My Life is a Love Story

Falling in love is easy, if mysterious. It can be as simple as a chemistry-laden kiss.  It can be as complex as seeing a girl in an orange silk dress across a crowded room and knowing that my world is about to be turned inside-out. However, growing a love that is sustainable, with healthy boundaries and joy, is the work of a lifetime. My life is a love story, and the Red Goddess is my co-author.

Love stories get a bad rap, and for good reason! Courtly tales of romance from the Middle Ages, centered around grail quests and knights and their ladies, and modern rom-coms and romance novels, seem to focus on a singular type of love and experience. Romantic love is prized above all other aspects of relationship, focuses on one person and one person only (the ever elusive One), and lasts forever. Only one other person can be our ‘missing puzzle piece.’ We are not complete humans until we’ve found our ‘other half.’ There are very clear heteronormative patterns and qualities that we must embrace in order to find True Love.

I tried to live by those tropes, but they never worked out for me. See, it turns out that I tend to be the more ‘masculine’ one in my relationships. I am the knight in shining armor. I will swoop in, love you up, and be your rock. I almost never cry, but often end up in relationship with people who do. I am a problem solver. I am bold, aggressive, firm, and enthusiastic. This can be very overwhelming for people. Especially people who are more invested in women being flighty, passive, all about gentle feelings, and in need of saving. Only once have I been swept off my feet – and it was by a teenaged baby dyke, who in the end tended more toward passivity, thus confounding our gender dynamics even more.

The gender dynamics of loving and being loved definitely confuse things. I’m married to a strong male, who the overculture insists is the knight, but all the while prefers to be the princess. Complicating this, he is the ‘pretty girl,’ the one who never thinks she’s pretty enough. I am married to a princess who wants nothing more than to be swept off her feet, but every time I try she refuses, because she thinks she’s not pretty enough. I can’t just show up in my suit of armour, I also need to be riding a unicorn, not a mere thoroughbred.

I have compassion for my husband. I have hardly any experience being the princess myself. I don’t feel safe as the princess (too many thinly veiled rape narratives in all those fairy tales, thank you very much). More importantly neither do I believe that anyone wants me as their princess. I love others as I want to be loved, and I expect little in return. I will admit this is not the healthiest dynamic.

Love is quiet, painful, intimate, tender – vulnerable. I am terrible at being vulnerable. Blogging has been one act of challenging this. I like being the one in control. I like being the knight, rather than the princess. Loving demands that I allow myself to let others see me and love me in return. It requires small acts of passivity and release, a different type of risk. That terrifies me to my core. I know that learning to let myself be loved, not just to love, is something I need to do for my continued growth. Choosing is important, but so is being chosen, by friends, by lovers, and even by the gods. These are things the Red Goddess is teaching me.

The Lovers, from the Mary-El deck. It is no surprise to me that this is also 'my' tarot card.

The Lovers, from the Mary-El deck. It is no surprise to me that this is ‘my’ tarot card.

As I embrace the Red Goddess in my life, I see that She has been singing me a siren’s song. I always assumed that to honor an indiscriminate slut would mean that I would have to be one too, so I gave Her the side-eye and backed away slowly. But as I see my own story and the choices I’ve made more clearly and honestly, I realize that my life is about love, a pouring out that is in keeping with Her desire. All of my passions, spiritual, musical and academic, have been pieces of a hunger for connection and relationship. Relationship means everything to me, and the more I understand this about myself, the more I see that this isn’t something to shy away from, but something to embrace. Loving is heroic, full of daring, bravery and action.

And love is limitless. So what happens if I fall in love with more than one person at the same time? There isn’t any model for that in medieval or modern romance tropes. When it happened to me I had to walk away from the standard map and become my own cartographer. More love means more conflict, especially when my partner is invested in the standard knight/princess motif. Envy, jealousy, scarcity of love and time – all these demons reared their ugly heads. I had to dig deep and face these demons. I also had to accept the consequences of loving someone who was unprepared to be given everything they said they wanted. I had to accept the reality of losing them. More love means the possibility of more loss. Every parent knows this fear.

