Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back to work, as usual..and too relaxed? Could be.

Isabel Hickey (I'm very close to finishing the first read through of her astrology book) supplied a thought that seems to fit my experiences of late. It was echoed by a line in Brad Kochounis' astrology book, Astrological Imagination. Both thoughts had to do with an important quality in the personality, the realization that one can work without the expectation of catching happiness as a result.

I know that when I don't feel good, when I feel pressured, I'll run around in my head like squirrels chasing each other through the trees. I'm trying to figure out how I can adjust this or find that to make my life change for the better, so I can start doing all those things I'm 'supposed to'. And that's not a bad quality to have, obviously, but its benefit always seems to stop before it addresses the deepest need, and that is to feel like I've reached the asked for level of responsibility that my life is pushing me to find. Responsibility = ability to new, changing, or different situations. That ability, I imagine, makes one feel capable, and, as a result, secure, even when the future is unclear. It's better, for me at least, than the ability to fix everything. It doesn't require a person to have foreseen and prepared for every possible thing that could go wrong. Again, preparedness is a really good thing...but when it becomes an obsession, it kind of seems to narrow the field of experiences and makes one forget that life is about living - and learning.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the lunar eclipse, my speaking engagement with the Men's group at my old church, and the stresses of a job that culminated in an indefinite pause of work involvement. Two weeks later, after the last automatic deposit was made, the feelings of guilt and slipping self esteem began to accumulate and the stories I told to handle it sounded kind of hollow. In the end, the solution was to return a call and get back to work, earning another five hundred or so dollars in the last two weeks of the project I had trained for in late May. (Perhaps final - its seems you really never can say that when you work for the census).

The practical need for money is exactly that - both practical and necessary. And the deeper need, the emotional victory, if you will, is doing what felt uncomfortable to me without shutting off too many feelings or retreating from the Saturnian rite of passage that is a job; sticking with the work, both physically and emotionally - that is what I tried, and am trying, to do. Its kind of a revisitation of a theme of mine from the mid nineties, when I worked a series of temporary jobs and declared to my therapist (a little prematurely, as it turned out) that "I 'know' I will 'always' work." And I did, for almost ten years, before turning to my parents to support me more heavily again while I finished a dissertation.

I'm not feeling quite as good now, this past week, as I wait between paydays for the 'final' big deposit to be made from the hours put in on this project. I'm feeling like I've blown a bit of that earned money more carelessly than I feel like I should. At least half of it is already spent, or all of it, if I'm completely honest about every bill and expense outstanding. Still, I've paid off two of the three credit cards I routinely use for spending, and I've been able to supply all the extra spending money I usually have to find somewhere else, for several months, too. I've also paid for a few significant annual expenses - insurance, exams, that kind of thing. I still have a couple big bills outstanding, and I'm not exactly certain of how many more are coming up this month - too afraid to look, I get scattered in my mind about it.

I could use a break from the pressure, but also, some realistic opportunities on the horizon. There is some garden work to do - that paid for most of my trip to our annual family reunion. You know I want to have that class going this fall. And there's dribbles of talk about one more census activity, and I put my name in the ring.

Practical necessities. Important. But not in first place. Seems like I'm getting to a finish line and finding another leg ahead of me - or learning that was only the qualifying heat. But that's okay - it's more satisfying to feel like I'm addressing an underlying issue of life than looking creative while treading water on vacation.

I was given a silly Christmas present as a kid from a woman who occasionally baby sat my sister and I and was also a friend of grandmothers'. It was a framed, fake one dollar bill that said, "Money isn't everything. But it's way ahead of whatever's in second place." I wish now that moment hadn't been treated as a joke about my personality and left at that. Because it wasn't the best quality for me to cultivate. But I can live with it - lessons given are likely lessons deserved. Maybe I should put more effort into both earning some money and making it more clear that I don't think it's the greatest, most important thing around.

