Ten Thousand Spoons When All You Need Is A Knife

The following entry may contain triggering material.

I thought I’d been here before, here being the meadow just within the Gates of the West. It was an overcast day, and I wondered if some sympathetic fallacy would at least spare those from being sung out the door under moderately sunny skies, by chirruping tiny birdies. The Spider Lady’s eyes were like eight dark glass marbles of varying sizes pressed into dough, over a beard split by the make—and stirred by the movement—of eir fanged mouth. Eir limbs appeared human: knees were human elbows, feet were human hands. Eir elbows, too, were human elbows, four of these human arms ending in human hands that—

—cast the razor net.

My beloved became a collection of net-hole shaped pieces as the threads fell through him, though it can’t have been heavier than a cobweb. I suppose the physics of the otherworld, the metaphysics, are largely signifiers. I thought I’d been here before, although hadn’t, I thought I’d watched this happen once or twice before—not to someone I knew who blessed the air with every exhale, who would stop my chest from aching just by consenting to my holding him in my arms. Of course this was “different”, an “exceptional case”, of course: I was upset.

Pieces of him fell bloodlessly, though, which my imagined memory compared to the others who’d burst—tellingly.

Cobb reeled in eir net in the moment it took for me to throw myself onto his body parts. They sunk into the ground, and I turned around up to cry to the Clarene, bring him back, heal him, there wasn’t a drop or sliver of the vile stuff so how could you—

The Clarene looked on with human eyes, set in a darkly beautiful human face, under though mostly in front of a magnificent frizz of human hair, anything other than anthropic or able-typical of her body swathed in a gown made of celestial eclipses. When she spoke, her tone was blunt as a lightningbolt. “What will you pledge in exchange?”

Nothing! I’d answered, because I had nothing suitable for pledging, which itself is unsuitable for pledging. I lose my mind fairly frequently, so I might not have had it with me. Despite my crying over somebody else getting hurt, I was sure I was heartless. I couldn’t pledge any service with a lifetime of learning that I’m useless. Mostly, though: Do it, or don’t do it! But you know what’s right!

If that’s call to close the gate against me, so be it. Even in my despair and desperation, I trust the Clarene’s judgment.

The Clarene melted away—into a more godly-cosmic form, as I can only imagine one does when one is a god—or summoned away maybe? I don’t know.

My beloved resurfaced from the earth, whole and sleeping.

Before I could thank the gods, though, the Spider tsked and threw the net again. I heaved his body away at the threat of eir movement, too slowly: a thread caught on his left forearm, and the hand fell away in chunks. Those didn’t sink into the earth this time.

“Cobb!” I shouted eir name, or at least what I called em. “What the Hell?!?”

The Spider’s marble eyes betrayed no emotion, no reason. I held my beloved tightly—his back to my chest, like I learned in swimming class in the human world, to rescue someone who doesn’t know how to swim—and found Heartwrench’s hilt had appeared, between my hand and his chest. I’m not supposed to still have this.

In any case, the Spider had reeled in the net and made to throw again. Of course Heartwrench’s blade was out, too, and if I only thought through the sword enough then—

—there. Like a bubble of glass, or like an air bubble in water, the rind of a sphere appeared around us. With my free hand, I tugged at his jeans, to try to get his feet inside the sphere. Heartwrench’s spheres are only permeable to those and whom I treasure. Usually. A knowledge dusked on me then: Heartwrench’s sphere couldn’t stop Cobb’s web.

I suppose the physics of the otherworld, the metaphysics, are largely signifiers. Heartwrench makes bubble-shields…and most of the bubbles I’ve taken as a reference, the ones from the human world, those can float. Heartwrench and I had never done that before. Usually, though, if I only think through the sword enough then—

We floated up, and away. Cobb didn’t even look up to watch us go.

~

Even in the otherworlds, my emotional metabolism is too slow. I was still crying in despair when really, I should have been relieved. I didn’t know where we were headed, on what currents we coasted, through the overcast day into clear late afternoon. I caught sight of a dome in the sky, the average size thereabouts of an airport near a capital city, stained glass in no particular pattern, something like stairs sort of notched around it coming from and back around a single wide balcony.

Princess Irene waved us through the balcony opening and into the dome. A description: anthropic, except for the butterfly wings; about as tan as I am, but with slantier features (more refined); hair that could be described as a pixie cut; and wearing something between a toga and a Regency-era gown made out of gauzy veils, so a simple cut and line, but as many hues in the layers as there were in the dome.

Heartwrench and I dissolved the protective floaty sphere over a divan, where I laid his body. Maybe I shouldn’t have been relieved: the color was draining from his body, his hair, and even his clothes.

“He’s not going to die,” I said, although I didn’t know it until I said it, and then I spontaneously knew a bit more: “He won’t wake up, either. It’s not really sleep, it’s…a curse, you know, like in modern versions of the fairy tales he…”…needs somebody who loves him truly to kiss him and wake him up. I sighed. “We’ve got to summon his husband.”

Irene shrugged as if to say, “If you’ve got to, you’ve got to.” Then she wandered back to the balcony.

I might’ve been misled about high fantasy adventures. In the ones I’d read, usually, everybody rushes to help the hero and they fret anxiously until it’s done and okay (especially hospitable bystanders.)