There is no perfect lover, no saving Love. I don’t believe in being completed or perfected by The One, nor can I save anyone else. I am already complete. Each important relationship is a part of my own perfection and continual unfolding. My life has been a series of romances that have honed me. I haven’t been single since I was 20. I am often hard on myself about this, wondering if I am afraid to be alone.

I have realized that I need not diminish myself for the comfort of others. I don’t need to love people less intensely simply because they fear the strength of my love. I am the knight in shining armor, that is the way I love. I am writing my life like a love story. Imagine Romeo and Juliet if Romeo doesn’t climb the balcony. What if Bilbo says no to Gandalf and never leaves the Shire? Any good story is full of risks, a love story even more so. Loving is an heroic act; each time I’ve taken a risk I’ve been rewarded with adventure, love, and wisdom. I am the heroine and the knight, the lover and the beloved, of my own story.

Both Kali and the Red Goddess have shown me just how big my heart is, how full of love, how black and how bold it can be; I’m still terrified. But when I am on my deathbed and I look back on my life, I will never regret having loved. I will have written the story I wanted to read.

Identity

My birthday was this week. Birthdays and anniversaries are good times to reflect on one’s life, so I’ve been thinking about the last year of my life, about the challenges and successes.

The greatest challenges for me in the last 12 months have all been relational. Since this time last year I have had a miscarriage, lost and/or ended three important friendships, survived my son being 4, and entered into the deepest of emotional depths with my husband.

The struggles with my husband have been and are intense. We raised and discarded the dreaded D word (divorce). Our lives are significantly better together than apart; we haven’t worked hard over the last 10 years to give up now. Our solution and process is uniquely our own: we are breaking up and staying together. We’re a both/and kind of family, not an either/or one. What new relationship can be born if we prune away what isn’t working? Can we let it bloom in its own way, in its own time? I am more than hopeful, I am confident that we can. I am exhausted, but grateful that he and I can not just think outside the box, but live outside it, too.

As for the friendships, I do not believe, nor desire, that they will be renewed. One of my worst recurring nightmares used to be me walking through my life and no one would talk to me. I was never able to find out what I’d done wrong (was it something I said? did I do something wrong that I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to??). No one would tell me! They wouldn’t look at me, they would turn away; I was shunned. Losing my friendships has been a bit like that. A disagreement followed by absolute silence. The ladies in question could not apologize, not even to say, “I’m sorry things have ended this way, let’s work this out.” I’ve done my share of apologizing. I have realized this year that it costs me nothing to say I’m sorry when I fuck up, and fuck up I do.

In losing these friendships, painful as it’s been, I’ve also found an incredible degree of strength and freedom. My biggest fear was realized: I exposed myself and people – beautiful, amazing people – walked away. I did not die. In fact, their absence opened up space for new, amazing, beautiful people who not only can accept my quirks, but also share their own with me.

Midyear I posted about Kali’s heart surgery. I found my heart is bigger and bolder than I ever realized. I do not need the companionship of people who will not work things out with me when we disagree or hurt each other. I do not need to diminish myself for the comfort of others. I do not need to love people for both of us. I do not need to apologize for both of us. I may have known this intellectually before, but now I’ve learned it, I know it in my bones.

I feel stronger in who and what I am. I do not fit boxes all that well. I am not a Democrat or a Republican. I am not a lesbian, nor am I straight. I am not a Christian, nor anything else ‘normal’ or remotely orthodox. I am an independent, queer, witch of the left hand path. I am a devotee of Kali. I am a scholar, editor, writer, singer, mother, lover and friend. I am fierce and silly, often in the same breath. I am an introvert, but I am not shy.

