Will Battle Evil For Food

Will Battle Evil For Food: This is a comic that I found at a co-worker's desk at the Co-op. At this point, I'd almost consider it an autobiography... :) For the past four and a half years, I’ve been working at the Neighborhood Co-op Grocery. Now, this chapter of my life is over. When I went in to work today, one of my managers informed me that they’re letting me go.

I suppose most people would be angry, bitter, depressed, or similarly upset in my situation. And to be sure, the news was a shock to me, and I’m still upset about it in my own way. But it wasn’t a surprise per se, and so far I’m feeling much better about it than I would have imagined.

I have a few ideas about where to go from here. But first, here’s some of the back story.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve been struggling with symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for several years now. I didn’t have access to medical care for long enough to get an official diagnosis for this, especially since CFS has only become widely recognized and understood in the past several years. But my doctor did give me some supplements to help improve my energy levels and the health of my adrenal glands. She also gave me some advice on how to improve my symptoms and correct some of my resulting mineral imbalances such as low sodium levels. [It’s not every day that your doctor advises you to eat eggs and salt, eh?]

It’s hard to be entirely sure when this started. From adolescence until about my mid-twenties, I suffered from prolonged bouts of anxiety and depression. These are sometimes associated with CFS, but it’s hard to tell which came first. In my mid-twenties, I started becoming a happier and more well-adjusted person, and my energy levels started to pick up too. But then I must have pushed myself too hard too quickly, or come across some other stumbling block, because my physical energy levels took a sharp dive a few years ago.

I don’t like to complain. Really, I would rather just push along stubbornly with whatever task I’m doing and ignore any pain or discomfort along the way. But I found myself experiencing a profound exhaustion that’s hard to even describe. Resting all day and sleeping eight hours each night did little if anything to alleviate this. No matter how I tried to rest or recuperate, I felt very low energy and felt the sorts of aches and pains in my body that most people only feel when they have the flu or when they’ve been working ten or twelve hours of hard manual labor. When I wasn’t doing anything, it wasn’t that bad — but when I tried to work, it was like every one hour of labor cost me two or three hours worth of energy, and I just couldn’t catch back up.

For a while there, it was a struggle even to work a twenty-hour work week. Over time, I’ve gradually improved to the point where I can pull off a thirty-hour work week. But apparently, I wasn’t quite pulling off thirty hours worth of work, because I received complaints about my performance.

The only thing I find frustrating about the timing of this firing is that I really feel like I was starting to make some headway. I feel like my productivity was on the upswing, and I believe that I had worked my way back up to the point of mediocre performance.

But sometimes mediocre isn’t good enough, especially after a prolonged period of poor performance. If other people are giving the job 110%, and I’m getting paid more money to get less done than they are, it becomes a fairness issue. I can see why they would find that frustrating, especially if they didn’t know about my condition.

Really, what it comes down to is that the Co-op is there to serve the customers and owners, and to operate as a viable business. I wasn’t meeting their needs in terms of performance — and as much as they might strive to be at times, they are not a charity or a social services organization. So, they let me go.

I don’t know if the troubled economy, or any other internal or external factor, played a role in the decision. If so, they didn’t mention it. Either way, even though I wish on some level that they’d chosen differently, I can understand where they’re coming from, and have no hard feelings about it. And they don’t seem to either.

So… what next?

Really, that’s a good question. The Southern Illinois economy is even less favorable than the national economy, and opportunities outside of retail work are few and far between. In the short term, I’m going to look into unemployment, food stamps, etc., while I figure out where to go from here. In the long term, though, I still don’t know. It did just happen a few hours ago, after all.

So far, I’m mentally sorting my ideas into two categories. The first category is Full Time Jobs — employment opportunities that have the potential to pay all of my living expenses through a single source of income. The second category is Part Time Jobs, which includes both “regular” jobs and forms of self-employment such as selling books/articles, teaching classes, and so on. With two or three such options, I could patch together the equivalent of a full time income.

This time in my life is likely to be full of challenges. It will probably take me time to find one or more new sources of income. In the meantime, I’ll have to rely on some combination of social services and the kindness of friends and loved ones just to meet my basic living expenses.

But really, I have high hopes for the future. I’m intelligent, creative, passionate, knowledgeable and skilled in my chosen areas of expertise, feeling an upswing in my energy levels, and surrounded by many wonderful friends and loved ones who will help me find a way. If all goes well, in the long run I’ll end up better off than I was before losing my job. And in the meantime, even with the scramble to search to employment, I’ll probably get more rest physically over the next few weeks than I’ve had in a very long time.