In my experience with the otherworlds, if you know enough about somebody—who’s subject to the metaphysics of that world, anyway—and you find a space that has the potential for that somebody to be there, and you project your own expectation onto it…then they’re there. That’s what I call summoning.

Sometimes you don’t know them well enough. Sometimes there’s no potential to be intuited. Sometimes we don’t know how to project that expectation. Sometimes, I’m sure, they just don’t want to be there. So then they won’t be there.

The husband strode through, too swiftly and determinedly for me to want to slow this with more description—I tried to say how glad I was that he’d come over, but he glanced at the stump of our beloved’s left arm and snapped at me, “Haven’t you done enough?”

I backed away and went over to the balcony.

Epilogue

I shouldn’t still have this, I thought to Heartwrench, and at the corner of the balcony stood the one who was supposed to have it. She was a warrior princess, anthropic, with a quick smile, armored and caped like the Ophelene, but white—for that moment. The next moment—even before I could say hi or how are you doing here—she began to dissolve, starting from the head, into silvery glitter that fell upwards and vanished. A single orange-red, translucent stone appeared, buoyed up in the last curtain of glitter.

I took it and held it into Heartwrench’s hilt until silvery thorns grew around to hold the stone, because that seemed to be the thing to do. From Spenser’s Faerie Queene (Book II, Cant X…okay, the real source material is Shakespeare’s King Lear) I’d called the princess Cordelia—though perhaps she was really Carnelian, some new Crystal Gem from Steven Universe.

So anyway, that was odd.

In Which ‘How Dare You’ is an Honest Question

The following entry may contain triggering material.
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I got this deer-patterned, silver-glitter covered, pocket notebook because it reminded me of the Darren (who I spell Darene but pronounce the same.) A thought occurred to me that this could be my liary, a diary for lies. I’d originally gotten the idea from Catherine MacCoun’s On Becoming an Alchemist, in the chapter dedicated to the procedure of Separation and encounters with threshold guardians, or Adversaries. Should a questant continue to have an Adversary turn them away from the threshold, the advice went:

keep a “falsehood journal.” Each night, just before going to bed, record in this journal every single lie you’ve told since you woke up. Include the little white ones meant to spare others’ feelings or grease the wheels (…) and pay special attention to the lies you have told yourself. Don’t attempt to rationalize or excuse them and don’t castigate yourself about them either. Simply write them down. If you’re thorough, you won’t need to persist long with the exercise. It provokes a very swift response.

Every falsehood I personally clear gets me further away from the humiliation of discovering that I wasn’t the product of cutting-edge reproductive technology but a common bastard all along, a lifetime of abuse and gaslighting from the home I ran away from fourish/fiveish years ago, and that geis I broke. I’d figured out the heartwrenching joy of getting the truth out, long before I got the notebook. If I’ve been obnoxious, destructive, or a bore about it—I’ve told you what’s behind me.

Oh, I still found something to write in it. Access to the university library without a student identification card was easy enough if I claimed alumne status. The security guard didn’t get in trouble for waving me through…I hope…but when I wanted to reserve or check out a book, and explained the truth to the librarians in the attempt, it was hardly encouraging that they didn’t know what to do with an independent researcher, unaffiliated with any organization, who’d been schooled abroad, and dropped out before even starting a higher education. After some hollering back and forth, because it was a very large library and it wouldn’t do for them to crowd in one section (but, hollering! in a library! from librarians! what’s sacred anymore?) they charged me an affordable fee and informed me that their library was usually only open to non-student researchers two days a week. So now I know better.

As it turned out, or at least what I felt nudged toward when I tried to write that in…the Darrenesque called for an omission lie more—at least from me, at this instance, a specific one, I think.

I’m not getting better.

I’m clinically insane, mentally ill. I ran away from the so-called support system that was a constant trigger for the worst of it, but was the only even nominal support system I’d have. I work contracts: freelance writing and illustration, or managing a merchandise table, or working a ticket booth for events. I don’t have the education, the skills, to find sustainable work that will keep myself off the streets. I loathe depending on connections so far into my twenties, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and each of those have only lasted for as long as each connection didn’t know—

I’m never going to be okay.

Leaving my abusive birth family didn’t free me, it’s ruined me—and I will not go back, because I’m insane. And unintelligently much happier in the ruins compared to living with rich abusers. And I refuse to. My life depends on organization and regularity that I evidently couldn’t develop if my life depended on it, ignoring overwhelming pains that hardly anyone else believes even exists or concerns them (unless I trouble some specialist of a frivolous and expensive field of medicine), working through fatigue and lack of clarity with a determination that I never have because I just want to end it all, all the time.

Nobody I lean on is a temporary crutch, because I’m not healing, I’m doomed. By now that initial loathing has melted into normalcy.

Whether I take you down with me or not, I’m doomed.

Don’t write it, the Darrenesque seemed to say, as my head lanced with the pain and distress of all those realizations, and my pen hovered over a blank page. Say it aloud. To someone who it’d change everything to hear it.

Dare you.

Double dare you.

Double-deer dare you—

“I’m not getting better,” I told my roommate, whose family paid for my plane ticket to and from their home in the south this summer, who’d themself been covering for the rent and bills and groceries five out of ten months this year, and nine out of twelve months last year (and now that I look at that, I guess I’m getting incrementally better, at a glacial pace, but that’s no good,) on a salary not meant to support more than one person and that they juggle with taking a Master’s degree and general health complications—most recently, psychiatric.

