The Lady of Shalott, Again

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Talk about problematic favorites. Emilie Autumn is a violinist whose works I personally enjoy, whether that’s the songs (something surreal happened with Shalott) or the aesthetic. Raw anguish and wrath isn’t a catharsis for everyone, of course, and I’m referring to the Opheliac album, not Emilie’s twee pop-experimental Stateside Celtic Enchant album (that I must admit to also liking), nor the Broadway rock musical style Fight Like A Girl album. Opheliac-era Plague Rats appear to mostly dislike Fight Like A Girl because Emilie’s sound mellowed out so much. Because Broadway rock musical. (I must admit to also also liking.)

That is Emilie being mellow.

I finally got to listen through The Opheliac Companion album, which were tracks of Emilie and producer InkyDust talking about the process behind each song. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about these two joking about potato famine, fewer complaints about Emilie’s description of “I Know Where You Sleep” percussion as ‘tribal’ and that the concert staging for this song involves the chorus girls stamping about in a circle while wearing feather hats.

The commentary track for the six-minute song “Gothic Lolita” is ninety minutes of talking about anything but “Gothic Lolita”—the song’s about child molestation, which InkyDust mentions Emilie having a difficult time talking about ‘because of personal stuff.’ I believe the implication.

On a far more personal level, one major theme of Opheliac was reclaiming narratives lent to the mentally ill or disordered, hence the Victorian insane asylum aesthetic. Emilie Autumn is an expert on this, having grown up struggling with a mental illness, and even having been institutionalized later in life…and, I have my own perspective on this issue because of my mental illness, and…I am kind of horrified by the message of this album.

The term Opheliac imitates the term for those with mental conditions (compare “insomniac” or “hypochondriac”) while borrowing the name of a Shakespearean character famous for going an unspecified sort of crazy and then drowning herself to death—Ophelia. Early modern painters in the Western world prolifically portrayed the Shakespearean Ophelia’s drowning, and how: Emilie Autumn describes the collective works on this subject as ‘a wet T-shirt contest’ and focuses on the intersection of misogyny and mental-disableism. The lyrics of “Opheliac” describe this condition more from the inside:

I’m your Opheliac, I’ve been so disillusioned;
I knew you’d take me back, but still I feigned confusion…

You know the games I play
and the words I say
when I want my own way;
You know the lies I tell
when you’ve gone through hell
and I say I can’t stay

You know how hard it can be
to keep believing in me
when everything and everyone becomes my enemy
and when there’s nothing more you can do,
I’m gonna blame it on you—
It’s not the way I want to be
I only hope that in the end you will see
it’s the Opheliac in me

That…doesn’t sound like a good person. As Emilie says later on in the album, “I am on to myself.” That goes for patterns in the creative process, as well as traits of the Opheliac.

That’s never enough.

I’ve had hypersomnia, fatigue, and executive dysfunction dismissed as ‘laziness’ so often that I can’t believe in laziness anymore. Whenever I can wash a dish (or haul the garbage out, or spend an hour handwashing laundry,) it’s not a chore, it’s a miracle, and I always appreciate having enough life to do it. Whenever someone else says they’d do something but they’re lazy (rather than tired or somethng about time), my first thought is that they’re secretly depressed instead, weighed down wherever they would move in the world, thoughts of ‘should do’ devoured before they can form. That’s horrible. (But if that were the case, wouldn’t more people be more understanding?)

I had—still have—difficulty with the concept of doing something you don’t want or don’t feel like doing. If I do anything, it’s usually because I had the ability to. That said, my mother was a great fan of shaking and slapping depression out of my body, but it was mostly the bodily hauling to the location of the thing needed done and more shouting about how useless I was that got the thing done. I could barely register language enough to sustain any of it as personal wound by that point, but I can’t call it a cure. It got me to thing done, which I keep being told is all that really matters.

The brain, in all its sparking wires and chemical balances and nodes of language and motor skill and emotion and processing sensory perceptions and maths and memories…is an organ, and it can stop operating properly, and that’s what happened to me, and I fell ill. Or I was (am) neglectful, and lazy, and selfish for attempting suicide, and selfish for living on choosing to act worthless and hopeless and lazy instead of solving it so simply (by suicide?), and mental illness is an excuse for my bad behavior. I’ve been told the latter enough times that it’s become what I’ve got to deal with, that impenetrable fortress of narrative, even though it’s so far from what it’s like on the inside that I can’t even manage a double-think.

Yet I’ve begun to get the sense that it might still be easier to accept depression as a mental illness rather than a moral failing, compared to De Clerambault’s, Munchausen’s by Proxy, compulsive lying, violent mania, substance addiction… As horrifyingly abusive as Munchausen by Proxy literally is, if I build my own narrative fortress against any of those, go, “I’m just not well; you’re evil and toxic and irresponsible and manipulative and conditioned with circumstances to…” would that be true, though? What could it even do? If I get get away from it, I wouldn’t need to say that; if I’m stuck with it, saying that won’t help and never has. At best, I am ‘on to’ myself. That’s just not good enough. I’m still not a good person. That’s why I’m horrified: “Opheliac” implies that that’s okay, that’s good, that’s the way it’s got to be. (“God Help Me” especially with the companion album commentary, has a different approach to it: Places, everyone! This is a test / Throw your stones, do your damage, your worst and your best / All the world is a judge, but that doesn’t compare / to what I do to myself when you’re not there.)

~

The alias I gave my abuser and elder blood sibling here is Miasma. My corporeal roommate Cecilia suspects that Miasma might have narcissistic personality disorder. I’d read this had been excluded from the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, so it might not be possible for anyone to have it anymore. If Miasma hadn’t been diagnosed or otherwise glommed ‘on to‘ herself, then this could still explain a lot. But we’re blood siblings. If it’s genetic, neurological…and she has it, I could very well have it.