So, it’s with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation that I step into a world beyond retail work. The stakes are high, and even with my meager expenses, I’ll have to act quickly in order to avoid a rapid downward spiral into debt and worse. But with every crisis comes an opportunity — and today, I have the opportunity to search for new ways of supporting myself which are more in line with what I’d like to be doing to survive and thrive in this world.

Any thoughts, suggestions, and support you may have for me in this time of transition is greatly appreciated. In the meantime, know that I am doing well, and that I am surrounded by loving friends for whose support I am eternally grateful.

Posted in Uncategorized

Pagan Monastery

For several years now, I’ve been talking with people in Southern Illinois and beyond about starting an intentional community. This discussion has taken many twists and turns, and the nature of the community in question has undergone several evolutions. Now, I’m pleased to announce that I will be working with other like-minded individuals to create a Pagan monastery here in Southern Illinois.

So, what is a Pagan monastery? Truth be told, that still remains to be seen. So far, I’ve come across few if any intentional communities that self-identify as both monastic and Pagan. This leaves us with little basis for direct comparison. There are, however, other Pagan communities that we can turn to for inspiration and advice in the process of creating a Pagan monastery.

In order to clarify what I have in mind, I’ve created an updated and expanded version of the vision statement that I passed around about a year ago. This new draft, along with a few other related documents, will serve as the organizing documents of this monastery while we work on building a membership base and finalizing documents through group process.

The vision statement portions of this rough draft are available online at:

http://freesoilcommunity.org

So, why a Pagan monastery? During my earliest discussions with other potential members, I wavered back and forth between a secular community and a spiritual community. Initially, I was leaning towards a secular community, simply because it would then be open to people of many spiritual paths and faith traditions. In the end, though, after many discussions and much soul-searching, it became clear that I was looking for a Pagan community.

Paganism has become the greatest defining force in my life, more so than any other influence. When I look out into the world, and look into my heart, I see a place where great magic is afoot. The miraculous dance of life swirls all around me, a dizzying mix of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, growth and decay, birth and death and rebirth. The seasons change, and the pace of the dance slows or quickens to match the tempo set by the whirling and tilting of the Earth in her dance around the Sun. Sometimes, it seems joyous and brilliant beyond bearing, and other times, it seems cold and cruel beyond all comprehension. But in each moment, I can find the presence of the Divine somewhere, and the presence of the Lord and Lady in every turn of the Wheel of the Year.

This appreciation of the simultaneous immanence and transcendence of the Divine is a central part of my life. As much as I may admire and appreciate a more secular form of humanism embraced by my agnostic and atheist friends, I’ve decided long ago that I am thoroughly Pagan, and that my Paganism defines who I am and what I seek in life.

Therefore, it’s only natural that I would long to live in a thoroughly Pagan community. In addition to that, I feel that community life is most easily and durably held together by a shared sense of being a part of something larger than oneself. For those who seek a secular community, the same effect can be accomplished through shared philosophies and a shared struggle toward a common goal. But for me, and for many Pagans, the archetypes, narratives, and rituals of a spiritual practice grant a deeper sense of meaning and bring people together in ways which are otherwise impossible.

So, I’ve decided that a Pagan community is the way to go. There are many forms that such a community could take, though. Why am I calling this a monastic community?

To me, and to some of the others I’ve talked to about the topic, monasticism involves taking a step back from society at large in order to create a community that embodies values and practices not present or emphasized in our society. If we formed a group of Pagans who happened to live together, have weekly dinners, etc., that would be a small step in that direction. But in the end, we would still essentially be the same as the rest of society.

I’ve met many Pagans who adopt the attitude that they are exactly the same as people of any other religion or faith. The only difference is that they celebrate different holidays and have different rituals to mark life passages such as birth, marriage, death, etc. That seems to work well for them, and it does grant Paganism a measure of acceptance in society.

But for me, as well as for the mystics in just about any religious tradition, my faith is more than something I celebrate on the weekends, or on the eight high holidays of the year. It’s an initiatory path — a life-altering experience that has introduced me to new ways of thinking and feeling and living which are at times wholly alien to the path laid out for us in mainstream society.

