(Or: All the Lovely Twists My Brain Likes to Try to Do)
Here we are, two weeks into my year of Writing The Things. I have a good, tenable plan for getting the trilogy written, getting Poseidon: A Narrative edited, and producing more material for the Story Subscription Project on top of that. It’s not even a super-busy pace — I’m basically giving myself two months to produce 50k-ish worth of material. I’ve freed myself from my (mental, personal) obligations to produce non-fiction, so it’s not like I’ve actually decided I have to write a lot more this year than I did last year. No, I’m just approaching deadlines with more than ‘hope strategy’, and I’m being ruthlessly honest with myself. Do I want to write fiction, or do I want to write non-fiction? Do I want to get these stories out, or is it more important to me to blog about religious topics and the experiences that I have as a polytheist living my life with Poseidon and Odin? While I’m being ruthlessly honest with myself, when I sit and pay attention to where my heart is, where my passion is, and what my history with Poseidon has been, I can only say: fiction. The stories. Oh, the the stories. There is a pull, a desire, to write about the non-fiction stuff too — I want to share parts of myself with the community at large, not because I think I’m anything special, but because I want there to be material out there about living life with Poseidon. Granted, this is about me living my life with Him, and what that looks like, and as such it is not instruction but, well? It’s a bit putting forth into the world that which I want to encourage people to also put forth. Both loving adoration for this wonderful, compassionate, generous god, but also, a sharing of self, and yeah, that’s greediness on my part. I love reading about other peoples’ experiences and I want to encourage the sharing. But, if I’m weighing the scales between the desire to write non-fiction, to share about my spiritual path, to share about my worship of Poseidon, about the festivals and rituals I hold in His honor, about the work that I do with Him, etc., and the desire to write the stories that come my way? It’s not even a contest. Fiction wins, hands down.
This makes me feel like a hack. Not a hack writer, but a hack spiritual person. A hack of a devotee. A hack of a polytheist. Shouldn’t I be burning for my gods? Shouldn’t I want to talk about little else? Surely, surely at the least my fiction should be about the gods, right? While I do consider my fiction to often be inspirational stories and religious fiction, I can’t get away from the fact that for most people reading them they won’t be. I don’t often write about my own personal gods. A lot of what I write is first contact stories, initiation into the mystical stories, contact between humans and not human beings. I’ve written Odin as a main character (or rather the main catalyst) a time or two, and Poseidon is central in Poseidon: a Narrative. The latter is my most straight-up religious fiction/myth sharing work to date. Even in Treasures from the Deep, Poseidon is barely a hands-on, active character. He is in some of the stories, but not nearly as often as He should be for a story collection written for Him.
If I make the argument that fiction writing is a large part of my calling (and I do!), considering that another huge part of my calling is to bring my gods more into the world, and my fictional stories do not center around Them . . . doesn’t that make me a hack? At the least, does that not mean that I’m not using my skills, talents, abilities, and love for my gods to the best combination of them? What the hell am I doing writing fantasy that often does nothing more than brush upon the gods, and often times doesn’t mention them at all? If this is going to be a huge part of my spirit work — if this is going to be really the only bit of spirit work that I do (and is it even spirit work?) that even touches the human realm, should I not being doing it differently/better/with more focus/more mindfully?
Spirit work need not center around humans at all. That’s not exactly a revelation, but it is a reminder I need, a lot. I’m contemplating the idea of giving over the ‘anti-social’ label, because I don’t think I am. But I am an introvert, and I am not cut out for the work I do centering around humanity. The healing work that is a huge part of the Work that I do (I could argue, is the totality of The Work that I do) touches upon humanity in that part of the work focuses on the dying and the recently dead. I don’t specifically focus just on humans, but they’re part of the mortal process that we go through, and so I don’t exclude them, either. The writing, though — is that spirit work? It’s certainly a devotional activity for me, but does a spiritual activity necessarily become spirit work? In my mind, for this? In that it provides a service to some spirit or another in a way keeping with how they’ve made it clear they wish to be served? Emphatically yes. The stories come, and those who bring them are as real to me as my gods are. I’ve surrendered the need to understand how that works. I don’t need to know how Thistle is as real as Poseidon is, or how Drake and his creation story of the world has as much merit as Odin’s hand in shaping the cosmos — they don’t all stay in my life beyond the telling, and I don’t expect I get them 100% accurately. I don’t control them, and our paths join for their chance to share their tales, or a version of their tales, and for me to get the gist of it down.
