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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Adventures in Accidental Talismans: The Curious Case of Officer D

In 2007 I met my friend Officer D when I briefly accepted the position of Field Training Officer for my police department. D and I were promoted together that year. Several years later I transferred to my current district where Officer D was also assigned; and we resumed our friendship. I didn’t know much about Officer D then, except that he’s one of those people who just makes everyone around them calm and comfortable. He’s just got a comforting personality. I have never seen him lose his temper. I can’t really imagine anyone not liking Officer D. And I certainly couldn’t picture him getting into any kind of trouble at work. However, he recently got into some very serious trouble. So serious in fact, that he could have very well lost his job.

Officer D knows that I am fascinated with possessions and that my passion is not policing, but rather clutter. As we were partnered up during long summer hours patrolling our city, he generously allowed me to chatter on endlessly about it. I believe that our possessions have power. Sometimes that power is empowering, and propels people towards their future and their desires. But sometimes that power latches onto us like a chain that traps us in the past – I call those dangerous possessions “Accidental Talismans.” As I went on about my clutter theories, Officer D told me his curious tale and he has given me permission to share it. The most curious thing about Officer D? He really has few possessions, and we were both interested to realize that sometimes the lack of possessions can be an Accidental Talisman all by itself.

Officer D, has been living alone in his house since 2008. But being the comforting soul that he is, he knows many people. Officer D will always come through for his friends, whatever the need. In 2016 a young man, whose father was a friend of Officer D, was accepted into our municipality’s police department. The thing is, our department has a residency requirement, which obviously the father couldn’t meet. Officer D immediately agreed that the young man could move in with him. Officer D had a spare bedroom complete with a bed…albeit a set of bunkbeds he had purchased for his son, but mattresses were fairly new and the room was clean.

The young man didn’t care, he just need a place to sleep with the right zip code, so he moved in with one duffle bag of clothes and some recruit uniforms. Officer D didn’t see the young man much. He was busy at the academy and out and about with his young friends at every spare opportunity - the way young men often do. Things were going well for the young man in the academy, and Officer D lived his life mostly as he always had. Although, things went to hell and a handbasket when the fire department called.

For reasons I will never understand, lots of young men think that it’s much cooler to be a fireman rather than a police officer. So a lot of young men apply for the Fire Department in our fair city and are placed on a very long waiting list. So it’s common for these same young men to also apply for our Police Department. These young men enter the police academy and wait out the fire department waiting list with the police until they are finally called to the fire department instead. Such was the case of Officer D’s roommate. He was even luckier. He hadn’t even finished the police academy when he was called to the Fire academy. So the young man resigned from the police department. He still needed the residency though. The fire department is very particular about that - very, very particular.

They sent an inspector to check on the young man’s residency. In accordance with their standard operating procedures, they come by the home at a pre-arranged time and verify that the candidate is actually living where they say they are living. They usually make themselves comfortable in the kitchen or living room and briefly ask questions about educational transcripts and former drug use while they subtly judge housekeeping skills. After visiting Officer D and his roommate, the poor young man was subsequently fired.  And not only did they end both a fire department and police department career for this young man, the fire department sent a letter to the police department urging them to fire Officer D! Because the fire department’s inspector had determined that neither the young roommate nor Officer D lived in that house.

Officer D has been a police officer for over 20 years. Not only that, he grew up in our city, in the same neighborhood he lives in now only a block and a half from his parents and conveniently located only 15 minutes from our district police station where we work. Of course he lived in that house! Everyone in our district knew that! Why would that inspector from the fire department say such a thing? Well, maybe it might have something to do with the fact that one of the only pieces of furniture in Officer D’s house were the bunkbeds that young recruit crashed on.

In 2008, Officer D had a bitter disagreement with his wife. Officer D’s father owned the house next door to his and had been using it as a rental property. However, when the last tenants had decided to move, the house had remained empty. That house was larger than Officer D’s classic raised ranch, so the wife wanted that house. Officer D was very proud of his little raised ranch, and he didn’t much like the idea of just taking over his father’s property. But his wife wanted that bigger house. She wanted to be wealthy and apparently, calm and comforting Officer D just wasn’t rich enough or good enough. Officer D’s wife moved into the larger house next door to her in-laws and when she moved she took everything. She took every piece of furniture and every single picture was removed from the walls. There was one thing she left behind though, besides the nails from the pictures – and that was Officer D.

When I got to see Officer D’s house this year, his refrigerator was still decorated with alphabet magnets and a few drawings from his five year old son (who is now 14).


There were some similar drawings in his son’s bedroom (the bedroom where the young roommate had dumped his one duffle bag of clothes), along with a few forgotten stuffed animals and a beautiful sculpture hanging from the ceiling light, made by tiny hands in a children’s art class.









By 2016 the only thing that Officer D had purchased was a set of bunkbeds for his son. His wife though had made the edict, “he will never sleep there. That was stupid.” There was a TV and a beat up frat-house style couch that one of Officer D’s friends and made him take so he would have something to sit on if he or the roommate watched the TV. The walls remained empty though, decorated with only nails. There were no new pictures of Officer D’s son anywhere in the house. It was frozen in time – that house. It was frozen; set forever in 2008, the scene of the crime – the day his wife of 20 years left him and took his son.

His house told this heart wrenching story when Officer D allowed me to see it for myself. I ached for Officer D. I wondered where his wife and son were now and how often he got to see his son. I was in for a bit of a surprise there. You see, I had no idea that she had only taken their son a block and a half away to the property next door to his parents. He saw his son all the time. He could in fact see him every day if he wanted to. And yet there were no new pictures, no new art work, just the same nails left on empty walls.

Officer D’s house really is pretty clean. He doesn’t actually have a lot of clutter just two significant areas. Officer D showed me his little den area, in it there is a couch where he sleeps and a desk over flowing with clutter. He said that it got so cluttered that he moved his bills and things to the kitchen table, which is now also overflowing with paper.

“I need to file it,” said Officer D.

“Uh-huh,” I commented.


Where Officer D’s clutter lives is significant. His wife apparently walked out on him because he wasn’t wealthy enough for her. Oddly, now, Officer D owns four houses. His parents passed away in recent years and he inherited his father’s house, his father’s vacation house in Michigan, and the rental property where his wife lives with his son. Officer D owns all of that in addition to his little raised ranch and all of the properties are completely paid for. And yet Officer D chooses to bury the paperwork acknowledging his wealth. Officer D’s desk is an Accidental Talisman. It says, “I do not deserve to be wealthy.” 

The table is also interesting. I asked Officer D where he eats and he answered, “Standing over the sink.” Over the sink is a fine thing for a rushed young man to do every now and again, but a cluttered table ensures that no one would be able to join Officer D for dinner at his home, ever, even if they wanted to. Officer’s D’s new desk, the table, is also an Accidental Talisman. It says, “I will not share my life, with anyone, ever again.”

It became clear to me, seconds after entering Officer D’s house that he is unwilling to trust people. He knows that he is dependable though. He is very sure that he can be counted on; it is just simply a part of who he is. It is one of the character traits that makes him such an excellent officer. Officer D had always wanted to be the police. It was the only thing he ever wanted to do. Even though my primary passion lies elsewhere, I do agree with Officer D that what we have chosen to do is not just a job, it becomes what you are. We are the police. We have heard people’s horrible nightmares. We have seen people through crises (that sometimes have nothing to do with a criminal act). We have taken injured stray dogs to emergency veterinary clinics. We have held people in our arms covered in their blood as we waited for emergency medical services to arrive. We have cleared apartments for lonely elders when they are scared by the creaking of their floors. And we have risked our own lives, struggling to handcuff violent criminals so that justice may be served and the community protected.  Officer D and I both have been sworn at, spit on, punched, and much, much worse. But whatever you may think of us, doesn’t matter - no matter what, we will still come for you. Whatever your need, criminal or not. If you call us, we will come. Because when the chips are down, you can count on the police. We always show up, for better or for worse. You know that we will be there. We pride ourselves on that determination – that reliability to show up. Not only are we there for our citizens, we are there for each other, for all of our brothers and sisters in blue. Civilian citizens refer to the police devotion to one another as “The Blue Line.” It is meant to be a derogatory term but I for one am exceptionally grateful for that line.

