(Re)establishing relationships

For me, this week has been about re-establishing relationships. In particular, that has meant reconnecting with spirits and practices which I’ve let “slide” over the last few months. Yesterday, Mercury’s Day, that involved me setting up the altar to Saint Expedite, which had once (and once again) lived on my sewing machine.

It’s simple, but them I’m a simple guy.

I’d write up a detailed description of Saint Expedite, including how I set up my altar and how to work with him, but honestly? Just read this post over at Sphere + Sundry for the low-down. I couldn’t do a better job of explaining it, so I won’t try to.

I will explain, though, why I work with him.

Most of the practical enchantment work I do for myself or others falls under the category of “Protection and Long-Term Goal Attainment.” It’s about establishing a solid foundation for the present, and slowly building toward the future. The key word there is slowly. The approach I take is one of gentle nudges and careful moves. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that.

Unfortunately, sometimes Stuff Happens, or needs to happen, quickly. For example, you’re getting kicked out of your apartment and need a place to stay. Or your car just fell apart and you need to find a new one.

That’s where Saint Expedite comes in. It’s kind of his whole thing to not only make Stuff Happen, but to make it happen in record time.

To be sure, there are other ways to go about making magic “go fast,” and I often throw them at the problem, too, but Saint Expedite has a knack for getting things done with the sort of haste I still find kind of unbelievable.

He’s a good friend to have around, because even if you don’t presently need his services, who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Frustration/meditation

I’ve been a wee bit frustrated this last week, which more or less accounts for how little I’ve been active on the socials, and why this post is going up several days later than I would have liked. I have a low tolerance for frustration, and a tendency to say “fuck it, let’s watch Netflix” when things go pear-shaped.

For most of the last month, I’ve been focused on two things: a large writing project, which I hope to share with you next spring; and a mundane, work-a-day freelancing gig which pays poorly but fit my schedule too well to say no to.

The writing project, while fun and exciting, is going very slowly. Normally, when I get into the writing groove, I can crank out two thousand words a day without breaking a sweat. With this project, I’m lucky if I make half of that total, and it’s hard getting even that much.

As for the freelance gig, last week brought about some technical issues beyond my control. They’re supposedly getting fixed, but for now they’ve dropped my productivity (and my pay) down to about a third of what they were the week before.

When I add in the health-related challenges my family and I have been dealing with…yeah, I’m not the happiest camper.

Still, I’m feeling pretty good, all things considered. Mostly because I’ve been curling up in bed around six o’clock every evening, and letting an audio book read me to sleep.

This is quite frankly awesome in and of itself, but by going to bed so early, I’m usually up no later than four the next morning. This is even more awesome, since it gives me a solid hour or two of quiet in which to wake up, do my morning prayers and rituals, and settle into my day.

I think magic is everywhere, but there’s something particularly magical about the pre-dawn hours, where in my neck of the woods everything is silent and still. The only things speaking are the owls, the wind, and my tea kettle.

I’ve needed that more than I usually do.

Taking this time—especially over the last several days—to just sit with my thoughts and feelings has been tremendously helpful and healing.

It’s a form of meditation that goes largely ignored, at least in Western magical circles.

For the most part, when a magician goes about “meditating,” they attempt to either focus their mind on a single thought, or else remove all thoughts from their mind. In both cases, judgment is implied. In the first case, it is the one and only thought which is good. In the second, no thoughts are good.

Contrast this with mindfully and purposefully setting your mind to the task of sitting with whatever thoughts may arise, without judgment. This isn’t the same thing as daydreaming or letting your mind wander. Rather, it’s giving yourself the space to allow what is really going on in your head to take the reins.

Or, to use another metaphor, it’s giving the salad dressing time to separate into its component parts.

Try it sometime.

Two Wizards

When I was about twelve years old, my parents dragged me off to a used book store we liked to visit, and I was in a mood.

I don’t remember why, but for some reason I’d decided to be a sulking little brat that day, and had zero interest in going anywhere. That’s kind of weird, when I think about it. I loved that store. The shelves strained under the weight of books piles on books, and every corner of the place had at least two tall stacks of tomes leaning precariously.

I’m sure if a fire marshal had ever visited the place, it would have been shut down in an instant. Then again, maybe they were a book lover, too.

Anyway, my parents insisted I come along for the trip I didn’t want to take, and I made various unhappy “harumphing” sounds in the back seat the whole way there. Once we’d arrived, I dove out of the car, probably slammed the door, and went inside to find the deepest corner of the store in which to hide and pout.

As it turned out, the deepest corner of the store was home to the occult section. And just about five minutes after stepping into it, my life changed forever.

I know that’s a cliche, but honestly there’s no other way to describe it. I walked into the aisle crammed with esoterica, found myself drawn to a mustard-colored paperback, and pulled it off the shelf.

It was a book on the Tarot.

