How to Focus: Burn Like a Fire in the Pit of Your Chest
Lover, tell me if you can/ Who’s gonna buy the wedding bands/ Times being what they are/ hard and getting harder all the time. . .
I. Christmas Prepping: Like Apocolypse Prep but Way Less Fun
I can never sleep this close to the Solstice. I try to console myself — with food, with intoxicants, with television. My house is a mess, the boughs that I have in mason jars are dying and my house is undecorated. My relationship with my sister has become contentious at best again, everything I do is wrong there. I’m torn between wanting to shake her until her head falls off and a deep unabiding sadness for how far apart we’ve gotten even though we’re less than a mile away from each other. My Spare Oom could make an appearance on Hoarders as is, filled with Christmas presents, overflowing with crafting supplies and papers. While the days grow longer, the real heart of the darkness of winter has just started in New Jersey. There are closets to reorganize, presents to make, three days straight of nearly 24/7 family obligations to get through, a manuscript to organize, correspondence to write, yarn to spin, tiny batches of merino to dye, Nuno scarves to make, a Green Room to help run. I’ve paid for Christmas in cash, I need to be able to do the same for Arisia next month for me to go. Can I afford to go anywhere for New Year’s Eve? Will it be another depressing NYE at home? I never go anywhere anymore. Not to Carnegie with the promise of a free extra ticket, not to the Solstice party at Kit and Rat’s, not to any Solstice at all. I told myself that Christmas would be the end of the hellish year of Do All the Things but I still have Arisia to get through. New Year’s. My birthday. When will it be enough? When will I succeed? When will I have a nice soft place to land?
I don’t know.
Some birds sing when the sun shines bright/ My praise is not for them/ But the one who sings in the dead of night/ I raise my cup to him
II. Tiny Life Coach?
Little O. is one of my nanny charges. When it’s his turn to pick the song on the radio, he has the widest musical palette of any little kid I know. Country, thumping dance music, Bauhaus, he’ll ask to stop on stations playing it all and carefully listen while asking me questions about it. He’ll swing on his tire swing wearing shorts, Crocs, gloves, a padded parka and a ski mask with devil horns because it’s what he feels like doing. He surpassed his older brother in karate temporarily and works on becoming as dedicated as the little girl who rivals him in sparring matches. When permitted, he likes to pee outside in the bushes. He had his nails painted blue and nonchalantly wore them to school without giving it a second thought. He can learn how to beat a video game level just by watching a tutorial on my phone. When I first started working with him, it had been a while since I had charges that could speak back to me in full sentences. Trying to figure out how to make conversation with a kindergartener, I looked down on his shoes and saw The Justice League on them. I brightened, because I can talk comics fairly articulately. ”My husband likes Batman too!” I exclaimed. O. looked me dead in the eye and said resolutely, “No one can like Batman more than me.” I couldn’t argue, he was so firm in his statement, even if logic said otherwise. O. has zero fucks to give.
Go ahead and lay the blame/ talk of virtue, talk of sin/ Wouldn’t you have done the same?/ In her shoes, in her skin/ you can have your principles whence you’ve got a bellyful/ but hunger has a way with you/ There’s no telling what you’re gonna do/ When the chips are down
III. An Open Letter From My Muse to Me
You run in your sleep, just like a dog. When did I promise you that this would be easy? Wasn’t one of the first things that I told you was that I will run you to the ground? Until your flesh has been rendered from your bones, until I had rid you of all your messy human hang ups and laziness? I will drive you until you are laid bare. I will drive you until you have nothing left and drive you further. I will force you to see what you’re capable of. I will starve you – of love, routine, stability, calm, your old vices, your old virtues. I will take everything you have and then take more. Your bones would be my canvas frame, I will weave your sinews, I will pour what runs your blood, I will spin flax into your new hair, I will carve your new eyes. You’re still just a work in progress, still learning how to use this new body I’m making you. I’m still pulling the marrow from you, forcing you to still be hollow with hunger. Hollow with desperate desires. You need to be this way, you need to be starving to focus. You will be my creation. Then and only then will you see what I’ve made you into and what you’re capable of. Not yet. But soon. Sooner than you think, dear one.
Winter’s nigh and summer’s o’ver/ I hear that high and lonesome sound/ Of my husband coming for me/ To bring me home to Hadestown/ Way down Hadestown/ Way down under the ground
IV. Our Lady of the Underground, Our Lady of Ways, Our Lady of Means, Our Lady of the Upside Down*
It was the best party of the year. Everyone knew it, including my mother, which was precisely why she always told me I wasn’t allowed to go. If I didn’t go, those bitchy river nymphs would think they were better than me and they’re totally not because I’m a goddess and they’re . . .demi-goddesses at best.
I was not about to let that happen.
