When I was still firmly ensconced in my middle-class formative years, I thought I would grow up, find a good job and purchase the North American dream. I started off in the right direction by attending and graduating from a university, then after I moved to the big city and decided to pursue a career in music, “reality” hit home. I found work to support my musical endeavors, but my paychecks could not afford the price of new furniture, let alone, the purchase of a home.
Throughout my twenties, I thought that toiling at my music would land me a recording contract, the musical equivalent of winning the lottery, but Lady Luck was not looking my way. By the time I reached my thirties, tired of various occupations and watching my dreams fade to black, I learned an important lesson about downsizing.
Some people volunteer to downsize their lives. They give up lucrative careers and become stay-at-home parents or they seek out the true meaning of existence. Best-selling authors wrote books about this painless process, Volunteer Simplicity (Duane Elgin) and Your Money or Your Life (Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin). The difference between the volunteer simplicity crowd and me was that I never chose to downsize and by the time I read those authors’ books, I had already reached ground zero.
I never owned a home, real furniture or any possessions besides musical instruments, equipment, several futons, books and compact discs. I was already living the “simple life” other envied and I learned that with a little trust intact, the Universe does provide.
I watched Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972, Italian), that chronicled the early adulthood of Saint Francis of Assisi, better known as “the first societal dropout”. In the film, based on true events, the son of an upper-class cloth merchant, Francesco (his Italian name), stripped himself bare and in his vulnerable state he walked naked into the unknown. Francesco trusted that God would provide for him like he provided for all of nature and he also believed that we could not worship the Divine and materialism at the same time.
Add to that the ecological impact all our stuff has on the earth and downsizing along with recycling our possessions sounds like reasonable plans. Incidentally, Saint Francis of Assisi is known today as the Patron Saint of Ecology.
Another film, a documentary by the French filmmaker Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I, focused on the people of France that live off of discarded goods. Agnès chronicled the rural people who glean (collect) tons of vegetables, fruit, and grains that was abandoned after harvest. She also aimed her camera eye at urban dwellers that salvaged discarded furniture left on the sidewalks of Paris.
I have also found abandoned furniture left on sidewalks in good condition, clothing, and books in free boxes as well as, learning how to barter and trade my talents. Somehow I survived a richer person who found wealth in the simple pleasures of life, listening to free concerts, watching free movies, spending time with friends or strolling through nature.
While acquiring money has its benefits, most people put a lot of time and effort to build their palaces and then more effort to fill their palaces with stuff they can no longer appreciate. I have observed various people with big homes, vacation cottages, luxury cars and the works, but they are too busy to enjoy what they possess. Some of them neglect their children, their spouses, and friends, in favor of building another wing onto their palace.
They simply do not see all of the unused rooms in their houses, the dust gathering on their belongings or time racing past them as they rush out into the world to earn more money so they can buy more things. It is unfortunate that these are the people society envies.
Mansions, luxury cars, and designer brands play a greater importance than majestic mountains, vast oceans, and wild animals. They take on a greater importance that the joy of companionship, listening to music for the sake of music without boasting expertise or getting in touch with nature without cell phones and other electronic devices to distract them.
People such as myself who choose not to live the “high life” fade into the background, yet many of us (and I am not talking economic poverty), have found spiritual and other sustenance in knowing that the Universe provides for us. Of course, we still need to make the effort and practicing trust is more challenging than people think. Now, that more people find themselves abandoned by a gasping economy, they seek out a new meaning for their lives.
I know of at least one dot.com downsize victim (this essay was written in 2003), that turned her life around by pursuing a vocation as a Reiki practitioner and I have known others who found a spiritual practice after losing lucrative careers.
I lost many jobs in my life and I lost my music career after suffering from a long-term illness. I did not think I would survive and yet the natural world beckoned to me, giving me hope. Similar to Francesco of Assisi, I relied on God to provide for me and I gained a talent for resourcefulness.