Like Officer D, 2008 was a significant year for me as well. I got very sick. I had vertigo so badly that I couldn’t walk. My eyes drifted in separate directions, rendering me legally blind. Obviously I was unable to work any job, let alone serve and protect. For almost two years no one could figure out what was wrong with me. Any other occupation would have let me go, but the police department kept me and saw me through the final diagnosis of thyroid cancer. I am forever grateful to my department. They were there for me when no one else was. “The Blue Line” fed me and my child when I was unable to give them anything in return. But most officers don’t require a gigantic tumor in their necks, cutting off the blood flow to their brains to understand what “The Blue Line” is really about. It’s a given. We will always come, for better or for worse, and we will take care of our own.

Officer D may not trust people, but he does trust that Blue Line. The only deviation from the 2008 timeline in his house is the line of blue police uniforms decorating his hallways.


Officer D has at least three full closets in which to hang his clothes, and yet he chooses to adorn his hallways with his uniforms. He has given himself a physical blue line. Those police uniforms remind him of one thing he can absolutely count on. But that line of uniforms in the hallway is another Accidental Talisman, because that line cannot hide the fact that the whole house is a time machine, set for 2008 – the day his wife left him and took his son. It doesn’t matter that they live down the street, they might as well be a million miles away.

The one question I get asked most about Accidental Talismans is how one can transform them. Basically, people are asking me “How can I keep them?” In my opinion, you can’t keep them. You have to let them go. Getting rid of them is the only way to transform all that negative energy that’s been dumped into them. You cannot transform a message like “I do not deserve to be wealthy,” you can only abandon it. If you are constantly surrounding yourself with the message, “I will not share my life, with anyone, ever again,” there will never be room for something else (or someone else) to take its place until you are willing to let go.

In most cases, I recommend donating them to charity. A person who finds your Accidental Talisman in a second hand store will most likely be thrilled to have it. One of my favorite sweaters came from a second hand store. I love it, but the person who got rid of it, had their reasons for not ever wanting to wear it again. No matter how negative it was for her, my joy of it is what fills it now. And I think, that joy filters back to her a little.

In some cases it’s okay to sell some Accidental Talismans, but that takes time - time where the Accidental Talisman will continue to drain you. 

In some extreme cases, I recommend returning these nasty magical buggers to the elements. I mean elements in the archaic and mystical sense which are regarded in the Western spiritual traditions as air, fire, water and earth. Burning things is my personal favorite and flushing things down the toilet (hello water element) is a close second. Biodegradable items can also be released to the wind and of course burying things can be an excellent option. Burying things closes doors in our western minds, because to bury something is to put it in the grave once and for all.

I told Officer D about his Accidental Talismans. I relayed the negative messages of his desk, his table and his representation of our Blue Line. But then I told him that his entire raised ranch is one big (albeit empty) Accidental Talisman. I told Officer D that his wife is still living in his house. It isn’t his, it belongs to her, in 2008.

It might be interesting to note that Officer D’s house really does belong to his wife. It’s in a trust in her name only. Legally speaking, the raised ranch is all that does belong to her. Everything else she calls her own was paid for in full by Officer D. He even still pays her credit card bills. If I was an extremist…I’d recommend that that little raised ranch be burned to the ground. Officer D is too good a police officer and too good a person to be trapped in 2008.

Epilogue

There is no need to worry about Officer D’s failed fireman roommate. He is now a police officer in another municipality and crashing at the apartment of his current girlfriend. He has yet to come back for his duffle bag of clothes still in Officer D’s house.

As for Officer D, I know our municipality well and I’m pretty sure there was a secret investigation of Officer D by Internal Affairs where they discovered that Officer D has absolutely no secrets.

Incidentally, he decided to retire this year. He wanted to buy a motor home and tour the country with his son and spend some more time at his property in Michigan.

He recently sent me a text with a picture of his table, which he had cleared. I pretty sure that might be an invitation to join him for dinner...how sweet.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why Do We Keep Broken Things?




I give the name of Accidental Talismans to possessions that lurk in the home and drag down the inhabitants. A talisman is supposed to be a magical object imbued with intention and purpose that propels the magician towards a desired future. Things I call Accidental Talismans don’t take any kind of magical skill to make, everyone has junk that for whatever reason, we just don’t want to deal with. But those boxes in the garage with forgotten contents, ugly curios, and old clothes take on a life of their own. Unfortunately their purpose is not to propel towards the future, but to trap the owner in the past. I always think I’ve successfully gotten rid of all my Accidental Talismans but I discovered I had more to learn.

I’m fortunate to have an occupation that offers me a considerable amount of vacation time. So after my son’s Spring Break had finished, I still had quite a bit of time left in my vacation. It being Spring and all, I was inspired to do some deep cleaning of my house. I was in my own bedroom, armed with a Swifter and clearing out the cobwebs in the ceiling corners when an expressly prominent Accidental Talisman growled at me. My bookshelf was particularly disgruntled.

I am an avid reader. My new rule is that if I can find the book at the library, then I don’t bring it permanently into my home. I would not have enough room in any house to house all of the books I read. That said, some of the topics I research are not books stocked in the Chicago Public Library. At one point, I decided that I wanted to make space in my own bedroom for my favorite books. I also wanted the top shelf just under the window to be a place for special objects. So years ago, I went to the nearest Target and put together a small bookshelf.

Now I’m not against convenience, obviously, but that bookshelf kit I bought wasn’t exactly built to last. Target gives their furniture kits very small warranties for good reason. Several years ago, that book shelf broke. The corner pin pulled out and had cracked the top particle board. However, instead of replacing it…I…um….well, I used some leopard print duct tape to hold it together.

That leopard print duct tape was simply awful.

With taxes filed, bills paid, and vacation pre-paid and over, I thought to myself, I could easily replace that bookshelf with a new kit from Target. But the truth was, I could have done that when it had broken in the first place. Why had I kept it?

I took the query of broken things to social media. Only four of my personal friends were brave enough to respond to the question. Three said that they kept broken things in order to repair them. Although two of those three brave souls admitted to me that they never did get repaired, and sat in variously locations around their homes, much like my growling bookshelf. When I bombarded the third person with questions like “How long does it usually take you to repair things?” and “Where do you keep the broken things while they are waiting to be repaired?” She didn’t respond…I have a sneaking suspicion that like the other two, those broken things she has have been sitting in her space broken…possibly for years.

So if we are really not repairing these things, the question still remains – Why do we keep broken things?

My most favorite books, and objects that were quite literally sacred to me were perched precariously on a sad little bookshelf being held together with duct tape. My room looked pretty fresh after I had swiped away the cobwebs, but it just made that bookshelf even more…loud.

Look at me!” It screamed.

That was startling, even though I’m well aware Accidental Talismans take on a very disconcerting sentient quality. The bookshelf was growling and screaming at me; talk about creepy! But…if my own friends and all of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr couldn’t tell me why people keep broken things…maybe that very loud bookshelf would.

I believe that all of our things are reflections of ourselves. That’s why I’m so adamant about getting rid of Accidental Talismans. If possessions are reflections of ourselves then I want that reflection to be accurate and affirming, not some freakishly skewed funhouse version of a reflection. I had to know what my broken bookshelf was reflecting about me. The truth was more complex than I imagined. That bookshelf had a lot to say.

Perception of Value

“You want me to be valuable!” it shrieked.

I was shocked. I paid good money for that bookshelf and it fell apart! Well, I paid money for it. But I did not pay a lot of money for it. I did after all buy it from Target. Target, though, is a lovely, helpful establishment that offers a lot of different types of merchandise in one convenient location.