“That’s okay,” they replied.

The ensuing conversation was more elaborate and private than that. Certainly the situation is complicated by said roommate’s sympathy to mental illness (they’d been more of the attitude that “you don’t need meds I’m not buying for you unlike food we need, you just need bootstraps,” until this month) as well as some potential political stability. (Not instability, instability is fine for a region within a volcanic range and on a fault line and in a typhoon belt.) (Seriously, though, roomie’s moving to Canada if this gets worse oh hey wouldja look at that it’s getting worse; I am not going with them, I’m a tropical creature who’s heard horrifying legends of hailstones, and besides I wasn’t invited.)

At least, I can end on my own response to my roommate’s response: “Wait, what?”

Entheogen: Happy Pills 2/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Previously on the Codex of Poesy :

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

The sort of proto-wishcraft I practiced at that time focused on empirical evidence of psychism, with the idea that the mind was the key. To clear the mind of the usual chatter would invite intuitions, so fellow practitioners claimed. Intuitions could tell us the number or suit of a playing card before we could see, or the thoughts and emotional states of the people around us. Willpower directed forcefully through a clear mind could move physical objects.

I could never manage any particularly consistent outside effect. Sometimes, I’d dabble in guided imagery, which would never yield any insightful result. Those quests would usually go in some nightmarish, unhelpful direction. As for within: I could clear my mind, though. I could notice and simply be with the pain, and my mind would go silent, no images would come to mind…and, it was something like peace.

This did not improve my attention span, when depression began to dull the world. This did not hold my thought process high as the structures crumbled into ruin. This did not improve my memory, in those exercises to clear the mind, I may only be now but everything else carried over pains and troubles of the past.

Myself out of meditation knew that my health was failing and I was losing my mind and I’d never meet my goals, the way everything was going. So, I started on what they gave me.

The next time I tried to sit still and clear my mind, the usual chatter would not stop.

That one thing I could do from years of regular practice, now rendered impossible by a pill the size of a rice grain.

It wasn’t so devastating. Once I decided to act to change everything, my mind, my life, my family’s habit of alternating abuse and comfortable silence, I can hardly complain about the changes.

So, I allowed my mind to create images around the chatter. My mind chatter was like that of a crowded, noisy room…like a restaurant, I thought. I saw the milky sunlight through the windows, the swatches of color of so many people’s clothes, heard the chatter and the clatter of metal utensils against porcelain. I could shift my attention to the tablecloth, and the backrest of the chair, and the noise wouldn’t go away.

I didn’t quest in a way that occupied my Surreal Fetch, back then, I would always be watching my Surreal Fetch from somewhere outside myself—another reason these quests annoyed me. This time I was embodied, I knew, seated and smoothing over cloth.

Then I saw myself approach my table, and draw a chair to sit across from me, and sit and watch me. Ey was ready to listen, and to talk.

Much as I loved biology class and the neuroscience unit, and the security it lent me in that I was doing a factually correct and right thing, it’s not what prepared me for the shift in value priority: Forget empirical evidence of telekinesis. This was our life on the line, so now this was the Work we’d do.

~

The skin over my sternum felt as though someone had rubbed mentholated ointment over it, though I was certain this wasn’t the case. When I’d looked up models of the Fetch in other traditions (Otherreal, or Sidereal) I wondered if this were some vortex of compassion activating. Incidentally, I was beginning to care again, about wilting plants and injured animals and what people anticipated or loathed.

Eating used to be like arm-wrestling with myself, the defending champion you damn well know how your mother resents your eating your life away since you were born and now she knows that job security is a lie she hates still having to feed you because she’ll never have a good life like she did as a rich kid, the challenger of but I’m going to faint and they’ll notice and fuss and blame me (which might not be unwarranted, but certainly doesn’t inspire more positive changes) and I’m shitting bloodclots from the ulcers.

If I could muster up the temerity to request therapy and psychiatric medication, I could eat. The oils around meats tasted awful to me, but fine to everyone else who knew it to be my favorite. Eggs and dairy products took on a cloying texture that I couldn’t bear. Fish was barely tolerable. My psychiatrist told me that she’d never heard of a side-effect like that.

I went vegan, and carried it on for far longer than the aversion and tastebud weirdness alone would have kept me away from real proteins. I considered the lifestyle change a result of some spiritually superior calling, which I’ve got to admit was a huge mistake.

~

I chose life. My birth family really hammered in how badly I should regret it. It surprised me that I could enjoy something at all, so maybe when I would have taken a silent satisfaction in an outfit I liked, I’d smiled. “What happened to my kid?” My mother snarked, “You’re smiling and eating and interested in fashion.”

“It’s a lot sooner than the doc said the meds would work,” my sibling said pointedly. “You’re just looking for attention.” Drama-mongering faker isn’t really sick. After our mother died, she tsked at my continuing to purchase antidepressants, saying, “I’ve spoken to friends of mine who went through depression. You only need to take meds for one year, then you’re fine, and you’ve had your year.” She’d never studied psychiatry. I’d doubted that she’d even taken a proper survey of depressed friends, plural, it was probably just the one whose personal experience she’d consider the most convenient to impose. “I respect what you’ve gone through,” she lied, “But you were a bitch. You’re not allowed to get depressed or eating disordered again. I know I’m not allowed to say this, but your not-eating thing was a choice.”

