I Do It Because I Can’t Not Do It

One of my favorite questions to ask friends and acquaintances lately is this: What are three things you absolutely need in your life? I don’t mean love, health, sex, shelter, oxygen, the kind of thing everybody wants/needs. I mean the things you do when you have free time to do exactly what you want most to do.  And furthermore, if you’re unable to do these things, you don’t feel right. You’re “off.” It’s like your skin doesn’t fit quite right.

I love to ask this question, because it so often reveals someone’s unique passion or hobby. Like a friend who apparently trained dogs in her free time. How did I not know this? Or the woman sitting beside me at a wedding who crafted musical instruments out of strange objects. Or the high school kid whose hobby was real-life survival games. People can definitely surprise you. 

And so I ask you: What are the three things you do because you can’t not do them?

Here, I’ll share mine—not just because I need desperately to update this page with a new entry so I can finally replace the one about Christmas—but also because I’m feeling chatty. Besides, maybe you want to know. I mean, you’re here, right? On my page and all.  

No big reveal here, but WRITING is, and always has been, my first “thing.” And because it’s also my work, I’m one of those outrageously fortunate people who gets to do what I love most on a daily basis. OH, (she added excitedly), and lately, I’ve been taking classes to explore forms of writing I haven’t tackled before. This week, I’ll start my first Memoir class, and also the third round with Screenwriting. Yep, I’m so excited I can’t stand it. Big time writer geek. 

Second on my list tends to shift over the years. Right now, it’s ART. Especially making multi-media art, collage, and these hanging art things I call (for lack of a more creative, original term) “mobiles.”  I make them out of whatever I fancy in the moment…like beads, crystals, nature stuff like shells and feathers and pinecones, and miscellaneous mementos like keys and lockets and antique jewelry. And I’m learning how to make stained glass and mosaic. In short, I’m obsessed. (Clearly, I also like taking classes.)

Third on my list at the moment is MUSIC, although it used to run a close second. I think it’s because I’ve been able to feed my music passion over the years by doing so much of it. I was lead singer in a band for 6 ½ years, had a handful of leading roles in community theater (my favorite was Martha in “The Secret Garden”), and I’ve sung semi-professionally in an a cappella group for the past 18 years. But—true story—soon my group will be disbanding.  Without a regular fix of singing, will I experience withdrawal? Will I seek a new outlet? We will see…

There.

I have successfully replaced my Christmas entry, and had fun blathering on about myself for a little while. If you’re still with me now and have read all the way to the end, God love ya. And hey, tell me your three things. I want to know.

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Why I Can’t Take Down My Christmas Tree

(A momentary break from my blog journey)

I can’t bear to take down my Christmas tree and this fact consumes my thoughts today. I can’t do it. I still need it. But why? Usually I’m twitching to take it down as soon Christmas is over, in agreement with the adage: “Nothing is as over as Christmas when it’s over.”

Yet this year, I keep putting it off. I told myself and my family it was because of Covid and isolation; that the lights and colors still bring me joy in the darkness, so why not leave it up a little longer? 

But it occurs to me that I cling to this particular tree for a different reason: It is because I lost my dear, sweet Mom to Covid last month. This Christmas tree and this loss create for me a memory that I can’t let go, as if in some way it will mean letting part of her go, too.

It was 1:33 a.m on Monday, December 7th when I got the call from her nursing facility. Oddly enough, only moments before, I’d startled awake and looked around the bedroom and thought to myself, Wow, the house is so quietEverything is so quiet. Then the quiet was interrupted by the phone. And I knew.

I crept downstairs alone and turned on the Christmas tree lights, soft and beautiful in the dark, quiet house. Then I watched a classic holiday movie filmed when my mother was a young woman: It’s A Wonderful Life. Unable to bear the Uncle-Billy-loses-the money part, I fast-forwarded to Clarence, the angel. In those late night, wee-hour moments, I felt like I was holding Mom with me in the muted Christmas-tree lights and that old, familiar black-and-white movie. 

And now long past Epiphany, the usual tree-dismantling day, I keep insisting we don’t need to take the tree down, not yet. Sure, it is dry and drooping and sheds copious needles every day, but for me, its magnificence and solace are undiminished. 

The sight of this tree cradles me in a place where Mom is still with me. I know full well the tree is dead and eventually we must remove its decorations and red bows and garlands and lights; that we will have to haul it out back and sweep up the needles in its wake and move the furniture back where it belongs. I know that although I can rationalize for now that the Christmas tree should remain lit and glorious in its corner, this time too will pass.  

