Friday, July 27, 2018

Being the December to a May.

While we're celebrating our anniversary, here is a post from three years ago on what it is to be the older party in a relationship.

"No, no, I still work from home, when I'm able to. He's just started school. Graduate school," I hasten to add. I haven't talked to my grandfather in awhile, so what would be light smalltalk is now invested with deeper meaning. When we ask each other how we are, what we've been up to, and where we're living now, we care about the answers.

He'd probably care to hear more about my significant other, too, but I'm not quite sure how it'd go when I got to the bit about my S.O. and I being nearly a decade apart.

Age gap romances aren't anything new or strange, I know that much on a logical level. It still felt like a pretty huge impediment to us dating in the beginning, though. Regardless of our relative senses of maturity, emotional development, or life experience, that's a chunk of time.
An entire fifth-grader-sized chunk of time.

I kind of hate the term May-December romance, mostly because it conjures up uncomfortable, quasi-exploitative images of an older man with a much younger woman. I care about my S.O. a lot, so the thought of people wondering what we're each "getting out of" dating each other is really, really unpleasant. The idea that people will judge our relationship differently because it's a younger man with an older woman is even worse. (This is probably a Thing for non-het or nonbinary couples, too, but it's also likely to be differently nuanced -- I've only ever dated ladies who were around my age, though, so I don't really have much insight.)

Granted, I'm probably not old enough to qualify as a December, but, if you're only as old as you feel, I should probably have checked into my local coroner's office several years ago.

Ignoring the numbers, it's super easy to see why he and I are together. We don't look hugely different in age; our hobbies align enough to be interesting to each other while still being separate enough to give us plenty to talk about; we're both curious enough to find all kinds of stories, art, music, and other things to share with each other; despite the gap, our upbringings were still similar enough to elicit empathy in each other; and our pet peeves, amount of patience, and levels of understanding mesh well.

We don't have an enormous financial discrepancy, we have nothing to gain from being together outside of just having a really good relationship, and there's not a whole lot we wouldn't do for each other.

Reality isn't that simple. The fact is, I'm still nine years older than he is. I'm still chronically ill with a painful, debilitating illness that places a lot limits on what I can do. I don't want children, and neither does he, but he's young enough that there's still plenty of time for him to change his mind. And, unfair as it might be, most people still just don't look all that favorably on relationships like ours. (These people are jerks, but I digress.)

I've laughed off my share of other people's jokes about it, too. "Three more years, and you'll qualify as a cougar!" "You can't find a good man, so you're gonna raise one!"
An older man with a younger woman is seen as distinguished and successful, someone to be envied... Which totally makes sense when you're looking at a culture that views attractive, nubile young women as Things One Should Aspire to Obtaining, akin to a gold watch or sports car.
An older woman with a younger man is seen as lonely and sex-hungry, someone to be pitied... Which totally makes sense when you're looking at a culture that views older, unmarried women as somehow defective.

My S.O.'s never given me any reason to think of our ages as a problem, he's said and done plenty to reassure me otherwise. I'm always the one secretly wondering if time, illness, or something else outside of our control is going to screw things up. Always. And, always, my reasoning ends up coming back to one question -- even if I knew for a fact that we were going to split up somewhere down the line, would I break things off now?

Nah. Not for anything in the world. Even if it means we're going to get looked at funny in another ten years.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Get (side)real.

It's going to be my birthday soonish. (And I'm going to be older than the rocks ground down to make dirt. Older than dirt's dad.) This, coupled with an incredibly sleepless night the other night sent me back down the rabbithole of sidereal astrology, because I like punishing my brain by force-feeding it information when it refuses to sleep.

I say "back" down because, like a lot of people, I'm mostly familiar with western (read: tropical) astrology. A few years ago, there was a minor kerfluffle about everyone's astrological signs changing because, as it turns out, constellations don't actually stay in the same place very well. So, if you were born in December, Congratulations! You're an Ophiuchus now, and no, don't ask me what that means. I read about sidereal astrology, realized it'd involve more chart-making, and decided I wanted to nap instead.

Only, the thing is, nobody's signs were actually changing. The internet just becomes very silly when it discovers new (to it) information. Tropical astrology, which is mostly a thing in the western world, arose in the Hellenistic period and is based around the vernal equinox. Sidereal astrology, which is more of a thing in India, is based around the actual positions of the stars. Because things in space are notoriously terrible at staying in place, the two systems haven't exactly kept pace with each other over the past couple millennia or so. Go figure.

I don't know very much about astrology, compared to a lot of other people. Though I take the positions of the planets and stars into account when I'm doing spellwork, my actual birth signs don't matter that much to me. I'm interested in them and all, but, on a scale between zero and Buzzfeed Personality Test, it's like a seven most of the time.

Really, most of my interest lies in the fact that astrologers have somehow predicted that I will have brain problems and a stomachache basically always. That is more useful to me than knowing I like neatness and order and should wear a lot of earth tones. But I digress.

All of this is to say that I started reading about sidereal astrology again, which means I made my S.O. learn about it, too. He was not pleased by what he saw as an undesirable "shift" from Aries to Pisces, but I'm pretty stoked.

See, Virgos? They don't really have a great reputation. Pretty much every guide to Virgoan personalities points out that we're nitpicky, over-analytical, judgmental, and, perhaps worst of all, boring... but also level-headed and stable, so we've got that going for us. I've never really felt "at home" in the Virgo idea -- sure, there are some aspects that suit me (I like order, but who doesn't? Like, show me the person who actually prefers to live in chaos and filth) but most of them... Not so much. Even the rest of my chart doesn't really explain away why my sun sign felt like an itchy hand-me-down shirt, and I have less than no interest in most of the things that are supposed to excite Virgo sensibilities.

The sidereal concept of the Leo, though? Much better. Warts and all, even. The Virgo traits I felt within myself are still there, but tempered by Leo traits that match the parts of me that didn't fit the Virgo-sun-Gemini-moon-Gemini-ascendant-plus-assorted-planets I'd been taught about. I like it. It's got a more comfortable energy. A kind of leonine BDE, if you will.

I'd like to learn more (even if it involves more charts). I don't think it'll impact my life any more than tropical astrology did, but I can't help but be interested in where it leads.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Blankets Made of Sand

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and clean up a bit, please enjoy my first panic attack. (I did not.)

I had my first panic attack when I was thirteen.

I was reading in bed (some generic sci-fi story I barely remember now) when I suddenly felt the stifling, oppressive sensation of being unable to breathe. It was like all of the air in the room had been sucked out and replaced with air that felt somehow "used," like I'd never be able to get enough oxygen into myself no matter how many breaths I took.

I tossed my book aside and scrambled out to the living room in terror. Was I suffocating? Why did it feel like I wasn't getting enough air?

I tried to tell my mom, but the words came out in a rush.

"What? An affair? Just sit down." She turned her attention back to what she was doing.

I sat on the couch alone until it passed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this would set the pattern for the rest of my teenage years. ("It's just a panic attack," my mother said, irritated that I was discourteous enough to waste her time with another one, "Just calm down. What are you even scared of? Your liver absorbs adrenaline in under a minute, so there's no reason for it to go on this long.")

I saw my pediatrician weeks later when the attacks continued to happen. He listened to my heart and lungs, said it was probably anxiety, and that was that as far as my mom was concerned. Satisfied with the this answer, everything I felt from then on, no matter how terrifying, was dismissed as being "all in my head."

I almost felt triumphant when I was old enough to handle my own medical care, got a second opinion, and was diagnosed with allergic asthma and a benign arrhythmia. Almost.

It's hard to describe what a panic attack feels like to someone who's never had one, and no two people with panic disorder really seem to experience the same thing. My S.O. has felt anxiety, but it doesn't really compare to the blind, animal panic of an actual attack. It's like being covered in blankets filled with wet sand -- heavy, oppressive, and suffocating -- while you feel absolutely certain that you're about to die. When they're bad enough, they can keep everything from feeling "real" anymore. The world around me takes on a weird, desaturated look, like an old movie projection or an image run through a third-rate Instagram filter.

The best part of it all? It isn't the times when everything seems too large and frightening that cause me to panic, it's the spaces between when I think I have a breather. Even then, it doesn't really take much of anything to bring them on. Stress, hormone fluctuations, indigestion, being just a little too warm, or even just reflecting on something dangerous that I lived through have all triggered a full-blown panic attack for me.

My S.O. tries to understand, and, even if he can't, he asks me what I need. Nothing much, I usually explain. Cold water, an open window, someone with me to rub my back and reassure me that they'll take me to the hospital if I turn out to be wrong about it being "all in my head."