“Target,” countered the bookshelf, “Is not exclusively a furniture store.”

I really couldn’t argue with that. Target only warranties its merchandise for a limited time because their bookshelf kits are not meant to be generational family heirlooms. Target would probably argue, and rightly so, that their bookshelf performed up to its expected warranty. And I wasn’t exactly careful with the thing (the bookshelf told me that it would come back to that in a moment), so Target certainly had nothing to do with the breakage.

But value isn’t necessarily monetary. Not only did I spend my money on that bookshelf, by the Gods! I had spent my exceptionally valuable time building the thing! Yes, indeed I had spent my limited time putting together a bookshelf. I made the decision to buy a bookshelf kit from Target because when I decided I wanted that bookshelf, I wanted it NOW. I did not want to “waste” (my oh so valuable time) visiting multiple furniture stores where they build very lasting, stable bookshelves and have them delivered by careful, professional furniture movers. That takes weeks, and sometimes months – I didn’t have time for that! At Target, I had my bookshelf at the now.


“So tell me why that green fairy dress of yours is this closet, and not the costume closet in your basement,” said the bookshelf.
2011

Yes, for the record, I have a costume closet. But the green fairy dress was (is), as the bookshelf had stated, not in it. That's because I wear it so often, it just is too much trouble to retrieve it from the basement every time I time I want to wear it. My broken bookshelf reminded me that my when I bought it, my then husband was openly horrified at the money I had spent on that dress. I believe that it was about $130.00 dollars in 2005. Which seemed a lot of money for one dress he thought I wasn’t going to wear that often.

Well, it’s now 2017, and the dress outlasted the husband. As I said, I wear that dress all the time. It has a train that been drug through Arizona desert dirt, and Illinois summer mud; and yet it still looks as good as the day I bought it. Google me and you will probably find several pictures of me floating about the internet wearing that green dress. Because I have been photographed by literally hundreds of random strangers at faires and festivals I attend for my own amusement. I’ve had that dress for 12 years, so for each year I’ve had it, it cost only $10.83, for the year. If I calculated the cost by each wear, it would probably be pennies. And it still looks great. I’ll be wearing it for years to come.

2013



The green fairy dress was value, the bookshelf was not. I just wanted to believe that it was value because I spent a couple hours struggling to put it together myself. But the truth about that bookshelf is that I didn’t want value, no I wanted instant gratification; and whether I want to believe it or not, those two concepts are simply not the same thing.

 

 

 

Sentimental Reasons 

“You’re so sentimental,” the bookshelf said. “And I’m done with it.”

I was confused at first by this. I remembered that I had kept a broken toy that had belonged to my son. We had an Au Pair from Thailand who had given him this cool windup toy. It wasn’t very expensive, but I wanted to fix it so badly because it reminded me of her. It really was beyond my capabilities to fix, but I kept it for a long while hoping that I could, for the sentimental value of the thing.

I speak a lot about sentiment in conjunction with Accidental Talismans. People often recognize that a thing has sentiment (sentimental value) but it’s harder to articulate what that sentiment actually is. Just because something has sentimental value, doesn’t necessarily mean that the sentiment is positive. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a definition of “sentiment,” is “an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling (emphasis is mine).”

Surely this bookshelf from Target didn’t have sentimental value! Or did it?

The bookshelf then proceeded to remind me of how the pin was pulled, that cracked the shelf, which led to the duct tape. My son was in my room, he’s always in my room, and actually, I feel pretty lucky that he still wants to hang out with me. I don’t remember the precise circumstances, but I do remember that my son was trying to be helpful when he grabbed hold of the side of the bookshelf and pulled it in order to move it slightly. I yelled at him to stop, because, of course, the bookshelf broke. And my son cried, because it had broken and then I yelled at him some more, because he had broken it. And I felt awful. Because apparently, I had cared more about that bookshelf from Target, than I had about him.

When my son was a little smaller (as he was when the bookshelf broke, as a matter of fact) when he had a scrape, I would bandage it with a leopard print bandage. Mommy’s kiss would start the healing process and the next day, I’d find the bandage somewhere in the house, or on some stuffed animal who had had an accident too. Children’s physical scrapes heal pretty quickly. Bookshelves however, do not eventually grow new particle board. It wasn’t the pulled pin I was trying to heal when I taped up the bookshelf with that leopard print duct tape, it was that I had yelled at my son. I know very well that yelling at a child causes far more scarring than the worst physical scrape.

I had kept the bookshelf for many sentimental reasons. It was to remind me of the day I thought my books were more important than my son, and of the bad attitude I had. I passed a judgement on myself for my error. The bookshelf was a reflection of that.

“I don’t have time, for that!” 

That eyesore of a bookshelf had been growling and grumbling in my bedroom for a very long time…years…I think (I don’t know and more to the point – I don’t want to know). As I stood there, having this surreal conversation with the sentient Accidental Talisman armed with my swifter, I tried to argue that I finally had the time to clean like this due to my vacation and my son’s school schedule.

I had left the bookshelf alone because I had never had the time to attend to it before! I worked! So much! On weekends! At night! (I think I was still on the midnight shift when the bookshelf had originally broken – but I’m not sure) I still had to cook dinner and make sure the dishes were washed and the laundry was put away! I had to actually sleep and eat from time to time too! When? When! Did I have time to go to Target again and time to put together a new bookshelf! I didn’t! I didn’t!

The bookshelf sighed. “No one ever has time,” it said. “Time is an immensity. How arrogant you are to assume that you can ever have it. Time is so much bigger, older, and wiser than you will ever be. You cannot have Time – you can only offer it an invitation.”

I had never wanted to make the time to replace the bookshelf. I just couldn’t be bothered.

There had been a fourth friend who had responded do my Social Media query, “Why do we keep broken things?”

He had responded: Because we are broken.

“So you’re saying I’m a miser, a bad mother and that I’m lazy,” I said to the bookshelf with resign.

“No,” answered the bookshelf. “I don’t think that. I’m just a bookshelf. But you do. I am only a reflection of you.”

“I don’t think I like this reflection,” I said.

“My reality is,” said the bookshelf, “I died a long time ago, but you could not let me go.”

My sad little bookshelf, even though it had not had a long life, had in fact served its purpose. I was pushing it further than it could go. It had reached its limitations. I had to acknowledge my own limitations - it was beyond my capabilities to properly fix it. Well, to be fully honest, this bookshelf was broken, and could not be fixed.

So I returned the swifter to its proper place. I got into the car and drove to Target and I bought a bookshelf (this one has metal supports and thus, a longer warranty – I wasn’t exactly looking for generational quality). Then, I offered Time an invitation, and the new bookshelf was built. So then Time and I went to the old bookshelf and began to remove the books. When the last book was out, the bookshelf simply collapsed even as I was still holding the last volume in my hand.

I think it was grateful.




Resources 

“Sentiment.” Merriam-Webster, 2017. Web. 24 April 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sentiment

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Happy Pagan Coming Out Day! 2017

A new friend I met at Paganicon is very busy running a Podcast called Mystic.  The show's mission is to educate about Paganism and Magical Traditions.  Many of the episodes feature a historical theme, but to show that Paganism is most certainly alive and thriving in 2017, she asked her present-day social connections to film short bursts describing themselves and their path.

Well...mine was not short.

When I attempted to send it to her, my cell phone just laughed at me considering the size of the file.



My video was too large because not only did I want to show myself as a practicing Pagan, I wanted to show that I share my religious beliefs with my son, just as most parents do.  I felt it was important to welcome people into our home to show that we are actually not all that different from everyone else.  I suppose the largest difference in our home is the skull decorated with flowers, which is a permanent decoration and not just for Halloween (also called Samhain).  But as you can see, we eat Oreo cookies just like everyone else.

