Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I wrote this letter a week ago in response to an article in a full moon newsletter by Dianne Eppler Adams, and rather than send it, I saved it and waited until my current crisis had a bit of time to work itself out without my "running to someone" to help me with my emotions once again. I am getting pretty good at riding the waves out and wanted to see if I could do it this time, having been prepared to send it if things didn't settle down. It helps to have a connection when things get rough, and I told myself I would make it if I felt I needed it, even though it might be an imposition on someone else's time or energy.

Seems like I'm overly sensitive to imposing on someone else, even though I might do so without much apparent sensitivity, so this attempt to ride the wave out was also an attempt to go easy on myself in that regard, and see if it would work. Sometimes, pushing oneself doesn't work the way therapists and others want you to believe. If you're used to being a little aggressive, or doing the hard thing, letting up actually works better, even when it feels like the "weaker" response. This is especially true if you're a person who isn't sure his issue is worth the bother, despite the agony involved.

I've let this grow into a big story once again, but, I'm a good writer, and I'm getting a story out pretty succinctly that once seemed infinite and untellable, so I'm going to present it as is and let it become another blog post.

The back story is that over the past three or four months I have been adjusting to the upsetting reality that I really was not going to be able to stay in my childhood home much longer, the one I have lived in, on my own, over the last four years, with my cat, while transforming both the living space and myself. The house is owned by my father and I work about twenty hours a month here, cleaning it out, maintaining it, and improving it all in exchange for a stipend equivalent to the rent I pay him each month.

We didn't have this arrangement at first. I was "helping them out," he told people gladly. This seems to be his perspective on many things in life, which tends to run a bit past the rose-colored end of some amorphous spectrum and sounds a lot like Bil Tierney's description of a characteristic grand trine. My father has a Moon-Jupiter-Uranus grand trine in the earth signs, which conjuncts a Sun/Ceres combustion in Capricorn. He doesn't get off easy, because there are also two big T-squares - the first involving a first house always-equivocating Libra Mars t-squaring a Pluto-Mercury opposition on the MC-IC axis and a ninth house Chiron in Gemini T-squaring a Saturn and Neptune opposition. He perceives many communication challenges and seems to wonder and wander a lot, without finding any solid answers to things, but the Mars T-square is domineering and sometimes frightening - hard to refuse, though I usually have.

Something someone said to me one day while I was working out in the yard gave me the idea of drawing up a contract to get some boundaries around this arrangement, which sort of helped, though it didn't seem to change to change his perspective much. For myself, it gave me a more disciplined approach, a task-oriented perspective, which became a valuable skill applicable in other endeavors, though my gaze too was clouded by wishes and denials and more than a little hanging onto the past and wanting him to respect what I was doing. In the end, he was right, I needed to move on, but he wasn't one for giving me the precise kind of push I needed in that direction - one that combined firmness with reason and a sense of nurturing interest in what I was doing. I seemed to become obsessed with pointing this out more than actually getting the support I needed to get on my own.

There was a good reason I was hanging onto the past, and it wasn't just that that's what my parents did. No, it was that the future was also unknown, and the communities and friends that would support me in my independent endeavors were still vague shapes on the horizon, though, there, too, I had drawn up a plan and was, in many ways, working quite diligently on it, though the money was slow to materialize. There wasn't enough motivation because my father, despite frequent angry whines and criticisms, generally gave me what I asked for, and then, exasperated, asked when I would be through with this phase of my life.

Eventually, an arrangement with a trust company was mysteriously manifested to manage the transfers of money, though, as I had to figure out on my own three months into the deal, my father was still in charge of okaying purchases and paying for extra expenses. Apparently, he thought he was giving them that job, and appeared to relish the thought of them telling me "no."

It was a wake-up call enough for me, and after a few angry letters, detailing my feelings and emotions and why what they were asking me to do seemed like a bit too much, I found the place in my brain that said, this really was the way forward and would be supportive rather than detract from my life, so I secured it there as best I could (it got lost a few times along the way) and began moving on, earning the extra I needed each month, with great complaint and insecurity at first, and then, a little more easily and successfully, until, in November, I began working a small part-time job, so I wouldn't have to continually think about earning all of the extra money on my own.

Uranus was squaring my natal sixth house Vesta in Cancer at the time - it provided the shock that shattered my remaining home-bound ways and told me it was time to get to work, to find a way to put all those skills I had mastered (or at least gained an initial familiarity with) - things like plumbing, painting, cleaning, organizing, and gardening - to use in the paying world. And that is, to a large extent, what I've done, and it's been greatly appreciated by those whom I've worked for.

The second part of the process involved putting the house on the market. After a few months of finding ways to earn the extra money I needed, I was faced with this additional hurdle - and the necessity of finding a place for myself which could cost a lot more, since I was paying a very low rent and getting utilities paid for by the trust company. I had found many ways to cut costs in the last few years, but this, I feared, was stepping it up a level I was not ready to handle. To this day, I don't think my father grasps the concept of nurturing independence - to him, it was just, we are going to move you out of this house so we can sell it. It was a fun project to him, and he was happy to start loading boxes. Linking that to my feeling confident about my ability to support myself didn't seem to cross his mind, which still mildly infuriates and frustrates me and boggles my mind in a kind of self-righteous, self-serving way that I really need to move on from.

In any case, having his real estate appraiser show up with him one day in September and go through the house, sizing it up and tallying figures, hit me emotionally in a way I've not really experienced many times before in my life. I've Chiron conjunct Saturn in Pisces opposite Uranus and Pluto (both retrograde) in Virgo in the second and eighth houses respectively. These square Jupiter retrograde in Gemini, in the fifth. It felt like all of these challenging aspects were firing on high that week. My voice trembled and my arms shook as I told my story to the people I knit with. They have seen me struggle at times over the last few years, but I really needed their support and suggestions to calm me down that night and I was grateful for it.

As I've said, I've gained a lot of practical experience and skills and learned much about process and values while creating my own environment here. Every scrap of paper, old art project, toy, and photograph has been gone through, organized and boxed, reflected on, written about, photographed, or sent on to another destination in one manner or another (trash, recycling, yard sales, donations, gifts, etc). I've created multiple native plant retreats around the house and cleaned up many areas that seemed neglected for years, another process that helped me discover values through learning what kind of work nurtured me and how to "tune in" while doing it. It was always a house in good shape, but many things had just been left where they were, like the emotional issues they represented, perhaps. My father is set on putting the house on the market by spring of next year as part of his plan to pay for his future at the retirement community to which he and my mother moved after I returned in 2007. This is also being done to fund my mother's expected future care, who is experiencing profound transformations associated with Alzheimer's.

I have often rejected but also, I realize now, deeply despaired, of ever getting my point of view across to my parents (Nessus in Gemini in the fourth and a twelfth house Mercury perhaps?). Getting through with what I considered reasonable, never seemed to happen. Well, my father has a grand trine in the earth signs with his Moon, Jupiter conjunct Sun/Ceres, and Uranus, and I have Jupiter square Uranus, Moon sesquisquare Sun, and Mars/Venus semi-square Ceres. It frustrated me to no end and at some point I just locked in a great despair and bitterness because I felt unheard and powerless to get my view across. In the last few years, I have given it a try again, using many different approaches to see if something would work for me, including open verbal conflict, which was something we always seemed to avoid while I was growing up. Exchanges then were often not pleasant, usually critical (there were three Virgo moons in the house) but seldom confrontive nor illuminating.

On the day when Saturn was squaring my Sun and transiting his Ascendant in mid-October, we "happened" to have an appointment with a psychologist for one of our occasional discussions together, and we talked about my conviction that he wasn't sensitive to my values and need for process in relation to this moving on from the house and the belongings I have gone through while living there. It didn't feel like a very productive session, and we both seemed very set in our attitudes and decisions. But we had lunch afterward and then I called him that evening and we talked. At some point in that discussion, while I was sharing my reactions and fears of not being heard, I felt like there was an understanding that happened. And when he came in to the house the following week, he actually followed up on a suggestion that psychologist had that he said he liked, by playing the role of "me" in the house and then he had me do the same for him. He proceeded to pretty much perfectly convey and act out my perspective, and I have to say he put in a more honest effort than I could do for him. He hasn't followed up things he said he liked since then, which is typical, but when pressure builds up and we have the difficult conversations now, we do more often than not have that little breakthrough in understanding that heretofore has been absent in our relationship. It comes when I stop holding back what I want to share, positive or negative, because I don't think he's capable of hearing it, or whatever the reason, and when I at least listen to what he has say, regardless of how I feel about it.

The last bit of the back story is that I depend on him largely for financial support. This is a problem that he was in with his mother-in-law for the last thirty years of her long life, and this situation has been equally immune to the frequent complaints and argumentative reasoning that we frequently have engaged in. I think it has something to do with asteroid Lilith in Cancer opposite my Sun and the largely unaspected Mars-retrograde Venus conjunction in Aquarius.

It's clearly crazy, the kinds of rationalizations I pass off on him as my need to stay dependent, but they, I now realize, they get mixed up with real needs for emotional support and a deep desire to have someone close to me recognize my values, separate from their own, and say they're legitimate. Once I could finally begin seeing the dynamics more clearly, and I had had time to experiment with my values and living situation to create a space and a lifestyle that reflected them, and I began to earn some money doing things I had set up and could succeed at, then I began feeling more responsible for myself, self-respectful, and confident about what I could do. My father's criticisms can still have a devastating impact on me emotionally, on the occasions that I feel powerless to avoid them. And then, I needed a little bit of a nudge from the trust company folks before I could work through the grief stages that came up with accept the new demands for more of my own money and find a new place to live, all within about six months. It seemed unfair when I was feeling stretched to my emotional and physical limits to expect one thing and then just add another on top of it. At times, I still it was, but another part of me recognizes it is for the better, and it will work out if I can find the pieces to put into place. When I don't have them is when it gets real rocky, really quick.