I don’t remember thumbing through it in the store, though I must have. I do remember that it was two dollars. I took the book, went in search of my mother, and sheepishly asked if I could have it. She glanced at the cover, then said “sure” without even blinking.

There’s no real way to explain how remarkable her unremarkable reaction was. First, since I’d been so miserable on the trip, it was somewhat of a miracle that my mother let me have anything that day. Second, while I’d never heard her disapprove of the Tarot or other “occult-type” things, she’d never glowingly endorsed them either. The fact she didn’t even question my interest was a little odd.

Also? She didn’t even ask the price. She just said yes.

On the car ride back, I didn’t sulk. I was too busy reading the book I’d just acquired. And once we’d gotten home, I dove out of the car again and spent the rest of the day in my room, reading the whole thing by that evening.

The next morning, I asked my mother if I could get a deck of Tarot cards. Once again, she replied with a “sure,” and asked no questions. That afternoon, I had a copy of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and started re-reading the book.

Over the next thirty-plus years, the Tarot has come in and out of my life. I’ve set it aside, picked it up, and put it down again. Over time, the cycles grew shorter—I spent more time with the Tarot than without it.

Now, I’m forty-four, and the Tarot is as interwoven into my life as anything else. It’s my go-to tool for divination, and central to my magical practice.

And, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s pretty much the whole reason I began to study magic in the first place.

I’ve spent thousands of hours in the occult sections of various bookstores since that first day, and even more thousands of hours learning and practicing every form or approach to magic I’ve been exposed to.

To be fair, I was never very disciplined about my studies. It was only about seven or eight years ago that I began to seriously and consistently practice magic, and it was only about five years ago that I decided to make magic my “full-time job.”

In some respects, at some points in my life, I’ve thought of this as a bit of a waste. If I’d been more “mature” or less “lazy,” I’d be able to straight-facedly claim an additional twenty years of experience and study. I like how that sounds, of course, but more importantly the idea has me looking ahead, staring down the “back nine” of my life, and wondering if I have time enough to learn everything I want.

The answer is “no,” of course. Magic is infinite, and no one can ever learn it all, in one human lifetime or a hundred.

Anyway, I was thinking these thoughts the other day, while trying to ignore my to-do list, and I found myself considering the “Magician” of the Tarot.

In the ever-popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Magician is modeled closely after the ceremonial magicians familiar to anyone who’s come upon the “Western Magical Tradition.” They’re a serious-looking character, with their wand upraised as they stand before an altar bearing the traditional four “weapons” associated with each of the four elements.

The Magician here definitely never skipped classes or blew off their homework. You can easily imagine that their house resembles a library more than it resembles a home, and I suspect they can rattle off “correspondences” from dawn to dusk.

Then, there’s “Le Bateleur.” This is the “Magician” as represented in the earlier Tarot de Marseilles. We can clearly see some similarities here, which point to the evolution of the card, but there are enough differences to be intriguing.

First, the name of the card, “Le Bateleur.” This is a French term which means a street performer, tumbler, or juggler depending on who and when you’re asking. “Juggler” is interesting, as it’s a term that was sometimes used to describe magicians, and the term “jugglery” is usually defined as “manipulation or trickery, especially to achieve a desired end.”

Suffice it to say, magicians haven’t always been held in high regard by mainstream society. And there’s a casual, almost carefree air to the Bateleur that we don’t see in the Magician.

Not only is it hard to imagine the Bateleur as a hard-working student of Super Serious Esoteric Mysteries with a house full of books, they might very well be homeless. A drifter, roaming from town to town, plying their trade—at least until the fine, upstanding citizens of the town drive them off.

When I first came upon the Tarot de Marseilles about six years ago, the appearance of the Bateleur (and its contrast to the Magician of the RWS deck) was what struck me the most. Here was a wizard I could relate to.

I don’t mean to say that I consider myself a shiftless drifter to be driven out of the country (although I do like the idea of living the “van life” someday). Rather, I mean that if you look back at old stories about magicians, wizards, and witches, you’ll find that, yes, they often liked their magical tomes and had great power, but they were also apt to be tricksters—and maybe even a little bit mad.

Look into the literary history of Merlin, if you don’t believe me.

The point of all this is to say that as I’ve been working myself to exhaustion these last few weeks, more and more I’ve come to appreciate my own evolution as a wizard. A slow, wandering drift from Magician to Bateleur. A leaving behind of memorized correspondences and fixed rituals, for the more expressive lands of spirit communication and celebratory performance.

So while I’m by no means some huckster, shining folks on until the torches and pitchforks say it’s time to leave, I am taking myself less seriously than did years ago, and I’m having much more fun doing it.

Incidentally, you can get both the Magician and the Bateuler on a t-shirt from my Spring store.

Just sayin’.

I hope you have an excellent week.