One time I screamed at Miasma. She’d torn my scalp open two years before then, shrugged off my telling her the next morning that I had been hurt and what she did was not okay, ran off crying to another friend when I insisted that she at least recognize this and not do it again, came back crowing about how this other friend forgave her for what she’d done to me so I should drop it already, and (when I moved out) sobbed that she couldn’t change and this wouldn’t be the last ‘misunderstanding’ from an imperfect human rather than the non-abuser I expected. So I shouldn’t move out, she’d argued, because I never warned her that I would leave over this, she had no concept that I could, I should have warned her, or else I would be leaving without even trying to work things out. It had been an accident.

With so much resistance to that mere acknowledgment, she might as well have done it on purpose. She was used to sending me out to walk to the grocery store in the rain for a packet of iced tea, then rant for hours and pick up the rant again for days about how I’d returned with the wrong flavor and then had the gall to come down with the flu, as though it wasn’t hard enough for her to taste peach in iced tea instead of berries. She was used to agreeing to drop me off at a corner before continuing the cab ride to where she was supposed to be, then ordering the driver to rush right past it because she was late, but right after getting out she still found the time to shout at me for a quarter of an hour because I’d sulked about having to walk. Every day was something like this. Every hour.

I hadn’t screamed at those specific instances. I’d sulked quietly, starved in silence, kept a stern indoor voice with “I feel X when you do Y because Z” structured sentences, all to no effect but for that I eventually began to develop brain fog and ulcers and (eventually) see smoggy smoke-snakes or reptile angels with orange anime hair that nobody else could see.

She silenced me, and for that I’ll spend the rest of my life screaming, and turning everything upside down that isn’t the ground, and setting everything flammable aflame. But that one time, I just screamed. Our extended family had tried to reconcile us. I screamed and it scraped my tarry heart red again. Miasma sent word to our mutual friends (well, I didn’t have any friends that weren’t her friends first, she made sure of that) that I had a manic episode in my lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. Which I’d never been diagnosed with, and pretty sure I don’t have. Cecilia and Anjie seemed to have had enough of Miasma being so dishonest with them, at that (they were both very much in our lives when I started therapy, and knew that this armchair layperson diagnosis hadn’t come up.) She would rather they consider me crazy than angry—when it suited her. She’d never attribute an empowered individual choice to me whenever that’s what I was actually doing, I had to be crazy or immature and acting out, but she’d evoke free will bootstraps when I knew my limits and had the temerity to ask for help with them. She couched justification for all this in religious terms, and I still have to keep reminding myself that it depends on how the individual uses the symbols and vocabulary and concepts of their faith, not that Miasma’s religion inherently condoned abuse. Most days, I still can’t believe the reminder.

Armchair layperson psychiatry was a bad that we both did. I don’t think Miasma’s narcissistic, either, it may have been something else…but something.

One day, two years after that, I was on lunch break at my job and eating what I now mythologize as the Hotdog of Enlightenment. At the time, it was an ordinary convenience store hotdog. I hadn’t even been thinking about Miasma, but the thought bubbled up that she could no more control her violence, dishonesty, or possessiveness over food than I had any real control over my eating disorder. She would insist that my problems were my choices, but all the manipulation she did to cover up and keep the image of someone mature, responsible, and sane—were all probably because she couldn’t admit to herself that she was spiraling out of control of herself. There was a serenity in that, recognition of the once too-intense suffering now a fact of life that we all try to figure out, but we forget in our limitations and selfishness. That lunch break, I rediscovered a new level of compassion.

A week after that, though, I had another nightmare about her and spent the wee hours of the morning seething about what she’d done to me, was still doing, and she had never had to suffer even a fraction of the consequences that I had suffered all my life growing up with her…There must have been cannabis or opiates in that hotdog; enlightenment was not it.

~

The Lady of Shalott is the alias I gave to the power that breaks those narrative fortresses. She dies in the process, over and again, both as I do a little bit and so that I don’t have to literally. She knows a world beyond her weaving and looking-glasses that’s clear, true, real, and better—one she’s cursed to never be a part of, but it’s worth reaching for just to move. She won’t say it’s going to be all right. Her message is more, “Do it anyway. You must choose this.”

She owns the paradoxical gate of The Only Choice.

She is a god to me. As stubborn as I used to be about never again believing in what someone else told me unless I experienced it myself, including gods, I’ve never met this being and I believe and devote myself to Her. Something about her feels more alive and personable than the run-of-the-mill way I like to take a story and crunch the meaning up in interpretation. She never responds, sends signs, or appears as a billowing presence or clear anthropomorphization in the Otherreal or Surreal. She is the most frustratingly conceptual and abstract being I have ever included in my life, and in a way had been the most profoundly helpful.

She might also be a spell. This was what Emilie and Inky had to say about “Shalott” which is a song about the Lady that first introduced me to her:

EMILIE: She was another perfect representation of the Opheliac, it’s…she had a choice between life and death, she chose to do something that would basically drive her over the edge, she chose it, knowing that—in her mind, she didn’t have a choice, and she ended up dying in the water.

INKY: So this is an Ophelial-related…

EMILIE: Exactly. Basically, like, the word ‘Opheliac’ is the medical term for the condition of being an Ophelia-like character. It is basically a self-destructive type, whether you do it yourself or whether you ‘allow’ things from the outside to do it. And, almost, the taking, as we talked about before, with, like, Opheliac—the song—taking responsibility for the fact that you play a part in this. You can blame everybody—and you’re right, and you should! And you should get revenge. But realize…that either you…had a, a mental thing that got to you, even if it’s not your fault, or, from the outside, if it’s external…you let someone kill you. So, you may have had no power at the time…

INKY: Right.

EMILIE: …But… (Pause.) You did. You just didn’t know it. So, the goal is to educate people, to say, so that they know it—just know it. And if you still make that choice, fine. But.

In the story, the Lady lives under a death curse if she witnesses a world not in her mirror or in her weaving. Who cast the curse, or why, doesn’t actually matter anymore by that point. I could blame Carabosse because I blame Carabosse for most curses. That the focus remains on someone ‘half sick of shadows’ is a wishcraftsy one to me: At that moment, I imagine the Lady has begun to hate being nothing but a cumulation of what someone elses have done to her. She’s spread as insubstantial and clingy as a shadow. The hate is power, though, because…if she thoroughly weren’t even a person anymore, who would be doing the hating? Even that would be an inevitable reaction, if we only focused on the mechanics of the thing, but the spell develops when she owns something more complex and mysterious than pure pain.

