Wish Father Altar 2008
I used to be one of those people who went whole hog at Christmas time. I’d buy everyone I knew a present whether I had the money to spend or not. I’d adjust my bill payments till I had squeezed my bank account for that extra penny and pushed my check book to its limits. I didn’t care. Christmas was for SHOPPING and sharing love with people. Of course somewhere along the lines I mixed up things and love but whatever.
Skip ahead a couple of years to me getting married and inheriting two kids (yup I got three guys with my marriage how cool is that?).
Me and my two little boys at the wedding
The husband and I are both pagan and both strong believers in making the world a better place for everyone by starting with cleaning up our own crap first. This apparently meant we got to work on our issues around Christmas together. The first year we were together we did the whole “if I give you a present you must know I love you and you must love me back” thing. We swore up and down the aisles of Toys R Us that we were fine with what we were doing and how much we were spending. But wouldn’t you know it, when Christmas morning rolled around and our offerings were not mirrored back at us our resolve crumbled. We swore never to do that again! Yeah. Right. It took a few years but things did get better.
Now add those kids back in, the ones the husband came with. For the first few years of our relationship the kids were living with their grandmother and we had them on the weekends. That was pretty cool, and a whole other blog post about the differences between part time and full time parenthood. After the wedding we had them 24/7, which means we had them for Christmas, that’s when life really got interesting.
My husband and I were both raised in households that were only sort of religious and predominantly Christian, so we both had the basics of Christmas as part of our cultural and spiritual histories. In both our cases our parents are open and welcoming of our pagan beliefs so there’s never been a problem talking with them about our practices or our choices. It’s more the noise that many people who are not Christian deal with around this time of year when so much of the Western world is focused on this one holiday. Add to this the fact that Wicca and Paganism share a number of symbols and mythic elements with Christmas (and no, I am so not getting into the discussion of which ones and who got what from where) and things start to get pretty muddy.
As Pagan parents, my husband and I have always tried to include our children in as many of our Sabbat rituals as possible. They have celebrated Imbolc with us and been wrapped in hugs by Brigid, welcomed the spring with Ostara, helped danced the May Pole at Beltane, laughed with their father when he and our High Priest were the very sill priests for our Summer Solstice ritual, helped act our the story of John Barley Corn, enjoyed the harvest from our garden at our harvest feast and learned about divination at Samhain. And of course they have been to coven Yule where they got to dance a Mummers Play and exchanged gifts along with everyone else at the party. All those celebrations were easy compared to celebrating that holiday with presents under the tree and the jolly fat man in the red suit. We wanted the holiday to have meaning for us as Pagans and for the kids as kids, but the kids had picked up as much Christmas as we had, so they were expecting Santa Claus and baby Jesus. As a compromise we tried, once and only once, to do the whole present opening thing on Yule itself instead of Christmas day. That worked. Sort of. And yeah we did have Chinese food for dinner on December 25th.
In the long run though, my husband and I chose to stick with celebrating on December 24/25th but with a twist. At our house we get a visit from Santa’s magical cousin Wish Father.
The whole Wish Father thing came about because both my husband and I, while wiccan trained, are also Norse leaning pagans. Wish Father is a use-name for Odin who is the All Father and High Lord of the Norse Gods. Now I know some people see him as an unholy terror, and I admit he can be a pain in the arse, but he is not only a military god, he is also a god of magic, of knowledge and travel, of leadership, and though he’ll protest for the sake of it, of tricks and trickery. As Wish Father he is the one who brings us our dreams and wishes, so he’s the perfect guest on a cold winter’s night. Now-a-days many people see Thor as connected to Santa or Saint Nick because of the red suit and the beard and thick stature, but Thor isn’t a god of magic or dreams. He’s a good god, but he’s more about protection and straightforward action that gets the job done. If you want someone sneaking in your house late at night to leave something shiny and rare under your tree, then the god you want is Odin. So, Odin = Wish Father.
Presents under the tree 2006
In our house the tradition is that the kids set out a plate of cookies for Wish Father and carrots for the reindeer and beer for Wish Father (because really milk for a Norse god?). Then they leave him a note. They ask him questions about his year or his trip or just say hi and thanks for the presents. Then it’s off to bed.
Bottle of Beer and Plate of goodies for Wish Father 2006
Now the trick with Wish Father is something that has taken me most of my life to learn. Wish Father is like every other spiritual power we bring into our lives in ritual. He is a god that we host or trance or whatever word you wish to use. He doesn’t have a physical form or voice, so he borrows ours. This is part of the magic. As the parents, we offer our energy to the god to allow Him to come through us and gift our children and ourselves with a bit of fairy dust and dreams because we all have a right to beauty. We carry this idea through to the Wish Father presents as well. In our house each person gets only one Wish Father presents each year. For the kids there are two presents. The first gift is a stuffed animal that appears on their beds sometime in the middle of the night wrapped with a bow or ribbon. They know its from Wish Father because… well because when we first started this tradition we all got stuffies and made a big deal about the stuffed animals turning up and not being from us, so now the kids look for them. The second present is under the tree and is always something truly special, usually something “spendy” or “big” feeling. Something we really want and wouldn’t just buy for ourselves. It might seem a little frivolous to someone else, but to the person getting it, the present is a wish fulfillment. So no clothes unless that’s what the person really really wants, and then it has to be something completely awesome.