We all have many talents that other people need in this New Era and it is time to return to the concept of barter and trade. Perhaps then we develop a new confidence in ourselves and we will find security in our connection to the spiritual realm as opposed to the material one.
When people discard belongings, they are in fact, giving those possessions new life. When we outgrow something we can pass it on to the next person. And in the end, those things once deemed important in our lives are discarded but not forgotten. Since I believe that living beings are more important than things, by sharing what we do have with others, we acknowledge the bond that connects us. The most important lesson I learned in this life thus far has not been how to earn lots of money, but how to contribute my talents to the world without living the North American dream. And besides, I don’t really care for white picket fences.
Originally written the summer of 2003, copyrights Patricia Herlevi
This is the only authorized version of this essay.
This is a comedy/urban fantasy based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The setting is Seattle-2020.
Pacing her office, Demeter wondered how she would protect Persephone from the latest news. If Persephone caught wind of Pluto’s latest actions, she would throw the earth off kilter. She made plans for Persephone and Eurydice to visit an artist community in Hawaii offering a retreat.
In her cottage, Eurydice packed lightweight clothing for her impromptu journey where she planned on healing from nervous exhaustion. Her limbs and mind weighed so heavily with Pluto’s revenge on music that she could barely climb out of bed each day. She stopped cooking and had lost over ten pounds. She had lost her appetite for just about everything. Now that Pluto banned all music, except music selected by the Plutocrats, her nerves tied in knots. Her immunity weakened and she sensed a head cold coming on–a certain death to a diva.
Meanwhile, the Archangels gathered in Lincoln Park to formulate a strategy to bring healing music to the masses despite Pluto’s music ban. Chamuel shared her idea with the others.
“We can enter the dreams of those humans who give us permission and sing to them. We can also send them songs telepathically. That is until the Extraterrestrials clog up the telepathic highway.”
Ariel responded, “As far as I know, the E.Ts haven’t joined forces with the Plutocrats. They’ve never gotten along and I don’t think they’ll join in with Pluto’s bid for dominance. They have their own agendas which hardly involve music.”
The Archangels strode along the beach with their feet just hovering above the sand and surf. Weak sunlight glinted on their wings and the sound of the surf muffled their whispery voices. Archangel Michael picked up a sandstone pebble and tossed it out the hungry sea. Gulls circled overhead in search of crab carcasses on the beach.
“My concern is the despair experienced by the musicians who now find themselves out of work. Sound healers and music therapists will soon join the breadlines and many of them haven’t held a regular job in decades.
Sadly, we conveyed to them to follow the musical path to help humanity ascend and they dedicated themselves to our requests only now to suffer this fate. I’m hearing their pleas, but I’m not sure how to comfort them. Yet, we must defy the Plutocrats in taking the musical gifts away from the earth.”
Ariel picked up a pebble and tossed it to the waves. “In the meantime, we’ll teach humans to listen to the music of nature. I know that the faerie communities have turned up the volume, even defying natural laws to appear in forms humans can see so that they pay attention to birds, the wind, and other natural sounds.”
Later that day, Demeter met with Persephone at the speakeasy. The women huddled in a corner booth whispering so that any Plutocrats in the vicinity didn’t overhear their conversation.
“So are you taking me up on my offer and accompanying Eurydice to Hawaii?”
Persephone sighed. “What about my clients? My schedule is jam-packed with herbal healings.”
“I can take care of them. It will be tight for me, but if I extend my office hours, I can fit them it.
In the meantime, imagine hanging out on those lovely beaches with palm trees swaying overhead. It’s almost cliché to describe paradise, isn’t it?”
Persephone tugged on the sleeve of her green wool sweater. “It’s true we can’t let her go alone in the state she’s in. I visited her cottage the other day which resembled a sty. Her fridge was empty, dirty dishes languished in the sink, but she hasn’t eaten anything. I can understand her despondence having lost her career.”