I have to hand it to him, he's gotten pretty good at it.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Questionably Safe Childhood Adventures

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and clean up a bit, please enjoy this story about petrified deskmeat.

I like abandoned buildings.

If you've found this blog through my Instagram, this is probably not surprising-- a bunch of my pictures are of ruins, abandoned things, and haunted spots. (Also, hello!)
Dead buildings and I go way back, though.

For the bulk of my childhood, there was an old Lutheran school behind my house. It was large enough to span several yards, actually, with just a narrow, grassy alley separating our backyard fences from the walls of the school. When I was a kid, it went from being an empty school, to a pretty derelict building, to a community center, to what is now apparently the Mineola Justice Court (note to bandits and stalkers: I don't live there anymore). But I digress.

Because my friends and I were bored and, like, nine years old, we considered it great fun to hop the fences behind our houses and go play in the untouched, rusting playground. What probably looked like a sacrifice-zone-level tetanus vector to an adult looked like a peaceful, almost magical place through my (admittedly dumb, also nine year old) eyes. Everything was in the beginning stages of overgrowth, with vines creeping up the walls and over the left-behind seesaw and picnic table. Even though there was a relatively busy street and a fire station immediately adjacent to the school, no adults ever seemed to notice that we were there. It was a perfect little green alcove (as long as your vaccines were up-to-date).

Eventually, our curiosity began to outgrow the reaches of the little playground. Older kids had smashed some of the windows of the school at one point, and we became bolder in our explorations. We'd climb the rickety, rusted-through staircase up to one of the flat roofs to play, or try to sneak in through one of the thick, standard-issue institutional metal doors when we were lucky enough to find one left open. Nobody was ever actually inside, unless you count the hundred ghosts we invented or the constant, delightfully scary feeling of possibly being caught.

One day (after we'd gotten bored of racing busted office chairs down the hallway), we poked through some of the classrooms. They were littered with desks, some overturned chairs, plaster dust, pigeon droppings-- the kind of things you'd expect to see in a classroom that'd been left to go to seed. Most of them were the same scene of abandonment, acted out in classroom after classroom.

One of them was not.

"... What is that?"

"Iunno," I shrugged as I reached to touch the stone. It was sitting on a desk, next to a cracked plastic lunch tray.

"Don't touch it! You don't even know what it is!"

I was already hefting it in my hand, though. To be fair, I also used to collect cicada shells when I was very wee-- lining them up along the back of my tricycle, leaving their iridescent husks (sometimes half-dead, buzzing in tiny, confused consternation) on the coffee table, stuffing them into my pockets-- so I wasn't particularly worried about whatever the pink rock's weird, gross origins may be.

"It looks like... ham," I said, "Like really, really old, petrified ham."

I learned about petrification courtesy of some fossils my dad had given me. My room boasted a proud collection of slabs of mud with half-excavated fish (patiently picked out with the aid of a dental pick and a soft paintbrush), a handful of trilobites, and the fossilized jaw of some long-dead ungulate. If eons of minerals and water could turn bones and shell into stone, I reasoned, why couldn't an abandoned and probably-haunted school do it to a piece of dried-out deskmeat?

"EEW!" My compatriots shrieked in disgust.
I was secretly glad, because it increased the odds that I'd get to keep the fist-sized chunk of pink stone to myself.

I carried it around the rest of the day, clutched in my hand after unsuccessfully trying to stuff it into one of my pockets. Though it would be a long time before I could positively identify it as a piece of very rough, very opaque rose quartz, I brought the stone with me when I moved to Delaware at eighteen, California at twenty nine, and back to the east coast at thirty one. Even now, it sits on a windowsill in my living room. Sometimes I think about bringing it somewhere, maybe to a geocaching cache site, and leaving it for someone else to find. I'm sure that when I find the right person, I'll pass it along to them.

I... might skip the part about petrified ham, though.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

j. Reads "Organic Body Care Recipes"

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and do a bit of cleaning, please enjoy this review of a book of DIY body care recipes. Also, this post contains affiliate links to books. Thank you for helping to support this site!

This time around, I've delved into Stephanie Tourles' Organic Body Care Recipes: 175 Homemade Herbal Formulas for Glowing Skin & a Vibrant Self. I didn't count up all of the recipes I leafed through, but I'm willing to take her word for it.

This book has a lot of recipes. A lot lot.

Will you be able to use all of them to DIY your beauty routine? Probably not -- with the enormous variety of skin problems and challenges that each person experiences (if you're anything like me, sometimes on the same face), Tourles has had to tailor her skincare recipes for mature skin, normal skin, oily skin, and the like. Erring on the side of caution, she also advises against people with sensitive skin using many of her formulas. Unfortunately, this means that my fellow itchy-faced people might be a little disappointed by how many things are off-limits to them. (Isn't that always the way?)

I liked that the skincare recipes themselves were straightforward, uncomplicated, and easy-to-follow. I also enjoyed the fact that Tourles didn't delve into a lot of woo and "your body will know!"-type language in her formulas. (While I'm as much a witch as anyone, I prefer to look at recipes that have a scientific basis and let my own secret ingredients and personal associations work from there.) Unfortunately, it's hard to give a critique of the end products themselves -- unlike something that's as pass/fail as baking, there's a lot of room for variation in how well a given DIY skincare recipe will work.

If I had to offer a criticism, it's that some of the information was a little thin. Tourles does mention that essential oils are strong and may be contraindicated in people with certain medical conditions, but doesn't really provide any further information. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't much information on the why of each recipe -- aside from brief mentions of papain and bromelain, I didn't really see much about the enzymes, volatiles, or other active components of the ingredients Tourles chose for her recipes. I get that that Tourles' book was angled more toward beginning DIYers, but it still would've made it a much more informative read. Readers of this book are likely to come away from it knowing how to follow the instructions, but without the necessary background information they'd need to really create their own products or understand why a given recipe did or didn't work for them.

At the end of the day, Organic Body Care Recipes is a good resource for people who would like to try DIYing their own skincare products for the first time. I  recommend that readers who choose to pick up this book pick up a copy of The Green Pharmacy or other herbal resource, just to help fill in some of the blanks when it comes to possible contraindications, side-effects, or other hazards.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Diamox Depletion, or "Why Can't I Feel My Feet?"

This post ran awhile ago. While I clean some things up and move them around, please enjoy this bit on how to avoid feeling like absolute crap while taking Diamox.

I've talked about acetazolamide before. Namely, my intense love-hate relationship with a medication that's saving my brain and vision while ruining my kidneys and giving me the memory of a coked-up potato beetle. I've even gone a bit into what one can expect when taking it, though everyone's experiences will vary. Now I'd like to go into a little more detail about what I, specifically, do to help deal with it -- especially the nutrient depletion that can result in pain, tingling, numbness, confusion, anxiety, and even death.

So, electrolytes. All foods have them to some degree, but some of those are going to be more useful than others. Most intracranial hypertension patients are told to avoid too much salt (which isn't too surprising -- salt-sensitive high blood pressure doesn't feel too great rocketing through a squeezed brain), but sodium is one of the nutrients that diuretics flush out of the body. Oh, and you also have to worry about keeping your chloride levels low (but not too low) and bicarbonate levels high (but not too high). Your vitamin D levels might be low, but you have to avoid spending too much time in the sun or Diamox'll burn the crap out of your skin. Better not take any vitamin D supplements unless your doctor tells you to, though. Hypervitaminosis of basically any fat-soluble vitamin is a major contributor to IH. You'll need your doctor to give your multivitamins a once-over, too -- too much vitamin A, and you might be told to stop taking them entirely.

If you feel like medical science has basically handed you a letter that says, "GOOD LUCK, SUCKER," I completely empathize.

Still, you've gotta eat to live. To help manage my Diamox depletion side-effects, I:

  • Look for high-potassium foods. Coconut water and avocados are great here -- they're a bit on the pricey side, but one serving of coconut water has 470 mg of potassium. A whole avocado contains 975 mg. Combine them with other fruits, like peaches (at 285 mg potassium for a medium peach) in a smoothie for breakfast. It'll help give you something easy to consume and potassium-rich, which is especially helpful for me on the days when I have no appetite.
    Some health experts recommend avoiding juices and smoothies, since the lack of fiber means they don't fill you up very well and can have a pretty big impact on your blood sugar. I've found them to be helpful for me because I don't have to wait as long for the tingling and anxiety to subside as I do when I eat potassium-rich solids, and choosing low-glycemic fruits and vegetables means I'm not getting a huge sugar hit either way.
    Even if you have to avoid (or just don't like) smoothies, there are plenty of other options. Some plain Greek yogurt (240 mg per average-sized container) and a half a peach (142 mg) is an easy snack that's also rich in protein. A skinless chicken thigh (238 mg per 3.5 ounce serving), spinach salad (167 mg per cup), and some yams (456 mg per a half-cup, boiled) is an easy way to get plenty of potassium in a single meal. If your doctor has ordered you to eat low vitamin A foods, be sure to pick yams over sweet potatoes -- while both are high in potassium and very similar in terms of flavor and appearance, yams contain a fraction of the vitamin A that sweet potatoes do.

