H is for History

[Pagan Blog Project post for last week. It’s been delayed for reasons that will become obvious.]

Last week’s news was very complicated.

Boston is no longer my home, but it’s where I’m from. I was born in Boston (at what was then Women’s Lying In).  In the 37 years since, I have been in and out of Boston countless times. I have wandered the Boston Public Library (and Copley Square). I have ambled down Newbury Street. I have walked across the Common, and down through what was known as the Combat Zone. I have gone through South Station on the way to many other places. I’ve spent endless hours at the Science Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, and all sorts of other spots. And, over the course of two summers of language classes, quite a lot of time in and around Harvard. I have not quite done what my older brother did, one summer, getting off at each and every T stop, and exploring. But I’ve been to more of them than I haven’t.

I still have a great many friends in the area, and now that it’s driving distance, not flying, I’m in Boston every couple of months. Most recently two weeks ago (lunch with friends, museum with my mother, before heading south for a conference), and then coming back through South Station on the 18th, after my trip.

Yeah. Like that.

And this brings me to talking about history. And context. And what that means for how we learn things, and how we respond to what we learn.

Continue reading

h is for habit

[again for the Pagan Blog Project]

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the habits we get into when doing things.

There’s a reason for that: I’ve spent the past five days in Washington DC, partly for a professional conference, and partly to play tourist. (I am writing this while sitting in a sculpture court in the National Gallery of Art, because it has comfy chairs and a table of convenient height, and my feet hurt.)

Not my habitual surroundings. Not my habitual amount of walking. Not my habitual weather. (DC broke heat records the last two days – 90+ on Wednesday, while Maine is getting another snow storm.) Not my habitual technology: I’m doing this trip solely with the iPad and keyboard, rather than a laptop, and the limitations of the device (particularly around multitasking) mean I’ve been adjusting my way of doing things.

Getting shaken out of my usual habits is good for me. (and probably good for you, too), but I’ve been thinking this week about mental habits, even more than physical ones.

One of the sessions I went to at the conference was talking about different ways of doing continuing staff training (something that’s a part of my job), and several of the panelists talked about forming the habit of lifelong learning.

And that got me thinking back to a workshop given by Nancy Pearl (a librarian who you may know from her book reviews on NPR, or her books Book Lust and the sequels.) She talked about how librarians who interact with the public, or who do collection development should make a point of reading outside their own personal comfort zones on a regular basis, by reading things that are appropriate for those duties, but that they wouldn’t have picked up. (She suggested a book a month in a genre you don’t normally read, if you do fiction selection, but adjust for your reading speed and related tasks.)

I’d like to suggest that the same habit – working outside our comfort zone – might well be good for Pagans, too. I don’t mean that you need to go out and try a brand new religious tradition (though if you happen to be at an event – Pagan Pride, a Pagan conference or gathering, etc. – that makes that easy, you might find it interesting.)

But do it in the small ways. Read a blog post from a perspective or path that isn’t yours. (That’s part of what makes the Pagan Blog Project interesting.) Find a forum focused on a different kind of perspective than your usual one, and read for a while. Take a bit of time to learn about a path or pantheon or deity or practice that’s outside your usual frame of reference. And then do it again. Once a week, once a month, block out a bit of time in your life.

The point here is not to become an expert in everything. It’s not even to dabble in everything. (You don’t need to do anything with the information you learn if you’d rather not.) The reason is to develop the habit of being open to new and different information, so that you don’t end up with limited focus, limited perspective, limited views of the world.

Despite the fact I am sitting in an art museum, fine arts are not my first choice for how to spend my time (I’m actually much more about material culture – give me objects that got used, textiles, jewelry, carved seal stones, pots, furniture, instead.) But despite that, here I am today, and last Saturday, I was at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston.

Part of that is that there were specific exhibits in both cases I wanted to see (old favourites in Boston: my mother started taking me to the MFA as an excuse to get out of the house when I was about 6 months old) and the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit here. (Ok, granted, part of why I find the Pre-Raphaelites fascinating is because there is a strong crossover to material culture and objects that were used in daily life.)

But I also am glad of the chance to go do something I don’t get to do very often, and the chance to see new things, and the chance to learn and appreciate something different. And I’m glad of all the chances on this trip to do that. (I got to play with tools I’ve read about but never used this morning! And got to look at fascinating forensic archaeology yesterday, along with a bunch of stones and meteorites and fossils.)

That doesn’t mean I won’t be glad to be back in my comfortable little town in Maine (and my own bed, with my own cat) – but this trip is part of my habit of doing new things, of taking the chance to learn. And that is a habit I want to continue for a long time to come.

G is for Greatness (and recognising it)

[Part of the Pagan Blog Project]

I was reminded this morning of a day from my childhood.

I was nine, going on ten, and I was horse-crazy in the way that 9 year old girls often are. (Actually, I was obsessive in a way relatively few 9 year old girls are, because I tend to be full-bore about my interests. But you get the idea). I was having regular riding lessons, but this was well before we got my beloved Dorothy (that happened when I was 11)

It used to be that the United States Equestrian Team had a facility in Massachusetts, and one summer day, my mother took me and a friend up to watch the Rolex Talent Derby for young riders. And we watch and we watch, and have the conversations you do at that kind of thing, about who’s going to win. (This is show jumping, so the scores depend on who goes over the fences without knocking them down in the fastest time, and who can negotiate the complexities of the rearranged patterns of the jump-off rounds.)

Mom is pulling for a gorgeous black horse. And I keep looking at this other one, a beautiful dapple gray, with a very young rider (he was 21). And I keep saying “Mom, that one.” And she keeps going “Yes, dear.” Like you do with a 9 year old daughter, even if she’s horse-crazy. Maybe especially if she’s horse-crazy. (My mother was remarkably patient with the horses, in hindsight.)

