My writing

#30DaysofHecate Day Three: Imagining the Goddess

Today’s prompt in the #30DaysofHecate “Sacred Pause Welcoming Hallowmas” is about imagining what Hecate looks like to me and how I would recreate Her artistically. It’s really interesting that this is today’s prompt because last night I had a great conversation with a very powerful witch and priestess of Hekate who told me many things about Her, how She is worshipped and perceived and where She comes from. She is most often portrayed in Her culture of origin as a Maiden goddess, the Lightbringer and Torchbearer and Guider along the pathways. I love that about Her, and I love that She’s a psychopomp, a guide of souls to the lands of the dead. I would write about Her youth and beauty and how it contrasts with the darkness and death around Her as She walks in the underworld, and I would write about how light shines from Her as if She herself is the torch. I don’t know Hekate myself, except as She is spoken of by others. I love thinking of Her as a goddess of crossroads; I think of Her whenever I see a y-shaped branch or twig that’s fallen from a wayside tree. I look at the fallen branch or twig and see which way it’s pointing, and use that as a guide or signpost to answer any questions I might have about which direction to take. I used to be afraid of Her because I believed what I had been told about Her as a goddess of evil and dark magic. I laugh about that now because those things I was told about Her were stories invented by men. Fear does not define a goddess. Hecate/Hekate is defined by the light She brings, by Her own magic and the witches who worship Her with their whole hearts. I hope to someday know Her better.

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Day One #30daysofHecate

Hecate is at the crossroads, watching as I approach. I’m scared because of course I’m scared. I have no idea which way to go from here; I only know that going back is not an option. I must go forward but I have no idea what I’ll find when I get there, what I’ll need to help me when I get into trouble, what monsters there are and what heroes, who the Gods are of the new place and if They’ll like me, and worst of all, if I made the right decision in leaving everything behind.

I’m thinking of my ancestors right now, how they must have faced the same questions as they came to the United States from Ireland, for some of them (most of them) never to return, or even see the homeland again. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about moving out of the Bay Area because it’s insanely expensive to live here, and I don’t know if I can afford to live out my life in this place. What’s killing me is that my people on my mother’s side are all buried about fifteen miles from where I’m sitting right now, and if I leave, I’ll be leaving them behind. My ancestors from Ireland must have thought the same thing, maybe only briefly as they boarded the ships to come here because grief over the welfare of the dead is a luxury when faced with the grief over the welfare of the living. But then it occurs to me that migration is a trait of all beings on this planet: we all wander around trying to find the best places for ourselves and our families, and when we run out of room or resources (or both), we move on. We’ve left our dead buried all over the place over the last 150,000 years or so, so wherever I end up, chances are good there will be ancestors there for me to meet and revere, to aid and bless and honor and connect with.

I bring this all to Hecate as I approach her, and I notice now that I’m weeping. I can’t help it. Leaving has never been easy for me; I’m such a child of place and stable belonging that moving on is always a rough go. I remember moving-in day at college when my Mom drove me up to the freshman dorm, and right as the car pulled up to the curb and the young man waiting to help us unload the car grabbed for the door, I whispered, “Take me back. I’ve changed my mind.” So now I give this to Her, and I pray that She’ll help me focus forward, on the new life beginning, on the dawn at the edge of the hill up ahead of me. Help me have the strength to move on.

#30DaysofHecate

 

The Problem with Prayer

I stopped praying when I was nineteen. This was kind a big deal for me because I’d been praying to the Catholic God Yahweh, His son Jesus, Jesus’s mother Mary, and as many saints and angels as you can possibly imagine almost since I could talk. Church mattered to me; praying mattered. I would lie in bed and say decades of the rosary every night as a child during May and October because I felt compelled to, driven to speak to a God who, as it happened, never talked back to me. But it didn’t matter that He never answered (or at least never answered in a way that I recognized at the time, like a booming voice or via a fiery angel or something equally dramatic). I still had to pray because I was driven to. I felt like keeping the candle lit in my heart was more important than anything else, and prayer was the way to do that.

Dominican and Benedictine priests and nuns would come to my elementary school several times a year and sermonize loudly and at length about Holy Mother Church needing “vocations,” new priests and nuns, and had any of us heard “The Call”? That’s what they always called it, “The Call.” None of us ever raised our hands, sitting there in the drowsy afternoon church dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, because of course we didn’t. Who would? Those priests and nuns would come to our masses, yell at us for a little while, then let us go back to school with an admonition to turn off “Speed Racer” and “The Brady Bunch” and listen harder.

I always left these masses feeling sick with guilt, like I was letting God down profoundly and on every single level because I would beg Him to not make me be a nun. I didn’t want to be a nun, and every night for weeks after one of these visits from the Catholic Traveling Proselytization Corps I would lay awake racking my brains trying to figure out if God had called me and I was ignoring it because I was a bad kid. I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old when all this started, and to this day I couldn’t tell you what a call from God as those priests and nuns imagined it was supposed to sound like. Was God going to send an angel to me like He did to Mary? Because that’s what I must have been expecting, and it never happened. But I kept praying anyway.

I went to mass almost every Sunday and every day during Lent; I said the prayers, did the rituals, and received four of the seven sacraments. At some point, though, by the time I started high school perhaps, I stopped saying the Apostle’s Creed during mass. I got as far as “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord …” and I would stop. I couldn’t profess to the rest of it because I didn’t believe in it any more. I didn’t believe in what I began to see as Catholic exceptionalism (even though I didn’t have a word for it at the time) because I couldn’t understand how a God of love could exhort his followers to so much hate against their fellow human beings (and don’t even get me started on the millennia of institutionalized misogyny). I had already stopped saying the grossly anti-Semitic lines of the Good Friday service retelling Christ’s Passion because they were horrifying to me: pretending to be a Jew screaming for the death of the God I loved struck me at first as just awful, and then uncompassionate and mean-spirited toward the Jews living now who had nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Jesus, and then as just hateful in general and I didn’t want anything to do with it. But by my mid-teens, I stopped saying the Creed because it was asking me to agree to something I didn’t and couldn’t condone. I would get maybe fifteen minutes into any given mass and would start to cry. I couldn’t pray, so I would weep.