I reached this place a couple weeks ago when I suddenly felt like my position which I was excelling at wonderfully at work was in jeopardy. I kind have always had this expectation of people treating me like a superstar (and I'm very competitive about it) - probably my Sag south node in the tenth and the fifth house Jupiter quincunx to the tenth house Neptune, with that first house Mars in Aquarius thrown in to boot. It's been a hard one to work through while I try to get up the motivation to do well at something honestly and simply adequately. This got piled on top of a recent, fearful thought while apartment hunting that I would not be able to move my precious things into a big enough space to feel comfortable in. And I don't have many belongings compared to most people. These added to the underlying feeling that I would be once again be taking a risk that I would be stretched beyond my ability to support the costs involved with moving into an apartment, and this more than anything else precipitates emotional anxiety crises in me, occasionally leading to sweaty, sleepless nights of elevated heart rates punctuated with terrifying thoughts trapped in my tense, tired body and followed by days that feel like twilight zones.

So, here now is the letter I wrote as I was working my way out of one of these episodes during that recent Gemini full moon:

I always find your messages, or those you share, bring an insight or affirms something of value. This lunar eclipse is affecting me as well, as it creates a mutable grand cross with my opposition of Chiron in the second to Pluto in the eighth (conjunct to Uranus). At the beginning of last year's MAC conference, there was a solar eclipse in Gemini and journaling revealed that the frustration I experience fell in area of mind and communication. Understanding this, getting to that place, digging those words out and putting them on the page - it gave me something to work with and I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the conference.
Now I feel the insecurities coming to a head again in the area of money and the ability to create a comfortable home environment. I realize that means both physical and emotional spaces to me. The physical aspect is outside of my control (though not my ability to communicate about it) and changing sometime in the near future. These have combined with the challenges of communicating in what is for me at least a difficult situation, such as the part-time work I am trying to incorporate into my life to build some of that security.
While I was feeling pretty good for a while, and Pluto was trining my natal Moon, at this eclipse I find myself in the process of fall your guest contributor describes, and it is something I could feel coming and knew I would have to deal with. Honestly, I don't like these situations, and yet I know they are valuable because I can get to a truth and ground more firmly in it.
I am trying to find the perspective that says, it is okay to let go of control, to not be the one who can figure it out on his own and arrive at the answer all by himself, to trust what is around them to be enough. Yet I also want to feel comforted, affirmed, and just plain more comfortable than I do, physically and emotionally, and, above all, I guess, know that that counts for something. Feeling that I do communicate effectively with others is a central part of that process and yet it is also one fraught with the perils of neediness and being overly intellectual, full of the books I have read and the information I have forged into workable sentences and paragraphs.
Somehow it has to be simpler, I think, it has to just flow spontaneously. I do have a North Node in fourth Gemini and a mercury in twelfth Capricorn, so I know, as someone who has learned a fair deal of astrology, that my wrestling with these kinds of issues, working them out, is on track...but how to let go while retaining some necessary comforts, positive affirmations, and when to know that I've done enough...that still feels overwhelmingly difficult at times.
I notice that Saturn is coming close to a trine with Neptune and I think I will just review the notes from the Saturn-Neptune lecture you presented at MAC two years ago.
Paul Kelley

The story since I wrote this letter is that I worked and "cared" my way out of this panic within a few days. I didn't avoid planned activities that I thought were important to me (even after two days without any significant sleep), and I tried to be reasonably sociable when I sought out supportive connections with friends and family members, rather than dumping my needs on them, and this seemed to help. Even despairing to the point of panic when I thought about it, I went into work on Tuesday holding onto the attitude that I would just focus on my job for this one day, and not do more than I was asked to or could reasonably ask of myself to do, and then deal with tomorrow tomorrow. Well, last week, work was lighter than it has been and I was able to stay on track, feeling quieter, calmer, and more stable than I have in a while. In fact, for a few days it was almost as if an outside force or spirit were keeping my head on straight and my feet on the ground. I began really feeling like I understood what another astrologer-blogger whom I sometimes correspond with meant, when she explained to me how difficult it can be for a person with a Jupiter-Uranus interaction to stay on the ground. How difficult to know what grounding energy in your body might feel like when you never seem to experience it! This time, I felt like perhaps I was grounded.

In the housing area, too, I experienced a breakthrough. For a few days, I felt too fragile to take on the internet search of ads I had been plowing through with fortitude, but, as the weekend neared, I logged on, almost on a whim, and found an ad that was either new or which I had overlooked before. It was in an area I was considering and seemed very reasonable in price. Most importantly, there was an outdoor area, which is absolutely essential for me. I called the number and another one - only the second and third contacts I made, and this one was the first that responded. It was the first I visited, which was on Monday afternoon. It seemed very small inside, but everything else was so right. The other apartment was usefully spacious and nicely cleaned up, like the ad said, but everything around it - asphalt, telephone lines, junkyards, and traffic noise - was so wrong for me. Last night I took my tape measure on a tour of my things and this time I wasn't despairing about, how could I get into a big enough space for them and find a way to earn more money so I could afford it while settling for something that made me unhappy? I was on a really focused mission to clear books off of shelves and set aside any piece of furniture I really could do without (but still including what I really wanted). I measured everything, recorded it in a notebook, then did some more shelf-clearing. On Tuesday after work I called again to let him know I was really interested, and drove over with my tape measure and a check book. When I walked in and the owner turned on the lights, it seemed the place expanded or my vision seemed not so limited as it had the previous day, when things looked dingier and tinier. No, this was roomy enough for my things, and nice enough for my Aquarian sense of aesthetics to work with! I gave the owner a deposit and set a move in date for January 21.

When I got home and fed my cat, I sat down by the computer to do a chart, and what an interesting and significant chart it is, with a Saturn-Neptune trine in the transits and all sorts of Lilith connections and other things! I posted a picture of the house it's in on facebook, too, and a friend mentioned "house-warming party?" in the comments. Of course, with my twelfth house Sun, retrograde Venus, and second house Saturn, and so on, I never assumed anyone would want to come to warm up a house that I lived in! It hadn't even occurred to me to consider something like that.

But after a moment's thought, a memory came of writing in a journal during an exercise led by the writer Christina Baldwin at Macalester College. This was shortly after I graduated from in 1988, and there wasn't a lot promising going on in my life. Still, it was a nice, comfortable, successful vision that I wrote about and shared with the group. There was a deck filled with merry friends, overlooking a lake in a woods. Well, the deck and friends were there, but come to think of it, the reservoir is also just right up the road (in an otherwise lake-bereft area of the country) and two arboretums and a state park are within a few minutes drive. Now, I'm not as wealthy as the people in the Michelob ad from the 1980s that my dreamy wish seemed to be based on, but it's eerily close.

I remember Christina's one comment at the time: "Money. That costs money, and where are you going to get it?" "Bah" was my reaction. It didn't seem fair that I would have to consider that. Why not just let me dream and let someone else pay for things like they always had. (I have that second house Chiron in Pisces trined to Neptune in my chart, and a trine from an eighth house Pluto to my Sun that might help). It was about the same reaction as the one I had when my dad announced I would be getting a summer job that one time during my early teenage years. About the same reaction as the one I had a few years ago, when he exclaimed "well, some day the money just isn't going to be there!" as I asked for extra to pay down yet a few more little credit card debts a couple years ago. Well, okay, there was less bravado and more resentment by that time, and the despair was a lot closer to the surface. Yes, I've been trying to find the way to earn money and yet also manifest that vision for over twenty years. It seems I'm turning the corner on that at last.

Finally, I want to mention another promising and turn of events that backs up this sense of impending arrival. A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a scholarship application to AFAN. It was for an astrology conference, and it was done minutes after taking a risk to submit a last minute membership. It paid off when I was awarded enough money to take care of my registration and workshops. This was not the big news for me, though. I'm used to getting scholarships for myself instead of earning money. What was rewarding was that I had earned the money for the registration first, and had just sent it to Donna when news of the scholarship came through. How sweet to do the real Saturn work, feel satisfyingly accomplished, and then be rewarded again with a scholarship.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I notice I've been away from this blog for almost six months, and I haven't been feeling obligated to write something new, which is great. Writing is essential to my process, the capstone of all other work, but at some point in the last six months, I must have surrendered to the realization that the way I was using this blog was mostly to get attention and feel accomplished for doing so. It feels natural to let go of the need to constantly put myself and my writing out there in this format, because I've been busy doing things in the world that reflect what I know is important to me rather than substituting that with a blog.

It also reduces the anxiety I feel when I put something of myself out there. The hardest lesson for a Capricorn to learn is that difficult and hard and tiring are not necessarily the markers of something of value. I have to teach myself that one again and again.

I don't apologize for seeking attention or think that it's wrong, because a person who doesn't feel anyone pays attention will need to keep seeking attention for whatever it is they are trying to deal with or understand until they reach a more peaceful state. But it IS a kind of double edged sword or tightrope that the person must walk. On the one hand, it really IS important to give voice to feelings and philosophies regardless of what others might think, and receive input on the ideas and values one is exploring. On the other hand, it's necessary to present those ideas in a respectful and interesting way to others if one hopes to experience their appreciation.

It's hard to even consider tailoring your delivery when your mind and soul are filled with repressed confusion and anguish, you're just beginning to learn something, or you are so used to having what you think or say being automatically discounted or dismissed that you do it to yourself as a matter of course. But barreling ahead WILL likely cause more rejection or disapproval, and neither will over-adapting to perceptions of what others want yield a more promising result. It simply leaches the authenticity from what you have to say.

It's a messy process, a combination of building up trust and developing structure, clarity, assertion, and focus; of finding ways to interact with communities that support your beliefs and perspectives rather than wear them down through criticism and complaint. All people, though perhaps some more than others, need to experience the appreciation of others if they are to cultivate it in themselves. You can't drive a car anywhere on an empty tank.