Season’s Suckage

I’ve been putting in a lot of ten-hour days recently, which means I’ve been quite productive, but also very, very tired. I’m not quite at Bilbo’s “butter scraped over too much bread” levels of exhaustion, but I’m certainly “burning twice as brightly.”

Come for the magical mutterings, stay for the nerd quotes.

I think I’ve spoken before about how Halloween is my favorite holiday, and this is true for pretty much my entire immediate family. It’s partly a magic thing, partly a goth thing, but also there’s something just inherently joyous about dressing up however you want and getting free candy.

What I don’t think I’ve talked about is how much the rest of the holiday season not only isn’t my bag, but I kind of dread it.

Thanksgiving, in particular, inspires a special sort of loathing within me. I like the food, and the fact that it’s the only day where it’s socially acceptable to eat so much that you fall unconscious in front of the television later. Beyond that, though, it’s just too full of bad memories.

Every family has its pitfalls, but for mine the most challenging pitfalls all seem to strike around this time of year. Last year, for instance, my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He was treated, and ultimately recovered completely, but at the time things were beyond stressful.

This year? He went in for a hernia operation the day before Thanksgiving. Things seem to have gone well, but he’s had a rough couple of days trying to recover.

These are just the two most recent examples of how Thanksgiving has sucked for my family. My mother passed away around this time of year. Two years before that, our power went out for twenty-six hours over the holiday and totally destroyed all of the food and fixings in the fridge.

The hits roll on and on, making November the least favorite month in our house. That’s probably why I tend to spend a ridiculous amount of money on Christmas presents. After all, what is Christmas but the one-month anniversary of Thanksgiving fucking off?

It’s a shame, really, because November tends to have some pretty nice weather. Temperatures are cool enough during the day that I can wear my comfy black hoodie most of the time, and at night I get to curl up in all of the blankets. Any time you can spend the first hour of the day cozy in a warm bed, letting your eyes explore the frost on the window is a good one in my book.

I guess “conflicted” is the word to use here, at least as far as how I feel about this whole month.

Where was I even going with this post? I’ve been making excellent progress on a number of projects, but can’t really talk about them yet.

In my last post I wrote about the last thing I wrapped up, my Spring store, which you should totally buy a t-shirt from. Seriously, it’s Sagittarius season, so grab some suitable swag.

Other than that, though, everything’s still a work in progress—either being actively under construction, waiting for things to settle into place.

That’s probably the best description of how this and the next couple of months are going to be around here. We’re doing what we can, preparing for the long winter, and making plans for the spring.

When you think about it, isn’t that what we’ve all done, pretty much forever, around this time of year? The productive days of summer are behind us, the last work of the harvest is wrapping up, and all of our efforts are focused on settling in (and surviving) the winter.

And while my family does have a kind of shitty history with regards to this time of year, I’m honestly feeling rather optimistic. Despite the expected challenges surrounding my father’s surgery, the various other challenges I’ve written about in recent weeks, and still more challenges which I’m not at liberty to write about because they’re not entirely my own, I feel like corners are being turned and roads are opening up.

That said, I’ll feel a lot more at ease once winter has come and gone.

Wherein we have swag

Do you like esoteric and/or occult stuff? Would you like that stuff on a t-shirt? If so, then I have a deal for you!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been putting together a Spring store wherein I’m selling swag. And by “swag,” I mainly mean t-shirts. To be honest, I’m actually quite proud of some of the designs I’ve made. Especially this one…

I’ve intentionally tried to keep the designs here “minimal,” because I personally don’t enjoy a lot of “flash” in my own wardrobe. Instead, I’ve opted for simple, straight-forward illustrations or messages.

I also really enjoy woodcuts, as well as antique illustrations or images. You’ll find a few of those in the store as well.

For the moment, there are only a couple dozen designs or so in the store. If people enjoy them, I’ll probably add more. Either way, please let me know what you think, and which sorts of images or designs you’d like to see.

Astrology, communication, and ways of thinking

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about communication, how I relate to others, and especially how to avoid getting into unproductive or disastrous arguments.

So, like any good astrologer, I’ve been looking at what my chart has to say about all of this.

I’m a pretty typical Aries when it comes to patience and persistence. Considering that I have my Sun, Mercury, and Venus all up in that sign—with Leo as my rising sign—this makes sense. I dive into new things with reckless abandon, obsessively engage them with all of my energy, then collapse in exhaustion.

One way this manifests is in how I communicate with others, particularly when tensions rise and conversations turn into arguments. It’s taken me most of my life to learn that I don’t have to die on every hill, or turn every disagreement into an all-or-nothing situation.

When I’m in an argument or disagreement, I tend to focus my energy on “logic-ing” my way through it, and getting the other person to see things my way. Sometimes this works, but usually it just leaves everyone frustrated and angry.

You see, more often than not, arguments between people who are close are best settled when those involved can acknowledge and validate each other’s feelings. This doesn’t mean you should just abandon logic or reason entirely, but rather that instead of spending all of your time saying “I’m right,” you should also be able to tell them “I see you.”