Emilie crafted this song with that specific purpose. I wouldn’t even feel moved to turn to how this—as Emilie puts it—archetype is Older Than Modern and Elsewhere In World (And Therefore Real-er), it would be cool if I had been taken by a categorical spell rather than a categorical goddess all this time, or even if there weren’t as clear a line between the two in this instance.

It doesn’t have to happen this way. I have a memory of going somewhere earthly every day, where everyone I’d met wordlessly reminded me that I was a person. They weren’t even trying. They didn’t ‘bully’ as the grown-ups called it, not because someone told them not to, but because they really wouldn’t. I hope I’d reflected back the same, but this casual nurturing of personal sovereignty wasn’t something I’d gotten at home, or from anywhere else throughout my childhood. The depression after that was worse in its many physical effects, but it could never manage to feel as utterly consuming as it had in its relatively milder forms when I was a child. That sort of personal sovereignty is valuable, and not as easily revoked as it sounds, but I know it can be forgotten. The Lady of Shalott came along to show another kind of personal sovereignty I could work with. If it doesn’t come from a good place, alas, earth often isn’t.

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Marcela Speaks

KnightExcerpt from Chapter 14 of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Translation by Edith Grossman, transcribed from audio by Recorded Books 2003
(voice by George Guidall)

(As a character, Marcela gave one of the most lucid arguments I’ve ever read against the sexual objectification of women and coerced consent. This book, and by extension this mic-drop worthy monologue, was published in 1605.)

The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873)

The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873)

There will be no need to spend much time or waste many words to persuade discerning men of truth…

Heaven made me, as all of you say, so beautiful that you cannot resist my beauty and are compelled to love me. And because of the love you show me, you claim that I am obliged to love you in return. I know, with the natural understanding that God has given me, that everything beautiful is lovable—but I cannot grasp why, simply because it is loved, the thing loved for its beauty is obliged to love the one who loves it.

Further, the lover of the beautiful thing might be ugly, and since ugliness is worthy of being avoided, it is absurd for anyone to say, “I love you because you are beautiful! You must love me, even though I am ugly.” But in the event the two are equally beautiful, it does not mean that their desires are necessarily equal, for not all beauties fall in love. Some are a pleasure to the eye, but do not surrender their will, because if all beauties loved and surrendered, there would be a whirl of confused and misled wills, not knowing where they should stop. For since beautiful subjects are infinite, desires would have to be infinite, too.

According to what I have heard, true love is not divided—and must be voluntary, not forced. If this is true, as I believe it is, why do you want to force me to surrender my will? Obliged to do so, simply because you say you love me? But if this is not true, then tell me: If the Heaven that made me beautiful had made me ugly instead, would it be fair for me to complain that none of you loved me?

Moreover, you must consider that I did not choose the beauty I have, and, such as it is, Heaven gave it to me freely, without my requesting or choosing it. And just as the viper does not deserve to be blamed for its venom, although it kills, since it was given the venom by nature, I do not deserve to be reproved for being beautiful; for beauty in the chaste woman is like a distant fire or sharp-edged sword: They do not burn or cut the person who does not approach them.

Honor and virtue are adornments of the soul without which the body is not truly beautiful (even if it seems to be so.) And if chastity is one of the virtues that most adorn and beatify both body and soul…Why should a woman, loved for being beautiful, lose that virtue in order to satisfy the desire of a man who, for the sake of his pleasure, attempts with all of his might and main to have her lose it?

I was born free, and in order to live free, I chose the solitude of the countryside. The trees of these mountains are my companions. The clear waters of these streams, my mirrors. I communicate my thoughts and my beauty to the trees and to the waters. I am a distant fire and a far-off sword. Those whose eyes force them to fall in love with me, I have discouraged with my words. If desires feed on hopes, and since I have given no hope to Gristóstomo or to any other man regarding those desires, it is correct to say that his obstinacy, not my cruelty, is what killed him. And if you claim that his thoughts were virtuous, and for this reason I was obliged to respond to them, I say that when he revealed to me the virtue of his desire, on the very spot where his grave is now being dug, I told him that mine was to live perpetually alone and have only the earth enjoy the fruit of my seclusion and the spoils of my beauty. And if he, despite that discouragement, wished to persist against all hope, and sail into the wind…why be surprised if he drowned in the middle of the gulf of his folly?

If I had kept him by me, I would have been false. If I had gratified him, I would have gone against my own best intentions and purposes. He persisted though I discouraged him. He despaired, though I did not despise him. Tell me now if it is reasonable to blame me for his grief.

Let the one I deceived complain. Let the man despair to whom I did not grant a hope I had promised, or speak if I called to him, or boast if I accepted him! But no man can call me cruel or a murderer if I do not promise, deceive, call to, or accept him.

Until now, Heaven has not ordained that I love. And to think that I shall love of my own accord is to think the impossible. Let this general discouragement serve for each of those who solicit me for his own advantage. Let it be understood from this day forth that if anyone dies because of me, he does not die of jealousy or misfortune, because she who loves no one cannot make anyone jealous, and discouragement should not be taken for disdain.

Let him who calls me ‘savage basilisk’ avoid me as he would something harmful and evil; let him who calls me ‘ungrateful’ not serve me, ‘unapproachable’ not approach me, ‘cruel’ not follow me! Let him not seek me out, serve, approach or follow in any way this savage, ungrateful, cruel, unapproachable basilisk! For if his impatience and rash desire killed Gristóstomo, why should my virtuous behavior and reserve be blamed?

If I preserve my purity in the company of trees, why should a man want me to lose it if he wants me to keep it in the company of men?

As you know, I have wealth of my own and do not desire anyone else’s. I am free and do not care to submit to another. I do not love or despise anyone. I do not deceive this one or solicit that one. I do not mock one or amuse myself with another. The honest conversation of the shepherdesses from these hamlets, and tending to my goats, are my entertainment. The limits of my desires are these mountains, and if they go beyond here, it is to contemplate the beauty of Heaven, and the steps whereby the soul travels to its first home.