At some point, self-respect and comforts for the soul need to be accepted as necessary additions to life and actively incorporated as antidotes to an overworked and over-worried ego. Knowing that things will work out, because you've seen it happen, experienced it yourself, is another key ingredient. There is a need for the mind to find a toehold in the chaotic whirlwinds of anxiety and victimization that well up and render logic and rationality impotent once you accept someone else's crazy logic as your own or find yourself depending on their perspectives and beliefs about how things have to be. Analysis can help with this, because it doesn't seek to rescue the client or move them ahead of themselves in their process of working things through, but it does build up the trust needed to merely broach difficult topics of conversation, and it lets them practice talking about them while gently burning off their own ineffective ways of getting attention. At other times, a little bit of guidance and a nudge in some direction is necessary in my opinion.

Craziness takes hold when you despair of getting another to listen to your reason and consider your values. Conversely, when you do feel like you've gotten through or been heard, you will suddenly feel empowered and all kinds of energy to do things is freed up.

Recognizing that someone else isn't doing dealing with you fairly is not the same as delicately teasing out these intrusive elements from one's psyche. Rebelling with attitude is not the same as understanding and moving on, though it's certainly fun at times.

These are things I've seen myself experiencing and been applying to my life in the last six months. Sorry for being a bit vague and a little grandiose sounding. Personal stories are more interesting than universal statements, but the latter seems to be an ingrained part of my writer's voice. I guess it comes from reading Thoreau instead of having sex and going to parties when I was a teenager. Perhaps, on the negative side, they were developed as an attempt to feel like my words were powerful or meaningful at times when it wasn't safe or effective to express myself more directly and personally, due to others' issues, my own wiring, karma, or some combination of the above.

I've played out my drama and my process of dawning understanding most directly in the relationship with my father. Contrary to many, I not only have a perception of a father I grew up with, but also a real time, real life person I try to relate to on an employer/employee basis when it is necessary to bring up the subject of my living situation. I, like some others in my middle class suburban neighborhood, live in the house I grew up in, and unlike others, perhaps, am being financially supported in part by him, who still owns the house and makes his own plans for it.

This situation and the reasons for it tend to invoke all kinds of ideas and emotional reactions in people and has led to some very weird rationalizations in our own minds, too, which I'm only now beginning to unravel and see clearly for what they are in the light of day. This is not a secure or healthy dynamic, but in the process of starting to work my way free of it, I have hashed out the criticisms I have of his way of doing things and learned to bite my tongue and listen to a little of what he has to say and actually consider it as if it weren't just my father being his same old self. A Gemini North Node must, according to Jan Spiller, consider all points of views and learn to listen rather to assume and dismiss. For those with the node in the fourth house, this would include listening to family members, regardless of their attitudes or yours.

My father is still planning to put the house on the market early next year. We have a contract between us for me to take care of the place - doing the usual maintenance, and also cleaning out and organizing the old things and touching up the place so it looks good on the market, in exchange for a monthly stipend equivalent to the rent. He still doesn't really know if this is something he wants to allow me to do, even though we've been doing this for four and a half years now.

When I arrived here in 2007, I had been living for a year in a state where I knew no one personally for most of my time there, and my self-appointed job, after the position I had at the university had been cut, was doing computer surveys and driving around taking pictures for photo essays I thought I would post on the internet about the place I lived. I was after all, supposed to be a geographer, having earned a PhD two years previous. I've been working here since, paying taxes on the stipend and documenting the process in journals, this blog, and with photographs, while conceiving of courses to teach and other ways to make money while finding an occasional part-time job, never an easy process for someone with emotional Cancer on the cusp of the sixth house and the bitchy, rebellious, insistently independent Lilith asteroid therein, opposite the Sun. I feel a lot differently about my background and the "side" interests than I did when I started, and that was one of my reasons for doing this whole thing, though I didn't know it as consciously as I do now. This set-up was, incidentally, something suggested to my father by his financial adviser, and I for some reason, contrary to the other 99 times out of a hundred, considered it patiently for several weeks rather than rejected out of hand. The so-called side interests are earning me as much money regularly now as the stipend for working around the house, and I've got a part-time job I usually like.

I've used the situation to pick up some handy skills, gain self-confidence, and learn about balancing goals with process. It has to be process if you are to successfully transform the place you grew up in, with all of its attendant incidents and memories, into something that reflects the values you are currently exploring, and I have done that. It took about four years before the changes took hold in me, and it happened after I had gone through every single scrap of receipt, Halloween costume, photograph, workbench drawer, closet shelf, and attic trunk. The sources of the uncountable, unchangeable memories that still confused the present were now grounded in a finite number of individual items, and those had been examined, organized, reflected upon, disposed of, incorporated into craft or photography projects, or otherwise completed. There have been some much improved aesthetic considerations, too, in my opinion, so that my space feels nothing like the self-abnegating plainness that reigned over everything for decades. The mediocre self-denial of one's own desires that seemed immune to change, indeed, forbade it. That fear of disrupting the safe, established way of decorating still occasionally comes up to bite me in the ass when I escape too deeply into unpleasant nostalgia and get stuck looking at old things for hours on end.

Most recently, the lessons I've been facing most directly have been about the necessary value of having something of your own, no matter how good of a deal someone else's stuff seems or how rational an argument you might have for substituting it for something of your own. It pisses me off when I think someone is making the situation harder than it has to be for no good reason, but maybe for some deeper reason, it is supposed to work out that way. I complain and rant while accepting the uncertainty because I want to invest in a deeper, spiritual process that I can have faith in because I choose to. In any case, its a pain in the ass if you're stuck working for someone with whom you are always butting heads or who can't let go of enough control to accommodate your way of doing things in your own house. Except of course, it isn't your own house if your father owns it. And living there isn't the same as having a place of your own, no matter how generous and well-meaning he makes himself sound (when he isn't being critical and passive aggressively resentful - not that I'm ever that way).

For the longest time, I felt like my father didn't value the work I did here, and that I couldn't express my perspective to him. That changed a bit because I kept working at it and was open to some suggestions and perspectives of a psychologist my father kind of suggested/made me get in touch with. We've met together, all three of us, several times, like a married couple in counseling. We've been just about as grumpy and obstinate as that, but somehow, as both of us were experiencing Saturn squares in our transits, there was a bit of a break through in that wall of hard-headed opinions we keep between us, and that's a lot more satisfying than just thinking you're at peace with a relationship in your own mind, while still having to deal with a different reality on the ground. Now I know that I can put in the work when I feel the pressure building and change the most important yet intractable things in my life, and that's something new for me, to know that I can just do hard, unpleasant work for a little while and not only will I survive the effort, but that it will have an impact, it will make a difference. It will lead to a peace of mind in my psyche and free energy in the body.

I was surprised, though I shouldn't have been, given how much I talked about it, by how much I have despaired of ever getting through these walls, how they depressed me, kept me depressed, and how important it was for me to give it a chance rather than write off the possibility of communicating with him. Of course, I had to let go of a lot of illusions and expectations before that could happen, and I've put in some new walls, no, boundaries, since then.

I haven't made as much headway with the idea about giving things the time they require to work themselves through instead of doing a half-ass job just to get things done and find something else to do a half-ass job on, etc. Maybe that's also part of a slick rationalization on my part, or brain washing after several years of analysis (a good brain washing, I'd say, though), but I finally am getting something after four and a half years of consciously focusing on trying to do what is important to me and learn what keeps me from doing that: If you give things the time they want to complete themselves and learn how to wait rather than force, you will enjoy the process and carry the experience of a properly done job on with you in life when the job is done, and you'll be that much better at what you had been learning to do, whether that is designing and building a garden, rehanging a door, or writing a book.

That was what I thought I would write about in here, along with how it is really devastating when you relentlessly criticize another person's beliefs or perspectives and don't give them any room to be different or respect for finding their own way in life or their own way to paint a room or fix a faucet. But it's easy to apply your ideals to relationships with people you've been too close to for too long to have any kind of objective perspective about. Double that if you give them power over your life by depending on them financially or for housing. If they are that close, though, my experience has taught me that you can't turn your back on communicating your point of view to them or trying to understand theirs. At the least, it will make you hash out your own values in great detail and figure out what about them makes you feel bat shit crazy. And you'll know inside that you have what it takes to do that work of getting through, regardless of what the other person does with the results. If the other person still doesn't get it, then you can focus on moving on at peace with the decision and interact with them on a less stressful, less dramatic level. Maybe they'll get on with their own process when you're out of their hair and not stepping on their toes, too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Trying to Keep My Feet in the Water

I've decided that my daily activities are to a large extent ways of dealing with grief. I make gardens or organize lectures as if inspired to do something for someone, but I seldom really do what I want openly for a person because I am sensitive to being rejected - or maybe I am afraid of seeing that I'm not as skilled or advanced or good at what I am doing than I fantasized.

Every once in a while, I am reminded of what I am avoiding. It is usually a memory of emotions, perhaps in a dream, where the feeling comes back of being or getting close to being in love with someone or getting to know someone and being gung ho Martian about the whole thing but not being completely honest to myself and the other person as to all of what I am feeling, what is going on with me. Often promises are casually made or ideas discussed which then fall apart or are forgotten. Maybe they were never meant to be taken seriously, but I tend to. They touch on some deeper longings and hurts perhaps or some values that I try to guard so well I might forget they are there. They become battle cries and dry, empty ideas instead of warm, emotion-filled currency. I'll set myself up by thinking, as an example, that I'll have a nice birthday dinner with someone, maybe I've even celebrated their birthday with them. By the time my birthday rolls around, we've gone separate ways - or worse, and I'm trying not to feel loneliness and rejection or let inappropriate anger sneak out when I feel like I am settling for letting one of my family members get me a dinner, and I can't appreciate it in the same way as would be nice to able to do. Did I allow it to happen this way? Maybe it's a pattern bigger than my present self and can't be taken on all alone.