~

I’d described to my therapist long ago what the mind fog felt like, like white mold growing on the inside of my skull so I could only find the fuzzy outlines of my thoughts. She suggested, knowing what an iron-cast meditative practice I had, visualizing a way to make that mold go away. I’d made a metaphor out of my experience, couldn’t I make an experience out of that same metaphor? No. No, I could not. It was neurological, biochemical, not a matter for the quests. I’ve read that some people find half an hour of meditation effective in doing away with what they describe as brain fog, and I envy them.

I ran away from home to home and to almost homelessness. I had a roof, at least, and walls, but could only afford to eat so little that my fingernails began to splinter as they grew from the quick. The brain fog came back. I could have a whole meal for slightly cheaper than a single antidepressant pill, and ought to have the meal instead, if the brain fog was from malnourishment rather than depression. It was that sort of way of working within financial limitations. The fog felt familiar as depression, so I took the meds on an empty stomach. I needed a clear mind to work.

Besides, a fusion deity of Hela and the Morrigan was wandering around my room, and I was beginning to get the sense of what She really meant. I named her Lady Hawthorne.

Nausea had always been a side effect, but this time it was surprisingly incapacitating. It’s amazing how nauseous a body can get without vomiting even stomach acid, and by “amazing” I mean “torture” and I can’t brag about it as a feat, really, it’s more like a betrayal: How could my corporeal fetch do this to me. Why would my corporeal fetch do this to us. I wanted to die. Once it passed, I decided against taking the other half of the pill when I was supposed to, and I still wanted to die, but at least I wasn’t nauseated.

Before it passed, I sat on the floor and leaned into the corner, trying to breathe as slowly as I could without fainting, because inside movements made the nausea wane, which meant it would wax full right in a trice. I was trying to keep the nausea steady until it flowed away, like trying to find a part of a river that flowed without ripples.

I’d been reading about the Ophelia, a modern god of rivers (of course: the greatest civilizations in human history formed around a river or two), time, death, and depression. Depression had taken on a broader definition to me: the cold and hollow exhaustion of anxiety, the eroding attention and memory, the restless slumbering.

The suicidal ideations, that’s what Lady Hawthorne attended to. The Morrigan aspect of this fusion god represented the battle, the aspect of Hela (from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” … Literally “concealed place” compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”, from Proto-Indo-European *kel- “to cover, conceal”) represents the hidden nature of this particular kind of battle.

When I thought about the Ophelia as a god of depression, this included the recovery, no matter how nauseating. Time and death, too, it occurred to me had life as an integral part, at least the way my nascent headcanon of the Ophelia claimed. Should I die of natural disaster, injury, illness, or age, I expect to glimpse the Ophelia in that last moment. If I kill myself, I’m the Helrrigan’s.

And if I starve to death in self-imposed poverty rather than eating disorder comorbid with obsessive compulsion (or depending on who you ask, choice)…? Eh, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

They were both in my room then, new gods perhaps summoned by new rituals and new ways to travel so far beyond your ken into the realm of horribly wrong. We three got through it all right. We’re still getting through it all right. All three of us, around this.

Beginning Mirror Work

The following entry may contain triggering material.

To share anything—performed, expressed, or explained—no matter how artfully, takes something apart from the lived experience. That dissociation remains valuable.

Here comes a thought
that might alarm me
What someone said
and how it harmed me
Something I did
that failed to be charming

Things that I said are suddenly swarming…

and it was just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. We can watch (we can watch) we can watch (we can watch) them go by…from here, from here, from here.

Was this Erstvale, Surreal? Whatever. It had trees on turf. I’ll call it Erstvale. Beyond the corner of my eye, unhorsed ballerinas swathed in gauze and mist keened faintly for blood. The last time I saw them, they seemed to be kicking body parts around, and chasing where the others kicked. There may have been some splattering. Now, they seemed calmer.

(“Soon,” Giselle had crooned at me, “You’ll find out. Any way that takes you as far as that is not your way at all.”

I’d replied, “When that time comes, it would be because I’ll have the luxury of rejecting allies to getting anything done at all. Kill me before that happens.”

But Giselle would rather die than harm anyone, pure and perfect Cinnabon soul that she is—I loathe her.)

Queen Myrtha stood uncharacteristically still in the clearing, and spoke with uncharacteristic legibility. She and Giselle were never too far from one another, even when they seemed so. The Queen held up an unbroken, unstained hand-mirror and silently asked what I saw.

After a moment of looking, I sighed with disappointment. It was the same thing I saw when I started mirror work, tail end of last year. It hasn’t done much since. “I see a mirror.”

YOU CAN’T SEE A MIRROR!!!!!

That sounded more like Queen Myrtha. No quotemarks to contain her speech; it’s as though the fabric of the multiverse is screaming. It comes into mind bypassing the ears. You’d be surprised what you can get used to.

“But,” I said, and pointed, “There’s one. Right there. There it is. Mirror.” If I overthink, of course, a functioning mirror never can show itself: it shows everything else that’s not a mirror. Hypothetically, then, those with vision have never seen a mirror, but only seen reflections in the theoretical object we think up to explain those reflections. We can support this hypothesis by understanding the material, weight, size, shape, texture, taste and temperature of what we may then conclude to be an object—

DESIST LICKING THE MIRROR!!!!!