Soon I will need to make room in that corner and in my heart for the passage of time, because there is no way to deny its momentum. I need to accept the future, to roll forward with it into new seasons. It is a new year in a new time, the beginning of the first of everything I will now face without a mother. 

But for now, may I please take just a little more time? The tree is so lovely, still. See? The nights are so very quiet. And I miss my mother.

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Part 9: My Secret Obsession

 “So, how many entries there will there be in your blog journey?” my pal Sherry asked last night during a Zoom dinner with the husbands. The only response I could come up with was, “Um, I guess I’ll keep writing about this until I’m done writing about this.” 

I’m not sure yet what done will feel like. This stuff has been percolating for over four years, with over 2,000 pages of notes and messages and inspirations to draw on. I’ve been waiting (not always patiently) for “the fullness of time” in which it seemed right to share it, which came for me on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 with the siege of the Capitol. Maybe I’ll feel “done” after the inauguration on January 20th?  We’ll see…I’m following my gut through this whole adventure, so I’ll just keep doing that.

You know, come to think of it, this blog itself is an example of a Venn diagram. Right? There’s me. There’s you. And now, there’s This. It’s the almond-shaped site of connection, the mandorla we create together. The missing ingredient was you, all along. 

I’m going to keep this Saturday entry short. I’ve been so consumed by writing this past week that I’ve neglected other things. Like doing the laundry and taking down the Christmas tree (although it’s still so pretty with all the lights…hmm, maybe just a few more days…) and preparing meals for the family that are not microwavable leftovers or peanut butter sandwiches or takeout, again. 

So instead of going into detail now, I will simply share an image to serve as “a scene from the next episode.” Does anyone recognize it? Have you, perhaps, read The Mists of Avalon?

Anyway, more to come…

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(Chalice Well Cover, Glastonbury, Somerset, England)

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Part 8: My Secret Obsession

In which I explain: Why do Christians affix fish decals to the backs of their minivans, and why does the Pope wear a vagina hat for special occasions?

[Recap: Welcome to my blog journey, in which I try to make sense of some strange (also, cool) mystical and spiritual experiences that challenge my preacher’s daughter religious upbringing but feel so right I can’t shut up about them. If you’re just jumping in now, I guess the best way to start at the beginning is to click on my general webpage link https://calarmistead.com where you can see all the entries, and scroll down. If you’ve been following along, I offer a gracious thank you, especially to you folks who keep saying “Tell me more…what happens next…I’m in, keep going!” I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Seriously. Thank you.] 

I want to go back to the symbol that started all of this, the one that haunted my daydreams and night dreams and nudged me and pestered me until I finally dug into research to see what the heck it was trying to tell me. 

The Venn diagram. 

It makes sense that this is the image that bombarded my thoughts as I’ve agonized over the state of our country and its heartbreaking divisions. If only a circle representing Republicans could do the Venn thing with a circle representing Democrats, just think of what could be learned in the place where they join—the place called mandorla, meaning “almond” in Italian. Within the mandorla, the two sets can clearly see the ways in which they are inexorably the SAME. 

This is a good place to interject that another image that keeps nudging me is that of a lens or a filter, something through which information can be brought into pure, lucid focus. If only we had such a lens, we could clearly see through the metaphysical malfeasance stuffed down our throats by unscrupulous people in power. We could see through our own potentially warped views of the world. I’m talking about a lens capable of clarifying Truth. Man, how useful would that be? 

With these two things demanding a closer look, I began my research. 

The definition in Wikipedia started with what we already know about Venn diagrams: they reveal similarities between different sets, a concept conceived by English mathematician, logician and philosopher John Venn in 1880.

I learned that another term for the almond-shaped place in the middle is vesica pisces, (or piscis) Latin for “bladder of a fish”, reflecting the shape’s resemblance to the conjoined dual air bladders found in most fish. (Aaaand it also looks like a fish…more later on that…)

When I looked up vesica pisces, I read these words: “Mathematically, the vesica pisces is a special case of a lens, the shape formed by the intersection of two disks.”

Gaaaah, and there it is. I almost fell off my chair. A lens! If we can figure out a way to peer through the lens-place where we connect, we can see things more clearly. Because that’s what lenses do. Holy crap!