I don't need to say that these are challenging emotions to navigate for a teenager, or a Venus retrograde, or a person approaching middle age, either, and there is a fear that I'm sharing in a way that will leave me vulnerable to others who might be less likely to value emotions they consider sentimental or casual. I am trying to learn how to at least treat them with a little care, and not react with anger or resignation when something awkward, or worse, does happen, because there is something of value in them - a softness, a realness, something restful, anchored in feeling rather than in ideas or goals. Obviously, that is what I struggle with too - treating them with care, and the struggle really comes out in relationships, romantic endeavors, especially. Of course, but still. Sometimes, it helps to spend a few days with family or by myself and write privately in my journal instead of trying to shape it into some public form that might awkwardly try to get others' to pay attention or recognize something in me that I am kind of hiding by sharing too much too anxiously, anyway. If I write everything out as it is coming to me, in early morning hours perhaps, and do this when things finally get too chaotic to hold together any more, those things tend to get sorted out and calmed down and I let go of some of the bitter angry thoughts for a while and the obsessive racking of my brain to figure out what is going on. For that time at least, I feel that I have what I need and feel that my mind and emotions are in control, at rest in a healthy, balanced, reasonable-sounding kind of way.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Random Thought for the Day: "I finally get the meaning of "commencement:."

As I was driving,
that ribbon of highway,
I thought of a conversation I had been having earlier that afternoon.

I had expressed some mild displeasure about an inability to make space for what someone else was saying because I felt that I had so many personal things stored up that I could only squawk for attention like a baby bird waiting to be fed.

The other person had been offering an interpretation of my father's behaviors, which on the surface, appear helpful and selfless - many have told me so, repeatedly, over the years. I, on the other hand, being the occasionally ungrateful son that I am, have experienced them as frustratingly interfering and oddly (if not profoundly) confusing, and I think it is because of his tendency to just go ahead and "fix" situations in which others are involved if they upset his need to have things under control and appear "proper" and "nice", rather than own the feelings he has and work to get control of them.

At the time of the conversation, I nodded curtly a few times and thought, "Yeah, I know that already, what else do you got?". But, with the comfort afforded by a softly bouncing car moving along at a steady speed - an adult version of a stroller ride, I guess - a thought entered my mind: Why not ask the other person something in response, like, "What does a person do when someone acts like that - i.e., nice, but controlling?" It would have been a way to begin a conversation rather than dismiss it.

My guide for Gemini North Nodes says that being open to all the possibilities of not knowing what the answer is will make my life feel satisfying and complete. My social anxiety and obsession with figuring it out must have blocked me from simply continuing a conversation based on something another person said. Well, that's the pattern I learned from my family, after all.

After all this, I remembered something about a speech made at one of my commencement ceremonies - might have been high school or college. The speaker was saying, "we are commencing, which means beginning." I've never talked to others about this, but I'm pretty sure I was not alone in being solely focused on the fact that seemingly endless years of work and doing things for others, free of charge, was finally over and done with. Aside from a list of things to do that week, I wasn't thinking much about any big futures or great plans. That attitude has created a lot of problems in my life, but that's another story.

This afternoon, I think I realized why graduation ceremonies could rightly be called "commencements." And the reason is, that when you expand your horizons beyond the fear of getting something wrong and the compulsive need to get this, that, and all these other things "right," - which is largely what "school" can be about - you open to the possibilities of the future rather than being consumed with going over and over the closures of the past. Opening a dialogue can be like commencing a new chapter in your life, without the usual expectations and tyrannies of the past.

Well, it made sense when I was thinking about it in the car.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Using the Buffalo

I have a handout from a graduate school history class that listed everything a Plains Indian made from a single buffalo. Not any part was wasted. It wasn't the first time I had heard about this, but probably the most recent. After an analysis session last week, I decided I was trying to be like a Plains Indian, too. There were many things I was trying to be like, and with this one, the buffalo was my past, and I was trying to use every bit of it.

I was trying to use what I learned in college and grad school. I was trying to use what I learned driving around Pennsylvania and reading books about the region. I was trying to use what I learned in my volunteer work for Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve and the Tree Tenders and a former Scout and Macalester alumni. I was trying to use my "life experience" as a teaching assistant and instructor, temporary employee, and counseling, therapy, and analysis client. I was trying the use my experiences as the son who came back to clean up his parents' house and figure out a way to feel okay about life, the universe, and himself while becoming financially and emotionally independent.

This all became apparent in the geography class I was teaching over the last month. I was trying to describe the history of Native American inhabitants in the region, and my ability to articulate thoughts was working hard to keep up with a mind that was remembering something from a college class, from childhood, from a recent trip through the region, from a distant trip through the region, from grad school, and from last week, when I spent all day reading internet histories of the tribes. As this was going on, I was simultaneously trying to coordinate the ideas I wanted to convey with the power point slides I had spent the rest of the day creating. Being so scattered used to seem kind of fun and daring. Herding the thoughts seemed like an expression of skill. But it all seems a little child-like in a way that maybe needs to be adult first. It also kind of like walking a dog you can't control - or maybe taking a sugar-hyped kid to the mall after he's been watching cartoons and advertisements all morning. Sooner or later, it gets into something that causes you embarrassment or trouble. Or at least feels like it did.

I've been mulling over the alternative to being so "anything goes" with my hard work and passion. What's been formulating along these lines is a new way of looking at commitment. I guess I've approached commitment as throwing myself at something until I broke through whatever barrier I needed to, reached whatever goal line was ahead, and I didn't really care about the consequences to others or the pleasure sharing the experience, except as it supported me and accomplished what the "important people" said I had to do. Needless to say, this was not (and still is not) a satisfying or pleasurable way to live life, though I give myself some allowances for old habits being hard to break.

What changes me in the way I approach commitment? There was one point last spring during the first census project, when I was with a my team copying information onto census forms in a nursing home, that I decided to respond to a question asked by one of my coworkers differently than I would have if I hadn't thought about how I was going to respond. I don't remember what question it was, but I hadn't been taking the work too seriously. (I should add that I nevertheless was simultaneously very anxious about doing a good job, the correct job, which was obviously what was expected in this kind of work.)

In any case, I decided to respond to the question as if what I did, no matter how simple or mundane it was, was worth responding to with a measure of self-respect and simple humility. This was how some of my co-workers seemed to be responding, and it seemed like not that bad of a thing to decide that, despite my doctoral degree and my vast interests and competencies in lots of high-falutin' stuff, it was worth treating this mundane task with a measure of respect. (I should point out that quite of few of us had advanced degrees and it made for interesting conversation while filling out those forms).

The change in attitude was quite simple and for me at least, revolutionary. I mentioned it as an aside in an analysis session later that week and didn't think much of it until a few months later, when something happened that made me think of it again, and I realized that the moment was a seed of self-respect that had been planted and was beginning to germinate, sending out roots and a few exploratory leaves.

I had articulated the idea a few months earlier - grasping it in terms of a "healthy sense of responsibility," and I think this was a conscious application of the concept I was struggling to "wrap my mind around." (It's fascinating to note that the part of the brain in humans used to "grasp" abstract concepts is the same part that other primates use to grasp things with their hands. The metaphors obviously seem to reflect a subconscious awareness of evolutionary history.)

I used to think Frank Sinatra's song "My Way" was an egregious, if somewhat sophisticated, ode of self-inflated ego. I was very surprised to see it mentioned by one of my astrology friends as a good example of a healthy understanding of the self, which was a necessary precursor to healthy relationships and effective work. Having some self-respect must be the first step to carrying forward in life on your own path without becoming a pompous, self-important ass - or a pathetic buffoon.

I think I'm used to being the lone, star performer. It's an ideal I wanted to emulate - the magician who could do it all with flash and pizazz and become well-liked and respected because of it. I can say that my early childhood career as a magician ended badly at one of my own birthday parties, when a neighborhood friend exposed my trick and ruined the performance. Another relevant memory is the part I played in an elementary school play. I was to be the north wind - I donned a thin blanket we had around the house as my cape and tried my best to be full of big air, but my lungs didn't have the heart for it. I was applauded nonetheless, and didn't do a bad job. It just felt like I was trying too hard at something I didn't believe I could do in the first place. Kind of the same way I felt after graduating college or deciding to teach a class. It takes patience and a subtle touch to work through these feelings. The right thing has to be supported, while other things have to be taken down a notch, or dismantled completely. Knowing which is which can be very confusing, especially if you take a holiday from working on it.

Astrologically, I think of my natal North Node in Gemini (rules the lungs, arms, and nervous system), a twelfth house Sun (takes work and self-understanding to shine), and Jupiter (expansion and faith) being the ruler of the south node (an old way of doing things) and also in Gemini (lungs, arms, and nervous system again), in the fifth house (the natural house of the sun - personality and creativity). Jupiter is in detriment in Gemini, and I once read (in Kevin Burke's basic astrology text) that planets in detriment (that is, a planet in a sign opposite the one it normally likes working in) often express themselves with a degree of worry over how that energy is expressed. I actually do always seem to be worrying whether I'm overstepping my bounds when I express myself.

So, self-respect tones down some of the need to be important and admired. It inspires a quiet faith in my direction in life, and in the process of getting to where I'm going, even when I stumble and bumble along the way. And as that faith becomes stronger and I act on it more confidently, I start to see some positive results and it becomes a little bit easier to align myself with the way of doing things that seems right for me. If I start singing the Frank Sinatra tune loudly, though, I'm probably headed down the old path. Maybe some day.

With the quieter confidence comes some greater willingness to commit to "being there" and to respecting whatever work one is doing. I was trying to explain my new understanding of commitment to a psychologist the other day and I couldn't get the feeling across in words, perhaps because I hadn't talked about it in conversation before. So I worked over it on the drive home and decided the proper metaphor was a ship putting down anchor. Instead of using up the whole night trying to find the best place to anchor, because "only this will do" or "only that is worthy," I think commitment is about making a reasonable choice at a reasonable hour (unless you decide you need to keep looking) and casting anchor.

As long as the anchor is cast, you experience what is there and use it to add to your knowledge. You agree to "being there," whether "there" is a calm port with good fishing and welcoming natives, or a nursing home filling out census forms. It doesn't mean you're stuck there forever or that you'll do things skillfully the whole time. You'll weigh anchor and go to other places, do other things; you'll make mistakes and have to work things out - but while you're there, you keep the anchor in the sediment at the bottom of the harbor and let go of the winch.

