Sunday, August 1, 2021

When the First Harvest includes the final straw.

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 Blessed Lughnasa, everyone!

I've written about this cross-quarter day on the Pagan Wheel of the Year several times over the years. The Irish god Lugh decreed that this day would be observed in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu, who died from exhaustion after plowing all of Ireland's fields for planting. But Lughnasa was never meant to be a solemn memorial; instead, Lugh ordered that it become a harvest festival, including many games. 

So here we are today, beginning the 17th month of coping with COVID-19. This was supposed to be the summer of reopenings. We were supposed to have beaten this thing back so that as long as you were vaccinated, your life could just about go back to normal. And then the Delta variant happened. 

I could blog about how the unvaccinated have ruined the summer for everyone else (in fact, I kind of did, about a month ago). But Lughnasa is a harvest festival, and as alert hearth/myth readers know, Pagans tend to be all about improving themselves. So could we be reaping, as individuals, at this First Harvest?

One day, a couple of months back, I found myself wanting to cry for no reason. Life was actually going fine for me at that point; I should have been relaxed and enjoying life, but instead I had this desire to, you know, sit down and have a good cry. So I started shopping for a new place to live. That's how I found the condo I'm moving into in a couple of weeks. But I recognized that house-hunting is a lousy long-term strategy for coping with the blues. I made a mental note to sit down with myself, once the dust cleared, and figure out what was going on.

Then a couple of days ago, I saw a thing on Facebook -- a tweet string from @gwensnyderphl, who I don't follow on Twitter -- and shared it. You can click here and read her tweets for yourself, but here's what she said in the first couple of tweets: "You just went through 1.5 years of a profound ongoing threat to your health/wellbeing/life, social isolation, aggressive disinformation, political turmoil, and financial uncertainty. OF COURSE you are not functioning at your peak. OF COURSE you are stressed out, burned out, unproductive, disconnected, anxious, depressed, exhausted, aching, and/or sad. YOU ARE TRAUMATIZED. This is what trauma does to the human mind, to the human body, to human relationships." And she went on to say that we shouldn't feel pressured into going back to normal, just like that: "Give yourself permission to not be okay."

That was my light bulb moment. Of course I felt like crying, as soon as I had a minute to catch my breath. The reaction I thought was weird and inexplicable was completely understandable. We've been through hell. We thought we were out of it, but now we're not. It's exhausting. 

Anyway, as I said, I shared the string of tweets, and immediately somebody piped up in the comments and said, basically, "Not everybody's exhausted. We're doing just fine here." 

I mean, there's one in every crowd, right? 

The thing is, trauma's impact -- on the body and on the psyche -- is cumulative. You may be the sort of person who can live through one horrible thing after another and weather it all okay, but then one day, you may have one more horrible thing happen and you snap. It might even be a tiny horrible thing, but it still becomes the straw that broke the camel's back.

You can keep pushing yourself, ignoring the burden you're carrying until you break -- until you die from exhaustion, as Tailtiu did. Or you can acknowledge the burden and cut yourself some slack, as Simone Biles did this past week at the Tokyo Olympics. She bumbled a vault and realized she was at a breaking point. So she has pulled out of the other events she was scheduled to compete in, except one (she's still undecided about the balance beam, which is coming up on Tuesday). She has taken a lot of heat for her decision, much of it from people who appear to believe she owes her country a bunch of gold medals, no matter what the effort costs her personally. But she's also had a lot of support, and it's coming from those of us who have also reached our breaking point this year.

Good for her for recognizing she needed to take care of herself first. If the rest of us could do the same, we'd have a very respectable First Harvest this year.

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These moments of bloggy unburdening have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! And have a good cry whenever you think you need one.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Lord of Cries.

 I may have mentioned that this summer is shaping up to be a summer of vampires. The Atherton Vampire is live now at Amazon and on the Kindle app for iOS devices in the United States, and many thanks to those of you who have taken a look at Jerry's story so far. In addition, I'm in the midst of writing the second novella in the series. And last weekend, I saw the world premiere of The Lord of Cries, an opera based partly on Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, at the Santa Fe Opera.