I guess the other option is to openly own that desire. Just let it out, let it release rather than trying to work it into some kind of proper expression. I'm less comfortable with that option than the first. Maybe it's from having a natal Jupiter in detriment. Which means expressing things precisely (it squares natal Virgo planets) yet without embellishment is important but almost impossible (quincunx to Neptune in Scorpio). A fifth house Jupiter wants to dramatize things, right? And Gemini likes to put a good spin on a story). When I release the feeling through pure expression, it simply feels great. It's very hard not to get bogged down in the details and the work of finishing goals. Which kind of brings me back to that qualifying statement about returning to work. It wasn't a goal I needed to accomplish, so much as a need to do experience of going to work, as usual.

The second big astrological event was the solar eclipse in, of all places, my sixth house, about a degree from that (seventh house cuspy) Lilith asteroid and directly opposite my natal Capricorn Sun. Didn't think sticking with a hard thing would be a result - I thought it would involve some kind of dramatic, rebellious change, as I usually do (natal Uranus-Pluto trine the Sun, trine the IC, and, probably most influential, a natal first house Mars in Aquarius). But choosing to have a level head makes a lot of sense now. Which also meant participating as usual in the family reunion the following weekend without starting up as many arguments as I might have in the past. Trying to see my own way through things....If you haven't viewed my photos from that trip, you can do that at Smugmug, which I have to remember to pay for so I can keep my photos up - hurry, paycheck! Here is the link.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

For the astrologers: the first of two eclipses within a month's time has impacted my natal chart. The Full Moon and lunar eclipse on Saturday morning, June 26th, 2010 occurred with the fourth degree of Capricorn in the background. Natal Mercury is in the fourth degree of Capricorn in my chart, which is also the degree at which Pluto has been situated, in slow retrograde motion.

The following sequences of events were associated with the eclipse. A few days before the eclipse, the asteroid Pallas Athene, which is associated with vision and the mind, stationed direct in Scorpio within one degree of a trine of natal Vesta. Then, Vesta transited my natal Part of Fortune at 10 degrees Virgo, the Sun transited natal Vesta at three degrees Cancer, and Jupiter sextiled the North Node in Gemini/trined the South Node in Sagittarius. Nothing earth-shattering yet.

Just before the eclipse Venus in Leo opposed natal Icarus and Venus in Aquarius as the first connections in a transit of natal Venus-Mars conjunction. The Moon also transited natal Mercury in Capricorn, Mars transited the Part of Fortune, and Mercury inconjuncted the South Node in Sagittarius. The eclipse occurred in the same degree as my natal Mercury.

Shortly after the eclipse, Mercury transited natal Vesta and Pluto transited my natal Mercury, which was two minutes past my natal Mercury at the time of the eclipse (and approaching it, since it is retrograde motion). Venus then opposed my natal Mars (so the opposition to the Venus-Mars conjunction was going on during the eclipse). Mercury opposed natal Mercury, and Juno sextiled the Part of Fortune.

The Sun later sextiled my natal Moon, and one week later, Saturn in late Virgo finally made it to the opposition point of my natal Ceres in Pisces. Ceres is an asteroid and planetoid associated with unconditional love and acceptance of self and others, as well as the opposite, which is an angry withholding.

Saturn has been inconjunct to Neptune (and Black Moon Lilith for a while, too, though that has since moved over to hook up with Chiron in "just let it all go" Pisces.) Appropriately enough, I didn't discover the last piece until the next day. It involves retrograde Neptune within a degree of reapproaching an opposition to natal Vertex in late Leo, though it will take a little longer yet to get there.

So, in summary, there were three major components to this eclipse - the eclipse on my natal Mercury, with Pluto transiting right after the event; an opposition by Venus to my natal Venus-Mars conjunction that bracketed the eclipse; and a longer term rectangle of semi-sextiles and inconjuncts composed of Saturn and Neptune respectively opposed to my natal Ceres and Vertex. Both transiting and natal Vesta played a prominent role as well as transiting Mercury.

It is strange that at the conference in May, I was focused on the July solar eclipse, but this one must be the heavy hitter of the two. The solar eclipse, however, occurs nearly opposite my natal Sun, and close to a conjunction with natal Lilith asteroid. Being in the sixth house, I don't know that I can ignore this little asteroid's impact on jobs and health issues, especially with regards to the relationships I struggle to maintain with my self, my values, and the people at work or from whom I receive health care.