I couldn’t. The forest I thought was filled with mist was really more like filled with infinitesimally small snowdrop-beads, moving in wreathes. Some things in the Surreal world do function the same way as the Corporeal, maybe because I think they should…even though I don’t want my tongue to have frozen stuck to a warlord fairy queen’s mirror.

It wasn’t a good hypothesis, anyway. A mirror is a tool that we’ve made, so we know mirrors exist, what one is, how it does, why it works. I suspect that so is Myrtha, or else this would just be embarrassing. (And this has never happened to me in the corporeal world. It’s probably not what it’s really like. One day I should go somewhere cold and get my tongue frozen stuck on something. For science.)

~

Mirrorwork takes the approach that everybody is made up of three things:

1.) What you think of yourself.
2.) What others think of you.
3.) What you think others think of you.

No reason this list should exclude “what others think you think they think of you” or “what you think others think you think they think of you” or even “what they think you think they think you think they think of you”. What they each think of themself is their bailiwick.

She raised the hem of her dress slightly and looked down at her shoes.

They couldn’t be real glass, or else she’d be hobbling towards some emergency first aid by now. Nor were they transparent. The human foot is a useful organ but is not, except to some people with highly specialized interests, particularly attractive to look at.

The shoes were mirrors. Dozens of facets caught the light.

Two mirrors on her feet. Magrat vaguely recalled something about . . . about a witch never getting caught between two mirrors, wasn’t it? Something she’d been taught, back when she’d been an ordinary person. Something. . . like . . . a witch should never stand between two mirrors because, because, because the person that walked away might not be the same person. You were spread out among the images, your whole soul was pulled out thin, and somewhere in the distant images a dark part of you would get out and come looking for you, if you weren’t very careful.

—Witches Abroad

The moment Queen Myrtha frees me from the fairyland mirror that has connived my capture, I can move onto more Intermediate Mirrorwork.

Preferably with the Dierne, instead.

The Hashtagging Prayers

The following entry may contain triggering material.

It can’t have been fifteen years already. It’s not something that passes and then everything goes back to normal. I was barely a teenager when I saw the news on TV. The reporter was saying that she’d never seen anything so horrible in her whole career as a journalist. I thought it must be bad, but it was happening awfully far away: live news reports showed a bright, sunny day in New York City. My family and I watched this in the evening. Then a bomb lobbed over the walls of the campus graffiti telling foreigners to go home and my white classmates did because it wasn’t safe (I was foreign, too, but passing—whoever our attackers were, my mother seemed sure they wouldn’t care that I wasn’t Muslim, why, they hadn’t cared that so many of my schoolmates were actually Muslim and a lot of the teachers too, or that my classmates and I were kids) and the administrators thought there would be another attack—we students stayed home on a good few school days while the teachers drove around, delivering homework; they called an assembly to mourn a student from a sister campus in another island when the nightclub there exploded, I didn’t know her, one of the upperclassmen in front of me fainted and I wondered if he knew her and a classmate caught him and a teacher helped take him to the clinic and I never asked. We had an extra security detail on campus. They didn’t dress like security guards, and I remember how long their guns were. Some other upperclassmen set off firecrackers to prank them. And I thought it was funny, too, because I didn’t know what adolescence was supposed to be like. Maybe we weren’t that far off, for our generation.

As an adult, I get far more upset about what would come off as far less traumatic or even noteworthy matters. I’m not adulting; my schoolmates grew up without me just fine, which is actually fine, there’s only so much one can blame the world for.

~

For a while, this year, the one most common prayer I could manage would go something like:

Clarene Ophelia Laetha Dierne
Darene Liathane Laethelia Ophelene

Kill me now.

This I can’t.

I guess I’m alive to write that because the gods aren’t vending machines. I found one of the old notebooks from when I first started with the Otherfaith almost two years ago, and I’d written to the Ophelene: How can I believe in you? I can only believe that the world needs you. And I can never quite manage to stop believing…but I never really know what to do.

~

Before sleeping—when I remember, more than anything to do with my mood—the prayer goes:

Clarene Ophelia Laetha Dierne
Darene Liathane Laethelia Ophelene

My words honor you. My deeds, even better.

This I pray.

I’ve never had any of them barge into my Othereal or Surreal to say, “Are you serious?! You messed up so bad with—” Or, “You did fine. You did great!” But it gives me something to ponder.

~

Upon waking, the original litany went (and I still pronounce Darene the same as way as Darren) :

Clarene Ophelia Laetha Dierne
Laethelia Ophelene Darren Liathane

I wake to thoughts of you. I go about my day with you.

This I pray.

I didn’t keep that up for long. It felt like an awfully long way to say hey g’day, even though wondering first what the Clarene would like me to do would usually be light years more constructive than what I personally would be inclined towards.

Kill me now. I can’t.

Another dry spell with the job search, another month Cecilia shells out for our groceries and my part of our rent, and then off to her job that she balances with Master’s classes and it’s Thesis Year, and then still spends evenings binge-watching Steven Universe episodes with me that she’d already watched before and we geek out with, and stockpiling dark bitter chocolate bars because those have stimulant opposite-depressant effect.

