just try to let everything go. The moon can really do a lot for us, and not just cause the tides and the ebb and flow of the water in our own bodies. So, since I think my life is already pretty involved with the moon, I don't see it as much of a step to start cutting my hair by the moon's timing either. I'll be heading back up to my hometown in New Jersey soon for the summer, so the next time I think I'll be able to schedule a trim, according to the Farmers Almanac, will be June 19th or 20th. Maybe before then I can come up with some way of recording results in the most scientific manner possible. The Almanac is eerily right about a lot of things, and I hope that this is one of those times as well.