Money and Craft : my personal take

I think there are many possible combinations of options here: I think each of us will have a range of possibles, and some things on either end that we would not consider for whatever reason. So, here’s my list, broken down by situation, with some comments about why.

My context:

I have a ‘day’ job I care about, am passionate about, and have invested quite a bit of time and money in (yay, graduate school). It’s also a career that I think adds to the betterment of the world.

I’m also fond of a certain amount of safety-net. I’m a single woman, living alone, with some chronic health issues, and it’s hard to manage health care and a stable income in that setting without a day job. (I am deeply in awe of the people who do.)

In other words, I don’t expect my religious or magical skills to pay for my general living expenses, in any way shape or form. While I would like to devote more time to writing and to other creative work in the field, it’s something that needs to be fit around my school-year job for the forseeable future.

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Money and Craft : a childhood background

There have been a number of conversations around the blogosphere about the issue of charging money in magical and ritual settings recently, and it both got me thinking and reminded me of a bit of my background that I take for granted, and forget not everyone has. Before I go on and talk (in a later post) about my own take on charging for Craft, I want to talk about that.

See, I grew up assuming everyone knew that there are ways to combine a secure financial future with major creative pursuits. Not that it’s easy, mind you – but that it’s fundamentally possible. It’s as much a part of my psyche as the idea that knowledge is the one thing that can’t be taken away from me, or that reading is just the thing you do all the time, in some form.

My adult self, of course, knows that these things are not the way everyone else moves in the world, and no longer expects people to put their values on the same things. But my subconscious self, the one that kicks in first, sometimes forgets.

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Leaving a group: the emotional side

I got several comments after my last post in various places about how I hadn’t talked about the emotional part of leaving a group. And they’re all right, I didn’t.

There’s a couple of reasons for that.

One is that I come from a stereotypically British family: talking about emotions at all, never mind mine in specific, is something I pretty much had to learn as an adult and proto-adult. (How I learned is an interesting story not relevant to this post). It’s still usually not the first thing I think of when talking about a subject.

But there’s another reason: I believe, quite strongly, that we can’t fundamentally control our emotions, but that we can (and often should) control what we do about them, or how we act based on them. So, when it comes to something like leaving a group – where we generally have advance warning – we do have some chances to decide how we’re going to act.

Besides, my idea of witchcraft – and magical practice in general – is that each choice shapes our future possibilities. That means we sometimes have to stop and not act purely in the moment, in order to give us more options down the road.

But back to the emotions.

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Leaving a group

This is a question that’s come up in two different places recently, which usually is enough to make me consider a post here. (One was a question from someone online about how to approach that conversation with a group she’d been working with, the other was a conversation with my student about my expectations around that once someone commits to being a Dedicant, just so we were both clear.)

The following applies to a group that someone’s made a significant ongoing investment in – I’m talking about becoming a formal student, member, or whatever else, here, rather than showing up when you feel like it, basically (that’s a whole other set of guidelines.)

Basic principles:

In general, I think that it’s good to avoid burning bridges unless you absolutely have to. Even if you think the people in a group are the lousiest people on the planet, the Pagan community is still pretty small. Chances are decent that you’ll end up crossing paths with them at some point down the road, or talking to someone who’s worked with them, or whatever.

Thus, while a good parting doesn’t need to be ‘happy and cheerful’ (it’s okay to have hard or hurt feelings), handling it maturely and thoughtfully, taking the high road, and tying off loose ends as much as possible has long seemed the best choice whenever you can. It will give you the widest range of future options in the community both immediately and in the future.

Existing commitments:

The first thing to do is stop and think for a minute, because it’s going to simplify the next steps a lot. Different groups, traditions, and paths have different ways to part, and different things to keep in mind, but here’s things to look at:

Have you made any commitments, agreements, or oaths…

about how parting from the group happens or should happen? For example, students in my group are asked as part of their Dedicant oath that if they decide the group isn’t a good fit for them, they will return to the group for a formal parting if at all possible. This is a recognition of the very real personal and energetic ties formed at Dedication (and at Initiation, etc.) and is meant to give everyone a chance to tidily resolve those energetic loose ends.

Having been on the other side of someone just disappearing a number of times, I was very clear on why this was a good idea even before I hived. Avoid breaking oaths. (If it’s a truly abusive setting, or there are good practical reasons you can’t do whatever the preferred mode is, see later in this post.)

Do you have any upcoming commitments to the group?

Are you currently mentoring someone? On the list to lead or create a ritual in the next 2-3 months? Have you taken on ongoing responsibilities for any task? Is there information about how to do something that lives in your head in the current use, and is not yet down on paper?

Take time to figure out some ways to handle that. You don’t need to find an answer for everything, but it is a useful thing to be able to hand the group leadership a clear list of what they need to find alternatives for, and how to maintain what you’ve been doing.

For example, I was the technology-answering person in my group for several years before I hived. I spent the time to write up the clearest directions I could about how each tool the group used worked (how to add an event to the calendar, someone to the mailing list, etc. etc.) They still asked questions about specifics, but it helped a lot to have a reference.

What will you say?

If other people ask you why you’re leaving the group, what will you say? Someone will probably ask, and it’s a lot easier to have an answer to this one if you think about it in advance. Good answers are generally brief, and avoid anyone’s dirty laundry. If you’re parting because you just want to go another direction, a cheerful “They’re wonderful folks, but I found myself going off towards [other thing].” can work well. If hte parting is a bit more fraught, something like “We were clearly going in different directions.” or “It wasn’t as good a mutual fit anymore.” or something general and simple works well.

(You may find that you do want to talk specifics: in general, I’d suggest this only with people who specifically ask you about the group because they’re interested in it themselves, and who ask you for your direct experience. Move forward, in other words, rather than getting stuck venting about what didn’t work.)

Think of what you want to say to the group members.

This may be more than one set of things. You may have things you want to share with the group leadership, but you should also consider what you want to say to other group members who may not hear all the details of why you’re making this choice. Again, focus on tying up loose ends rather than casting blame or getting stuck in past problems.

Consider the outcomes:

Are you considering leaving, but aren’t sure yet? Or are you really sure that it’s the thing you need to do? Is there anything that might change your mind?

If there is, this would be a good time to arrange to talk to the people who could do something about that – probably the group’s leader or leader’s. Make sure they know it’s a serious conversation (not a casual catching up) so they can plan appropriately.

If you know nothing’s going to change your mind, that’s okay too. Just make sure you’ve thought through each of your concerns first.

I do encourage people to take time with this step. Sometimes we feel pushed to leave a situation because it’s pushing us toward a change we’re not sure we want to take, or we’re hitting old baggage that we haven’t fully unpacked yet. If we don’t deal with that, we stand a good chance of hitting the same problem over and over again in other settings. If we deal with it a bit – even if we end up leaving that group anyway – we’ll be in a better place in the long run. That’s worth quite a bit of self-examination, I think.

It’s also possible that a group isn’t the right place for us right now – but that in a couple of years, either we change or the group changes (or most commonly, both) and it might be worth considering again. Being really clear about why you left helps make it a lot easier to see if coming back is the right choice down the road.

Communicate

Do not assume the group leadership are mind-readers. It’s not a good assumption. They may know you’re unhappy, or want to explore other areas, or just are struggling to deal with a complicated schedule, long drive, or something else practical, but they may not realise all of what’s going on. Having a clear conversation with them will help you as well as them.

You might have this conversation in their home, but it might be easier to have it in some neutral location like a coffee shop. (preferably somewhere that no one in the conversation has really strong ties to: don’t pick the HPS’s favorite morning stop!)

Maybe they have a solution you haven’t considered (if you aren’t set on leaving). Even if they don’t, it’s courteous to give them a clear explanation if you can, so that they can consider if they might want to change things in the future for other people.

Go into the conversation with an idea of what you want to say (which could range from “I’m really unhappy with how things are going, here’s what I think would change that” if you’d consider staying, to “I really don’t think things are working out, and I think I need to leave the group.”

They may have stuff to say. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) put up with abusive language, harassment, or anything else like that, but otherwise, you might consider staying – again, there might be something that you hadn’t considered that would at least make the parting easier for everyone).

Practicalities:

You will want to communicate any of your existing obligations. A list is handy here, that you can give them. Something like “I’d signed up for the May moon, Mallow might be a good person to handle this thing I’ve been doing and here’s directions on how I’ve been doing it, and here’s the books I borrowed from you.” Obviously, they may make their own choices, but at least you’ve done your best to point out the places they need to double check.

You may also need to ask the group for items, if, for example, they hold your measure as part of your commitment to the group, or it’s common for members to leave some items in the covenstead. (If this is the case, you probably want to think about how to get them back: depending on the situation, you might ask them to bring them to the conversation, to return them at a parting ritual, or to mail them or otherwise get them to you or make them easy for you (or a friend) to pick up.

Sharing with everyone:

You should talk about how to communicate your decision to leave to the group. Will you return for a parting ritual (at the next moon, Sabbat, or some other time?) Will there be a general announcement?

Will you want to continue talking to people in the group for any other reason (social events, overlapping circles of other interests, etc?) It might be good to talk about how to approach that. A good option is to give the group leaders time (a week or so if it’d be by email, the next obvious event if they’d do it in person) to communicate the decision, and then follow up privately with the relevant people. Again, don’t do a lot of venting and focusing on the bad parts, but do take a minute to say things like “I wish you well with Group, and I still look forward to getting together for horror movies every so often if you’re interested.” or whatever your shared interests are.

This is the thing I most regret about my hiving, actually – we all sort of knew when my last ritual with the group was going to be, but we weren’t as clear about it to students and prospective students as we might have been. I wish that I’d asked directly for some sort of announcement, or been  clear that I’d like to send something brief. I think it’s worked out okay, but people were a bit uncertain for a while whether I still wanted to see them or chat in other ways, or what was okay to bring up – and a simple email at the front end would have made that much simpler.

All that’s left at this point is to do the parting ritual if there is one, and to move on with your lives. Hopefully, by taking time to part well, you’ll have a much more pleasant experience if and when you run into each other down the road.

In really lousy circumstances

Sometimes leaving a group is absolutely necessary – but you know that one or more people in the group might be anywhere from totally inappropriate to emotionally abusive or even dangerous about it. (This last one is very rare, but just like romantic relationships going bad, sometimes other interactions take turns we really didn’t expect.)

Obviously, don’t do things you feel are unsafe (and do your best to catch this kind of situation in advance and get help if you need it.) Don’t go meet people if you’re pretty sure they’re going to gang up on you without any meaningful conversation. If you’re not sure, but want some options, think about bringing a friend from outside the group (who can sit with you, or at a nearby table) and help keep things on a more civil tone, or get help if they turn really nasty. (And again, meeting in a public space like a coffee shop helps a lot. Mall food courts generally have an active security presence, if you’re concerned about safety.)

If you feel you can’t discuss your leaving in person, sending a very simple email (no explanations needed if you don’t feel they’d be useful) is a good move: it helps make a clear break with the group. You may wish to consider turning your phone ringer off, asking a friend to check messages for you, or even staying somewhere else for a few days, just to help with the initial outburst of either questions or strong emotion.

Centering, grounding, and cleansing and/or warding your personal space might all be reasonable choices as well – not because most people will energetically attack you effectively (because most won’t!) but because it will help firm up your identification as separate from the group mind. And of course, if you have any realistic concerns about physical risk, talk to the police or other appropriate resources.

I’d also strongly advise packing away any tools, jewelry, or other items that are particularly strongly associated with the group for a while in this situation, and taking them out of your living space entirely for a period of time. In six months or a year or whatever you can come back to them, cleanse them if needed. They’ll have much less overwhelming emotional resonance for you, and you can deal with them in a more thoughtful way.

Still here

My last post, admittedy, was four months ago. There’s a reason for that, but since I haven’t been talking about it much in public, let me catch up here, so that we can then move onto more interesting subjects.

January 2009: I began a term as the interim librarian at the same school I’ve been at as an assistant. They hired me formally (after the full and sometimes nervewracking search process) in April.

Summer 2009: I was in and out of work a lot, even though I’m supposed to be mostly off between mid-June and mid-August. The rest of the time, I was helping a dear friend who was having hip replacmeent surgery to repair damage from an injury 43 years earlier. (She’s got some other medical issues, including hearing loss, that made us want to have someone with her all the time, while she was in hospital or the rehab center.) Good thing to do, but tiring.

And over the summer, the dear friend who co-founded Phoenix Song with me decided she needed to be going in other directions. Which I understand, and I want her to be happy – but I still miss that particular interaction, even though we continue to be friends.

This fall: I start work for the school year by moving (with the help of my excellent minion and a wonderful student) every single book, video, and DVD in the library – about 14,000 items – at least twice. (We moved *every* shelf location as part of rearranging various things and had to move many things to a holding location first.)

I do my best to settle into making the library space as much mine as I can, to develop my own style of being a librarian and building relationships with individual students better, and so on and so forth. And, of course, all the things you do when you’re an education professional and it’s the beginning of the new year – new students, a few new staff, new directions in curriculum.

And things start to go slowly downhill.

At first I thought I was just tired. You know, the way you are when you’ve been working 50 and 60 hour weeks consistently, and you know you’re doing a lot of new things. The way you are when you’re an introvert working in an extroverted role (and for more challenge, with a very extroverted division director/boss).The way you are when you’re doing some things you’re very comfortable with – but some that are very new or really not using your best innate skills.

And then I got H1N1 in early November. And so then I thought it was recovery from that.

But then it got to be Thanksgiving, and I felt just as lousy at the end of a 5 day break as I did at the beginning – despite doing nothing much other than sleep with a brief outing to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. And I was really starting to lose my ability to think straight.

I went into work that Monday, said “There’s something really wrong” and began a round of doctor visits and other excitement. I spent the better part of two months only barely function at the most basic level. There were a couple of weeks where my focus was so poor that even reading light fiction wasn’t working (and this is me, who normally reads 25 books or so most months, not including online reading.)

And around it all, absolutely overwhelming exhaustion. Not the comfortably tired after a long day, or even the achy tired after moving or spending all day on your feet. I’ve done those. This was the kind of exhaustion that made every movement five times more effort than usual, and made even the simple normal stuff – making dinner, having a bath – take forever, and leave me unable to do anything else.

And even the things I’ve always taken for granted got hard. I’m the one of my friends who usually drives to see everyone – and light intolerance when driving at night (plus the exhaustion) made that impossible. Even simple decision making – which thing do I do first, what do I need to do to make this thing happen – got impossible.

All of it very strongly shook my  sense of self, my sense of connection to the world around me, and my sense of priorities and what mattered.

Fortunately, it’s getting better:

In late January, I saw an endocrinologist, and got a diagnosis of a significant Vitamin D deficiency and possibly hypothyroid issues. (My tests on the latter are borderline, but he was willing to try treating it given the full list of symptoms, which I’m not boring you with here.)

A month later, and I can work a full day and not be totally wiped out at the end of it. Detailed tracking shows that the focus is getting better, as are other symptoms. I’m finally starting to get my brain back, and becoming able to write again. Very nice.

It’s still not perfect. I’m not sure how much more I’m going to get back yet, and that means there’s a lot of free-floating trying to figure out how to cope going on in the back of my head. I’m committed to the coven work (and to my very tolerant student who’s put up with my inability to plan much in advance for a couple of months), but I want to build a sustainable life that includes work I love (and that pays the bills – both important), ritual and religious time, time with friends – and time and energy for projects at home.

I’ll talk more about all of this in the coming weeks, I’m sure. But I wanted to at least get the explanation out here first, so I can get onto the more interesting bits sooner than later.

We talk about how priestesses and priests in our traditions are human – but there’s not enough talk, yet, I think, about how to manage chronic medical issues in a way that’s sustainable and caring. And that’s something I definitely want to talk about – balancing my expectations of myself, my interaction in the broader community, and how to juggle ritual tasks when there’s no one else trained in the tradition to lean on directly in ritual, for example. I think there are solutions and options, and I’m sure there are more I haven’t thought of yet, too.