And then my Dad died when I was eighteen, and that was it. I’d had it. I thought that if the Church’s version of what happens to us after we die was correct, my Dad would be in Hell burning off some ugly sins – maybe not deeply in Hell, maybe just in a Hell-suburb or something because he wasn’t a bad or evil man, but in Hell all the same because he made some stupid choices and mistakes in his life and hurt his wife and kids. And I remember thinking, “No. Fuck that.” I didn’t know how it was in the afterlife, though, and I still don’t. But back then, awash in tsunami of grief and in a deep crisis of faith, I decided that God was gonna do what God was gonna do and my wishes and desires weren’t part of that algorithm, so fuck it. I was done.

I didn’t realize it at the time – who does when they’re eighteen and stupid? – but the death of my Dad freed me from the clutches of the Church and set me on the path I’m on now, searching for meaning and understanding in life. But I still wrangle with the Church because so many people I know, and millions more I don’t, adhere to its tenets. Most of my people are the ones I call “Buddhist Catholics” or “Compassion Catholics” or the “Service to All in the Cause of Social Justice in His Name” Catholics. I find I get along very well with them because I see the reflection of the Founder of the Faith in those practices.

Recently on Facebook, though, I came across something that used to rattle me as a child and still upsets me to this day. A person was thanking her Heavenly Father for providing her with a house here in the San Francisco Bay Area that was bought for her by a family member – and as real estate markets go, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that wealth must be involved with this family for one member to buy another member a house here. Now, don’t mistake my meaning: I think it’s a great blessing that they are able to afford such real estate, and it’s right of this person to offer gratitude. But here’s where my confusion comes in, where it’s always come in: this Catholic God is the same Energy, the same Being, the same Deity as the God of the Muslims, the same as the God of the Syrian refugees who are not only living in a terrible war zone, but they’re doing it without any homes at all and in most cases with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Millions of men, women, and children are utterly and completely homeless, possessionless, and in some awful cases parent-less or child-less. How in the world do you reconcile those two truths? How is that God so cruel, so divisive, so out of touch as to bless one small family with multiple homes in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world while millions of other families sleep in the cold on the bare ground, with nothing between them and flying bullets but that Deity’s apparently whimsical grace. Why would anybody worship such a Deity? I’m asking sincerely because I’ve always wanted to know: is your God responsible for your wealthy relation who can buy you a nice home in a wealthy town? Is He responsible for all your Grammy awards that you thank Him for, or your touchdowns, or your successful Internet businesses?

Because here’s the implication of all those prayers of gratitude: “Thank you for treating me better than You’re treating those poor bastards over there. Thank you for letting me be safe and rich. I must deserve it because otherwise it would be the other way around.” Every moment of gratitude to this Deity includes a sigh of relief that we are not as screwed as those people over there. Are we more deserving of blessings and goodness than those who don’t receive the new house or the Grammy or the touchdown? Does their God somehow love them less, those losers, and is this material success His way of showing it? Even though it’s the same God?

Or maybe God has nothing to do with it. Maybe praising a God or Gods like this is a way of letting ourselves off the hook for not helping others or not taking responsible action toward justice in the world. “God has housed me so I don’t have to worry about the homeless because if they were worthy, God would take care of them too.” Of course people aren’t consciously thinking things like this because I believe people are basically born good. What they are, though, what we are, is thoughtless. We don’t think about what we’re saying or what we’re doing (or not doing), and this thoughtlessness comprises many modern prayers and offers of gratitude.

Do you pray? Do you think about Who you’re talking to? Do you visualize that Deity, whether it’s European Wealthy White People Jesus or Radical Social Justice Person of Color Jesus or the Prophet and the One he spoke for or any of the hundreds of Forms of Odin or the Great Earth Mother or the Cosmic Void or Tara or Shiva or Aphrodite or the Orishas or the Forces of the Natural World or even the Elements themselves that form the basis of our Universe? What do you say? We reach for pre-ordained words and speeches because maybe we’re all a little bit lazy, but mostly because speaking to the Ineffable is overwhelming and at best intimidating. It can be terrifying to speak with a Power that could utterly destroy you with less than half a breath. Naturally we’re going to rely on what we’ve been taught to say by others, what’s been passed down through generations perhaps as the only right way to approach a Divine Force.

Except that that’s exactly why Jesus came in the first place: to destroy habit, to utterly trash what structures had grown up and over the flowering tree of faith in his homeland and had begun to stifle the life out of it. He came to breathe life and strength back into a crushed and oppressed people, and to tell them that speaking to God was as easy as quieting the mind and saying hello to their neighbors, or just taking the hand of a stranger. So here’s a thing to do: think not only about what you’re saying when you pray, but also about the implications of your words, the shadows that live between the hard edges of what’s spoken. And if you want to say “thank you,” by all means do so, but when you’re done, follow it up with some action in the world that passes on the blessings you’ve received to others so that all are equally blessed.

Imagine you’re Yahweh. How many times do you want to be thanked for a Grammy award by a guy who uses slave labor to produce his clothing line? How many times do you want to hear “thank you Heavenly Father” from wealthy Americans who live in homes big enough for extended families to live comfortably under one roof, who waste more food than some people eat in a year, who consistently support violent governments that spread warfare in poor places in the name of “arming friendly rebels” simply because they can’t take the trouble to educate themselves and vote from a place of responsible global citizenry? If you were Yahweh, you’d have stopped listening a long time ago too. You’d have just started gardening and growing really nice tomatoes, and you’d have left those noisy kids down the road to fend for themselves, paying no attention and not giving a damn in the slightest about Who stepped into and is currently stomping around in your large, dangerous, and utterly deadly Shoes.

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Visiting Sophia, the Holy Magdalene

Today I went to mass. I don’t usually go to masses unless someone I love is either getting married or being buried, but today was different. There’s a Gnostic sanctuary not far from where I live, and a friend of mine from Texas was in town today and wanted to meet there for mass, so off I went to meet her and check out the new Sanctuary.

A Gnostic mass is very different from the Catholic mass. For one thing, this Gnostic church celebrates wisdom, Sophia, from all sources, not just the Gnostic gospels. For another, symbolism of the Sacred Feminine is everywhere here. Below is a photo of the altar: not only is it beautiful with its candles and flowers and lovely plants with living ivy draping everywhere, but hanging above it is a painting of the Madonna and Child. There’s also a small statue of the Black Madonna below the painting, giving great resonance to the presence of the sacred Dark Mother in Her form as Mary Magdalene.