Don Quixote by Gustav Dore

Don Quixote by Gustav Dore

Let no person, whatever his circumstance or condition, dare to follow the beautiful Marcela lest he fall victim to my fury and outrage.

Almost Feel Like You’ve Been Here Before

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Discworld.

The volcano erupted. Apparently, it does that on occasion still, and…the city’s still standing, the cane fields unrazed, nobody evacuated, there wasn’t even an earthquake. It was more like an ash burp. I was still sorry not to have seen it, because there didn’t seem to be any other way to know that it had happened, except by word of mouth of new friends I made in this city…who might have, on second thought, been joking.

One good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: hot springs. They were a half hour’s drive past the edge of the city, through the definitely-horizontal sugar cane fields, then past rice paddies terraced to keep up with the incline of the mountain—if we can say that a volcano is just a mountain with extra geothermal activity—and through the semi-domesticated jungle that the volcano dressed up in. The venue was like a park, with several families strolling down the cobblestone paths, sometimes in swimsuits. Bamboo fences divided and hid the hot spring pools (access to which pools varied in price depending on the temperature or mineral concentration of the water.) It was like sitting in a mossy stone bath tub of warm broth, under the light and chill mountain rain. I toweled off and came out feeling deeply juvenated, if smelling a shade fartlike.

One tall bamboo fence, topped by a vast netted tent, turned out to be a butterfly sanctuary and flower garden. The rest of the area were mostly more cobblestone paths and cold boulder-rivers, some plots of grassy turf and other plots of semi-domesticated jungle, a hiking trail upwards to adventure, and a hiking trail downwards to an eatery.

We had grilled garlic scallops in the half shell for lunch. I can’t get seafood this fresh at mountains of the same altitude up north, maybe due to less competent urban planning, or maybe due to the capital being on a bigger island with far more distance between the mountains and beaches, or maybe due to the belligerent introversion of the mountains themselves. I also had the fried chicken, and while this town has a signature chicken recipe that isn’t fried, there’s something about the chickens here that taste more like chicken no matter what the recipe. I wonder if it’s something in the feed.

Another good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: previous explosions can make some of the most fertile ground for farming, and that residual fertility can last for generations.

*

To Corporeal Cecilia, the volcano is personified but not anthropomorphized. He (the volcano, not Corporeal Cecilia) just looms there and grumps. My source for the personification-anthropomorphization was J. A. Macculloch’s The Religion of the Ancient Celts (“In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and […] this led later to more complete personification”) although Cecilia, who is currently taking anthropology classes, knows this as an unfashionable anthropological theory wielded to justify colonialism. (Ahem, “more complete” personification?)

The volcano does have a story, as Cecilia told me. There was a seven-headed dragon (that’s the volcano, zoomorphized…or should that be cryptozoomorphized?) and some legendary heroic figure that dueled the dragon, and the townsfolk were so happy this hero won that they named the volcano Laon after the hero. Which could get confusing, because the dragon was the volcano?

*

My proto-source for personification and anthropomorphism was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. There’s a faithful film adaptation of Hogfather somewhere out there that probably best shows Discworld theology, the Hogfather being the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus. Sir Pratchett peppers a fair few books with Anthropomorphic Personification, by those words, with Capitalization.

What gets less brightly highlighted, though, is Discworld’s sort of Animism, probably because it’s never called that, let alone with Capitalization. Discworld has a natural phenomenon known as the Narrative Imperative. This prevents heroes from dying off before the villains, and also allows the medieval fantasy battle party to get very meta about everything. I think that could be one example. Another could be the idea introduced in the Tiffany Aching quintet, about how witches awaken to their abilities depending on the geology of their home. Granny Weatherwax’s power grew from the granite mountains of Lancre (or, according to a fellow witch in-world, from having a mild inborn predisposition to witch-ing which may or may not be genetic…and then working bloody hard at it.) Tiffany’s power grew from the chalk hills, which age-peer witches give her flack for, and one old witch who meant well but couldn’t help being flabbergasted. Older and wiser witches know the bones of the chalk hills are flint, which is more acceptably rocklike, but most of the big magic that Tiffany does calls to the oceanic origins of her land and name.

My concept of sea witches grew out of that sort of animism, how the coral bones call to the fetch, and the salts turn to fluid crystals and liquid rock. Beaches are edges, too—liminal spaces between sea and earth, and even whitecaps on the high seas a liminality of sea and sky.

What about volcanic witches? Far less explosive and destructive than stereotyped, I gathered, at least around this volcano. How does one capital-w Work with an animistic grump dressed like some plant goddess of mountain-jungles and fields (who does good, but really doesn’t know or care or try to do it, or take thanks for it because he’s that much of a grump)? Or an adversarial dragon named after the hero who slew him?

I can still feel the warmth of the scalding, sulphuric waters. That’s all that grounds me on this subject, really, and walking around in Volcano Country, and eating stuff grown in Volcano Country, and catching conversations and stories in and of Volcano Country, and breathing the air. What do I make of this all, with folklore and pop culture and passé anthropological jargon, and why? (This is neither rhetorical nor curious. I’m just settling into an approach, or honing a perception.)

Wildeval and the Wastes

The following entry contains poverty and eating disorders.

The headmistress of my school in 6th grade set up a mandatory extracurricular, the subject matter of which is difficult to define. I remember that were taught the horrors of addictive, recreational drugs…and then how to manage an online stock portfolio. In hindsight, I very much appreciate that she took a genuine interest and care in our knowing what she knew. In one such lesson, she dropped a statistic that I remember well but haven’t checked: At every stoplight in the capital city of India, an average of 30 to 40 beggars tap at the car windows and call for spare change or food. (This was back in 2000.)

