Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reflections From a Fixed Point

When I was a boy, probably about eight years old, I first heard the soundtrack to “A Chorus Line” on the tape deck of my mom's red GMC Jimmy as we drove from our home in central Massachusetts to New London Connecticut, where I would catch the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point New York to see my father. This is not the first time I have written about “A Chorus Line” on Barking Shaman, and it is tempting to see this introduction at such a young age as my mother's way of subtly supporting her already burgeoning gay son.

With the benefit of hindsight however, I suspect she was simply desperate to hear anything that wasn't another repeat of Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. “A Chorus Line” was probably the only other tape within easy reach. Remember that back then our music storage mediums only held about an hour of data each, and a child can happily listen to that hour repeatedly, long past the point where an adult might be tempted to steer her cutting-edge (for a woman at least) SUV into a bridge abutment.

I don't remember when exactly I fell in love with the music from the show, although it was not on that first listen. As a boy in the 80's I was a bit scandalized and titillated by the classic “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” better known to most people as the “Tits and Ass” song, and it was probably this taste of the forbidden, that brought me back to the cast recording initially.

Ten years old is rather young to be listening to a show about the perils and triumphs of being a struggling Broadway actor. “A Chorus Line” talks frankly about love, heartbreak, struggle, adolescence, failure and even puberty. As a boy, I looked up to the characters whose fictional lives were woven in the air of my room as I quite literally played the soundtrack tape to death and had to replace it for a new copy, a CD this time. As a creative and, although I didn't quite understand it yet, gay boy growing up in the late 80's and 90's, I looked up to them. These were people living their dreams and having a life more fabulous than I could ever dream of. Most of all, to me they were adults when it often felt like I'd be caught in the false dawn between childhood and adulthood forever.

That was more than two decades ago now, and the man I've grown into sometimes wonders why I ever wanted dawn to come. At fourteen the song “Adolescence” resonated strongly with me, particularly “To young to take over... To old to ignore. Gee, I'm almost ready... but what for?” At thirty I see the same position in life very differently, an adolescent is old enough to be a sexual being, but young enough to still get away with playing with Legos. Old enough that their opinions carried some weight, but still years away from worrying about car payments or divorce lawyers.

My friends in “A Chorus Line” still sing about their recent emergence from their own adolescence, still marvel that other guys got hard-ons in class, still lust over Robert Goulet and Steve McQueen. Like Capt. Jack Harkness, they are fixed points in time and space. AIDS, Cats, 9-11, all of it remains forever over the horizon for them.

However, I am not a fixed point in the universe. At some point, the characters of “A Chorus Line” went in my mind from being ineffable symbols of adulthood, to being young and naïve. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't make me love them any less, but I know actual dancers and actors now. I know what their lives and careers are like. From my vantage point beyond the horizon I can understand what sort of struggles aren't reflected in the show, and too easily imagine what good and bad in their lives may have waited for them beyond their last curtain call.

As a child, these were people who seemed to know everything. They were worldly, and lived in the grandest city on Earth. Now I see them as sisyphean figures hoping to beat the immense odds in the pursuit of a nearly impossible dream.

Good art acts as a mirror for ourselves, and as my life ebbs and changes over the course of its journey the meaning I find in “fixed points” like “A Chorus Line” will change to reflect the changes in my own heart. Just as the boy I was saw a distant vision of freedom and fabulousness, the man I've become sees the struggle to maintain my dreams against the odds.

I can't know what will be reflected back at me when I look into this mirror in another twenty years, but I find it comforting to know that no matter how much the world may shift and my life may change, these constant and unchanging companions from my youth will be there to help me look into my own heart and point me toward tomorrow when time comes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Putting out (Financial Stability) Where Our Mouths Are

“Fish or cut bait.” It's a more polite version of “shit or get off the pot” but only really makes sense to people who fish, whereas everyone can relate to the second, less delicate wording.

The last few months have found Fireheart and I very much in a “fish or cut bait” situation. For over a decade we, and the rest of Tashrisketlin have been guided and driven by the will and hand of the gods and spirits, particularly our Lady. For the most part, we have served Their needs and They have done right by us. It has rarely been a typical life, for instance the last two years our company was in business we lived very comfortably doing deeply fulfilling work that was so unusual even I struggle to believe it really happened sometimes.

The trade off in being god slaves has always been that we are fixed into our and our Clan's wyrds, as well as the interests of our Patron, as inextricably as a train is tied to its tracks. Like a swimmer in a strong river, as long as we go along with the current, the track that They have laid out if you will, things move, if not with ease, than with some smoothness. Try to swim against the current however, and we risk being slammed over and over again into rocks that we fail to see approaching because we are facing the wrong way.