“This is why you must go to Hawaii. Besides, you can stay for part of the time and just let her rest for the second half of the retreat. Just make sure she has safe passage and get her settled in, and then return.”
In his office with gray and black walls, Pluto gathered his Plutocrats for a meeting. He shut the blinds and he lit candelabra with a torch.
“So far, the music stores and radio stations are all complying. However, I would like to pass laws against musicians selling real estate since many of them will try to sell their homes at this time. This would saturate the market and cause real estate to collapse.”
A Plutocrat, auburn hair and a swarthy complexion in his twenties spoke up. “What will the musicians do to support themselves? Many of them won’t be able to find any other work? They only know how to perform, record, and teach music.”
Pluto banged his fist on his large iron and wood desk. “That’s not my problem!” He turned to his right-hand man, forties, balding, with a crooked spine, “Who hired that apprentice? We can’t have any Plutocrats sympathizing with musicians.”
Instead of cowering and shuffling the way to the corner as other Plutocrats would do after chastisement by Pluto, the swarthy Plutocrat stood his ground.
“Perhaps, I’m too dense to understand your plans, but what do you have against personal music? After all, music calms the masses and prevents them from rioting. My mother told me when I was a child that music feeds the souls.”
Pluto glared at the Plutocrat and leaned into him with his face now inches away from the Plutocrat’s nose.
“If I were you, I would hold my tongue. Do you think I care about feeding souls? My job is to keep the economy going and we can’t keep the economy going if people are spacing out listening to music. It’s a distraction we can’t afford.”
Pluto spit in the face of the Plutocrat while the Plutocrat stared defiantly at the governor.
In 5D, Orpheus and Cassius hung out with wood nymphs who fed the men green grapes the size of plums. Despite Orpheus’ despondent mood, the nymphs clad in white silk gowns with white geraniums in their sparkling blonde and red hair radiated joy. Hummingbirds and large bees zipped through the air leaving a permanent drone in the atmosphere.
Orpheus picked up his lyre and plucked a few notes causing the nymphs to recline in the grass and close their eyes. Cassius grabbed his quartz crystal bowl in the key of A-major adding more drone to the atmosphere. A woman harpist with flowing black hair set up her golden instrument on a stump near Orpheus then joined in, while releasing shimmering notes from her Celtic harp. She sang in a high clear voice that caused birds to land on branches and fall asleep.
In his reverie, Orpheus visualized uniting with Eurydice while helping her to ascend into 5D. Meanwhile, the frequency of the musical instruments charged up Orpheus’ body and magnetic field. As he powered up, he sent telepathic messages to Eurydice.
As he sent the messages, he received a vision of Eurydice and Persephone sitting on an airplane that flew above the Hawaiian Islands. He witnessed Eurydice closing her eyes and took that as a sign that she picked up his messages.
Meanwhile, Eurydice experienced a dream in which the oracle bird returned to her with a new message. The bird’s bright eyes gazed into Eurydice face.
“What I told you came to pass.”
Eurydice nodded. “You didn’t tell me that the loss would devastate me.”
“You’re not devastated. Ask your friend Persephone about the rebirth process which that woman knows well. Pray to Isis if you must, or ask Jesus about reincarnation. They’ll tell you, that what appears as ending acts as an open door to a life you never could imagine before.”
“I lost everything. I can’t even imagine this open door to opportunity. How will I survive without music?”
“My dear, you’ll have to go underground.”
“What do you mean by underground?”
The bird shook out his feathers, glanced over his shoulder at Eurydice, and then flew away. Eurydice turned towards Persephone who snoozed next to her.
“That’s true, Persephone does know how to find light in the darkness. What secrets does she hold in her heart?”
In West Seattle, the Archangels mounted their bicycles then single file rode out of Lincoln Park, with their wings straight out behind them leaving silver feathers in their wake. The bicycles picked up speed and launched into the air allowing the Archangels to fly over the West Seattle Bridge and land downtown in the midst of glass and marble skyscrapers.