I couldn't submit this Video to the Mystic Podcast due to the size, but perhaps is was simply meant for today.  May 2, the day after the Major Pagan Holiday Beltane, has been established at Pagan Coming Out Day.  Not only do I identify as Pagan and I'm very open about that fact (obviously), my son also identifies his religion as Paganism.

We had an amazing family Beltane Ritual, incidentally.  The theme was action and inspiration.

The Fires of Beltane Summon You

What will you DO?




If you would like more information on this ritual expressly built for a Pagan child, or would like a copy please email me:  amychristensenmusic@gmail.com

Additionally, I have a previous post from 2013 about my Pagan Child, in the Article Pagan Coming Out Day.   

And please visit the Mystic Podcast!

If you are Pagan, you are not alone.  There is nothing wrong with you.  You are certainly not evil.  You are just not Christian.  Now, go eat an Oreo. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Resources for Accidental Talismans

Alfred North Whitehead said, “Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it.”  Accidental Talismans - the idea that clutter may in fact be detrimental to your physical and mental well-being, is not an entirely new idea.  Many others have written and attested on the subject.

Here is a selection of my favorite works related to Accidental Talismans:

 

Books 

Andrews, Ted. Psychic Protection. Jackson, TN: Dragonhawk Publishing, 1998. Print.

Hale, Gill. The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui. London: Anness Publishing Limited, 2001. Print.

Kingston, Karen. Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. New York: Broadway Books, 1999. Print.

---. Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui. New York: Broadway Books, 1997. Print.

Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Trans. Cathy Hirano. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2014. Print.

(You can read more on my thoughts about Ms. Kondo HERE)

Morgenstern, Julie. SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.

Palmer, Brooks. Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back. Novato: New World Library, 2009. Print.

---. Clutter Busting Your Life: Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter to Reconnect with Yourself and Others. Novato: New World Library, 2012. Print.

Rubin, Gretchen. The Happiness Project. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. Print.

---. Happier at Home. New York: Crown Archetype, 2012. Print.

 

Additional Blog Posts by Amy Alice Christensen

Accidental Talismans of the Verbal Kind.” Blogger. Blogger, 27 September 2016. Web. http://achristensenmusic.blogspot.com/2016/09/accidental-talismans-of-verbal-kind.html

April Owen Society: Odds Fobs and Gear Knobs: Accidental Talismans.” Blogger. Blogger, 30 April 2014. Web.  http://achristensenmusic.blogspot.com/2014/04/april-owen-society-odds-fobs-and-gear.html

Book Thoughts: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Blogger. Blogger, 1 May 2016. Web. http://achristensenmusic.blogspot.com/2016/05/book-thoughts-life-changing-magic-of.html

But They're Just Pants! (Musing on Accidental Talismans).” Blogger. Blogger, 5 May 2015. Web. http://achristensenmusic.blogspot.com/2015/05/but-theyre-just-pants-musing-on.html

Costco Magic.” Blogger. Blogger, 18 June 2013. Web. http://achristensenmusic.blogspot.com/2013/06/costco-magic.html

“It’s NOT The Thought That Counts.” Blogger. Blogger, 21 December 2016. Web. http://achristensenmusic.blogspot.com/2016/12/its-not-thought-that-counts.html

"Why Do We Keep Broken Things?"  Blogger.  Blogger, 09 May 2017.  Web.  http://achristensenmusic.blogspot.com/2017/05/why-do-we-keep-broken-things.html

 

Other Web Pages 

“Psychometry – Token Object Reading.” Psychic Library. Psychic Library, 2016. Web. 19 July 2016. http://psychiclibrary.com/beyondBooks/psychometry/

 

Videos and Podcasts 

Gnostic Wisdom Network. “[Talk Gnosis] Accidental Talismans.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 28 May 2014. Web. 20 July 20, 2016.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFsyjecc0qA

“Accidental Talismans with Amy Christensen and Rufus Opus on the LHP Consortium Speaker Controversy.” Magick Radio Chicago. 13 March 2016. Radio and Podcast. http://magickradiochicago.podbean.com/e/accidental-talismans-with-amy-christensen-and-rufus-opus-on-the-lhp-consortium-speaker-controversy/

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Confiding on Conferences

I think attending conferences may be the most important thing one can do for personal growth. Occupational conferences provide the latest information, technology and theory in one’s professional field. Conferences associated with a hobby or special interest spark creativity. Religious conferences can deepen one’s faith and provide enlightenment. However, for me, I think the most important aspect of the conference environment (and the one aspect all conferences have in common) is that it allows me to connect with other people who share something with me; whether that connection is through my occupation, special interest or religion.

At nearly every conference I have attended, my mind has been blown wide open with new information. Or maybe some elusive concept suddenly comes sharply into focus with profound understanding. There is always something new to be learned, even if you are considered an expert in your field or a guru of your faith. A conference brings me together with like-minded people who can impart to me their unique and individual perspective towards that passion which we share. A conference is intensive, and creative education intensified by human connection.

Particularly after attending Paganicon in Minneapolis this March, I’m going as far as to say that in my opinion, no one has any business being an educator or mentor if they don’t attend some sort of conference every few years or so. In fact, someone truly devoted to their work, special interest or faith maybe should be trying to attend as many conferences as they can afford. I think that a true passion deserves true devotion.

One of the best examples I can offer as a demonstration of the importance of conferences came from performer Kari Tauring in her Nordic Roots Workshop at Paganicon.


Ms. Tauring is devoted to her Norwegian heritage. She has spent a considerable amount of time researching the indigenous faith practices of the Norwegian people. She believes that religious faith is centered in the music, dances and folklore of the people. Most of her workshop was spent trying to teach a lot of us awkward pagans how to dance like a Viking. It went far deeper than dipping and shuffling our feet - we were making the Scandinavian runes with our own bodies as we danced. Once I let go of whether I was bending my knees at the right time, the act of becoming Mannaz, the rune for community, by being in community, solidified the meaning of this magic symbol for me in a way that goes far beyond words or language.

Ms. Tauring really rocked my spiritual world though with her simple translation of a basic divination with Runes – the three Rune draw. She explained that each of those three Runes correlates to each of the three Norns of Scandinavian mythology. The Norns have the responsibility for the Wyrd, which translates most closely to “fate.” Urd is represented by the first Rune draw, Her responsibility is that of the past, what once was. Verdandi is represented by the second Rune which is commonly associated with the present, but according to Ms. Tauring, Her responsibility is really over “that which is becoming.” Most people assume (incorrectly) that the third Rune, in the basic three Rune draw represents the future, but Skuld, the final Norn has a responsibility that isn’t quite that easy to articulate. Really what the great Skuld governs is something akin to “that which is likely.” She represents what is most probable given what was, and what is becoming.

Ms. Tauring then related the Norns concepts to heritage as a whole. She related that if you spend time studying where you came from, you can more easily predict what you might become; but more importantly, if you don’t like that direction, you can arm yourself with the tools to change it.

I have had many spiritual teachers who have stressed the importance of reverence of one’s own ancestors as a cornerstone of pagan faith practice. I was told time and time again to make space in my home for an ancestor alter and make daily offerings to these dead people. I didn’t just disagree with my teachers, this idea that my faith depended on my ancestors made me profoundly angry. I have done extensive research on my family history. Trust me when I tell you, none of these miserable, abusive alcoholics belong on an alter of any kind. I will not honor such lives. Their values do not in any way correspond to the kind of person I am or hope to become.

Time and time again I was admonished for my refusal to clear space for my family alter. I repeatedly demanded to know why my faith rested on my ancestors. I was never given a satisfactory answer. Ms. Tauring, however, finally made everything expressly clear. Many, if not most of the living family that I still have continues down a path of misery, addiction and abuse…there is at least one person who is veering from that path – she who keeps the records and knows the past – that one person is me. There is a new branch on my family tree, one that is strong and healthy, one that smiles and laughs and finds hope. My son will not be an alcoholic. He will not abuse his wife or his children. He will not because he knows his past and his path. Ms. Tauring gave me the answer I needed: Know your legacy, know yourself - know your power.