So, I’ve been well-fed, but it’s not mine to offer.

Except when I cook, I feel. Today it was cocoa-powder pancakes with chopped-up bits of orange gummy candy that I am proud to say did not taste like too much baking soda…and the kind of coffee that leaves you wracked with anxiety and acid reflux but that goes away and leaves a mind so clear that you can almost see the whole universe.

~

(Hold up the drink cup)

“Clarene Ophelia Laetha Dierne
To each a fifth of all the good offered through this here.”

(Sip, set aside; hold up the container of food)

“Darene Liathane Laethelia Ophelene
To each a fifth of all the good offered through this now.

This we share, I pray.”

(Consume as you do.)

The Secret Garden, musical adaptation by Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon

The following entry may contain triggering material, and spoilers for the Broadway musical version of The Secret Garden, extending spoilers to the book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I was so happy to find this musical on Spotify. It’s one of my very all-time favorites simply for the music, especially the Broadway recording that polished everything up. The songs don’t always lend themselves to egoistic solos, or toe-tappingly earwyrm-hummingly catchy show tunes. The book is hardly the quotable tragicomedies of Sondheim. What makes this my favorite show is the choral arrangements, counterpoint melodies in duets or quartets, and orchestration. I listen to the strings more than the voices. It’s almost ambient in how diffusively the music carries the story. The styles range from jigs to Gregorian chants to operatic arias, yet always remain distinctly story-telling songs.

The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in 1911, begins with a young English girl living in India. Mary Lennox is rich and spoiled and her parents are always too busy partying with other rich English people to do any actual parenting, so they leave her to be raised by Indian servants, and they all die of plague. The End.

Oh, no, wait—Mary Lennox is the sole survivor of the plague. Now orphaned at ten years of age, the soldiers who discover her then whisk the child off to her nearest relation in Yorkshire, Not In India. Her hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven is too busy grieving as a widow to be a parent, whether that’s to Mary or to…well, there are other children in the enormous manor and on the moors that really nobody wants to pay attention to, except to keep them apart. Mary Lennox—being far more temperamental and belligerent than a life of privilege can usually explain—is having none of it.

The musical takes some liberties with the story. The deceased Lily Craven’s soprano has far more presence onstage than in prose where her ghostly influence (of memory, of serendipitous coincidence) can afford to be more subtle. Doctor Neville Craven, Archibald’s undeformed brother, is the most passive antagonist I have ever read. In both versions, rumors about how mercenary Dr. Craven is do come up, and Neville doesn’t do anything or even scheme to do anything to pick up that plot point. He just does his job as the family doctor, as competently as an Edwardian-age physician can. This isn’t very competently at all because, in the world Burnett has constructed, people need magic, whether that’s the magic of a relationship with the land, or the magic of ghosts guiding us from the afterlife even through our grief, or the magic of friendships between upperclass children and the half-wild siblings of the sassy-but-not-too-sassy servants, or…the magic of an individual thinking so positive that they’re not disabled anymore…Anyway, versions that aren’t the book seem to really like putting Neville in a love triangle with Lily and Archibald so he’s misunderstood about being mercenary.

The music—

Hold on. One day maybe, I’ll write about Burnett’s magic as a proto-new-age sort of Law of Attraction or New Thought type belief system, or the Glamour dynamic of Mary Lennox’s and Sara Crewe’s relationship with Indian-ness and the exoticization of their ancestral home, or friendships across class/age/gender gaps (more like chasms) in The Secret Garden, but for now this video has this transcript and I recommend them for purposes of becoming wiser than fictional Edwardians when it comes to disability.

The-Secret-Garden_Marsha-Norman_Lucy-Simon

My fancasting would be Priti Ghandi as Lily Craven (warning: autoplay of music samples on every page). And, I don’t even know if Naveen Andrews sings, but he can rock a top hat so that’s my fancast/headcanon Neville.

Naveen Andrews

Naveen Andrews can rock a top hat!

“A Girl in the Valley” served as the background music while I was writing The Red Room and now that I hear it again, “It’s a Maze” must have been what inspired a red-brick labyrinthine Scape that I call the 2nd Chamber (and in Western Faery, the Sienna Sierra. Sierra Sienna? One of those.) I never blog about the 2nd Chamber because it’s usually just there to slow down Point A to Point B and a Guiser named Rose may or may not sometimes be there. Rose has been too obstinately enigmatic to blog about.

My favorite song remains “Winter’s On the Wing”, which I’m beginning to associate with a personification—I call guiser—of time—I call phase, and put in a subcategory under guiser. Dickon Sowerby whistles in spring time that I, having been a tropical creature all my life, haven’t the foggiest idea what the big deal around equinoxes is in almost all pagan or occult literature. Or even a foggy idea about fog. But here he is, and next up is my personification of the summer lady: Ilse Neumann from another Broadway musical, Spring Awakening.

Snow on the Sahara, by Anggun

Previously, on The Codex of Poesy:

So, my corporeal roommate Cecilia let me have her old phone when she got a new one, and I’ve been able to do a lot more on it than I could on my outdated laptop browser…including…catching a Spotify promotion of three months with a premium account for the equivalent of 20 Stateside cents. That’s got to be subsidized music piracy. I should signal boost musicians that I enjoyed listening to on Spotify. But exposure isn’t a tenderable currency, so this wouldn’t even be a nudge for the world to stop starving the artists.