This felt like a significant revelation, but the Venn diagram was far from done with me. As I’ve mentioned, I discovered that in pre-Christian times, people believed the vesica pisces represented the vagina of Venus. When I first read this, the hair on the back of my neck prickled. I’d been calling my female nighttime visitor Aphrodite, after the Greek goddess of Love. Venus is the Roman counterpart, the same goddess by a different name. It seemed like a sign that I was on the right track. 

So…let’s talk for a moment about vaginas. I’m a fan. It is literally the passageway to life, its opening designed to accommodate an infant’s skull as it enters the world. No wonder ancient people viewed the vesica pisces as a sacred symbol. It is fecundity, procreation, renewal. It represents the baffling miracle of life itself. 

The Greeks and Romans were not the first to embrace the vesica pisces as a mystical symbol. Long before John Venn conceived of his diagram in terms of mathematics, the Buddhists took note. The fish shape is a symbolic footprint of Buddha, and Buddha himself is described as a Fisher of Men. The vesica pisces can also be found in the history of Judiasm, Islam, Hinduism, Mitraisim, Zorostrianism, as well as the Celtic, Pagan, and Mayan cultures. 

And Christians? The Christians went crazy over the vesica pisces.

It makes sense. One circle of the Venn is EARTH. The other is HEAVEN. The union of both creates the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Fisher of Men. In fact, early Christians scrawled fish drawings on the outside of houses where fellow believers lived, so they’d know how to find each other and find shelter from persecution.

And this, my friend, is also why we see fish decals on the back of minivans on the highway to this very day. The Christian driver may not be aware of its history, but there it is. 

Why are there so many pointy-arched windows and doors in the Gothic architecture used in cathedrals and churches? The vesica pisces. Why do you so often see an icon of Christ or Mary, angels or saints, depicted inside an almond shape, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe? Now you know. It is a fish, it is a womb, it is the passageway to life, it is Christ, it is sacred.

Huh. I wonder if Pope Francis knows that the pointy hat he wears for special occasions is based on a symbol that is also the vagina of Venus? Ha. Frankly, I hope he does. I like to imagine he’s evolved enough to celebrate the symbolism. 

This is a lot. But it all seems to verify, at least to me, that my obsession means something, and I am set on a journey to understand more fully what that is. One reason I’m so hungry to share this with you, is because I believe that’s what this assignment has been about all along. To share, to generate thought and conversation, to plant seeds of inspiration and to create a Venn place to explore this concept together.

But there is still more to tell. 

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To catch up on past entries of this blog journey, click on this link and scroll down. Thank you for joining me! https://calarmistead.com

(Christ in Majesty, in a mandorla, surrounded by emblems of the evangelists. From the 13th Century. In the Musee de Cluny, Paris, France.)

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Part 7: My Secret Obsession

Now where was I? I promised to tell you more about the mysterious female presence. 

I’ll start with this: Methodist preacher’s daughters are not encouraged to believe in female deities. If anything, they’re strongly discouraged. I mean, it sounds so Pagan-ish, right? Apparently it’s a slippery slope from goddess worship to dancing naked by a bonfire in the moonlight and drinking bull’s blood. Or something. Protestants are not even instructed to pray directly to Mary, mother of Christ. That of course, would be way too (gasp) Catholic. These are the things I was taught, or picked up by osmosis.

But years ago during a particularly devout period, I attended a women’s retreat in which a woman I greatly admired whispered in confidence, “I think the Holy Spirit is a woman.” My eyes widened. I think I gasped. Not because it was outlandish and sacrilegious, but because it felt so right. I mean, why couldn’t the Holy Spirit—the “still small voice within”—be female? The triune God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Why not Father, Son, and Mother? (A meme I saw recently: “I believe in God. I just don’t believe he’s a single parent.”) But why does it feel so deviant to say that out loud? 

I filed this under “stuff that doesn’t fit traditional doctrine but resonates with me on a visceral, gut-deep level,” and went about my business. That file is now bursting with meaningful info, but much of it I keep secret. There are people who would worry about me for roaming so far outside the box, concluding that my soul is vulnerable and therefore in danger. There are others who would arch a brow and say, “Girl, you’re drinking the woo-woo Kool-aid.” But it’s like this: I feel as though I’m delving into an innate, exciting, organic, inherently good Truth. One that is both ancient and evolving.

