This morning, looking for just the right words to wish a friend happy birthday, I stumbled across an old Hebrew saying that I’d forgotten about, but that my grandmother used to say:
“Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagilah venism’cha vo.”
It means: “This is the day that the L-rd has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Now, my grandparents were both lucky enough to escape what happened in Europe before and during WWII, but they (and thus I) had relatives who did not. So when my grandmother said that, it had a certain weight to it. Hopefully, none of us have the same direct experiences.
The holidays can be he difficult, stressful, exhilarating, and overpowering. Winter is hard, toddlers are hard, work is hard, relationships are hard, being alone is hard (especially this time of year)…
Existence is hard. Of course, it beats the other thing.
Whether or not you believe in a deity, whether or not you have a creation myth, take a few minutes out just to celebrate this day – any day, every day – simply because it exists, and so do we, and may we take comfort in knowing that there is a purpose to our life, either bestowed from on high or made of our own free will.
So for six weeks or so, I’ve had a post open in edit mode, two-thirds completed, about letting go. About letting go of political arguments, about letting go of anger, about letting go of petty bullshit.
And it’s been sitting for six weeks because I haven’t been able to finish it. The last line I’d written was “and I was ashamed,” and during breaks at work, I’d pull up the tab, and I’d look at it, and I’d sigh, and feel bad, and think about how I’ve tried to implement all of these changes in my life and in my demeanor and mutter to myself, “you shithead, Purple, you suck.”
My friend Tom would say “That’s the black dog talking.” And he would be right. I’ve let the black dog into my head. I have a vast array of projects that I want to do, activities that I want to complete, goals that I have set, and I don’t feel like I’m making much progress. My black dog is a little yappy thing, and it yapps, “not done! not done! you suck! you suck!” over and over and over again.
There I was. Staring at the words “I was ashamed.” Hearing the yappy dog. And I said “heck with it,” and I selected all, and hit delete. Boom, gone.
Because letting go isn’t just about forgiving other people, It’s not just about letting anger go and letting pettiness go. It’s about letting self-criticism go. It’s about letting self-hate go. It’s about forgiving yourself.
So that’s what I’m working on, this holiday season. Progress on forgiving myself is the focus. Progress on projects is gravy. And in January, I’ll reset and start again.
A friend of mine recently posted on facebook “we never remember the green lights.” She was talking about relationships and levels of unhappiness, but as I often do, I thought about how such a concept could be expanded to include other areas of life.
If you’re my friend, by now you know that I wear my heart on my sleeve. That’s one of my few behavioral facets that hasn’t changed in the past few decades. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve. I go with my gut, decide quickly, and rarely change direction once I’m committed. That’s led to some massive mistakes in the past, which, compounded with disappointment and regret, often led to more mistakes. I can’t tell you exactly why I did some of the things that I did — although I remember being utterly convinced that they were the right decisions at the time, I can never seem to remember why — but almost every time, I ended up staring at another red light.
So how do you find the green lights? How do you get out of the maze of red lights and stop signs and find your way?
Well, everyone has their own path. But I did two very specific things. The first one is that I made a purposeful decision to change. That change manifested itself in two actions.
The first action was to choose to be a better person. I took a good long look at myself, and realized that the reasons I didn’t like myself were also the reasons why other people didn’t like me either. So fixing that was win/win. I had to think about how I reacted to people, and how those reactions looked from the outside. I had to change the way I spoke, the way I held myself. I even had to change how I volunteered for things. I worked to be worthy of the accolades I already had, and the accolades I aspire to.
The second action was to choose to make a career change. For over fifteen years, I toiled in the salt-mines of IT Technical Support, doing harder and more complicated work every day, without any additional recognition for it. The final straw for me was when, after working several sixty hour weeks in a row and then running a seventy-two hour deployment, I was told that I couldn’t take comp time because it was against company policy, and for the extra hundreds of hours I’d worked, I got a bonus that, calculated very generously, came out to half a week’s pay. Before tax. So I decided, right then, that I was going to change my career and change my life. I paid for it myself, and nine months later, I had my PMP. Less than nine months after that, I had a new job with a nice big raise and, more importantly, a wholly new corporate culture — one that, so far, values my contributions, cares about what I think, and compensates me reasonably for the work I do.
Guess what? I still saw a bunch of red lights. Things were better, but I still felt constrained. And I sat and thought about that for a very long time until I finally figured it out.
I can change myself. I can better myself. I can bend over backwards to do what I think people want me to do. But I cannot change other people. I cannot make them agree with me, and I cannot make them like me.