This tradition of Gnosticism isn’t mine, so I didn’t know the prayers or sing the songs. I sat in respectful silence in the darkened chapel and just let the beautiful singing and chanting wash over me. The whole setting was perfect even though just outside the doors were an industrial business park and a railroad junction. It was, it is, a small space of honoring our Holy Mother in the midst of a great, bustling, masculine world.

But perhaps I should go back a bit and explain things. I met my friend at the Sanctuary and we chatted for a bit before being allowed in to the Sanctuary. They had been having a singing practice prior to today’s Eucharist, so as we caught up and did our lady-chatting thing in the foyer, there was this ethereal background chorus of gorgeous voices drifting in from down the hall. Oh, and that’s another thing about this Gnostic Sanctuary: everybody sings. They’ve all got the most gorgeous voices, and it adds to the ceremony in ways that I’ve missed since leaving Catholicism behind. There’s a way that prayer drifts through the air differently when it’s sung than when it’s spoken, or maybe it just seems that way to me because I’ve never been able to carry more than three notes in my very limited vocal range. I’m loud, yes, and god bless the volume. I just don’t have melody or any sort of subtlety so I notice it when others do, especially when the surroundings are of the sacred sort.

The Sanctuary itself is cave-like, which is so perfect it’s almost ridiculous. When entering sacred space, one is basically entering the womb of creation into which intention is generated and supported. When one leaves sacred space, that intention or experience is “birthed” into being in the physical world of manifestation and we carry it with us when we leave. I remember first hearing this idea with regard to indigenous American practices with sweat lodges, and in pagan practices when casting circles. I’ve just never experienced it in a church of any denomination. Churches are built to have these great expanses of light, even during midnight masses with acres of lit candles everywhere. It’s almost as if the darkness must be banished from every corner of the church. But not in this sanctuary. It’s small with walls painted in dark shades of brick and brown, but the light shining on the altar and flickering from all the candles is softly gorgeous and creates an atmosphere of beautiful, quiet contemplation.

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Tau Rosamonde Miller was the celebrant today. She is a soft-spoken bishop of the Gnostic church, and the Spirit flows through her in gently lilting, passionate language. She delivered a homily first, a quiet speech about what it means when we ask, “Who is God?” or “Who is like God?” It stuck with me most profoundly when she said that the idea isn’t to answer, but to sit with the mystery of that question, possibly because it sounded like such a Buddhist thing to say: do not reach for the answer. Do not grasp at words or language or discernable ideas, but instead, sit with the experience of the question. Sit in the mystery, and just be. The Divine in this instance, or rather, this instance of the Divine, may be the Word, but S/He is not knowable via the word. Perhaps this is where those who interpret the Bible in a literal way get lost: they think that because Jesus is known as the Word, and the Bible is a book of written words, Jesus must be the Bible and therefore to respect each Word is to respect Him. But that misses the point, if I am presuming to understand Tau Rosamonde correctly: Wisdom, the Great Sophia, She of the Darkness who is breathed into being, is experienced, not learned. And once we have that experience, once we have felt and known the Divine moving within us, we are called to share that experience with others, not by telling them about it, but by being it, by being love.

I was torn during the rite as to whether or not to take communion. As it happens, I was at a funeral mass yesterday for a dear friend who died of ALS in August. In that instance it was easy for me to decline to accept communion, not because I’m a “rebel” or anything, but because I try not to be a hypocrite. It would have been wrong for me to take communion even though I’ve received all the sacraments up to that point that would have allowed it (except I haven’t been to confession for decades and I hadn’t fasted that morning, so that should have let me out of it right there even if I’d wanted to receive communion). But Tau Rosamonde said that all were welcome to receive the sacrament at the Gnostic mass today, no matter what their background. So I went up and participated, ate the Body, drank the Blood. As I sat down, I experienced a moment of panic that the other Gods I worship would be offended that I had reached out in this way to the Christ, the One in whose name so many of them were driven underground and away from their Ancestral lands. I do a great deal of work with Odin these days, and have felt myself to be under His guardianship most of my life, so He was the main One I was afraid I had offended by receiving the Eucharist. I sat down and reached out to Him to check and see. Right at that moment crows began cawing back and forth to each other in the office park outside the Sanctuary, and in that moment I felt better. I did not feel His presence in that Sanctuary the way I do now as I sit here at my desk and write this, but I did feel that I had not given offense, like what I had done was sincere and an attempt to experience the Mystery as perhaps Jesus had intended it to be experienced before it became what it is now, a sort of corporate, fossilized, intellectualized shell that once used to contain something precious and beautiful.

As I left the Sanctuary after the rite was over, I felt almost drunk or high with the space of it (and here’s where I try to explain the inexplicable and end up sounding like a stoner doofus, so apologies for that) like I was a chubby space shuttle drifting through the space in the hallway and out into the Foyer where everyone had come to sit and chat and nibble on fruit and pastries that the Sanctuary members had brought for after the rite. Cakes and ale are always gonna be cakes and ale no matter what religion you’re in, right? And in true stoner fashion, I brought my chubby shuttle in for a landing in a tight wicker chair and helped myself to a handful of gorgeous red grapes that were the best friggin’ things I’d ever tasted in my life. You know how being high gives you the munchies (or so I’ve been told 😉 )? Well, apparently being sacred-space-high makes me really hungry for fresh red grapes. As I nibbled and listened to Tau Rosamonde talk about Sophia and mice and St. Francis and shoes and a hundred other things the group conversation touched on, I thought about Divine experience and how perhaps as a poet, it’s my job to try to give words to the inexplicable, that that’s what poets are for, and that’s what the gift of the Mystery is for.

But then again, this gift isn’t one we give, it’s one we live, and by living it, we give it.