And some of it might be defined as (yeah, I’m going there) Pagan. 

Quick fact: True pagans never called themselves pagans. They were country dwellers like my Celtic ancestors, just trying to survive and live off the land. For roughly 30,000 years, the deities humans worshipped were female, because country dwellers thought of the earth as Mother, source of all life.  

Then—I won’t go into detail because there is plenty written about this elsewhere—but Christianity arrived, demonizing anything that wasn’t Christianity, and patriarchy in general demonized the worship of female deities. (Side note: I’m no theologian, but I don’t think this kind of strong-arming is what Jesus had in mind.) 

I remember being told that Christians should see themselves as being “in the world, but not of the world.” Meaning that our eyes should always be on heaven. But I am proudly of this world, product of this mother. Made of nature stuff. Paganism seems to express a profound love of the earth, and I am all about this.

And so, I admit that in addition to celebrating the usual Christian holidays, I follow the Pagan circle of the year, savoring rituals that welcome spring and the new moon and the harvest and the longest/shortest days. I will admit to lighting candles and burning sage and contemplating colorful stones in cupped hands and looking for signs and feeling blessed once when I snatched a blue jay feather from the sky before it hit the ground. I will admit to imagining my feet sprouting roots that I dig into the ground to root myself in my mother planet, and imagining my arms sprouting branches that I spread toward the stars to access the energy of my father sky. 

Here is where I invoke my favorite shape, the Venn diagram. Imagine one circle is “earth,” and the other circle “heaven.” Surely the almond-shaped intersection, a.k.a. the mandorla, of the two can be seen as the product of both: A creature cobbled together from the stuff of nature, with a soaring imagination capable of hungering for some kind of mystical God or Goddess or Parent or Creator. The mandorla in this scenario is me. It’s you.

And…here is something startling I also discovered when delving deeper into the significance of the Venn diagram: in the ancient, pre-Christian world, the mandorla was seen to represent (I am not making this up) the vagina of Venus. (Now that you see it, you can’t un-see it, can you?) And later in Christianity, the mandorla represented none other than Jesus Christ himself. 

But now I’m getting ahead of myself…

…The journey continues

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Part 6: My Secret Obsession

Recap: Around the time of the 2016 election, I found myself obsessed and haunted by Venn diagrams. (And I have a lot more to tell you about that.) Heartsick and deeply disturbed by the swelling hostility in our country, I appealed to The Something Greater Than I Can Fathom and got more than I bargained for in return. A female presence visited me one night and offered me an assignment. I was so dazed and stupefied and in love with her that I said yes without even asking for the specifics. I named her Aphrodite because she spoke so eloquently about love. (I also have a lot more to tell you about her.) Then the messages in the night began bombarding me, and in the four years since, I’ve filled 2,083 pages with material that felt—and still feels—vastly meaningful to me. But what to DO with it? The material has hijacked several novels I’ve been trying to write. It is far too huge to contain in essays. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) Talk about frustrating. I feared I was failing The SGTICF, that perhaps some other writer should have been approached, someone who could do a better job. 

Then January 6, 2021 happened, one week ago today. 

The swelling hostility in our country erupted violently at the Capitol building in Washington DC with shattered glass and breached barriers and death. Shock, horror, dismay and helplessness brought me here to my website, and I started to write. I blurted out my obsessions. I showed off my secret, hard-to-explain tattoo. Many of you have responded, saying tell me more. And oh, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. 

So I have to tell you the rest. I can’t stop now. 

The loudest message I have received since this whole adventure began was on a morning in January, 2017. This was unusual, because most of them came in the night, just as I was falling asleep. This one jolted me awake. 

It was two words drifting among my sleep thoughts like your basic flotsam and/or jetsam bobbing in a wave headed for shore: Metaphysical Malfeasance. Confession: I wasn’t 100% sure what they meant, especially not strung together like that, especially not while groggy with sleep. So I shrugged them off and focused on an incoming dream. 

The words came again, louder. Then louder still. I cracked an eye open. By the time they were shouted in my brain, METAPHYSICAL MALFEASANCE, I was awake, murmuring okay, okay. I wrote them down, misspelling “malfeasance,” scrawling question marks and my in-the-moment reaction: “What does that mean?” When I got up, I looked up both of the words.

Metaphysical has to do with metaphysics, “the philosophical study of reality and being.”  Some synonyms are: Spiritual, Mystical, Universal, Transcendental, Abstract, Supernatural, Psychic.