It feels good to stand more boldly in who I am. It feels good to know who my allies are, who I can trust, and who will is willing to go the distance with me. I am inspired to dig even more deeply into my practices, to live even more boldly in the year to come. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

(None of this is surprising when I look at the collage I made for my 2013. So far that divination is spot on, sigh.)

Not of this world

On my way to the grocery store I pass two churches. The first is a Lutheran church, an open and affirming one. I visited it last year, and while I thought highly of it, I couldn’t sit through an entire service. These days I barely notice the large brick building with its stained glass and preschool playground. Until it hosts the farmers’ market in its parking lot. Then I am there weekly, even if I bypass its front doors and sanctuary.

The other church is much larger (churches here seem to be large compounds, in general). It’s got a huge Christian school attached. Lately this church has been getting a new roof put on, so I have been noticing it more than usual. What’s interesting to me is that I get…… flashes of memory as I pass it. Phantom feelings. Misplaced muscle memory.

When I pass this second church I remember being a Christian in college. There is no specific associated memory, just a remembrance of what it was like to be a Christian in Washington state in the 90s. I remember the way these churches view the world and interact with it. I remember the way everything is ordered, everyone has a place, both in the church and in the world. I remember the unspoken gender norms. I remember how ordered the world seemed and how everything had neat boxes and a rather simplistic theology to explain it. I remember the plaid shirts, the goatees, the bible studies and fellowship groups. Judging by the people I’ve seen enter the building and by the website, nothing seems to have changed. Well, now there are  wireless mics and power point, rather than an overhead projectors.

Sometimes I think it would be so easy to slip back into that way of being in the world. We’d have automatic community and make friends right away. The kids would have activity groups. Our Sundays would have focus. I’d easily find a musical outlet, what with praise bands and worships groups. More importantly, attending evangelical church would make sense of modern American living.

One of the things I’ve found is that modern American living (commuting, box stores, overconsumption, CAFOs, gas guzzlers, social conservatism, Calvinistic social ‘darwinism,’ heteronormative gender hoo ha, etc) is really difficult to reconcile with Pagan values. But mainstream American Christianity fits right into it. They are peas in a pod.

I’m a Big Umbrella Pagan. By that I mean, I want as many disparate groups to identify as Pagan. I want that term to include Heathens, witches, Wiccans, Ceremonial Magicians, reconstructionists of various stripes, Druids, neo-Pagans, polytheists, Voudousaints, and others. Not all Pagan faiths are based on earth reverence. Not all of the values espoused in one group are endorsed by others. But I find that I have more in common at heart with most Pagan groups than I do with mainstream Christianity, even though my family superficially appears more similar to the latter than the former.

Christianity has at its core an idea that humanity/our souls/ Christians (take your pick based on your theology) are ‘not of this world,’ that we belong in Heaven. Not all Christianity thinks this world is evil or tainted. Some say it’s just humanity, but some say that everything is. This idea creates a world where you’re either a Christian or you’re not. You’re either with them or against them. The world is fine in the here and now, but in the Last Days it will be destroyed anyway (so don’t go getting all worked up about environmentalism) and Yahweh will create a new world. Plenty of other traditions also view the world/matter/humanity as a problematic and something from which to detach.

Yet Christianity is at home in this world. In the US Christianity is the norm. Its values pervade government and morality. Christian culture is everywhere. When I was in college pastors talked a lot about how the Pacific North West was the most ‘unchurched’ region in the US. I am pretty sure it still is. But if this is unchurched, well, I’d hate to see how many churches are in a ‘normal’ town. But for some one raised without religion at all, I feel like churches are everywhere here!

Most of Paganism embraces the world, but is at odds with the overculture. Most Pagans have a different set of values – or the same things are valued but for different reasons. While family, worship, devotion, and service (things Christians hold dear too!) may be honored, they may be expressed in entirely different ways or for different reasons. I find that most of the values of Paganism don’t sit well with mainstream, overculture values. At least, my values don’t.

