Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, and me

January 9, 2017

I was on holiday in California when I got the news that Carrie Fisher had gone shining. I didn’t want to ruin my holiday groove so I buried my feelings until I got home.

I was 10 years old when Star Wars came out. Princess Leia just exploded off the screen. I’d never seen a strong woman onscreen before. Films during the ’60s and ’70s showed women as victims or men’s appendages if they showed up at all. I couldn’t identify with any of them. But when I saw Princess Leia, I saw courage and grit and power and sarcasm and resourcefulness and a clear, principled will. Here was something I could identify with! She had a huge impact on me. And Carrie Fisher was spot on, save for the occasional English accent wandering in (in books, they say she was mocking Tarkin, but I feel like that’s trying to cover up a bad directorial decision).

I have seen A New Hope probably 50 times and she is still a revelation to me. And when she reappeared in episode 7, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. In the expanded Star Wars universe, Leia is one of the only Jedi who is never even tempted by the Dark Side. She has a clear moral compass and is willing to do whatever it takes to bring peace and justice to the galaxy. She’s smart, she’s sassy, and she’s no one’s fool.

So that’s a little about Princess Leia. Many years later Carrie Fisher did a one-woman show that was translated into a book I read: Wishful Drinking. In it, she talks frankly—really frankly—about mental illness and her experiences with treatment. While she first entered my life playing a fictional heroine, now she was a heroine in the waking world. Instead of speaking in hushed tones about her challenges, she is sarcastic and funny and informative. She helped me see that I didn’t have to be ashamed of my own mental illnesses, and she gave me courage. And a new hope.

As I write this I realize how paltry the words are in comparison to the vastness of my thoughts and emotions. She burned brightly, fiercely, and I owe a part of my self to her. Thank you, Princess. Thank you, Carrie. Go shining.


A story from my father

January 9, 2017

Every summer until I was 15 our whole family went on a camping trip somewhere in the continental United States. There were long hours spent in the car, with everyone passing food around that Mom pulled out of the cooler in between her and Dad’s seats. We’d finally get to a destination and spend a torturous hour or so setting up camp. Then my Dad liked to walk the perimeter, getting his bearings. I get that from him.

My favorite part of any trip was after a long day of sight-seeing and dinner when my brothers would build a Boy Scout-sanctioned bonfire and we’d gather around in lawn chairs, mostly quiet. I would beg my dad to tell a story (he was so good!) and sometimes he’d oblige. This is the only story I can remember.

Once upon a time, there was a man who lived in a small cottage. Some nights he liked to travel the road down to the village pub and nurse an ale. There was one dark night where he’d stayed too late and he mentioned to the bartender that he planned to take a shortcut through the woods. “Oh, no!” cried everyone in the pub. “Don’t take that shortcut—it’s dangerous! There are monsters in the wood!” The man laughed and pushed his way out into the cool, dark night.

He headed out on the path that ran through the woods. It was a quiet night and dark, so he had to pay attention to where he was going. He’d been walking for some time when he suddenly came across a giant egg in his path. It seemed to glow. Well, he scratched his head and he tapped on it and he tried to imagine what it could be, but nothing obvious came to mind. Suddenly deciding, he rolled the egg down the path in front of him and pushed it inside his cottage. He made a few more attempts to figure out what it was but gave up, its being late and all.

The egg stayed quiescent for days. But one night he heard some tapping sounds and as he whipped his head around from the hearth where he was cooking his stew, he noticed that the egg had started to crack. Holding his breath (and the ladle in one hand), he slowly approached the egg. The whole thing quivered and suddenly the top split open. Before he could even comprehend what was going on, a small goblin popped out. Then another. Then another. Soon there were six small goblins in his cottage, and they were immediately completely out of control.

With screeching voices they bounced all over the cottage, upsetting his table and chair, pounding on pots and pans, smashing plates, and more. He alternated between ducking thrown objects and yelling at them to stop. Nothing worked! He watched in horror as his neat little cottage descended into chaos.