They turned their bicycles onto Pine Street then headed downhill to the Public Market. Dismounting their bicycles, they left them on the cobbled walkway and entered the chamber of the Daily Oracle. Once inside, they waded through blue feathers and approached Archangel Gabriel who oversaw the bird oracles.
The Archangels gathered around a table constructed from an ancient cedar tree. Michael shook hands with Gabriel.
“Greetings, my fellow light beings. What’s the news in the outer world?”
Michael chuckled as he played with his sword. “Pluto put his plans in action and now musicians and musical healers scramble, as I’m sure you’ve heard.”
Gabriel gently closed his sapphire eyes and took a deep breath. Robin eggshell blue lit up his throat chakra. “I thought as much. Meanwhile, Orpheus entertains thoughts about returning to the Fourth Dimension to persuade Eurydice to ascend.”
Ariel took a sip of peach nectar from glasses Gabriel placed on the table earlier. “Why does that sound like an awful idea all the way around?”
Gabriel nodded. “It’s easy for those individuals in 5D to forget about the gravity and traps in this dimension. They feel invincible while in the Fifth Dimension and suffer amnesia about the darkness that resides here.”
Michael placed his sword on the table, rose from his cedar stump chair then paced. “It would be a mistake for Orpheus to descend into the Fourth now…a huge mistake. First, he only has a total of six hours to even woo Eurydice much less ask her to ascend to the unknown.
Second, Eurydice is at a retreat in Hawaii, which is harder to get to than Washington because Orpheus could confuse the coordinates and end up in the Bermuda Triangle. And finally, I believe all this stuff about soul twins is highly exaggerated. But then we know, Orpheus as an idealist, so there we go.”
In a cramped studio apartment, the swarthy Plutocrat, Marcus Ariel of Arc sat at his cluttered wood desk with his head in his hands. He agonized over Pluto’s chastisement knowing full well not to speak one’s truth around the governor.
However, Marcus inherited his ancestor Joan of Arc’s inability to keep one’s opinions to oneself. While not as hotheaded as Joan, Marcus exuded the same wide-eyed innocence as well as, foolishness in putting his sword in the wrong hands. He once worshipped Pluto and that’s what caused him to join the political campaign that got Pluto elected as Governor of Washington State—illegally.
However, after the Pluto’s real personality ripped the blinders from Marcus’ eyes he still swam in denial for as long as possible. But now, with Pluto sacrificing musicians and healers in the State, Marcus’ conscience bothered him. Besides, his days were numbered now that he landed on Pluto’s radar and it wouldn’t be long before he would need to escape to the Underground. Oddly, Pluto paid no attention to the happenings down under, mainly because the governor experienced repulsion at the thought of that cavernous place.
After all, if he escaped the past that kept him bound to cosmic father’s wishes, more like the curse, why would he ever return? Marcus made the analogy of a Hollywood nymphet never returning to the small Iowan town where she spent her formative years. Just as the thought of that tainted her hard-earned reputation as a glamour girl, Pluto assumed that any connection to the Underground once referred to as Hades, would taint his reputation as a world leader.
However, in the meantime, Marcus sat on his hands as to not end up in Pluto’s prison hidden away on an abandoned and flooded San Juan Island or so the rumor said. Yet, the dreams kept coming where he saw himself leading a rebellion along with a fiery hair woman with an obsession with locks.
At the lock shop across the city, Pandora reclined on couch sporting Greek imagery reading a secret book of codes she stole from a locked chest. Periodically, she took a sip of peach and honey nectar laced with passion flower so that she could relax her restless mind.
Born a triple Gemini, her mind never took a break. Always searching for puzzles to solve, codes to break, or locks to pick, Pandora itched for an adventure. Someone in passing told her about the Underground Movement and how their leaders searched for unusual talents such as hers.