I think how much easier it could be to sink into a ‘normal’ mainstream way of being if I’d go back to Christian life. I’d have more in common with my extended family. I could get involved, have leadership positions, a social network, a more obviously ‘god-driven’ life. But I know full well how miserable I’d be. I remember chaffing at the expectations. The tedious ‘god language’ and Father God prayers (“Father God…. I just…. I just want to thank you for just raining down your blessings…”). The bad theology. The confusion of culture with religion and vice versa.

I can’t do it. The same muscle memory that remembers what those churches feel like – in all their goodness, and there was good – also remembers just how unhappy my soul was. I remember how hard it was to find God there. I remember the cognitive dissonance. I remember I didn’t fit in.

[There is actually an entire Christian brand called NOTW, not of this world. I tried to upload an image of its logo and it kept displaying ERROR. I’ll take that as a sign.]

Desire

Last night my husband and I went on a date. An actual dinner without children. We talked. We sipped drinks. Halfway through my sidecar I realized I was fired up, giddy about my subject matter, and rambling. That’s how I feel when I’m full of desire. It’s a stream of passion, enthusiasm, happiness, intensity, and a feeling of losing track of time.

Desire is on my mind. Yes, the sexual kind, too. Spring will do that to a person. I embrace the lengthening days, the growing sunshine, the increased outside time. I seek fresher and less food. I want to move more and sleep less. I’ve also been getting rested as the kids are sleeping a bit better. These things fuel the little fires in my body and my spirit. There is more motion all around me. The birds chirp, the insects buzz, the kids play loudly outdoors, and I feel stronger and more eager for motion.

By Marcus Obal, via Wikimedia Commons

By Marcus Obal, via Wikimedia Commons

This physical desire twins nicely with my obsession. What was I so fired up about on my date last night? My studies, my reading, my spiritual practices. If I’m not sitting at my altar, I’m thinking about pujas or offerings. If I’m not reading a book about something related to religion or spirituality, I’m thinking about when next I’ll get time to read. I’m seeking ways to embrace the fires, large and small, all around me.

I used to want to be the smartest girl in the world. For a long time I wanted advanced degrees, to be an expert, to write a book (I might still want to do that last one). Knowledge was what I was seeking, which was a form of power. I dreamed of being a stronger performer too, for performing is also a form of power. I sought both of those kinds of power out of a feeling of lack in myself. It was twisted desire, honest enough as it was.

I haven’t performed in a long time. I haven’t so much as sung scales. I sing a few lullabies at night, but that’s it. I’m hoping that when I sing again I’ll be prepared to be vulnerable, as that is where the power in performing comes from. Virtuosity is nothing; connecting with the audience is everything.

By Lin Kristensen via Wikimedia Commons

By Lin Kristensen via Wikimedia Commons

Now I seek those same forms of power, but I seek them from out of my own fullness. I see that a PhD in theology was not what I desired. I want the knowledge, not the degree. I want the development of ideas, not the academy. A PhD in religion studies was my secular, acceptable form of a monastic life. It was a way to approach my spiritual seeking without having to ask others for monetary support (like missionaries) or join some one else’s church or admit that I had such ancient (and impractical) desires

Clarity of desire, vulnerability, willingness to forego the acceptable, these are the things that spring is stirring in me. The surface layer is about health, movement, house hunting, cooking dinner, and so on. But the heart of my thoughts is desire. Desire for a spiritual life, for the mystery, for my own ashram.

What little I know about reincarnation

Reincarnation is a standard concept in Hinduism and pretty common in the wider Pagan world, but I have long been agnostic about it. As a kid it didn’t make much sense to me, but then, neither did the ideas of heaven and hell.

The afterlife was a giant unknown – no one ever came back to tell us what really happens, so why let the hope or fear of an afterlife encourage us in the here-and-now? Any devotion to a god should be done for the virtue and blessings in this life. The concept of being a Christian so that one could get into heaven always struck me as sucking up to the popular kids to get invited to the cool party – really shallow and likely to be disappointing.