The time was humbling. On Thursday, there was a major storm and electricity was out for miles around - no functioning air conditioning on the hottest, most humid day of the year, no traffic lights on major roadways, and few businesses, including gas stations and restaurants were open. I did complete a case for the census that evening, which is how I know about the conditions around this town and our neighboring region. But it was wearing me down. In my efforts to complete the work, I was becoming more anxious and more aggressive at closing the deal, and I was not finding the right things to say to set people at ease. Not entirely my fault, as people have been generally disagreeable about providing a very small amount of information that their supermarket probably already has on its data bases. But, more importantly, I felt that I was losing touch with my values, even as I was succeeding at handling some tough assignments and earning some decent wages. This has been one of the lessons that I think I have gotten in this process - income and achievement is one of the necessary goals, but not the major one, and it can never be the only one that is necessary. Perhaps I have to develop a sense of serving impersonally with work and mastering my prejudices and stereotypes while defending my values and taking care of myself from a perspective, though, that transcends selfish needs. Next goal -- to put that in plain English and actual behaviors.

On Friday, I just lost all the energy to handle these kinds of situations. I wanted to yell at people sarcastically or crawl under a rock and hide. I might as well have been sitting at the bottom of a latrine and letting the world shit on me, except that I was also seething just below the surface. On Saturday morning, when our group met at the McDonald's that we had been meeting every morning at, six days a week, I turned the case over and told my supervisor I needed to stop for now. I don't think there wasn't anything right or wrong about the decision. It was just what I decided to do. I had said I hoped to have work through the end of that week, and I did - we did. It was close to the end of the project. Nevertheless, because of that decision I endured a couple days of self-imposed exile while I tried to catch up with the processing of events and meanings of things that were said (this gets very hard for me to do when I am unable to find familiar comforts, like solitude, nature, friends, healthy, relaxed conversation, or supportive family). I equate the Pluto transit and the Saturn opposition to Ceres to my ability to bear up and endure intense, negative thoughts that tore ceaselessly into the landscapes of my mind. These are the thoughts that I can't keep down or inside any longer - that I want to deal with rather than looking pretty for the camera.

There was a slight respite that also seemed to focus these issues, because, in the midst of this job transition - on Friday night - I presented a speech to the men's group at the neighborhood church which I grew up going to regularly. My mother and father were there, and many of the men were familiar to me, though it is depressing and thought-provoking to see how much the size of these groups has diminished since I last participated in church events in the early eighties. They seem mere ghosts of their former selves, and also seem to be struggling to find a focus or purpose for their activities. The state of the churches belie the successful, stable middle class suburban landscapes that surround them, and indeed, which they themselves contribute to in a very noticeable way. The speech was good - it was organized, it said what I wanted to say, and afterwards, I retained the organization fairly well through the open-ended question/discussion period.

Afterwards, I felt more of a focus on being extremely honest with myself - almost like I had taken some kind of truth serum and the thoughts I discounted because they were uncomfortable, I freely and gladly admitted to for the purpose of wanting to get to work on them and the fear of losing the clarity and the sense of purpose they brought. Perhaps its hard to lie in God's house. I hate to admit to such a old-fashioned thought, but there it is.

Afterward, I also got into a kind of fight with my parents at my house - they came over to drop off some chairs from a garage sale I had had at their place the previous weekend, and I showed them the gardens - they were mostly inattentive and unfocused and that bothered me some, but I'm past expecting much from them, and its not really right for me to be tooting my own horn, anyway. I had to tell them about some things that needed attention around the house. My dad owns the house, but he doesn't want to put money into it - he's just anxious to get the money from selling it to pay for their future at the complete care community they moved to three years ago. I understand that, and I also now, once again, get that I'm allowed to be a little irrational, too, at times, because it just plain sucks when you make a contract with someone to do something, and they just don't want to put any kind of positive energy into the project ever, at all.