Juno is the asteroid that deals specifically with commitment and in my natal chart, Juno is in Pisces, a water sign known for its mutability - the shape-shifting fog, the variable conditions of the sea. Saturn, the planet of work, restriction, and boundaries - as well as respect and authority - is also in Pisces in my natal chart. The metaphor of a boat on the water is a good one for a person with these things in Pisces.

The title of this piece is Using the Buffalo. I think I've been afraid to use less than every bit of the buffalo - the buffalo being my life and the expectations others have had for it. I'm afraid that I would be less than perfect - and worse than that - if I failed to live up to the admirable, but rather arbitrary expectation of living in the spirit of a good Plains Indian. He (or she) is one of a horde of "them's" that I think I've been aspiring to be like. If there were a reason to live this way, a community where such a feat or lifestyle was valued, perhaps then it would be a worthwhile endeavor, but it seems too much like skipping around on the lake without setting anchor.

Juno in my natal chart forms an exact square (less than one minute past exact) to my natal lunar Nodes, which dictate the path a person walks in life from the old and overly familiar (South Node) to the new and satisfying stage of development (North Node). Flitting from one new idea to the next while trying to be like "them" seems to me like the square between Juno and the South Node, while setting anchor, "being there," for the time you're there, feels like the productive square between Juno and the North Node. It doesn't have to be the right square or the right answer (that's so Sagittarian, anyway). It's just important to remember there is an alternative when one gets stuck doing the same, unproductive thing over and over again. Chiron just transited my natal Juno, which means it also just completed a square to the Nodes. Maybe this new idea is Chiron's gift to the process of personal evolution. I'm not sure I've been successful in tying together all these ideas. I'd like to hear from others if they have any ideas about this topic or making the writing more coherent. There's always a first step and an honest effort, and I want to try to do both with the respect for the effort they deserve.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On writing a letter for my alma mater

This morning I developed a blog idea in my journal, the one I keep on the round kitchen table at the end of my bedroom opposite the sleeping area. Now I'm going to copy it into this format. No doubt there will be some changes.

My fingers ache from working late on the computer. My shoulders are tense, my eyes blurry, and gut feels sluggish and clumpy. Okay, part of that is from the bottle of beer I opened at dinner. Still, this is often the way I feel in the morning, and its why I don't like to get up to go to a job or answer a phone call. I wait until my body is ready to get up, unless there is something I've agreed to do that morning which is not part of a routine or I get an idea or an outing that fills me with enthusiasm.

Why not just relax before heading off to bed, you ask? Why not step away from the computer or television when it would be the common sense thing to do? Well, I've read something about 19 degrees of Virgo and that's where Uranus is located in my natal chart, and it's right next to Pluto...In plain English, though, I have this kind of mental predilection for sticking with something despite the hardship and the lack of need for it all. Yeah, that's it. It's an addiction. I can't do anything about it. ;)

An example. When my dad would dutifully head off to bed in the middle of a movie, I would stay up and watch the whole thing, despite his comments to me about how things have to be done. It became a hallmark of independence and a weird kind of way to pay respect to something that didn't need it. Maybe I thought I would get something for my efforts - is there some heavenly reward for having watched the network television version of Burt Reynolds in The Longest Yard? I think I actually wanted to do it in spite of a lack of return or maybe even because there was no return. That could have something to do with Neptune or Saturn in Pisces. Oh, what does it matter? I'll study my astrology later.

"Above and beyond the call of duty." That's what the ex-navy officer's widow whose dog I walked in my high school years called it when, incredibly enough, I showed up in two feet of fresh snow and took her golden retriever for a walk one evening. I got a dollar for each twenty minute and usually made five dollars a week. "That's okay. I don't expect anything extra for the effort," but that's not really what I felt. Dog walking money wasn't enough to pay for my trip to Germany with the exchange program that summer, but I was used to my parents paying for things, a problem I'm still dealing with. And now I'm going to take a short break from the computer. Maybe it'll become a habit...

....There's something about going "above and beyond" so often that it becomes something you're known for, which is, that it becomes a burden and leads to inner resentment and maybe even depression. At the least, it gets a little tiresome when there really isn't a good reason for doing all the extra work, for making the sacrifice.

When I act this way, there is an honest, somewhat radical desire to do what others gloss over and prove it's not difficult, which has more than a little in-your-face, I'll-show-you edginess about it. I enjoy using it to figure things out my dad and other people would just blow off without really considering, like a watching a movie through to the end or figuring out a way to do something around the house yourself instead of calling a professional and paying more money than you need to. Sometimes this makes me look weird, but I'm learning how to employ my attitude patiently, and it's led to proficiency in some new skills, like creating native plant gardens where once there was only a lawn or a pile of junk. Other times, it backfires and leaves me feeling the way I do this morning.

It's a cool thing that I'm feeling energy freeing up in my gut and my head as I write this. It's really cool. I mean, for years there was nothing I could do about it. It gave me insomnia and feelings of frustration. Now there are some cracks in these monolithic lifelong patterns.

So, what was I doing last night on the computer that was high above and way beyond the call of duty? Every spring for the last five or six years, I've been contacting prospective f...first year students for my alma mater, Macalester College. I almost said freshmen, but that would be sexist, and if there's one thing I drilled into my psyche at Macalester it was not to be sexist! Which is probably why I spent the last ten or fifteen years working through my desire to research a tremendous variety of internet pornography sites deeply and thoroughly. Anyway...

It takes a lot to overcome my social anxiety in order to fulfill these requests, and I have to do that or I'll feel like a failure, which is death to a Capricorn. Some years I really don't feel up to making a phone call, so I drop a line. Or several...pages. Which might cause me to end up feeling unpleasant because I did way more than was expected, and might not have even done it very well.

I guess it comes to down to the fact that I also have a predilection for Herculean efforts, as if to say, "this doesn't faze me" or, "wow, look at what I just did!" And some things are meant to be something other than Herculean efforts. Knowing which kind of effort is appropriate in which situation might help one get along better in the world, and prevent more than a little resentment and stress from building up in life. Sometimes it's not just choosing big or little efforts, but building up to a grand climax in small steps, while eliciting feedback from others who might already be skilled in what you're attempting to master, or might have a head clear of the predilections that fill your own.

Not that I would stop writing. After feeling like I was emotionally inarticulate for so many years, being kept from expressing what I thought, felt, or was merely interested in, I can't not put thoughts and feelings to paper. When I write, I can take the time to revise things and when I watch the thoughts flow onto paper they come so readily. One idea opens into several others. I feel compelled to pay some attention to every detail, and I feel the pleasure and satisfaction that comes with filling pages so easily and productively.

Sometimes the pages fill with puffed-up words in ways that I don't need them to but am loathe to resist, an issue I think I've started to turn a corner on. The writing has become part of my routine and other areas of life become a little clearer. I'm finding the set of brakes for my overly focused intellect and the behaviors it generates. But they don't always work. And I don't always want to use them. Which is okay. Except when they make me feel the way I do this morning.

In fact, I've decided to listen to that feeling I had this morning, and the embarrassed, remorseful, and self-critical thoughts that preceded it. I've decided I'm just going to revise the first paragraph to send out in an email instead of print the whole thing on letterhead stationery and mail it to their addresses. They've already heard much of what I have to say from the paid recruiters, and while my letter is a pretty heartfelt reflection of my time at Macalester and a darn good advertisement for the college, it's not the kind of thing that is expected and would probably just make me feel like an overwrought weirdo. Which isn't cool by me anymore. It's too much of an effort to merely discard, though - there's something so satisfying about challenging yourself to finish a piece of writing and then being able to review it in its entirety. So, I'll post it here at the end of this blog. What do you think? Is your interest in Macalester piqued? Does it resonate with your college experience? Cheers.


My name is Paul Kelley, and I wanted to write you a short letter as an alumni representative of Macalester College (class of 1988) who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs and has been contacted by the admissions department to follow up on early and regular admissions. Even if you have already chosen a college, I hope that you will take the time to read my letter and consider the things it has to say about my college experience. I would guess that ten years from now, you might feel the same way about some of the experiences you are about to initiate, regardless of the school you choose to have them at. Before I go any further, though, I want to congratulate you all for being accepted to a highly selective school that I really believe has a great deal to offer, and I want to lend you my ear and my experiences should you have any questions about Macalester that might help you in your decision-making process. You may contact me at the address and phone number listed below.

You've probably heard this next part before, but if it's become a familiar litany, it's only because the average Macalester alum is genuinely enthusiastic about the campus and its surroundings. I'm still surprised by how fond I am of the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, and the campus itself. I was there for a reunion in 2008 and, like many, enjoy being kept up to date on the improvements to the campus and the programs being offered there. It is also surprising to realize how many of my college friends - people who arrived from all parts of the country and some even from overseas - still live in the neighborhood or in ones nearby.

As much as we all tire of chamber of commerce-type postcard descriptions of campuses, you'd probably agree that the setting is pretty important if you're going to be spending the better part of the next four years there - which usually means working, studying, sleeping, eating, and socializing all in the same setting. And perhaps you'd also agree that a college which recruits long-term residents for the community must have something going for it!

Let me draw on my background in geography and make this a quick recap. Macalester is a relatively compact, self-contained campus located in a residential neighborhood of modest older homes and mature trees about two miles from the Mississippi River in one direction and downtown St. Paul in the other. It is also about a mile and a half from the commercial corridor of University Ave and I-94, which lies to the north. City buses run in all directions, and one of the nice things about finding your way around, especially if you are from the east, is that most roads are oriented to the cardinal directions - north, south, east, and west.

It is situated along Grand Ave, which features coffee shops, small restaurants and stores, and next to Summit Avenue, with its shady, grassy boulevard ideal for walking or running to the river, where it connects to the boulevard parks and pathways. Several colleges and universities are located nearby, contributing to a relaxed, collegiate "feel," while the small businesses and variety of neighborhoods remind you that you're still part of the everyday world.

St. Paul is, in fact, a city of neighborhoods and parkways, and even when the weather gets horribly wintery, you'll find that people love to get out and do fun stuff. I thought it just added to the sense of community when you could go cross country-skiing or take in a Winter Carnival ice sculpting contest with newly befriended, heavily bundled, fellow Minnesotans. Since Macalester encourages, if not requires, students to get involved with "the community," everyone gets to know a little of this world beyond the campus boundaries. The metropolitan area is economically and ethnically diverse with a reputation for progressive innovation in governance and business, so there is almost always an avenue for involvement that suits the individual's goals and desires.