And at the end of the day, guess who’s right. (The black came in second, I believe. There were two jump-off rounds.)

That horse and rider were Gem Twist and Greg Best. They went on to get a double silver at the Seoul Olympics, and a wide number of other major honours and glories. (And I got to meet Gem Twist a few years later: he was a very sweet horse indeed.) You can see a video of them, five years into their career together, over on YouTube if you want to admire their skill and partnership.

How do we learn to open our eyes to that kind of thing? 

That’s the question I want to ask here. How do we recognise greatness, how do we recognise goodness, how do we recognise unusual quality and skill and talent when it’s in front of us?

That’s complicated. Having some other examples clearly helps: it’s hard to know what ‘really good’ looks like if you’ve never seen people at the top of their skill set.

Here’s the thing about my story above, though: that’s the first time I’d seen that level of jumping in person. (I was 9.) And while I remember my parents going through contortions to set the VCR to record the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (the horsey parts, rather), that was extremely unusual. (And it’s not like equestrian sports get a lot of screen time anyway.)

So how did I know what I was seeing?

You can listen to what other people say. But here’s the thing: in that story above, Gem Twist and Greg Best were not the expected favourites: he was just starting his riding career, and Gem Twist was only 6, which is very young for that kind of competition. Everyone, from what I remember reading afterwards, was sort of “Well, they were expected to do reasonably well, but nothing stunning.”

And look how that turned out.

But clearly, I was seeing something, and seeing it early, because I clearly remember talking about them after the first round, and being *sure* about them in a way that defied logic.

Sometimes we call that intuition, but I think in this case, it’s something a little more complicated. I think it’s hearing the harmony between parts, recognising the smoothness and intersection. The beauty of the cosmos, distilled into a moment of time, all the pieces lining up just right.

We can learn to recognise that moment – learn to keep our eyes open for that moment – even if we don’t know all the details of how that moment might come to be.

What does this have to do with Paganism? Or learning about it?

I had a complicated religious experience while I was at Paganicon, and I am still not up for talking about it except with a few trusted friends. (It was the good kind of complicated religious experience, though!)

But I had it because I listened to that small still voice inside my head that said “Hey. Go to the Seshat devotional ritual.”

It was one of those moments where all the pieces lined up, and the patterns were clear, and there was light and sound and harmony and complexity and wonder, all at once.

A mixture of many things coming together.

It’s those experiences, those moments, that I keep looking for. In a lot of ways, both my religious life and my professional life are all about creating a space where those things are more likely to happen: those moments of “Yes, let’s do that thing” becoming possible, and real. And seeing where they take us, even if that’s unexpected.

They are moments that cannot be driven by logic or reason – or at least not purely by them, though logic and reason can tell us some ways to encourage them to happen. And they’re moments that we can hold ourselves open for, by looking at the world with wonder and curiousity, rather than assumptions that we already know all the important things.

G is for Group

[Still more in the Pagan Blog Project]

I am slowly recovering from 10 days away from home (and my cat is slowly being assured I will not disappear at the drop of a hat – though she seems to have also decided that perhaps pouncing on unattended appendages outside the blankets while I’m sleeping is not in her interests, which is a good thing.) And I’m getting ready to go away again in a week. (Last trip was vacation with a smidgen of professional conference – paid for on my own, because it’s an awesome conference. This next one is professional conference with a smidgen of vacation time.)

Anyway. One of the things from my trip to Minnesota was getting to catch up with members of my trad, and then also getting to priestess for three 2nd degree elevations. (Which is the first time I’ve done that particular role, and which involved some rearranging of our ritual.)

It worked really well, and they all had the appropriate glow of ‘this took’ after, and I am delighted beyond belief I got to help (and that they put up with my scheduling issues. And the fact that between a professional presentation and a cold, I’d blown my voice out. There was a certain amount of ‘inhale cough drop during brief pause while they were busy in other parts of the house’ in my ritual experience.)

And as part of *that*, I spent my Monday night while there sitting at a table discussing various things, once we’d done our ritual editing. And got a chance to sort out some pieces. Which reminded me about the benefits of working through things with other people.

Continue reading

F is for Friends

[Yet another in the Pagan Blog Project]

It has been a very busy week (Paganicon, two days and a presentation at a professional conference, and upcoming trad things tomorrow that require preparation) so this is likely to be both short and less coherent than my usual.

That said, today I’d like to talk about who you know. I resisted, for a very long time, the idea that I was really a Connector personality.

a) I am an introvert
b) I know people who are *much much much* larger range Connectors than I am.
c) I have some weird personal Things about what I know and sharing what I know, and Stuff. (Yes, I’m a librarian. I still have Weird Things.)

But at the same time, I’ve been aware for a long time that part of how I do an awesome job at finding certain kinds of information – or resources, or material, or poking at concepts – isn’t because I’m good at them myself. It’s because I know people who are. And I keep a sort of organic mental list of “Hey, people who might point me in the right direction.”

It’s the thing about being a generalist: I know a little bit about a whole lot of things. I know a lot about a few things. But I also know there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. So when I can, the *better* source is to find a friend (or a friend of a friend) who really knows tons about that thing.

I am also deeply grateful for a week that has included a lot of just plain friend time – getting several days with a college friend I don’t usually get to see that long and that much. Staying with a wonderful friend and having lots of time to hang out. (At the moment she is making jewelry and I am typing, and we are both companionably on her couch). Lots of conversations with other local friends about awesome mutual stuff.

And besides that being fun, that’s how I get better at doing stuff. By talking to people who are not me, who see the world through a different lens.