[Friends encouraged me to turn this into a blog post after I originally posted it to Facebook, so here it is.]
Dear guy I chatted with on the bus,
There’s no reason to feel sorry for me because I work as a house cleaner.
Yes, I have three college degrees, and was groomed for a professional “white collar” career. None of that education is being “wasted” just because I clean houses for money. (Although if I had it to do over again, I think I’d skip the post-bac in accounting. These days, a college education is more likely to be a ticket INTO the poorhouse than a ticket out of it. But that’s another story.)
I’ll admit that for the first few months after I started my housekeeping business in 2012, I too felt sorry for myself more often than not. I had spent the previous several years grieving the loss of a marriage and hunting for jobs; no one would hire me, my self-esteem was in the gutter, years of savings had vanished forever into the black hole of the divorce aftermath, I had to go on food stamps, and I was on the verge of having to move back in with my folks to survive (something none of us wanted, least of all me. I love Portland; my folks live in Honolulu; I hate sun and heat. ‘Nuff said.) All I had ever really wanted to do with my life was to write non-fiction books. I didn’t even want a job. But I needed one. So, since no one would hire me, I started my own business. It’s fair to say I kind of stumbled into this.
But then, somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that I am exactly where I want to be. It may make little sense to you, but I’m not just biding time as a house cleaner until I can find a better job. This IS a better job.
It’s all about perspective. So let me show you what this job looks like through MY eyes.
I got started in this business because someone in my community saw my website and decided to give me a chance, based on the recommendation of someone in her social network. I didn’t have to fill out online job application forms, take a humiliating drug test, or jump through any other bureaucratic hoops. So right from the outset, this venture was based in relationships of genuine trust.
From there, my business expanded entirely by word-of-mouth. So far, I haven’t even needed to advertise to find new clients, because my satisfied clients have recommended me to their friends and colleagues after being impressed with my work. As word gets out, they seek me out. Sure beats groveling for a stressful minimum wage receptionist job, let me tell you. And because I’m independent, I can charge what I’m worth, instead of just what a franchise will pay me to work for them.
Since I don’t drive, I haul all my cleaning supplies back and forth to each job in a wheeled backpack on public transit. While this isn’t always easy, I find it a lot less difficult than owning a car and commuting in rush-hour traffic. I can sit back and read a book or just daydream, and let someone else handle the driving. I feel fortunate to live in a city with a public transit system that makes it possible to run a business like this without a car.
Because I’m the boss and the only employee, I can run this business on my own terms. I choose my own schedule and my days off. I can – and do! – take a lunch break or a short breather whenever I feel like it.
I enjoy the privilege of being able to work independently in people’s homes. In the course of my work, I’ve learned a great deal about the pros and cons of various kinds of flooring, furniture, kitchen surfaces, etc. This knowledge is handy now, of course, and it will also come in handy later on when I start looking for a house for my Hermitage.
My work is honest, unpretentious, and brightens people’s moods. Sure beats spending 8+ hours a day under fluorescent lights in an office cubicle, enduring office politics and selling people more crap they don’t need.
I can listen to industrial music on headphones while I work; I don’t have to deal with blaring TVs or elevator muzak. I don’t have to wear makeup to work – I can save that effort for my bellydance costuming, which makes me appreciate it more. I don’t have to bother with the expense or upkeep of a professional wardrobe. I don’t have to share airspace with people wearing perfumes that make me ill.
And the stress is almost non-existent. When I was an advanced accounting student, I was so stressed out that I was grinding my teeth at night, and frequently woke up with an aching jaw. Now? Even the most stressful day I’ve had on the job produced maybe a tenth of the stress I’ve experienced in office jobs, if that.
Because the work is so physical, my muscles are tired at the end of the day, yet happy to be well used. This translates into me sleeping like a baby at night, and waking up fully refreshed. It also translates into being stronger for my daily bellydance drills, and it means I don’t need to bother with the time and cost of a gym membership. That’s good, because I hate gyms.
And the work is earthy. It’s compatible with my ecologically-centered Pagan values – minimising fossil fuel use as much as possible, avoiding work that contributes to ecological destruction as much as possible, serving my community, etc. I use only non-toxic cleaning supplies – mostly baking soda and distilled white vinegar.