For days and nights his life was a nightmare. It seemed like it would never end. Even when he collapsed from exhaustion he was aware of the goblins bouncing on him, pulling at his hair and tweaking his toes. He was at his wit’s end.

Then one night while chaos reigned around him the hearthlight went out. He got a candle  and a flint and, with many interruptions and much frustration, he finally got the candle lit. Suddenly there was complete silence. The goblins stopped their screeching and smashing and tearing and slowly crept towards the flame. Astonished, the man set his table upright and placed the candle on it. The goblins, completely fascinated, drew close and stared at the flame. All was quiet. The sudden silence after so many days of bedlam sounded loud in the man’s ears. He stared at the goblins for a long time, but they only gazed quietly at the candle, mesmerized.

From then on, whenever he could he would light a candle and place it on the table for the goblins to gather around. And it was in this way that he began to reclaim his shattered nerves and bring some order back into his life!

+ + +

When my dad told this story, it was like magic. I could see it all so clearly in my mind. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I suddenly realized: there were six goblins. There were six of us kids. My dad was talking about us! He was talking about how we were so noisy and boisterous but would settle down and all stare quietly into a bonfire like goblins under a spell.

It still makes me laugh to think about that. He was absolutely right—he was a man who liked order and peace and here he was with six kids bouncing off the walls. I have no idea how he and my mom survived! Goddess knows I love my peace and order, too, and my goddessdaughters sometimes tried my patience mightily as they created chaos in my neat little house when they were young.

So there you have it. Any parent’s story. I love it!


Immanent Goddess ritual

November 4, 2016

This is the ritual I priestessed at Daun Fields’ wonderful and welcoming Sunrise Hive. It came out of my frustration with Pagans’ so frequently looking outside themselves for the sacred, and how many of us women still hate our bodies. Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon talked about the Church of All Worlds, where they greet each other with, “Thou art God” or “Thou art Goddess.” Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance was my third Pagan book and she talked about immanence at length. It’s an empowering practice and it unifies the self with all of Gaia.

***

Intros: Introduce yourself and your matron goddess, describing some of her main attributes.

Something that is “immanent” is “indwelling, inherent.” Something that is “transcendent” (which is the type of deity most of us were raised with) is “over, above, beyond grasp.”

Starhawk, in Dreaming the Dark, defines immanence as “the awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting, and infused with moving energies: a living being, a weaving dance.”

The split between immanence and transcendence, and the split between body and mind, can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Around 360 BCE Plato wrote Phaedo, a Socratic dialogue. In it we find such gems as:

  • The soul of the philosopher greatly despises the body, and avoids it. It thinks best alone by itself by avoiding so far as it can, all association or contact with the body.
  • So long as we have a body, and the soul is contaminated by such an evil, we shall never attain completely what we desire, that is, the truth.
  • Purification consists in separating, so far as possible, the soul from the body

Clement, Origen, and other early Christian church fathers saw the body as evil because of its needs for food and sex. The body became linked to Eve and Adam’s Fall. St Paul and other early Church writers link women with the body and disgusting sin. Gnostics saw the flesh as evil, animated only by a divine spark within. In the Middle Ages we see body-hatred manifested through fasting, flagellation, hairshirts, and sleep deprivation. Perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs Goddess women make is when they reach radical acceptance of their woman bodies.

Even as Pagans, we tend to see the sacred “out there” (trees, sea, fire) or “in here” (trance, meditation, spark). What about everything in between?

Our Goddess is not a transcendent mountain god like the Abrahamic god. Our Goddess is immanent. She is all-pervasive. She is you.

The Goddess is you. You are Goddess. Your flesh. Your bones. Your voice. Your eyes. Your coughing fits. Your hayfever. Your pee. All that is natural is the Goddess. All that is natural is holy. The Goddess isn’t in these things, she is these things.

***Break for questions ***

Invite the Quarters:

East: Breathe loudly in and out

South: Rub palms together fast

West: Slide your hands over your arms like water

North: Stomp!