I'm not a massive opera fan, but I've seen a number of them over the years. This one intrigued me not only because of the subject matter, but because librettist Mark Adamo has written a mashup of Stoker's story with that of  The Bacchae, a tragedy written by Euripedes that had its own premiere in 405 BCE. Adamo has been quoted as saying he was intrigued by Dracula's status as an outsider in Victorian London, which seemed to him to  correspond pretty neatly with Dionysus's status in The Bacchae

For those of you who haven't read the play, I'll recap: Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and wine-making, revelry, and religious ecstasy. His father was Zeus; his mother, Semele, was mortal. The kingdom of Thebes, under the rule of King Penthius, has forsworn his worship -- supposedly because he's not really a god due to his mixed parentage, but really because all the women in the kingdom, who are dubbed the Bacchae, are following him into hedonism. Dionysus wants Thebes to recognize him as a god, so he appears before Penthius as a stranger who supports the god's claim. Alas, Penthius cannot be swayed, so Dionysus decides to teach him a lesson -- one that leads to Penthius's destruction.

To get the Dracula tale to fit the bones of The Bacchae, Adamo made some key changes. He rolled Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra into a single character: Lucy Harker, wife of Jonathan Harker. In the novel, Jonathan comes back from Dracula's castle with his mind intact, but in the opera, he has been driven mad with, y'know, lust and stuff by Dracula's three vampire women. Also in the novel, Van Helsing is the main vampire hunter -- but here he's demoted to assisting John Seward, the head of Carfax Asylum and (because reasons) the de facto mayor of London. Seward is determined to do his duty and save London from Dracula, and that means denying his passion for Lucy. We discover that Lucy is also crazy about John, but she must do her duty and tend to her husband -- who, by the way, was driven insane because of the warring desires within his own soul. 

Into all this drama strides Dionysus in the guise of Dracula himself. He intends to wake up Victorian Londoners to the dangers of denying their baser instincts and desires in the service of "doing good", because that way, literally, lies madness. Neither Seward nor Lucy will abandon what they perceive as their duty, and so they are destroyed.

A lot has been made over the years of Stoker's setting for his novel. The Victorian era seethed with sexual repression, and literary critics have long seen Dracula as a target for fear and disgust because he challenged Victorian notions of propriety.

Of course, Adamo uses that. But what interests me, as a modern-day Pagan, is the vehicle he chooses for the message: a pagan god. In our present era, in which conservatives are fighting to repress social progress of all sorts, it's heartening to hear someone say that the pagans had it right.

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These moments of bloggy ecstasy and ruin have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Destiny vs. Tricksters.

First things first: At long last, The Atherton Vampire is out! Go here to find Jerry's story. The first ten episodes are live right now; Episode 11 drops next Monday, July 26th, and new episodes will be released every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through the end of August. Enjoy!

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Xochicalco | Deposit Photos
Speaking of episodic fiction: All six of the episodes of the Marvel Classic Universe's newest TV show, Loki, have been released on Disney Plus. (I would have used a graphic with scenes from the show, but I didn't want to get a letter from Disney's lawyers about copyright infringement.) 

I am going to do my best to avoid spoilers (but no guarantees!), as the final episode just dropped Wednesday and a lot of people probably haven't seen it yet. Here's the show's premise, as laid out by the first couple of episodes: Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, does something that changes the original timeline in the Avengers movies, thereby running afoul of an organization that calls itself the Timeline Variance Authority, or TVA for short. The purpose of the TVA is to prune people who create offshoots of the "sacred timeline." As we all know (from reading the Pipe Woman Chronicles books, if nothing else), Loki is a Trickster. So of course there are a bunch of Loki "variants" that have done stuff that would change the timeline, and they have been pruned. The MCU's original Loki is spared by a TVA agent named Mobius, played by Owen Wilson. Then our Loki runs into a renegade version of himself who escaped from the TVA. This Loki is female; she calls herself Sylvie. And hijinks ensue.