Still not ever going to have an ancestor alter. My faith is quite strong without one, thanks.

While I may have been ambiguous about my feelings towards ancestor reverence, I did not think I had any ambiguity when it came to the Underworld. I was so sure that I knew death. Well, really, it is beyond the scope of the human mind to fully know the mysteries of death and the Underworld; but I did think I had some rather meaningful understanding. I have after all, been dead, more than once in this lifetime (You can read about my death in The Day I Died).  That and my devotion to the Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, made me think I had acquired a working knowledge of the Underworld and death. However, Michelle Belanger’s Underworld Meditation, Rite of Seven Gates left me speechless.

I was so profoundly moved by the experience that it took several hours before I resumed to my chatty nature. I did however, manage to ask Ms. Belanger one question. “How do I continue this type of work?” I grunted. It was so difficult to get those words out of my mouth I do hope she did not find me morose and rude. She was hesitant to recommend her own book on the subject but I emphatically pressed her to do that very thing. It was her meditation that had touched me so deeply that it altered my consciousness and my very nature. She clearly had something to say, and although I didn’t know it at the time I chose her meditation from the conference schedule, I realized that it was exactly what I was craving to learn. Michelle Belanger showed me a new perspective on a landscape I was so sure that I knew so well. I learned that it is only when I open myself to experience something new in what is so familiar, that I truly grow. A conference is a surefire way to that experience. I bought Ms. Belanger’s book, Walking the Twilight Path, at the Paganicon conference and I had her autograph it. I am dying to read it…and yes that bad pun was intended.


Not all things at a conference need to be so intense. Even though I had neglected to bring one of my own elaborate costumes for the ball, I went anyway in a plain black dress. I enjoy marveling at other people’s creativity in costuming as much as I enjoy making and wearing my own, and maybe perhaps more so. People are so fascinating to me, I have a hard time designating anyone as “ugly” because all I see is beauty when I look at people. Particularly in a costume ball setting where people are putting all of their creativity and everything that they like about themselves to the forefront.
 



And the band! The band was so good. The Nathaniel Johnstone Band teams Steampunk with Greek Mythology. Gods! What is not to love?



I studied dance for many years. I know several different styles. Nathaniel Johnstone had me combine them all and whip my new bob haircut around with reckless abandon. I drew considerable attention to myself…whether it was positive or negative attention really matters little. It was the abandon that was important. I’m now an avid fan of this band (also purchased an autographed CD, thank you very much). Had I not jumped in with both feet and attended Paganicon, and then made myself go to the ball without a costume, I would never have known about them and the joy they have to give to their audience.

I was nervous about attending Paganicon. I was mostly attending because I had bravely submitted Accidental Talismans for programming consideration, and to my great anxiety I had been accepted. My room was filled, all of my handouts were taken, and several people gave me compliments about the affect my work made upon them. Yes! I learned so much from the workshops I attended, but I also learned something during the workshop I presented: my passion has relevance.

Conferences are where like-minds meet to share relevance

The next conference I’m attending (I’m not presenting at this one) is in my home city of Chicago. My son and I are super fans of the CW Television show Supernatural (now in its 12 season). We are going to go meet the actors who play our fictional heroes. I’m not disclosing the amount of the tickets. The money spent isn’t what is relevant. But trust me on this, this Supernatural Conference? It isn’t just relevant, it’s significant. And I can’t wait to attend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Animal Spirit Guides of the Chakra

In 1996 I was a student at the University of Arizona. As a part of my Musical Theatre Major one of the art requirements I needed for my degree was fulfilled by a brilliant class titled Human Movement in the Arts which was taught by Dr. John Wilson. During one section we were introduced to the practice of “totemism” in a religious societal context. Totemism is defined as a human belief construct where a human group identifies as having kinship with non-human animals or in some cases plants. After the fascinating lecture, Dr. Wilson mentioned that he had been introduced to a New Age form of totemism that he described as the Personal Totem Pole. As he explained it, the Personal Totem Pole blended the indigenous practice of totemism with the eastern construct of the chakras system. In a guided meditation, you met an animal (what I later defined as a Spirit Animal) which was associated with each of the seven main chakras. The animals would sometimes speak and often would give insightful messages. Dr. Wilson offered to arrange for an extracurricular workshop for students who were interested. Dr. Wilson was one of my favorite professors, and this had been one of my favorite lectures, so of course I was going to attend.

The meditation was simple: my fellow students and I were to lie down and be comfortable, close our eyes, and breathe deep. Once that was achieved, in our minds’ eyes we were to go to what the guest lecturer called a Temenos – a safe and sacred space. We were then invited to wait for an animal in this space. If one appeared we were to ask three questions. The first, “What is your name?” The second, “What is your message for me?” And the final question, “Will you come again if I call?”

I had a very powerful experience. I had never been exposed to meditation before this day in 1996. I was so completely in awe of this experience that the animals and meditating with them became the beginning of my spiritual path. My seven chakra animals became my primary spiritual connection. While I do worship The Goddess Diana and the Goddess Persephone now, my Spirit Animals remain as a cornerstone of my spiritual life and devotion. I now have an alter dedicated just to them.

My Animal Alter which I share with my son

Decades later I was determined to find the source of the Personal Totem Pole that continues to be such a source of strength for me. I learned that the Personal Totem Pole was envisioned by Dr. Eligio Stephen Gallegos during the course of his innovative and imaginative work in psychotherapy. It would seem that Dr. Gallegos pulled elements from Eastern, Western and Ancient religious practices and combined them with his training of Psychotherapy. The chakras were first discussed in India, although similar energetic vortexes of power have been discussed throughout the ages in the Chinese culture and also some Native American cultures. There was also the discovery of Otzi, the 5,300 year old Iceman found near the border of Austria that had extensive tattoos of what appeared uncannily similar to the Chinese meridian system; which suggests an ancient Western culture might have been making use of an energetic body belief structure as well. The word Tamenos is Greek and is generally said to mean a piece of land - a sacred grove or precinct of the king. And the iconic Totem Pole is indigenous to the Tlingit Native American Tribe. The blending of cultures is the very definition of modern New Age Spirituality. It would seem though, that Dr. Gallegos utilizes the Personal Totem Pole more in a therapeutic context rather than spiritual. While my personal journey with the animals of the chakras was a catalyst for personal growth and inner discovery, for me it touched something deeper than my psyche – for me, it reached the depths of my soul.

I was born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona which is the home to the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain range that is sacred to the Native American Hopi tribe. Despite a commercial ski resort taking residence there, it is a most holy place. Though I am not Native American, I grew up surrounded by this ancient culture. After I earned my driver’s license, when I was feeling restless or lost I would drive up the mountain to a place called Hart Prairie, where I would sit on a boulder and watch the Arizona sun set. This was the first Tamenos I chose for the Personal Totem Pole journey. In my Tamenos, the first animal that came to me in Muldahara, the root chakra, was an owl – a gigantic great horned owl, with a wing span of at least six feet. When I asked his name he puffed out his chest and shook his head and all of his feathers making a strange guttural sound I have difficulty replicating. As best as I can offer, he addressed himself as Urru. He perched on a branch of a tree and leaned in so close to my face that his beak nearly touched my nose.

Who are you?” he asked me in cliché owl-like fashion. He did not mean simply my name.

I am a very stubborn person, and I like things to fall into neat ordered packages. So as I continued on my Personal Totem Pole journey, I was very determined to meet animals that belonged on the San Francisco Peaks where I had chosen to be. An animal came out of a bunch of aspens and I decided that it was a deer because that would make sense (and that would be a nice and tidy package). But as the poor thing wobbled out it started stretching like silly putty. Its eyes bulged and shrank, with its snout doing the same - then like a chewing gum bubble bursting, it “popped” into a kangaroo of all things. Her name was Outla.