  • Keep a careful eye on sodium levels. This means choosing minimally processed and low-sodium foods when I can. Most highly processed foods contain a lot of salt, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're deficient in sodium... but it is when you're trying to keep your chlorides down. If you're still feeling weird and tingly even after eating or taking enough potassium, mention it to your doctor. Acetazolamide's side effects feel pretty bizarre even in the absence of a potassium deficiency, but some people find that sodium bicarbonate helps.

  • Drink a lot of water. Like, a lot of water. Getting enough electrolytes is great, but dehydration is pretty miserable. Look for purified drinking water (which is typically water that has undergone reverse osmosis and had some electrolytes added back in). Skip bottled water (which is probably tap water), spring water (which may still contain traces of industrial or agricultural runoff), and distilled water (which contains no electrolytes). If you can filter your own water and avoid disposable bottles, go for it! If not, consider getting a large, reusable water jug that you can refill at a water distiller -- a lot of grocery stores have them, and you can get several gallons at a time for cheap -- and add electrolytes later if needed.

  • Eat regularly. I force myself to sometimes. Set alarms for it, even. Diamox makes it very, very easy to forget that I've missed a meal (or two, or three) because it honestly ruins appetite for some people. In my case, it isn't even that it makes me feel nauseated most of the time -- I'm just honestly not hungry.

  • Carry emergency provisions. For me, this is anything shelf-stable I can stash in a bag just in case I end up all anxious and tingly or lightheaded while I'm out. Things like nuts/seeds, some coconut water, a jar of protein-based baby food, and/or a bottle of Ensure work well here. (I might feel a little weird tucking into a lukewarm jar of turkey and strained peas, but any port in a storm.)

Every body's different, so what I do may not work for you. Talk to your doctor about creating an eating plan that will address your Diamox side effects, appetite loss, and calorie needs. If you need to limit your intake of any specific nutrients (like vitamin A), he or she will be able to point you toward ways to tailor your diet to your specific situation. Nobody's really sure what causes many cases of intracranial hypertension, and it's often found alongside a host of other illnesses and disorders that may have their own particular dietary requirements.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Kale is a Crappy Vegetable for Jerks

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and do some cleaning up, please enjoy the time I almost died of salad.

Okay, maybe not, but still.

A couple of days ago, I was eating a salad. It was a pretty good one, too -- kale, baby spinach, tomato, hemp seeds, avocado, all kinds of stuff. Unfortunately, this green action was so good my lungs decided they wanted in on some of it.

After spasmodically coughing for interminable minutes (in front of my significant other, no less, because there's nothing sexier than someone who looks like a dog choking on a chicken bone), I began to worry. I thought to myself, "Self," I thinks, "is kale the kind of thing that will just kind of work itself out? Because we've been at this for awhile, and I am noticing a distressing lack of kale bits being shifted by it."

This isn't the first time I've choked on a thing. Maybe I don't meet the level requirement for an epiglottis. Maybe my body periodically vastly overestimates its expertise at inhalation and swallowing, I don't know. I do know that I have it on good authority that:

  • You can definitely tell if you have aspiration pneumonia

  • Having a scope jammed all up ins to see if you've got some crap stuck in your lungs kind of sucks, and

  • Most things will just break down on their own (if you can avoid the whole pneumonia thing in the process).

Is kale one of those things? Will it just go away? It seems a bit tough and fibrous for a squishy bag of air with no enzymes to speak of to handle on its own, but my idiot body also thought it was capable of eating and breathing at the same time so who even knows what it's going to try to do next.

Long story short, after three days of a just-kind-of-uncomfortable foreign body feeling in the left side of my chest, I was awakened by the sudden realization that I wasn't breathing so great. My S.O. and I go to the ER, I get whisked away for x-rays, breathe into a little tube for a bit, get some blood drawn, and find out my bicarbonate's a little low and I don't have pneumonia.

So, for now, I am basically on Pneumonia Watch while my body tries to figure out what the hell to do about this rogue salad interloper. Sometimes I feel it kind of move if I change how I'm sitting or laying, and it sends me into fresh bouts of pointless coughing. I am not a fan.

Sorry if anyone came here hoping for an authoritative takedown of this crappity-ass hipster lettuce. Here are some links that are maybe relevant to that:

Sorry, Foodies: We're About to Ruin Kale Is kale a silent killer whose weapon-of-choice is a completely ridicubutts level of thallium? Eh, maybe not. Still, if you're looking for a reason to excuse your dislike of kale (other than the fact that it tastes bitter and has all the pleasing mouthfeel of socks), "toxic heavy metal scare" might be a good one.

News Update: Can Kale Cause Hypothyroidism? Kale contains goitrogenic compounds -- things that can worsen a pre-existing thyroid condition. While it's probably okay in regular amounts, people with thyroid problems may not want to jump on the "omg kale green juice superfood yes" bandwagon.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Lemurian, Elestial, and Other Words About Rocks.

 This post originally ran awhile ago. While I clean some things up and move them around a bit, please enjoy a guide to complicated words about rocks.

Hit up Etsy, eBay, or a gem and mineral show, and you're likely to see a lot of crystals with some interesting descriptors (and higher price tags) tacked onto them. Some people report experiencing different feelings or physical sensations when handling or using these crystals, but it isn't always clear how the stones' descriptions relate to their characteristics. For example, what's a Lemurian crystal? What can an Elestial quartz do? And should the average witch, healer, lightworker, or other practitioner even care?

To help clear this up a little bit, here's a rundown of some adjectives that commonly get applied to crystals:

Aura, including "Aqua aura," "Flame aura," etc. "Aura" quartz refers to quartz crystals that have a layer of metal coating the crystal. These crystals do not occur in nature, and, while they are beautiful, often use lower-quality crystals in their creation. The process of coating the crystal is called "vapor deposition," and involves heating the crystal in a vacuum chamber to which metal vapor is added. As a result of this, some aura crystals are not as durable as their non-treated brethren.
Listings of these crystals for sale can sometimes be misleading, so practitioners that prefer natural materials should be aware that their color is derived from a man-made process.

Cathedral. "Cathedral" describes crystals consisting of a large central point surrounded by smaller, parallel points, akin to the spires of a cathedral. Though this term refers to the formation of the crystal itself, rather than any metaphysical properties it may have, cathedral quartz is often used for group meditations.

Devic or Deva. "Devic" crystals are those that appear to show images of spirits inside of them. These spirits are referred to as devas, a New Age term taken from concepts in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, "deva" is a term for a deity, while Buddhist devas are powerful, supernatural beings that are not worshipped. In the context of devic crystals, the devas in question are pretty much synonymous with nature spirits.

Elestial. "Elestial" is derived from the word "celestial," referring to the stone's purported ability to connect the user to angels.
From a practical standpoint, elestial crystals are quartz specimens that are made up of several individual crystals growing in a step-like arrangement. This gives them an etched appearance, akin to crocodile skin (hence one of their other names, crocodile quartz).

Enhydro. "Enhydro" crystal is crystal that contains water inclusions. These specimens may have visible liquid droplets encased in hollows within the crystal, or trapped gas bubbles that flow and move through the liquid inclusions themselves.

Faden. "Faden" quartz crystals are crystals with white lines called Faden lines running through them. These lines are present in areas where the crystal once broke and self-healed over time, so many healing practitioners enjoy using them as healing crystals.

Lemurian. "Lemurian"  relates to Lemuria, a hypothetical lost land akin to Atlantis. Theories about Lemuria's existence originated in the 19th century, but have largely been discredited by modern knowledge of plate tectonics and continental drift. Helena Blavatsky caused the idea of Lemuria to pop up on New Age radar, and this has since evolved into the idea of a super advanced, wise civilization that occupied the lost land of Lemuria and left the ability to access their vast knowledge encased in certain quartz specimens. While Elestial quartz is supposed to allow the user to connect to angelic wisdom, these crystals are supposed to allow the user to connect to Lemurian knowledge.
They come in a wide range of colors (many have a red, golden, or reddish-orange cast owing to a coating of iron oxide), and are best known for the peculiar, ladderlike striations on one or more of their sides.