That’s easier said than done, though, especially if you and the other person don’t think or communicate in the same way. Fortunately, astrology can give us some insight here. This won’t be a “deep dive” into everything a chart can tell you about ways of thinking and communication styles, but it should give you more than a few insights, especially if you haven’t looked into these traits before.

Mercury and the Moon

Broadly speaking, how a person tends to think and communicate is most easily seen by looking at where Mercury and the Moon are found in their chart. As usual, we look first to how essentially dignified or debilitated these planets are.

If Mercury is essentially dignified, it tends toward straight-forward thinking, rational observation, and clear communication. There’s cleverness, but it’s more the “honest” variety—the ability to think around corners, and to communicate in a way that is best received by the audience. If Mercury is peregrine or essentially debilitated, the person’s thinking can became less linear, less rigorous, and sometimes leans toward dishonesty.

To be clear, this is a bird’s eye view of one planet observed in isolation. Don’t put too much stock in this general interpretation. Just keep it in mind.

The Moon, on the other hand, is not about rationality or reasoning at an intellectual level. Instead, it’s about instincts and emotional reasoning. It’s how we respond to situations “without thinking.”

When the Moon is essentially dignified, this usually indicates a person who tends to have a positive experience of their emotions. There’s usually an ease or flexibility to their emotional responses, often with an underpinning of kindness. With a peregrine or essentially debilitated Moon, the person may feel more “afflicted” by their emotions rather than “affected” by them.

Now, which of these two planets is most influential in a person’s thinking and communication is best answered by seeing which of them is the most accidentally dignified.

For instance, if Mercury is in an angular house, with the Moon tucked away in a cadent one, the person will usually operate more at the “intellectual” level. On the other hand, if the Moon is in an angle with Mercury in a cadent house, the person likely favors “emotional” reasoning and communicating “from the heart.”

Another piece of the puzzle is whether or not Mercury and the Moon are aspecting each other, and which sort of aspect it is. Easy and flowing aspects such as the trine and sextile mean that the person’s emotional and intellectual minds tend to work well together.

Difficult aspects such as the square or opposition (or no aspect at all), usually implies a struggle between these two modes of thinking and communicating. In such cases, the stronger planet will tend to win out, whether that strength comes from accidental dignities, or if one planet is placed in the essential dignities of the other.

Again, these are just the most basic of considerations, but this is a decent enough starting point to begin understanding how two people will think and communicate when misunderstandings arise.

A Personal Anecdote

Last week, I had an extremely unpleasant interaction with someone close to me. At the risk of being one of those astrologers (one who talks about their own chart all the time), let’s take a peak at a few of my placements and how they compare with the other person’s.

My Moon sits alone in Virgo, and I’ve already noted my Mercury is in Aries with my Sun and Venus. In their respective degrees, both Mercury and the Moon are peregrine, but neither has any other essential debilities. As for accidental dignities, my Mercury sits in an angle, while my Moon is chilling in a cadent house.

And, of course, with the Moon being ruled by Mercury here, it’s not hard to see that I tend to logic my way through things, but it’s not always easy. Also? There is no aspect between my Mercury and Moon, meaning the connection between my intellectual side and emotional side isn’t the greatest. Most obviously, this means I’m frequently caught unaware when my emotions get all up in my business.

As for the person I was trying (and failing) to communicate with, they also have their Moon in Virgo, but it’s not alone. Venus is in that sign, and this person’s Mercury is in Libra with a stellium of other planets.

In the degrees where the Moon and Mercury sit in this person’s chart, both planets are essentially dignified. However, the Moon is in a succeedent house while Mercury is in a cadent one. This means emotional reasoning tends to win out more often than not. Oh, and once again, we have no aspect between Mercury and the Moon.

One last thing to note here is that with so much Venus and Libra going on in this person’s chart, compared with my Mars and Aries, we definitely don’t come at situations in the same way in general. Getting on the same page as this other person can be a challenge. When we do have a meeting of the minds, it’s awesome.

It’s just not always easy to do that.

There are other chart dynamics at work, but the crux of the matter is whenever we disagree, I spend far too much time trying to convince this person that I’m right. What I should be doing is listening to them, understanding and validating how they feel, and trying to relate to them on a more emotional level.

This doesn’t mean setting my own needs or expectations aside, but I need to be willing and able to “yield the floor,” and allow this person to express how they feel. And then I really need to work at understanding and validating those feelings, as well as trying to see how my own emotional state might be affecting me.

Once we’ve connected on an emotional level, that’s where we can start to find common ground and bring Mercury into the picture. But until that connection is made, there’s a very real risk of things just spiraling out of control as an immovable object meets an unstoppable force.

Putting Everything Together

So what should you take from this rambling little tract? Well, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at your chart and see where Mercury and the Moon are sitting for you. Are they in aspect to each other? Is one stronger than the other?