Have fun and don’t be so grumpy all the time,” she said. Sage advice of which I still need reminding.

Outla was also pretty firm about something else. When I asked her if she would come again if I called she answered no. She would only come if I called her to share my joy with her. I did not know it at the time but the Sanskrit meaning of lower abdomen chakra, Svadhisthana, is sweetness. Outla wanted that for me and she wanted to savor that delight with me.

Since kangaroos have no business in Arizona mountains, my stubborn brain simply started changing the location of the Tamenos to accommodate more animals. So instead of the peaks, my spiritual journey continued by suddenly changing to my tiny studio apartment where I lived in Tucson at the time of this journey. Only in my mind’s eye, a sleek black tomcat was meowing at the door. When I opened it he just strolled right on in like he was the king of the castle.

Got milk?” he said.

I retrieved some milk from the refrigerator and dutifully followed the instructions of the guest lecturer to ask my questions. “What is your name?” I asked this cat.

I have one, but I’m not going to tell you what it is,” he said, lapping up the milk. “You can call me Trickster for now.

When I proceeded with the next question he transformed into a vicious panther who leapt on top of me and pinned me to the ground with one massive paw. “You are afraid of the dark,” he said. “You must find out why. Search your soul.

The solar plexus chakra is called Manipura and is known to be a power house of energy. I have always thought it interesting that my particular battery seems to be fear.

He laughed when I asked him if he would return to me if I called to him. “If you dare,” he said.

The next animal of the heart chakra, Anahata, took me back to my childhood home in Flagstaff, Arizona. We had a maple tree in the front yard there. In my journey a little chipmunk was sitting in the branches. “My name is Ree, like Yes-sir-ee!” He said. This little guy was pretty excited. The only thing that I got out of him after his cute introduction was “Gift! Gift! Gift!”

After that, my location changed again (I’m more than a little stubborn and perhaps more than a little fickle). While exploring the throat chakra, Vishuddha, I didn’t recognize the place as somewhere I had been nor have been to anything even remotely like it since this journey - except to go there in my mind. I was in a pool of water, in the water itself, under the surface. I felt calm and safe and perhaps able to breathe, or just sure of myself that I had enough air to relax. An animal came up underneath me and took me for a ride on its back. It felt like we were dancing together under the water. The being was as large as myself, so I had difficulty figuring out what it was. It was not a crocodile, it had lovely soft fur. Then a feeling of delight and joy flooded through me. This was an otter. A giant otter! I thought this was a being of my imagination, but it just so happens Giant River Otters in South American can reach up to six feet.

His name was Sampson and he told me, “Something must be done.”

I didn’t think I had any affinity with otters, but I just adore them after meeting Sampson. He kissed me before we said goodbye. I could even feel his whiskers tickle my cheeks.

When I continued my journey I climbed out of Sampson’s pool. It was surrounded by a rock wall and I began to climb. I climbed some more. It resembled a place I had once gone rock climbing with the roommate I had had my sophomore year, but it was different. I was climbing a very long way into the sky. Finally when I reached a plateau, I was greeted by a large gray wolf. There were pups roaming about and when I sat down to rest from my climb the pups scampered up to me and wanted to sit in my lap. But the Alpha male who had greeted me silently when I had arrived, took each pup out of my lap.

He was The Watcher and his message was “Focus.”

The Watcher let me know that he was not at my beck and call. He would appear when I least expected him. Anja, the third eye chakra is the gateway to wisdom. The Watcher insists that focus is my pathway there.

My journey circled back around to where I had begun. I found myself in my first chosen Tamenos again, sitting on my rock in Harts Prairie on the San Francisco Peaks. I was watching the sunset waiting for my final animal, the animal of the crown chakra, Sahasrara. Then I realized that there was something in the sky. It was flying…no…it was moving in a looping pattern, with a long serpentine tail. It was deep red in color…and…were those scales?

“Absolutely not!” my mind snapped. I would not under any circumstances accept an animal that did not exist! “There are no such things as dragons!”

The thing then fell from the sky and dropped it front of me. A misty circle formed around it as the thing shimmered inside. Finally a green and gold cobra emerged as if from a cocoon. It was three times the size of myself, and when it lifted its head, it moved gracefully from side to side at least a foot above my own. This form might have been a little more realistic, but my profound dislike of snakes made it extremely difficult for me to stay within the journey.

I am Sirke,” she said. “We are the most connected of all.”

For the final part of the journey we were giving one more task. I took the guest lecturer’s instruction quite literally and in my mind I began gathering wood and built a bonfire as the sun went down in my Tamenos. But the task was actually to call to the animals, to gather them all together for a formal parting and to give them thanks for their messages. Sirke, Trickster and The Watcher sat together. Urru was sitting in his tree. Ree had scampered up my arm to sit on my shoulder while Sampson sat next to me on my right. Outla had decided to attend but she sat by herself apart from all the others.

I have never forgotten this journey, as I said, it became a cornerstone of my spiritual practice. I continue to ponder the messages of my Spirit Animals and I meditate and dream with them often. Part of the reason the experience was so powerful for me was the realization that these animals were clearly a part of me. I believed without a shadow of a doubt that they were my guardians from the day of my birth and that they would have been with me anyway, regardless of whether I happened upon the work of Dr. Wilson or Dr. Gallegos. I knew it because I had dreamed of The Watcher years before my Personal Totem Pole journey.

As I was processing my journey, I suddenly had a flashback to high school. I was in my dreaded English class; dreaded because it was so dreadfully boring. It was the day after Halloween and I was exhausted from the night before. I had been out late with my dear friend John, we had dressed in costume and had been accosting trick-or-treaters with toothbrushes. I thought it was hilariously funny and well worth losing sleep for school. The dry English teacher had put on some film about linguistics and I had drifted off in sleep. I had dreamed that I was walking in an alley. A gate swung open and there was a large gray wolf. It bared his teeth and snarled. In the dream I was paralyzed with terror as the beast leapt from the gate and tackled me. Before it could devour me, I woke up and slammed my hands on my desk, startling the whole of the English class. The Watcher was already reminding me to focus when I was sixteen year old. He was with me. He was real.

One of my animals made a point to show me just how “real” they all were. Two years later after Dr. Wilson’s extracurricular lecture, Urru manifested in feather and flesh for me. I was visiting my parents after my graduation from the University of Arizona, and I had driven to Hart Prairie and was sitting on my rock watching the sun set. I was contemplating leaving Arizona to move to Chicago. It was a big risk, I knew absolutely no one there, and I would be leaving my family for the unknown. There was more, I had met someone; someone I believed was my soul mate. This person would not come with me to Chicago, so I had to choose.

I took a breath of the crisp mountain air and I asked of this sacred place, “Should I go to Chicago?”

And then, Urru (who I originally believed to be too big to be real) swooped down from the aspens but mere feet in front of me. This owl was so huge, he could have chosen me for his dinner! I had my sign. It was Urru, asking his question again, “Who are you?”

My destiny and my future self was waiting in Chicago. I have a tattoo in a very typical place on the small of my back, not too far from the root chakra, Muldahara. It is of a great horned owl in hunting flight. It reminds me to remember Urru’s question and urges me to seek my destiny.

There were other manifestations of the realness and the truth of my experience. Both Dr. Wilson and the guest lecturer were delighted when I related to them my meeting with Trickster. A totem pole created by the Tlingit tribe nearly always has a Trickster spirit in residence. Mine had just clearly articulated who he was. We had not discussed the individual animal totems on the Tlingit totem poles in Dr. Wilson’s lecture nor had we discussed their roles or the significance of their positions. I had no prior knowledge of the significance of the totem pole trickster – and yet I had a Trickster Spirit.

