An Outpouring of Gratitude (Or, Skaði Throws Me a Bone)   8 comments

Blue WinterThis past week, my meager savings account was reduced to zilch, thanks to the unforgiving way the self-employed are taxed.

Every last bit of money I had managed to set aside from my solo house cleaning business – intended not just for taxes, but also for my planned trips to Many Gods West in July and to Sweden in 2016 – vanished, unceremoniously, into the grasp of the tax authorities.

It hurt. A lot. And it triggered a rant.

I have long been outraged about the way the heaviest financial burdens in this country fall disproportionately on those who are least able to pay. I think one of the most depressing things about living in the US is that, contrary to all the rhetoric, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how responsible you are with your money. If you are poor – and wealth is measured only in dollars, mind you – then you are pretty much fucked sooner or later, no matter which way you turn. One misstep or misfortune and you risk falling into a bottomless pit with no safety net. This is one of the many reasons I support a universal basic income.

Ultimately, though, I’m not upset about the tax bill in and of itself. I don’t begrudge paying taxes to support the larger community. If we had a real social safety net in this country, and I could afford it, I’d gladly pay even more without complaint.

In spite of my frustration, I did my best to pay my tax bill with as much gratitude as I could muster. This gratitude is part of my spiritual practice: even in the face of struggle, I am learning to keep my focus on appreciating what I already have.

The real reason this hurt so much, though, and the reason I’m writing about it here, is much deeper.

The real reason is that I am driven by a vision. A vision of The Black Stone Hermitage as a subterranean monastic retreat for contemplatives of a darker persuasion. A place where my passions for tea, writing, dark ambient music, and dark fusion dance can work synergistically within the context of the devotional services I perform for the gods, the spirits, and my community. A place where I can live out the rest of my life as a full-time monastic, serving the divine through writing, ritual dance, shrine building, and other artistic and devotional projects. A place where other cave-dwelling introverts like me can retreat for sessions in the psychomanteum (incubation space), geomantic divinations, tea meditations, and rituals for Earth grief and mourning.

That is what I am here on this planet to bring forth. It is a vision I cherish. It is why this website exists. However, while I do the best I can to live like this right now, I still don’t have sufficient funds to support even a modest version of this vision, even after many years of struggling.

One of my biggest fears is that I will die or fall ill before I have a chance to fulfill this sacred vision of monastic service with which I have been entrusted. My savings account – however meager – is one of the things that has helped me keep alive the hope that I will get there someday. With every financial setback, and every additional year that passes in which I’m working diligently but still barely making ends meet, that dream recedes further and further into the future. Yet I must keep hope alive somehow. If I don’t, I know that I will sink back into the gaping maw of depression.

Of course this tax bill is only a setback. I’ve certainly survived much worse. But I feel like I’ve spent the past seven years of my life trying to bootstrap myself up off the floor, in the face of one obstacle after another. I’m ready for an uninterrupted streak of good fortune. Under conditions like this, every bit of hope I can cling to is precious, and it hurts a lot to have a source of hope taken from me.

In the midst of that hurt, I cried aloud: “Throw me a bone, please, gods…?”

Humbled, saddened, and demoralised, I decided to pray to Skaði for assistance. I asked Her if She would please find a way for me to go to Many Gods West, so that I could build Her the meditative shrine room I had already planned, and for which I had already been given the go-ahead by the Many Gods West staff.

A few days later, my friend David told me, out of the blue, that he had “a surprise” for me, and would give it to me the next time we went grocery shopping together.

Now, David and I have been dear friends for more than four years. We go grocery shopping together every two weeks, chatting animatedly much of the time. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate shopping. I never imagined a day would come where I look forward to grocery shopping. But that’s exactly what happened. When you’re in wonderful company, even the most dreaded chores can become truly enjoyable.