I also get that there can be no more unhealthy stuffing of things that need to be said. A more passionate family would say they were just "having a discussion," but in our family, it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end. And sure enough, the next day, I felt guilty, as I do now, for expressing what would not be held inside ("have you no respect..." the voices say. "Yes, I do," I want to reply. "I am finding some for myself and for life." "No, I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me. I should respect my father" the other part wants to reply. Mostly, I realize I need to find my own way, and deal as honestly, firmly, and objectively as possible with the practical issues that arise when we must collaborate on the house or other shared aspects of my tenure here as "caretaker and closer-out" of the house.

I think the major message of this eclipse is one that's been developing for a while - that I had better watch it - be very careful with nostalgic attachments and place no hopes for something good to come out of collaborative family relationships. This is the time for me to go inward and find my own path while not being so recalcitrant and stubborn that I sabotage opportunities to help myself become more self-sufficient and less isolated.

Here is the text of the speech I presented to the men. The pastor said, she had received a call from the leader of the Men's group asking her if she thought I would present the same speech that I had given to the Women's group the previous autumn. She had said, "I can't see why not?!" Perhaps I overheard that conversation on some level, because I had to preface my remarks about the geography of the region with some background about who I was and what role geography and teaching played in my life. Perhaps I also need a karmic cleansing of my aural canals. I started out writing the speech with a real chip on my shoulder - later I became aware of it, and decided they weren't there to battle me, so I was able to soften the tone. I've been working on respecting my own ego in the presentation of myself, too, but as you can see, that still hasn't completely arrived. I'm loathe to give up the critical self-reflection that's couched in philosophical tones, but it's getting there. The question might be, do I need to write blogs if I really become completely honest with myself? Maybe, as I concluded in the speech below, there is something too precious about an unwillingness to do something that you think you've evolved beyond - that it becomes selfish to withhold what you've worked to learn and share with others just because you don't feel elated with yourself after talking about it, or feel the same kind of passionate excitement that you did before you became more self-aware.

Text of the speech:

These days, I'll grab just about any chance to make a few bucks. There's a lot of things I can do, or learn to do, that I'll find interesting enough to see myself through to the bank, because there's a lot of neat things that I want to do with the money. Yet, when someone wants me to take the stage as an expert of some kind or another, there's another side of me that pulls back because, while I've often told myself that I enjoy the attention and the rewards that come from sharing knowledge and information with others, being in a spotlight easily blinds me to some of the personal values that tell me who I need to be in this life.

I'm still uncovering and recovering these values after years of scrambling to make it appear that I'm normal, on top of things, and having a good time. It's a long-term process, but I feel like I'm getting to the point where I realize my values aren't all that far below the surface, and they don't have to alienate me from other people - in fact, they're probably helping me to connect, and not only with those of like minds. Its just that I've gotten used to stuffing these values down, failing to value them, or pushing them too forcefully at others.

As a person's inner courage to be who they are develops, good things start to happen, and the needs that seemed so intense began to get met; things start to fall into place, but it's not like the cookie cutter dream you might have had growing up, where you thought this or that kind of situation would solve some uncomfortable problem you've had to put up with all your life and you could just kick back and relax and stop struggling through difficult thoughts or hard emotions. No, its more like real life - up one day, down the next, acting like an angel one moment, and a buffoon the next. I'm trying to find a kind of balance between learning to respect myself and defend the values that define me on the one hand, and, on the other, staying open to the reality that I haven't yet learned everything that I need to know, and that not every teacher turns up only when and where I expect to find them.

One of the soul compromises that I made in order to give myself an opportunity to continue learning and sharing with others was to complete all the requirements for two graduate degrees from the University of Nebraska. And when I moved back here after living in the Midwest for almost 23 years, I brought along this thing I was fond of talking about called the geographic perspective. So, I exchanged some emails with people at the night school, reviewed a bunch of books online, and purchased a few of them from Amazon. Then I sat down to my table and got to work applying my teaching and learning experiences to the task of determining whether I could use them to see the place I grew up in in a broader context - and have some fun inspiring others to look at their surroundings in a new way.