Phantom. "Phantom" is similar to "enhydro" in that it describes a crystal with inclusions. Unlike enhydro crystals, phantom crystals contain solid inclusions of other complete crystals. After one crystal point forms, another can eventually grow over and around it. This leaves the original crystal present as an outline, or phantom, inside the larger one.

Do these crystals have characteristics that elevate them above regular crystals? Is a Lemurian crystal "better" than a plain quartz point? It's hard to say. There's nothing chemically or structurally that would incline me to believe that these crystals are more unique, special, or powerful than any others, but giving them fancy names and higher price tags can certainly make it seem so.

As with any other stone, the best advice I can give about these guys is to educate yourself on what these different terms mean (and who came up with them) and see if holding or working with one of these stones elicits any particular feelings for you. If a crystal's shape or physical characteristics are particularly beautiful to you (hey, those cathedrals make for some stunning specimens), go wild. Otherwise, don't let yourself be talked into overpaying for your tools and definitely don't let anyone make you feel lesser for not having a fancily-named stone in your collection.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

j. Reads "The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the WesternWorld"

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and clean up a bit, please enjoy me being mad at terrible history.

Now that I'm more-or-less moved into a new place, one of the first things I did was pick up a library card and all of the books the librarian wouldn't physically restrain me from borrowing. Among them is The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World. This book has some pretty good Amazon reviews, and I could use some more (not Tudor) history, so I was all set to dig it.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with one of the three-star reviews -- this book seriously lacks sources. What it does have are mentioned in the bibliographic commentary without any real indication of what was used where. I have read and enjoyed other works of non-fiction whose sources were a bit thin on the ground before, so that alone wouldn't be enough to impede my enjoyment.

What did impede it was some of the very, very strange logic presented right from the beginning. To wit:
"However, the explanatory power of European cultural tradition carries only so far. For witch-hunting was, and is, a cross-cultural, transhistorical phenomenon-- an attacker, a killer, of women almost everywhere. In present-day Africa as well as the Far East, among pre-modern Native Americans no less than pre-modern Europeans, witches have been "found" mainly among women-- sometimes overwhelmingly so. There must be a reason that goes beyond the cultural and historical.
And there is: enter the psychological."

I need to make a checklist for this.


  • Turning huge swathes of geography into cultural monoliths. Check.
    Please, Mr. Demos, tell me what "Native American" culture is like. Tell me how many separate tribes in Africa had witch hunts that were predominantly woman-targeting. I'd like to see some things to back this up, it seems like a fascinating subject, but all of your sources for this chapter seem to focus conspicuously around Europe. Sure, the book focuses on western Europe, but why make claims about other geographic areas and not bother to support them? Am I supposed to take your word for this?

  • Leap of logic. Check.
    "There must be a reason that goes beyond the cultural and historical." Why? It would be stranger to think that Western Europe had somehow culturally and historically cornered the market here -- as though other cultures weren't also capable of independently developing  social and economic conditions that provide the environment for a woman-targeting witch hunt. 

  • Evo-psych. Check.
    Why is evolutionary psychology always used to justify the most ridiculous wank? Seriously. I'm sure it's a fascinating science with hundreds of thousands of hours of legitimate research poured into it, but literally the only times I ever see it trotted out are to explain that slut-shaming is good and feminism is going to destroy humanity as a species.

After a few more paragraphs about how we're all psychologically conditioned to hate women from birth because they feed us ("According to current developmental theory, the roots of such feeling lie buried deep in our psychic bedrock; they reach back, indeed, to our first experiences of life.") we're treated to:
"[T]he woman-accusing-woman aspect of witch trials is worth underscoring; for this, more than anything else, undercuts arguments centered on simple patriarchy."


Again, why? It's more than logical that a rigidly economically stratified, patriarchal society where women's chief route to power and autonomy lay in marrying and burying wealthy husbands wouldn't exactly foster a spirit of cooperation among its participants. Why is it at all surprising that women would accuse other women of witchcraft? How does that -- plus a heaping helping of "don't-worry-about-it-we-can't-help-but-hate-women-because-of-titty-psychology" -- somehow absolve the society that surrounded them?

I really did want to enjoy this book. I tried to. Unfortunately, I found myself giving up on it all too readily in exasperation every time I picked it up. When I got to the point where I realized I was essentially hate-reading it, I put it down entirely. It's entirely possible that John Demos is setting up for some brilliant conclusion that ties everything together in a way that isn't some kind of weird pseudohistory cobbled together from faulty logic and wanly apologetic, half-assed notions about psychology, but I'm not sticking around for it.

Life's too short for bad books.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Get your rocks clean

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I clean some things up and move them around, please enjoy some instructions on how to treat meaningful rocks.

Can't burn incense? Not a fan of having to dry off dozens of crystals after you've cleansed them? Boy howdy, do I have some crystal cleansing suggestions for you!

By now, you've probably heard about or used all kinds of methods for clearing/cleansing/purifying/retuning/etc. crystals that've been used for healing, used in ritual work, or may just have passed through many other pairs of (potentially questionable) hands. Usual advice includes letting them sit under running water, letting them sit in the sun or moonlight, covering them in earth or salt, or fuming them with burning herbs. These definitely aren't the only means of crystal cleansing, though, and may not even be the best ones at your disposal. For example:

  • Running water should never be used on minerals that are either soluble, like halite or selenite, or have the potential to leach dangerous heavy metals, like pyrite.

  • Sunlight should not be used on crystals that are prone to fading in direct sun, like amethyst, rose quarts, or other colored varieties of quartz.

  • Moonlight should not be used if you are in danger of forgetting or being unable to retrieve your crystals before sunrise, for the reason listed above.

  • Burying crystals in earth should not be used if the earth is wet and the mineral may leach toxic metals into the surrounding ground.

  • Burying crystals in salt can damage delicate ones.

  • Recaning, smudging, fumigating, etc. should not be used if you've noticed that herbs or incense tend to leave an unpleasantly "sticky" feeling on your stones. Some of the most commonly used purification herbs are also now threatened by overharvesting.

If you've got a large collection, you may have to use some crystal cleansing methods with some stones, different ones for others, and remember which goes with which to avoid ending up accidentally damaging or destroying them!

Good news is, there're a lot more methods out there than what are in all the New Agey woo books. These other cleansing methods may work just as well (if not better) for you:

  1. Cleansing with air. This is one I dig a lot. Take your stones to a place where the breeze can blow over them, or open a window. You don't need a lot of wind -- too much may move around your crystals and let them bump and chip each other. While the wind blows over them, visualize any stray energies or negativity being carried away like smoke. When the breeze passes, it will leave nothing but the cleansed stones behind.

  2. Cleansing with sound. Sound has a long history of breaking up stagnant energies and chasing negativity away. It can be from a bowl, tuning fork, bell, rattle, other instrument, or song. I've seen it written that "ascending scales purify, while descending scales banish," but experiment with what feels the most "clean" and effective to you. One note of caution, though -- don't put crystals inside singing bowls, and be careful what tones you use. Certain tones can cause crystals to crack or shatter. I like using a combination of this and air cleansing when I can, sitting stones on a table before a window that's under a bright-sounding chime.

  3. Straight-up visualization and energy cleansing. Just like you can use your intentions to program or enchant something, you can use them to cleanse things. Project your love and energy into a stone, envisioning it becoming cleansed as you do so.

  4. Cleansing with other stones. Kyanite, selenite, and citrine are three stones that supposedly never need cleansing, but I do mine anyway. Selenite is also frequently used to cleanse and charge other stones by setting them atop slabs of it. If you can find selenite sand, you can set other crystals in it to let it absorb any nastiness. I don't necessarily hold with the idea that there are stones that never need to be cleansed, but your mileage may vary.

There's crystal cleansing with water, earth, and air. The only element I don't recommend trying to use is fire -- not only can it be complicated, if not dangerous, to try to pass small stones through a candle flame, heat can damage some crystals. Visualizing fire burning away negative energy is a pretty effective technique, but working with actual fire is probably going to end up just being an enormous buttpain.