All that having been said about the cities and the neighborhoods around Macalester, there was almost always something to keep me one hundred percent occupied on campus, and I'd bet that's only become truer. The school does not empty out on the weekends, as many universities do (I spent ten years as a graduate student at one of those places), and even on the holidays there were a few students around to keep each other company.

During my stay at Mac, I was involved with the symphonic band, literary magazine, geology and outing clubs, peace and ecology interest groups, and, at one point, the pipe band. I frequently listened to guest speakers and shared the ideas they generated with my journal or among friends. I was involved with various other informal student groups, such as the international student friends I made, whose quiet parties I found relaxing and enjoyable. I took time to help new students move in at the beginning of the school year, and shared time and space with prospective students who were seeking a bit of the Macalester experience before deciding on a college.

When the world of student housing got to feeling a bit claustrophobic or intrusive, I sought peace playing the drums or reading a book in the fine arts building. Some of my friends worked on sculptures or composed pieces on the electronic pianos. Sometimes I attended a literary function or theater performance - dance was my favorite. The same purpose might have been fulfilled by time in one of the science or cartography labs or libraries, as odd as that sounds, or in some other scholastic mini-retreat I had fashioned for myself or perhaps shared with others. Most of my friends had their favorite retreats and guarded them possessively. When we needed to get away completely, a walk or run to the river was an excellent break in the routine. Buses were quick ways to get downtown, even in the middle of a snowstorm, and an occasional outing to a theater performance or ethnic restaurant reminded us we were regular folks, too.

This past year, I rediscovered a collection of programs from events I attended or participated in during my four years at Macalester. As I sorted through them, I became thoughtfully engaged with the vivid memories they brought back. I realized these documents charted the emotional chronology of my college experience more deeply and effectively than the folders of class notes and records I had kept. Through them I tracked my interests in various activities as they waxed and waned and the friends with whom I grew closer to and farther from. They highlighted challenges and frustrations that arose as time went by, and ways that I addressed them. The entire exercise seemed to reawaken half-forgotten values that were important to me then, and it brought a sense of appreciation for the experiences I had allowed myself to have.

Again, these experiences meant something valuable in addition to the conventionally recognizable academic achievements that I had anxiously pursued. The latter were defined by goals that I mapped out carefully, with great effort - and occasional bouts of frustration over conflicting schedules and uncertain direction, though they gradually fell into place, and I worked diligently to bring things to a close in my fourth and (almost) final year.

I was given an opportunity to take some courses later as an alum and complete a second major (not something that is done anymore), but those first four years were the defining ones. My Macalester friends and I sometimes have conversations about whether we would "do it again" and "would it be different?" I think back to those times and wish I could have made it simpler, more enjoyable, more effective (if only I'd known myself better, I say now). And yet, the experiences probably couldn't have been anything other than what they were - one stage on a journey that began long before college and has continued long after. And if you had said something like that to me as I was frantically finishing my senior project or figuring out my junior year's schedule, I would have looked at you like you were irresponsibly deluded.

After commencement in May 1988, I lived at addresses in the neighborhoods around Mac for another six years before enrolling in a graduate program at Nebraska, where I eventually completed a PhD in geography. I returned for two reunions and began contributing to the annual fund drives as soon as I could see beyond my own particular needs of the moment. I realized that I wanted to support the values of the Macalester community - I feel "right" about encouraging them with whatever I can offer. To me, these values - beyond the obvious ones, like internationalism - are things that foster the development of community through open, inclusive debate among faculty, staff, students, and community members. They are also values that empower students to have an effect on their world right now by giving them the opportunity to engage in collaborative research with faculty, create internship experiences for themselves, and develop their own entrepreneurial or educational ideas that might go beyond a classroom and help others in the community or on the campus.

As an alum, my perspective on Macalester isn't going to be as accurate or as balanced as a current student's, but I also know there is something to the Macalester experience that carries on from one class year to the next, and from what I understand, the things that made Macalester a great school twenty-five years ago have continued to improve. I would guess there is less cynicism, more effective engagement, and probably also better academics, though they were excellent when I was a student and I was well-prepared by my education at Haverford High School. I hope that you've decided or will choose to have the opportunity to find out for yourself, if it feels like the right choice for you. And if you've read through my entire letter, I really thank you for your commitment of time.

Sincerely, and with best wishes for a meaningful college experience,

Paul Kelley
Class of 1988

Friday, February 4, 2011

Musing in a Religious Direction

Yesterday I arrived home from working over my issues at the analyst's, which I generally like doing more than I let on. Spending time talking over one's "problems" in a kind of self-indulgent way feels like something that ought to be frowned upon, and I am sensitive to that kind of pressure, but for me it is a release valve that helps keep me on track and lets me "work on" how I work on myself. I also get some of the issues out into the open and talk them through. Gradually a trust builds so that there isn't quite as much resistance to approaching a topic or a feeling as there once was.

When I come back from a session, I often feel calmer and kind of relaxed, though I have to remember to have a little discipline, so as not to be too happy to open up to other people and start spewing like I took a dose of truth serum. If I'm by myself, I have to find something to do, and on days like these, it might be something domestic, such as cleaning the garage, gardening, cooking, or just watching television.

Last night I was watching a show on the Smithsonian channel about angels. I generally shy away from anything about Christian theology and practice because I am sensitive to memories of going to church with my family. It felt like a chore and a shallow social ritual more than anything else, and I was looking for religion to fill my lonely angst-filled teenage life with deeper meaning. It was such a big part of our identity as a family that it has become hard to approach without eliciting confusingly contradictory feelings, not the least of which is the uncomfortable ennui of sitting through church services week after week when I would have rather been outside doing something active.

So, while I know that I still have a feeling of gratitude for the support of a church community and that I like being in the energy of a church structure in solitude, I don't attend services now or find them meaningful in any personal way. Hopefully, this will change if I want it to, but I think organized religion and theology may just be one one of those things that doesn't register on my scales as anything important. Community and spirituality, which can be part of religion, but sometimes are not, would be more central to the kind of experience I want to have.

This particular show may have caught my attention because of my growing interest in astrology and the conversations I've had or shyly sat in on with interestingly different people at astrology conferences. It was likely also the weirdly open feeling I get after an analysis session and the fact that the creators of the show took an open-minded yet scholarly approach to the subject.

The world-traveling narrator and host traced the history of angels in the Christian culture and discussed how they were used by the church hierarchy to integrate the old pagan gods, such as the ones astrologers, Greeks, and Romans have used to denote the planets. This made Christianity more appealing to the rabble in conquered cultures and helped keep those people's traditions alive, in the same way that elements of Native American spirituality have been incorporated into Christian rituals and practice so that they can continue to be practiced under the guise of a monotheistic religion from the Middle East.

There were a couple elements that I found particularly engaging. One was the whole issue of gender in angels - the fact that is was an issue is pretty interesting in itself, and the androgyny that imbues some of the paintings from the middle ages is even more so. The lightly feminine faces and suggestions of breasts beneath billowy clothing were oddly juxtaposed to the ideas most of us have of the patriarchal church in the middle ages.

Were women viewed as the more virtuous sex back then even while they were vilified as temptresses of virtuous men? Or did it make Christianity more marketable to use a womanly form to soften the fierceness of the archangel spirits? Or could it really have been a free-thinking depiction of angels that managed to break through, consciously or not, and transcend rigid gender boundaries? Whatever the answer might be, it seemed particularly fitting for the day after an Aquarian New Moon to be considering an androgynous heavenly host from the Middle Ages.

The other story that strongly engaged my attention was of archangel Michael and his battle with Satan. I've heard the story, or similar ones, and seen statues of Michael presented in feminist-oriented psychological texts. His victory is interpreted as a patriarchal battle between the mind and the body. In this context, the mind represents the clean, rational, masculine energy of spirit, and the body represents the dark, dangerous, unhealthy feminine energy of the earth. In short, it's seen as an example of the battle between the sexes, masculine versus feminine, the acceptable aspects of our selves versus the parts we wish to keep hidden, and, of course, the feminists have a big problem with that.

The idea behind their critiques is that the (patriarchal) church was responsible for splitting off parts of ourselves we ought to be valuing. It is ironic that, as a college student in Karen Warren's philosophy class, I responded enthusiastically to such a critique because of its clean, rational (and very masculine) logic. The way the different elements of the argument were pieced together created a new and exciting way of seeing old, tired, moralistic theology.

I had heard enough that kind of thing on the Sunday mornings of my youth, as I checked off the order of the service in my bulletin and watched the sun track slowly through the different colored panes of stained glass. The dichotomizing of life's experiences into categories of good and bad - light, good; dark, bad - is precisely what bugged me about the last two sermons I sat through and made me not want to go back. Well, it was either that or start a philosophical debate with the minister, and I didn't feel like I could pull that off and still feel welcome as a guest in their church.

In the documentary I was watching, the narrator interviewed a priest to get the details and meaning of Micheal's epic battle with Satan. I might betray an ignorance of basic Christian theology as I try to recount his story, but here goes. Lucifer, or Satan, was feeling jealous of god's power and thought he ought to move up in the ranks a bit. In fact, he wanted to be more powerful than god, but of course there are no rotating seats of power in the heavens, at least not in the Christian sections. The priest made a point of saying how we all feel like being "bigger than god" at times - whenever we're having one of those good old competitive ego trips. Michael, whose name means "one who is like God" simply spoke his own name at Satan to put his ambitions in check. As if to remind him what it meant to serve God, what the proper attitude was. Wow. Powerful.

So, I kind of see it this way. The one angel feels that he's missing out on power and all the good things that it must be related to. He desires it and becomes jealous, while the other angel serves the power selflessly and experiences it. Both desire to be like God, but one acts from fear and scarcity, which engenders jealousy and greed, while the other operates from a place of love and service. "Being like god" sounds like the height of arrogance in Satan, and yet it represents the highest nobility in Michael. The exact same words have a world of difference in meaning. Wow. I can't think of a better way to illustrate the difference between a fear-driven ego and a person filled and powered by something like love. I finally felt like I got it.

