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The following entry may contain triggering material.

Biology class helped a lot, to prepare me for what was going to happen. At first I was so disappointed when our teacher cancelled the ecosystems unit that had been on the syllabus “because they’re only any fun if you can go on exciting field trips.” She’d gone on to assure us that the nervous system was in fact very interesting, although all I could think of was a rumpled lump of chewing gum topping the purple roots of some tree.

We studied human sensory organs. Iris, retina, optic nerves, shortsightedness, astigmatism, colorblindness, vitreous humor, aqueous humor, and what part of the brain processes sight, then we had a whole class dedicated to trying out different optical illusions; in the same detail, hearing, smell, taste, how complex the skin really is as an organ, how we sense location and balance and time…

(If I overthink the liminal quests too much, wonder why anthropomorphism, how gravity or thermodynamics carry to the otherworld, what is language even what is meaning…it’s a bit because I know that our corporeal experience is such a faulty process. Most of what we physically experience can not be physically true outside of our mind. Find enough people who can’t be arsed to consider that every moment, though, and we’ve got something like a life.)

We got to study the brain: neurons, neurotransmitter molecules, dendrites, electro-chemical signals, and all the structures that have been mapped. Prefrontal cortex for logic. Amygdala for emotions. Hippocampus for memory. Hemispheres. Music does this to the brain. Language does that. Potassium. Magnesium. Iodine. The effect of splitting the corpus callosum with what looked like an ice pick, because this science teacher wanted us to really think about the relationship between science and humanity: stem cell research, eugenics and genetic engineering, evolution, thalidomide, and how wrong it is to treat crazy people like they’re not people and take an icepick to their brain even if dressed in all the authority of a scientific medical doctor. Oh, we can be kind, if we so insist, but science means (or ought to mean) no excuses ever.

~

I’d had a horror of what fellow Catholic schoolkids call demonic possession. To explain what that is gets pretty deep into mythology that I don’t recognize anymore, but back then it was an almost constant source of anxiety. When I learned how delicately structured the brain was, and how those conveyed corporeal human life experience, I’d begun to consider my body like an elaborate lock. It stood to reason that whatever tried to come in that wasn’t myself would contend with everything stored in my body: my motor skills (or lack thereof), my myopia, that I was a super-taster, my preference for schmaltzy show tunes and the accompanying Pavlovian reaction honed over a lifetime, my predisposition to distress and melancholy…and considering the extremes of that last one, better you than me, demon.

Learning biology helped me claim my body, for better or worse. I’ve been trying to hammer out an entry or two about the facet that’s better, but everything I’ve got drafted about the concept of the Corporeal Fetch has been how I personally hate it for every conceivable reason. This fetch is mine, though, possibly even me and mine.

~

Eventually, I’d figured that my brain was malfunctioning. Whoever said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem had me at “permanent solution” to pain so intense that no one should have to survive or even encounter it. A few failed attempts at that solution and I thought, fine, try another difficult way. Asking for help at all was really, really, really difficult, more like a meep though I made sure my mother understood it—and she’d sent me to piano classes instead, which were the same price and looked more productive and she’d read somewhere that music cured depression and…she was the mom. The brain fog by then was so bad that I couldn’t read the alphabet, let alone musical notation, but I went because she told me and because nobody noticed my moods had gone from volatile to bleak to catatonic and I didn’t dare ask again for another year. This was after I’d dropped out of mainstream schooling, and she’d enrolled me in a homeschooling course with the expectation that she could leave me alone with the exercise books and I could just blaze on through them. I was so tired and mysteriously pained all the time that I couldn’t even get up to eat, and dropped to 70 pounds at a height of five foot nothing.

I’ve offered that, and my difficulty reading, and scieNCE~! as reasons why my mother ought to have followed through the second time I asked. That wasn’t why she did (ought or ought not), though, and I’m not sure anymore that those are the ought-to anyway. (Depression is bad, I don’t really have more persuasive words; so unless someone’s been there, this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in any shared understanding or belief. Even then, I’ve gotten handwaved by people who testified to have attempted suicide once or twice a week when they were my age, and that the trick was just not to dwell on the past so much—which I’ve found to be unhelpful and even damaging to put out, duty to speak your truth or not.)