Ritual Offering: Save the Black Innocents and Stop the Violence

My friends,

Today I wrote a ritual drawing on my Tibetan Buddhist and Dharma Pagan Tara reverence practices (go to my sangha’s web site here http://www.skydancersangha.com/our-practice-1/ for more information about what Dharma Paganism is and what our practices are). I did this because I am exhausted, horrified, and sickened by how many people of color continue to be murdered by the very authorities that are supposed to protect us all equally. There are too many to list here, to our everlasting and terrible shame, but the most recent I became aware of this morning is Sandra Bland. It’s got to stop. The violence, the hate, the racism, has all got to stop. #SandraBland #SayHerName #Black LivesMatter

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Because of this continuing shit show masquerading as police protection for people of color, I have decided to start a daily practice to the wrathful emanation of Tara who dispels all negativity: Jigje Chenmo, the Great Terrifying Lady Who Completely Destroys Negativity. You are welcome to join me in this practice if you like. Here is a link to a video of the SkyDancer Sangha performing the chant during our regular Tara Tuesdays practice: https://vimeo.com/133697125 This is the chant I use in the ritual below. Please do feel free to watch the full video if you like, or if you just want to hear the mantra being chanted, skip to 21:00 on the recording.

Ritual to Save the Black Innocents and Stop the Violence

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What you’ll need:

  • Candle of any color that carries significance for you in working with Deities of the dead
  • Mala
  • Ritual dagger, sword, or knife
  • Rock (this can be anything from your most precious crystal to a pebble from your sidewalk)

Place these items within easy reach. Perform three prostrations in honor of Tara Jigje Chenmo, the Great and Terrifying Lady Who Completely Destroys Negativity.

Jigje Chenmo

Seat yourself before your candle. Take three deep grounding breaths. Light the candle and say:

I light this candle in honor of those whose earthly lights have gone out. May they shine on in the Eternal Darkness that is the Blessed, Beloved Mother of All.

Set your intention for this ritual by saying:

I make this offering in honor of those men, women, and children of color who have died because of racial hatred, cut short by the fear and madness of those white people in positions of authority who should have protected them and lifted them up.

Call out to Tara Jigje Chenmo to awaken Her to your purpose:

Hail, Holy Mother! I beg you to hear my cries for justice. (Feel free to add whatever moves you to say to Her here, anything personal from your heart.)

I offer homage to Arya Tara, at whose lotus feet
the gods and non-gods make worship.
Homage to Tara, mother of all Buddhas,
who heralds freedom from limitation.
Homage to Arya Tara, a beyond-samsara goddess
whose form is delightful to perceive
and whose precious ornaments shine with splendor
like stars reflected from an emerald mountain.

Take up your mala and rapidly recite Her mantra 108 times to awaken Her:

OM TARE TAM SOHA

Once that’s done, put your mala in your non-power hand. With your power hand, take up the ritual dagger. With this dagger you will intentionally cut away all negativity and evil operating in police departments, government agencies, and courts of law like slicing through brittle strings that disintegrate at your touch. As you recite the following mantra, when you get to “BAM! HUNG! PHET!”, make slicing motions in front of you with the knife in your power hand. Do this in a back-and-forth motion three times (BAM HUNG PHET, 1 2 3, back, forth, back) and visualize cutting all evil and negativity away from those people of color who are being daily betrayed by authority. When you get to “SOHA…”, imagine a soothing balm covering them to heal their wounds.

Say this mantra 108 times:

OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SARVA BIGHNEN BAM HUNG PHET SOHA.

(Again, go to 21:00 on the video here if you want to hear the mantra chanted.)

When you finish, put the ritual knife and mala down, and pick up the rock. Say the following prayer into it (and it’s particularly awesome if you’re in front of an open window and can say this into the breeze as well as to the rock, but it’s also ok if not):

I ask this living rock, representative of Mother Earth, to ground this practice into Her body. May it be carried from here out into the world, stone to stone, leaf to leaf, tree to tree, breeze to breeze, droplet of water to droplet of water out into the great oceans and forests and cities of the world. May my prayer for peace and healing be whispered into every corner of this living planet. May all be at peace. May all know forgiveness. May all know love. Shanti. Om.

Then blow lightly on the stone. Hold it for a moment and imagine it as your Sacred Messenger, then place it next to the candle.

If you have time, sit in meditation for peace and healing for a few minutes. If you don’t, which is totally fine, go ahead and blow out the candle. As you do so, watch the smoke rise and say:

Take my prayers and my gratitude, Holy Mother. Love to You, love to You, love to You.

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Thank you. May you all be blessed.

On International Women’s Day: Honoring Our Lady the Black Madonna

In honor of International Women’s Day, I would like to share with you all a piece I wrote and delivered at the “Sacred Mass in Honor of the Dark Mother” during Pantheacon this year as a Sister of the Order of the Black Madonna. The Order of the Black Madonna honors the Holy Dark Mother in all Her forms ancient and new, and we reach out to Her in this time of trouble and hope, of fire and revolution as the old ways die and new ways are born. We pray that all beings come into the light of love, compassion, and wild joy at being human and alive and together and free. We pray and we believe and we act as one. May all beings be blessed. May all beings be free.


“Salve Regina coelitum, O Maria! Sors unica terrigenum, O Maria!” For almost a thousand years, that refrain has rung through cathedrals across Europe and later Asia and the Americas, calling out to Her, imploring Her aid, Her mercy, Her intervention. Perhaps you’ve heard it? Or maybe you’re too young to remember those words. Maybe you’ve heard these: “Hail, holy queen, enthroned above! Oh, Maria. Hail, mother of mercy and of love! Oh, Maria. Triumph, all ye Cherubim. Sing with us, ye Seraphim! Heaven and earth resound the hymn: salve, salve, salve Regina!”

The Black Madonna has heard those words over and over in all Her forms and incarnations, even up to this very day: Our Lady of Czestochova, Divine Patroness of Poland and perhaps the most famous Black Madonna in the world, actually went on a world tour last year and was viewed by thousands of pilgrims here in California alone. No doubt She was regaled with a verse or two of the thousand-year-old Salve Regina. People come to Her from every corner of the world with prayers and their fervent beliefs, and She hears them all.