Huh, I thought. Interesting.

And malfeasance? That’s easier to grasp. It’s “wrongdoing or misconduct, especially by a public official.”  Alternate terms: Impropriety, Misbehavior, Corruption, Breach of Trust, Immorality, Crime, Injustice, Evil-Doing, Abuse.

I don’t know about you, but METAPHYSICAL MALFEASANCE (a.k.a. Universal Breach of Trust, Mystical Misbehavior, Spiritual Abuse; in short, manipulating our understanding of reality and morality) sounded to me like a warning. And it didn’t take a Ph.D in etymology to interpret what it was a warning against.

People in positions of power were (are) messing with our understanding of what is real, what is true, what is healthy for us. We don’t know which public officials to believe, if any of them. Even though some give lip service to “unity,” they’re tearing us apart as if “divide and conquer,” is their true rallying cry.  This is the exact opposite of another message I keep hearing over and over again in my nighttime dispatches, which is: WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

All of this feels critical to share right now. Our biggest enemy is Metaphysical Malfeasance and those who perpetrate it. 

I have another message to share, one that I feel is linked to this, and perhaps even the antidote. It is this: The Apocalypse. We may be heading there. It sounds scary, but I have good news. Really good news. The word “apocalypse?” 

Its meaning in Greek is this: The Unveiling

It may get violent, it may get messy, but I believe the Truth is in the process of being unveiled. 

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(Photo by Cal, 1-27-2017)

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Part 5: My Secret Obsession

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  ~ Mary Oliver

Recap: I am haunted and obsessed. With Venn diagrams. With the female presence (ghost, deity, alien, dream?) that visits me the in-between of wakefulness and sleep. With the persistent longing to believe in and connect with The Something Greater than I Can Fathom (God, with a new wardrobe and fresh vocabulary?) With the compulsion to use my one wild and precious life to express in words what seems impossible to express in words. But I’ll try because I must. I was offered an assignment, and I said yes.

And after I said yes, the messages started coming. 

I have told very few people about the messages. When they ask specifically what they are, I get all tongue-tied and shy and embarrassed, terrified these dispatches that feel to me like sacred gifts will sound silly or trite if I say them out loud. So I’ll work my way up to that. 

It happens like this: I’m in bed drifting off to sleep, when a thought or word or phrase springs from the jumble of my random falling-asleep thoughts, repeats itself, then gets louder and more intense. It will not give me peace until I turn on the light, scramble for a piece of paper, and set it down in writing. This happened A LOT at the beginning. Sometimes it happened ten times in one night, when I’d have to repeatedly switch on the lamp, apologize to my slumbering husband, and scribble down what I heard. (Yes, even though it was cool and mystical and all, sometimes it was also way annoying…) After using up all the random envelopes and receipts and scraps available on my nightstand, I finally (duh) put a notebook there. I filled it up. I got another one. Filled that one up, too.

My next dilemma: What the heck was I supposed to DO with all of this? I started a computer document, and transcribed all the messages into it. At the time, I think it filled about 70 pages. The working title I gave it was “Conversations with Aphrodite,” because I felt the need to give my visitor a name, because I’m a huge fan of Greek mythology, and also because she talked incessantly about love and its essential importance to our survival. 

Now, here it is, four years after this phenomenon began, and I am on the seventh volume of “Conversations with Aphrodite.” Current page count: 2,083. And I still struggle daily with with: What am I supposed to DO with all of this?

Then last Wednesday happened. Heartsick, I found myself blurting out my story right here, on my website. In some odd way, it feels right to share it here, in this place. With you.

And there is more to tell.

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Part 4: My Secret Obsession

“What you seek is seeking you.” ~ Rumi

Recap: For the past four years, I’ve been haunted by the image of a Venn diagram. 

Its persistent nudging reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the part where a bunch of people began obsessing over subliminal mental images of a mountain-like shape, sketching it, dreaming it, and making models of it. (Remember Richard Dreyfus and the mashed potatoes?) It turned out aliens were trying to make contact with them, luring them to that very mountain for a close encounter. And ultimately, they did.

For the record, I do not believe aliens are trying to contact me. Ha-ha, the very idea. However, (gulp), I am going to state as bravely as possible that I do believe someone/something is. Why? Because I asked for it, specifically. I sent an earnest call out into the universe. Then I sat back in silence to listen.