And now that Eurydice lost her reign as opera diva along with all the musicians fired to make room for more of Pluto’s darkness, Pandora believed she found her cause to support. The woman she met in passing told Pandora about secret societies meeting in the caverns who worked with drums, crystal bowls, and ancient chants. According to this woman who spoke in whispery tones and shielded herself with a silver cape, musicians were flocking down under and forming new societies.
Pandora made a note to herself to share this information with Eurydice upon her return from Hawaii. But how would she entice Eurydice to join any movement when that vocalist appeared selfish.
At the retreat center in Hawaii, Eurydice laid on a bed sobbing while Persephone comforted her. A stiff breeze blew in through the open window knocking an exotic plant off a bamboo desk. Persephone rose from the bed and picked up the plant and placed on the desk. It took all her strength to close the window.
“It looks like a typhoon is on the way.”
Eurydice continued to sob, not caring about the storm outside her window and virtually ignoring the efforts of her comforting friend.
Persephone returned to Eurydice and helped her friend sit up and recline against large pillows sporting Hawaiian flowers.
“What will I do next?”
Persephone picked up a glass of pineapple juice and she brought it to Eurydice parched lips. “For now, rest and we’ll figure out the next step later.”
“I won’t even be able to teach music. All I know is music. I only studied music thinking that I had a long career ahead of me.”
“Don’t blame yourself. We know we were in trouble when Pluto got illegally elected.”
Eurydice grabbed the glass from Persephone and she gulped down the juice. “How could people be so stupid as to elect that scoundrel?”
Persephone shrugged her shoulders and laughed. “They didn’t. Oh-oh-oh, and just to think I was once married to that scoundrel.”
Eurydice sighed then she looked around the room cluttered with wicker furnishing and Hawaiian print. “How did you survive that marriage?”
“I’m strong and he doted on me at first. My mistake was eating that pomegranate. I didn’t even like the taste of it.
Do you recall the moment you lost your innocence?”
Eurydice shook her head. “Perhaps, that moment is now.”
Persephone grabbed a glass of pineapple juice and sipped the contents. She leaned her head back against the large pillows.
“So tell me about the messages from the oracle bird again.”
“He said that I would experience a loss, but not to worry because something better was on the way. But he might as well have spoken in riddles because I have no idea what opportunities could possibly come to me now.”
“He did speak in riddles, my dear. I wonder what opportunities await you because I believe what the bird told you. So tell me, what have you dreamed about lately?”
Eurydice closed her eyes and concentrated on recalling her nightly dreams. “I’ve experienced dreams where I’m running and the ground is covered in moss so I’m slipping and then, I see a bright light ahead of me.”
“A man’s hand, an attractive hand with a silver ring featuring a lyre, reaches out to me from the light. Then I get a sense that I’m climbing or flying because I’m ascending like a bird.”
“That’s interesting. Do you ever get a glimpse of the man’s face?”
Eurydice shook her head. “But I’ve heard a man’s melodic voice in my head and he’s talking to me about paradise.”
Strolling near a creek bubbling over with fish, Orpheus stared at the ground and kicking pebbles into the creek. Cassius strolled alongside the bard also lost in contemplation.
“Have you tried contacting the muses? Surely, Eurydice worked with the muses so they might have an in with her.”
Orpheus shrugged. “What’s the use? Besides, the muses I met were coquettes. They flirt, gossip, and can’t be trusted, at least not with a man’s heart.”
“Don’t even attempt then to contact the sirens.”
Orpheus shook his head. “I wasn’t planning on it. I still believe in the direct approach which is speaking directly to her soul.”
Cassius pulled off his sandals and dipped his toes into the creek. He crept into the water and grabbed Orpheus’ hand–His swarthy face tilted upwards as his brown eyes gazed into Orpheus’ blue ones.
“Come, cool off in the creek. This water has a miraculous effect, especially after the muses, who we know you don’t like, blessed the water with their chants.”