The other part of it being spirit work for me is: it is one of the tools I have that allows my awareness of the worlds and of the mysteries around me to remain open, strong, and healthy. When I don’t write, when I don’t honor the tales as they come to me and share them, I feel stunted. I feel hobbled. I feel constrained. Beth can tell you, I get bitchy, short-tempered, impatient. I get snappy. It’s not a good situation.
It is not a surprise to me that, as I’m really getting into the trio, and as my goals for the coming year seem doable, that my brain would decide to pull out all the stops and try to tangle me up with doubts. It can’t make me doubt myself as a writer, not after all this time. No, it has to get clever, and so it insinuates. “You can’t really be what you are and do this thing you are called to do . . . you can’t do that and truly live authentically. You are obviously trying to have all the things you want. You are truly trying to not commit to any one way of being. You can’t have two callings, you can only have the one. You can either be a writer or you can be a modern day mystic, a modern day contemplative focusing on a religious life. You can’t do both.”
To which I can only say: fuck you, brain. Fuck you.
My calling is my own. My calling is a marriage of my heart, my soul, and my gods. Writing was the way I survived, the only emotional outlet I had for a significant time. It was the only tool in my toolbox before Poseidon got His hands on me. No way would He then say, “Enough with that. No more.” He tells me, time and again, that He found me not because of the potential for who I could be (though there is always an eye towards that, too) but because of who I already was. He wanted (and wants) to see what i’ll become, but that’s with bringing who I already am along with me, not completely changing myself. It’s clearing away that which does not serve, is not truly mine. It’s living intentionally, living mindfully, living deliberately. It’s not living a lie, and if I dismiss any part of this calling, I would be doing just that.
Knowing all this does not keep me free from my doubts. Three days ago, after having a great writing weekend and feeling good about my new plotting approach, I was walking to work. It crossed my mind that while I carry my prayer beads with me, I rarely take them out to use these days. It occurred to me that, while November was awesome in both writing and in bringing Poseidon into my writing practice, since then I had both dropped my morning offerings and I had ceased making Him a part of my story plotting/bouncing. (“You helped me so much and gave me this awesome story that I cannot wait to release. In my undying gratitude I will thank You by taking away Your tea and shutting You out of the process entirely!”) Did that cause me to stop, realize that I had to change that, and continue on? No, of course not. It caused me to stop and begin doubting whether I should even be focusing on the fiction at all. Which at this point, knowing what I know of myself, of my calling, of Poseidon’s support and desires for me, is absurd.
And then? Then I stumbled across a quote from C.S. McCath. C.S. McCath’s fiction is one of my favorite discoveries of 2013. She’s been published in a number of places from The Shining Cities to A is for Apocalypse to Scheherazade’s Facade and her poetry and fiction are absolutely delicious. (She was also kind enough to participate in my Celebrating Pagan Fiction series a while back, go check that out if you haven’t). In the thick of my mind flailing, she posted to her FaceBook wall, “I’m learning that I speak truths in my fiction and poetry that I can’t approach without it. Perhaps I tell stories to myself for the same reasons I tell them to others. So many things are said and received best when they’re woven into the fabric of a tale.”
The collapse of the mental tower of confusion, despair, and indecision was thorough and immediate. She’s talking about her own self, her own understanding of why she writes fiction and poetry — it’s got nothing at all to do with me and my brain weasels, and yet. Yet. The timing was perfect, the power of the truth in those words, the distillation of the calling, the need to fulfill it, the passion fueling it, and the lack of room for smooth, crafty lies the brain wishes to press regarding self-worth, authenticity, and pointlessness — all this came together in the face of that utterance, and I found I could breathe easy again.
It’s silly. This long down this road, that the doubts could even arise. Surely they are tired of being flogged. Surely they are weary of their rejection. I’m sure they’ll try to rise up again. I’m grateful I have that quote in my arsenal now.