Crystals and other minerals should always be thorough cleaned before being cleansed. For non-soluble, non-leaching stones, I use some cool water and a couple of drops of castile soap to get rid of fingerprint oils, dust, etc. I don't recommend that for clusters, though, since there's no way of knowing how well the base rock will hold up to immersion in liquid (with some heat-treated stones, the answer is"not at all"). For soluble minerals or stones that may leach, use a soft cloth instead. For crystal clusters, use a soft brush or some canned air to blow dust out of tiny cracks and crevices. Once they're all shiny and ready to go again, any of the techniques above can help get them ready to work.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Surviving "Headache Days"

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I clean some things up and move them around, please enjoy this bit about how to cope with intracranial hypertension headaches.

I think I'm finally getting used to my new home's barometric pressure fluctuations, but man are they doing a number on my thoughtbox. Intracranial hypertension causes some pretty brutal brain pain even without help, so the added swings in air pressure just make everything that much worse.

Rainy days aren't the only things that make my head hurt, though. While intracranial hypertension symptoms include a pretty much constant headache as it is, several things can trigger bouts of agonizing pain. These can include:

  • Too much salt.

  • Medications that trigger an increase in CSF pressure, including common OTC drugs like ibuprofen and antacids.

  • Hormones.

  • Heat.

  • Tyramine, an amino acid abundantly found in beans and preserved meats. While a low tyramine diet hasn't been shown to cure intracranial hypertension, some people's symptoms are improved by limiting their intake.

  • Over-exertion.

  • Staying up too late.

  • Inverted postures.

Every person's triggers are a little bit different, which is why it's good to keep a journal of what you eat, what the weather's like, where you are on your hormonal cycle (if applicable), and so on. This will help you identify patterns in your pain, which will give you a way to help limit it as much as you're able to.

The trouble is, none of that is going to help you much if you're already in agony. I've put together a list of intracranial hypertension home remedies that help me survive the days when I'm convinced my brainmeats are trying to squeeze out of the back of my head like a stepped-on tube of Crest. Try:

  • Using an ice pack where it hurts. For me, that's almost always right at the base of my skull.

  • Using a heating pad where it hurts. Some days are ice pack days, some days are heating pad days. Try putting one on. If it makes you feel worse or doesn't give you any relief, try the other.

  • Laying propped up at an angle. Sturdy wedge pillows are fantastic for this, but any decent pillow-pile with some structural integrity will do. What you want to do here is allow yourself to get comfortable, but still keep your head elevated enough to encourage your cerebrospinal fluid to drain via gravity.

  • Drinking cold drinks. If you're experiencing nausea, try cold ginger or peppermint tea. Ginger ale works too, just make sure real ginger appears on the ingredient list. A lot of commercial sodas only use an insignificant amount -- not even enough to show up on their ingredient lists or have any real benefits.

  • Applying some headache balm to your temples, behind your ears, and wherever else you're hurting. I have some Narayan gel (cooling herbal muscle rub) that I use for headaches, and it's amazing.

  • Trying some white noise, especially if you have pulsatile tinnitus. I find my tinnitus really disorienting sometimes, and the loud *WHOOSH!* *WHOOSH!* constantly pounding in my ears makes it really difficult to relax. I don't know how well binaural beats work for other people with IH, but a session with some delta beats seems to help ease some of my pain.
Above all, rest. If your IIH symptoms persist or get worse, go to the emergency room if you have to -- sometimes emergency lumbar punctures are the only thing that can help.

Good luck, and here's hoping for more pain-free days for everybody!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Kind of People Who.

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and do a bit of cleaning up, please enjoy me being mad at Anthropologie concepts.

I'm not sure who to be annoyed with. Part of me wants to blame things like Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging for it, even though I use them myself. I could probably toss a few spears at things like The Secret and various other manifestations of the positive thinking/law of attraction self-help school while I'm at it, too.

I'm talking about the desire to look like "the kind of people who." I point the finger at a combination of obsessive documentation; the desire for a painstakingly curated, catalog-worthy home; and the belief that "faking it 'til you make it" will guarantee that you'll attract the right circumstances to turn you into the person you long to be, living the life you long to live.

It doesn't matter what comes after the "who" part. It could be "the kind of people who" travel, meditate, craft, read, does witchcraft, enjoy wine tastings, listen to vinyl, raise quail, or build model hovercrafts in their sheds on the weekends -- the end result is the same. Overpriced, vulgar attempts at portraying an authentic life grace the pages of catalogs and sites like Anthropologie, where for just a little over $2k you could appear to be "the kind of person who paints" (after all, if you have to rely on your own handiwork, your easel might not get the perfect deliberately random paint splatters it needs for an Instagram-worthy living room reveal).

There's a seedier side to some of this posturing, too -- particularly in cases like the aforementioned $2k easel covered in someone else's mess. There's a fine line between trying to be "the kind of person who" and a sort of interior-decor-based poverty tourism, where the subject unintentionally glamorizes things like the "starving artist" trope (a gross fantasy where romance glosses right over circumstances like mental illness, dying of consumption in a garret, and burning your furniture for warmth. And which, for the most part, is inaccurate, out of touch, and perpetuates the myth that artists are not workers that deserve a fair wage for their craft).

Oh, to be an artistic, tortured soul living in Paris, sipping wine and just painting all of the time until you contract tuberculosis and die a slow, painful death on a freezing cot!

Si romantique! Quelle vie!
Quel idiot.

It could be that I'm succumbing to some strange species of Poe's law, too -- maybe this easel isn't intended as a serious decor piece. Maybe it's a piece made by an artist, perhaps as an attempt at making the very statement I'm making here. I'll probably never know. I do know that it was unironically photographed, bought, and sold as a decor piece once it was picked up by Anthropologie, whatever its original purpose may have been. Props to the reviewer who listed both its pro and con as being the "illusion of activity," though.

Owning the right things and thinking the right thoughts may ease some of the cognitive dissonance that comes from not living the life you want, but it won't do the work for you. Even the most amateurish attempt at something is far more authentic and praiseworthy than a curated life and the idea that happy thoughts can substitute for effort.
Don't waste your money and life on wanting to be "the kind of person who" and hoping the stars will align for you someday. Be the person who does, imperfectly.

And don't pay $2k for an easel. Seriously. They're not that expensive, and I can guarantee you that a normal easel will look Pinteresty enough once you're done actually using it a few times.

Also, it is silly. Anthropologie is silly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

I would settle for a GPS, personally.

This post originally ran awhile ago. I'm cleaning some things up and moving them around, so please enjoy this bit about the things I get up to in my sleep.

So, The Bloggess wrote a post kind of recently ("There should be a yelp for places you visit in your sleep") that I only got around to seeing now because I am terrible at keeping up with blog-reading.

That said, I wholeheartedly agree.

Sometimes I have dreams that turn out to be prophetic, usually within a window of two days to two weeks (which isn't much help at all, since they don't come with any particular markers. I don't even know they're predicting anything until the exact thing they're predicting comes to pass). All of my regular dreams take place on the same map, usually even in the same spots:

  • Like the place with the really tall grass and the fat ponies that disappear if you get too close to them.

  • Or the place with the square hills and the silver deer that don't have any eyes.

  • Or the renfaire that happens around the outside of this astonishingly enormous Grecian-esque temple that nobody goes inside of because it was built by giants.

  • Or the city on the concrete platform in the middle of the ocean, that's only accessible by really high, swoopy bridges and monorails and taps right into my fear of bridges and riding up really steep, narrow roads.

  • Or this beach with very soft, pretty white sand, and an extremely threatening-looking storm just constantly looming on the horizon.

Even dreams that don't happen in one of these areas always happen in a spot I know is geographically connected to one of them, and I always have a sense of where I'd have to walk, fly, swim, etc. to in order to reach them. It's helpful for not-quite-lucid dreams -- unpleasant dreams where I may not be fully aware that I'm dreaming and able to control the outcome, but I know that I can choose not to be there and escape to an area that's "safer."

Sometimes I turn up in my dreams during holidays, like the time I dreamed I was in the ocean city when they were having a holiday that involved decorating statues with paper flowers and garlands. Nobody seemed to remember the original reason for it, but there was some speculation that tied it back to an ancient holiday during which people in the city would leave offerings to one particular statue. That turned from food and incense to paper decorations, which eventually turned into decorating all of the statues for good luck. In my dream, a dream-friend told me she'd left a garland on one of them in the hopes that it'd help her mother recover from gallbladder surgery.

This is probably why I never really feel rested after I sleep. It seems like I spend the whole night doing stuff.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Things nobody told me about going on Diamox.

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I clean some things up and move them around, please enjoy this advice on how to survive horfing fistfulls of altitude sickness pills.

For the past two years or so, I've been on pretty gargantuan amounts of acetazolamide (generic for Diamox) to treat idiopathic intracranial hypertension. It's worked pretty well, too -- I've managed to go this long without a shunt, and haven't had any serious medical scares or emergency lumbar punctures in a long time.