If that statistic holds true, then Metro Manila doesn’t have it as bad—not that I’ve stood at the stoplights and taken a proper tally either. When I’ve been the one in the car, I’d say that maybe every fourth stoplight would have three to five beggars approach. Maybe every tenth stoplight, one of those beggars would appear adult (with an infant) or elderly (with an adult assistant, to aid the elderly in begging), but the rest are almost always children. Most times these children say that they’re sad because they haven’t eaten in so-and-so days, sometimes they’re offering to sell handmade garlands of sampaguita flowers, or lanterns (there’s a popular local Christmas song that starts out that way and continues, unironically, with pious holiday cheer…so, child labourers living in desolate poverty have become just another feature of the season), and sometimes they beg those in the car to buy something from them because they haven’t eaten in so-and-so days. I don’t as often find the ones who wipe down the windshield with rags anymore. As my mother wryly observed: Those ones aren’t paid for their windshield-cleaning service, they’re paid to stop trying to be helpful and to go away and bother somebody else.

My country doesn’t have foster care, or safety nets for the unemployed. Disability benefits don’t include mental illness, when I checked, I’d found that the government benefits offered to those with physical disabilities haven’t adjusted for inflation since Marcos the Dictator first signed it in (in the 1970s.) That’s just on paper. I imagine the time and effort to file for those claims might not be worth it, even if a single extra piso made the difference between half a mouthful of bread with precious calories to fuel the next action and not. As a pedestrian, I’ve passed by a woman in tattered clothes, crooning as this baby in her arms reaches out, tiny palm open and up, and practices what’s probably this baby’s first words: “Meron ka’ng barya?” (This translates to: “You got any spare change?”)

At the time, I really didn’t have spare change. I did have the privilege to wonder what it’s like to grow up like that, but I doubt that’s tenderable.

When it had been an emotionally bad day (month…okay, year) I’d blogged that I was in an unenviable position. That wasn’t honest. Because I wrote that in English, on a blog that I can manage because I have the technology and knowledge, with a roof over my head, clothes on my somatypical-presenting body, and access to drinking water and food. I’ve gone to schools that taught me how manage a stock portfolio, because that’s the sort of thing that the adults in my life envisioned my older self would be doing.

I still don’t feel as though any of those were or are mine. I live on a lot of luck, regardless, and I’ve got to admit it. That’s why I could relate a lot to this article, which I’d interpreted to be an excellent articulation of the orthogonal lines that (what I call) Glamour draws between social class and economic class.

*

The System of modern civilized economy is broken and/or rigged, I’ve understood that much; Still, I haven’t made the best decisions that I could within it. My mother grew to resent supporting her children, especially feeding them, and I’d sensed this and took to starving myself (and suicide attempts—I’d recognized that I was a waste of a life.) The therapies to reverse that condition, physically and mentally, must have cost much more on average than the food I hadn’t eaten, and were a luxury of the middle class to even consider.

Later, much later, after I’d stopped being sad and started getting angry, after my mother passed away from cancer, and after my sister had taken to substance abuse and physically abusing me…I did my best to leave. My sister had full control of the inheritance, a university education, a network of age-peers, and four years seniority that granted her touchpoint status with my mother’s peers. It’s probably a cultural thing, but then again, well… I had a 10th grade education at twenty-two years of age, no friends, no references, no clue, an uncontainably insane wellspring of pain and anger that made me out as someone you really want to bond with (not, it did not), fatigue, issues with attention and memory processes, and increasingly vivid hallucinations. I’d sought refuge with my godmother, who tried to reconcile my abuser and me; then with the estranged extended family, who tried to reconcile my abuser and me.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” my godmother had said, “But, excuse me, remember that I don’t have to take you in.” So, I left and—

“You have all these places to go! I don’t have that!” My sister had sobbed, “You’re turning everyone against me!” (I was not, for the record, because this was not a possible thing to do, but it still stings that she’d continued with—) “People have accomplished so much more than you, with less!”

“You don’t know what it’s like to go hungry,” my uncle stressed, even though he’d known about my eating disorder. Which he must have remembered, because he’d added, “Or maybe you do, but it’s different when you’re really poor.”

I discovered a boarding house that rented cheaply, moved out, and continued writing transcriptions. Unlike articles, blog posts, or fiction my mind at the time could actually accomplish this (and now it still can, along with articles, blog posts, and fictions. I’ve recovered a lot. Not enough. And not without collateral damage. But a lot.) And on the way out of my abuser’s dominion, I had stolen our deceased mother’s secondhand laptop. This was about five or six years ago, and what with technological obsolescence and lacking the funds to upgrade have limited my options with freelance writing and navigating those job sites…but, this laptop still turns on when I press the button, still saves text documents, still lets me edit sound and image files. I should know how to make something of this.

Still, I starved to make rent and utility payments that I still fell behind twice.

And, my uncle had been right: it was different. There’s a lot of fuss about food, and I’m not proposing that calories vitamins minerals lipids essential-acids and textures (yes, textures; try chowing down on a tough stick of barbecue when you’ve got a sore throat, and then maybe imagine that you don’t even have molar teeth because they rotted away because you can’t pay for dental care,) and flavors are unimportant. It’s just that—first, once I couldn’t “cheat” because I was living in poverty, it was dehydration that I suffered the most from. After my middle-class eating disorder, I don’t get hungry anymore: I start to guess that I should have eaten something when I start to feel dizzy. Thirst, on the other hand, razed and swelled the inside of my throat up so it hurt to swallow and it was difficult to breathe, and lowered my blood pressure so I was always seeing colors if I tried to stand and walk. I could survive more days without food than I’d given myself credit for. Without water to drink? Less time—I say, vaguely, because I didn’t try to test this.

Second, unlike with the life of luxury I left, I didn’t want to test this. I still didn’t want to be a bother—I hate that between my sister and Cecilia are a string of people who my plight moved to invite me into their homes and I have failed so many people so many times—I don’t want to be as stuck as I am on their lack of hospitality that I can’t speak the thanks for sheltering me as long as they did and own where I fucked up (but I am, and I can’t, and I don’t), I didn’t want my eighteen-year-old cousin sleeping in the same bed as both her parents because they gave me her bed and all I did in it was lay in it and cry, I didn’t want my godmother to have had to ask my sister to give me an allowance from her inheritance and them both tsking as I fail to pull my bootstraps up—but, away from all that, alone with the memories of all that, somehow, that’s when I felt sure that I didn’t want to die.