Reincarnation didn’t make sense because there are WAY more humans now than there ever have been, so maybe bugs are really living right and advancing quickly? Most people I heard or read about when talking about their past lives were always Exotic and Awesome. We can’t all have been Cleopatra or Julius Caesar, John Dee or Queen Elizabeth.

I made peace with reincarnation when I started contemplating the Cycle of Life. We die, dissolve into the earth, feed the worms and birds and bugs, they in turn feed other creatures and the soil. We eat animals and vegetables that ate that land or those creatures and they become part of us. What we eat literally becomes part of us: our bones, our blood. While pregnant that point was driven home even further, as a baby is built from my bones, my blood, my flesh. This seems like a form of reincarnation, even if it’s the most scientific of understandings.

As for the recycling of souls….. I’m not sure. I don’t have a good grasp of how all the Parts break down after death.

However, off and on throughout my life I’ve wondered if maybe……. just maybe….. there’s something to this reincarnation thing. I don’t understand where my almost obsessive drive to dive into the spiritual realm comes from. It doesn’t make sense in the context of my upbringing. Sure, becoming a Christian in modern America feels like a religious rite of passage. But my longings go much deeper than wanting to be Right about God or being saved or wanting a happy church community (the last two are perfectly fine goals; the first one leaves a lot to be desired, but is sadly all too common). I’ve meandered through mainstream evangelical Christianity (please note the lower case e) to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to liberal feminist Christianity to dabbling in general paganism to Feri to Feri AND traditional witchcraft AND Tantric Hinduism. What the hell am I doing? And why am I doing it?

I’ve been in the middle of an ongoing and extremely helpful discussion on devotion with my spiritual teachers. One of them said something to me that got me thinking about this topic once again. Perhaps this drive for devotion and spirituality is because I’ve been working at this for many lifetimes. I’ve often thought that if reincarnation is real, then I was likely a monk or a nun, or one of each. I have a strong scholarly drive, but once I was working on my PhD I realized that it is not the life for me. I feel a little bit like ‘I’ve done this before, I don’t need to do this again.’ With Christianity I feel as if I’ve gone as far as I can go.

Some might explain the urgings of my heart as God calling to Himself. But I know many people – spiritual and non – who don’t have these urges. If there is One God then this reason smacks of predestination, which is, in my opinion, the theology of an asshole god.

Maybe the urges of my heart are louder and clearer because I’m listening and so many people ignore their own heart (or don’t have the privilege to listen), so I hear the Universe calling to Itself. Oh maybe. But my husband will tell you that I’m only just getting the hang of this listening thing.

Ultimately I don’t know, and ultimately it doesn’t matter.

Perhaps my past as a monk is the reason that being a mother is so challenging and so important for me in the here-and-now. I don’t have quite the right temperament for the job and as a woman of my time and place, I certainly didn’t need to become one. Yet I’ve chosen it willingly and consider it an intrinsic part of my Self, my life and my practice. I wonder if my past lives of monks, nuns, and priests needed to balanced by being a householder.

Which leads to into my next post: Priest vs Householder.

Resistance is futile

Expansion, contraction, expansion, contraction. It would be nice if this was an easy, regular pattern for change and growth in our lives. Dependable like breathing, predictable intervals, clear pay-offs. But it’s not. Sometimes some parts of us are expanding, while other parts are contracting. Sometimes our expansion hits limitations or boundaries and we have to contract a little. Sometimes we resist one kind of expansion in favor of another kind.

I’ve had a season of dramatic expansion. Parts of it have been painful, all of it has been illuminating. As I sit in the pause in between expansions, I realize I’ve been resisting, avoiding even, a few core issues.