I'm not going to lie, though. Diamox is a nasty, nasty drug and being on it long term is no good. For one, long term use at the dosages typically used for IH hasn't really been studied a whole lot. (Fun fact: Diamox is also used to treat and prevent altitude sickness. When I got my first bottle after an emergency tap and formal diagnosis of IH at UC Davis, the directions said "Take twice daily beginning two weeks before ascent.") For two, it is pretty hinge on your blood chemistry. I didn't really know how bad, and figuring out how to live with 
  • a brain that's decided it wants a larger apartment and 
  • drugs that give me freaky acidic xenomorph blood 
has been a journey. So, if you're about to begin Diamox for intracranial hypertension, here're some things you might find useful:

  1. Biweekly blood tests will probably be a thing for pretty much ever (or until you're taken off Diamox).

  2. Tingling in your extremities and face will also probably be a thing. This is likely because your blood levels of potassium have gotten a little low, but,

  3. Tingling can happen just because. Sometimes I can't feel my face. This has occurred in the middle of the ER, with doctors looking at my totally normal potassium, magnesium, and sodium levels. I was sent home, baffled, only to discover that tingling lips and noses happen to other people too. While I wouldn't call it normal by any stretch, it's at least not unheard of. It can definitely be upsetting the first time it happens, and kind of underlines the importance of regular Diamox blood tests and a good diet.

  4. There might sometimes be joint pain. This will, in my experience, cause doctors to either freak out and want to immediately begin checking you for rheumatoid arthritis, or do absolutely nothing.

  5. A low tyramine diet might help with IH symptoms. Studies seem to have concluded that, while it isn't going to actually do anything about intracranial hypertension, it might lead to fewer headaches and general misery in some people. However,

  6. It might not.

  7. A low PRAL diet might help with some Diamox side-effects. Diamox will cause higher blood levels of chloride (potentially leading to chloride acidosis), low levels of bicarbonate (a very important blood pH buffer), and deplete levels of important electrolytes like sodium and potassium. When people talk about foods that are either "acidifying" or "alkalinizing," their PRAL numbers are what they mean. These numbers are calculated based on the foods' mineral and bicarbonate content. While min/maxing PRAL probably isn't of enormous benefit to normal people, it might help limit some of the Diamox-havoc by controlling some of the effects that lead to acidosis and donkity electrolyte levels. But,

  8. It might not. Some people's IH requires such high doses of Diamox that there's just no possible way for a diet to make a difference. Consuming certain low PRAL foods might also encourage the formation of kidney stones, which Diamox already raises the risk of.

  9. Basically, if you're at high risk of developing kidney stones, have IH that might be tied to hypervitaminosis A, or have some other factor that has warranted special dietary advice from your doctor, that advice should always trump what the internet tells you to put in your face.

  10. Diamox will make everything taste horrible anyway, so you may find yourself having difficulty differentiating between actual food and, say, lightly toasted peat moss. This is especially true for carbonated things -- even plain mineral water tasted really strange until I got used to it.

  11. It might also kind of kill your appetite. This can be dangerous because of the whole potassium thing. Plus,

  12. Even if it doesn't, it might do weird things to the way your body handles food. This is probably not a terrible thing for some IH sufferers, since the most common piece of initial advice patients get is to lose weight (some people even go into remission after shedding a couple pounds). If you're like me and did not start out overweight, you might want to find a way to buy Ensure in bulk just in case you begin looking like The Machinist-era Christian Bale and none of your pants fit anymore.

  13. You might want to learn to enjoy coconut water. Even the kind that basically tastes like sweetened dishwater. The stuff's got about 14% of the RDA for potassium in a serving, and it's way lower in sugar than orange juice.

  14. Minor stomach bugs can become a very big deal, very quickly. Bouts of minor intestinal distress I wouldn't've batted an eyelash at two years ago now have the potential to send me to the ER -- electrolyte imbalances are no joke, and it can be nigh impossible to keep your levels balanced if your body isn't cooperating.

  15. It might make your brain operate a little... differently. To be fair, I was kind of warned about this. Oddly enough, it was by a physician's assistant in a walk-in urgent care center and not any of the doctors that prescribed Diamox to me. What do I mean by differently? He said it can make your cognitive processes feel "slower." I haven't really experienced that, but I did have a lot of forgetfulness and enormous difficulty concentrating when I first started taking it.

So, if you're starting out on Diamox, I hope this helps. If you have a friend or loved one who is, I hope this at least provides some more understanding about what it's like to take mountaineering drugs off-label for a brain problem.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Cursed Canvases and Poster Poltergeists

This post originally ran awhile ago: I'm cleaning some things up and moving them around. In the meantime, enjoy some stories about these creepy pictures!

If you visit Etsy or eBay and type in the word "haunted," you'll pretty much be spoiled for choice. There are pieces of haunted jewelry, dolls, clothing, virtually any item imaginable that someone can wear, hold, or have is available for purchase, wayward soul included, often for a fairly exorbitant price. Paintings, in particular, seem to be pretty popular objects for hauntings and other supernatural activities.

All of this raises one very valid question: how? Are these the products of some deranged artist, working his madness into the canvas itself with every brushstroke? Spiritual leftovers from some unfortunate previous owner? Several of the allegedly haunted items for sale online claim to be the products of witches deliberately binding spirits to them. Could that be the source of their (extremely alleged) supernatural power?

The Hands Resist Him

The Hands Resist Him is a sort of surrealist self-portrait painted by California artist Bill Stoneham in the early '70s. It gained notoriety as the "haunted ebay painting," when it appeared listed for sale accompanied by a laundry list of bizarre phenomena. These included the figures triggering motion-sensing cameras, appearing to move or change, and causing young children to scream, feel ill, or feel as though hands were gripping them.

Did these things really happen? It's entirely possible. What's noteworthy here is that the painting wasn't subjected to any of the things normally associated with cursed objects -- there are no murders, rituals, or unfortunate accidents in its pedigree. It's just a really freaky picture of a kid (kids are automatically at least a little creepy, just watch The Shining, The Ring, or Children of the Corn), a doll (at least an eleven out of ten on the creepy scale), and some perfectly regular disembodied hands (srsly tho). Even the intent behind the painting was pretty innocuous:

"When I painted the Hands Resist Him in 1972, I used an old photo of myself at age five in a Chicago apartment. The hands are the ‘other lives.’ The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm."

So, there. A perfectly normal picture of a kid, some other lives trying to grasp him through a darkened glass door, and his unspeaking, unsmiling, eyeless doll companion.

Crying Boy Painting

This little dude and others like him are best known for allegedly being paintings "no firefighter will hang in their home." These teary-eyed urchins were mass produced and gained popularity in '50s decor. The legend attached to the painting generally goes something along the lines of a couple having a framed copy in their home. A fire starts, and the house is burnt to the ground, save for the framed painting of the crying child. (Which makes me wonder -- what's more dangerous? The painting's curse, or the bouquet of extremely vintage chemical flame retardants it's apparently saturated with?) The story seems to have begun circulating around 1985, when The Sun ran a story about a firefighter in Yorkshire who claimed that undamaged copies of the painting were often found amid the burnt rubble of houses.

Did fires mysteriously occur in houses with this painting? No doubt -- it was a mass-produced painting in the mid century. Chances are at least some of those houses caught fire. What's notable here is that the painting itself is a fairly run-of-the-mill picture of a crying kid, and there don't appear to be any bizarre stories about its origins. Nobody claims the original sitter died in a fire, or attaches any fiery significance to the picture until the beginning of the legend -- well after the pictures were in circulation. What's more, the Fire Service even released this statement in the aftermath of The Sun's story:
“The reason why this picture has not always been destroyed in the fire is because it is printed on high density hardboard, which is very difficult to ignite.”
Really, the most disturbing thing about these pictures is the idea that grown adults in the 1950s apparently wanted a permanent tribute to a strange sobbing kid in their homes. You know, to look at.

I've always thought that belief is essentially the currency of the universe, and it's entirely possible to endow something with characteristics just by believing hard enough. A coat, a ring, or a perfectly ordinary painting can become cursed, not through any kind of spiritual working or grisly event, just by really leaning on the idea that it's cursed. Some things will behave the way you want them to, whether you're consciously aware of that or not. Did an eBay listing and a tabloid article unwittingly set imaginations up to spin curses for these objects? Could a perfectly innocent painting and a bunch of prints of some crying kid now carry the weight of belief? And what about other famously cursed objects, like the Hope diamond?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wings of Fancy at Brookside Gardens

This past weekend, it was finally cool enough to go look at bugs.