At the therapist’s office, I’d emptied my head out onto a box and a half of facial tissues and filled out a survey, a series of statements I’d rank from one to five. Have I had thoughts of suicide so-and-so number of times per week? Have my sleeping patterns changed drastically? Has my sex drive increased or decreased drastically? Did I often feel “blue”?

I remember anxiously asking my therapist how I was supposed to check that I was a Level 5 Blueman. Knowing people out there who had spent their childhood in sexual slavery, or on the front lines of battle, ought to keep me aware of my place on the bell curve—shouldn’t it? In any case, my therapist graded me with red stars and a referral to a psychiatrist.

My mother resisted and tried to appeal to my spiritual side. Wasn’t Free Will a good concept? I should give it a go even though it was Christian (and because it was Christian—it’d sure helped her through trauma, though apparently not enough to, umm, not perpetrate it.) Or what about meditation! (I’d been doing nothing but over that year as a drop-out shut-in. No, I have not achieved telekinesis.) And if my fasting came out of a determination to be more than my body then couldn’t I understand that I was more than my body? (It was an eating disorder, that I could die from.) Anything but the pills. Anything but.

It was just so unfashionable. There was no way that a chalky little tablet could really have such a dramatic effect on The Human Experience (at least, The Human Experience bits that have got any chance of being understood or accepted.)

~

The psychiatrist had to get out a plaster model of a neuron and what looked like tiny clear rubber balls without jacks. Depression wasn’t only emotional, of course, it had to do with stress metabolism at a chemical level, and sleep habits, and energy levels—which made it a medical issue. (I’d been saying the same thing, but not with plaster models and pamphlets and the right kind of coat.) She also explained about the genetics, this psychiatrist, and she casually asked my mother whether she’d ever attempted suicide. Once in university, my mother had replied, with some tablet overdose; they’d had to pump her stomach.

You see? The psychiatrist said with a smirk. Genetics!

I’d like to believe that I still had it in me to be dismayed and appalled at them both. My mother knew what it was like to be driven to suicide, and she’d still do the same to her children.

To be continued…

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Crystal Gem Cartomancy and Dream Interpretation

The following entry may contain triggering material.

The dream: My deceased, abusive mother and estranged, abusive sibling sat at an antiseptically clean-white kitchen table together. I mentioned that their lousy attitudes towards relationships and sexuality left me vulnerable to sexually abusive dynamics. They disagreed without substance to their counterargument.

Deck: playing cards (read here for system)
Spread: Red King’s Crown

1. (Center) Signifies the Querent. Five of Spades.
2. (Crossing) The crux of the issue. Four of Hearts.
3. (Top) Themes to consider. Seven of Spades.
4. (Upper left) Symbols from the dream. Three of Diamonds.
5. (Upper right) Symbols from reality. Two of Hearts.
6. (Lower left) Why the dream doesn’t wake up. Seven of Hearts.
7. (Lower right) Why reality doesn’t sleep and dream. Ten of Spades.
8. (Bottom) Future, culmination. Eight of Diamonds.

Pain that comes from really nowhere, crossed by the signifiers of love without the essence or substance of it. In our waking life history, I wasn’t a troubled adolescent or young adult to them so much as I was malfunctioning: I wasn’t supposed to have a perspective of my own, or feelings, and family wasn’t supposed to recognize or respond to those as though they mattered (unless they can pull a double standard: hours of complaining about one time I left my keys inside before going out, to the point of rallying resistant roommates and making calls to mutual friends, was “just venting”; if I pointed out that continual advice and scolding about what I should do about my cough was beginning to come off as aggressive, I should loosen up and not expect everybody to be perfect, and why do I have to be insulting and hurtful, why she’ll show me aggressive.)

I’ll get back to the Seven of Spades.

Symbols from reality, (Two of Hearts) current infatuation, contrasted with having learned from past infatuations that I absolutely cannot trust my feelings or instincts about anybody. I don’t love what’s good for me, and…frankly, I’m not eligible for someone to share their life with that way, anyhow, I’ve got too many practical issues right now to be good company for anyone.