The remains of Wish Father’s snack (and a stack of Wish Father presents – they were small but mighty that year) 2005
Once the kids are off to sleep, my husband and I pull out the special Wish Father paper. This paper is completely different from all the other wrapping paper in the house, it’s usually metallic or iridescent or glittery or all of the above. Whatever it is has to be spectacular. It is only used for the Wish Father presents. As a final touch, all the other presents we get each other are wrapped in normal “plain” holiday paper and have to be under the tree before the kids are in bed. Since my husband is the better wrapper of the two of us, he does all the presents except his own (I get to wrap his!) while I write out the labels in my best Wish Father formal handwriting.
Stack of Wish Father presents 2008
Next we eat our way through the cookies and carrots, being sure to leave teeth marks in a couple of the carrot stubs and cookie crumbs as evidence. The hubby drinks the beer and responds to the kid’s letter on behalf of Wish Father while I fill the stockings.
Then we sleep, like every other exhausted parent on Christmas Eve.
Somewhere after 7:00 am and before Noon, breakfast happens. My kids are sweet and, thank the gods, not morning children. My husband, however, is. This works in my favor though because it means he makes breakfast! So with breakfast in hand we all gather around the tree and scope out the additions from Wish Father. The new presents are always set out a little apart from the others. Its not like you could miss them with their amazing wrapping paper, but Wish Father still wants to make certain we see them I guess. Wish Father’s presents are the first ones that we open, and then the ripping and tearing continues as normal.
The boys Yule morning with their Wish Father Stuffies 2005
In raising two children, and figuring out how I wanted to explain this crazy thing called the winter holidays to them, it seems I have finally managed to grow up a bit and learn a thing or two about what it is to share love, not just money. As corn-ball as that might sound, it’s absolutely true. When my kids come up blank about what to get each other for gifts or for their assortment of grandparents, I remind them that all anyone really wants is to know that they are thought of with love and kindness. I think 15 plus years of repeating this must be wearing off on me. This year we have the fewest presents ever under the tiniest tree ever and the stockings are nearly barren, but I really don’t mind so much. I have my two amazing kids and my awesome husband. I have friends and family who love me just as I am – glitter and silliness and all. Really, what else do I need for Yule-Solstice-Christmas-Kwanzaa-Hanukkah-Hogmanay-Twelfth Night?
This years tree, stockings and Wish Father altar all in one. Small but sweet!
May your holidays be blessed with glitter and love and may Wish Father bring you your hearts desire.
Happy Lammas, Happy Samhain and Happy T-day (I think that covers all the holidays I have missed while life has had me tied in knots… sorry about that!)
I have been a ceramics making fool! I am in coming to the end of my second semester at the community college and still love the work. I am now signed up for a beginning ceramics sculpture class so I can get some techniques I feel like I am missing, but in the mean time I have been having a blast experimenting with blending clays together within the same piece. You can see three of the most success pieces to date over in the gallery now and over at my shop on Artfire.com.
A couple of the experiments that I am keeping for myself and friends include an amazing number of pieces for Hella – funny that. I have five or six more piece still to come including a mermaid statue that I am really hoping turns out well (I should know next week when she comes out of the glaze kiln).
A square bowl for Hella
- Black Mountain and Porcelain with Cinnamon chips, Sapphire glaze, hand built, fired to cone 10
- Black Mountain and Porcelain, Sapphire glaze, hand built, fired to cone 10
Hella Votive Figure
- Black Mountain and Porcelain, Satin Crackle glaze, hand built, fired to cone 10
Every piece needs a cat for perspective… at least according to Shadow…
Hella Offering Bowl
- Black Mountain and Porcelain, no glaze, hand built using a mold, fired to cone 10
This one is already set up on my Hella altar in the back yard
Well my first ceramics class is complete! It was amazing and exhausting and wonderful. I met incredible people, got to talk “shop”, and play with dirt! I’m all signed up to do it again in the fall. With a longer running semester the classes are only two days a week and three hours a day (instead of four and start at 1 pm) so I am hoping to get to keep a few more spoons this time around. I already have plans (and two orders!) for things I want to make, a few things that I want to test and an idea for a VERY long term project that would be part installation and part ritual *grin* color me ecstatic!
But first – the rewards of five long weeks of work – shiny stuff!
The odd things first:
My candle holder thing is MUCH prettier with glaze – a nice dark blue, as is the weird plant/frog holder thing that will live in my backyard for the moss to grow on. It got a green celedon glaze with a splash of rutile blue for accenting. Inside I placed a couple of glass pebbles – those melted and then cracked during firing creating a still water effect.