This is not code language. The Wings of Fancy live butterfly and caterpillar exhibit has been going on in the Brookside Gardens' southern conservatory since April. I did not find out about it until about two weeks ago, and was immediately sad that it was already late May. Heat and humidity are not my friends, so setting foot inside a greenhouse in June weather did not sound like fun -- no matter how many butterflies were involved.

Fortunately, the heat broke and it was just cool enough for us to go fulfill my Snapchat-butterfly-crown-filter-only-actual dreams.

(Spoiler: I did not fulfill my Snapchat-butterfly-crown-filter-only-actual dreams. I did get a lot of neat pictures, though!)

I used the Florida Museum of Natural History's website to identify these guys, because I know absolutely nothing about butterflies other than that they retain their memories from before pupation (so their brains are still doing while their bodies are being melted down and rearranged because nature is messed up) and apparently taste terrible to lizards.

A malachite butterfly hanging upside down.
A malachite butterfly chilling upside-down. This one was my favorite -- I love the teal and brown.

Possibly a blue morpho butterfly
Possibly a blue morpho? Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any pics of the interior of the wings. 
One of the cream spotted tigerwings -- these guys were all over!

brown butterfly, dryas julia
Julia! Their wings are a bright orange inside.
We weren't able to stay in the conservatory for very long, since it was getting toward the hottest part of the day, but it was well worth it. Afterward, we took a walk around the grounds, taking in the abundance of roses and intriguingly-shaped ornamental plants. I'd really like to go back later this year, probably once things begin to cool off a bit again. While we stuck mostly to the formal gardens this time around, I'd really like to explore the trail next time.

To avoid this being a gigantic photo dump, I'm going to limit myself to these pics. Check my insta for more, including a macro shot of a very cute (and very tolerant) little garden spider!

The exhibit runs until September 16th, and is only $8 a ticket (purchasable at the gift shop). I definitely recommend it, if you don't shy away from some heat and humidity. While the exhibit itself isn't very large, there's plenty to see and lots of gardens and hiking trails to enjoy afterward.

Friday, May 25, 2018

I did the thing!

If I had a nickel for every time I've seen a blogger mention "secret projects" or other things they'd just love to tell you, but can't, I could demonetize pretty much everything and retire. Unfortunately, I am one of those bloggers.

But, that situation is no more!

Awhile ago, I mentioned something I was quasi-secretly working on, and, I'm pleased to say, I've actually done the thing.

Now, in addition to this personal blog, I have witchpaint, an art blog dedicated to the intersection between art and magic. If that sounds like a thing you might think is neat, please check it out, subscribe, comment, and so forth.

Thank you for reading here. I really don't have the words to express my appreciation. I hope you'll enjoy (or at least get some decent snark out of) my other writing and artistic endeavors.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Secondhand Good Enough?

Trying to buy new clothes is a minefield.

I don't just mean trying to fit my body or find things I like, either. (Though that's plenty difficult enough, between drastic weightloss and my attempts to get back to a healthier weight and build more muscle.) I always end up having to answer a lot of questions, like:

Was this made in a sustainable fashion? Is it at least going to biodegrade sometime this century?

Was it made with sweatshop labor? Are those sweatshops the primary means of economic advancement for people in that area?

Does this company secretly donate to politicians who are not-so-secretly giant buttholes? What kind of legislation does the parent company support?

Is there a chance that this is counterfeit, and my money is actually going to support organized crime?


It's exhausting. I just want a pair of pants so I am legally allowed to leave the house ever.
Preferably ones that didn't cost a malnourished eleven year old their eyesight.

One of the easiest ways to avoid most of these is to buy things that were handmade in the U.S., but that's expensive. The next best way? Buy secondhand.

Except I'm starting to question that, too.

One of the biggest things driving fast fashion is the idea of owning a certain label or distinctive look, or, if you can't drop the dosh for an actual designer, something that at least looks the part and won't fall apart before it's no longer in style. Since clothes age in dog years, that bar is basically low enough to crawl over.

Not shown: the worker handcuffed to a sewing machine.

To frame it another way -- if I wouldn't buy unsustainable sweatshop clothing from a certain label when it was new, is it really more ethical to buy it used? Either way, I'll be wearing that label, and, considering the bizarre way fashion works, essentially advertising that brand. Even if none of my money went to the original manufacturer, I'm still basically paying to promote them. (Truly ethical consumption is pretty much impossible with modern economic and production models, but trying to be more ethical is at least a little better than nothing.)

On the other hand, there's also the somewhat-questionable practices of big name secondhand shops. While they can do great things for charitable causes, the Salvation Army's relationship with LGBT people could best be described as "complicated," and Goodwill's model relies on the fact that it is legal to pay disabled people pennies per hour. That... doesn't sit right, and I feel like I should be able to do better. If you're looking to make upwards of half a million per year as the head of what is ostensibly a charitable organization, you should probably find a different job.

I swear -- if I was able to forego this entire process and just be a full-time nudist, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

... And that's how I time-traveled fifteen hours into the future.

In some circles, people are fond of talking about herbs as a superior alternative to medication. They're less harmful than prescriptions, have fewer side-effects, you get the jist.

While that may be true in some cases, I am here to tell you that that doesn't mean that herbs will not mess. You. UP.

From what I have seen in other herb fans I know, there's a lot of, "It's just a cup of herbal tea, it can't do any harm!" or "It's just a couple of drops of tincture, it'll be fine." The puzzling thing is that this is often said in the same breath as, "Herbs are just as effective as prescription medication."

But which is it? Are they as effective as pharmaceuticals, or are they harmless? Being both at the same time isn't physically possible, people. 

Usually I'm pretty good (read: fanatical) about researching drug and food interactions. Part of this is my fear of taking pretty much anything anymore, part of this is habit after having to choke down the handfuls of pills intracranial hypertension demanded of me.

Yesterday? I goofed. I goofed bad.

Not in an enormous way, either -- it was as simple as having a cup of tea with a bit of lemon balm with a late dinner, because it was tasty. Then I took a Zyrtec, because it's spring and that's what I do. Then, about an hour later, I drank a double-strength cup of chamomile tea to help settle my stomach. Like a lot of people, I usually think of tea as closer to "food" than "medicine," but there's a reason why websites highlight a drug's interactions with medicine and food.

The next evening, I was Robin Williams in Jumanji.

Robin Williams "What year is it?" Jumanji gif.

Not just a little bit, either. I had managed to sleep fifteen hours straight, through phone calls, knocks at the door, and (apparently) several attempts by my very concerned cats to bop me in the face and wake me up. It was not good.

That's four -- count 'em, four -- relaxants in the space of maybe two and a half hours. While not one of these alone is enough to make me tired (which is probably why I didn't think much about what I was doing) the combination of them knocked me completely out for more than half a day. (And my most-of-me still feels like Jell-O.) I'm fortunate in that I can set my schedule and can't drive anyway. If I'd had to leave my home for basically anything, I would've been completely boned.

So, yes. Chamomile and lemon balm are pretty gentle herbs (I think most people would consider them foods before they thought of them as drugs), and antihistamines aren't exactly what I would think of when I think of "serious drug interactions," but, when their powers combine, they are Captain Knock-You-Out.

Consider this my tiny PSA about researching all of your medication's interactions. It could save your life, or at least keep cats from trying to poke you in the eye for most of an afternoon.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Not that kind of fertile.

"You'll change your mind."

It's a refrain I think every childfree person has had to hear, many, many times -- like some kind of incredibly irritating Ludovico technique usually used by older people, all of them with children.

As if that weren't enough, it's common to come up against it in religious or spiritual pursuits, too. A lot of Mormon and ex-Mormon bloggers have given their opinions on their church's emphasis on motherhood, and the particular pressure they felt when receiving these messages. Emphasis on fertility isn't the sole province of patriarchal religions, though -- I wish I had a dime for every time I've rolled my eyes at the emphasis many forms of paganism place on reproductive sex. Half the books out there categorize herbs and stones as "masculine" and "feminine," relying on lazy heteronormative tropes rather than useful, accurate terminology.

So I was worried I would have to bite my tongue when I was studying Druidic virtues. Fertility ranks pretty highly... Fortunately, it's a definition of fertility I can live with. Part of what drew me to this path is the emphasis on creation. Not entirely -- or even mostly -- referring to reproduction, either. The creation of art, music, poetry, and prose all fall under fertility. A fertile mind is prized as, if not more, highly than a fertile womb.