She is the Our Lady of Miracles who alone remained standing and whole when a chapel built by the worshipful hands of slaves (because nobody else would do it) collapsed around Her and all the other statues in that chapel were shattered. Their faith lifted Her up, and in return Her love brought believers from all over to their little town to worship Her and receive Her grace. She is Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart, the purest source of love there is, and considered by a highly patriarchal church to be not only directly linked to the divine Sacred Heart of Christ, but to be divine Herself, in that way. Love responds to love, venerates love, reverberates love; and therefore when She loves Her son as we love our children, our families, our beloveds, our friends and neighbors; and Her son loves her back, that constant back and forth flow of Divine love confers divinity on all who share in it. She is Our Lady of Sorrows because She was human and She knows what sorrow is. She knows what we suffer when we risk loving and reaching out to others, when we have children or when we don’t, when we offer our hearts and are rebuffed, when we fight our neighbors and break each other and mow each other down in our blind human fury. She knows and has been there, watching from the front row while Her son was murdered to prove a point—how many black mothers today can relate with Her, can She relate with, on that score? Too FUCKING many. She is Our Lady of Good Counsel, a beautiful miraculous vision that appeared in Italy back in the days when miraculous visions were much more common, and people believed in the ready availability of the Divine Presence much more than they do today—popes, artists, and kings visited Her then, crowned Her, worshipped Her, and sought Her counsel and wisdom. She is the Our Lady the Black Madonna, mother of slaves, mother of the dark ones, mother of the marginalized and forgotten ones—great goddess from ancient whispering religions who wears a new face for new times but who is the same old, old Mother, the same Crone Wisdom, the same sacred fire of passion and inspiration that inspired and blessed revolutions in Poland and slave revolts in Haiti, and who hides many MANY ancient and powerful gods under Her wide and flowing skirts. Mitochondrial Eve. Astarte. Ishtar. Inana. Kali. Lilith. Isis. Ala. Coatlicue. Gaia. Diana of Ephesus. Mary Magdalene. La Santa Muerte. Our Lady of Czestochova. We pray to you. We sing to you. Even today, as songs rise up that glorify murder and madness, if you listen you can hear the reverberation of Her worship gently lifting us up:

And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me.
Shine on until tomorrow,
Let it be.

I wake up to the sound of music,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom,
Let it be.

Race, Racism, and White Privilege: Talking About It

I’m at Pantheacon, friends. For those of you who have never been here, it’s an annual conference that seeks to engage, entertain, instruct, and inform members of the Pagan community about each other with classes, workshops, parties, concerts, and rituals, and it’s pretty much a 96-hour party for those who attend and 12-month undertaking for those who put it on. (You can read about it at the Con’s web site here.) I love coming here. I’ve been coming for over a decade now, and many of my friends are here. I’ve learned a lot, grown, changed, and today I led a class in using charms and a hand-drawn compass to talk to our ancestors. Tonight I attended a panel about racism in the Pagan community, and I’ve got a lot stirred up around this issue that I thought I would get out of my system before I try to sleep.

Pantheacon does a lot of stuff right. Having, hosting, and holding space for panels like the one I attended tonight (hosted by Crystal Blanton and called “Bringing Race to the Table: An Exploration of Racism in Paganism”) is one of those right things that they do. I felt really challenged tonight because like almost every other white person I know, I consider myself a good person. I consider myself a non-racist ally to my brothers and sisters of color. I donate to causes, I challenge racist opinions, and I pray for change. So when Pagans of color talk about dealing with white pagan guilt, the overwhelming crush of do-gooder whiteys who can’t wait to tell them how much they suffer guilt for what people of color go through—with the implication being how good they are for trying—they can’t possibly be talking about me, can they? When Xochiquetzal Duit Odinsdottir says that she’s done offering absolution to white pagans, is she talking about me? Because maybe she’s talking about me. I’ve never thought of myself as needing absolution from a person of color because I haven’t ever considered myself a racist. I didn’t own slaves and none of my family did, although I do come from a long line of very racist Irish people. But not me. I don’t and didn’t and won’t ever use the “N” word. What if that’s not enough, though? Or more to the point, what if that’s not the point at all? What if the point is that whether or not I’m racist is the wrong question. What if I should be coming from the position that by virtue of my birth as an American descendent of Western European ancestors I am privileged, and my privilege is something that goes with me and is part of every breath I take. How much money I have is irrelevant. My zip code is irrelevant. What is relevant is that I don’t have to fight through a social construct of “we” versus “they” in which I am the “they,” because as a white woman I am automatically included in the “we.” I am not society’s Other. I am not the social antithesis, and THAT is my privilege.

One of the panelists tonight said that at the root of racism was fear, and that got me to thinking, “Fear of what?” We talk a lot about fear, but what does that mean? Are we afraid of other people? Am I afraid? What am I afraid of? And I felt it: a clench in my gut. There it is: my racism, a core fear that lives in my root chakra. What is it? I’m still working it out, but I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far: I’m afraid that I’ll be treated the way people of color are treated in this society. I’m afraid of having to be afraid of the police. I’m afraid of what it would be like to have to fight through bigots at polling places, or to have to deal with bosses who don’t want to hire me for a good job for which I’m well qualified because I don’t look “right.” I don’t want to be the Other.

And there, my friends, is the unpleasant and ugly truth staring me straight in the face: I like my privilege. And that is some fucked up shit right there.

Two Hundred and Ninety-Eight Beautiful Things (251-298)

To complete this exercise honoring the 298 people who lost their lives in the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, here is the last segment of this list of two hundred and ninety-eight beautiful things about being alive in the world. We honor them who have lost their lives, who were taken from us in violence too soon. We honor their memories by recognizing the beauty and wonder of life around us every day. May they be forever blessed. What is remembered, lives.