All my clients so far have been found through arts-related and esoteric communities. This is awesome for both me and my clients. They completely understand when I explain that in addition to being a house cleaner, I’m also a writer and a dancer, and they appreciate the fact that I won’t be uncomfortable with their Aleister Crowley books or their creepy bone collection.
I come home from work, and (after a short nap) not only do I still have energy left over to write, but on good days I’m actually overflowing with words. Like right now. I’m writing this after a full day of work, in fact – a day in which my Muse decided to fill me with the breath of inspiration mid-scrub. Good thing I was able to jot down notes so I could remember what I wanted to write about when I got home.
Yes, my hands are starting to develop calluses from pushing brooms and mops so often, and the skin on my fingertips gets dry and cracked sometimes. I can’t say I’m happy about the way self-employed people are taxed. And once in a while, I do get a bit lonely for the rhythm of shared labour. But I am healthier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been in my entire life.
So don’t feel sorry for me, dude. Because I fucking love my life.
There are two books – both of which I’ve read several times over in the past few years – that have marked a major turning point in more fully embracing the esoteric aspects of my creative process as a non-fiction writer. One is Stephen Buhner’s Ensouling Language: On the Art of Non-Fiction and the Writer’s Life, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere, and plan to write about at length eventually. The other is Matt Cardin’s A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius. Many thanks to Henry Lauer, who originally recommended this book to me.
Both of these books are extraordinary. The latter, however, is not too well-known, and it richly deserves to be more widely appreciated, so I want to put in a good word for it. It is available in ebook form only, as a PDF via Cardin’s blog The Teeming Brain.
Here’s a bit from the book’s introduction:
“Where does creativity come from? Why do ideas and inspiration feel as if they come from “outside,” from an external source that’s separate from us but able to whisper ideas directly into the mind? Why have so many writers throughout history – and also composers, painters, philosophers, mystics, and scientists – spoken of being guided, accompanied, and even haunted by a force or presence that not only serves as the deep source of their creative work but exerts a kind of profound and inexorable gravitational pull on the shape of their lives? [...]
“Your unconscious mind is truly your “genius.” Befriending it as such, and interacting with it as if it really is a separate, collaborating presence, puts you in a position to receive its gifts, and it in the position to give them to you. This book…is my attempt to explain what this really entails for writers and artists, and how you can verify it for yourself.”
Cardin goes on to describe the daemon muse as “the spirit that inspires a person to do the work for which he or she is uniquely gifted and intended,” and he describes the word “demon” as carrying a host of meanings that have been largely lost to modern awareness.
The entire book is excellent, but I’m especially fond of the way Cardin writes about trusting the flow of the creative process, with its alternating stages of active effort and active waiting. His critique of the unexamined assumptions behind “the myth of constant output” and his discussion of George Wallas’ four-stage model have been so illuminating for me. “Not everybody can be a Charles Dickens or a Stephen King who produces a gargantuan body of work at a rapid pace…” he writes. Indeed!
The incubation stage, or fallow period, has been one of my biggest challenges as a writer. There is so much pressure to adopt a nose-to-the-grindstone approach. Whenever I have worked from that mindset, though, I have found that the quality of my writing suffers; the results are flat, and while the finished work may be good enough technically, it feels forced, and it remains painfully obvious to me that something vital has gone missing.
Intuitively I sense that even when I am not sitting in front of my computer and typing actively, work on the manuscript is still proceeding, albeit at a level of flow that is not readily accessible to my conscious awareness. On the surface, though, it appears that my progress is stalling, and it’s easy to fall into a pit of fear and doubt. After many years of untold frustration, I think I am finally developing the emotional skills necessary to trust this process and allow it to happen as it will. Much better than wasting energy comparing my own output to that of writers I admire and fearing I’ll never measure up because my creative process is different and the work I’m doing takes a great deal of time to manifest properly.
Whenever I am able to surrender to the dictates of the daemon muse and stop trying to do all the writing myself by dint of conscious effort and striving, my writing improves by leaps and bounds.