Look also to the elements and primary qualities which your Moon and Mercury signs are affiliated with, as well as their rulers, and which other planets the Moon and Mercury are making close aspects to. You’ll likely find a lot of nuance there, and more keys to turn as you try to unlock your thinking and communication style.

Once you’ve looked at your chart, compare it with how you approach challenging or tense conversations with others. You’ll usually find it’s a pretty close match.

After you’ve gotten a good handle on your own chart and experiences, look at whatever charts you may have for the people closest to you in life. Consider how you both respond when you fall into a disagreement, and see whether or not a match can’t be found there as well.

One thing I should probably point out before closing out this post is that there is no one right way to think or communicate. Don’t make the mistake of comparing charts with the idea that one set of placements is “better” than another. The key takeaway from all of this shouldn’t be to create differences where there aren’t any, but rather to understand where differences already exist, and how to best address them.

Always try to be aware of your own blind spots, to the best of your ability anyway. For me, this means I need to recognize when the other person is looking for emotional understanding and connection, and to slap down my jerking Mercury when I see it.

And maybe one of these days, I’ll figure out how to do that.

Reloaded

Well, it took about twenty hours, but now I have my Linux laptop set up mostly how I want it. There are a few tweaks I need to make, of course. And kind of the whole point of this exercise is to slowly migrate more and more of my daily work over to it from the Windows machine.

But progress!

I realize that the title bar of this site describes it as a “blog about tarot, astrology, and magic,” and it’s been nearly two months since I’ve written anything of the sort. One reason for that, of course, is the avalanche of work I wrote about in my last post.

The other reason is that, I kinda have been writing about magic.

Magical = Mundane

I’ve written too many times to link to that I see no distinction between the magical and the mundane. And if you were to take an even casual survey of cultures from across time and space, you’ll see that almost no one ever has. For most of the human beings who’ve ever lived in this world, it was haunted as fuck, and they acted accordingly.

My view of the world is much the same, or at least similar enough that I don’t sweat it when I can’t find the time to meditate, or go journeying, or “properly” observe a feast day or what have you. And it’s because I know that everything I do is magic.

“Perspective fuels performance,” is a phrase I think about a lot. I honestly can’t recall if I read that somewhere years ago, or if it’s some I came up with (or something which came up with me). Either way, I like it.

You could say that I spent twenty hours over the last week writing and re-writing configuration files, installing software, copying data from one machine to another, and entering barely-remembered commands at far too many shell prompts.

You could also say that I spent those twenty hours using arcane formulas and barbarous names to channel lightning through stones and crystals engraved with incomprehensible patterns.

Believe me, since I do not like fiddling with computers, it was only by leaning heavily into that description that I even got through it.

Perspective. Try some.

It’s not all sweetness and light

As I was writing last week’s post, I thought carefully about just how much I wanted to relate concerning all of the bullshit I’m dealing with. I wanted to explain the increasing delays between posts, as well as share at least some details about the projects I’ve been working on. But as I wrote, I realized that it wouldn’t be a fluffy and happy post.

Mostly because I was not—at the time, nor now—feeling particularly fluffy and happy. And that’s okay.

I think I’ve written before that I don’t have much truck with the relentless positivity you see pretty much everywhere in “new age” or “spiritual” circles. I mean, I get it, and I get where it comes from. “Co-create your universe,” and all that.

But, as I see it, that sort of unyielding, “love and light” at all times thinking doesn’t just feed into whatever universe you might want to “co-create.” It also feeds into a lot of other people’s universes in the form of making them feel wrong, or unworthy, or broken.

Whenever I read someone talking about how such-and-such a person’s illness or misfortune was caused by their own “negative thoughts” or “bad projections” I get more than a little angry. This is because it’s not only wrong, it’s wrapped in just enough truth to sound right in the worst possible way.

Does positive thinking come with benefits? Absolutely. Even materialist medicine has admitted that, all else being equal, patients with better outlooks and attitudes have better outcomes. On the economic side, people who are enthusiastic and confident tend to succeed more often in the workplace and in business as a whole.

“Optimism is a spell.” That’s a phrase that’s been going around the occult community for a few years, now, and I’m not sure who first said it, but it’s very true. Vitally true. And isn’t every spell an optimistic act, in a way? Doesn’t the very fact that you’re doing it imply that, somehow, no matter what you’re going through or how dire your circumstances may look, you still have the ability to change things for the better?

I think so. Which is why I embrace a lot more “New Thought” material and practices than you might expect given what I’ve written here.

But, as true as it is that it can change your world, optimism only works as a spell if you’re willing to acknowledge when your circumstances are dire. You have to be able to see the world, and your place in it, for exactly what it is right now if you’re to have any hope of navigating through it.

Or, said more crudely, if you never admit your ass is filthy, what reason is there to wash it?