The moment the inner intention of Satan is called out by Michael, a battle begins, as it had to. Micheal defeats the would-be usurper and casts him into hell with the other fallen angels. Unlike this epic heavenly battle, which happened only once, and created the heaven/hell scenario we live with as Christians, I would guess this struggle is something going on all the time on Earth, within each of us and in our societies, regardless of their religion.

I notice as I'm writing now and thinking back on what I wrote earlier, that the energy has kind of shifted from Aquarian to Piscean themes. Pisces is symbolized by the paired fish that face opposite directions. One battles the current by heading in the direction of the ego, the other goes with the flow of spirit. Letting egofish lead brings suffering, while letting spiritfish lead brings peace. Each is bound to the other eternally. There's no denying the reality of opposing pulls of spiritual growth and ego desire, and there cannot be one without the other. But, when one lets go of the ego's struggle for supremacy and gets on with serving his spiritual path in life, the energy creating suffering gets put to use in productive service.

I can come up with stuff like that based on what I've read in books and lectured on, but it's always different when the words resonate on a feeling level in one's life. For some reason, breaking down this story of archangel Michael and his epic battle with the upstart Satan brought up a feeling inside of frightening honesty, a feeling one might equate with the desperation and greed of Satan being met by the penetrating, unshakable gaze of Michael, the archangel. He was not one of the cute Hallmark cherubs that others painted; Michael is the top of the heap, the supreme commander of the angel armies, and his love is fierce and protective of the greater good. It faced down Satan's selfish intentions unflinchingly and squarely called them out.

To put all this into more rational words, I think the battle represents the struggle within ourselves to master ego drives that are based in fears about not getting enough of what we need or fears of missing out, of not being recognized, or of being kept apart. I thought about how that fear drives us to be greedy and grab for power that is probably only truly experienced when we serve it, rather than when we try to possess it.

Things continued to click in uncomfortable ways because I have a highly stimulated imagination and I can't resist scaring myself with it. I saw certain behaviors and attitudes in a new and much darker light.

To give you an idea of what kinds of things I'm talking about, I can say that when I've tried to get ahead in the world, something bad has happened. When I claimed freedom by riding my bicycle in neighborhoods my parents didn't want me to go to, I got a flat tire, even though to me, and probably to most other parents and kids, they were being irrationally restrictive. It as if there were something I needed to learn before I would be allowed to break their dumb rules. When I accepted a full-time teaching job after finishing some university requirements for a PhD, I was beside myself with emotional misery. My lectures felt void of any true meaning or energy - the empty words sounding brass, as the bible describes it. When I decided I ought to earn some money for my astrology, or when I think of ways to make money from my neat ideas for learning activities, something feels wrong and I sound greedy or am unsuccessful. And worse, or so I imagine.

A lot of this probably has to do with attitude and self-respect - finding what is truly of value to oneself and developing it rather than chasing after something that only sounds good because society says so. Its hard to respect others or their institutions when you don't respect what you're doing with them. In truth, many of the things I risked doing because they sounded like good ideas, didn't feel right to me. My heart wasn't in them, but I didn't know that I could succeed doing something else that better suited my talents and values. I didn't know it was okay to feel differently about money, jobs, and careers. We, in our family, were all too afraid of missing out on something important to support the effort it takes to find out what one is really good at doing and the kinds of things one likes to do.

On the other hand, there was a lack of attention paid to respecting and valuing the things in life that one ought to learn how to do. Healthy egos and jobs and good relations with authorities help a person take care of business so they can invest more energy into delving deeper into their psyches and living more spiritually. No need to make things harder for oneself just to have the experience of rebelling against them.

Some of this is also about giving up before one truly applies himself over the long haul and becomes willing to commit to something, accept criticism, and give up tyrannical little ego needs and fears in order to become part of a larger, more grounded kind of community in one's work. That was a mouthful. But it points to a positive aspect of the seemingly neurotic complex of thoughts and feelings that I hinted at earlier. While others with more fire or worldly orientations might dismiss this kind of vague, yet picky angst with impunity and suffer no ill consequences, its always seemed to be leading me toward a more authentic expression of myself and my work in life, if only I could define what that was and take a concrete step toward doing something along those lines in the real world. Maybe it's best not hammered out with rational ideas. Maybe, too, its a path into a foggy woods without any clear destination, best left for avocations, but it still inserts itself as a central part of the picture whenever the issue of jobs or vocation comes up.

The troubling insight into my soul, the one I was scaring myself about as I continued musing over the documentary, brought a feeling of relief and hope with it, too. The relief comes from accepting what had felt like an ever present, always nagging, but never revealed or spoken truth. Even though it painted a very unflattering picture, I got it, I had words for it, I saw the reflection in the mirror and felt the impact of having it be seen. The instant that happened, it was defeated. For a moment, at least. And not by being cast into hell, as Satan had been, but by being brought into the light, where it was recognized as something familiar. When something is known, it can be worked with. The fear of being cast out and suffering eternally diminishes, and it is replaced with a feeling of being okay - of being one human among many again.

When I lose touch of this feeling and my sense of connection to others, the question arises as to the standards I am holding myself to in life. Are they human or divine? Spending too much alone musing about things, I feel the pressure to do exactly the right thing. Getting my mind to apply human standards, which are more reasonable, has that measure of rational common sense my Capricorn mind craves. I feel like I can move forward in practical ways. I suppose that recognizing you are human and being okay with acting like one is also the meaning of forgiveness, which paradoxically, is divine.

On the other hand, striving to reach higher, spiritually oriented goals feels important to me, and there is a heightened sensitivity to that feeling of weightiness, so that everything has to be more precise and is more exacting, even though it is hard to define what that means in practical terms.

It seems silly to think that answers might come from solitary reflection. Though it's a necessary component, I know I will happier if I learn them in the process of engaging in everyday life with others.

Surrendering the need to be the center of attention, to have it my way, to automatically get a seat among the pantheon of genius astrologers and vaunted geographers - now there's some areas that could benefit from a more spiritual perspective in life. Okay, I'm exaggerating to illustrate how ridiculous it often feels inside. How can things heal if they aren't first expressed, brought into the light of day so their ridiculousness is revealed and laughed away harmlessly? I would hope that Priapus got to laugh at his condition once in a while.

That process of letting myself think thoughts of which I had been afraid or had dismissed automatically, moved to a new level when I enrolled in a cognitive behavioral therapy program several years ago. Although that wasn't the intended result of the program, so much as defining and alleviating the client's social anxiety, it became the most valued awareness of that experience. The process of letting these held-in thoughts be expressed has continued in the realm of other psychologically-oriented endeavors and, increasingly, in relationships and interactions in the "outside" world, as I begin to calm myself down, restore a little rational control to my imagination, and place some faith in myself and others. Well, on a good day, that is what it feels like I'm doing.

I do feel the pressure of responsibility and I get the need to develop discipline, to not dither when it's time to put bread on the table and become more responsible for myself. Claiming to be the incurable victim of a perfectionist's spiritual sensitivity doesn't sound like something even God would sign off on. I doubt you could use it to qualify for worker's compensation, and even if you could, it would prevent you from using it. But figuring out how to get through it all when you think its time to move on remains a tricky proposition.

How do I turn such sensitivity, vague fickleness, and sometimes ponderous introspection into a strength? How do I make it less personal, become less attached to it? What outlets are there to channel it into that might accomplish this? Fiction writing? Art? Social critique? Would it be possible to meld it into more analytical work, like memoir writing or astrological analysis or even geographical research? What kind of work environment would support this kind of attitude? Could I, for instance, crusade to save the whales without losing motivation or feeling like a sham? Perform perfunctory tasks for money and find satisfaction in an inner life and the part-time pursuit of other interests? Hmm...I doubt it, but maybe the right kind of part time job. More importantly perhaps, do I have to figure it out or should I let opportunities to connect with others dictate the way ahead? How do I move forward and actually commit to something, if that's what I should do? I don't have a solution yet. But I did put some of it into words.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Catching Up in January 2011

Lately I've been feeling like I'd be up for a blog soon, and now is going to be the time to get it done. There are two things I'm itching to shape up, one from my trip to the DC area in mid-December and the other from the holiday season. I journaled about both privately but I feel like it would be a good thing to do something more organized and public with these (as much as I ever am "public").

Putting something into a blog and sharing it with others is like inscribing it on a log or a stone and setting it someplace noticeable. It lends weight and intent to the process of thinking, which by nature is an ephemeral act (although sometimes I wish my thoughts would gain a bit more ephemerality). Perhaps a blog can help with that too, since a blog is much less formal than something published on paper or distributed to outlets for sale on the market. There is less of a public commitment, but elements of commitment are still there, since others are seeing what you are thinking and you are agreeing to put it out there for them to see.

With the North Node in Capricorn forming a sextile to my natal Juno in Pisces, this may be a good opportunity to explore the subject of commitment. And Saturn in Libra is coming in to an upper sesqui-square with natal Juno. Juno is the "wife," the asteroid of commitment, and with this Saturn aspect, I should be "getting" something about the realities of my commitments. Perhaps it will have to do with the limits of forcing others (or myself) to commit to things that I'm attracted to but not emotionally supported by. It might mean letting go of expectations while still daring to strive for that imagined ideal, whether a personal relationship or a project. I think mostly it will be about getting the reality of the situation, which might mean seeing that most of my commitments have been masquerades for buying time, or delightful fantasies that allow me to "imagine" enjoying life more than "actually" enjoying it, with others. Disillusionment is not a bad thing, I tell myself. The relief of living honestly is refreshing after spending so much energy keeping up appearances, though that has its practical purpose, too, and being willing to compromise is part of being human.