The three pinch pots did exactly what I hoped they would and darkened up nicely. The Black Mountain clay comes out a lovely dark chocolate and the Rods Bod looks like warmly toasted stone ground wheat. I did discover that I hadn’t applied enough white slip to the black piece so the streaks where I missed are noticeable. A good thing for me to remember. Working with clay and the glazes takes a hell of a lot more patience that I normally have, and the glaze process in particular is bloody repetitive! ugh. but… its worth it in the end.
The other pinch pot I did everyone seems to like – I think it looks like the closest thing to an “ashtray” of all the things I made. You know what I mean… that “thing” you made in elementary school ceramics by squishing the clay around with your hands and then handing it to one of your parents with great pride. When they asked you what the lumpy thing (painted pink or glazed lemon yellow no doubt) was you proudly declared “An Ashtray!” even if your parents didn’t smoke? yeah… that project. Well its not quite elementary school work, but I of course see all the lumps and bumps and think its fugly. I’m pondering giving it to my dad for Yule as an “ashtray” (even though he quit smoking more than 20 years ago – I think he would get the joke).It was the other “patience” teacher. Again, I thought i had painted on enough colored slip along the vines, but after firing it was clear that was not the case. Ah well.
Of the plate / bowls I made The seashell one seems to generate the most interest. The crack I was worried about did seal up, but the seam is rather evident, so to solve that I am going to get help epoxying (no breathing in THOSE fumes for me) a set of shells / beads / pears – things over the seam. I figure it will look a bit like a waterfall or a treasure trove when we get done with it, so that should be cool. The black glaze worked perfectly, so once the seam is no longer an issue I will indeed have a lovely scrying bowl. I’m looking forward to testing it out.
The Demeter bowl turned out incredibly cool, though vastly different than I expected. Apparently one of the things that can happen during high fire is that clay can bounce back into a shape you pulled it into or out of, even if you have bisqued it already. The heat of high fire picks up the “muscle memory” of the clay and enhances it. Taking the bowl of the plaster mold I was a little rougher than I should have been and now we can see that – the bowl is warped. Along with the kind of patina quality of the green glaze gives the bowl a very archaic feel. I looks like something from an ancient temple – that alone is cool. Not exactly what I was expecting, but interesting none the less – and Demeter seems pleased, so its all good.
The Brigid plate suffered from “end of the semester” rush and a crack in the edge. Because of this I couldn’t put it through the high fire process so the distinction between the Cinnamon and Rods Bod clays is barely visible. It’s still lovely, but again not quite what I was going for. I did a simple clear glaze over the plate which worked nicely to enhance the two colors and make the plate food safe at the same time. That’s going to live in our temple for coven work.
And last, but hardly least… the Tree. (OH MY GODS) um.. yeah… to say it worked would be a bit of an understatement. I am hopelessly in love with how it turned out, plotting more trees and have been given the (squeal) of approval for the work by the client it is going to. All is VERY very right in this artists world.
Now that class is over and the tree is complete, its time to start working on the doll that goes with the tree. Mmmm… tattooed, long haired, pretty Norse God… one of my favorite people/gods to work with!
So Ceramics, the new and utter love of my life, let me show you it
As of today’s nearly six hour marathon session of work (yes, we are all crazy) all but two of my piece are now glazed. The last two pieces were snuck into a last minute bisque fire run, so they will be ready to play with next week.
Over the past month I have made eleven pieces. One of the pieces is part of a commission for a doll I am working on – Frey, the Norse God of wealth, growth and a whole lot of other lovely stuff. As part of his design he gets to lean up against the World Tree, or at least the lower part of the world tree, and I get to make it – or rather I have made it – out of clay. I also made a bowl with wheat pressed into its sides for Demeter, a strange Seashell type bowl, a bowl for Brigid made out of two types of clay and an offering “thing” made up of the scraps from that bowl, three pinch pots that proved to me I have studied a lot of of anthropology, archeology and art history, a weird “Yes, this is my first ceramics project in years” thing which just missed being an ash tray by a few inches, and two other …er… experiments.
The Tree and the Demeter bowl are both in the kiln RIGHT NOW!! (top shelf near the back in front of and next to the yellow and red figure) see – I have proof:
The three pinch pots are also in there somewhere. Those I did out of two different kinds of clay – the class standard Rods Bod, which is gray when we work with it and ends up kind of grainy and earth like after all the firings, and Black Mountain which looks just like it sounds, a nice rich black – no glaze, just colored slip on the lower half of each (white on the Black Mountain one, black on the two Rods Bod ones so they look like mirror opposites) and the natural clay as is. I’m really looking forward to seeing how those turn out.
Frey’s Tree is a huge project but so much fun! I had to scale it to match the doll and then increase *that* to account for the natural shrinkage that occurs in the drying and firing process. It started out 10 inches tall, and completely circular – just a slab of Black Mountain clay pressed to the inside of a bucket.