I couldn't afford to consider whether I would actually be successful in my endeavor - I just needed to do something to use my skills, to make me feel like I belonged, at least marginally, to the rest of the working world. Teaching night school doesn't meet all of a person's financial needs, and the first classes were rushed and anxious, but over time I became more comfortable with the material and maybe also with the people who were in my classes, though I still haven't been able to focus on something other than the fear and anxiety that shows up every time those catalogs get sent out and I wait to see how many, if any, students sign up for my classes each semester.

As for my other goal, of seeing my home in a new light, I found that there are only so many buildings and roads, so much history, and so many plants and rocks that a person can talk about before wanting to connect to more sociable topics, things that have meaning for them and imagination and have an impact on a person's understanding of themselves (though people can be awful strenuous as well). I can't say yet that I've concluded that my 'home' is here, but sometimes I think home must be where you make the effort to create a home and the people in the communities you make it with - including yourself - and in this context, I'm finally starting to feel the beginnings of my work paying off.

Teaching geography, I experienced this ever-present but never acknowledged sense that I was avoiding developing some other interests and aspects of my personality, and that they weren't going to let me get away with that without exacting an occasional toll, and so I threw myself into other endeavors. Not that everything has to be purely grounded in some very precisely defined spiritual mission in life, although it often gets to feeling that way in me, so much so that in the end, I might give up trying to define it and do whatever seems easiest - or do very little, because nothing seems to fit or be good enough.

It's important to test one's ideas and ideals and simply do something for them in real life, otherwise, that way of being can get awful precious, and I think everyone would agree that there are many things in the world that could benefit from useful, well-intentioned action, whether it was executed with supreme competence and perfected skills or simply done with something more worthy of a human scale.

So, I've worked out what to say here tonight, in spite of the fact that the importance of geography, and the preaching of its gospel according to 'Paul', has waned considerably since the last time I spoke here. In actuality, this whole geography thing has become incorporated into a routine of learning and growing that revolves around a set of activities I've developed over the last three years. They do a relatively good job of maintaining a manageable mood and addressing basic needs, and "I get by with a little help"...from my friends family and a few select professionals.

The emphasis of my studies has shifted into other subjects, as has my passion for teaching, and my feelings about my role as a teacher have changed as well. I try to tell my stories in everyday language rather than spouting 'academe,' but that is really hard. I'm also trying to teach myself to listen to others tell their stories - to simply allow many experiences and opinions to be there and to be what they are. It seems to be important to my growth as a human being and as a soul, and I would guess that something like that is important to many other people as well.

So, I don't know what your reactions are to my speech here tonight, but if there are any things that any one of you would like to know about this region, I am agreeable to talk about what I've learned and if I think of something interesting now, I'll just go ahead and share that, too, but I couldn't just lecture without prefacing it with some context about the man behind the curtain of information.

I shared something about how the collision of continents 250-300 million years ago has influenced a large proportion of the landscape people pass through every day in this region. I talked about the events and the resulting physical landscapes as well as the characteristics they were responsible for, such as the lack of ports, the presence of early turnpikes and the first inland cities in the colonies, the ridges at Gettysburg and the Great Valley's influence on migration into the Midwest, the creation of anthracite, which delayed the industrialization of America by fifty years, but kept Philadelphia clean, unlike dirty Pittsburgh. Then many of the men had questions about the region and comments of their own, which I tried to just listen to. :)

Perhaps like the last speech, this marked a turning point in my relationship to geography and teaching. The last time, I felt finished. This time, I feel maybe like I should just take on the responsibility of teaching more of this stuff to others just because it is worthwhile and someone with the background knowledge that I've gone out to acquire should be doing it. The question becomes, how do I handle the emotions and the ego?

There was another aspect of this speech that related to what I went through in the following days, and perhaps it had a lot to do with my parents being there, too. I had the thought that I was feeling everything I wrote about having gotten through. All those good things I said develop as you grow - I had to feel all the opposite, painful emotions, as if I were just beginning the path to reach them, or had dared to talk about them before I was really there. More neuroses, perhaps. I don't know - my dad's the one with the PhD in psychology. I'm just the young whippersnapper that thinks he knows something about life and keeps pulling the rug out from under him until he stays on the ground.