Mystical experiences are nearly impossible to describe. It’s hard to trust they could possibly be real, unless they’re happening very specifically to you. But I ask you to consider the Venn diagram in terms of your ability to accept what I’m about to share. Label one circle THE HOPEFUL BELIEVER, the other THE CYNICAL SKEPTIC. The sweet spot is in the middle—the almond-shaped mandorla where the two circles intersect. (The Hopeful Skeptic, perhaps?) That’s where one can embrace the mystical while still feeling grounded. 

That’s the place from which I speak when I tell you: I felt a presence. I had an experience.

It was a night shortly after the 2016 election, and I lay in bed in that drowsy, gauzy mandorla sweet spot between AWAKE and ASLEEP when I called upon The Something Good, The Better Than Good, The Best I Could Fathom, and she and I made contact. We had a close encounter. 

Who is ‘she,’ and what exactly was this encounter like? Get on with it already! Yes, yes, I hear you, and I’m trying. Really. I hesitate because I want so badly to explain in a way that won’t rile up your CYNICAL SKEPTIC self and cause you to deem me crazy or deluded. 

But I guess I just have to take that chance. 

It happened like this: I felt a whoosh of energy rush into my body, and I gasped. It brought with it a startling expansive feeling, a breathless, transcendent, floaty sensation that seized my chest and caused my heart to swell. My body warmed and hummed in response, taking in this energy like lungfuls of pure, fresh oxygen. My chest expanded as I drew more and more of this luminous force into my body, until it could hold no more and my chest seemed to crack wide open, to explode light out of the center of me, radiating, streaming outward in all directions. I gripped the bedding, and held on.

Then, something weird happened to the crown of my head. It too seemed to crack open, right in that place where in newborns there is a soft spot that eventually closes up into solid skull. But in that moment, it seemed not only porous, but wide open, to accept an overwhelming download of information. At least, this is how it seemed. But it was too much for me. Our brains are not capable of absorbing so much so quickly. I felt like I’d learned so much, but retained little of it.

Behind and within it all was a female presence. An indescribably warm, tender, mother-like presence that cherished me beyond reason. I have no choice but to express the overall sensation of the experience with the most overused and inadequate word in our human language: Love.

Then she asked me a very pointed, very specific question. It went something like this:  Okay, so let’s get right down to it. Are you willing to accept this assignment? For real? If not, that’s okay, but we’ll need to find someone else. 

Assignment? Okay. I’m a writer, and my career has been all about writing assignments and deadlines. But clearly, this was no normal “assignment.” For one thing, I wasn’t sure exactly what it was yet. But I understood that with or without me, this work would get done. If I declined, some other writer would step up and accept the job. So even though I could have said no (free will being what it is), the particulars seemed far less important than accepting the call to do it. The details will work themselves out later, I sensed. This, right now, is about making the commitment

So I said yes. Of course, yes.  I said, let it be me.  

And I don’t mind telling you, it felt good to accept. No, that’s not accurate. It felt way better than good. It felt wonderful. My heart pounded and I was flushed with euphoria. It felt a whole lot in fact, like falling in love. Admittedly, there have been moments when my goofy, smitten smile has slipped and I’ve asked myself: “Yikes—now what?” Yet at the same time, a fire has been ignited in me that continues to simmer and glow and blaze.

Because soon after I said “yes,” the messages started coming. 

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(Collage by Cal)

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Part 3: My Secret Obsession

My tattoo has been a quasi-secret for almost a year. Not on purpose—although I appreciate the fact that I haven’t had to explain it until now—but because of the pandemic and rarely seeing another human being who might ask about it. 

Even so, I had a few stock answers prepared. If people weren’t satisfied to hear that it was a nod to my Celtic ancestors, then I would share that it was based on my favorite geometric shape, the Venn diagram, which symbolizes the fact that no matter how divided we seem, we are still inexorably connected at the very center of us. 

All of this was true, and I figured that would be enough for most. But I’ve promised to tell you the whole story in this series of blog posts and that’s what I’m going to do. 

It started at the end of the 2016 election trauma, the brutal and constant hammering of negative news into my skull, into everyone’s skulls, concussing us with worry and fear and unease. I’m sure I’m not the only person who cast my eyes heavenward, earthward, anywhere-ward seeking comfort or a shred of meaning; not the only person thinking: HelpI’m scared. This is crazy. Is this the apocalypse? Are we going to annihilate each other in this struggle over truth and power? What should I do? What can I do? 