Once the form was dry enough to get out of the bucket, I cut it in half and stacked the two pieces one on top of the other to get a full 20 inches of height. Then I got to play! I added the roots and veining to the front of the tree and a shelf (for stability and offerings) to the back all with more Black Mountain. When one of my cohorts in crime at class asked if I wanted any of her trimmings (from her thrown pots) I grabbed them up and used them as “bark” along the veins. Conveniently she and our other cohort were working in both the BM and a lovely rusty colored clay so I could do two tones for more fun and effects.
Here’s the tree just after bisque fire (the first and longest of the firing processes, this dries the clay out completely and starts the molecular change that gives us stoneware) – a little shorter (by one inch – for a total of three inches down since I started) and a whole light lighter in color – don’t worry it will darken back up in the next firing!
Here is the tree nearly done with glazing – it looks odd – the “pink” will turn yellowish brown, the “green” will go black/green, and the black will actually be brown/black – all the changes are because of a. it’s glaze and fracking weird (yes the painter in me is twitching) b.on top of the Black Mountain clay which is seriously DARK it will all go shades darker than it would on a lighter clay and c. it all depends on how many coats you apply so I played that up and did very thick in some areas for the green, so it will look like moss, and very thick with the black in the hallow/burned out section so it will look… well… burned out, and then lighter in other areas to keep the darkness of the clay from getting overwhelmed. We shall see if my evil plot worked. Since this is hire fire glaze, there will be some melting and mixing going on as well – I just have no idea how much… which is half the fun or half the terror depending on my mood. lol
The Demeter Bowl
The first image is of the clay drying over the mold. The next two are once it was bone dry and ready for the Bisque fire showing the wheat pressed into the outside and the center of the inside.
The Demeter bowl after Bisque firing.
The wheat has burned off (I REALLY should have taken a picture of the ashy wheat before I brushed it out, that was gorgeous – nearly white and still clinging to the shape of the stalks, but truly just ash. So cool!) Now you can see the depression left by the wheat… This clay will also darken up. It’s freaky though looking at it at this stage (the lighting here doesn’t do the color justice)- it’s nearly a pale salmon color instead of the gray it was when working or the kind of “stone ground wheat” look it is supposed to get after the next firing.
And inside the bowl- My brilliant plan worked! - the wheat that I taped onto the mold just before I draped the slabbed clay over it stayed in place and now shows up perfectly in the center.
I didn’t take any pictures of the bowl after I painted it because our Kiln Master was rushing to get the kiln loaded and had a space waiting for it and because really it looks silly at this stage. The wheat which I painted with a yellow looks pink, and the rest of the bowl which is in the same black to green (that’s its name, I swear) I used on the tree is supposed to come out somewhere along the forest green end of the spectrum currently looks like a pastel mint. UGLY! lol. It should be stellar when its done firing though.
The Sea Shell bowl
This is a bit of an experiment. I was going to do another pressed piece like the Demeter bowl, but was so intrigued by the way the clay over hug the mold that I started playing with its shape and well… things just sort of went from there. Here it is at bone dry – ready for bisque fire.
Sadly the shape itself has caused some problems. Two cracks formed as it was drying. I repaired them, but one reopened during the bisque fire which meant I couldn’t do any high fire – aka *glass* glazes on it. They would just get into the crack and split the thing down the middle. Instead, on our teachers recommendation, I patched the crack again with underglaze and then painted with more low fire underglaze. It will have a very different look and feel from the high fire work, but still incredibly cool (if it doesn’t just blow up on me as it fires) I was rushing to get out of the studio and didn’t take any pictures of the finished glaze work, so you will have to imagine the inside as solid black which will be glossy, and the outside a mix of black and blue sponged off – really just a very light tinting of color and matte finish. If it all works out I think it will make a very nice scrying bowl!
More pictures once everything is out of the kilns and shiny!
Since I got past just surviving and moved into figuring out how to live this new life with MCS, I’ve taken to naming the years of my life since I got sick. Year one was “Sleeping on the couch”, year two was “Defining Boundaries”, and year three was “Anger. Now that we’re half way through year four I think I know what this one’s name is: “Pushing at the walls”.
Living with MCS I often feel trapped in a box or a cage, very much like the Canary we get called. The restrictions on where I can go or what I can do, so that I don’t get sick through exposure, leaving me feeling like a hermit on a good day and a prisoner on a bad day. Recently the walls of my cage have been feeling very restricting and in need of some remolding.
The first push at my walls seems to have come with my writing. After a long dry spell I am back to crafting both short stories and rituals and loving every minute of the process.
The second push came with the glitter clogs of doom ™ . These were followed by the realization that I’ve been basically been living in nothing by sweats and t-shirts for the last three years. That so needs to stop. I have some really lovely clothes, things I used to wear to conventions, performances, even occasionally for my day job. While I may not be able to do the same things now that I used to do, I am heartily tired of letting that dictate my clothing choices! So, the scummy clothes have officially been relegated to use only when I am working now (I tend to paint on my clothes), and the fun and shiny stuff is now out front. I still have my worn out and bad days, but I figure that’s what denim is for.