My Spirit Animal’s messages are still so significant in the present life I am living right now. I had no idea what to make of my chimpmunk Ree’s message at the time of my journey but I think I know now. Anahata, the heart chakra, is the source of not only compassion and love, but joy as well. Especially in these recent winter months, I have been receiving the message over and over again to follow my own heart. I put aside the skills and gifts I was given in an attempt to secure my future. I think Ree was trying very hard to tell me that were I to share my gifts, my future would be not only sure but joyful as well.

And speaking of putting aside those gifts, I had a dream several years ago, after I had moved to Chicago. A terrible man was beating a Giant Otter and the beautiful creature was in terrible pain. I wonder now if Samson was trying to remind me of his message. The Throat Chakra, Vishuddha, is the seat of communication – of voice – and at the time of the dream, I had stopped singing.

1996 was a very long time ago. I have had a large portion of time to consider Sirke and her message. Not long after my Personal Totem pole journey I was working on a college paper inside the studio apartment I had then in 1996. My mind was wandering from my work so I took a break and I looked around the whole of the room. Two crystal dragons, gifts from two different people dangled in the window. A card I got in the mail was posted on the refrigerator because I loved the picture of the flaming red dragon. A journal was lying on my desk. It was embossed with a dragon - a gift from a friend.

I saw this and thought of you,” was what they had all said when they had given me those dragons.

I knew then Sirke’s true form. What does it mean to be connected to a dragon? Because whether I like it or not, Dragon she is. I wonder if our connection means that I am an imaginative person, or perhaps my head is too far in the clouds. Or perhaps I am more ferocious and capable than I think…or perhaps all of the above. I have continued my journey with her and the others since 1996. Messages are simply the starting point, there is always more knowledge to follow after a message and I am still learning and journeying.


For More information on The Personal Totem Pole Journey:

Visit the Website of Dr. Eligio Stephen Gallegos

You can also read about his work in psychotherapy with this technique:
The Personal Totem Pole, Animals of the Four Windows, and Into Wholeness: The Path of Deep Imagery

For more resources on Animal Spirit Guides:

I highly recommend Animal Speak by Ted Andrews

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Pleasure Path

Two weeks before New Year’s Eve I was in the grocery store and I made sure to grab a package of black eyed peas while they were in stock. My son and I have an established tradition at our house. I make Mice and Beans, we drink champagne, we state one resolution and then we stay up until midnight to greet the brand new year. The champagne is sparkling grape juice. The Mice and Beans is actually Hoppin’ John a dish made with black eyed peas because my mother and Martha Stewart say that they bring you luck for the New Year. My son doesn’t remember why we call it Mice and Beans, but when he was little we read about Skippy John, a Siamese cat that had an adventure to Mexico in his magic closet. He met some Chihuahuas who asked him if he liked rice and beans. Skippy John responded “Si! I love Mice and Beans!” Because he’s a cat…not a Chihuahua. Anyway, I held those black eyed peas in my hand for several minutes remembering Skippy John Jones. I won’t ever forget that silly cat even though my son doesn’t remember that story anymore.

I was laughing outright as I tossed those peas into my cart. Then it hit me – by the Gods I was laughing! With reckless abandon in a grocery store filled with people who might be judging me! What the heck was going on? I was actually happy.

Sadly, that’s really not my default setting. I really like to simmer in my sadness and delve into my despondency. I live to mourn my life.

Singing along to the Christmas Carols in that grocery store I started to ponder if maybe there was a different route to consider. I went home and I began working on a project to reflect on 2016. I wanted to know precisely what made me unhappy. Although, I knew that if I really wanted to make a change – that is if I wanted to keep this mysterious mirthful mood – what might be even more important was to consider what made me happy.

Research in behavioral science has suggested that there seems to be an evolutionary factor for why it is easier to remember the worst things that happen, rather than the good things. It stands to reason that if something can kill you, you might want the memory of that permanently etched on the back of your eyelids. But if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s how easily mired I can become with all that negativity. Really, most of the things I carry with me looming like a dark cloud over my head, while uncomfortable, are not really environmental threats to my survival. Yes, I wanted to learn and grow from the mistakes I made in 2016, but really the burning question I had was, “What makes me happy?” I couldn’t necessarily find that by reliving my failures.

Then, I was sifting through blogs on Tumblr and came across a post by TheCrownedCrow. It was a divination challenge to create a personal map for 2017 in order to help you realize your goals. Although I knew I’d probably be the only geomancer in the challenge, I was hooked. Particularly when I read the seeking question for day 2: The New Year also brings a moment of reflection. What is something I learned in the previous year that will help me grow in this one? That is the beauty of geomancy. There’s very little about it that’s cryptic. Geomancy says, “Look right here for your answer.” I already had the memory project well underway. All I had to do was roll my geomancy dice, and cast the house chart. A repeat of the first symbol would tell me exactly what memory would be the most helpful to focus on! Part of me thought that it would lead to a particularly painful lesson I endured in 2016, if I could master that it would be the key to lasting happiness in 2017! But my dice had a different tale to tell.


The first figure was Via or Way, I often interpret this as path or road. I was very pleased to see this figure. This was going to be an interesting reading. I cast the chart, and Via reappeared in none other than the House of Children. The Fifth Astrological House can represent actual growing children, but it also uses the concept of children as a metaphor. Children are strongly motivated by pleasure, so in a geomantic reading, the symbol in the fifth house also represents things that refer to pleasure. So, the key to my growth in 2017? It was to look at what makes me happy. I must look at everything that brought me a semblance of joy in 2016 and instead of collecting negativity to loom over me, I needed to draw my positive experiences with me into 2017.

I’m so obsessed with my work with Accidental Talismans and getting rid of things, I had never really taken the time to consider what things are important to keep. The key to my growth was waiting for me in those treasures of memory rolling around in the back of mind. I just needed to give them a place of prominence. I needed them to tell me their stories.

January 2016 

In January I was looking for something my son and I could do and I found a Dog Sledding event called Musher Mania. It was fun and spontaneous. We got out of the house and participated in an event that fed our connection. Then, I did some pretty scrapbook pages because I gave myself the time to do this small hobby that brings me joy.


The lesson that I took from this was the celebration of the spontaneous. There actually wasn’t a lick of snow, we mushed in the mud which probably made it that much more hilarious. The event planners worked with the weather they were given and it was still a blast. I learned that you don’t need perfection to have a perfect day. Just live in the moment.

Capturing the moment was also significant. The scrapbook pages I made were some of my favorites of the year. I love scrapbooking. I love it. It makes me happy. If I am to follow a new path, scrapbooking then is important. It is a mile marker on the road to happiness.

February 2016 

Every year in association with Valentine’s Day my son and I visit Medieval Times. It is a tradition that we both look forward to every year. I love the show and I love the tradition. I worry so much about being repetitive and boring but tradition is a touchstone so worth keeping.






March 2016 

I am a serious homebody, vacations are often not relaxing for me. In 2016 I took a huge risk, for the first time I traveled to another country with my child! We went to Grand Cayman. My son took me snorkeling and in Devil’s Grotto, we looked down over the edge of the reef and saw two huge sharks enjoying the waters. I have absolutely no photographic evidence of the event. My son and I were so stunned by these magnificent creatures that we just observed them in frozen awe.

I learned that I was capable of risk! I was also pretty proud that I paid for that risk in cold hard cash! No banks were broken in the making of this moment. Definitely my financial planning is a skill to be proud of!

April 2016 

I really loved doing the Council Oak Fundraiser as Ruby Ruse. I loved telling fortunes and found that I was very good at it. I often give people the option to consider that I might just be reading their body language and reactions more than I am looking into their future; because if what I say is helpful, then it doesn’t really matter where the information comes from.

But how I knew a former accountant was changing careers to be a librarian?…that’s a bit difficult to explain away with body language. You know what? Being a creepy fortune teller in pink sparkles really makes me deliriously happy.