Cast the Circle:

Visualize a sphere of white light springing up from us and encompassing this whole floor of the building, the space above, the Earth below.

Close your eyes and travel to your matron Goddess. [My technique is to lie down on a cloud and descend gently and slowly over the edge of a cliff, changing colors from yellow to orange to red to green to blue to violet so you end up on the ground surrounded by violet light.] See your surroundings, look at your Goddess’ clothing, coloring, her aspects, etc. Make it as clear as you can by engaging sight, sound, smell, hearing, taste, touch.

See how your matron Goddess’ attributes are your attributes, too.

Then see her come nearer, facing you. She changes shape until she is exactly the same size as you. She turns her back to you so she’s standing right in front of you. You step forward as she steps back. You are one.

Feel suffused with her energy. Feel how her qualities resonate with your qualities. Then see how you embody those qualities, how they are as much your attributes as hers. You are one.

All rise and stand in a circle, holding hands. Taking turns, state your name and one of your Goddess attributes. The rest of us then respond, “[Name,] give us [attribute].” (For instance, I say, “I am Cairril, and I bring courage.” Everyone responds, “Cairril, give us courage.”)

Go around the Circle. It’s okay to duplicate attributes. Smile at each other and feel the power of our immanent Goddess selves. When you’re done, squeeze the hand of the person next to you. When everyone is finished, bring your held hands to the center of the Circle. Start toning on a low note and as you raise the pitch higher, raise your arms up until you are at the top of your range and stretching up. Then take a break! (Remember, your pee is sacred. Those feet that take you to the drinking fountain are sacred.)

Come back to the Circle and pick up a small food item. Ground yourself by sending shoots into the Earth from your root chakra. Feel your body weight against the floor and feel the Earth supporting you. Feel the holy energy exchanged between your sacred self and the sacred Earth.

I am going to say a five senses prayer. With each sense invoked, utilize it with your food item. If it’s “sight,” really look at your food and revel in how it’s sacred, but also how your sight itself is sacred. It is all Goddess. Thou art Goddess. I am Goddess.

Five Senses Prayer:

I praise the Gods who infused in my head
Soul and reason both
And who imbued me with my senses
Air and earth, water and fire.
One is for seeing.
Two is for touching.
Three is for hearing.
Four is for smelling.
Five is for tasting.

Eat mindfully, taking in all your sensory input. Let the food ground you. Then you can relax!

Sharing circle: what was your experience like? What messages did you receive? How have your perceptions changed?

Housel! Journal, chit-chat. Open the Circle.

***

It is my hope that women in particular will find this ritual helpful in coming to radical acceptance of their bodies as sacred. But for all who participate or adapt this ritual, I hope it opens you up to how sacred and powerful you are. Thou art God. Thou art Goddess.


Aunt Dolores

August 30, 2016

Dear Cairril,

My therapist, Marisa Tomei, has suggested I write this letter to you. She suggested it after you waxed nostalgic for Aunt Dolores. So let’s talk about her.

She was born in the 1920s to a dour German mother and a lively Irish father. Grandma didn’t like her, something which scarred Aunt Dolores for life. She was named Betty, which she later changed to Bettye in high school, I suspect to help her stand out a bit more. Like all the rest of her starving Depression-era family, she was a stick figure, but alas was not blessed with a very attractive face. But somehow she managed to rope a sailor man into asking her to marry him (he gave her that book Queens Die Proudly which you keep in the first bookcase). She turned him down. Because she heard a greater calling—God was calling her to be a nun.

She went into a Franciscan order in the 1940s when rules were very strict. She had virtually no contact with the family. I don’t know a lot about those early years, partly because Mom didn’t have any contact with her.

By the time you were born in 1967 she was called Aunt Sister. Why? No one knows. Her name, given to her by the bishop, was Sister Dolores Marie McLaughlin. I always wondered if the spelling (dolores instead of delores) was a curse of unhappiness on her because of its Spanish translation. She was stationed in Florida, in the heat and humidity she hated, teaching typing to high schoolers, which she hated. She had always wanted to be in office administration, something she got her Master’s for, but the stern Church forced her into the swamps.