The best meal in my life that I can remember was from this time. I didn’t have a kitchen, or anything to cook with. Gentrification hadn’t taken the neighborhood so I’d walked the street and cobbled a meal together from here and there. One cup of white rice from a canteen. Three large, griddle-roasted pig’s ears on a stick, from the unbranded barbecue set on the corner (manned by one lady with a tray stacked with pig’s ears, chicken intestines, cubes of coagulated blood, and—oh, but fifteen more pesos on that and I wouldn’t be able to afford a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast the next morning, and the evening after that I expected the bank transfer from my freelance writing online to come through, never mind, I’ll stick with the pig’s ears—barbecue). And, one “snack pack” sachet of beans in tomato sauce, from a mom-and-pop general store that was about the size of a closet. I went back to my room, put it all together. It was tasty. The rice was adequate—not burnt or stale or the cardboard-y quality that usually goes to farm animals (but people who run a small business like a canteen sneak it to people, to cut costs, not that I blame them). The ears were crisp and brushed with the most perfectly balanced barbecue sauce I’d ever tasted, and the tomato beans rounded it all off.

It had more than that.

Folklore warns against eating fairy food. If a bowl of milk went as an offering to the fairies, then they’ve taken the essence—what I call Wildeval, a conceptual point or object in the process that is Glamour—and eating it will leave a person insatiably hungry. If you wander into Fairyland and get curious about the canapes at some party over there, be warned that by eating it you’ll belong to them forever. That’s a clue as to how Wildeval works, too.

But, I realized, everyone does something to the Glamour societal (not only the Glamour mystical, the fairy’s magics—or maybe it’s the same.) This was the first meal I can remember that didn’t taste of resentment and obligation. This, I believe, was food that managed to keep its Wildeval. Or do I imagine it was there?

I imagine that my uncle would refuse to take this the way I meant, that starvation from poverty is in any way better than some vain, neurotic, attempt at emotional blackmail via two-year tantrum over nothing, and that’s all. Though he’d never said this, it’s his voice most of all that echoes in my mind, sarcastically: Go ahead, fine, live like that. Torn shoes, tattered shirts, and a bowl of pig’s ears to eat every three days. You’re happy like that, without family, without support, without a future? Be happy while you’re crazy, then! Be happy while you’re sick in the head, be happy while you’re poor—It all only proves that you deserve it. You’re right where you belong. You’re a waste of love and life, and too spoiled from your childhood to ever wake up to such an obvious fact.

I disagree.

I just do, I can’t help it.

…Now where can I put this contrarian energy?

*

I’ve added a fourth part to this fanfiction trilogy, Songs of the Sunset (previously Spectrum) for the Otherfaith, and noticed that the Wastes are a landscape that I find my imagination drawn to. Not necessarily one that I’m confident in having the mindset to understand, though. This despite my living in a third world country and this year’s monsoon season started strong. The Wastes are the part of the Otherfaith otherworld associated with the Ophelia. As the Ophelia is a god of cleansing, the Wastes are hers, full of what gets cleansed: the waste products of civilization. In my experience, this definitely includes people.

I try to write more as a way to figure the place out.

As a possible metaphor for how the Calvinist linage of philosophy survives Stateside as detailed in Alley Valkyrie’s article linked above (or, hey, I think it’s well worth linking again), and an exploration as to how that interacts with the presumption of absolute personal sovereignty?

Lyra had little patience for it. “This place gives me the heebies,” she blurted to her two companions. “It was just like this before the war, so there’s no excuse. This is THE WEST. If they live like this, it’s ’cause they WANT to.”

I’m certainly not the best writer of regional accents that I’ve never heard live. (I’d originally planned for Lyra to have a bonding moment with Lilibell about something something abandoning daughters, but my headcanon Lyra just sort of went, “Daughter? What daughter? I don’t have a daughter.”)

Irene holstered her own gun and pointed at where Sham lay. Their mission was technically accomplished. The princess reached into her back pocket for a plastic card, which she offered to Lyra. It glinted with holograms.

“If you’re paying me,” Lyra cautioned, “You’re not supposed to give me this whole thing.”

Irene looked mildly confused for a moment, shrugged in the next, and nudge-fanned the air until the hunter accepted.

I like the idea that Irene’s an old world fairy, from where the gold disappears at dawn. My headcanon of her understands that gold can be exchanged for goods and services, but misunderstands the value of it as residing in the shiny and the pretty. Not for the way a currency represents time, effort, agency, dignity, innate worth, communal consideration of worth, and luck or lack thereof in life circumstance. She may (or may not) benefit from holding the title of Princess in a world where not everybody does, but I’d argue that as far as economic classism goes, she’s innocent.

Irene hadn’t known enough of the language to ask why the West wouldn’t send supplies, and stop the spirits from becoming ghosts, or even spare them the unnecessary suffering.

Too innocent. The answer to this might have simply been that noblesse oblige is more complicated than that. Listening to the beneficiaries is the easy way. There are harder ways to learn what poverty is like, and then what to do to help.

Eight Things About (My) Descant Faelatry

descant noun 1. a melody that is sung or played above the basic melody of a piece of music 2. a comment, remark, or criticism on a particular subject (archaic)

I’d state that my early life had a dearth of vocabulary and structured understanding or practices pertaining to what I’d now call liminality, but maybe it’s more that nobody else could figure out where I stand in life for me. While I got around to digesting the mythology, theology, cosmology, metaphysical paradigms, ritual practices or customs, and specialized terms of a variety of established modes of discourse both religious and secular (that I consider beliefs, defining belief as the systematic implementation of ideas)…a belief in fairies became my belief.

I go by Thomas Keightley’s word history. In The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People, Keightley noted that the word “fae” (or fay, or fey) in referring to folkloric beings of the Occident, really only existed in English—and had perhaps displaced while becoming synonymous with “elf”—and French, where the word might have come from the Fates. (France being there, and Rome being right there, it works.)

Interacting with fae and questing through Faery came later, at which point maybe the terms don’t fit but I’ve already gotten attached to wording the something.