I originally met David – who, endearingly, describes himself as “kind of a sentimental nerd” – through the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, where he serves as Head Cheerleader. ‘Tis quite an appropriate title for him, I might add. His enthusiasm for tea is infectious indeed. Our friendship was forged and took root, in fact, within the context of our shared love of tea. So the first thing that occurred to me is that he might have a special sheng pu-erh tea that he picked up for a song, or a lapsang souchong he knew I hadn’t tried, and wanted to surprise me with a sample.

Instead, as soon as we finished our shopping, he handed me a small envelope. I looked at him quizzically, then opened it, wide-eyed.

Inside the envelope was a cheque made out to me. In an amount large enough to cover my entire tax bill, and thereby replenish my drained savings account completely.

“I would like to put you on retainer,” he said, with a warm smile. He’d be needing me to do some work for him in a few months, he explained, but wanted to pay me in advance for this work. He’d read my rant about my tax bill on Facebook, it turned out, and he wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t miss my opportunity to go to Many Gods West just because I had to pay taxes.

I was stunned into silence. Quickly followed, of course, by a flood of grateful, joyful tears.

(What else would I do? After all, there’s no way to stop the legendary Swanson Family Waterworks. Everyone on my mother’s side of the family cries at emotionally loaded moments – joyful, sorrowful, and everything in between.)

Deeply moved by David’s kind-heartedness, I didn’t stop crying for most of the day. As I told David, I knew immediately that Skaði had answered my prayer. I would now be able to go to the conference. The moment I returned home, I knelt in front of Skaði’s shrine and thanked Her over and over, tears of appreciation and awe flowing profusely.

Turns out I do have a safety net. It is woven through my thriving relationships – relationships with my community, the land, the gods and spirits, and of course my beloved friends.

Heartfelt thanks and much love to David. And Hail Skaði!



8 responses to “An Outpouring of Gratitude (Or, Skaði Throws Me a Bone)

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  1. Hail, indeed. I’m very glad that your safety net is there to catch you.

    • Thank you – so am I! I have lived far too much of my life without the blessing of trusting friendships like the ones I have now. I do not take such blessings for granted. I am very fortunate.

      I told David that if I were ever in a position to do something similar for him, I most certainly would. When I was younger and had a spouse to share the financial burdens, my life was a whole lot easier in many ways (though more difficult in others, I might add), and frankly I miss being comfortable enough to help my dear ones when they need it. And we ALL need it sooner or later; it’s just a question of when. I come from a comfortable middle-class family and am keenly aware that this is a source of immense privilege; nonetheless, in some ways these class markers make me feel more invisible, because people often assume I have a lot more money than I actually do.

      In any case, I have hope that at some point the tides will turn, and I will be able to live out my vision of monastic service. I write a lot on this blog about my hermit tendencies and how important solitude is to me. The paradoxical truth underlying this, however, is that my solitary life is only made possible by a thriving web of supportive relationships. I wouldn’t even be here typing these words right now if it weren’t for that safety net.

  2. It’s remarkable just how much solitude can depend on a network of others. Perhaps it’s just another way that having the right support system helps us live fully and thrive in a manner that best suits us. I love my solitude a great deal but I depend on many other people to help make this possible (for instance, my building manager/neighbor/buddy has taken on the responsibility of calling repair services this week so I don’t have to!). Social service programs enabled me to attend school which allowed me to get a stable job; though my job barely covers my rent, I’m able to live by myself and maintain my religious life without needing to take on a roommate. I’m really grateful for all the others that have helped make this possible.

    At any rate, I do hope that things begin to get better. I understand all too well the pillage of the self-employed at tax time. This is the first year in four that I’ve gotten any return back and that only because a volunteer tax guy took the time to really help me with the process instead of throwing up his hands and saying, “Sucks to be you!” It’s not a big return but it’s going to help a lot.