So perhaps that, then, was a third change; I changed myself to accept that I cannot change other people — and to forgive them for not being able to change.
Now, I don’t know if these changes or attempts to change will work for you. I can tell you that my wife and I have been through the crucible and come out on the other side mostly unscathed, in large part because I’ve been able to do these things.
And when that happened, suddenly… all these lights turned green.
Except that’s not really true. These green lights were there all along. I just started being able to see them. The lights didn’t change. I did.
Tonight is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement, when all Jews are supposed to beg G-d for forgiveness for the sins committed in the past year. In between Rosh Hashanna which was nine days ago, and Yom Kippur, which starts tonight, G-d allows us to change the fates for us that G-d has written in the Book of Life before it is sealed for another year. This time is known as the Yom Adonai, the Days of Awe, and it is a window of opportunity a little bit like the rite of confession for Catholics, but in very Jewish fashion, the opportunity only comes once a year — and now it’s almost over!
As “not that kind of Jew” I’m going to turn this around a little bit, and, in concert with my Duck post from the other day (http://apapermuse.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/being-a-duck/) I’ll try to be forgiving of myself as well as begging forgiveness from G-d. I encourage you all do to so as well.
However, Yom Kippur is not about gaining forgiveness from others. That kind of atonement should be done before this day of atonement to G-d. So while I have a few hours left, I beg forgiveness and atone to:
Laura, for all the year’s small and large slights that every marriage contains and no marriage should
Karoline, for mis-communication
Ted and Emilysue for being probably more trouble than I’m worth
Max for not being good enough in the past and having to be stone-cold to make up for it now
My sister Meredith, and my mother and father for being unable to overcome my pride
Christina for being inattentive to your path
Cameron, Megan and Jesse for my lack of follow-through
Cadogan for my arrogance and disregard for proper behavior
And anyone else I have slighted, offended, or hurt. I should have done this earlier, which I shall have to atone for next year.
I have come to embrace the religion of my forefathers late in life, and I have done so unconventionally. I don’t think G-d will be upset with me for that, but I do believe that some ways are the best ways. I will fast from sundown tonight till sundown tomorrow (25 hours), and the discomfort will remind me of the discomfort I have caused others, and perhaps, in some small way, that will atone to them what I also atone to G-d.
So maybe I’m more “that kind of Jew” than I have been in the past. I’m ok with that.
May you be joyful in how you have been inscribed in the book of life!
Here’s a new prompt for Nightmare Fuel from my friend Bliss Morgan.
Usually the light in the corridor between the doors is turned off. When I have the strength to crawl across the floor and then lever myself up on my crutches, and I look through the round window, all I can see is the glowing holes at the other end, baleful eyes glaring at me, casting murky patterns of shadow and light on the floor and walls between.
But tonight. Tonight I can see the length of the space. The light woke me up, and after panting my way up the wall and lurching around to lean against it, I look through the reinforced glass, and I can see everything.
The floor is black, and flecked with grey speckles, and the walls are white. The ceiling is tiled, fluorescents flickering in them, and they reflect off of the floor. There’s a railing on the left side of the room, but wait, that’s not a railing, why would railing have chains looped through them?
On the right side are two beds. One is empty.
The other is not.
I can see everything.
The empty bed is made, clean sheets, clean blanket, clean pillow and case. The other bed is occupied. All I can see is the top of their head. It moves every so often.
I turn and put my ear to the window. Yes. I can hear muffled moans.
I turn back to look throught the window and knock on the door. “Hello?” I call. “Can you hear me? I’ve been here a long time!”
No answer. And as I raise my hand to knock again, the doors at the far end open.
Two people in lab coats walk in, carrying clipboards. One stands over the person in the bed, performing all the usual medical tests. Eyes, ears, throat, pulse… but wait. That arm. It’s missing. The hand. The doctor pulls up the other arm, also handless. I stare through the window at the arm stumps, wrapped in white bandages, red stains at the very ends.
I can see everything.
Then the other doctor steps around and pulls a scalpel out of her pocket. And with a quick slice. Cuts off an ear.
The first doctor has turned away from me but then I see that he has cut off the other ear. They wrap the occupant’s head with bandages, while the patient thrashes on the bed. They give the patient a shot from a syringe, and the thrashing stops.
Then they go to the far doors and leave, but before they do, I can see that one doctor is chewing on the ear he holds. Worrying it with his teeth, like a piece of jerky.
I pound on the door, shouting incoherently. The female doctor glances up at me and nudges the other one. He looks at me. Tearing on the ear in his mouth. He nods. A promise. To return.