This entry is for an album that gave me liminal questing spirit feels, then.

And so’s this one.

Snow_on_the_Sahara_2013_Anggun

This is full-on pop music nostalgia to me. It’s so 90s. The music has so much synth. The music videos had computer graphics back when computer graphics weren’t quite there yet. Even with the songs being about Spanish islands and African deserts, though, I’ve got to say that Snow on the Sahara is the most unapologetically Indonesian. (Of Anggun’s international releases, that is.) (Although even this one has a literal apology to Indonesia in “Rose in the Wind”.) Chrysalis had some of that experimental sound, though the only song I really liked on the Chrysalis album was “Chrysalis”. Open Heart melted into a morass of genericness, though I think I liked more than a few songs, the only one I can remember to name right now is “Little Things”.

Amateur ethnomusicology time! First, amateur comparative religions time. I’m remembering that time I sat in on one of Cecilia’s anthropology classes, and an attendee there mentioned that the deep South of the Philippines being “more Asian than we (Northerners) are” because the people there were predominantly Islam as opposed to an Abrahamic faith introduced by white people at gunpoint four hundred years ago. I sort of flinched at that, because surely there are as many ways to be authentically Asian as there are Asian people on earth?

Having grown up in Indonesia, though, part of me understood what the speaker was getting at. The “traditional Philippine music” taught to me was closer to Spanish boleros, and while the dance is uncommon, flamenco music can feel right at home. In music classes in Indonesia, though, I was taught about the gongs. Technically, the Philippines has gong music somewhere, too, but the main difference I must say seems to be…Indonesian culture isn’t ashamed of it. Nor should it be, because learning about the gongs (and the metallophones, woodwinds, bowed strings, all part of a complete gamelan orchestra) was wicked cool. I learned the names of the metallophones, the difference in playing styles between Bali and Java, and superstitions associated with the instruments: the largest gong could control the weather, or customary offerings of fruits and flowers to the instruments.

And I say ‘superstitions’ because, well, there’s pride for a largely intangible heritage, and there’s the fact that it can’t keep up with modern life. The tuning of a slentem is so incompatible with the octaves of Western music! As everyone in the whole world who knows any sort of music worth listening to would then only think of music in terms of octaves, surely the best fate of this musical tradition is preservation…in what’s practically an ice block of strictly classical-traditional performances. There’s just no way to change anything appealing to modern, international appeal without doing it all so wrong that nobody would like it.

(Wait, what was I reviewing again?)

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Inside Myself / Once Upon A Time, by Helen Trevillion

The following entry may contain triggering material.

So, my corporeal roommate Cecilia let me have her old phone when she got a new one, and I’ve been able to do a lot more on it than I could on my outdated laptop browser…including…catching a Spotify promotion of three months with a premium account for the equivalent of 20 Stateside cents. That’s got to be subsidized music piracy. I should signal boost musicians that I enjoyed listening to on Spotify. But exposure isn’t a tenderable currency, so this wouldn’t even be a nudge for the world to stop starving the artists.

This entry is for an album that gave me liminal questing spirit feels, then.

Helen_Trevillion_1st_album

I found Helen Trevillion’s music on YouTube several years ago. While I’m tempted to describe the musical style as some breathy and effervescent choral echo of traditional Brythonic music, these melodies often take a decidedly modern turn like from a lilt to a drawl. The lyrics are often short, sweet and simple; other times calculatedly brutal and cathartic. The accompanying piano is almost constantly panicking about something, strings and winds do their best to calm. The overall production lends a lofty, moody, and imaginative tone to the album. And sometimes like a Vocaloid, I mean that in the best way—that is Trevillion’s real voice, I’m sure, it’s just the one-note harmonies over a whole lot of synths lend a science fantasy sort of…

Anyway, no wonder this gives me Otherfaith feels. Track by track commentary under the cut:

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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.

[Ether Err] Tea Time with Lilibell

The following entry may contain triggering material.

"Sampaguita in Birdcage" photo by Faemon

“Sampaguita in Birdcage” photo by Faemon

It’s been raining, and then flooding. The proprietess of the haunted mansion allowed my corporeal friend Cecilia and myself to move from the basement to right below the attic. In the afternoon, Cecilia invited me to the cafe where she was catching up on the papers she was supposed to be writing instead of the asthma diagnosis and recovery that she’d actually been doing. Because I didn’t want to wade through through the ankle-deep swamp that our old room had become to bring another rucksack full of paperback books up three flights of stairs (and because I thought that maybe my adorably effervescent presence would defuse some of that stress,) I accepted. It did excuse me from the swamp trek that afternoon, but Cecilia gruffed that she was going to have to ignore me and then continued typing on her laptop. Occasionally, she would eke out a single bubbly peal of laughter, and I would think it was my adorable powers working effervescently, but Cecilia assured me that it had been deranged laughter. Then she would drink more coffee. As I recall, she’d been on her fifth-and-a-half cup when I arrived. We discovered a third alternative spelling of Taklamakan. I may have laughed in a similar way, because I’d proofread the paper of a mutual friend from Cecilia’s class, and gotten stuck on keeping that one desert’s name consistent.