I call my faith Faelatry. It might not fit anymore, but the word stuck. So, I thought to list of the similarities and differences perhaps to some other ways of Faelatry:

1.) I believe in a corporeal world with corporeal/physical matter, indeed I default to it. In accordance with some kinds of fairy lore maybe, I also believe in otherworlds. Otherworlds or Faerylands have been an immensely helpful concept in parsing my personal experiences with the not-strictly-corporeal. When it takes a descant divergence or elaboration is that I’ve since mapped those Faerylands as the sidereal, ethereal (or otherreal), incorporeal, and surreal. Respectively, these would be the world made of agreements (cultural or social), the world of personal experience that often isn’t shared (I guess I could describe them as partial hallucinations overlaid on the corporeal, except unlike most hallucinations they make sense and become consistent), the world experienced during out-of-body experiences (yes, that’s far-fetched, as in yes “far-fetched” is literally what I call the method to do it, this is where I wrote how I do it), and the surreal (which are fuller hallucinations that make sense and become consistent, such as with dreams, especially numinous dreams).

2.) In some traditions, the first rule of Fae club is you do not talk about Fae club. But I talk about it, write about it, express it as freely as I feel suitable, and even hope it’s even understood. I can’t talk about everything, due to the constraints of time, energy, and language. Oftentimes, a concept just doesn’t match any word in mind, and that’s when I can’t talk or write about it. Other times, the sort of experience I have might be classified as liminal, but it doesn’t make enough sense to be worth mentioning, and/or it isn’t consistent enough to have had any impact on my life, and I can’t personally justify maybe anyone else out there finding value in it. I also refer to fairies by the f-word that is verboten in some traditions, and I would probably even say thank you to them had I better manners (thanking the fae also verboten.)

3.) Every liminal entity I meet is a fairy to me unless they insist otherwise, or unless I’d be talking with someone who I think would insist otherwise before we can actually have a constructive conversation. My own ethics strive for equal empowerment and mutually-respected boundaries: I understand that not everyone is a Faelatrist, and there would even be different traditions of Faelatry—Keightley noted Scandinavian fae being repelled by the sound of bells ringing, whereas some English fae would be attracted and delighted by the sound, for just one instance. In communities and interactions with those of differing terms and understanding, I’ll make as much effort to be in harmony. To navigate and ease the challenges of coexistence make the definition of ethics to me. But, I’m just Weird as an individual (and the way I use the word Weird is weird, and I won’t elaborate on that right now.) So: Deceased shades or ghosts of human beings are fae to me. Vampires are fae to me. Therianthropic or otherwise transhumanist facets are fae to me. Demons are fae to me. Angels are fae to me. Gods are fae to me. New Age extraterrestrial alien spirits from the Pleiades or Andromeda are fae to me. Pop culture characters who act like autonomous people with agency in the Faerylands I mentioned above…are fae to me.

4.) How literal is my belief? William Bascom made the distinction between myths (which are very literal in belief, cited as authority for how the world is or how customs should be), folktales (which are told for entertainment and not much more than that), and legends (which run the gamut of belief, but, unlike the previous two, refer to earthly rather than cosmic truths). I consider it immensely important that someone makes that sort of distinction but I…don’t, generally. Sometimes I express belief in a way that’s metaphorical, other times I express impossible and unreasonable beliefs that’s can’t be justified but are just too real. All things considered, I function physically and societally somewhat fairly, thank you. Most importantly, literary interpretation isn’t what I’d necessarily consider disbelief. It’s still a systematic implementation of ideas.

5.) I do have a belief in a sense of selfhood that can become cohesive, or fragmented. The corporeal Fetch, or the physical body, includes itself in this belief on the cohesive side. When the fetch, or self, extends or enacts in the Faerylands, I do believe that it can get very strange, and that’s what I’m still exploring. The experience of holding the contradicting personal truths of several personal fetches in the meantime could influence #4 above. It also influences an idea I have, of Simultaneous Reincarnation, which is that on some level everyone is a simultaneous reincarnation of everybody else. Access to altered or decentralized consciousnesses generates empathy in some work with Glamour, and such phenomena as meditative regressions to a past life. I believe that the Fetch can fragment into shards, and that there do exist some fae whose whole consciousness resembles a shard of human consciousness, and that there would (by the same rule) exist some fae whose consciousness resembles the collective or even total understanding of several human consciousnesses—but I’m not certain I’ve met any.

6.) Glamour, I believe is related to the word for the rules of a language to which speakers and writers conform, and refers to the rules of action and consequences in the Faerylands. This theoretically includes Glamour in the corporeal world and the sidereal world. See #1 above: I know sidereal means something else in most dictionaries; that’s not usually what I mean when I use it. Nyah.

7.) When I’m not repurposing existing words to represent a meaning there wasn’t previously a word for, I make up new ones. The concept of Wildeval is the one I consider most pertinent at the time of this writing, named for Oscar Wilde, who contrasted the market price of everything to a sentimentalist’s absurd sense of value. (In one of his stageplays, Lady Windermere’s Fan.) It’s that Wildeval embodied by ritual offerings I make to the fae, traditionally “toradh”.

8.) Related to Glamour and Wildeval are the poetics (representative meaning attribution) of the body, of symbols, of objects, of locations, and of time. While the wheel of the year or the temperate seasons aren’t particularly significant to my own personal belief, I’d like to get this out on May Day. Also, I just really like eights so I’ll end this list here.

More On Poetics

Previously, on The Codex of Poesythis is such a prettier word for semiotics!

What has best articulated my idea of notions in wishcraft, lately, has been philosophy. I remember hiding out in Miasma’s apartment with her four roommates when she was in university. They would let me read their books, and some of those would be books that they brought from home, and some of them would be the texts they bought for their lessons. One of them was a giant tome that they named Big Bob. It was a compilation of the very important writings of a bunch of dead white guys, for the required philosophy courses.

When I read some of Big Bob, I noticed that the terminology of each academic ancestor was as personal to him as his underwear. The notions of noumena versus phenomena might be contextualized and apply slightly differently, but I thought it might as well be the same thing as the signifier and signified. Then again, in the same book, some English-writing philosophers insisted upon using the French verb form of “to be” (est) in order to highlight “being” as a more significant concept that the English word could convey. The same went for what might be colloquially known as “capital-t Truth” that some dead white guy or other insisted was not mere truth, as English would have it even with Pointed Capitalization, but he would evoke some ultimate transcendental version of the same concept by using the Greek word for it (that would be alethia, but always with a capital A.)