“251. The video of the cat wearing a shark suit sitting on a Roomba as it rolls around a kitchen while a woman shucks corn, because OMG YOU GUYS COME ON! It’s a cat in a shark suit sitting on a Roomba rolling around a kitchen while a woman shucks corn! (http://youtu.be/tLt5rBfNucc) 252. Speaking of Internet cats, let’s send hugs and pets to Maru and Hana, Grumpy Cat, Lil Bub, and the granddaddy of them all, Morris the Cat. 253. Sachets. It’s a grandma thing, I guess, but they’re still awesome. Who else would think of making little baggies of herbs to make your underpants smell good? 254. Shredders are great because no matter how bad you feel in any given moment, putting something through the shredder will always make you feel better. The smaller the bits the thing gets shredded into, the better you feel. It’s a ratio thing. SCIENCE. 255. Sephora rules. So many pretty things and things to make you pretty all in one place. 256. Can I just say how much I am grateful for fingernails? I mean, I’m pretty grateful for fingers too, but fingernails are pretty much the icing on the phalangeal cake. 257. Making words up rules. 258. I love that steering wheels are actually wheels (that is to say, they’re round). Can you imagine trying to steer your car with a stick (e.g., a joystick)? I mean, that would totally suck. 259. Mail is a wonderful thing: sending it, receiving it, and even getting rid of junk mail is a reminder that we can still put our thoughts down on paper, send that paper to someone somewhere, and if they live within a few hundred miles, they’ll get your paper-thoughts the next day. Bill Mahr has a wonderful rant about this, and he’s right. The post office rules. 260. I know they say you should never swim in the rain, but still, I love swimming in the rain. 261. Yanni is wonderful. I know, I know, you buncha hipsters. But his music just has so much sweep and drama. YANNI. 262. Roller skating. Not with those inline death-on-wheels disasters, but with actual honest to god roller skates. So awesome. 263. Let’s talk about crocheting. How cool is it that you can use this little metal hook thingie and turn yarn into the most gorgeous sweaters ever made? YARN. Come on now. 264. I’m a big fan of shoelaces (as opposed to velcro closures on shoes). There’s something so elegant and sophisticated about tying one’s shoelaces. Velcro makes me feel like I’m three and not to be trusted with actual shoes. 265. TUMS. Seriously, one hungover morning and you’ll be a fan too. 266. Honey. Bee spit, people. I don’t actually want to think too much about how honey is made, because of how much I love eating it. One of my favorite moments from “The Hobbit” comes when the hobbits are in Beorn’s house and Gandalf refused to talk about where he’d been (away dealing with The Necromancer, which I wouldn’t want to talk about either) until he’d eaten a whole loaf of bread slathered with butter and honey. SLATHERED. 267. Dr. Who. Come on! Who wouldn’t want to go traveling through time and space and have a chance to say, “Shut up, Hitler!”? 268. I love Cheez-Its. I’m pretty sure Nabisco or whoever makes them puts nicotine in them to make them addictive. #truestory 269. Waltzing in my living room is really fun when I’m blue. Or the Blue Danube. Either way. (ba-DUM-tish) But really, though. I love doing a little twirly waltz as a way to cheer me up when I’m sad. 270. Continuing education in all its forms is a wonderful thing. I could be 80 years old and still sign up for a class to learn Arabic. Or knitting. Or anything. 271. Boxing gloves are great because you can put them on to punch the punching bag at the gym and you won’t hurt your hands or wrists when you learn how to box. 272. Landlines. Just in case. 273. I love how the air smells up in the mountains: clear, fresh, like it just came from heaven. 274. Losing my job (which just happened on 7/31/14) and finding out how many friends I actually have and how rich I am in love and support. ❤ 275. Streaming radio is a godsend. 276. Nothing gets one through the dark times quite like a sense of humor–either my own or other people’s. Laughing is the best medicine ever, and that’s the truth. 277. Being able to not agree with someone but still be their friend is a wonderful thing. 278. Paying your debts and clearing the ledgers. 279. The smell of a sunny meadow–there’s something about the smell of warm grass that is soothing to me. 280. The beginning of football season in August and September. 😀 So much hope. 281. I love how little the Mona Lisa is. She’s got the most massive reputation of any piece of Western art, and she’s so tiny when you see her in real life. It reminds me that the smallest thing can change the course of history. 282. I don’t know how but time travel is possible dammit and someday somebody’s gonna figure it out. 283. The social security net of unemployment insurance because let’s face it: we’re all going to need it at some point or other and we’re going to be glad it’s there when we do. 284. Stained glass. Come on, it’s gorgeous and really pretty when the light hits it. 285. Rain is awesome. Sky-water, man. All the good gods bless the sky-water. 286. Finding a movie or a book that didn’t ever hit the mainstream but still is so totally 100% right in your wheelhouse that it makes your day just thinking about it. I’m looking at you, “Princess Caraboo.” 287. Realizing that a friendship is over and you can let it go with love instead of recrimination and bitchiness. That’s a wonderful moment of grace. 288. Realizing that a friend is kind of crazy but it’s ok because that’s just them being them. 289. The promise of empty bookshelves. 290. That moment when you hear the mailman arrive and you think maybe there might be something wonderful coming for you. 291. Allowing it to be possible that all things are possible. You know what I mean? Just having one of those moments where ANYTHING is possible, like maybe you used to be a mermaid or a gnome or maybe you used to be able to fly and you just forgot how and all you have to do is just remember and you’ll be able to fly again. 292. I love maps. On one wall I have maps of all the local parks and recreation areas in my state, and on the other I have a map of Middle Earth. 293. There’s a game out there that involves pushing a rock on ice and trying to knock other rocks away. I love what the Canadians come up with when they’re bored. 294. It’s possible to do anything, you know. Yeah, you know. 295. I love the sense of peace I get in graveyards. 296. It’s a wonderful thing, being able to pray. Being able to send your wishes, hopes, and dreams into the Universe in the hope of being heard… how magic is that? 297. Wanting ever only goodness for the people of the world, alive and dead, so that we can stop killing each other in fear and hate… This is a good thing that is hard, I know. We have so many regional reasons for hating, so much history and backstory, and there’s so much blood on both sides. But we have to be willing to forgive, to let go, to release each other from our sins and wish only peace and goodness so that the killing will stop. And I believe that this is possible. I believe we can save ourselves, and this is my wish and my prayer for everyone who died on that plane and every day since: that their deaths have not been in vain because we’re learning from them to forgive one another and move on in peace. 298. You. I’m grateful for you. May all the great gods bless you and hold you close in everything you do. Walk on, my beautiful darlings.

kids walking

Two Hundred and Ninety-Eight Beautiful Things (201-250)

And we continue our list of beautiful things for which we here at Muse’s Darling Industries are grateful in this life, one for each of the people who died on Malaysian Flight 17.