Many people found comfort in faith, in religion. But wouldn’t you know, at the time I was also smack in the middle of a faith crisis. 

Some background: I am a preacher’s daughter. Baptist until age 12 (my dad baptized me by immersion, dunking me in the church tank—one of my favorite memories is the fisherman’s hip boots he wore under his robe—ha!), then he, and we by association, embraced Methodism. My parents were good people, kind people, and I was immensely fortunate to be raised in a loving home. My life was full of Sunday school, youth group, Bible studies, retreats…in short, I have been well educated in Protestant Christianity. And like many people, I’ve had mountaintop experiences that fed my soul, and I’ve had long periods of doubt and questioning. 

This particular crisis had to do with a rogue belief system that had outgrown the traditional system of religion I was raised on. My desire, my hunger for something transcendent was bursting at the seams like a yeasty dough that wouldn’t stop rising and wouldn’t be contained. Not in a church building. Not in a particular religion. I didn’t know what to do with it, with myself. 

I kept going back to a quote by the doctor Herbert Benson, an MD who researched the astonishing power that the mind exerts in terms of healing the body. In his book Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, he wrote: “Believe in something good if you can. Or even better, believe in something better than anything you can fathom. Because for us mortals, this is very profound medicine.”

That’s what I wanted. To believe in something better than I could fathom, something transcendent and miraculous and mystical and joyous and awe-inspiring to shake me fully awake and give me hope and tell me how I can contribute in some small way to the saving of the world. And so I started praying to that Best Thing I Could Fathom. The Something Good. The Better Than Good. I set out my yearning soul to the universe, the heavens, to the endless whatever-is-out-there. Then I sat back with an open heart, hoping to hear something back. Anything. I grew silent. I listened.

And she responded.

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(Photo by Cal)

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Part 2: My Secret Obsession

I got a tattoo on my wrist at the beginning of 2020 on the last day of January, when I don’t think I’d even heard yet the words “pandemic” or “Covid.” I had no idea that within the year, I would find myself in lockdown, or that the virus would take my mother’s life.

But I did know that the symbol of my tattoo was deeply meaningful to me in ways I couldn’t even talk about, because I didn’t have words. In fact, I’d discovered too many meanings behind it, way more than I’d anticipated. The more I learned, the more stunned and breathless it left me, like I’d stumbled upon a sign or a message that was there all along just waiting for me to notice, to offer it my attention so its mysteries could be revealed.

“It’s a Celtic design,” I told the tattoo artist, a young woman named Alex, which was partly true. And with my Scotch-Irish-English ancestry, (my Scottish grandfather immigrated from Glasgow), I figured I could claim it for my own. 

But before my research revealed the stuff that got all deep and woo-woo and mystical, my obsession started with a simple geometric shape. Which is almost funny, because I’ve never had a math mind, and Geometry is a class I nearly failed in high school, along with Algebra. (Ugh.) Yet there it is. 

My geometric haunting started with the election in 2016. The more I thought about how divided our country had become, the more I thought about this geometric shape, the more it invaded my night dreams and daydreams. The shape? 

A Venn diagram. 

Definition (from Wikipedia): “A Venn diagram, also called primary diagram, set diagram or logic diagram, is a diagram that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets.” 

That’s it, I thought. In a simple two-circle Venn, both circles are exactly the same size. They intersect at the radius of each, creating a center that perfectly represents both circles. Most simplistically in terms of our country, one could imagine the Republicans as one circle, the Democrats as the other. 

The place in the middle—which is called the mandorla, meaning “almond” in Italian—is where, theoretically, we can create a place to figure this whole thing out. The center of the Venn is where we connect, a place to remember how much we have in common, how much we share as humans and Americans who live in the here and now sharing the same time and space. 

 But how does one get to the center, the mandorla? What would that even look like? The desire to figure out this puzzle has consumed me and led me down further paths, deeper and deeper into mystery and realization, like I’m tramping through some sort of ancient, primordial forest that bears a cache of clues.

I’ll take you there with me if you’re interested, even though I’m anxious about it. What will you think of me if I reveal this very personal journey? I’ve kept it a secret for so long. But the heartbreaking events of January 6, 2021 have inspired me to share it.

Pack up some trail mix and extra water, we’re going in…

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