Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Turning Points: All In

To make sense of this, you need to first read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Everything fell apart.

My prayer for humility may have been impromptu, undignified, and not internally consistent, but it was plenty efficacious. Within weeks, I lost my apartment and job. By the end of the summer, having nothing left to keep me in Denver, I pointed my van/home at San Francisco, where I busked for my dinner. Just as I landed a day job selling computer business systems and connected with someone about to record an album, my musical instruments were stolen. The next day, parked in an entirely different location after being repaired, my van was broken into and vandalized by frustrated thieves (there being nothing of value left to steal). Out of options I started the long drive back to my parents home, whereupon my van caught on fire. I arrived at my parents home with not much other than the shirt on my back.

That's the general chronology, anyway. But it isn't the story. It is, however, easier to put into words than the story. The real events happened quietly, mostly alone in the back of an old van. That's where I performed a moral vivisection on the monster in the mirror, digging out and staring down every twisted motive I might find. That's where I practiced what felt at the time like two disparate paths: one the deity-independent discipline of the mind exercises, the other quasi-Christian practices minus the mythology and a deity best described as "to whom it may concern (no one, I suspect)". At times it was deeply contradictory, but that no longer mattered. I was on a mission. The monster must be destroyed, by any means necessary -- or available. Even when, as it often did, it meant running into Dark Thing, with all the consequences that implied.

Then, one rainy night in the back of a van, as I prayed, the thought entered my mind that what I needed to do was call up Dark Thing (yes, I could bring it to me at will, though until that moment of that night it certainly was not what I willed) and send it away. And so I did. It came, but for the first time was not terrifying or disruptive to my thought. I ordered it away. And it left.

It never came back.

It had been standing in front of something. It was light, and sparkled, and in a continuation of my seven year old's nomenclature, I called it "Light Thing". Light Thing was not threatening. In fact, it had a peaceful presence. Given its association with Dark Thing, though, I intended to keep it at a respectful distance. In that direction had been something worse than death, and there was no evidence it wasn't still there.

With Dark Thing gone, vivisecting the monster was no longer agony. It was exhilarating, even as the externals of my life filled up with hunger, cold, and increasing danger. When I think of the year and a half which followed, I don't think first of the times I fainted from hunger. I think of the times I spent quietly unwinding the threads of the monster, and watching a new pattern come into focus, the outlines of a pattern spiraling towards somewhere, something, unknown.

Virtually everywhere I looked I saw this pattern taking shape and converging at some distant point. I found it materializing in my ponderings on ethics, but I also found it in mathematics and music theory. I even found it in a place I hardly expected I'd look: astrology.

Someone who had it with the monthly astrology column in the city feminist paper asked if I would submit an article debunking astrology to the paper. Since I needed to know something about astrology to debunk it, I took out a stack of library books and started reading.

What I found was (unsurprisingly) astrology wasn't a science, but neither was it gibberish. It was a language, rooted in mythological symbolism, that sought to describe something of the transcendent. It was a closer cousin to Church Slavonic, or Sanskrit, or the lingua ignota of Hildegard, than it was to astronomy.

Because my assessment of astrology might be seen (incorrectly) as a blanket endorsement, I'm going to stop the narration here and try to explain a little more about what I think of astrology. If astrology were a medicine it would be classified as an adjunctive-- unhelpful for most people, and generally unnecessary, but for a few patients, something that will make their other treatments more effective.

Astrology is nearly useless, and often counterproductive, when consumed as a product one purchases or otherwise obtains from astrologers. It is most valuable when studied as a discipline, it being one of many tools used from ancient times to help focus the mind upon the patterns of life. It will not tell you your future, but its misuse can get you tangled up in the mental knot of fortune telling. Fortune telling fails because the future is actively created by the entity whose future is being "predicted". It's like staring at the image in a mirror and trying to discern from it when the "image" is going to move. One may occasionally get something that can pass for a successful prediction, but mostly, one sits waiting, in futility, for something to "happen", all the while missing every opportunity to actually do something.

I did a few chart readings for people when I first studied astrology, but I have not done any in a very long time, because self-passivity is not the direction I should be encouraging, even slightly, anyone to go in. Most people, most of the time, would be better off if they stayed away from astrology. It's worth noting that the natal chart reading is a modern innovation, and not a part of traditional astrology.

My "endorsement" of astrology is therefore a highly qualified one, if it is any endorsement at all.

Astrology appealed to the same pattern recognition skills I had used as a young teenager to win chess tournaments. And so I studied, with some conscious irony, in the basement, next to the "This Is What We Think Of You" monument -- a giant glass trophy case, which would not have been out of place outside a coach's office at a major university, which contained every Pee Wee League baseball participation trophy and other barely-award ephemera from my two largely unathletic brothers. It was surrounded by the unprotected fragments, scattered across the basement, of what was left of the chess set and table I had won at the Illinois State Women's Chess Championship when I tied for first place while being the only teen, playing against adults. When I left for college my parents gave it and my other trophies to the youngest kids as toys. That is, except for the team appreciation award I got from the high school, where I lettered twice in chess. That board was taken and used by my father as a surface for cutting and soldering stained glass.

Too many people are alive who don't deserve to he hurt in a public rehashing of events for me to describe my relationship with my family in depth. It's enough to say that it wasn't good. I kept a surreptitious tally that confirmed that they were doing their level best to keep me unemployed while berating me, multiple times a day, for not having a job. I couldn't get a job and get out of their house; I had to get out of their house to get a job.

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