Symbols from the dream (Three of Diamonds) suggest that my solo-parent, two-child family fit together very, very, very well…perfectly, actually…and that wasn’t a good thing.

Seven of Spades suggests that these are growing pains: learning to fight for love, and, because Spades are Amethyst’s suit, learning to love to fight.

The dream won’t wake up (Seven of Hearts) because…I carry over issues from people I’ve avoided and apply them to dynamics/relationships where those people are gone. That doesn’t mean that I’ve won against some echoing violation of some principle, it means I’ve introduced conflict where there previously was none.

Reality won’t sleep. Because reality, like evil, never sleeps. Conclusively, reality is eeevil…

From the Eight of Diamonds, I get the sense of calcification. Everything will become clear and make perfect sense…which is always the moment I should know I’ve missed something…but, narrative is power, and power is amoral and orthogonal to truth. There’s a sort of power that makes something true, and I’ve never witnessed the beneficial effects of that.

Spring Awakening, musical adaptation by Duncan Sheik | ASL production by Michael Arden

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for the musical Spring Awakening.

Disclaimer: I never got around to reading the original stageplay. And I only started re-listening to the music from here because I was looking for “There Once Was A Pirate” song from the off-Broadway version, replaced by “The Guilty Ones” in the official show version that became the fan name so I’m probably not going to find the pirate song again.

On Spotify, I could only find the Stage Stars version of Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening, and the vocals are exactly whelming. The overall score of the show itself isn’t what I’d call life-alteringly sublime, no, it’s fairly pop-y: I could skip right over “The Bitch of Living” or “My Junk” or “Mirror Blue Night” or “And Then There Were None” or…but the songs I do love, I love.

One minor complaint of mine is that, at the time of this writing, this particular Spotify album mistitled the song “The Guilty Ones” that should actually be “Blue Wind / Don’t Do Sadness” (And that awesomely rocking duet mistitled as “The Guilty Ones”). Here’s a clip of “Blue Wind” from the American Sign Language revival known among Guilty Ones—fans of this show still are calling themselves that, right?—as Deaf Awakening.

The full song, both full songs being sung together in counterpoint, is so cathartic for me in a way that’s difficult to explain without spoilers. So I’m going to write so many spoilers. First, the major opinion I want to put out there about the Sign Language revival version is that the movements make sense now. (The original stage musical version had settled into this choreography motif of everyone circling their nipples and rubbing their bellies through their clothes, which I suppose was supposed to be artsy, but I couldn’t understand any deeper meaning than Interpretive Dance Looks Artsy. But they kept doing it. I continued to not get it.) Also, American Sign Language looks admirably efficient and concise. The Tony Awards performance of Deaf Awakening had some singers and some signing, and I noticed the signers moving so slowly when the vocalized part had so many syllables there was no worry at all that the vocals would outpace the signing.

The entire show is about teenagers growing into sexual maturity in a 19th century German town: a cozy, intensely repressive, community. The main character, Wendla, has an unplanned pregnancy because her parents only reluctantly informed her that to make babies, you get married (and nothing about the details, so she had no clue that consenting to sex with a guy she didn’t marry would still pose a pregnancy risk.) Her parents then force Wendla to abort. It gets worse for Wendla from then on.

Hanschen is another character. As I recall, he and his partners survive being gay in a storytelling medium, and even serve as the comic relief in an otherwise painfully tragic morose morass of tragedy and pain. He has no story arc, no real subplot, no personal or interpersonal conflict because he’s simply better than everybody else: he knows it, the show knows it, and his partners quickly come to agree. He’s practically perfect, like a gay German dude version of Mary Poppins.

My favorites are still these next two, not necessarily together sexually or romantically—the ships-passing-in-the-night aspect of whatever their relationship would have been is heartbreaking, though—but just…Moritz Stiefel is a suicidal school flunkee. I was a suicidal school flunkee. I would play Moritz’s elegy song, “Left Behind” on loop back when it was young Jonathan Groff singing, and it was as though I could still breathe through the emotional knifeblock that my rib cage had become because someone (fictional, but whatever) knew what it was like to live on. That was Melchior, but narratively I feel as though he is half of Moritz, or this Melchior-Moritz Wonder Twins combination of…really, processing suicidal grief and depression. They’re both players in this story, and at the time this story had (I would put it this way now, not at that time) bespelled me.