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen “love and light” their way straight into massive debt, medical emergencies, and shattered relationships. And it’s all for the same reason: they confused “acceptance” with “acceptance.”

When I look at my bank and credit card balances, and then scan over my receipt from the grocery store, I accept (acknowledge) that I’m in a tight spot. I similarly accept what my bathroom scale tells me, as well as the rate at which I’m going through anti-inflammatories to deal with the various and persistent aches and pains my middle-aged, out-of-shape body delights me with.

However, what I don’t do is accept (embrace) these facts. Seeing them, and admitting them as present truths, does not mean I’m handing them any power. Rather, it’s quite the opposite. By acknowledging reality in its present form, I, myself, am better empowered to change it.

This is one of the reasons I advocate divination as the first step in any practical enchantment work. In order to get to where you want to go, you need to know where you are on the map.

It’s not me, it’s you

Back when I first started this blog, I had a number of intentions for it. The biggest one, though, was that I wanted it to be honest. An honest account of what it’s like, for me, to be a full-time wizard. The good and the bad, the easy and the challenging, the wonders and the clusterfucks.

There were (and are) enough people who carefully curate their online personas to the point where, if all you saw was their Twitter or Instagram feeds, you’d think they were living their perfect dream lives one hundred percent of the time. I didn’t want to add to that noise.

In general, my life’s pretty good. But there are also times when it really, really sucks and I wonder what the fuck the point of everything is.

Like many of the people you see and read on the Internet, I write for an audience. I like to imagine that audience not as an amorphous cloud of demographic statistics, but as a single individual. My “ideal reader” as I think Stephen King called it in his book On Writing.

My ideal reader is someone, magically-inclined, who does not have all their ducks in a row. Who is not living their ideal lives. Who is not happy all the time. Sometimes, they’re perfectly miserable.

Yet, they do magic, with all of the optimism that implies.

I write about my financial struggles because I know a lot of magicians who are broke. I write about my health challenges because I know a lot of magicians who have disabilities. I write about the random, tedious, mundane crap that annoys me because I know a lot of magicians who spend a lot of time being annoyed. Probably more time than they should, present company included.

And I do it so that this ideal reader knows there’s at least one other wizard out there who experiences a lot of challenges, but is somehow managing to do mostly okay, most of the time. On average. Usually.

Reloading

I debated whether or not ending this post on a “positive” note would undercut what I wrote above, but no. I don’t think it will. In fact, I think it’s almost hilariously fitting.

As I write this, my back hurts. I think I tweaked a nerve in my left shoulder, and the nagging buzzing, tingling pain in my left butt cheek is almost certainly a sciatica thing. But here I am, sitting at my kitchen table in the one chair which doesn’t feel like it’s trying to kill me…and I’m legitimately happy.

Ever since migrating everything over to Emacs and org-mode, I’ve been more on top of my to-do lists and daily activities than I’ve been in months. I’m doing all the thing, and I haven’t felt the least bit stressed while doing them. At some point I might write a page about my setup, sparing none of the nerdy details, but for now I’ll just say that I’m using the right tool for the right job.

With that lack of stress, I’ve actually taken better care of myself physically. It’s only been a few days, and my body needs a lot more of them before it’s back where I need it to be, but this feels like a pretty good start.

And in case you missed that “I’m legitimately happy,” line, my mood has significantly improved as a result. I still see what has to be done, still acknowledge that my reality isn’t how I want it to be, but those facts aren’t weighing me down today. I examined the inventory, made a plan, and took the time I needed to reload and be ready.

Optimism is a spell. Try some.

Less than ideal lives (and laptops)

I planned to spend this morning getting one of my many projects finally banged into shape and sent out into the void, but now that I’m here…it’s probably not going to happen.

Due to a host of factors—some beyond my control—I had a very crappy night of sleep. Also? There’s a weird sound in my house, a kind of cross between a car with a bad starter and a hard drive thrashing itself to death. I can’t seem to narrow down where it’s coming from, despite spending half an hour stalking through my home one step at a time and listening for the source.

I’m guessing at this point that it’s coming from my daughter’s room, which means two things…

  1. A dying hard drive is the most plausible explanation, which would seriously suck if that’s the case. Her desktop is starting to get a little long in the tooth, and I don’t have the time, money, or inclination to get elbows deep in that situation just now.
  2. I can’t do anything about the sound until she wakes up. In, like, a couple of hours.

So…yeah, that’s just a thing I have to be distracted and annoyed by, I guess.

Then again, it’s not like annoyance is a new emotion for me. In fact, I spent a good portion of the last few days annoying myself deliberately.

You know what? Fuck it. Let’s have an long rambling,, sleep-deprived post filled with mundane details and nerd shit no one but me will ever care about.

Ideal life? What’s that?

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about how I used to work in the computer programming and IT fields, and how leaving that industry was one of the best decisions I ever made. And if memory serves, I’ve brought up that thought several times since.