Then they leave, and as they go, the lights in the corridor go out. I can see is the glowing holes at the other end, baleful eyes glaring at me, casting murky patterns of shadow and light on the floor and walls between.
My friend, Bliss Morgan, does a daily writing prompt on Google+ in October called “Nightmare Fuel”. This is Day Two.
Congratulations on purchasing your new Ocular Enhancer 3000 from TBM Industries! In your shipment, you will find one (1) Ocular Enhancer 3000, one (1) Ocular Enhancer Storage Case, one VoxxStopper 99, and one (1) Ocular Adjuster 5.1. Before you can use your Ocular Enhancer 3000, please follow these instructions:
Place the Ocular Enhancer 3000 in its storage case.
Remove the Ocular Adjuster 5.1 from its packaging.
Remove the VoxxStopper 99 from its packaging.
Appropriately place the VoxxStopper 99 in position, between the Maxial plates and down through the Esophagal tunnel.
Keeping the Cranial Globe steady, position the Ocular Adjuster 5.1 before one of your two Ocular Organ.
Slowly move the Ocular Adjuster 5.1 towards the Ocular Organ while turning the handle on the rear of the device.
When Ocular Organ is properly adjusted, repeat with the other Ocular Organ.
When both Ocular Organs have been properly adjusted, remove Ocular Enhancer 3000 from its storage case and install.
Remove VoxxStopper 99 from Esophagal tunnel.
Congratulations! Welcome to life with your Ocular Enhancer!
Note: TBM Industries is not responsible for improper Ocular Adjustments or incorrect Ocular Enhancer installation, or improper use of the VoxxStopper 99. If Ocular Adjustments do not occur properly, seek medical attention. You may wish to have a friend hold your Cranial Globe while applying the Ocular Adjuster. This device not regulated by the FDA, the AMA or any other agency. Use at your own risk. Oh my god, you’re blind.
A friend of mine came to me the other day and said “I don’t want to be angry today.” Now, anyone who knew me prior to, oh, maybe four years ago, they know that I used to be really, really good at being angry. I could get angry at all sorts of things. My wife. My kids. Perceived slights. The misdeeds of others. The misdeeds, especially, of myself. Oh, I was an expert at being angry with myself.
Full disclosure time: I struggled with being a good, attentive father with my first son. Anyone who knew be back then will be nodding. I was so out of touch with his mother, and with myself, and it was easy to lock myself away. I even went so far as to move away, to an entirely different state.
When I came back, two years later, I was a very different person. My walls had been shattered, my emotional center reborn, and my entire perspective of life changed. None of which I entirely knew, but I was, fundamentally, a different person on the inside. All I needed to do was learn how to effect that change on the outside.
Well, here’s the thing. I’ve gotten a lot less angry. But what I didn’t get was a lot less guilty. And so that didn’t really unburden me at all, it just shifted things. Being less angry was good for me. Being guilt-ridden wasn’t.
Guilt brings a different kind of burden than anger. Anger gets you going. It has a charge to it. It makes you jump out of your seat, shaking your fist, spittle flying. There’s a victory condition. But guilt has none of that. Guilt is depressing. It’s crushing. It’s a layer of dirt that coats everything that you can never quite get clean. It carries depression, self loathing, and desolation.
Now, I’m not going to suggest that it was easy to stop being angry. But I will suggest that, in general, it’s easier to stop doing something than it is to start doing something. It’s an effort to stop, but you hold your breath, and grab on to the railing, and… don’t take that step.
But to release the guilt, I had to start. Start forgiving myself. That’s not as easy as starting to play a new computer game. Or starting a new diet. Or starting a new career. . Because before you can forgive yourself, you have to believe that you’re worthy of forgiveness.
It’s a long journey, self-forgiveness. It’s full of fits and starts, and a lot of giving up. It’s taken many years, and more than a few pep talks from friends and confidants to get there. But I can say that once it happens, it’s an amazing feeling of relief and peace.
So how does this all tie together?
Before you can stop being angry — really stop being angry — you need to forgive yourself for the anger. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to be upset. But you have to let it go.
I struggled to let go of my guilt. I struggled to let go of my anger. I struggled to let go of my fear.
They were all the same thing.
Now, I still get frustrated. Traffic. The kids. Homework. Work work.
My trick is to be a duck. Not the part about looking all serene on top and paddling like mad to stay afloat below. No. Be a duck as in “like water off a duck’s back.”
Take your anger, your guilt, and your fear. Experience them. Validate them. And then release them. Let them flow away.
Learn to let things go. Be a duck.