Am I in spoiler trouble yet? Oh well. Onward!

Reviews of the show have been split. Folks who were fans of the comic books were generally disgruntled; they saw who the Big Bad Guy would turn out to be a mile away and/or they're unhappy with the depiction of Loki's character, including one reviewer who wanted more of an emphasis on Loki's gender fluidity. (Even in Norse mythology, Loki had the ability to morph into a female -- and without benefit of having to create a new timeline.) Some folks thought it was lazy storytelling for Loki to take a liking to another version of himself. (Yeah, yeah, spoiler, I know. But I rolled my eyes when I read this. He's a narcissist -- of course he'd fall for himself!)

Folks who never read the comic books have generally been charmed by the show, although -- like me -- they're annoyed that the writers couldn't have wrapped up something in the first six episodes. Episode 6 ends with a giant cliffhanger and the second season probably won't start airing for another year and a half. 

Anyway, there's a big philosophical question underlying the structure of the series, and I don't think it's much of a spoiler to point it out. What the TVA is doing, essentially, is putting the kibosh on free will. Somebody has assumed the mantle of God, decreeing which events fall within the sacred timeline. Does that mean everything that happens is predetermined? What does that mean for free will?

Clearly, in the MCU everything is predetermined by the writers. But I think every fiction author has had a character go rogue on them. Sometimes they'll do what you want them to do, but not for the reason you thought. But sometimes they just flat-out refuse to follow your outline (assuming you have one) and then you're left scrambling to get everything to turn out the way it needs to.

In real life, though, the battle between free will and predestination gets murkier. And it's a big argument among Christians -- do we make our own decisions, or are our lives preordained? In other words, has God written the whole script ahead of time? And if so, can we change our destinies? Is it worth even trying?

As a Pagan, I don't worry about any of this. There's no Creator God in my personal pantheon, so there's no one available to write the script. I tend to think more in terms of people behaving in predictable ways. That means free will is a given. We have the ability to change our ways and hopefully create a different life, a different outcome. It's difficult -- but there's no doubt in my mind that it can be done.

Regardless of my personal beliefs, though, I enjoyed this first season of Loki and I cannot wait for season two.

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These moments of Tricky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The vampire is (nearly) loose.

Are y'all tired of me talking about The Atherton Vampire yet? If so, sorry -- I'm doing it again.

But this time, I have excellent news. Amazon announced a few days ago that Kindle Vella will launch this coming week. And Jerry's tale is in the queue and ready to go. If you're in the US, and if you have a Kindle app on your phone or iPad, try this: Open that Kindle app, go to the search function, and type in "atherton vampire" (yes, in quotes; no, it doesn't need to be capitalized). You should get a result that looks like this (although the resolution should be better):


Clicking the link gets you an error message right now. But sometime this week, I'm told, it'll work. And then Jerry Atherton will be released upon an unsuspecting public, muahahahaha.

Well, you won't be unsuspecting because I've told you about it. 

Oh, you know what I mean.

Anyway, I'm making outstanding progress on the second Atherton Vampire story for Vella. My goal is to write one episode per day for Camp NaNo this month; today I'm at almost 17,000 words. So I should be able to start publishing episodes of the second story as soon as all of the episodes of the first story have been released. 

It also means the first Atherton Vampire story will be published as a regular Kindle ebook around the fall equinox in September, with the second story released as an ebook just before Halloween.

All this, and I've started a part-time job, too. I'm working for the New Mexico Legislature as a legal proofreader again, but the hours are a lot more forgiving right now than they were during the legislature's session last winter. Which it looks like I will be doing again this coming winter. Which is good, actually, because I'm buying a condo and the extra money will come in handy.

To be honest, a lot has been happening lately. And the rest of this summer is going to be busy, too. This is how retirement is supposed to work, right?

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I hope you haven't forgotten about the hearth/myth Summer Reading Challenge. There's still plenty of time to increase the number of books on our list that you've read. You can find the list and the rules here. Good luck, and happy reading!

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These moments of anticipatory blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!