The third and biggest push against my walls began at the end of last month when I started taking a ceramics class. It has been years since I have been in an art class of any kind, and the last continuing ed class I tried taking was right as I was learning just how sick I was, more than four years ago.
Two friends of mine had been taking a ceramics class at a local city college and we started talking about the conditions of the class room, how much dust or chemicals there were in air (turns out there is an amazing air filter system and super high ceilings), class compliment and the styles of the different teachers. Taking my heart, and my lungs in my hands, I leapt, and haven’t looked back.
Class hasn’t been perfect. Like with any location outside of my house, I have to wear my mask and be careful. And with forty students in the class, I have to be very careful about where I actually do my work. The one day I goofed and sat up front for a lecture I was sick for days afterwards because it left me hemmed in by people coated in chemicals. I’ve had to make some adjustments to make sure I can get through the day. One of the friends who is also taking the class does the driving because by the time class is over, I have very little brain left, and I bring meds along with snacks and lots of water to class to boost my bodies ability to cope with what it’s being exposed to during the four hours in the studio. Even with all of that, I still end up crashing hard every day once I am home, which means I have been effectively losing three days a week to ceramics.
On the other hand, class has been amazing and worth every two hour post-class nap, extra pack of vitamins or antihistamine, and whiff of chemicals I have to put up with. I’ve been watching a lifetime of knowledge and experience pour out of my fingers, into a new medium, to form amazingly wonderful pieces of art. I feel like I have found the natural next step in my artistic process. Even more importantly I am getting to talk with other artists about art and process and life for the first time in years. Each conversation inspires me to try new things and look at my own work in new ways. Every day in the studio my heart, mind, and soul are filled with new ideas and an expanding level of hope and passion.
My main project for this semester has been to build part of the base for a Freyr doll that I am doing as a commission piece. The clay portion is a representation of the lower half of the World Tree of Norse from mythology with its three main roots reaching down into the lower realms and its trunk stretching up into the sky.
I think I am completely in love with doing ceramic sculpture, so much so that I haven’t even touch the wheel yet. And I already have half a dozen projects in mind for next semester, several of which are plans for dolls that I am redesigning to do in clay.
I still have walls around my life, but I think the box I have to live in to be safe finally has some breathing room inside.
MCS is one of a set of illnesses that are known as “invisible illnesses” because those of us who have them don’t look like we’re sick. They are hard to diagnose and difficult to live with day in and day out in part because there is this lingering feeling that we might just be faking it, since we look normal. If you can’t see what’s wrong with us, then maybe nothing is, right? Unfortunately, the things that make people with MCS ill are also invisible and sometimes hard to identify. We are called “the Canaries in the Coal Mine” because like those birds who warn miners of gas leaks and oxygen deficiencies, we warn of the toxins in our environment. At least for most of us with MCS we only get sick, the real canaries die.
As part of my ongoing effort to help myself, and in turn help others, I spent one day keep track of what I did, how I felt and what I experienced – health wise. It was amazingly helpful to see the reality of my life in black and white. I am so very good a pushing what I go through under an imaginary rug and trying to convince myself that half the things I think I’m feeling are not real, that whole “If you can’t see it, I can’t really be sick” routine. Honestly look at what my days look and feel like was a powerful reminder of both how far I have come since I was first diagnoses (yes, there has been some improvement I am happy to say) and how much MCS is still dictates the boundaries of my life.
I was also thinking that it might be helpful for other people to see what living with MCS is like because just saying “I’m allergic to half the planet” (my usual answer to strangers) doesn’t really explain what we Canaries go through on a daily basis. Of course each one of us is different. What we are allergic and /or sensitive to is different, what we need to do to cope with our triggers is different and how we recover and care for ourselves is different. This is what things look like for me.
A “normal” day with MCS
My day usually starts around 10:30 am. I know, neat that I get to sleep in, right? The problem is, too often I get a terrible night sleep. Something is off in my sleep cycle which means I can’t fall asleep until sometime after 2 am and depending on how my day has gone, I may or may not be able to sleep once I get to sleep. It will also depend on my sinuses, which right now are a mess with the most current round of a sinus infection (my first official one of the year, my eighth or so since MCS walked into my life). By this point I’ve had one medication (at 7 am) and need to take another one before breakfast.
On the morning I started writing this, because of how badly I had slept, I woke up feeling rather pummeled and wanting nothing more than to crawl back under the covers. I did mange to get up, stretch grab a scone for breakfast and head out for a walk.
The day was beautiful, clear skies, and spring-like temperatures as opposed to the heat we have had the last couple of day. I had a mask on my face (I always wear a mask whenever I leave the house), music in my ears and pain in my chest. Ah well. With my asthma, particularly of late, I have what I call this “warm up” period for my lungs. It feels like I have to push through something very thick and heavy to get each breath, except I am clearly breathing, which is bloody confusing. It takes a couple of blocks for my lungs to get into the swing of working without trying to kill me. On this morning they never quite warmed up. I finally decided that I needed to be done with my walk and made my swing towards our local Whole Foods grocery store. Going to the store gives my lungs a chance to rest since wandering around a store takes much less energy than even a mild walk, and I can pick up lunch or whatever else I need for the day.