Which is pretty good, because even if I wanted kids, I kind of balk at the idea of what my body would do in the process. I have accepted the fact that my innards are essentially a soggy sack of horrors, albeit not without a kind of subtle, creeping dread. I mean, how many more extra parts am I going to sprout?

(But maybe that's actually some kind of super power. I make too much cerebrospinal fluid, and my organs appear to be trying to bud like hydras. Maybe I'm secretly some kind of mutant with the dubiously useful power to literally be extra.)

I like children just fine. I enjoy having them in my life. But I don't want to have my own and never have, which is pretty fortunate because it seems biology has made that decision without requesting my input.

And still, I get haunted by a Greek chorus of, "You'll change your mind," and things holding up fertility as the ultimate virtue.

It makes me worry, to be honest. I know my mind pretty well at this point. Why does the world keep insisting I'll change it?

Am I inevitably going to end up with baby fever? Mourning the loss of the one would-absolutely-have-been-a-goddamned-catastrophe anembryonic gestation I did experience? Am I going to end up regretting it when it's too late, and even adoption is no longer an option?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

I'm so tired, you guys.

And, for the first time in awhile, I don't just mean the mental exhaustion of existing in the U.S. right now.

I mean, there's that, too, but also other stuff.

The weather has warmed up in D.C. -- granted, it never really got all that cold to begin with. It snowed two or three times, maybe (which, ever since living in draught-stricken California for a bit, makes me nervous) and we had at least two days of over 60°F temperatures.

This means two things:

  1. It is more humid than Satan's foggy taint.
  2. It is rainy.
I've mentioned that intracranial hypertension responds weirdly to weather patterns before, so it's probably unsurprising that I've been hovering between "My brain is malfunctioning, let's sleep all day!" hypersomnia and "I would drill a hole in my own skull if it would actually let me sleep" painsomnia. The odd little tricks I use to control my pain still work for me, and some days I'm convinced that they're the only things that're keeping me from an emergency lumbar puncture or risky pain management. 

Pye and Kiko seem to get that I'm not feeling well, too -- they sort of hover around me, with Kittybear flopping himself down next to me, grumbling, and changing positions until I acknowledge him and let him wear my hand as a hat, and Sweetbean giving me half-lidded stares and purring directly into my nasal passages. 

The only problem is, she seems to have very definite Opinions about when and how I am allowed to sleep. Every night, at about 3-4 in the morning, I get the same thing: little pink beans patting me on the cheeks and forehead. If I open my eyes, the same sight greets me: a little, squinchy, loudly-purring cat face. If I close my eyes and try to go back to sleep, the patting starts again. In a studio, keeping her out of the bedroom isn't an option. So, unfortunately, she always gets rewarded by waking me up and slowly driving me (more) insane.

So, to recap: I want to sleep all of the time. I can't, because my spine often feels like a squished tube of toothpaste. When I can, Kiko decides that this situation is not optimal, and it would be much better if I were petting a cat instead. (Specifically, her.)

It has made it hard to write, or do much of anything else. I've managed to eke out some paid writing, but, by the time I'm done with that, all I want to do is take a nap. (I also wrote a really, really weirdly hot scene of someone having knives thrown at them, but that is something for another day.) I've also done some painting, which I'm grateful for -- I always feel like I'm not accomplishing anything when I can't. 

I have another project in the works that I'm pretty excited about, which I've mentioned before. It's about a month out still, so I don't want to provide too many details... I'm just very frustrated that I haven't been able to put much work toward it lately. 

I hate complaining about rain because we need it, but it's really cramping my style. Hopefully the weather lets up soon, or I'm able to acclimate to it! 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Run over by the Wheel of Fortune

Remember when I pulled a card earlier this week?

It was, shall we say, accurate.

The nature of the Wheel of Fortune has encouraged me to re-frame some of the things I experience. There's that old wives' tale about the Chinese word for "crisis" comprising the words for "danger" and "opportunity" (it doesn't, but follow me for a minute) which has actually been somewhat useful in keeping me from tearing out what little hair I left myself. The Wheel represents a turning point and a chance to do the right thing, but I'll be damned if I don't want to burn some things down in the process.

I think I'm making good decisions, though. Ones that will help put my life even closer in alignment with my values, which is saying a lot considering I lack many of the conventional ways most people have to do so. In the process, I'm making a lot of discoveries -- for one, I have more flexibility than I used to, or thought I did. I'm still physically limited and don't have a lot of material wealth, but that's mattering less and less as I grow into the things I am able to do and the spaces I can occupy.

It's a really good feeling. As frustrating as it is to feel stunted in some ways (lol, hello dishwasher-I-can't-unload-without-losing-my-balance-and-breaking-everything!) I'm feeling more and more as though this is necessary to help me grow in others, the same way pinching off the top leaves of a plant encourages it to become lush instead of tall.

Here is a soothing picture of some trees and water, because it's about to get weird.

But there's a darker side to some of the things I've learned this week, too. I'm part of a really good witch group, one that has a tarot live chat every week. We talk about decks, techniques, you name it -- the person who runs the group is even generous enough to do free, two card readings for some of the people who attend and express interest. Last night, my name was picked. I held my question in my mind...

"How can I level up in my life? What do I need to do to achieve the next level of my spiritual and creative development?"

And, oh boy, did I get an answer.

Now, when you're reading tarot, it's wise to take the circumstances around the draw into account. If you're using incense and the ember flares or the pattern of the smoke changes in an odd way, if you're burning a candle and it suddenly flares, if a card leaps out while you're shuffling... All of these things can color the reading itself.

I received a Clarity affirmations card, the Queen of Cups, and the Ten of Pentacles reversed.

Without going extensively into the background and interpretation of each card separately, the thrust of the reading was this: while I am usually perceptive and intuitive in my relationships, and can quickly and easily differentiate between people who are worth my time and those who are not, mental chatter and anxiety may be causing me to place more distance between myself and a relative than is strictly warranted.

Here's where it gets weird. The Queen of Cups, which ended up making up a large part of the reading, leapt out of the deck. In the midst of the reading, there was a small flare of light and a drift of smoke, which was interpreted as a sign of sorts.

Here's where it gets weirder. If you've read here for awhile, you know that I've made no secret that I am estranged from some family members, particularly one parent who shows the signs of having narcissistic personality disorder. Unfortunately, these are often not relationships that can be repaired. You can't win with a narcissist, ever -- your needs, desires, and ambitions will always be trivialized, unless there is a way for the narcissist to directly benefit from them. They will feel entitled to every success you have, and become belligerent when you want to separate from them or express your will in any way. They also have pretty much no concept of boundaries. These things contribute to a feeling that is sadly not uncommon among people who have escaped the clutches of a narcissist -- the feeling that you won't be able to live a full, happy life until the narcissist is no longer capable of interacting with you at all.

It's an expression of the very real fear that, no matter how far you go or how well you hide, the narcissist will still find you somehow (or, if not them, their flying monkeys). That if you're successful in any capacity, it's only a matter of time before the narcissist shows up to either claim some of it for themselves ("Now that you have this, you can do something for me!"), attempt to take credit for it ("You're only successful because I taught/raised/helped you."), or belittle it ("That's so stupid, it doesn't count!"). It can become part of a very complicated relationship with praise and achievement, especially if the narcissist is also violent. It becomes about survival.

Basically, it's like having the zombie from [Rec] for a parent, and achieving anything in life is the equivalent of jumping up and down and waving a flashlight. It's like when people win the lottery and get friends and relatives crawling out of the woodwork with their hands out, but, instead of money, a narcissist wants to suck our your soul.

Sometimes literally.

I just finished reading Sandra Ingerman's Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. The book is an interesting exploration of some of the concepts of "healing the inner child" that counselor John Bradshaw talks about, but from a shamanic perspective. When we undergo trauma, parts of the soul can fragment as a protective mechanism. These missing pieces can continue to impact us in deep ways as we go through life -- physically, mentally, and spiritually. Unfortunately, retrieving them is not really something you can do on your own. There are things you can do to help heal and overcome the trauma, but, much like self-help books are not quite a substitute for guided therapy, it is not the same as soul retrieval.

Ultimately, I know that being no contact is the right thing to do and I will never go back from that. I also know that the unshakable fear that the narcissist will reappear in my life is not fully justified, and that the deep, saddening feeling that I won't be able to relax and be happy until they are fully gone is not necessary. Overcoming this in a way that allows me to thrive -- not just pushing the thoughts aside and trying to ignore them while they fester -- is going to be a real challenge for me.

There is a lot of work to do.