May 2016 

In May I finally got the opportunity to work with visual art in a three dimensional way. Joan Forest Mage teamed me up to create an Art Adventure for the Life Force Arts Center with Errol McLendon. I created the second event, a Creative Drama program called Come Play With Me.





The participants really got into it and I was delighted to dust off my skills in improvisational performance. I learned that I am indeed a creative individual. More than anything else, it is my creativity that I feel defines me. And, when I am being creative, I am happy.

June 2016 

I really love fitness. That is a fact. I was intensely involved in my training and doing research on fitness for a summer presentation. I was perhaps in the best shape of my life in June of 2016 and that really made me happy. Scientific research suggests that a fit body releases endorphins in the brain that perpetuates happiness.

July 2016 

Very few people know when my birthday is. I don’t like to share the information partly because it is on the holiday weekend and my birthday gets swept away under the national fervor. But the deeper (and darker) reason is my belief that my birth was an accident and that my parents really didn’t want me. It’s a little difficult to celebrate your birthday if you wonder whether you really were meant to be born.

However, hopped up on all those fitness endorphins I was hell bound and determined to have a happy birthday. As I was polling my friends for trip suggestions, one clever soul offered up the City Museum in St. Louis and I was hooked from the mention of seven-story slide. The City Museum was completely awesome yet I loved pretty much everything about that trip!


The most important thing I learned was that I didn’t always have to worry about what everyone else may or may not be thinking. I spent my childhood and a great deal of my adult life trying to do what I thought my parents wanted me to do. I did this hoping to prove to them that I was worth their love, even though I was an accident. I carried that mentality into my most of my relationships. I chose activities based on what I thought somebody else might want. This isn’t the fortune telling that makes me happy, this is just crazy making!

This time, in July of 2016, I went somewhere I wanted to go without worrying about what someone else wanted. And it not only turned out okay – it was better than okay – it was awesome!

August 2016 

For reasons I may write about later (or perhaps never) I was in an exceptionally dark place in August. It was quite possibly the lowest I have ever been yet. My child brings me joy, but my happiness is not his responsibility. He knew I was depressed, but there was nothing he could have done and I sure wasn’t going to disclose to him just how bad I really felt.

It was my cat Bing who pulled me out of the dark. When I picked her up from the groomer she was so darn happy to see me! And she was just so cute with her hair all shaved off, rolling on her back and telling me to rub her belly. She loves getting her hair cut. She just would rather be naked – she’s a weird cat.



She made me laugh and then she licked away my tears with that sandpaper tongue. She quietly listened to all of my darkness and took in all of it without so much as flick of her tail.

“Silly Amy Alice,” she said to me. “I love you. See, you’re worthy of love. Now rub this naked belly!”

Bing, a half blind naked cat, taught me that there is unconditional love in this world, I just have to be willing to accept it in whatever package it may come in.

September 2016 

September was about just surviving; it was just about putting one foot in front of the other. As luck would have it, the Summer of 2016 was the summer Pokemon Go became all the rage. As the season was coming to a close I put one foot in front of the other while capturing Pokemons with my son. We would walk for hours and talk about all sorts of things. I don’t think that I will ever forget that. What a wonderful game. Sometimes happiness comes in tiny packages – in this case, anime animals on an IPhone.






October 2016 

I adore Halloween. It was hard for me to choose just one highlight; it was a toss-up between the Trick-or-Treat in Oak Park or Fright Fest at Six Flags – both were Halloween themed fun. I love making Halloween Costumes. I just love it! It’s not lost on me that this is another example of a hobby. It was also the aspect of using a skill. A part of the joy in those events was the oohs and ahhs my son and I received over our one-of-a-kind costumes. I also love to see the obvious surge of pride on my son’s face when he informs his fans, “This costume is handmade.” I love that my son gives me a picture and trusts that I will bring it to life. My sewing skill alone can bring me happiness, but to share that joy with my son makes me that much more deliriously joyful!





















November 2016 

This makes me feel a little sheepish to admit…but the best thing in November was discovering how much I like the television show Supernatural. And not just the show, the character of Sam Winchester.





I finally felt like a normal human being because I had a legitimate crush! Albeit it was on a fictional character who I would consider far too young for me in real life, but I hadn’t had a sweet and innocent crush since William Shatner ruled 1970’s syndication as Captain Kirk, so I’ll just take it

This little crush made me research the actor Jared Padalecki; and I learned that he too suffered from depression. He had a crisis in the early seasons of the show, probably because he was enjoying so much success and a part of himself was screaming that there was no way that he could possibly deserve it. I was able to make that assumption because I feel that way so much of the time. I love too that he used his own creation of Sam Winchester to see himself through. He reminded himself that Sam always kept fighting, and that became his mantra. He founded a whole awareness campaign with that as the slogan.

Jared Padalecki is a hero to me because he risked stigma and rejection to help others who share the battle with depression. In him, I found someone to model. Isn’t that what the arts are supposed to do? Give you something to model so that you can find and become the very best version of yourself? Art shows us the possibilities. And when it comes to possibilities you want the outlandish, the bigger the better! If we imagine ourselves fighting the very Darkness Herself then perhaps it is then easier to find a flashlight when the circuit in the kitchen blows.

Watching Supernatural gave me the ability to see possibilities as I shrieked in gleeful terror watching the impossible adventures of the Winchester brothers. It made me laugh when I needed a break from my sadness. It gave me adventure when I wanted to get away from the monotony of my job. It made me realize that I had emotions…even the flirty one I wasn’t sure I had. It gave me hope.

It would seem that frivolity has its wisdom too.

December 2016 

While sweet Sam Winchester was leading me down a new path of hope, the day everything suddenly changed was when I responded to Errol McLendon’s request to share my thoughts about death and what happens after that event. I wrote to him about my son’s birth, and how it nearly killed me. I had such a strong, spiritual, and life changing experience. I found my Goddess and I found my purpose - I found that when I died.

I sent him a long message detailing my experience and then I went to his show. It was so very profound that the audience stayed for more than an hour afterwards to talk, and to be with one another. After that, it was as if the dark cloud that I had carrying over my head burst. I was free. I was happy again. I felt more myself than I had for longer than I could remember. Errol’s show stayed with me and I thought about it that whole week. Then, I decided to write about the experience again. This time I posted it on my blog (The post is called, The Day I Died). It was one of the most well received posts I had ever written; probably because it was the very best article I had ever written. It was the best, because it was so true.

I learn so much about myself when I write. In my blog post about my death, it was during the process of writing that I discovered something so important: when my body was dead and there was nothing left of me except my own instinct and my own feelings, what I wanted – what I needed more than anything – was to be a mother. I realized that it was really the first time I had expressed a deep desire that came not from someone else’s expectations of me, but truly from my own desire – my own instinct and feelings. Despite the mistakes I had made as a mother and despite the fact that I had been unable to control all the circumstances, ultimately being a mother had brought me the greatest joy I had ever known. It made me wonder what I could accomplish if I trusted my desire more often. I wondered what I could accomplish if I listened to my own instinct and my feelings instead of giving that power away to someone else.

I wondered this because I wrote. The dark cloud burst when I told my story.

There were things from 2015 that I stuffed into that dark cloud and I carried it all through 2016. My geomancy reading suggests that there is a new path for 2017 through the House of Children. It is the Path of Pleasure.  I must make time for hobbies. I must celebrate my traditions. I must take pride in the financial freedom I worked so hard to earn. I must acknowledge my talents. I must be creative at every opportunity. I must pump my iron. I must exercise my independence. I must love my pets (particularly by rubbing my naked cat’s belly). I must play, just play. I must utilize my skills. I must give myself every opportunity to experience possibility, the more impossible the better. And finally, I must tell my story. It really doesn’t matter if it isn’t important to someone else, it’s important to me. I matter – to my son, to my weird cat, to me.

Happy New Year!