My path is a profoundly ecstatic spiritual path, seeking to experience the Divine by embracing my passions and following the true Will of my heart and soul wherever it may take me. But our society has little room for people who want to run wild through fields and forest singing and dancing with the gods, or to lose themselves on the dance floor for hours at a time communing with the music and the movements of the masses, or to meet in the moonlight to praise the gods and ask for their aid in bringing us the joy and the sorrow we need to become who we truly are.

These things are precious to me, and I can pursue them as much as I like in the privacy of my solitary practice. But at a certain point, I would love to share these things with those around me, and to live in a community where these experiences are the norm rather than the exception.

So, how does all of this sound? If it sounds odd, or silly, or simply not your cup of tea, then feel free to leave me alone to run off into the wild and become the mad monk of Southern Illinois. But if any of this makes sense to you, and you like any part of the vision statement I’ve shared, then join me in this new adventure. Together, we will build a community unlike any other.

I’ve laid out the first rough sketch based on the ideas we’ve discussed over the years. So far, I’m the first and only one to commit myself fully to the project. But there are many others who are potentially interested, and anyone who gets involved now will have the opportunity to make it their own just as I have.

If you’re interested in becoming an active member, or just keeping informed about our community events and such, let me know. Or, if you’re not interested but have feedback anyway, let me know that too. I’ll be talking to people soon to organize the first potluck and/or meeting to talk about this Pagan monastery. In the meantime, I am eager to hear your responses, and I wish you the best in your life path.

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Now that my health and energy levels are starting to improve in a fairly steady and consistent manner, I’ll have more news soon about what I plan to do in the community with this newfound energy, and what I encourage others to join me in accomplishing. In the meantime, I want to share some information and reflections about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

For several years now, I’ve been suffering through various degrees of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). When I last had access to a doctor, she didn’t use that exact term, but she did use related terms such as “adrenal exhaustion” and “adrenal fatigue” to describe my condition, and she did exclude other possibilities through blood tests and examinations. Therefore, both my personal research and my doctor’s diagnosis lead me to believe that CFS is the most accurate description of my condition.

The name of this condition can be deceiving. To some people, it sounds like someone with CFS is just a little bit tired. We all experience fatigue, right? What’s so different about CFS?

CFS is characterized by an unexplained, persistent fatigue that’s not due to ongoing exertion, isn’t substantially relieved by rest, is of new onset (not lifelong) and results in a significant reduction in previous levels of activity. Symptoms vary a bit, but my symptoms have been fairly typical:

  • Impaired memory or concentration (usually during/after exertion)
  • Post-exertional malaise (extreme, prolonged exhaustion and sickness following physical or mental activity)
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Muscle pain
  • Headaches

For me, this has been accompanied by chronic weight loss, which is somewhat less common but also a recognized symptom of CFS.

Basically, I felt completely exhausted, even when I hadn’t been doing much of anything. I would almost always wake up with pain and stiffness throughout neck, back, shoulders, chest, and hips, no matter how much I had rested or slept. Strenuous activity quickly made me feel sick: a progression from muscle pain and weakness to migraines and nausea which forced me to lay down. Any significant overexertion and/or loss of sleep left me in a malaise which took days to recover from. And I never fully recovered because I didn’t have enough time to rest, and rest didn’t seem to help anyway.

For some people with CFS, these symptoms result in a complete inability to function normally — to go to work, to spend time with friends, to do much of anything other than try in vain to rest. For me, this resulted in a reduction of my work capacity to about 20 or 30 hours per week as opposed to the almost 40 hours I had worked previously. And even with a diminished workload, I found it very difficult to keep up with daily chores, or to do any socializing other than sit-down activities such as watching TV/movies, eating/drinking with friends, or playing role-playing games.

CFS is often difficult to treat, and up until a few months ago, I wasn’t having much luck with it. There were several times when I went into a downward spiral, and my “recovery” from these times only brought me back to the same low level of activity and health.

Recently, though, I’ve finally been seeing my first signs of lasting improvement. I credit this improvement to a combination of yoga, prayer, and persistent self-care.

Resting for a day or a even a week never seemed to help, but reducing activity levels and increasing rest and sleep for months at a time eventually seemed to have a cumulative effect. Yoga has improved my blood flow, lymphatic health, breathing, and other aspects of my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Prayer and other spiritual practices helped me to stay focused and positive at a time when I had no physical or emotional strength left in me.

Together, all of these efforts combined have brought a significant reduction in my symptoms. Not many people with CFS can achieve such an improvement, so I’m very grateful that I’m making progress. Really, I have high hopes that I will be a rare example of a full recovery, and will soon thereafter become a better-than-average example of health and fitness.

In the meantime, however, I would say that I’m only halfway out of the woods. I can’t work more than 30 hours a week without feeling a rapid return of my previous symptoms. My body weight is still as low as ever, and I still find myself unable to do much of anything other than work and take care of basic chores and errands.

The good news, though, is that as long as I stick to this limited routine and keep up with my yoga and spirituality, I usually feel quite good, whereas in the past, even my diminished activity levels left me feeling like someone had beaten me up with a baseball bat. Since I feel good now, I’ve been testing my boundaries and discovering that my overall stamina really has improved.

Now, the key to continued recovery is discipline and diligence. I need to stick with what’s working: yoga, extra rest, relaxation, improved diet, and overall self-care. I’ve gotten to the point now where these practices no longer place serious limits on my finances or social life, leading to the start of a slow but steady upward spiral of health and happiness. I feel tempted to immediately expend my newfound energy on a dozen new projects, but I know that it will be better spent by resting for a few more months and building my core strength.

I do believe that I’ll recover fully from this — and once I do, then I can jump headlong into more of the things I’d like to be doing. In the meantime, I’m just happy to be feeling good and have something vaguely resembling a social life again.

I know that I’m a fairly public figure here in Carbondale, and I’ve heard from time to time that people are concerned about my health and well-being. As always, your thoughts and support are greatly appreciated. However, I’m a strong person, and my condition seems to be improving, so I hope that no one will be too worried about how I’m doing.

The best thing you can do for me right now is to support me in my belief that I will make a full recovery. And the best way that you can do that is by continuing to invite me out to community events, social gatherings, parties, etc., even though I may not always be able to make it. As some of you know, I can be the life of a party on a good day, so it’ll be well worth your while to ask me to come out and play.

Hopefully this entry will help people to understand what I’ve been going through and where I’m at today. I also hope that by talking about this, I will encourage other people who have symptoms of CFS to talk to their doctors, their complimentary/natural health practitioners, and their loved ones about what they’re experiencing.

There are other conditions that can cause prolonged exhaustion, so instead of trying to figure it out on your own and bear the burden alone, be sure to find out what exactly you’re facing so that you’ll know how to respond. If you do have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, know that you’re not alone, and know that with proper treatment and self-care, you may be able to live a healthier and happier life.

Posted in Uncategorized

Museum

I open the door with a sigh.
The unfinished hardwood floor
of my bedroom
is clear of clutter.
A basket full of laundry
rests by my bed
with a lingering scent of lavender.
My desk is covered in odds and ends
crumpled papers, a CD, a brush, a few cups
but it would only take a minute or two
to clear it all away.
My altar stands at the center of the room
with a black altar cloth
covered by a handful of colorful candles
and an amber chalice
and an athame with blue and green hilt
and incense, and water, and salt.

On most days
my bedroom makes a fine sanctuary
but today
these familiar walls
feel too solid against my touch
and vertical lines of wood paneling
remind me of cold iron bars.

Something tightens in my chest
and I want to yell
to howl, to scream, to cry
to fly into frenzy
tossing aside my altar
smashing my desk to pieces
throwing my chair through the window
tearing down the walls
with my bare hands.
Instead
I pace
and I rock in place
and I grimace in silence
and I lay my head down with a sigh.

When I open my eyes
I see sculpted stone arches
rising all around me.
I see a black marble floor
with brilliant golden veins
flowing down endless hallways.
The walls are lined with
empty white marble pedestals
and empty oaken picture frames
each illuminated by an unseen light.

I spin around slowly
drinking in my surroundings
and when I look
to the center of the room
it becomes clear
why I’m here.

Blank canvas and full palettes.
Marble blocks and sets of chisels.
Tools to turn an empty hall
into a museum of my own making

In my waking life
I had never laid eyes on such tools
but here and now
the smooth wood of paintbrush and palette
feels light and limber in my hands.
I lavish the canvas
with stroke after stroke
and in a matter of minutes
the face of a woman is revealed.
Golden brown hair
cascading down round pink cheeks
flowing over soft white shoulders
with brilliant blue eyes
shining over soft lips
lifted in a sly smirk.
I step back from the canvas
and for a moment
I’m breathless, speechless
my heart skipping a beat
at the sight of her.
Then I step forward
and pick up the canvas
with a light touch
carrying it over to
a frame on the wall.

This is only the beginning.

I turn to the tools
at the center of the room
with a spring in my step
and a fire in my eyes.
My hands fly faster than before
and in a matter of moments
another face is revealed.
Soft blond hair
cascading down smooth peach cheeks
flowing over strong shoulders
with bright blue eyes
twinkling over laughing lips.
I step back again
and my eyes widen
and my heartbeat quickens
as I look into her eyes
and feel her presence.

Another painting for another wall
and yet I move without pause
to the next canvas.
A woman with dark brown hair
just long enough to kiss her shoulders
framing deep brown eyes
and thin pink lips
spread in a soft smile.
Another woman with dark brown hair
but hers is long and wavy
cascading over strong white shoulders
framing warm brown eyes
and a slight smile
mysterious as Mona Lisa.

I leap from canvas to canvas
palettes strewn about me
a brush in each hand
painting two portraits at once
without missing the slightest detail.
With dozens of paintings complete
I go back to my earlier portraits
with blank canvas in hand
painting my subjects from different angles
in different lights, with different expressions
trying to capture their character
in splashes of oil on canvas.

But soon, two dimensions are not enough.
I pick up a chisel and tap at the marble
carving three dimensional sculptures
of each of my subjects.

The first woman stands
clad in leather armor
with one hand wielding a sword
lashing at unseen foes
the other hand holding a bandage
binding a broken arm.

Another woman stands
in T-shirt and jeans
a guitar slung over her shoulder
a chalice of wine in her hand
her lips spread in a broad smile
her voice raised in song.

The next sits cross-legged
her eyes closed in meditation
her lips lifted in a slight smile
her hands pressed together
in front of her heart.

But soon
even sculpture is not enough.

I return to canvas and oils
pacing and rocking in place.
After a moment’s pause
I leap at the canvas again
painting a sunset
in the blink of an eye.
Each of my subjects
has their own wing of the museum now
and I fill each pedestal and frame
with paintings and sculptures.
A table full of dog-eared books
and sketches of fantasy characters.
A lone figure on a sharp mountain peak
standing in tree pose
bathed in the peaches and purples
of the rising sun.
A woman seen from behind
cup off coffee in one hand
cigarette in the other
pouring over piles of textbooks
on the table.

Eventually, my supplies are exhausted
and I stand at the center of the museum
surrounded by paintings and sculptures.
I spin around slowly
basking in the colors, the shapes
the lifelike portraits
the iconic images
the tangible presence of these women.
For a moment
I feel drunk in their presence
and spin around faster and faster
lifting my hands in the air
throwing my head back in laughter.
But soon, I slow to a stop
and realize that there’s still
something missing.

I pause in place
and as my heartbeat slows
I feel the touch of cold marble
against my bare feet.

Cold, hard, still marble.

I look around
and though the sweeping arcs
of oil on canvas and sculpted stone
imply movement and animation
everything around me is motionless.
The portraits are colorful
but two dimensional
and the sculptures are lifelike
but cold and colorless.

I take several slow, stilted steps
toward my first painting
a familiar face
with brilliant blue eyes
and golden brown hair.
The image is warm and soft
but I run my fingers across her cheek
and feel the cold, stiff, jagged touch
of oil on canvas.

She isn’t here.
None of them are here.
I am surrounded by
bits of oil and canvas
and sculpted stone.

Something tightens in my chest
and I want to yell
to howl, to scream, to cry
to fly into frenzy
tossing aside the portraits
smashing the sculptures to pieces
snapping the paintbrushes and chisels
with my bare hands.
Instead
I pace
and I rock in place
and I grimace in silence
and I lay my head down with a sigh.

When I open my eyes
I’m in my bedroom.
The unfinished hardwood floor
is still clear of clutter
my laundry is still in its basket
and the desk is still covered with
crumpled papers, a CD, a brush, a few cups.

But now a golden beam of sunlight
is pouring through my window
brightening the hues of my hardwood floor
and the candles on my altar.
I lift myself out of bed
and my muscles ache
as though I really have
spent the whole night
painting and sculpting.
I shake my head
with a smile and a sigh
and head outside
to meet the dawn of a new day.

Posted in Uncategorized
My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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