Growing up, you hated her. She would visit for a couple weeks each summer. You and your sisters called her “Aunt Bitch.” She looked so much like her mother—the shape of her face, the thin set of her mouth, her limpid blue eyes—but she lacked any hint of kindness which Grandma had. She was a major control freak and very picky. An extremely unpleasant person. Once when you and your sisters were setting the table you were just tossing down plates, silverware, napkins, glasses—good enough. She walked right after you and straightened everything out so it was precisely correct. LOUDLY. Laura had enough and went back around the table, messing everything back up. Take that!

You didn’t give her much thought until you learned as an adult that she’d entered a therapy program run by the Church. She was in her 60s and deeply depressed. When she went to a priest for help, he told her to just try to get through the next minute. Just one minute. When that minute was over, get through the next one. That sounded familiar. The agony of existence.

Later in life you saw some of her art therapy projects from her time in therapy. She clearly adored her father and marked his death as the low point of her life. And she clearly loved the nuns she was surrounded by. She called out the names of those who were special to her.

During therapy she came to grips with the complicated relationship she had with Grandma McLaughlin. She had always felt disliked, never good enough, especially since Grandma fell all over pretty and bubbly Aunt Eileen. But Aunt Dolores came to grips with all of it, faced all her demons down, and came out of therapy a changed woman.

First things first: No more “Aunt Sister.” She’d always hated the name. It took a little getting used to, but then she was so different it seemed natural to call her by a new name. She smiled a lot now, sometimes in a slow way with a sideways glance, sometimes brightly in response to a joke. She finally got that administrative post in the convent mother house and loved it. She had a whole new life and she dove in.

She told me later that sometimes she would wake up at night, wrap herself in a shawl, then go down to the chapel and sing Canticle of the Sun while spinning around in a circle on her bare feet. How joyful she was. How close to God.

Now that you could stand her, you joined in the canasta games she played with Mom and Uncle Ralph and Aunt Barbara. And she was unbelievable. She was a true believer in picking up the discard pile rather than new cards. So she’d meld and meld with these crappy low-point cards and then suddenly lay down a wild card canasta. Where did that come from?? There were no wild cards in the discard pile!

She was the family historian and when she got to be too old to keep up with it she handed it off to you, knowing your interest. Remember how amazed you were at her circles of correspondence? She didn’t write long letters, but she did send notes to the most distant of cousins, sharing news and enjoying the contact of family.

The thing that turned her into your hera was her breaking the taboo around mental illness in the family. She spoke openly about great-Aunt Mary (institutionalized for 60 years) and great-Uncle Joe (suicide) and great-Grandpa Ruth (institutionalized for 13 years). Mom had never heard anything about her grandfather, but there Aunt Dolores was, blithely telling the story of how when the men in white came for great-Aunt Mary, he said, “You just watch, they’ll be coming for me next!” And he was right.

Aunt Dolores normalized mental illness. She made it possible to talk about as just any other illness you had to deal with. By bringing it out of the darkness, she made it possible for you to normalize it, and to research the biological inheritors of the Ruth genes, and see that much of your suffering was due to chemistry, not a character flaw. How you admired her for that. How grateful you were. How much you still owe her.

At one point, maybe in her 70s, she got sick with some illness, I don’t remember what. But she lost her mind. Remember going to see her? One of the most chilling experiences of your life. She would speak, almost forming words, but it was really just gibberish. She was gesturing in the air as if she were writing on a chalkboard. You took her for a ride in her wheelchair until she started yelling and hitting at things. It was shocking. You fled to the bathroom and sobbed.

But then you found out they’d put her on an anti-depressant. Thanks to her leads, you’d traced our problems with serotonin to the Ruth line and you demanded she be taken off whatever SSRI they’d put her on. And sure enough, she came back.