Normally after my stop at the store my lungs are pretty happy. Even if they were still achy when I got to the store, the rest helps them mellow enough to make the walk home easily. Not this day. The walk home was more of the same, thick lungs and slow going. I did make it home, tired but invigorated even with the ache in my chest. It’s this feeling after the walk that makes it worth the effort, and part of why I keep making myself get out of the house and walk.
Next up was more med (well one med and a bunch of supplements), resting and catching up with the rest of the world – hello internet! I got to chat with some friends on line, read some news, and help my youngest son with a last minute clothing crisis before his presentation at school.
Oh, right, school. So the youngest son does these presentations four times a year, a requirement of his particular high school. I can’t attend any of them. All of them are held on campus in a large room with his whole class, his teachers, and a whole lot of parents. This means at minimum 20- 30 chemical fragrances on the people in addition to the cleaning, office and school supplies for the school. Even if no one is wearing cologne or perfume, I would still be in trouble. I did try going to the school the first day my son started freshman year. I managed twenty minutes with two doses of antihistamine and I was sick for days afterward. The administrators and teachers have been wonderful in helping us find work-a-rounds ever since. Now the school sends the yearly registration packet home with my son for me to fill out because they know about my illness. I fill everything in and my son returns things to the school. His teachers and I communicate a great deal through email and phone, and my husband covers all the in person meetings. What this does not change however, is the fact that I have never seen, and am unlikely to ever see, my son’s presentations. I will also not be able to attend my youngest son’s graduation. Having had to miss my eldest son’s graduation from High School two years ago, I already know how emotionally hard that will be for me. My kids are amazing and having been taking all of this in stride. I just have to hope that they continue to be strong. Thankfully they have lots of help and lots of extended family to fill in the gaps.
On this particular day, instead of going to the presentation, I dealt with a getting a chest x-ray done at the request of my allergist. Since a. it was a lovely day, b. the place was not far from my house, and c. there was a safe route I could take off the main drag, I walked. A second walk in one day should make my cluster of doctors happy, and it certainly felt lovely to be out moving my body and feeling the sun on my face again. My lungs were better than in the morning, so that was nice.
At the imaging center there were no obvious scents. This is one nice thing that has been happening with a lot of doctor’s offices of late, there are lots of signs asking people to refrain from wearing perfumes and scented products. It does help. Of course with MCS this only addresses the tip of the iceberg. By the time I was called to get my x-ray the tiny room was filled, which meant there were seven people with me on the patient’s side of the room and two people on the staff side. I had a headache and was coughing after only fifteen minutes in the room.
The x-ray itself was a piece of cake, though I was glad I got to keep my mask on, as the chin plate had been wiped down with alcohol, which while not one of my triggers generally, is a strong enough chemical that on top of the other things my body was already dealing with, that it was not a great thing to add to the mix.
Leaving the x-ray room I had to walk past a cloud of perfume. I have no idea who it was attached to, only that it kicked my headache and cough up another level.
Outside the building, just past the state mandated “no smoking” zone, was a guy smoking. He was of course right in the path of where I had to walk to get to my safe route home.
The walk home was uneventful in the sense that nothing else happened, but my chest ached the whole way and my head refused to stop hurting. I also needed a nap so bad I could taste it. Now imagine if I hadn’t been wearing my mask this whole time…
One of the things I always find odd is how the symptoms of an MCS exposure event / attack / episode – there isn’t any ideal language around this – creeps up on me. I can feel the cough and the headache but think that’s all there will be. I have lost track of the number of times I have assumed that I had “missed” a full on attack, only to get smacked upside the head by the rest of the symptoms half an hour later. And sure enough this day was like the rest in this way. More symptoms kicked in a short time later. Along with the need for a nap, which always shows up as a bone deep exhaustion, comes the “brain fog” – this blurring of cognition and mental capacity. I start to lose access to words. Its not that I cant speak, I can, it just becomes slower, the connections are harder to make – like when you have a thought on the tip of your tongue but you cant quite get it to form and come out through your mouth. I know I have a thought, the answer to a question, a person’s name or whatever, but it takes so much longer to make all the bits work together to relay the information. It gets very frustrating. Of course since I’m also so damn tired, it becomes nearly impossible to care because all I want to do is sleep until I don’t hurt and can think again.
The hurting comes from the headache and the ache in my lungs, but also from the pain in my joints that now get into the act. It seems almost as though the toxins I have been exposed to are pooling in my knees and my elbows, and any other point of connection between bones and ligaments in my body. My joints feel tender and bloated and just plain awful. There’s also this taste on the tip of my tongue or at the back of my throat – a metallic-y, chemically, tang that tastes like nothing I’ve had to eat or drink recently. At this point, if I haven’t figured it out already, there is no way to miss that I have been exposed to enough chemicals that I am in full on exposure mode. At this point I know I need to take medication (antihistamine to start – the epi pen is on stand by if that and the rest are not enough), drink a whole lot of water, down some activated charcoal and 1000 mgs of vitamin C, and stop fighting the need for sleep.