The first one is yoga. For many years I had a serious yoga practice. I practiced 30-60 minutes of yoga and meditation in the morning. I had thoughts of getting certified to teach it. Then I had my son, moved to Wales, and had a second child. One of the things I was excited about when I moved back to the States was renewing my yoga practice.

Shortly after arriving I found a class and a teacher I quite liked. I even joined in her home studio practice. That was ever so brief. I realized how exhausted I was from the move and I needed to not to do, only rest. Then summer came and it was a whirlwind of travel and emotional overstretching, so come fall I needed to rest some more. I haven’t been to yoga in months. But yesterday I realized: a yoga practice, a quiet place free of the children once a week, would have been a Good Thing in all of this. There are all sorts of perfectly valid reasons I give myself for not getting back to my yoga practice, either in or outside of the home. But the fact is: I’m avoiding it.

Sure, it’s frustrating rolling out the mat at dawn. My joints creak and pop. Inevitably a child wakes up and needs a morning snuggle and then of course wants to sit on the mat or play under my downward facing dog or hop on my back when I’m in plank. That’s annoying, pretty cute, and my present reality. It’s going to be years before I can get back to a place of uninterrupted home practice. But I’m not accepting that. I’m internally pouting about it. It’s a form of self-sabotage and perfectionism. There’s never going to be a perfect time. If I don’t get back to some form of practice my joints are only going to get creakier, my will weaker.

Yoga is so important to my well-being. It creates more space in my physical, emotional and spiritual Self. I feel more connected to my Hindu practice, too. I feel more present in all my Parts; each positive, healthy act of Will encourages and strengthens other positive, healthy acts. Why do I continually avoid my mat?

I’m also avoiding writing. Last year my editor over at Patheos suggested I write a memoir. I was flattered, but mostly confused and daunted at the prospect. A few other people have since asked me when I’m planning on writing a book. I laugh it off. What could I possibly have to say? For the longest time I thought my PhD dissertation would be my contribution to the discourse of feminist religious thought. Now, that is less and less likely. I’m critical of the memoir form, both as a reader, but also as a potential writer of one. So many memoirs feel self-indulgent. I particularly look askance at ones written by people in their 20s and 30s – how much life experience could they really have?

Of course, I’m in my 30s.  The thought of writing my spiritual memoir raises all sorts of doubting voices: what do you know? Who really cares? No one wants to read a book by a know-it-all. And so on and so forth. Instead of engaging with those voices and finding what might be true and helpful in there, I’ve just avoided the topic altogether.

After a particularly honest (read: brutal) heart-to-heart with Adam the other night over what my Work in the world might be, I’ve decided to revisit the idea of the memoir. Whether or not it will be my Contribution to the world of ideas, the act of doing it will be plenty potent. I know full well from my experience that whether or not this Thing is THE Thing doesn’t matter; it might be, it might not. What I do know is that it will open doors to The Work.

My resistance to even engaging with the idea of it is a pretty big sign that this is an area of teaching, growth, and struggle. What might I uncover?

Both yoga and writing are part of my spiritual practice, my daily routine (if I’m not doing yoga, I’m thinking about how I should), and ways I get in touch with myself. I’m not beating myself up about resisting – the very act of my resistance is a source of information. The first step is not to bully myself into doing the writing or getting on the mat, but to observe and be curious: what is this resistance about? What is it pointing out to me? How can I take what is valuable there and use it to refuel those practices?

That’s where I’m at these days.

What about you? What aspects of your life are you avoiding? What’s the payoff? Are you getting anything out of the avoidance?

Place – what does that even mean?

Today begins a new quarter! Hurray! Or hwre, as they say in Welsh. When I started this project I fully expected to be in Wales, exploring the green hills and red kites and Welsh mythology. Wales is a beautiful, powerful place; I miss it. Instead, I’m back in the US, in Washington state.

Place may seem like a strange choice for a religion blog. There’s no religion called Place. What does that even mean?