Meanwhile, after the storm passed, Eurydice and Persephone lounged on wicker chairs on a patio drinking Hawaiian smoothies. Persephone glanced at Eurydice face which began to glow with a life force again.
“So tell me about the dream you had with the man with the lyre ring.”
Eurydice placed her glass on the table and she grabbed a tie for her hair. She secured her hair in a ponytail stretching the length of her back.
“This time I saw his entire arm and a thigh.”
“Really, was his thigh sexy?”
Eurydice chuckled. “It wasn’t bad. He had calluses on his fingers which right away told me he plays some kind of string instrument.”
“Most likely a lyre since you mentioned that he had a silver ring with a lyre on it. Do you think that he’s a real man?”
“I don’t know yet. I hope so. I wonder where he is.”
In 5D, Orpheus and Cassius waded in the creek up to their thighs. The water invigorated the men and they laughed heartily tossing back their heads and splashing water on each other.
“This water really does have a magical effect. I feel fantastic.”
“Do you feel any songs coming on? I know I do. I always hear the drums of Mother Earth, even in this dimension.”
Orpheus waded back to the shore with the water tugging at his muscular thighs and calves. After he returned to the shore, he sat upon a rock allowing the sun to dry off his hair and skin. Cassius joined him on the large smooth rock, shaking out his dark hair.
Orpheus sighed. “Maybe Eurydice isn’t interested in men or falling in love.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I have plenty here. Why do I require a woman to live out my life in this dimension? All my needs, but one are met and maybe I don’t even require great love. “
“It’s the idea of love that matters to musicians and poets.”
“I feel a song coming on.” Orpheus slipped off the rock, grabbed his sandals and returned home but his heart was not convinced of his words.
Labels don’t interest me usually because they feeling limiting and often dangerous, like crossing over a threshold into unfamiliar territory. And when we slap on labels we are most likely seeking confirmation or validation from a group. This leads me to think that we wear labels because we have issues with self-approval.
So, I am reluctant to wear the vegan badge even though I am on board with the vegan practice, for the most part. But I also know that becoming vegan is not as easy as removing animal food products from one’s diet. And it goes beyond watching animal abuse documentaries, which are torture for me. Guilt is a horrible motivator that never leads to self-empowerment. And this is not to say that we wallow in ignorance either. However, I feel that if we inspire people to eat a vegan diet out of health reasons, and many people switch to a vegan diet, then the industries that abuse animals will need to change their tune (and draconian practices) or go bankrupt.
I feel that the idea of the perfect vegan (who doesn’t eat any animal products, not even honey and does not wear any animal products) is impossible for most people. Vegan and organic food, especially if it is also gluten-free are expensive. I spend over $300 a month on these types of food and supplements a month. So, this leaves me with only enough money to purchase my shoes and clothing at thrift stores and that means I wear leather, wool, and other used or recycled animal products. Since I wear leather shoes, I repair or replace my soles instead of purchasing new shoes. And I’ve worn shoes up to a decade or more.
However, when an idealistic vegan sees me wearing leather shoes, they have no idea that I’ve replaced the soles twice on those shoes and got those shoes at a thrift store. They have no idea how much I spend on food either. While, it is a good practice to discern and educate ourselves about where our food and other goods come from and how it was raised, treated, or produced, we’re never going to show up perfectly in our quests. We have many things to weigh. For instance, vegans say that it is better for the environment to go vegan, but not if you are wearing clothing and shoes made from petrochemicals which also cause damage to the environment.
Now, as far as health benefits, I have seen many vegans glow with radiant health after changing their diets. I have met people who have reversed diabetes, prevented heart disease and other illnesses. I have also met people who have suffered from digestion issues on the vegan diet (I’m among this group). If I eat goat yogurt once in a while, it reverses some of the digestion issues and then I eat a mostly vegan diet.