One thing I’ve started doing in my ongoing quest to be a duck is I go to this site three or four times a day. I sit and listen to the waves, and think about the things that bother me, and try to let them roll off my back like water. I ease them into the ocean and watch them drift away.
I forgive myself my own trespasses, as I have trespassed against myself.
Not a single one of the peers who I respect and love and seek to emulate is a more-than-human person who never fails. Every single one of them has made mistakes. They have all offended people, they’ve all screwed up, they’ve all been angry at other people and themselves. I know that they have all found ways to forgive themselves. And so I seek to emulate them in this as I do in other things.
So, Known World Cooks and Bards was held this past weekend in the Wisconsin Dells, in the Kingdom of Northshield, a place very near and deal to my heart. And I went up there with people very near and dear to my heart. And I met people who, had I only known it before now, were near and dear to my heart.
I could run through the conventional day by day recounting of the event, but I won’t. What I’ll do instead is lazily drift from moment to epiphany to performance.
Aneleda Falconbridge is a revelation. Zsof and I convinced her to come to the event, and she travelled with just a little bag — and an enormous heart. She was kind and friendly and courteous with everyone, fun to watch moving through the event, and a joy to sing with. It was like meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, and we just picked right back up where we left off.
Zsof, of course, continues to be my rock in the SCA. Supportive, she’s always got my back, and we’re starting to find ways to sing and perform and write together. Yes, be afraid.
Kari… what can I say about Kari that isn’t summed up with o/ ? The hairband comes off, the locks flow free, and the Rock God is among us, leading the way and showing us how we are all Epic in His Eyes.
Finnguala is funny, and sweet, and supportive. Her drinking song that she sang in the car on the way home is going to be a great hit, and an awesome singalong.
Lasair is really coming into her own. Her new valkyrie song is haunting and tight, a look at the world of men through the eyes of their Judgement. And her boyfriend Charlie is a good liberal lad. Their intellectual discussions in the car (interspersed with fart jokes) were really quite interesting.
Shava and Kudrun and Eliane and the rest of the KWCB staff were astounding in their attention to detail and service and assistance. The coordination, the food, the loaner bedding, the freakin’ taxi that never stopped running… well, I’m sure that there were issues, but I never saw one. Feast was… astounding. Even when the eels were staring at me.
I got to reconnect with Wyndreth, which was awesome, and even more awesome is having the opportunity to work on a project with her. Her Voice is as powerful as ever. She’s a font of information. She makes you think in ways you didn’t think you could brain. I love being around her.
And of course, my Laurel Amelie, who I didn’t get to spend much time with, but is always a cheerful and supportive presence. She brought one of her amazing 800-stringed instruments to the event (I think it’s called a Delruba) and completely cut short a group of bards aggressively discussing… something, I don’t even remember… and played for us. No moss on her, my Laurel.
I took Wyndreth’s “Finding Your Inner Norse Voice” class Saturday morning — and then proceeded to make up kennings for the rest of the event. (Althought silky mushroom is NOT MINE.) Key takeaway: it’s not enough to understand a poetic form. You have to understand the culture to truly be able to speak with an authentic voice. For example, what did the vikings use for money? (Answer: Other people’s money.)
Then I attended Lisa Theriot’s bardic keynote. She’s an excellent speaker, and I enjoyed it. Key takeaway: In the SCA, we’re playing at it. We take some aspects seriously, but the concept of fealty, and the obligations it carries were far far different in period than they are in the SCA. If you break your fealty oath in the SCA, people will talk about you. You’ll lose status. But if you broke your fealty oath in period, frequently you ended up dead.
Sunday started off with Robyyan’s Cantigas for Contrefait class, and I’m really excited about working with some of the material on a particular project I want to try. Then I taught my Sestinas, Ballades and Triolets class, which I really enjoyed doing, because I had nine really interested students, and almost all of them tried writing a poem themselves when the lecture portion of the class was over. I love these forms, and I wish more people would do them. In the afternoon, I co-taught a sparsely attended Boasts class with Zsof, an then a pretty well attended class on being Kingdom Bard that, uh, got a little political. But we worked through that.
Sunday night feast was made especially nice by the conspirators of my wife Laura, Finnguala, and Zsof who worked with Shava to deliver a very nice personalized birthday cake for Lasair and I, who both had birthdays at the event.
And of course there was “Weight of the Chain.”
And how did such stout MidRealm Royalists come to be singing with the War Bard of the East? Go find her blog and she’ll tell you. (psst: find it here.)