There is a personal commitment involved in journaling privately, and I would guess that for committed journalers (as opposed to journal"ists"?) personal commitment is no less serious than public, visible commitment. Perhaps writing a blog can even be a step toward creating honest personal commitments - the kind that are commitments to your "higher self." Maybe you grew up being told that those kinds of things had to take a back seat to commitments to others who were more powerful or important than you. Letting others know your intent and showing them your struggle to articulate it says that you want to let go of the old lies and find friends who support different ways of thinking about things - or at least new ways of looking at old habits and beliefs.

Personal commitment is a characteristic of Capricorn that makes a person with this energy what they are, but it is a personal commitment to some higher purpose, some kind of important work. A Capricornian commitment fits an individual personally while being formulated and carried out in a societal context. It is defined for that individual and it is their work to carry out, often alone, but it is carried out in the most visible, public spheres, and so they often gain a reputation for the work they do and feel the pressure to succeed at what they do. Unlike Leo, they cannot play to the crowd. A commitment to personal success, as defined by the inner knowledge they have of their work, is the only thing that matters, and so it must be for Capricorn to be happy.

Okay, so onto the personal goals I have for this blog, and we'll see where they lead and who's satisfied with the results. In March of 2009 I purchased a timeshare. This is something I had heard about as a kid. We had gotten an invitation in the mail, my father dismissed it, but I didn't want to because, to me, he sounded like he was just being unwilling to take a reasonable risk. I wanted to give it a try - heck, a free weekend's lodging in the Pocono Mountains just for listening - that sounded doable! I called them and lied to the person on the phone, then got scared and hung up. I tore up the mailing and threw it in a trash can three blocks from my house. I was good being scared about others as a kid, and I still have to work my way out of that position as an adult.

In 2009, about twenty-eight or nine years later, for you astrologer types (it relates to the Saturn and progressed Moon cycles), I took them up on the offer of free nights in a hotel in the Poconos and purchased a modest timeshare agreement from their representative. I fudged the truth again when I purchased the timeshare, since my income was vaguely interpretable. They gave me a new Bank of America credit card for the purchase. I had just canceled one of my Bank of America credit cards to make a statement in my life about corporate responsibility. Hmm...lesson delivered, I'm thinking - they win. If a tree falls in the forest, does another just grow up to take its place? If you plant one of your own, does it matter, since they're clearcutting the forest? I'll be more patient with this process next time. I'm really good at mapping out payments and using special offers, so there wasn't a practical issue for me so much as a moral one. It will be paid off this August, and my budget will become more sustainable.

Come to think of it, the timeshare didn't reflect the values I espoused when I canceled my credit card, so what was that saying about me? That I was a human rather than a set of ideals? That personal moral standards are complex and have to consider emotional needs as well as rational ideals?

The rational reason I purchased a timeshare was to have a "home base" where I often dreamed of having one - in the woods, in the mountains, on a lake. It seemed like a better kind of commitment than purchasing a cabin - and was more within my reach - since I wouldn't be stuck in one place and get lonely, that horrible feeling of being unable to attract the kind of people with whom I wanted to share this lovely idea of a home in the woods and a relaxed lifestyle...even Thoreau was only a stone's throw from town. At the moment, the option of a timeshare seemed like an unexpectedly reasonable opportunity.

Since then, I've gotten better at avoiding the temptations of marketing, becoming almost radical about it at times. I'm also learning that sometimes rational ideas and ideals should go take a hike. I'd do much better if I allowed things to stay simple and calm. Imagine being a fish and not getting tempted by the fisherman's lures. What freedom! What an evolutionary advantage! But sometimes taking the bait for a spin is just irresistible, and that's part of being human as far as I'm concerned.

The recipe I had for my timeshare vision was missing a few key ingredients, such as "community" and "honestly obtained resources of my own." Reading that just now, I realize that the writer Christina Baldwin told me the exact same thing when I was sharing my beer commercial vision of friends gathered on the balcony of a beautiful cabin the woods overlooking a lake. "Money," she intoned. I closed up, but with a feeling of defiance. Don't bum me out with your heavy practicalities, man. This happened at a journal writing presentation at Macalester College in 1989.

She emphasized resources, but I see now the importance of finding my "work" and connecting it to communities that I feel like I have a place in. Its a more finely tuned picture of the issues, but profoundly similar. It includes the emotional needs of life and the practical ones. Back then, and still now, I struggle to face practical realities without having the hope of succeeding at something that had personal meaning and pleasure. Finding one's brand of personal meaning is everyone's task in life. Without it, there is only endless, resentful drudgery for others, and I knew the feeling of that all too well. Now perhaps I'm learning to change that Dickensian perspective of life and modify my need for self-initiated success and personal meaning in order to obtain the feeling of succeeding at supporting myself, but its an uphill walk.

The stumbling blocks that keep me from adding my key ingredients have been a focus of my own life and of those who have been working with me for years. I can see now that it involves a lot of self-deception, which covers up fears, some of which seem to be surprisingly unnecessary, but they are really hard to break with, because they've become ingrained patterns. These may in fact go back generations, lifetimes, or at least to my very early childhood. It also seems that my talent for taking care of myself by making adjustments here and there is probably reinforcing these old patterns, since I can keep dancing a jig, albeit ungracefully, in order to avoid a deep, elusive underlying issue about relating to others and accepting responsibility for myself.

If I were to create an antidote to the problem it would involve developing friendships, cultivating patience and self-respect, and forgiving family while seeing the truth clearly. Astrologically, these are my second house issues dealing with a natal Chiron conjunct Saturn and squared to a retrograde Jupiter. But astrological analysis, as I recently said to my analyst, is cold comfort when you're feeling their pressure directly in your emotions and nothing seems to be enough to overcome the issues.

I can sense that this is not a problem unique to myself - just think of all the security issues our consumer/credit-driven society has gotten us into - or threatens to - but I'm rather personally focused on it, to the extent that it feels like a big part of my identity. It's scary not to have a sense of identity, so I guess that's why I can't quite loosen the reigns on my particular perspective, if there is anything the matter with having it. It also seems to fit with a progressed Sun in the first house. As it is in Pisces now, I might be looking at letting go of the need for self-definition.

So, back to the timeshare story. I knew I needed some away time of my own before the holidays. And there were points that were about to expire. To buy a timeshare and not use seemed a waste, but so too did stressing myself simply to use something I didn't have to. A few days in the DC area at a place next to the Amtrak line seemed a good compromise, and it was. I wore myself out walking, but I wanted to be outside at least one day during my trip and I ate well, cooking my own food in the morning and evening. And when I couldn't sleep, I breathed until I relaxed a bit and simply waited, then continued with my plans for the day. Seeing things through, patiently. That was the goal.

I ducked in to a restaurant Sunday night and treated myself to desert. I had walked along King Street in Alexandria for blocks and felt okay about this indulgence. When I woke during the night, I was still okay about it, but couldn't get back to sleep. As it was around five am, I eventually went out to the faux colonial dining table and began journaling. It had come to me as I lay awake working on ideas, that I had many personas I affected when I had to interact with others, and this was particularly in focus when I traveled. Seeing this and being able to write about it clearly felt important and very satisfying, although it might not seem so later in the overly strong light of day. The Moon was opposite retrograde Uranus, the Sun was opposite my natal Jupiter T-square to Uranus-Pluto and Chiron, and Lilith was transiting natal Chiron when this insight came. In fact, just after I had done most of the writing, my new smart phone signaled to me that it had received an email notification of a Lilith blog I had recently subscribed to. I think that energy had something to do with it, but a part of me is the unconvinced skeptic and disillusioned dreamer. But this time, words I had written or read before "felt" especially clear and strong, which could have either been insight or delusion. I know that I'm susceptible to the latter, so I treat these things with as much caution as I can muster. What else seemed very clear at the time was that I didn't have to be afraid to drop the act - that I, like everyone else, were humans, and while I might not yet know all the rules of the game or make enough money to feel like I should be "owning a timeshare" or "pampering myself on a relaxing vacation," I could make the adjustments to do so more responsibly and be less afraid than I was among others. Somehow it seemed almost silly, but that doesn't mean it's easy to handle or automatically corrected.

Christmas brought a realization that the house I live in, and all my plans and work here, were part of that second house issue - part of that Chiron wound, Saturn limitation, and karmic fifth house Jupiter T-square. A tangible security issue that is liable to be over-stimulated by the way Jupiter in Gemini communicates ideas I have about taking risks and using others' money. In plain English, its a way I get myself into trouble and am repeatedly confronted with the lessons I need to learn in this life.

It was a realization that came not at the end of a confrontation, though, but at the end of a nice, peaceful day where I didn't do too much for others, while still fulfilling my commitment to preparing and hosting a Christmas dinner for my sister and parents. One trip to Whole Foods and several things cobbled together from the freezer fulfilled that commitment more than adequately. There was no conversation about the house or my role here or about the amount of money my father gave to me and what was I doing to make it smaller and when would it be down to nothing. I enjoyed the time spent with my parents, doing a puzzle, even when my sister left to bring her cat home from the vet's and my mom, who has Alzheimer's was purposefully jamming together pieces that didn't fit (very hard for us Virgo Moons to accept).

In fact, I had done a few things to make my dependency smaller - canceling the movie channels I get on tv, and writing letters to cancel a few charitable contributions with organizations I'm not personally involved with, because, I realize, "charity begins at home," and my home was needing to be more personally defined and less costly. But I am taking care of these matters quietly, for now, at least, and they didn't have to be part of the holiday celebration with my immediate family. I know my dad and I will butt heads again - his Mars T-square almost guarantees he will bring up the issues in an aggressive way even as he tries to be diplomatic about it - and I will defend myself if I have to. But I'm also getting to the point where I hear how angry I've been and realize it causes hurt where it doesn't always need to.

I'm damn glad the anticipation of the holidays is over. I enjoy the relaxed pace of the week after Christmas much more than the months leading up to it, which are just insanity. I love some of the rituals of Christmas, especially the pagan ones connected to nature, and I realize that I need the time with family. As I try to chart my own course through life and define the values I want to live by, I see that these are my terms and I hope to be able to continue developing them while finding ways to meet more of my needs and fulfill my desires while learning the lessons of my life.