“201. The opportunity to be a great big grumpy-pants this morning. I bet there are 298 ghosts out there who would gladly trade with me for just a second of being alive again. 202. I’m grateful for Margot Adler, brilliant journalist with NPR and author of the classic Drawing Down the Moon. She died today. May she be forever blessed. 203. Lilies. Loads and loads of lilies, for ancestors and sweet passage into whatever comes next. 204. Men who are kind. 205. Even though I’m not a regular practitioner of yoga, I love it because so many other people are, and it’s something I really want to start doing regularly. 206. Tattoos are awesome, even if they’re messed up. 207. I have a great appreciation for clerics (of any and all spiritual persuasions) who live lives of embodied social justice for everyone, especially the poor, the destitute, and the hopeless. May they be forever blessed. 208. Humor is awesome, and heals so many things. 🙂 209. And while we’re on the subject of grand themes, let’s take a second to applaud Hope, that star in the night sky that never fades, that quivering little being in Pandora’s box who refused to fly away and leave her even after everything else was gone. 210. I’m not a big fan of perfume in general, but still, it’s pretty wonderful that we can recreate scents from the natural world (and create our own wholly new scents) and bring them into our homes and lives at will. 211. Makeup is a pretty cool thing too. Yay being able to create new, interesting looks with color, contouring, and shading. 212. Tape. Tape is great. I like tape. 213. Photography is one of the most evocative of all the arts (to me, anyway). I love how much emotion can be conveyed within a simple photograph. 214. Differences. I love differences. They not only keep things from being boring, but they allow us to distinguish one thing from another thing. This is a very useful skill, especially when driving. <wink> 215. Tom Hiddleston. I hope I haven’t mentioned him already but he deserves a place of his own on this list separate from all the other beautiful, talented men working in film these days. #fangirl #NorseGodHottie #alsoShakespeareOMGdies 216. Starbucks for a quick afternoon decaf (and a nice 10-minute walk outside the office). Right? 217. Dice. Who doesn’t love dice? Talk about a divination tool! 218. Let’s give a nod to The Boomtown Rats because of all the awesome rock n’roll, Bob Geldof, and “Live Aid.” 219. Do penguins ever really get enough love? I mean, seriously. What sort of evolutionary track is going on there with a bird who can’t fly but who can swim better than most fish? 220. “Frozen.” Say no more. 221. Let me mention things here that mystify me in terms of how they’re made: paper towels, toilet paper, and kleenex. I could probably google it or binge-watch “How It’s Made” for a few weeks, but I prefer to let the mystery remain a mystery. I mean, there’s no “paper-towel” plant, right? And god help me, there’s no “toilet-paper” plant (because if there were, ew)–although some plants have big enough leaves to help out if you’re desperate. I’m just sayin’. 😉 222. Big musicals on Broadway. The spectacle, man. Talk about “bread and roses.” Broadway producers know what the hell they’re doing. 223. Golf. Let’s take a minute and give golf its due because it’s like full-body pool, and my guess is that it’s much, much harder than it looks. 224. Talk radio is pretty awesome because it helps me to not feel so lonely. Sports talk radio, that is. Regular news talk radio gives me hives. 225. Movie previews are awesome because they’re like little windows into the future, and they show me what other storymakers are making, story-wise. 226. Christopher Marlowe deserves his own item in this list because he’s the only dramatist of his era who could have knocked Shakespeare down a peg. His poetry was epic, his command of iambic pentameter utterly unmatched; but he never had Shakespeare’s great big heart, and he definitely played with dangerous political fire that ultimately got him killed before his thirtieth birthday. 227. Bill Walsh, since we’re mentioning people right now. 49ers coach Bill Walsh remade the game. (Of football. American football.) God bless you, Coach. 228. Have you ever played jacks? Not the card game, but old-school jacks where you bounce a ball and try to grab little metal objects of stabby death and then catch the ball before it hits the ground? I loved that game when I was a kid. I was GOOD at that game. 229. The California Golden Poppy. For twenty years I had no idea that poppies ever came in any other color, and I had no idea why WWI veterans wore these red flowers on their lapels and called them “poppies.” 230. The elliptical trainer at the gym, because of all the no-impact. Happy knees. 231. Pears. Seriously, people. PEARS. Pears are evidence of god(s). Somebody call the atheists and make them a pear pie. 232. And while we’re on food, because I’m hungry, let’s take a minute to thank all the powers that be for cheese. I am ready to acknowledge the awesomeness of all cheese, but specifically let me shout out Gouda, Havarti, and Feta. And also sharp cheddar. 232. Constant reminders in story and film that good triumphing over evil is possible. 233. Goddess worship, because as Tupac put it, “we all came from a woman got our name from a woman and our game from a … woman.” 234. Waking up in the morning and LOVING my gray hair. 235. Origami, because making things out of paper without words is another kind of poetry. 235. Straws are a miracle of engineering for which I am profoundly grateful. 236. Figuring out a solution to a problem. 237. Catching myself before I engage too deeply in schadenfreude. 238. Turning that schadenfreude into prayers of compassion and loving kindness for the elevation and benefit of all. 239. Performing in front of an audience. It’s exciting and thrilling and reminds me that I’m not living in my head. 240. Forgiveness–being able to forgive, and being forgiven. Both, together. 241. Going to see “The Nutcracker” performed by the San Francisco Ballet at Christmas. It’s a wonderful story beautifully produced, and it brings art to life. It’s a reminder that art is life. 242. I love having the right tools handy when I need to get a job done, whether it’s a hammer or a nail file. And yes, I have a hammer with a pink handle because that’s how I roll. 243. Reading glasses. You over-40s know what I’m talking about. 244. Those bouncy ball things at the gym that not-in-the-know sad people use to actually exercise on, but I use to sit-bounce on because sit-bouncing is AWESOME and hilarious. 245. Vincent Van Gogh saw the world in such a beautifully energetic way, like the wind was constantly blowing through his mind and he figured out how to paint whatever he was looking at that way. 246. Swords. Swords rule. I love the gladius and the katana especially. 247. Seeing the Golden State Warriors turn it around from being the laughing stock of the NBA to being one of the biggest badasses on the block. I love cheering for them. 248. Ireland is beautiful and fresh and green, even when the wind is howling and it’s pouring rain. 249. “The Brady Bunch.” Come on, you know you know the “When It’s Time to Change” song. 250. Eye liner can be a wonderful tool when used properly. By a professional (because some of us know what it should look like but are utterly unable to recreate the right look ourselves).

eyeliner

Two Hundred and Ninety-Eight Beautiful Things (151-200)