So, having said all that, the vegan diet has potential to improve health and well-being, create more sustainable lifestyles that benefit the planet, stop animal abuse and cruelty (although it takes some socio-political action too), provide food in greater abundance, create culinary opportunities for businesses, heal cognitive dissonance, etc…
Get educated. Find out where your food comes from. Stop living in denial. And then find the best path for you based on your core values and beliefs. Walk your talk to the best of your ability. And make improvements in increments.
(This article was originally posted on my blog PNW Author. The essay is now 3 years old.) When I find myself starting a conversation with, “Back when we used typewriters…” I feel old. I come from a generation who started out playing with Lincoln logs, Easy-Bake ovens and whose mothers made Shake & Bake chicken for dinner, that is, if we weren’t stuck with Hamburger Helper (yuck) or tuna casserole.
We watched reruns of “Bewitch” and then later graduated to “Charlie’s Angels” as preteens. But turning 50 goes beyond pop culture icons or midlife crisis myths. I don’t know many men my age wearing toupees or racing around in red sports cars. The word out on the street is “50 is the new 30” and with the help of supplements, natural hair tints and a healthy vegan or raw foods diet, it’s possible to look 35 at 50. The old cliche goes, if I had a dime for every time someone exclaimed, “You don’t look 49 or 50,” I could retire and live comfortably on the money by age 55.
You won’t find me wearing spinster’s black or lamenting that I wasted the first 50 years of my life. People might ask, “Where’s the husband or how old are your children?” and I can only respond with a shrug. I had other things to do and other worlds to conquer, including dealing with a myriad of inner gremlins and a long bout with depression, in which the only way to emerge was to develop self-love. My greatest accomplishment isn’t ten years as a professional musician, producing a compilation of Seattle bands that receives acclaim two decades later, or the completion of four novels and 4 screenplays. No, my greatest accomplishment thus far is to love myself.
When we glance back at the origins of that journey we either cringe or experience goosebumps. I recall two episodes of self-loathing at this time. The first incident involved an art professor who took slides of each student and asked us to draw a self-portrait. Easy enough, right? I experienced trauma doing this and I cried while I stared at my face enlarged. I focused on faults and chastised myself for not resembling the super models in magazines or the movie stars on the big screen. What a painful experience! I despised the art professor during those moments and also when he showed the slide to the other art students, who thankfully were too busy critiquing their own faces, to critique mine.
Another incident happened in therapy. A psychoanalyst told me to talk to an empty chair with my jacket draped around it, a conversation with myself. I cried and resisted this exercise. I felt so horrified having a dialogue with the part of me that constantly hurt. After all, if I had landed in therapy then there was definitely something wrong with me and wonder if I couldn’t fix it. This happened in my late 20s. And during my late 20s, I spent my nights exorcising my inner gremlins on stage as a musical performer or a poet. Sylvia Plath was my idol during those years, if you can imagine.
I didn’t breeze through my 30s, but I grew in wisdom as I read every popular self-help book, enrolled in self-development workshops and wondered why the Dark Night of the Soul wouldn’t just disappear. In my imagination I walked El Camino with Paul Coelho, went on medicine women journeys with Lynn V. Andrews, and learned to talk with animal spirits. I discovered shamanic journey work, but none of this work led me to developing self-love which goes along with self-empowerment.
I celebrated my 40th birthday in a public venue by hosting a poetry and music event dedicated to compassion and kindness. Gathering with other artists gave me a boost and set me forth on the next part of my journey. In my 40s, I relocated twice, returned to college at the age of 45 to learn new computer technology, I landed a contract job with a newspaper and then lost the job 14 months later. But most important in the past five years, I confronted the frightened woman inside me and learned how to love her back to health. And I’m not alone in this. I hear women my age saying the same thing when they phone into spiritual radio shows or join live streams. Our crisis doesn’t involve dumping the husband in favor of the college co-ed (no Mrs, Robinson here), but our crisis does involve questioning our liberation in a world that wishes to brainwash and enslave us.