You know, I never really believed in all that destiny crap the Fate sisters rambled on about whenever my mom made me card yarn for them. But after that night I did. I shimmied down the drainpipe after I heard my mom fall asleep to the television. Felt kinda bad just like I always did. Okay, a lot bad and a lot guilty. But really, I’m a woman now and I make my own money. I paint daisies all damn day and follow my mother like an obedient puppy and keep my room just the way she wants (which, by the way, is still pink with a white canopy bed with all my dolls). If I didn’t get an outlet, I would probably kill someone. Sneaking out was really for the good of everyone else.
I was wearing my hottest party outfit – white tube top so you could see where my tummy was pierced (another thing my mom does not know about), a white pleated mini, white kitten heeled sandals, and my hair up in pigtails. I stuck my lollipop in my mouth, rolled my mom’s white Mustang convertible down our driveway and started the engine at the end of the block.
When I got to the party I saw it was going to be lame from the gate. First person I see by the keg? Ugh, my satyr exboyfriend. Who grabbed my ass. Grabbed my ass like we were still together which we are not. Great. I slammed down my first cup of lukewarm beer and went to go check out the rest of the scene.
It was a beautiful night out, the sky was that clear clear blue with all the stars out and the full moon . . .it was the kind of night the bards were always yowling about. The party was always held in the meadow, rainy or otherwise. I walked past the nymphs doing body shots and past the centaurs playing beer pong (I was never allowed to play against them because I always beat them and then they got pouty and then they got mad, blah blah blah bork). God. I can’t believe I risked mymom flipping her shit on me over this. I slammed down my second glass of beer when something caught my eye.
Ooooh, there were those daisies I forgot to paint last week. Crap. If Mom finds out, she’ll kill me and lecture me while she’s doing it. Well, only one way to fix that– get rid of the evidence. I grabbed my third cup of beer and hustled my ass over there. I started picking them and making a daisy chain when I heard the purr of a good motorcycle. I turned around and– hello. Mmm! The night was getting better already. I didn’t recognize him at all (even better since everyone knows everyone and is in everyone’s business around here). He was tall and muscular with those deep deep brown eyes and looooooong black hair tied back. Black leather pants so you could see what was going on, black motorcycle jacket and white wife beater. Mmm mmm mmm! I slung my daisy chain low around my hips, popped my lollipop back in my mouth, caught his eye and gave him a slow smile. I walked towards him and I felt like for the first time in my life like I couldn’t breathe. I thought that was more bard shit, but here and now I felt like all I wanted was to look at him and have him look at me forever. For real.
”Hi,” I said, giving him my sex kitten grin.
”Does your mother know you’re missing?” he said, low in my ear, sending shivers down my neck.
I rolled my eyes. “Did she send you?”
”No. We hardly know each other. But everyone knows how well she guards her daughter.”
”Well, you got to see me. Lucky you,” I said, popping my lollipop back in my mouth and turning to go to my car to go home. I don’t know why I try. It’s not that I want to upset my mother, I don’t. I love her. But with that love is the guilt and resentment that almost everyone mother and daughter relationship seems to have. I just . . .want something that’s mine sometimes.
He gently put his hand on my arm. I shivered, but it was that good shiver.
“I didn’t look for you to talk about your mother,” he said.
“Then what would you want with me? I can grant you no favors I’m barely a goddess. I’d be a nymph if it wasn’t for my mother.”
“I wanted to see if it was true,” he said.
“If what was true?” If that skank Urinia was spreading rumors about me again, I’d–
“That you were the most beautiful girl around. And charming. And—“ he paused.
“And what?” I said.
”Hardcore,” he said, grinning at me. Oh my heart, my heart, my heart . . .
“I didn’t think people thought I was hardcore,” I said.
“Well. I said that,” he said. I turned around so he couldn’t see me turn red. I walked towards the dance floor, slow so he could get a good look at me. When I got there, the dance floor was on fire (but only around the perimeter). I saw Euterpe on the platform shakin’ her ass in her little black dress and caught her eye. I glanced over to Mystery Boy and back at her and mouthed, “Dibs!” She rolled her eyes but beckoned me up there. Usually I’m not one for public displays, myself. But. This was a special occasion after all. I let her pull me up by her and we did what we do best– we put on a show. We’re close, you know.
I wanted to give this Mystery Boy a chance to dance with me, so I got back on the dance floor and I felt his hands at my hips. He started kissing my neck and I started feeling a swoon coming on. I smacked his hands hard and stepped away.
“Behave,” I said, but I couldn’t help but smile.
“I don’t. Behave.”
“For me, you would.”
“I never say never to anything. Do you want to go for a ride?”
“That depends,” I purred and hopped on the back of his Harley, “Where are you taking me? And do I get to know your name?”
“Don’t you know where I live?”
“Does it matter?”
“It seems to matter for a lot of people,” he said and had those soft puppydog eyes I always fall for. My heart was butter in the sun.