Big Bob got thrown at the wall a lot, accompanied by primal screams of frustration.

*

I thought that a notion would be the basic unit of a belief, while recognizing that a belief system also generates or synthesizes notions. The dynamic activity between the two became what I now call Glamour.

In studies of witchcraft, the predecessor to what I call wishcraft, I learned of some branches that included material components for the correspondents, and of other branches that preferred to work with subtle energy. In the latter branch, either one didn’t trust the chain of cause and effect, or one saw that chain lead into the mind’s associations and then wondered why bother with that externally-situated cognition at all when it could all be done with the mind and its perception of subtle energy.

When I noticed the treatment of subtle energy among members of the community…flip-flopping in the force of authoritativeness between a conserved quantity (as with encounters with subtle energy leeches) and a performative entity (as with the presence of “dark” subtle energy or “negative” subtle energy when both should have been privative by nature and would not necessarily be awful unless somebody else’s subtle energy were on a different wavelength or quality), I concluded that subtle energy itself is a correspondent or symbol. Subtle energy to me became a signifier for something else-and-deeper that would interfaced with perception.

The idea of different planes of reality or otherworlds through which this subtle energy moved began to seem to me like an effort to create a one-to-one correspondence of physical energy in one world and subtle energy in the otherworld. It would still be a compelling metaphor, but I felt that I ought to return to checking my personal perceptions and interpretations before deciding on a metaphysical model.

It’s not all only personal perception, although adopting any perception that is not the perceiver’s own is impossible. I still believe in the world, although the meaning, quality, or value of any one thing in the world would change depending on the context and the approach of a perceiver, I still believe in realities beyond myself. A tree falling in the forest with nobody to hear it will still make a sound, but whether one can have a care about a specific event that one cannot or does not perceive is another question.

*

It’s that caring that I began to wonder about. Notions became not only about qualities or qualia or meaning, but meaningfulness.

Rather than a one-to-one between the physical world and physical energies, I began to find far more similarities in the dynamics of society to metaphysics. Social or cultural power imbalances and dynamics can have very real effects.

Glamour worked just as well for both, but I began to wonder about toradh in fairy lore, the social equivalent I suppose would be personal agency. I wonder about it being nascent, then reified, then stolen or corrupted or undermined or devastated. I imagined toradh as a node in the glamour, or like the seed inside a peach, the notions waylaid and bound together enough that it could become something else (although that bundle of notions would itself be a notion, just like part of a notion is just a notion with irregular sticky edges.)

As for what a notion is, I’ve resorted to Derrida’s differentiation. Any one notion is itself because it is not something else or anything else. While focusing on the negative space around a concept might come off a bit, haha, lacking…it stands to reason that diversity could only fail to define a thing through the thing being what everything else is not (occupying the same spacetime, having the exact same qualities of the phenomenon, not outside of identified boundaries) by absolute cosmic homogeny. So, differentiation it is, even though I still make the distinction between dualities: extant and privative, mutually exclusive, complementary, potentially able to synthesize, focused and peripheral…all different approaches to diversity-definition.

Captain Foxglove Takes Umbrage

 Warning: The following entry may contain triggering material.

When Captain Foxglove acts out of character, I’m inclined to interpret this as reflecting a psychological node of sorts, that is breaking down due to some subconscious program of a sort gathering “error data” of a sort. So, Foxglove, usually encouraging, supportive, incisive with honesty at his worst becomes prone to verbally violent outbursts.

In this instance, however, it holds more significance to me to keep to running with the spiritualist program. I just really feel like I make more progress with believing in the experience than I do with meta-analysis.

So, Foxglove has three faces: the first I saw when I first met him, the second I saw on a quest where I caught sight of him lounging on a grassy cliff by the sea (and I sensed it was Foxglove even though he looked so different), and the third when I followed him down a flight of steel steps and he turned around when I asked to know more about him—and his face shattered, like the spaces between a perfect spiderweb only it was meant to shatter, because behind the human masque revealed pointed petals that blossomed into rows upon rows upon rows of pointed teeth.

That last bit could be another example of error data in my subconscious, though, crossing over my pirate fantasy with one of the Resident Evil genetically engineered monsters. But I told myself that I wouldn’t be going with that, at least in this entry.

Because, within the spiritualist paradigm, the thing that I figured out was that while they’re all Foxglove, he’s managed to get jealous of himself when one face gets more of my consideration than the other.

If only it could have been as simple as some evil mischief-maker stole the image of Foxglove that I knew, to impersonate him getting angry so that I would be upset or misled. Then I just have to call out the trickster and keep it real with Foxglove.

It might still turn out to be that way. The stuff of the otherworld and the otherworld itself can be so capricious.

The very night before this all happened, I did have a dream of my ex-mentor in psychism, let’s name him Mar, sat at this bar in a stable and radiated smugness about something terrible that he (Mar himself, not Foxglove) had done to me. While I was embodied in the dream, sitting somewhere across from Mar in this bar that was also a stable, I felt detached and unafraid.

Now I don’t know if my own response was because I’ve developed the strength to have my own standpoint from which I see that Mar is wrong about enough that nothing he does has the effect on me that he intends to have (because I can’t respect his point of view anymore) or if my own response was because I’ve shut down attachments and fears to the point that that I no longer panic when I ought to panic.

Part of me is convinced that this dream meant that Mar did something. This is preposterous to consider, of course, because there’s no empirical evidence for that sort of thing. Inner alchemy or practices with similar effect? Maybe. Dreamwalking and curses? I’m not so sure about those anymore.

So I bring it back to mind.

Perhaps there remains a node in my psyche that can manifest as Mar, and that’s who corrupted Captain Foxglove somehow, if that is even what the how is. That’s the way I’ll speak of it, if so, because it’s an important distinction for me to make right now between corporeal, certificate-of-life-birth possessing, social-security-number having, other-people-can-see-him-too Marr and surreal Mar.

But back to Foxglove.
 
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