And we continue …

“151. I gotta list baby smell. I don’t have any kids, but baby smell is awesome, especially their little feets. 152. Snow. Everything about snow is great. 153. It’s amazing that you can go to this web site and follow along with two little human-made robot cars as they explore the surface of Mars. MARS. http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mer/mission/traverse_maps.html 154. Friends who tell great stories. What a blessing! 155. Having friends, period. 156. I love river rocks. They are a combination of the earth and water elements, and they speak of a softness of the experience. 157. Frank Gore, epic running back for the San Francisco 49ers. He is the epitome of stick-to-it-iveness, gumption, and leaving it all on the field. He speaks to me of Ogun, the Orisha of Iron. 158. Photographs from my childhood matter so much to me, and I’m grateful for the development (pardon the pun) of technology that allows photos to be taken and shared so much more easily than they used to. 159. Facebook. I’m grateful for Facebook, not for its time-suck qualities (which are legion), but because it’s helped me reconnect with so many friends from my past. 160. Rock and roll bands, especially ones with great songwriters (I’m looking at you U2, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Train; also great pop and rock songwriters/bands of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s). 161. Amnesty International. I’m grateful as hell that an organization like Amnesty International exists. They’ve never once in forty years of existence sacrificed the moral high ground. NOT ONCE. ❤ 162. I’m so so grateful for J.R.R. Tolkien. I wish he’d been better at writing women, though, but I think he probably did the best he could and I’m ok with that. Eowyn is pretty awesome. 163. While we’re in the “great authors” vicinity, let’s give a shout out to Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Connie Willis, Frank Herbert, George R.R. Martin, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Maya Angelou, and whoever writes “Saga” (which I haven’t started yet but which I absolutely must). 164. Let me express gratitude here for the immense talent on display in hip-hop and rap. I’m not a fan of all of it, but there is some of the best poetry going on in there in the last thirty years. 165. I love that even though I don’t understand Buddhism, I have loads of friends who are Buddhist (or Buddhist-hyphenates) who are amazing people and from whom I want to learn. 166. My nephew. I can’t imagine the world without him. He’s 15, sweet, fiery, a great defensive back on his high-school football team, and he’s got the golden-est heart I’ve ever been blessed to be around. 167. While I’m at it, I’m grateful to be an Auntie. I don’t have any children of my own, but being an Auntie to my sister’s and step-sister’s kids is close enough. 168. Twitter. Come on, admit it: you love it and you know it. #awesome 169. The burgeoning comic book/graphic novel renaissance. How awesome is this?? It’s great to have ready availability so so many great new (and new-old) stories! 170. Naps. Seriously, if you like me are older than 21, you’ll know what I mean about this. 171. Books on tape. Trust me on this, especially if you have a monster commute. 172. Erasers shaped like fanciful creatures. They’re neat, silly, occasionally functional, and a good reminder to lighten up, Francis. 173. Having citrine near your cash register. This is a great idea if you’re a merchant. 🙂 It’s called “The Merchant Stone” for a reason. 174. Soy sauce is a beautiful, tasty miracle. 175. Binge-watching shows on Netflix DVDs is like reading a novel but with a different part of your brain. 176. Air-conditioning is a great blessing, and is awesome to have on in the car on a hot day when you’ve got all the windows down. 177. People who garden amaze me. I never liked getting my hands dirty and I always hated insects, so doing yard work was an awful chore. But I’m trying to turn that around. 178. Trying to turn things around–trying new things, changing attitudes, being open to new experiences and new ways of looking at old experiences. 178. That feeling you get when you realize that you were wrong about something that you thought was terrible, but which is in fact great (like wasabi). 179. Stained glass is a miracle of creativity and invention. 180. Oh, who are we kidding? GLASS is a miracle of creativity and invention. Did you know that in the middle ages they used to have windows made out of waxed animal skin? Ew. Glass is so much better. 181. Holidays rule. 182. Going shopping for nothing in particular, but then finding that one thing you couldn’t possibly live without and wearing it every day for the next month. 183 and 184. Candles and candlelight. Not for reading of course because you’ll go blind just like your mother said you would, but for everything else. Candles are so evocative and candlelight is the kind of light that witnesses every possible sin and promises forgiveness. 185. Historians make my day. 186. Diabetes testing strips are pretty cool when you think about it: you put this tiny drop of blood on this little plastic strippy thing, and an electronic device reads it and tells you what your blood sugar is. And the strips basically suck the blood droplet into themselves so you don’t have to jam your finger into it to get the blood in–you just let the testing strip do all the work like the awesome little plasticky vampire it is. 187. Can I just give a shout out here to dogs? Dogs are great. I’m usually a cat and bird person myself, but I really love dogs too. They’re the most empathic creatures I’ve ever encountered that also fart like old men. 188. Scrapbooking. Seriously. It’s insane and amazing, what people come up with. 189. Did you know that artists (or are they “artisans” now? I’m never sure) can make wonderful figurines out of felt? Full three-dimensional little puffs of awesomeness! I have one looking at me right now, as a matter of fact; she’s a little purple witch-grandma, and I love her profoundly because of everything she’s come to represent for me (I use her in lots of ancestor rituals, and she holds not only my father’s mother’s lineage but also a representation of all the female witchy magic women in my lines). 190. My iPhone is a little silicone anchor that binds me to the flow of the world. 191. Seeds hold the potential for everything in the smallest possible container. 192. I love postcards. Somebody I love somewhere else in the world sends me a picture of where they are with a few words about how they wish I was with them. What’s not to love? 193. Lip balm is great because it keeps me from smearing butter on my lips, and that’s always a great plus. Right now I’m using “Bad Wolf” from GeekFireLabs (https://www.etsy.com/shop/GeekFireLabs), the makers of my favorite Loki lip balm, which rules. 194. I have a friend who is a silversmith, and friends who are jewelers. SCORE. 195. Speaking of jewelry, earrings–specifically dangly earrings. I love dangly earrings. 196. Having ears to put dangly earrings on is a blessing, and it’s also kind of wonderful to me that one of my ears is higher up on my head than the other. I’m convinced it makes me interesting. 197. Folders, both online and IRL. I love having access to tools that help me sort and organize things, and folders are great for that. 198. Indoor plumbing. Come on, who doesn’t love indoor plumbing? And seriously, I’m kind of ashamed of myself that it took me until number 198 to mention it. 199. Speaking of amenities, let’s take a minute and offer profound thanks for electricity. I don’t know where we’d be without it. 200. Calendars help organize things and help me to never be late (or too terribly late, anyway), and for that I offer thanks.

Felted Grandma