I put it last in my year-long exploration of the traditions that have informed my own personal beliefs and practices, because Place was the first ‘religion’ that I knew. Place, Land, Home – it can be called any of these things. In my testimony I talked about how I was raised secular, but I left out the specificity of being born and raised in Alaska. I don’t even know how I begin talking about the imprint Alaska has made on me. How to explain the sense of place and land to some one who didn’t grow up with that, or find it later in life?

Let me try.

The household I grew up in didn’t talk about things (still doesn’t). Almost everything was assumed, picked up through observing, or just discovered on one’s own. What I learned from my father, who was also born and raised in Alaska, was that the nearest thing to a god in his life was Alaska: its waters, its mountains, its communities, its resources. We were pretty subsistence-based. We went fishing all summer, catching so much salmon that I actually used to complain about having salmon AGAIN for dinner. We went berry picking. My father went hunting. Our freezer was stocked and our family fed and housed by the work of his hands. He built many of the houses we lived in. He told a few stories about spending summers camped out on Shelter Island fishing with his dad and brother. My dad knows all the waterways and islands and history of SE Alaska, like other people know freeways and commute times.

Place was also important to my mother, who raised me with Australian children’s books and music. I knew where her homeland was. I grew up with an understanding of just how big this world is, how diverse it geography and its creatures.

But there was something of the sacred in the way my father related – still relates – to the land. It’s not a tree-hugging reverence, but rather a respect for the forces at play in the land and weather and currents. It was an understanding of conservation and preservation, but not environmentalism. We take care of the land not because it is sacred and should be outside of our touch, because that land takes care of us, by housing us and feeding us.

I think there are many people in other lands that can relate to this. I’ve mostly found that people with a rural upbringing understand this, but I’ve also found some people with such a deep love of their city that they understand the complicated emotional connection to place as well. For a long time I felt like Juneau was my greatest love, and I kept cheating on hir by moving away. I always expected to move back and raise my children there. I only gave that up six months ago. Juneau is still The Home Land for me.

If this reverence and focal point in life isn’t similar to religion, then my degrees are worthless.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m bent to perceive the religious and/or spiritual in the world around me. Different lands feel different to me. The older and more traveled I become the more I find I am better at listening. Different places ‘speak’ differently, have different things to ‘say,’ and connect with me more personally. Some places want to dump their stories in your lap, others hold their secrets tightly, and sadly, some places are dead – either because that’s just how they are, or because it seems like the humans have stopped listening.

This quarter I’m diving into where I am: Olympia, Washington. I am going to take this spring quarter to explore the Land here: plants, animals, birds, geography. But a place is more than its land, it is also its people and its history. I’ll read up on the history (as told by white folk) and explore the indigenous peoples of the area, their customs, histories, traditions. I have heard that many of the reservations in the area have excellent cultural centers.

As I am as white as they come, racially and culturally, expect some awkward discussions of race. According to the US Census, Juneau’s population is 11.8% Native American or Alaska Native. (In comparison, Olympia is only 1.1% American Indian.) I grew up with Native friends, we learned about the myths and traditions of the indigenous people in school, and I knew people my grandparents’ ages who spoke Tlingit and remembered learning English for the first time. Alaska is a relatively recently settled land and many of the atrocities faced by other Native groups were avoided – however, that is not to say that horrific things didn’t occur and that Alaska has avoided rampant racism and white privilege. Oh no.

Washington also has the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of North America, the official shrine of Shinto outside of Japan. I have long had a fascination with Shinto, so I’ll be exploring a little bit of that too.

What’s exciting about this quarter is that much of what I learn or practice is very hands on – it’s doing, not just believing. And it’s stuff my kids can connect with. My family can attend the Shinto shrine and the cultural centers with me; we can go hiking and exploring together. It’s also spring. The forsythia is blooming yellow outside my window, the sun is getting a little bit warmer, the days are lengthening – let the great exploration begin!