Fireheart and I have been swimming against the current.

It is never easy for someone who has built a reputation around their spirituality and faith to speak of questioning that faith. I have served my gods with all my heart since just after I came into adulthood, and I have been shaken before, but lately Fire and I both have suffered from the worst “faithquake” in our history.

Our lives have collapsed around our ears in the last two years. Our company has failed, our spouse left us having declared not just a loss of love, but an absence from the start, we have had hope for my improved health snatched from us more times than I care to count, and our young Clan languishes with its numbers diminished and only one part-time student where there should be many. On top of that, both Fire and I have struggled terribly to find reasonably paying work, with him working part time for just above minimum wage, and a promising contract job of mine not being renewed (company collapsed), leading me to accepting a poor paying, 75hr a week, morally questionable position as a car salesman, while still relying on my family's financial support to keep our electricity on.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is that while we have tried to do what is asked of us over the many years and seemingly have seen the collapse of our fortunes, our former spouse defied Them at every turn and yet has gotten everything in life he dreamed of, right down to being laid off the week he intended to quit his job, allowing him nearly a year of stress free independent living in his new city.

I always tell my students that everyone has their own internal idea of what the “white picket fence” means to them. I will freely admit, I liked the idea of getting a new motorcycle, of not having debt collectors calling at all hours of the day, maybe replacing my dying Subaru before it strands me on the side of the road. Those ideas became my “white picket fence” and it felt... safe. These were concrete easy to grasp, and mundane goals. They were goals my mother could get behind (not the motorcycle part, she'd much rather I give that up). But they weren't what my other Mother, my Patron wanted me focused on, and they did not fit too well with what Fire and I have spent years working towards.

My shamanic work has always been somewhat nomadic. Frankly, the Northeast is well served by the shamans it has, and I've traditionally worked best with populations I traveled to, and then left. I suppose it is my equivalent of living in a hut on the edge of the village. Back in 2008 I got the clear instruction that I was to learn to be a shaman for the kink/BDSM community. Not that this population lacks spirit workers, shamans, and magicians, we're there, but I was to be another. I had to learn what that meant, not only for myself, but also in terms of what I had to offer. It is not the only shamanic work I do by any means, but perhaps the way to look at is that the kink/BDSM/LGBT communities are my shamanic pastoral congregations.

This has not been an easy journey, although it has been a rewarding and often fun one. It has taken years of hard work to build my reputation and learn to not only serve, but be a part of these communities. And I have had support from amazing people, too many to name, although they know who they are I hope.

When it came time to put aside that Work to bring home steady paycheck, things got a little ugly in our lives. I have regaled you enough with our recent trials that I will not go on further, but it has come to be clear to us that She is looking for more commitment, not less. Our Lady and the spirits want me to be doing my shamanic work full time, even if that means taking to the road, not an easy thing for a Vreschtik shaman and mage to do.

And so, Fireheart and I had the conversation last night. Not about me trying my hand at this Work full time, we had the other conversation. The one where we seriously discussed whether we should just say “Fuck It?” Let Wintersong and Fireheart die quiet deaths, along with the tattered remains of Tashrisketlin and chase the “white picked fence” as simply Nick and Eric? Many of my colleagues would say that it is not possible, gods slaves are never free. But the truth is that it has been done before, those who fail are generally not willing to sacrifice enough in the pursuit of that freedom.

The only other option left to us at this point is to turn our stubborn asses around and swim full-bore with Their current and hope it carries us someplace good. Fire and I are both nearing our 31st birthdays, and we took our oaths of service when we were nineteen. Maybe taking a leap of fail should not scare the ever living shit out of us anymore, but it does.

I know how stacked against us the odds are. One of my closest friends and lovers makes his living through his work in the BDSM/alternative sexuality world and we have discussed many times over all the reasons why I likely can not do the same.

However, here I am. I am actively pursuing mundane work that will allow me the scheduling freedom to take off to teach a class or attend a conference as the opportunity arrises. I am buckling down on my kink technique book, as well as a book of essays on magical theory and philosophy for Raven Kaldera's newest imprint.

Fireheart and I are choosing to swim with the current. We are trying to keep faith with those naïve children who signed away their futures to a goddess they barely understood and did not have a name for because She promised that life would never be boring and we would always be able to be proud of what we did and who would become.

Maybe this new path will be “successful,” and maybe it won't. But whatever happens, Fireheart, myself, and the whole of Tashrisketlin will strive to serve, and hope that the great river carries us where we are supposed to go.