Moritz is the shadow, the part that gets it. Moritz died—killed himself—so that I wouldn’t have to. He gets it, what it’s like to be driven to that point when you’re only a shadow cast by real living people who did things to “you”, “you” with Quote Marks of Emphasized Technicality because the concept of being a person isn’t there anymore. Moritz gets it when so many condescending and unhelpful outside perspectives to depression and suicide…did not.

Moritz pulled the trigger because, “I don’t do sadness.” And that’s one way to stop it, that sadness, if it’s sadness…but…more important than not making death an option is owning that option as a choice. For me at least, having mustered up—well, borrowed, from this song—even that speck of personal sovereignty? Suicidal ideations become less inevitable. He’s the Lord of Shalott.

~

There’s a modern tradition of mysticism, I guess it can be called one, known as soulbonding. Sometimes it’s the way creators describe how alive their characters have become, as they immerse themselves in a creative process. Other times, characters from existing works are treated like spell correspondents, or gods with responsibilities over a sphere of influence that can be appealed to.

In that community, I find people asking for recommendations for fictional characters they could “summon” as soulbonds, to ease the challenges of coexistence. Which characters can redirect or reframe personal feelings of jealousy? Which characters encourage discipline and motivation towards a given goal? Which characters help someone to make friends if they’re shy, or hold them accountable to honesty if they’re too anxious not to say what they think other people want to hear?

When one recommendation request came on to help cope with anxiety and depression, I almost suggested Moritz or Elaine Ascalot. I think it’s good that I didn’t. I only know what worked for me. If it’s possible that Moritz’s portrayal of suicide glamourizes and encourages the act when most people would rather that never happen…well, I’m fortunate that I reacted to Moritz’s songs the way I did. I’m fortunate to have encountered this work with this character at the time that I did at all, but as I can’t even know anybody else’s internal world (I only understand a stakely situation) I wouldn’t want to risk someone else taking it as less helpful or even opposite helpful than I did.

Blue_Wind_Deaf_Awakening

Back to “Blue Wind” singer Ilse Neumann, first name pronounced like “EL-sa”, and…she’s a goddess. Lauren Pritchard plays Bohemian Ilse as free-spirited but with some grounded serenity. Krysta Rodriguez plays Bohemian Ilse as a manic pixie dream. There’s a German cast whose Ilse has a singing voice like a clear stream of the purest nectar (I heard her “Blue Wind / Don’t Do Sadness” on YouTube playing opposite a Moritz who delivers the line meaning ‘you startled me’ like it’s a death threat, unfortunately, but he hit the high notes in his half just fine.) (Or, I don’t speak German, so maybe they changed the script.)

(Comparisons of “The Dark I Know Well” Ilses would be so much more…something…method acting analysis…but…intense, so no? I’ll just keep myself to all the possible dozen infinite Bohemian flower bouquet unbraided hair “Blue Wind” crooning Ilses.)

However Ilse’s played, I feel as though there’s this mantle of magnificence this character gives people to carry throughout the show. She completes another duet, “The Dark I Know Well” with Martha, revealing both to be victims of incestuous rape. We don’t see much of Martha after—she establishes that it’s a horrifically common problem in their tiny, tight-knit town. “The Dark I Know Well” is a disjointed sort of call-and-response double soliloquy. Ilse suffered as much as Martha, but some aspect is bigger than that, even when the whole song is about how “there’s a part I can’t tell about the dark I know well…” and they can’t let on to anyone but themselves and the watching audience, it isn’t “suffering as much” but “suffering with” even when it’s not possible for them in that town, to bring it out or up and share it.

Ilse bears witness to Martha’s violation as well as her own. She does the same with Moritz when she sings “Blue Wind”, and her body language during the staging of “Left Behind” (Moritz’s funeral scene) is a scathing condemnation of the irresponsible adults who drove Moritz to suicide. No flighty, promiscuous teenager repressing trauma should have the power to scathe without a word…but, Ilse. Ilse Neumann, is all.