She got more frail as she aged but continued to look more and more like Grandma McLaughlin. And no matter what, Mom and Dad and Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ralph could brighten up her day by taking her out for ice cream and playing a little cards. She was in the retirement house by then and the other nuns all looked out for her. You wanted to have a closer relationship with her but it was hard, being so far away and poor. You exchanged letters, talking history and religion. She was true to her vocation, a beautiful thing.

Remember her Golden Jubilee? You went up with the fam to celebrate all the nuns’ anniversaries and were amazed at how liberal the lyrics were to the hymns. No wonder they didn’t wear habits after Vatican II—they were practically heretics!

When the end came, she was surrounded by her sisters and her family. And they prayed and they sang. Oh, how they sang. Mom and Dad were transported by the love and joy being expressed at this passage, seeing for the first time that a Christian should die happy in the hope of Heaven. You were down in Bloomington holding vigil of your own. Every day the news would come: not yet. And finally you remembered that in all the songs you’d sung for her, you’d never sung Poor Robin is Dead, a children’s song brought by Grandpa McLaughlin’s family from Ireland. You sang it and sang it, smiling and releasing her, and that night she died.

The wake was held at the retirement home. All the sisters were gathered in one corner and the family in the opposite. It made you realize how little you knew of her life among these women and you yearned to fill that deficit.

Once the nuns knew you were the family historian, they swarmed you with stories so thick you could hardly get your mp3 recorder out fast enough. They were so happy. It was a beautiful time.

You spoke at the wake, thanking her for breaking that taboo and for consequently saving your life, and the lives of all her great-neices and -nephews.

You stayed for the funeral, which was a very brief affair in a small chapel at the burial grounds. While everyone went ahead you searched out her grave, just one plot among a hundred, completely anonymous. You moved the board over the opening so you could see where she would be planted and bugs scurried away. But you weren’t startled—it all felt part of the great breathing biosphere that is Gaia.

Aunt Dolores, like you, was a spinster aunt. Hardly anyone in the family was interested in her as a person. This blog post you write may be the last story told of her. But she will always be a hera to you and you will always bless her name. You still talk to her sometimes, bringing her up to date on genealogy and whatnot. You miss her. She was someone to look up to.

But as a spinster she, like you, is just a short twig on the family tree. When you die, no one will sing her songs anymore. Just like your story will end when your nieces and goddessdaughters die. But let us seek to live courageously, as Aunt Dolores did, in the time we have left. Let us sing and dance in a circle and smile.

Love,

Cairril


Dreams

February 7, 2016

A repository of the dream summaries I post on Facebook.

i dreamt i was gloria steinem, traveling from the old world to the promises of the new, and there wasn’t enough rope. then i was james bond, planting concrete markers underground throughout florida. why? ask M.

3/15/17

dreamt i was mr rogers’ roadie camera operator as he went on a quest to win back an old flame who was now married with a son. mr rogers took us to gallifrey, which he said was his home. that part i believe.

3/14/17

dreamt i was in the military of a police state, very regimented, stationed in antarctica when a global warming catastrophe hit. everything was falling apart and going to hell and i was running around with a huge grin on my face. the world was lost. none of the rules applied anymore. no one could touch me. i was finally free.

the same dream featured matt smith’s doctor who, caprica 6 and baltar from battlestar galactica, and the penguin from fight club: “sliiiiiide.”

2/25/17

dreamt i was with the standing rock water protectors, singing with roger waters and eating twizzlers. i got my dad and Rob Palmer on a conference call to convince them to come join me. “a better world is possible,” i said.

12/2/16

i dreamt i stuffed Jeanne into a black knit sock with me so we could fly to new york and see “cats.”

10/20/12

last night i dreamt i was supposed to be helping Janiece find a house but i kept bouncing off to join the collins open house/orientation party, attracted by the enormous slip-n-slide. sorry i’m such a flake, janiece.