It was a… transforming experience, this event. I experienced something very personal and very fundamental here, one that lifted a great weight I’ve burdened myself with for years, and one that puts me on a new path to new aspirations and new deeds of honor. I’ve struggled for years now, trying to find my way back to the SCA, to my muse, to my friends. No one’s fault but my own, but it’s nice to finally, for once and for all, get there. I’m not leaving again.
So there you go. An awesome event, lessened only by the lack of my wife and kids. Amazing classes, tasty food, good friends, formative experiences.
Word-wielders, weary, as homeward they hasten. Cunning Cooks clean food-blades and drink daggers Brewers beam brightly at mead scabbards all empty And Shava, world wrangler, dreams deeply in sleep.
Full friendships flower, sun facing, long waking. East linden walks softly with dragon-bards bold Word-bindings strain under snow-leaves, a blizzard Grain-singers boiling, mind-wort and milling
Heart-pluckers standing, tune-gifting the people Passing the light round song-circle once more Life-speakers, feeders and story-distillers Our wagons bear kennings and dream drivings.
I am the Premiere Warder of the Company of the Bronze Ring, what is now the Grant Level (and terminal) Order for Rapier Combat in the Middle Kingdom. Because I’m the premiere, there are a lot of things that never happened to me that have happened to many other members of the Bronze Ring.
I was never a cadet
I was never officially evaluated by other Bronze Rings
I was never voted on
I was never given a gorget worn by someone else
I wasn’t even originally called “warder”. The title was assigned two years after the award was created.
But perhaps most visibly… I never wore the Ring Bling.
The Ring Bling is a five pound brass washer about a foot in diameter. It’s been worn by many new Bronze Rings, usually after having been dropped on their neck by the King or Queen upon their elevation. But it didn’t get instituted as a Bronze Ring Tradition for years after I was made the first Warder.
This year was the fifteenth anniversary of my recognition as the premiere Warder of the Bronze Ring. So at Pennsic, I approached the man who possessed it at the time, Warder Darius, and asked him if I could wear the Ring Bling for a day. He agreed, pending approval from Their Majesties, and soon after, They had approved as well.
So at Pennsic, on the middle Saturday, I wore the Ring Bling. Darius dropped it around my neck before the beginning of La Rochelle, and I didn’t take it off except to sleep until the middle of Opening Ceremonies the next morning. I marshaled wearing it, I fenced pickups wearing it, I eat wearing it, I sang wearing it. In fact, I did just about everything in it except for… take a picture in it.
The slow burn in my neck muscles grew and grew over the course of the day, along with numbers of people either congratulating me as the newest Warder (because of my hiatus, I guess people don’t recognize me) or asking me what the hell I was doing wearing the thing. Mostly what I was doing was being reminded every second of the time I wore it of my responsibilities and the burdens of being a Warder of the Bronze Ring.
Being a Warder is kind of like being a fish riding a bicycle. We don’t quite fit anywhere. We’re not a peerage, but sometimes we’re treated like one. We’re not the White Scarf, but we’re “equivalent” — depending on the white scarf. Once derisively referred to as the “Brown Ring of Quality” we Warders have struggled for over fifteen years to find our place within the MidRealm, and then within the larger SCA community. To add to that, I’ve often felt not “part” of the CBR myself. A wholly personal problem, I assure you, readers, but still something that made me feel excluded.
But in recent years, much of that has gone away. After a hiatus from the SCA, I returned, and was welcomed back like the Prodigal Son. The CBR has matured and grown into a respected group of individual leaders respected both inside and outside the MidRealm. I ruminated on these thoughts as I wore the ring around my neck, and I thought even more deeply on my responsibilities; to the Order, my Cadet, and the Kingdom in general. Like the five pounds of brass washer around my neck, they weigh on me. I frequently feel like I’m failing at least one, if not two or all of those entities as I continue to walk my path. I’m conflicted with various directions. Am I balancing my love of heavy combat with my rapier commitments? Can I skip that CBR meeting to go to the Bardic class? Should I be home late from practice to get in one more set of pickup fights? Do I make the trip south of Indianapolis to see my cadet at the expense of a local event?
The next morning, I handed the Ring Bling back to Darius, but while the physical weight left my shoulders (and my neck, ow), my burdens of oath and promise and duty did not. I still worry if I’m doing the right things. I still worry that I’m doing the wrong things. As far as I can tell, this makes me just like everyone else, so I’m not terribly worried about it. But I still carry them with me.
Being a Warder is a responsibility. It’s a job that you do, an ideal you uphold, a relationship you build and an example you are. All of the rules of peerage bind it, yet it carries few of the privileges. It’s carried twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Everyone does it a little bit differently, no one does it perfectly.