Post exposure naps can last between two and three hours. After the nap I almost always need to eat and have both more water and more charcoal and vitamin C. If the exposure was mild, like with the imaging center, then that should be all I have to deal with for the day.
The nap, or the meds, or the exposure itself adds something to the way my sleep cycle is out of whack, so it’s a good bet I’ll be up until way past 2 am with my brain making up for all the time it lost time during the day. If the exposure was worse than that, then I will be on the couch for the next several days recovering. Recovery days are a lot like most other people’s days at the end of a case of the flue, one the first day you feel like a wrung out dish rag that can only hit buttons on the remote control, eat chicken soup, drink fluids, take meds and nap. By day two you feel “almost” well enough to get into trouble if you are not careful, that whole cabin fever feeling where you are tired of being sick, but not quite well enough to do anything. I say two days, because of late that’s been the most common length of my recovery time, but it has been everything from two days to four weeks depending on the degree of the exposure.
Granted I don’t have to get an x-ray done every day. But I do have groceries to get, laundry to do, and other peoples weed whacking to avoid. I have learned the hard way that I cannot ride mass transit, fill my own car with gas, go to the movies or see a play, go to a museum, take my kids to buy clothes or shoes, go out to dinner with my husband, or attend a public ritual. In short, I live life inside a bubble, relatively safe because I don’t do the things that I used to be able to do, things that I enjoyed and that we all, myself included take for granted on a daily basis. I have had to transform how I live my life in order to live my life. Now a date with my husband is a walk in the woods or a drive in my car with its air purifier, shopping for clothes is all done over the internet, and my housemates gas my car for me. I am happy to say I have finally seen a play again for the first time in four years because I have wonderful friends at a local theater company and they got me into a dress-tech rehearsal. It was Amazing!
Not all of the changes in my life are terrible, in fact some of the changes in my life are lovely. I have an amazing garden, do lots of on line shopping, and my friends tend to come to my house when I need or want company. What is difficult in all of this is having the choice of what to do or not do taken away from me. It would feel so different to say “I choose not to go to the movies” or “I choose not to go to the mall”, but when that choice was taken away from me with this illness, it shifted a million things in my life, my head and my heart.
Never once did I think while growing up that I would have this illness or be struggling with the fact that I am disabled, but then nothing about my adult life is exactly what I expected. I never saw the Pagan thing coming, or the work as a ritualist or doll maker, and I always assumed I would give birth to my children, not acquire them with my marriage. There are plenty of bad days when I fall into despair and grieve for what I have lost, but there are so many more days now when I can appreciate what I have right now.
“Dreamweaver” by Brian Froud
I’ve been thinking about dreaming and dreams a lot lately. In particular I’ve been trying to sort out what the heck my dreams are on the other side of life with MCS.
I used to be the kid who dreamed all the time. And by dreaming I mean DREAMING in big Broadway lights with glitter and follow-spots. There were Tonys and Oscars, huge houses, dress and shoes and horses, unicorns and fairies – you name it, I dreamed it. I even dreamed a few normal things like being a Marine Biologist or a Veterinarian, and I even went through the doctor-president-empress of the universe phase. But mostly my dreams, like my life, stayed rooted in the arts and entertainment world.
As I grew into my spirituality, that passion for entertaining blended with my love of ritual and lead to the creation of Magical Acts Ritual Theater. For eight years I spearheaded a crazy band of volunteers in exploring the line between ritual and theater. It was amazing, insane, back- and heart-breaking work, but it was wonderful. I stepped down as the companies Artistic Director at the end of 2002, just in time to rest up to get sick. There was some odd hand of fate in that I’m certain… I’m just not sure where or why.
After I got sick and then got diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity I shut down pretty much everything in my life that wasn’t about healing. The dolls came out of my need to focus the residual creative energy somewhere and because really they were a heck of a lot of fun. But over the course of the next few years I closed off more and more of myself as the grind of chronic illness ate away at my heart until one day I realized that I had stopped dreaming.
Both realizing that I had stopped dreaming and finding my way back to dreaming came about through the gift of a smile and the infectious enthusiasm of a guiding spirit who wandered into my life just at the right time. With that spirit’s smile egging me on, I found a way to challenge my own assumptions that MCS had to own my life and dictate what I could and could not do from here on in. I took a chance and whispered a dream to the Universe.
Of course, in true Aries fasion I figured that would be it. Dream stated, I’m done. All I need was to do the work and I’d good. What the heck was I thinking? NOTHING in my life is ever that simple. For one thing my dream was a little too specific and needed reformatting. So for the last six months or more I have been wandering around with this thought bubble over my head with this jumble of notes about dreaming. And in the meantime, life happens.