9/1/16

last night i  dreamt i was touring catal huyuk in britain (yes, britain, not turkey) with soldiers from the boer war as guides. sting and i were at the final stop in a grocery store, taking pictures of an elaborate grave and old-fashioned type presses with our digital cameras and eating jammy dodgers (whatever those are — but they were yummy).
9/1/12

last night i dreamt of planting grain, glaucoma, and the iliad. all to a beatles soundtrack.
6/30/16

this morning i fell back asleep after my alarm went off and entered this technicolor extravaganza where i was ice dancing accompanied by an orchestra featuring my high school sweetheart. then suddenly the music stopped, a spotlight hit the suddenly open rink, and Laurent Castellucci came sliding out on his knees across the ice and starting dancing like prince to some mad beats someone was throwing down. then he gestured to me, the beats stopped, and i opened my mouth to sing. all my inhibitions about improv fell away and this amazing tune came out of me (now unfortunately obscured by tangle eye) and it was in my old voice, full and rich, not this thin reed i have now. it was freaking amazing. i didn’t want to wake up.
6/29/16

last night i dreamt i was adding lucky charms marshmallows to a bunch of trail mix my family was making, all to the tune of “only you” by yaz.
6/29/16

i dreamt about economic development to the soundtrack of “the headmaster’s ritual” by the smiths. wth?
6/28/16

i dreamt Mike Price and i were swing dancing like crazy at Angela and Janis‘ housewarming party until i lost my purse made out of my grandma’s bridesmaid’s dress. joy found, joy lost?
5/19/16

i dreamt the bad guys had locked me up with olivier and anthony hopkins doing shakespeare. oh, would that it were so!!
5/16/16

i was dreaming of space travel when jar jar binks showed up. that killed THAT dream.
4/9/16

this morning i had a twilight dream. i had just become a vampire and was running all over the place and reveling in the speed of it. it was exhilarating. i noticed edward at work on a little house on dunn and changed my route so i could ogle him. cut to the narrator bringing us together and revealing that we’ve just been married. edward got that huge gorgeous smile on his face where his eyes crinkle up and my heart just melted. he loved me so much. we were so happy. he had an infant son (parthenogenesis??) that immediately became mine. he had a job in politics that really interested me and it turned out they were hiring me, too. so we’d have this fulfilling work and then be able to share our days on the drive home. it felt so incredibly good. life was so full of love and promise. but then i started to wake up a little and then went back in and all had changed. two years had passed and i had lost him long ago. i went up to his new house near our old apartments on 8th street and jane was there—his new wife. because she and i had been friends long ago, in horrible pain i made stilted small talk with her. she casually mentioned her son that called her “mom” and i realized with a sharp stab that she meant edward’s son, who had been my son. i had lost him completely and irrevocably. edward wasn’t even in the picture. it was all gone, so long ago. i woke up shattered.
4/4/16

last night i dreamt that someone hurt my feelings so i said, “well, i was going to design your logo for you but now you can use microsoft clip art with times new roman!” then i flounced out of the room in front of their stunned faces. so there!
2/25/16

i dreamt melissa etheridge had carved onyx and diamond studs in her eyes. then i realized this is not new — for years i have been dreaming of women rockers like joan jett and bonnie raitt with pierced eyeballs.
2/23/16

i dreamt i got a kite at the UU church. then my alarm went off. fell back asleep. dreamt i got a kite at first presbyterian. alarm went off. fell back asleep. dreamt i took both kites to main square in highland, indiana to fly them together but i couldn’t remember my username and password to get in. when the alarm went off i said screw this and got up.
2/20/12

i dreamt that donald trump hired kaia to perform at a fundraiser for the library. he was throwing a fit that Google maps showed the building address rather than Trump Towers when Susan Armstrong Lantzer stepped in. he fell in love with her and became putty in her hands.

susan, you have a duty to the nation. time to step up.
2/14/16

i dreamt bryan and i were competing in a figure skating competition to the death and our opponents were the new barbie dolls.
2/7/16

i dreamt johnny depp and i were together, singing and writings, outwitting vladimir putin.
2/2/16

i dreamt i was running for president so i was in a wheelchair to get more votes but then at the gas station my dad behind the counter wouldn’t give me an eclair so i wanted to nip around and get it myself but i was afraid someone would see me and not vote for me.
8/2/13