To clarify again, about a year after I left the shit-show, I ran across a post from another former denizen of that industry and saved a quote from it.

“If you made a Venn diagram, there would be two non-overlapping circles, one of which was labeled, ‘Times when I am truly happy’ and the other of which was labeled, ‘Times when I am logged in as root, holding a cable, or have the case open.'”

https://www.jwz.org/gruntle/drama.html

If there’s a neater summary of my feelings, I’ve never seen it.

Anyway, I’ve spent most of the last month working on a collection of programming projects with a friend of mine, and spent most of the last week finally setting up a laptop to run Linux and be my primary machine.

So what the hell happened? I mean, beyond the fact that I make horrible decisions?

In it for the money

As it turns out, global pandemics suck for a whole lot of reasons. There’s the illness and death, of course, as well as all the fear and anxiety which comes from said illness and death. Then there’s the supply chain breakdowns, shuttered businesses, massive unemployment, etc. etc. I’m sure none of this is new information for you.

What might be new information for you is that I tend to have a pretty stable (read as “fixed”) income, which is mostly fine since my expenses are generally also fixed as well as relatively low.

Unfortunately, two pandemic-related things have kicked me in the balls over the last year and a half…

  1. I bought a lot of things to help myself and my family deal with the mental and emotional clusterfuck. My philosophy at the time was: “We’re all maxed out on stress. If fifty bucks of takeout makes this shit even a little more tolerable, it’s worth it.” At the time, I figured this was “safe” since (as I wrote above) my normal expenses are pretty reasonable.
  2. However, inflation has gone totally off the rails. When you’ve already let your credit card balance get a bit higher than you should have, seeing your once-modest grocery bill double isn’t exactly awesome. At a guess, my total, normal monthly expenses are about fifty percent higher now than they were back before the plague.

I’m sure many of you are in are in a similar boat. And, unfortunately, my own personal boat is finally taking on enough water that I have to resort to somewhat-desperate measures to bail it out.

One of those measures involves making an inventory of every one of the weirdly-diverse skills I’ve picked up over the years, looking at them one at a time, and asking the question: “Can I use this to make money?”

I said I’ve spent most of the last month programming, but that’s not strictly true. That’s been a major focus, but I’ve also had to start writing “professionally” again, as well as dust off my marginal graphic design skills for another project I’m not ready to talk about yet.

If you’ve been wondering where all of the woo-woo magical blog posts have gone, well, you have your answer. I’m still doing magic, I just don’t have the time to write about it here. I’m working somewhere between ten and fourteen hours a day, taking maybe one day off a week, and spending the rest of the time exhausted.

I’m forty-four years old, not twenty-four. The days when I can work sixteen hours at a time for weeks on end are far behind me.

Okay, so why Linux?

Given the fact that I’ve swamped myself with work, why in God’s name would I subject myself to working with an operating system notorious for being a high-maintenance pain in my ass? There are many reasons, and one or two of them are actually good ones.

Back in July, I wrote a post about how I was spending less and less of my time in front of computer screens (ha!) and I was growing ever-more-angry at social media and the “Big Tech” companies we’ve handed our civilization over to. When you combine those thoughts with those I’ve already expressed about the computer industry, it should probably come as no surprise that I despise companies like Microsoft.

And if you’ve read and understood the other thoughts I’ve expressed here, it should also not surprise you that I’ve just been trying not to give a fuck and running Windows and other propriety software for most of the last few years, because I have a life and am (ostensibly) trying to run a business here.

There’s a balancing act to be found between “I shouldn’t support or use the products of companies which are Bad,” and “Life is too short to spend staring at a shell prompt.”

Well, for better or worse, in early August I decided that my act was unbalanced and I needed to do something about it. I bought a new “desktop-replacement” laptop with Windows on it, and wiped my slightly-less-new laptop and loaded it up with Ubuntu.

The intention here was to use the Windows machine only for those things which are at least fifty percent easier to do on that platform and with proprietary software. So, software such as Photoshop and Illustrator lives over there, as do the majority of the tools I’m using for all of the programming projects I’ve mentioned.

The Linux machine? That’s for anything I can do using open-source software with relatively little hassle. That includes the majority of my writing and web-surfing, as well as a few odds and ends.

That was the plan, anyway. However, by the time I got the new Windows machine and installed Ubuntu on the “old” one, I ran headlong into the project-related weeds I spend the first half of this post talking about.

The Linux system gathered dust while I spent most of my waking hours using Windows.

Until last week, that is, when I needed to get a bunch of writing done quickly, and I also needed to organize the whirling vortex of notes and to-do lists I’d been trying (and failing) to stay on top of.

Ever since I first used it back in 1993, Emacs has been the text editor I’m both most comfortable with and the my productive in. And ever since the mid-2000s, an extension to Emacs called “org-mode” has been my go-to note-taking and planning system.