I scribbled some developments on Ogdoad, a form of wishcraft symbolism based on chess. Zugzwang could be my word for a meditative state of mind, of stillness and emptiness, by which which intuitions could develop. The protection spell for Castling kingside (or shortside) would be target-specific nullification, like a shield; Castling queenside (or longside) would be more like keeping everything out except that which would be invited. When it came to the manifestation of a creative force, expressed by Queening the Pawn, there could be some advantages to underpromotion such as Knighting a Pawn. It all depended on what I called the Weird of the board, the rules that I shared with whoever and whatever the Ogdoad pieces would affect, and this sharing would not be so much agreed-upon but subject-to (with luck and perspicacity, maybe, noticed); that was what the Weird would be. Some spaces would be more chaotic or less well-understood, more Wild, and if the rules changed or there were no rules, there Ogdoad would have a different meaning or become meaningless. I still didn’t understand en passant Pawn capture, but there must have been something there to do with approximations of liminal transferring of information…

These were a lot of rules to re-learn. To set those up as mirrors to liminal experiences would be important, to keep the meaning, but might begin to contrive the liminal experiences to suit the rules instead.

Untitled by Guillermo Tolentino

Untitled by Guillermo Tolentino (detail) photo by Faemon

An image appeared in my mind (or in what I call the Surreal) of a young girl, fine hair as white as lightning, and a lunar glow to the rest of her body softening the outline of an already softly-shaped figure. This I recognized as my headcanon of Lilibell, first formed during a read of Lilibell of Two Hearts, and she sat at a table across from what looked like C-3PO from Star Wars if redesigned by Steve Jobs in the early 2000s: a slender humanoid form cast in seamless yellow gold, with no musculature, no hair, no unnecessary protrusions in the way of nipples or genitals or ears, and maybe there were facial features but they gave me a headache to squint through all the golden surface reflections to make those out. My headcanon Aletheias tended to look like that. What appeared to be a strobe light shone on the table between them, the shadows of the room around them concealing an audience like an amphitheater.

When I brought my mind back to the cafe, the glow at the edge of the Surreal table remained in what I call the Otherreal—a glow at the edge of the corporeal cafe table that probably no one else could sense.

My thought processes had leapt to a story-shaped conclusion:

Lilibell had been something of a champion in something like a ritual-sport-game-thingummy that was somewhat like chess. Aletheia 002 had been built and programmed to calculate all the possible moves in this game, and to play each move to the best advantage. The Clarene had apparently taken some pride in raising them both to this point. Lili played A002 to a stalemate seven times in a row, and on the eighth, A002 won. As this particular string of games hadn’t been particularly fun, Lili decided to not play for an ever again.

The game grew in popularity among the star spirits who had settled in the West, and the King began to grow suspicious. This had, emphatically, absolutely nothing to do with the King’s not-unwarranted prejudice against star spirits. The King had simply grown to realize how domineering and divisive the nature of the game was at all, creating ranks and hostilities between players. Its very structure generated a desire to win out over others. This game could not be good for society. And By Complete Coincidence, the minority of society that built a subculture around the game happened to be…in proportional majority…stars.

Lilibell, in a show of support for them, took once more to the competition area even as Centries reinforced the closing of the same. This may have involved some amount of violence and noise. Lilibell made a convincing case to the gods to the contrary, and the game once more became playable by anyone who wanted to play.

Eventually everyone should be utterly flabbergasted by all the fuss.

I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and wrote a letter to this presence, I thought of as Lilibell. What I took to be the ensuing conversation didn’t bring about anything particularly revelatory. Mostly, I remember the mood shifting in her glow. To me at that moment she carried such a charming, easy company. She could technically be snarky and rude, I was sure, inasmuch as that could jolt someone out of their comfort zone. Still, I couldn’t word it that way when twining wreathes of uncontainable compassion and goodwill rippled between us like the beating of mighty wings. If ever she suggested I change anything about myself, I’d do it, because she was the fulcrum between honesty and compassion, the spoke of that wheel. That sort of glamour can easily be used for evil, I thought, which was much less cynical than my usual thoughts. A front such as that always conceals some sort of evil, for one. Nobody’s really like that inside and out, unless their world is too small to know better, in which case there’s the bigger world for that sheer ignorance of damage to further damage. (For another.)

But I can believe in some aspects of the stories about her. I can believe Lilibell had made compromises, faced consequences, suffered fear of abandonment and betrayal. I was particularly inspired to write her internal struggles with evil. (As in, evil so pure that it can’t exist and yet it still manages to evil in its own evil absence. Even its privative remains evil. That’s how evil the evil evils.)

I can still believe those aspects, and Lilibell in the cafe didn’t come off as disagreeable on that point. Yet it remained difficult for me to believe that anyone could go through, or even brush up against any of that, and not sustain some stain that will never become wisdom, something irreparably broken in the beat of a wing or a heart.

How did you do it? I wondered. Whether it is fronting because we’d only just met for Otherreal, or one of numerous aspects (neither the Dierne’s joy or fear are necessarily less authentic for being different traits within one god), or the defining feature of Lilibell’s true self—it would be helpful to know. As I mentioned, though, the conversation was nothing revelatory. I couldn’t understand the response, or couldn’t translate. Maybe she really can’t give me a how-to, or won’t as she doesn’t and shouldn’t have to. She gave me a thought to the possibility. I feel like that’s a lot.