Today though, I think I have a clue, or at least a better clue of what I want. Something broader, more “meta” if you will, that allows for more of who I am to come through. It’s incredibly simple really- I want to get the stories out of my head.
So what the heck does that mean? It means telling stories however they show up, as novels, short stories, rituals, stageplays, screenplays, and yes even dolls, because I realized today that the dolls I create are a form of story telling. Each doll tells one part of the story of the Deity/power they are embodying, one part of their myth, one part of their life; they are a story in three dimensions.
Some parts of this dream are going to be easier to do with MCS in my life than others, and that’s where dreaming is going to have to become faith. For each modality there is a point when I will have to step out of my safe haven and risk getting sick out in the world and/or find ways to work with and around my disability to get the job done and stay safe. The stepping outside of my box scares me silly. It is so easy for me to get sick in the world outside my air purified and non-toxic home, there are so many chemicals out there that I can’t see or smell that will knock me on my ass without warning. And yet, staying hidden in my house isn’t the answer either. Like I’m always telling my kids, there has to be a balance. So part of my dream is to find a safe balance between the haven I have created at home the toxicity of the world beyond my doorstep.
I am learning that dreams may present me with new challenges, but that they are only impossible challenges if I let them be impossible. MCS can only run my life if I let it run my life. I have to respect the limits it places on my health and well being, but within those limits, I intend to find the room to fly as high as I possibly can.
California Redwoods, Muir Woods National Monument
I had a lovely walk on one of my favorite hiking trails yesterday. Its up in the Oakland hills and winds through a mixed forest of redwood, oak, and laurel trees. In places the trail is cool and dark with the scent of moist earth, and in others its open to the sun, warm and smelling of copal and dry grass. As you walk you meet other hikers, some human, some canine, step out of the way of bicyclists and the occasional horse back rider. You also get to see the local wild life. The trail is right in the heart of Oakland, so we don’t, as far as I have ever heard, have the problems with Cougars getting scared by humans on their turf, but we do get to see lizards baking in the sun, loads of dragon flies, ravens hawks, vultures and more small birds than I know the names of. You also get to see my favorite invertebrate of them all – the Banana Slug!
Why the Banana Slug? I’m so glad you asked
Ariolimax californicus ?
Way back in the mists of time, I had the opportunity to spend my junior year of College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It was an amazing year filled with great change, monstrous heartache and huge emotional growth. It also introduced me to the wonders of the Redwood Forest, fog banks that take over whole mountain sides (I kid you not! My landlady once spent five minutes honking her horn at me while I watched a wall of fog eat the upper half of campus!) And of course, I got to learn about the UCSC mascot, the Banana Slug.
The school used to have the Sea Lion as their mascot, but that all changed when the administration miscalculated the popularity of the Banana Slug. The story, as I was told, is that because the campus sits on a protected redwood forest, the natural habitat of the Banana Slug, the things were all over the place, and so people had been joking that the Banana Slug was the true mascot of the school. Well apparently one day the administration got it in to their heads to humor the student body with a joke poll about which animal should be the mascot, the Sea Lion or the Banana Slug. (Did they not realize who their student body was???) When the dust settled UCSC had a slimy pal for a mascot – the Banana Slug had won.
Now the odd thing about all this is, I never saw a Banana Slug in the whole year I was at UCSC. It wasn’t until I moved to the Bay Area five years later that I saw my first one, in the hands of one of the docents at Muir Woods. Since then I have seen, and handled six or seven of them around the area, I just adore them. They are slimy and cold and funny looking and … I have no idea why I like them, but I do!
Me and a friend in Muir Woods a few years back.
Photo by Jamie Morgan
There are three types of Banana Slugs, the Pacific (Ariolimax columbianus), California (Ariolimax californicus), and the Slender (Ariolimax dolichophallus). All three are native to the moist coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest and can be found from lower Alaska to just south of Santa Cruz, CA. Their name comes from their tendency to appear bright banana yellow, though they can be olive green, black, or white.
A Slender BS I photographed in Muir Woods
I know I have seen the Pacific and the Slender ones along my favorite trail in the Oakland Hills. Those two are the easiest to pick out as the Pacific has black spots along its top side/back and the Slender is exactly as it sounds. From what I have seen around the web, the California maybe the most yellow of the three, but I haven’t been able to confirm theory. Certainly there are many very yellow, wide, spotless Ariolimax labeled califonicus all over the web, so one can hope. I have yet to see any of these in person, more’s the pity!
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Biogeography of the Banana Slug
by Jasmine Morrow, student in Geography 316, Fall 2000
San Francisco State University
Banana Slug Sightings in the Forest of Big Basin State Park
Text by J. Zimmerman, Ph.D.
All photos (c) 2002-2010 Scott Peden, Photographer and Docent at Big Basin State Park, local plant expert and nature guide
How the Banana Slug became UCSC’s official mascot
(aka their version of the story!)