I’ve fallen in and out of using this software over the years, but whenever I need to do some serious, distraction-free writing, or whenever my life gets well-and-truly busy, it’s the only thing that works for me.

And I’ve only ever been happy with the software when I’ve run it under a Unix-like operating system. Using it under Windows? In my experience, it only barely works—at least for my purposes.

Am I happy?

So, how happy am I with all of this? The financial anxiety, the workload, the technical bits—am I in a good place or a bad one?

I honestly don’t know.

I’m in a productive place, which is good. Over the last few days, I’ve managed to get more or less every task and note I need shoved into Emacs and “.org” files. I’ve also managed to write an average of 3,000 words a day. So I’m getting things done.

But that’s just the thing. It’s not that I spend my life sitting around all day doing nothing. Rather, I’ve generally been spending it doing more or less only what I want to. Being a full-time wizard is work, even if it doesn’t look like it to the straight crowd. And as I wrote way back in the first post I linked to, that’s basically my ideal life.

Now that I’m back doing my version of the Freelance Grind-A-Thon?

That’s…less than ideal.

Anyway, how’s your week going?

Solve one problem, then the next

These last two months have kicked my ass.

Which is probably obvious considering that it’s been over a month since I’ve posted anything here. And that post was little more than me whining about how busy I was then.

It hasn’t gotten much better.

I’m writing this at seven thirty in the morning. I’ve been up since four, and working since five. The plan for the rest of the day? Get this update wrapped up by eight, wake up my teenager (ha!), take a shower, then be back working by eight thirty. I have a video meeting/work session from ten to noon, then–assuming I haven’t fallen into a coma by then–I’ve got about another two to four hours of work that I should really get to.

Somewhere in there I need to do laundry and maybe try to clean something. Oh, and I still have about half a garden full of potatoes that I should do something about.

I mentioned before that I had taken on a lot of projects, far more than I could reasonably handle. One thing I’ve tried to do over the last couple of months is both prune that list, but also organize it in some way so that I could keep my bearings.

Roughly, I can lump each of my projects into one of several piles…

  • One-and-done things which can be done in less than a day if I focus on them.
  • Long-term/persistent projects which I can handle given an hour or two a day, or every other day.
  • Big projects which will eventually be completed, but will require an hour or two a day for weeks and/or months.

There’s also another division: some projects I’m doing on my own; and some projects I’m working on with a partner.

It doesn’t seem like much, but thinking about the work I’m doing in this way has helped me dial into my priorities, and it’s really the only way I’ve managed to stay remotely sane.

  • “Okay, this thing will take me four hours and it will be a giant pain in the ass while I’m doing it, but once it’s over I never have to think about it again.”
  • “Alright, this project is going to take several hundred hours, but I don’t have to do all the work myself, and that work that I do have to do can be done an hour or two each day.”
  • “Oh, wow. I don’t even know how long this is going to take, but I’m not on a deadline so…what’s the easiest, most reasonable first step to take here?”

That last statement is one I find myself repeating a lot.

Several of the projects I’ve taken on are both large and also at least a little beyond what my current skill set can handle. That means I often struggle to figure out where to even begin the work. Rather than sit there and be stuck, I end up telling myself that yeah, I have no idea how to do the whole thing, but there has to be something I know how to do. Some single, relatively-simple step which will get me moving in the right direction.

Last night, I watched one of my favorite movies again. The Martian. I’ve probably watched that film twenty times by now, and my enjoyment never wanes.

And one of my favorite parts of the movie is a short monologue which Matt Damon’s character makes toward the end of the film. Part of it I’ll quote here:

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now, you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot lately.

Stop the boat

The last few weeks have been exhausting. Partly this is because my sleep every night has been pretty evenly split between “Awesome” and “Non-Existent.” I have no idea why this is happening, but I do know that getting roughly eight or nine hours of quality sleep every two days is…less than ideal.

The bigger reason though is that I’ve once again taken on more projects than I should have. I have no less than three major writing projects that require daily attention, a few projects of the “domestic arts” variety that I’m doing my best to deal with, and there’s some unrelated family stuff thrown in for good measure.

Oh, and I may be getting involved in a programming project with a friend of mine.

Late last week, I actually broke down and wrote up a list of the things I needed to make continuing progress on. Not a task list or to-do list, but a top-level list of the projects which I either need to complete Real Soon Now, or otherwise need to spend no less than an hour a day on.

There are fifteen items on that list.

I’ve been trying to remember the last time I screwed myself this bad, scheduling-wise. As far as I can tell, that time was “never.” I’ve also been trying to remember the last time I was even half as screwed and managed to get everything done on time and done well. That answer is also “never.”

Good job, Jeff!

Anyway, this obviously isn’t a real post, due to the situation I described above. So here’s a video a friend sent me the other day…

Travelling around with a handful of sheep and a tricked out wagon sounds pretty much like Life Goals to me. Especially this week.

I hope your week is going better.