Thank you, Matt Cardin, for helping me learn how to mold myself into a vessel capable of channeling the daemon muse and allowing it to guide me as I write.
In the Winter Solstice spirit of embracing the darkness and the longest night of the year…
Inspired by dark ritual ambient music, dark fusion dance, and the deepening of autumn and the coming of winter, here are some photos from the Oct. 2013 Endarkenment Redecoration Project at the Hermitage in downtown Portland, OR, USA. This is my newly redecorated studio and mini temple space, where I live, work, and serve as temple keeper. The Black Tent Temple and Psychomanteum (mirror gazing room) is now completed, and over the next few weeks I will be booking the first exploratory psychomanteum sessions for friends of the Hermitage.
This is as close as I have ever come to my dream place to live and work, and all the more satisfying because I accomplished this almost entirely with thrift store finds on a shoestring budget.
I feel so blessed to be able to live here and do this work creating sacred space for dark temple arts in service of the divine.
The Black Stone, namesake of the Hermitage: a 50mm black obsidian sphere, with two smaller black obsidian stones alongside it. The stone is my teacher; every day I bow into deeper service to it.
One side of the meditation and ritual dance space. In the background, behind the dark ambient shrine, is the kitchen.
A framed mirror and Hermit-themed tarot art in the entryway to the Hermitage.
The sanctuary area behind the entryway, featuring shelves with shrines. Beside the shrines is the new psychomanteum (incubation space/mirror gazing room.)
A close-up of the dark ambient music & dark art shrine, looking into the kitchen.
The meditation and ritual dance spot. On the right is a bookshelf with belly dance instructional DVDs and tea books; on top of the bookshelf is my ancestor shrine.
A gothic-style mirror draped with black fringe framing an end table.
Looking into the entryway from the dance area. Great view of the Hermitage library. The black curtains can be drawn shut on all sides to provide a sense of enclosure in the sanctuary area where the shrines and the psychomanteum are located.
The door to the new psychomanteum – a portal or spiritual incubation space, a.k.a. mirror gazing room. I will be scheduling the first exploratory sessions very soon!
Framed art at the Hermitage – H.R. Giger #312, “Biomechanoid Landscape,” and Todd Lockwood, “Hell Friezes 1: Cerberus.”
Framed art at the Hermitage – a beatific bellydancer (artist unknown), and a promotional poster from the very first Raqs Oubliettes event (2011) at the Lovecraft Bar.
The Hermit shrine in the sanctuary area, directly in front of the psychomanteum.
The futon loveseat at the Hermitage. It can be pulled out into a full-size bed.
The tea ritual area at the Hermitage, featuring a new table with adjustable drop-leaf sides. Very nice when I want to free up more room for dance practice!
‘Angst’ by Lysander666
I am delighted to announce that my new article on underrated dark ambient albums from the past decade is now published on I Die: You Die, an outstanding and highly respected music blog that I’ve followed since its inception in 2011. The editors called my knowledge of the genre “encyclopedic” and referred to me as an expert on the subject. I don’t think I’d go quite that far myself, but since I’ve become fairly well known in my local Pagan community as the “go-to” person for dark ritual ambient recommendations and am working on a book manuscript on the subject (Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture), I think it’s safe to say I have a thing or two to say about it.
If you have enjoyed my previous series of posts here on dark ambient (Dark Ritual Ambient: A Primer for the Dark Pagan, Vols. one, two, and three), this piece will be right up your alley. There is even a brand new track from Skadi, now featured on my I Die: You Die article exclusively, courtesy of the artist. Enjoy!
Shrine for Móðguðr, October 2013
Here is my new shrine in honour of Móðguðr, the ancestors, and the beloved dead. I absolutely love it, and I think She is pleased as well. I am performing a special devotional midnight tea ritual for Móðguðr at the Hermitage tonight, as I celebrate and enjoy the many blessings of solitude.
Hail Móðguðr, guardian of Helheim’s gate!
The soundtrack for the rites this evening includes some of my all-time favourite creepy, haunting, genuinely scary dark ambient albums:
1) Aghast – Hexerei Im Zwielicht der Finsternis
2) Brighter Death Now – Necrose Evangelicum
3) Allseits – Hel
4) Innfallen – Three Days of Darkness
October is my favourite month and the month of my birth. I’m pretty clueless about astrology myself, and haven’t really been able to get into it, but I’m told by an astrologer friend who did my chart that I’m a triple water sign: Scorpio sun, Cancer moon, and Pisces ascendant. (Apparently, with all that water influence, it isn’t too surprising that I’m a strong empath.) October is also a very active time for me spiritually. I’ve been working very hard all month, and the Endarkenment redecoration project is now almost complete – photos coming soon! With luck, the psychomanteum (mirror gazing room and spiritual incubation space) will be finished within a few weeks, and when the time comes to begin booking sessions for guests, I will post the details here and on the Facebook page for the Hermitage.
‘Cycle Recycled’ by Lysander of Heathen Harvest
By popular request, here is volume three of my series on dark ritual ambient music for the discriminating dark Pagan. (Also see volumes one and two, if you haven’t already.) As I’ve mentioned before, this list is driven by my sensibilities as a dark fusion dancer. I select tracks for inclusion on this list based almost entirely on how deeply they move me to dance, and how well they suit the ritual space I want to create for my dance. As usual, there are 13 tracks. Enjoy!
1) New Risen Throne – Dead, Scourged Sun
“Chthonic ritual doom ambient” is the phrase I came up with to describe the music that stirs up the most primal responses in me, and I think it fits the music of New Risen Throne perfectly. There’s at least one NRT track – and usually several – on every dark ambient playlist I’ve compiled so far.
Gabriele Panci (a.k.a. Stielh) from Italy is one of my top two favourite dark ambient musicians. So far, I have not heard a single track from him that I dislike, and since I have very finicky tastes, I can count on one hand the number of musicians I can say that about. His music is pure bone-chilling sonic wonder, and “Dead, Scourged Sun” is apocalyptic and haunting in the best possible way.
2) Desiderii Marginis – Come Ruin and Rapture
From my Grief and Mourning playlist comes this forlorn, melancholy lament from the 2012 release “Procession” by the Swedish musician Johan Levin. This track speaks to me as a form of barely-restrained, raw emotional honesty spilling over in the wake of a profound loss. I wear a black diaphanous veil to help me translate the grief in this track into the language of ritual dance.
3) Robert Rich and Brian Williams – Undulating Terrain
The “Stalker” album from Robert Rich with Brian Williams of Lustmord is a classic in the dark ambient genre for good reason, and this track has long been my favourite. I love the calm and mesmerising progression that lures the listener in at the outset, then builds into a creepy crescendo at the end. The atmospheric black-and-white video is nicely coordinated with the flow of the music; I particularly like the part with the slow-mo dripping water, and the way it follows the chain into dark waters at the end. Hypnotic.
(Note, added 25 Sep 2013: It has come to my attention that the video I originally linked to has been removed by YouTube for copyright violations. Here is another link to the track, but without the video, unfortunately. And while I’m at it, I apologise for any broken links in my earlier posts. Chasing down broken YouTube links in these posts is going to get old. Perhaps from here on out I should stick to tracks available on sites like SoundCloud, last.fm, and Bandcamp only. I’ll give this some thought.)
4) Taphephobia – Waiting for the Silence
Top-notch deep drone ambient soundscapes from the “Black City Skyline” album by Ketil Søraker from Norway, who is also involved with Mulm (another project I love). The atmosphere of this track is so beautifully reflective, mystical, and melancholy…it’s a perfect musical accompaniment for midnight tea rituals at the Hermitage. When I dance to it, I find that improv works better than choreography.
Looking forward to Taphephobia’s new album, “Escape From the Mundane Self,” which will be released this autumn on Cyclic Law.
5) Lamia Vox – Metasilentium
What lurks in the abyss…? This track may inspire you to find out. From my playlist for The Dark Divine comes this track from the “Introductio” album – a musical nigredo from the talented Russian musician Lamia Vox. Sounds an ominous note right off the bat, and doesn’t let go. Creepy, compelling, and a perfect accompaniment to my devotional rites for Móðguðr, guardian of Hel’s gate and the river Gjöll.
6) Gydja – Beyond the Earth’s Edge
Outstanding music from Abby Helasdottir, a.k.a. Gydja, of New Zealand – the person who coined the word Rökkatru. I remember how excited I was when I first discovered her Shadowlight website. At the time I had never heard of anyone who was doing esoteric work like this – focused on the Rökkr as well as dark and subterranean worlds…and she’s a dark ambient musician too? I was – and still am! – very impressed. Her website and music has been a big influence on me; it helped me find the courage to accept my own darker spiritual path.
“Umbilicus Maris” is my favourite of her albums; it inspires visions of descent into dark, watery subterranean worlds. This track and “Snakestone” are my favourites for ritual dance. The album can be heard in its entirety on her bandcamp site.
7) Hyios – Crater
Hyios is music for dark Earth mystics and Underworld travelers. “Intense” would be an apt description of “Consuetudines,” the album this track is taken from. It deepens my meditation like nothing else. The album was an acquired taste for me; when I first heard it in 2009, I was very much enthralled with the imagery and liked a couple of the tracks well enough, but then for whatever reason I set it aside and focused my attention on other music. It sat on my shelf for a few years, as if it were waiting patiently for my musical tastes and awareness to shift, such that I could fully appreciate it. I rediscovered it earlier this year, and now I wonder how I could have failed to appreciate its depth and brilliance for so long. This track, “Crater,” speaks to me of the eternal lure of subterranean stone passageways and stalactite-draped chambers. Listen, and immerse yourself.
As a great review by Kaliglimmer puts it:
“Upon leafing through the digipack I am…enthralled. Runes, greek letters, a pyramid and a pharaonic individual and several oblique and mystical references…The inside cover also contains the words “cultus subterraneus”, and this translates well to the images that float around in my head as I listen…I can nearly feel the cold granite against my bare feet as I descend a spiral staircase into the bowels of mother earth, dressed only in an acolyte’s humble garments.”
8) Lapis Niger – Black Serpent Dance
This mesmerising, meditative track from Swedish author and musician Tommie Eriksson (also of Saturnalia Temple) has inspired many nights of shadowy serpentine ritual dance choreography at the Hermitage. The album “At the Throne of Melek Taus” was released in 2008, and it is excellent for ritual. Here’s hoping he makes more dark ambient music in a similar vein.
9) Inade – Disconnecting States
There are many tracks from Inade that I’ve loved for years – “Through the Gates of Death,” “The Engine of the Mind,” and “The Tellurian Vortex” come to mind, for starters. But I found the spoken word parts in this track off-putting at first. Over time, though, it’s grown on me to the point that it has become one of my favourite Inade tracks, and now I dance to it unreservedly.
10) Dead Factory – Silesia
It would be a stretch to call this restrained track from the Polish musician Maciej Mutwil, a.k.a. Dead Factory, “dark ritual ambient”; it’s probably best described as cold, minimalistic ambient with industrial elements. But it inspires me to dance nonetheless, and since this list is driven not by genre boundaries or conventions but by my sensibilities as a dark fusion dancer, here it is for your enjoyment (and mine, of course.)
11) Cisfinitum – District Delta
Does it get any sadder than this in dark ambient? I’m not sure. Astonishingly beautiful…this track from the Russian musician Eugene Voronovsky is overflowing with heart and soul. Sometimes I avoid listening to this track because I know it will make me cry, and I simply can’t handle any more tears at the moment. (Just in case it isn’t clear, that means I’m giving it my highest recommendation.)
12) Phelios – Deadspace
Crisp, cold, richly layered atmospheric beauty from Martin Stürtzer of Germany, swirling and spiraling into the depths of the void, exploring deadspace…yet breathing life into it at the same time.
The new Phelios album, “Gates of Atlantis,” has just been released via Malignant, by the way. I’ve heard that it is his best yet, and “Astral Unity” (from which this track was taken) was marvelous. I eagerly await my copy.
13) Phragments – The Return
This dramatic, orchestral track from “Earth Shall Not Cover Their Blood,” a superb and highly recommended album by the Slovakian duo Phragments – Matej Gyarfas and Sonic(k) – dredges up grandiosity, desolation, and dread…and exquisitely so, I might add. ‘Tis a fitting conclusion for this list.
As I read through this list, one thing I especially appreciate is the international reach of dark ambient. In this post alone, I have tracks included from musicians in Italy, Sweden, the USA, Norway, Russia, New Zealand, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia. Nice!
Up next for Volume 4 of this series, I will be posting 13 of my favourite tracks from one of my most beloved playlists: Chthonic Ritual Doom Ambient. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
Recently I read that “writing is a performance art.” I hadn’t considered it in quite that light before, but yes, it most definitely is. Every time I put my written work out there, on this blog or anywhere else where it can be read by others, I am stepping out onto the stage, just as surely as I would in a dance performance.
Like any performer, I have inadvertently become a target for all kinds of projections, many of which have nothing to do with who I am. Since I often write about my personal life, it complicates things even more. Awhile back I received a long fan letter from a 21 year old reader who had just found one of my older published essays and was practically bursting at the seams with effusive praise. He poured his heart out to me, in extremely over-the-top, flowery language, asking if I would “kindly welcome” him aboard my “stupendously honorary team.” (Heh.) He wanted to correspond personally with me and told me he hoped I would “share my thoughts with him”. Eep! I appreciated the compliments, of course, and I always appreciate knowing that people are reading and enjoying my work, but it wasn’t easy to write him a let-down letter.
Being on this end of the “fan mystique” is a new experience for me. But I remember vividly the intense exhilaration I experienced at his age when I discovered a writer whose work really spoke to me, so I tried to be gentle in my reply to him. Brings to mind a quote I love from Stephen Harrod Buhner’s amazing book Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life:
“…the exchange of meaning between a writer and a reader can be exceptionally intimate. It is one of the joys of reading; people expect it (though many times they do not get it if the writing is poor). It is crucial to remember that there is always a reaching toward intimacy whenever a reader picks up a book and begins to read.”
As I read through his letter, I smiled and remembered my own youthful literary enthusiasms and cringe-worthy over-eager fan letters to other writers. He came across as such a sweet kid, clueless though he is about the harsher realities of being a writer, and he seemed to have a certain facility with the English language. I wrote a reply to him in which I encouraged him to keep writing, keep honing his craft, and keep following the callings of his heart. It was kind of bittersweet. I told him I thought he’d do pretty well with a good editor to help him trim down all that florid prose. (I did talk briefly about the unglamorous realities of writing, but I did it gently. I left out the part about how I’ve survived on food stamps for three years now, and have sometimes turned down social opportunities because spending $5 on bus fare stretches my shoestring budget past the breaking point. I mean, what starry-eyed young writer really wants to hear that struggling artist stuff?)
Later on, I posted about this on Facebook, and a musician friend, Henry Lauer, commented:
“I’ve had similar experiences in the past as a musician. If you do a good performance, then you enable your audience to connect with something vulnerable in themselves.
“However sometimes they confuse that inner connection with a connection with you the performer, and approach you to tell you all about their deep-and-meaningfuls. A sure recipe for awkward and confusing post-performance conversations.
“Of course, I’ve been the awkward audience member, too…”
It can be so difficult to resist putting people on pedestals when we greatly admire their art – and this is even true for those of us who’ve been on both sides of the dynamic and are able to see its limitations very clearly.
“If you do a good performance, then you enable your audience to connect with something vulnerable in themselves.” Yes! That is one of the reasons I write, and it can be applied to all the arts. If I’ve done my work well – if I’ve been faithful to my artistic vision and written what is actually in me to write, rather than what an empty pocketbook or social approval dictates – then my readers have the opportunity to see parts of themselves through the lens of my written work. I will endeavour to be as patient and understanding as possible whenever readers confuse that inner connection with a connection to me, the writer and performer, and I will be mindful to keep my own fan mystique in check when I notice that I am making the same error with the artists whose work I admire.