    • Thanks for your openness. I still find it difficult to be open about my personal economic situation, because of pervasive negative stereotypes about poor people – that the poor must have gotten that way because they’re irresponsible with their money, for example, or did something to deserve their fate. I sometimes observe myself clinging hard to the middle class identity of my upbringing, despite the fact that I’ve been poor (in financial terms, at least) for many years now. But I just read Alley Valkyrie’s brilliant article “Poverty, Worth and the Hovering Ghost of Calvin” in The Wild Hunt this morning, and it has inspired me greatly. It’s exactly the sort of thing I wish I’d written myself. I figured out when I was young that the game was rigged, and I have resisted the cultural standard that judges people’s worth by their ability to ‘make a living’ by selling their time for money ever since. That’s one of the reasons I started my other blog, Rethinking the Job Culture. So I am going to push myself to speak out more to counter those biases.

      Social services are helping me get by, too. I’m one of countless “working Americans” (that phrase is in quotes to protest the idea that the only ones who should be considered as “working” are the ones who get paid for it) who receives food benefits from the state, and in addition to being self-employed as a house cleaner, I’m enrolled in a state-subsidised training program to prepare me for a job in the tech industry. And my housing situation is stable and affordable only because I happen to live in a family-owned condo, and have been able to stay here for 7 years. That’s a big part of what allows me to live alone and maintain my religious life as openly and extensively as I do. Without that stroke of good fortune, I would have had little choice but to move back in with my folks…which would be no small undertaking, since they live across the Pacific Ocean from me. I’d have to sell pretty much everything I own and start over. Glad it hasn’t come to that (though it did come very close at the height of the recent recession). As I watch the gentrification process speeding up in Portland these days, I am ever more aware of how much I benefit from this housing privilege. Even the fact that I am able to live downtown, and don’t need to own a car, is a middle class privilege. All of this makes me ever more interested in using the privileges I do have to contribute something positive to others. In fact, that is one of the most important reasons why I hope I’ll be able to live out the monastic vision I’ve been entrusted with. It will, I hope, be one of the ways I use my own gifts to ‘give back’ to my community in gratitude for the support I’ve received.

      There’s hope for me, for sure. The tax bill is a setback, but I do have a safety net indeed, and I am determined to make the most responsible use of the advantages I have as possible.

      Wishing you the blessings of a robust safety net as well.

      • Getting over that old net of stereotypes is a life’s worth of work. My own background left me feeling very in between. On the one hand I’ve got a blue collar heritage that union organizing helped move into middle class aspirations; on the other I’ve got a strongly working class socialist ideology that resents and resists those aspirations even as it takes advantage of ivory tower academia (my dad came from a very poor urban Hispanic background and ended up with a doctorate – and a raging case of alcoholism but that’s another subject entirely). As I struggle to acquire the basic resources I need to survive and thrive I’ve had to confront a lot of my issues regarding an expectation of financial stability and what precisely that looks like.

        My food benefits were cut nearly in half not too long ago and there’s not much I can do to fight it. I just suck it up and don’t squirrel away things in the pantry so frequently. I’ve managed to make a little money via Etsy (but ho boy has it taken a lot of expense to get me to this point) and that’s helping me take care of the most pressing bills. I live in an outrageously cheap apartment that’s glorious in its size and view; even though the rent was raised $50 I’m still considerably below what’s standard in my neighborhood. That said, half my monthly income is eaten up by rent. It really, really sucks and yet I’m as comfortable as I am in large part by chance and privilege.

        My safety net is primarily social. I try to cultivate a network of good, loyal friends and so far I’ve been pretty successful in that. We’re all struggling in our own way but being surrounded by even a few people who love and understand me makes an enormous difference. (And ugh, yes, I have the option of moving back in with my mother and no, do not want.)

        I hope this week is treating you gently. Be well!

  3. Pingback: Reflections on the Many Gods West conference | The Black Stone Hermitage

  4. Pingback: Staying Job-Free, So I Can Work: Toward Community Supported Hermitage | The Black Stone Hermitage

  5. Pingback: My Vision for the Future of the Hermitage | The Black Stone Hermitage

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