“It doesn’t to me,” I said softly.
So, you know the rest. Mom flips her shit and there’s a power struggle between her and the boys to get me back. There’s enough drama for a telenovela. Words are said, pomegranates are eaten, vows made, there’s swooning and crying and carrying on.
But somehow when the story is told, I’m always relegated to the silent, hand wringing princess, waiting for my mother and husband to tell me what would become of me. I don’t know about you, but that’s not my style. That’s one thing both of them can agree on.
You’re on the lam, you’re on the run/ Don’t give your name, you don’t have one/ And don’t look no one in the eye/ That town will try to suck you dry/ They’ll suck your brain, they’ll suck your breath/ They’ll p-luck the heart right out of your chest/ They’ll truss you up in your Sunday best/ And stuff your mouth with cotton/ Wait for me, I’m coming/ Wait, I’m coming with you/ Wait for me, I’m coming too/ I’m coming to.
We’re all in the belly of the beast right now at the end of 2012. I think most of us had hoped that a year of determination would make our paths clear for 2013. Maybe for some The World card has been drawn and all is clear now and it’s just a matter of putting your shoulder to the wheel and pushing out your sticky baby that’s already crowned. If that’s you, you can’t stop now no matter how much you may want to. No one can walk around with a baby half birthed. Giving up isn’t an option anymore, you need to see the birth through.
For those who are like me, in your perpetual fourth month of pregnancy where giving up frankly still is an option and you feel miserable and unsure about your new future and “motherhood” is a murky future where the cards aren’t even worth drawing because it’s all Wheel of Fortune anyway. It’s hard to keep the steel in your shoulder, the glimmer of determination in your eyes and a battle cry in your throat. This isn’t The Hunger Games where you know you’ll win or die within three weeks no matter what. It’s easy to get distracted by The Intertubes, television, shopping, petty daily dramas, your day job and everything else that goes with being a human living in the First World. It’s what the real Big Brother wants for you – to be distracted, to not be engaged in your passions, your dreams, your aspirations. These distractions keep you from being in touch with your art, your vision and your star player. Are you going to whine about the same petty excuses you always whine about when making your art a reality gets hard or are you going to keep pushing?
Wherever he is wandering/ Alone upon the earth/ Let all our singing follow him/ And bring him comfort/ Some flowers bloom when the green grass grows/ My praise is not for them/ But the one who blooms in the bitter snow/ I raise my cup to him/ I raise my cup and drink it up/ I raise it high and drink it dry/ To Orpheus and all of us/ Good night, brothers, goodnight . . .
VI. Raise It Up
You’re tired, you’re scared, you’re starving in some way or another. So what? Are you going to look behind you and become food for the maenads? Is that how you want to go out or do you want to take the whole world down with you? When you take your whole world down with you, you’re given a chance to challenge your life’s order and raise up a new life of beauty, love, truth and art. Fuck your heart and what it tells you. Fuck your brain and what it tells you. Fuck your gut and what it tells you. What does your Muse tell you?
The real heart of the darkness of winter has started, where is your focus?
Have zero fucks to give.
You need to be starving to focus.
I was not about to let that happen.
Are you going to whine about the same petty excuses you always whine about when making your art a reality gets hard or are you going to keep pushing?
When you take your whole world down with you, you’re given a chance to challenge your life’s order and raise up a new path of beauty, love, truth and art.
* Author’s Note: Being older and perhaps a tiny teeny bit wiser now than when I wrote this short story in the full flush of my maidenhood in 2o03, the way I personally see Persephone now is closer to her appearance in this entry – conflicted by her love for her husband and mother, never able to feel completely at home in the underworld or the world above, always missing half her life. But while I thought about writing a new piece that was more reflective of that, it felt really important to share the lens that I saw the world (and my personal mythos) through almost ten years ago. I went to my own underworld to find it – Diaryland, Livejournal, my Yahoo! email account before I was able to locate it.
P.S. Usually I don’t give info on the lyrics for these posts because I feel like if you’re inspired, you can simply Google them. But this particular week is from the folk opera Hadestown which is the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice retold in The Depression Era made by a bunch of people I admire. You should check it out, it’s free on Spotify.
About the author
Deborah Castellano is a frequent contributor to Occult/Pagan sources such as Witchvox, PaganSquare and Witches & Pagans magazine. She writes about Charms, Hexes, Weeknight Dinner Recipes, Glamoury and Unsolicited Opinions on Morals and Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Deborah's book, The Arte of Glamour is available for purchase on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Her craft shop, La Sirene et Le Corbeau specializes in handspun yarn and other goodies. Her Craft shop, The Glamoury Apothecary specializes in handcrafted items for your magical/occult practice. In previous lives, Deborah spent seven years as an Executive Assistant and founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV. She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters. Deborah is a social media dork and can be found wasting far too much time on Ravelry, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram and Tumblr.