Things I learned in the past year include, drinking an unsweetened smoothie is healthier than drinking fruit juice, that yoga, breathing and meditation takes years off, and that we don’t require to go gray like our baby boomer elders and can use natural hair tints that won’t give us brain tumors. If we choose, we can unplug, and engage on a journey to self-discovery. We can dress anyway we choose, even buying clothes in the young adult section or wearing natural fibers. We can opt out of fake patriotism and stop playing games to fit in with a mad society. With new supplements on the market to build collagen, we can avoid Botox or face lifts. Finally, we have worldwide access to women our age so we can compare notes and share wisdom.
Why do we focus so heavily on physical appearance? Is this part of self-love or self-loathing? I know that kindness to ourselves means that we stop finding fault with our bodies as they age. I know that it’s frightening to watch people age around me. I know that I feel tempted to turn back the clock one or two decades, and if only I could bring the ones I lost back into the fold.
I’m fortunate to sit here typing this post on my 50th birthday. I know at least two friends who never experienced this milestone. The first friend died before her 18th birthday when she was injured in a car accident, two weeks prior to high school graduation. The second friend died at 34 from heart failure, 2 weeks before her 35th birthday. So on this rainy Sunday, I won’t lament the passing of years. I’m darn lucky to have survived and I give myself permission to thrive this second half of my life. And for all of you turning 50 this year, many happy returns.
Since we are approaching Halloween, All Souls Day and The Day of the Dead, I’m posting work that I wrote when I was with the Latino literary troupe, Los Nortenos (2000-05). I wrote this piece for a performance that we gave at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.
Wearing the Bones of My Ancestors
Recently when I suffered a reoccurring problem with my spine, I recalled a doctor who offered to remove two extra ribs. Of course, I declined his offer and chose to live with the pain of pinched nerves rather than remove bones from my body. As time went on, I realized that I wear the bones of my ancestors. These are the bones that never quite disintegrated into ashes and these are the bones that refused to burn for carrying shamanic influences. And these bones derive from my mixed ancestry, which includes Philippine, Puerto Rican, Spanish, Finnish and Sami blood.
Long, long time ago, there lived a primitive people called the Finns, first discovered by the Romans around 10 AD in the region we now call Finland. The Finns, now called Sami were pushed closer to the Arctic Circle as other tribes moved into the area, but for the most part, the Sami practiced their earth-based spirituality, including sorcery. However when the Christians arrived, the church banned the earth-based spirituality, burning the shamans and their drums. The magic never left us and the ancestors have returned.
In the past few years, I discovered my shamanic gifts. I began hearing the call of the trees, animals and stones. I had no idea why the nature spirits were calling to me, but I kept an open mind and heart. Soon, an ancestor reconnected me with my Sami lineage, despite the fact that I grew up in middle-class America and was unaware of my Sami ancestors.
After awhile I began working with stones and I was told that the Sami people also work with stones. I began connecting with animal and other spirits through chants. Then I learned that the Sami people had been doing that from the onset and they call their chants yoiks. Often they say that the spirit of the yoik finds the yoiker. And eventually, the spirit that resides in my bones taught me this magical form of vocalization.
The Sami believe that their real home exists beyond the stars. I don’t see this as heaven, but as a parallel dimension where our ancestors reside. All my life I have been staring up at the stars wondering what exists behind their twinkling lights. And all my life I have collected stones that for some mysterious reason called out to me. I have felt like an outsider looking in among my relatives, friends and strangers as that part of me chose to live in an enchanted world. I never could understand the stranger that exists in my bones until now and she is Sami, but she also answers to Spain, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Finland. She is the call of the crow, the howl of the wolf, the silence of the jaguar and the whisper of stones.
Some day my bones will turn back into soil, but my spirit will never die for it knows that death is but an illusion and life is just a dream.
written for the Day of the Dead 2003. Copyright Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved