Integrating my life

I’m back at work for the school year.

Working for a school definitely has its own yearly cycles and festival days: last night I was at the back to school barbecue for staff and their partners, this morning we had our fall all-employee meeting, book discussion, and then time to get things done in our teaching spaces.

(I come back a week before the faculty: I spent all of last week working with my new assistant to move every single book in our library, in order to rearrange the space. I’m delighted with the result, which we finished today: it’s open, with clear lines of sight and flow between different areas, and the light is even more gorgeous than before. I think we’ve solved a couple of nagging ongoing problems (involving students doing things that were perhaps better undone in corners hard to see around). We’ll see how it works with actual students next week. Best news: the most expensive actual change was about $300, other than taking out a huge elephant of a standing-height circulation desk, so if we decide it’s not working, we can always move things again.)

Anyway, this post is a great example of something I’ve been thinking about a lot this summer: the idea that to be the kind of librarian I want to be, I need to deeply integrate it with my religious goals and commitments.

By this, I don’t mean ‘try and convert everyone to my particular trad” because, ew, no. But I mean that I want to let the me that I am in circle – priestess, teacher, ritualist, creator of intentional and focused space, intuitive listener – come through more overtly in my work life.

I want to anchor and hold a space where learning and inspiration and discovery can happen in a safe way. I want to use the tools I have at my disposal to help me manage the energy and interaction demands of working with 70+ faculty and 500+ students every day. (At least potentially – fortunately, not all of them show up at the same time. But still, as an introvert, that’s a pretty hard gig for me some days.)

I need to balance the parts of the job I adore (helping people find information that matters to them, and helping them learn how to find things themselves) with the parts that are a little less ecstatic: paperwork and budgets and all those other practical details. And I need to have an eye both on each individual day’s tasks, but also on the bigger cycles of my work life: each week, each quarter, each semester, each year – and each student’s experience over the four years most of them are with us.

No small task, any of that.

And I need to figure out a way to do it that means I’m not working 60+ hour work weeks to get everything done (because that’s probably not sustainable for me) and that leaves me energy, focus, and attention to do other things after work (time with friends, writing, coven matters.)

Yeah, I know. I want a lot.

I think it’s possible. I just think it’s a work of magical and ritual creation in and of itself, even before you get down to any specific details or desires or anything else. Simply creating a life, a process, a way of living where this is even a possibility takes some change in me, and some change in what’s around me, and some change in how I look at what I’m doing and when I do it.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of that this summer.

What does that look like?

I’ve started developing daily personal habits that should help. Some of that is personal practice, some of that is trying out some different things that seem to make my body happier.

I’ve created a professional shrine in my back office that reminds me, each time I look at it, of what I’m aiming for. There are things there representing knowledge and learning and inspiration, a cool bowl of water for flow and intuition, and salt to help with grounding and crystalline intensity when that’s needed.

(I’ll take a photo at some point: if you know I’m Pagan, it’s probably obvious what it is, but it’s no more involved or weird than things many other faculty have on or near their desks.)

I wanted very much to make the space my own: that’s what I’ve been working on for the last week and a bit. Moving things around was a lot of work, but I now feel like it’s mine, it has my philosophical stamp on it, in all sorts of little ways.

I’m remembering the power of conversation. My division head (aka the person I directly report to) said something to me in the hiring discussions last spring that stuck with me: that what we’re basically getting paid for (as an independent school with, yes, a substantial tuition cost, though we also give a fair bit of financial aid) is the relationships we develop with students.

Framed in that light, spending 20 minutes helping someone (student or faculty) with a problem isn’t distracting us from our work: it *is* our work. And as I’ve started to build in time to make that easier (by going to the barbecue last night, by knowing I’m going to spend a lot of this week having 5-10 minute chats with a lot of people about their summers), it’s easier to remember that that the human connection and understanding and support are the things to keep my focus on. The paperwork can happen later, if it has to. The people are the bit that matters.

I always knew this, of course – but something about that particular conversation got it stuck in my head in a way that feels really deeply rooted now.

And a physical tool: One of my dear friends (the one I spent the summer helping, in fact) is a jewelry maker by profession. She made me (with a lot of collaboration) a bracelet to help me anchor the kinds of energy flow and focus that I want for this year, as well as to help me with some fairly specific things (like being able to work out in the main library area for most of the day and not feel totally wiped out at the end: teenagers put out a *lot* of stray emotional energy, and I can find it really distracting or draining if I’m not on the top of my form otherwise. Even when I am, it can take focus from being the best librarian I can be, which isn’t really what I want.)

I expect to wear it daily for a month or three, and then work down to wearing it as needed. Not only is it a physical reminder of my goals and intentions (never a bad thing in itself), it’s also an anchor for the specific goals I mention above, and a reminder of the power of integration.

And finally, keeping me honest: I’m doing a presentation to interested faculty a week from Wednesday (as part of our monthly teacher talks) about the integration work. I’ve been very quietly out as Pagan to a number of people for the last year or two, but haven’t talked a lot about what that’s meant.

My talk is going to focus on how working with the natural cycles of our year (both seasonal and school), seeking balance from different kinds of interactions and tasks, and about how some of my religious community skills cross into professional work (group dynamics, intentional space, recognising and creating moments of recognition for different passages), and vice versa (working where I do has *definitely* made me a better teacher in a lot of ways.) And I’m also going to talk about some of the challenges of balancing two demanding sets of skills against each other – something a lot of my colleagues know a lot about.

My hope with this is both that it’ll explain some of the reasoning behind some of the choices I’m focusing on – but also to help get conversation started about some of the broader ideas: balance, compassion for ourselves and others, going beyond the ‘expected’ answers, and all sorts of other things that are core to the mission of the school.

More than a year

All right, so I’ve been more than a little overwhelmed since my last post – lots of job-related stuff keeping me busy, and limiting the amount of energy I have to write or focus when I get home. (And what’s left has been going into work with the coven and with other commitments, not writing about them.)

I do want to do a “One year later” post, though, so even though it’s a little late, here we are!

We’re still here!

First things first – we still exist! And, at this point, seem pretty likely to keep doing so, assuming that other factors (jobs, etc.) don’t force a change in physical location. We’re very happy with that.

We’re still small (two people, and in the process of considering a prospective member), but my covenmate has also been working privately with a student outside the coven context. Given our other commitments and things in our lives, we knew we wanted to take it slowly to start with – and I don’t regret that decision at all.

One of the things I believe very strongly is that balance between different areas of life is critical – and my job situation has been unusually complicated in the last year, with a lot of uncertainty and and change and resultant stress. So, I’ve been very careful not to push ahead too fast with the coven work, and instead to do things that stretch us, yes, but not overwhelm us. There will be other years.

What have we done?

  • Celebrated the Sabbats and the moons (generally full moon, but we swap to the new moon in months where the full moon and Sabbat come close on each other’s heels.)
  • Developed deeper and multi-faceted relationships with the deities we work with and honor. (You’ll notice I haven’t talked about this in detail, because it’s personal, but we’re doing it.)
  • Had ongoing discussions spurred on by various books and other topics. This year, we’re embarking on an in-depth study of the Anglo-Saxon runes, after taking a rune class together last December.
  • Done a lot of talking about *how* we want to do things, and why we’re making that choice – and documented them. It seems a little silly on one hand to document for a very small group, but we think it’s worth it to help new members understand where we’re coming from (and to remind all of us what we were thinking about when we made specific choices.)
  • Had a lot of good food and good drink and good conversation that challenges us to think of things in new ways.

What I’m glad we did:

  • Taking our time. I’m so glad we haven’t rushed this process, or set arbitrary deadlines for ourselves.
  • Writing things down: Both in public like this, but also in private and in coven-only notes.
  • Not trying to make every ritual the Best And Deepest Ever ritual. We’ve backed off from trying to do 4 or 5 things in every ritual – many of ours have had one central focus, and a bunch of conversation around that. Not only are these less stressful to arrange, but we’ve had many beautiful moments of serendipity by leaving that space.
  • Keeping things simple: we’ve deliberately kept our ritual set-up and coven items minimal and simple, so that we can set up and take down our ritual space in under 15 minutes (usually, it’s well under that.) Not only does this reduce stress, but it gives us more time for other things.
  • Deciding well ahead of time what we’ll generally be doing – but not scripting intensely. We have an idea, we talk about it, but we then run with it once we’re in ritual. Advance discussion gives us a chance to do personal work related to the ritual on our own, and to think about any things that might be an issue.
  • Taking a break from ritual with others. (Though I’m about ready to see about visiting our parent group sometime when my schedule frees up again.) I knew intuitively that I really needed the time to do our own thing, and I’m really glad I insisted on taking that time.

What’s next:

Assuming that a couple of things in the near future go the way I hope they will, our next step is going to be working on a bunch of student content – and then continuing to be open to new potential students and group members. I’m really excited about this, because I deeply enjoy teaching, even if Phoenix Song is not intended to be a teaching-focused coven.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the use of technology in coven work, but will be writing about that separately. (Can you tell that I just finished attending a conference on library technology? I’m always thinking about how to apply what I do in the day job to the other parts of my life, and especially so after lots of great conversation about different ways to use tech tools.)

But really, we want to keep doing more of the same – but with enough new that we continue to challenge ourselves to go deeper, further, and become more entangled with the mysteries we’re exploring.

That time of year

There is no year of my life that has not, at some fundamental level, been wrapped up in the academic calendar.

My father was a university professor: our family vacations ran on his schedule.

Then there were my years of pre-school, elementary school, junior high, high school, and boarding school (a new and different schedule, that, but still, in principle the same.) College.

Working for my college for the year after graduation. I had very little to do with students, in general (I was doing web and project design for faculty), but you could still feel the ebb and flow of the school no matter what else happened.

I moved to Minnesota, for one year *not* working for a school – but in graduate school myself part time.

And then I began my current job, where I’ve been since fall of 2000, working in an independent day school. There are many things I love about it.

One of them is how often I get to pause and reflect on how much I love it. Every year, the last week teachers are around, there’s a parade of special lunches, ceremonies, in between the meetings. Some of the process gets a little tedious – but many of them help me remember just how fantastic the people I work with are, how neat the kids are, why I enjoy getting up almost every morning. (Almost. I *am* human, after all.)

And then there’s the part we’re in right now. The beginning of the year.

It’s unusually exciting this year. We’ve moved my desk (in the hopes being in the office will make noise-distractable me a) less stressed and b) more productive). We’ve negotiated some new duties that make my salary manageable, but that give me some significant challenges. And we have new carpet (the original, from the early 70s addition, was in place until last week) and a little new paint.

We come back a week before the faculty (who will be here next week.) They’re already trickling back to look at rooms and have initial meetings with colleagues, and it’s hard to go an hour without someone stopping by to chat about their summer (always too short!) and what they have in mind.

I’ve been sorting magazines (we get about 50), a process that always brings the news of the summer back in rush. Later this week, I get to start updating our patron database (something that has to be done manually.) And next week, we’re back to meetings and faculty gatherings. The week after that, students.

All of them remind me of cycles and new beginnings, and new possibilities. I love that.

But it’s also sometimes a little weird: it’s obviously (and for some historical reasons) off kilter from the traditional agricultural busy points. Just when my religious life is telling me to go be introspective and reflective, my work life is getting hectic with major projects. Just when my religious life is telling me to work hard on goals and projects, my schedule drops out from beneath me, and I often find myself somewhat adrift as summer vacation hits.

Now, there are advantages to some of this: four of the eight Sabbats fall in my vacations generally, so it can be easier for me to prepare in an unhurried way for ritual. I get a natural sense of ebb and flow to my schedule: things build and then diminish. I’m constantly turning from project to project as cycles shift and different things become easier to work on. I’m never bored.

But at the same time, it does give me a strange perspective on the Wheel of the Year. And one I think I’m never going to quite shake, even if I eventually end up working somewhere that isn’t a school.

Happy Solstice!

The shiny new coven, Phoenix Song, celebrated our first Summer Solstice today.

It’s become the practice, in our tradition, to use the solstice as a time to revision the group for the coming year. (Yes, the timing’s a little odd, but it’s something that grew organically from stuff we were actually doing, and it turns out to work nicely.) What do we want to do together? What do we want things to be like? How do we want to honor where we’ve come from, while continuing to move forward?

In the group I hived from, the tradition has been to create something that is present in the temple all year as a reminder. In our case, that’s a little impractical (we’re doing ritual in two different spaces, and neither of us has space to spare.

We decided, instead, to do a deliberately impermanent piece of art. (Before I go any further, I want to be clear: L and I discussed whether we were okay with my posting photos, and she’s fine with it. While our interpretations and thoughts about some of this are private, the basic photos aren’t.)

L has a very lovely garden, in which she spends tremendous amounts of time. Her garden also has a flat paved part: this is what we used as our canvas. We used entirely natural ingredients: no artificial colorings like food coloring. We also paid attention to what will not cause havoc to L’s garden as things blow away, get rained on, etc.

Our materials included:

  • bentonite clay (white)
  • green french clay (the pale green)
  • red french clay (the dusty red/brown)
  • tumeric (the far more orange red/brown)
  • dried safflower (the red/orange dried petals)
  • dried lavender (the gray/purple ones)
  • dried hibiscus (the dark red)
  • rose petals (undried, from our friend’s garden last night: these are from a rose called Dart’s Dash)
  • powdered eggshell – we tried something to get it to mesh to blue/purple, which did not work, but they produce a lovely dusty white that shades differently from the white clay.)
  • marigold, dianthus, and a few other flowers from L’s garden.
  • spoons and paper funnels to direct materials (and fingers!)

For next year, we’d really like something in the blue/purple range: this may prove to be tricky. We used far less of our materials than we’d anticipated: maybe 2 ounces each (and probably less) of the clays, and about an ounce or two of everything else. The finished space is about 8×6 feet, give or take.

Timing: I arrived at 1, we finished at 4. We didn’t do other formal ritual set-up, etc. but there was some setting up and getting things ready, and so on. It took less time than I was anticipating, but it was intense work.

If you’d like larger versions of the images (plus a couple I didn’t include here, you can go to my LiveJournal gallery.

Our workspace: note cat perfectly positioned for maximum difficulty. (This is L’s cat, a Bengal by breed. She was actually *very* good once we got started.)

Our workspace

Our first spiral: Everything starts at the center. Bentonite clay, red and green French clays, marigold.

first spiral

Our first pause

Our first pause

(There was a second pause, too: check out the gallery for that one.)

We’re done:

Final outcome


My favorite detail shot (another in the gallery)

Favorite spiral