And, despite Melchior being positioned as the hero and protagonist, as Moritz’s only friend, as Wendla’s lover…it’s not him but Ilse who leads the final chorus. “The Song of Purple Summer” describes the passage of time through pain, and it catches at the voices of everyone; it’s a song of acknowledging pain and grief, for everything passes, and hope for everything passes, and it’s vast and complex, as though one song from one specific character, because of her story, because of her nature…opened this giant gate to life and the world itself. No barely-present side character should have that much p—Ilse, damn it all, Ilse Neumann. Goddess of summer and life and the universe and everything.

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.

Discernment, Defense, and Dickweed Indigenous Fae

The following entry may contain triggering material.

After an entry about santol fruit, I wanted to write up a local myth about the taro plant. Taro is best-known as a root crop that may or may not be purple, although I know a recipe that stews the very green leaves into mulch. (Dioscoria alata is definitely purple and a root crop, but called something else.) My research, which in this case means Wikipedia, suggests that taro is one of the earliest cultivated plants, its origins being Malaysian although cultivation has spread as far as the New World since then, whether by trade routes in Oceania long Before the Common Era, or because colonial masters said so.

It could be interesting to consider, because the story I know has an Engkanto in it, and I’m not entirely certain that’s an indigenous folkloric being. Neither do I know how strong the connection ought to be between the story about the plant and the corporeal plant itself. If this is a Philippine myth about a Malaysian plant, and Malaysia is like right there, why is this story so Spanish?

In the version of the story that I picked up by osmosis, the taro plant is known as gabi because of a girl named Gabriella whose nickname was Gabi. The stress is on the wrong syllable to suggest any association with the evening (gabi) which has more Austronesian vowels than Indo-European etymology anyway. An Engkanto tried to flirt and seduce Gabi into the otherworld to be his wife, and she said something like, “no thanks”. So, the Engkanto cursed her into a plant. Her toes became underground tubers so that she could never move from where she’d been cursed, and also they’re maybe sometimes purple? The plant’s leaves would be heart-shaped so that the whole world would know what her heart was like. The rain would fall upon the leaves and roll off, like his rain of love and attention upon this shrewish soul-eating harpy who couldn’t appreciate it. When her heart softens to him, Gabi can become human again. Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. But how can this curse not have already been broken? Hasn’t this otherworldly suitor been so charming???

Seriously though, there is no story I know about Engkantos that tells of them being anything other than total dickweeds.

Gabi_Plant_th

I think this is a gabi plant but they’re not usually so large.

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Sandoricum Season

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Excerpt
An excerpt from Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection: Malay Peninsula (1803-1818)

Sentul / Sentul / Sandoricum koetjape

Native to Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, the sentul is widely distributed as a backyard plant in tropical Asia. it is a semi-deciduous tree reaching up to 45 m. The fruits are large round berries that become bright yellow when ripe. These are eaten fresh or made into chutney or jam. The plant is also used in traditional medicine. Sentul, also known as kecapi, is an endangered species in Singapore.

Unlike with the durian, I don’t know a myth about this fruit off the top of my head. I do have a story, or more of an anecdote. A memory of the santol tree in my grade school campus serves as the marker for a scape I named Erstvale:

PIC_1638

The tree didn’t corporeally have a door at the root, the rest of this Scape is not from my grade school, and I have no idea where the pine trees on the left side came from. There should be a bamboo grove there instead.

Some of the older kids taught me to throw a basketball at the boughs to knock the fruits down. I’d been so taken up by the sheer novelty of eating fruit from a tree (instead of from a grocery) that I would never notice that it wasn’t entirely ripe. Most would be so tart that my gums went numb after the third or fourth santol, but I’d kept eating anyway. The end.

Pictures of fruit under the read more tag, because it’s currently santol season. The fruit segments are like chewing a damp, maybe half-felted cotton ball soaked in fruit juice. When they’re really ripe, the sugar seeps into the skin, so even that can be spooned out and eaten. Being slightly more tart than the fruit segments, it goes well with chili salt or soy sauce.

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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.)