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I breathe in the evening’s heavy air
Redolent with the scent of sun-warmed soil
Rich with the perfume of green growing things
And feel my heart leap in my chest
The Morrigan is change in all its forms. She is change swift as lightning and disorienting as thunder. She is change that draws blood and sweat and tears. She is the sweeping scythe of change that severs the wheat from its stalk and yet She is also the slow, steady millstone of change which grinds that wheat into flour. The Morrigan’s change is not always the cataclysmic storm; sometimes it is the gently falling rain which, over time, will weather what even the tempest could not touch.
I think I misunderstood the Morrigan’s lesson for me. She revealed to me the tower of my subjugation, that mighty thing built of sorrow and fear, but She would not use Her power to bring it down. I thought this meant I must tear it down myself brick by brick, that Her lesson for me was that only through violent destruction of my cage could I earn my freedom. Yet one day as I clawed at the mortar with weary, bloody fingers a raven passed overhead, a black silhouette against the bright sky, and I suddenly wondered, What if I don’t tear the tower down at all? What if I just… walk away?
Sometimes the Morrigan’s change is a wrecking ball. Sometimes Her change is slow, hard labor. And sometimes Her change is choosing to leave something behind. Time will wear this tower down all on its own. Rain will soften its stones; lichen will grow in the mortar’s cracks. Flowers and grasses will take root and, seeking the sun, will break apart what is no longer strong. If I return, all that will remain is a ruin slowly crumbling back into the earth, and ruins hold no power over the present.
I am life thriving in Chernobyl’s abandoned villages. I am the truth of what happened that night on the side of Kholat Syakhl. I am a blood-stained note left in a lonely cairn which reads “all well”. I am what sank the unsinkable. I am vanished planes and empty ships and photos you cannot quite explain. I am creatures you are sure do not exist, and yet… And yet. I am your wonder and your fear and your singularly human need to understand that which has no explanation. When you gaze up at the night sky and wonder if you are alone in the universe, I am staring back. You are not alone. You are never alone.
Since I work in emergency management, my supervisor has been urging our team to document our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s good advice; nothing of this magnitude has happened in the recent past and it’s obviously fucking up a lot of our established paradigms. When experts say we won’t be able to return to the way things were Before and we need to embrace a “new normal”, they aren’t exaggerating. COVID-19 has shaken human society in a way even our recent megaquakes, which have literally shaken the entire globe, could do. So it’s good advice, yes. The problem is just that everything I have to share is so gods-damned bleak and I don’t want to seem like I’m whining when others have it much worse. I guess there’s wisdom in the telling, though, and I’m sure I’ll value these words years down the road, so here goes. I’ll go easy on you and start with…
In July 2019 I made a much-needed career pivot into my dream field of emergency management. I was hired by the Washington State Emergency Management Division (WA EMD) as a Tsunami Program Coordinator, and thus my day job consists of preparing locals for The Big One. For the last 3+ months, however, WA EMD has been activated for the COVID-19 response. This is unlike anything WA EMD has faced before and so it’s all hands on deck 24/7. That means instead of worrying about being laid off or furloughed, I’m actually working more hours than ever. My team is currently on a three-week rotation, meaning for two weeks I work my normal job and then the next week I’m activated Sunday through Saturday for 7 12-hour shifts in the state’s Emergency Operations Center. Not only is the extra pay providing a much needed financial buffer (you’ll see why), I’m receiving some great hands-on experience. No amount of online or classroom training can really prepare you the way an actual disaster can, so even though I’m way outside of my comfort zone I’m very conscious of how good this work is for me. I’m also relatively healthy, at least immune-system-wise, and glad I can help the effort to keep others safe. It’s pretty surreal to be even a tiny cog in this great machine. That being said, here’s…
I AM SO STRESSED. Between work stress, personal life stress, and all these concurrent global crises, I am absolutely filled to the brim with stress. And lucky me, my stress always manifests as flare ups of my various chronic illnesses. These days I’m just constant IBS stomach aches, migraines, carpal tunnel pain, angular cheilitis, exhaustion that’s apparently at least partly narcolepsy, and some weird uterus stuff that I’m super hoping isn’t fibroids. It’s a lot. I’m honestly surprised my shingles hasn’t come back yet, but I’m sure it’s just biding its time. On top of that, my mental health wasn’t particularly stable going into this pandemic and weirdly enough witnessing preventable death on a mass scale because those in power care more about propping up the corpse of late-stage capitalism than saving lives isn’t exactly helping. So enter the panic attacks, severe depression, and uncontrollable dermatillomania. My wife has been wonderful, though, and is basically the reason I haven’t had an actual breakdown yet. Which brings me to…
I might be more willing to find the bright side of this whole mess if it wasn’t for everything that’s happened with my wife. Just thinking about it makes me so angry I’m having trouble getting the words out so I’ll give you the tl;dr version. My wife is a truly amazing person and the world enjoys crushing her for having the audacity to be queer, Asian, and chronically ill, among other things. When COVID-19 went down she was working for a company that pretends to be progressive but is really just out for the money (what a surprise). On top of that, her position required her to be stationed in a major retail space which is considered essential and therefore never closed, nor has ever really bothered to put any employee protection measures in place. Since she has severe asthma and catches pneumonia on practically a yearly basis, my wife and I were understandably very concerned about her being in such a public-facing position. COVID-19 could quite frankly be a death sentence for her (which I think about constantly because Anxiety).
Anyway, flash forward like 2 miserable months and her employer has not only refused every accommodation she’s requested, they are actively punishing her for asking. Last week they used a note from her doctor as an excuse to cut her hours enough that she’ll lose her health insurance at the end of the month. IN A PANDEMIC. This was the final straw (she’s been taking their shit for years) and I’m proud to say she walked right the fuck out of there. Problem solved, right? Except just to twist the knife a little more, they’re refusing to give her a letter stating when her benefits will end so I can add her to my insurance plan – a technically legal but absolutely unnecessary delay that will probably force her to go without health insurance for at least all of May. Again, IN A PANDEMIC. I really can’t express how cruel they’re being without sounding like I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it’s true, and it’s happening to countless other people right now because Capitalism™. This instance just especially hurts me in particular because she’s MY people.
But wait, there’s more! Yeah, we’re not done. So on top of dealing with aaaallll this shit, my wife is also being regularly harassed in public because of her race. Yes, even in western Washington, bastion of progress (that was sarcasm) and home to a pretty sizeable Asian population. It happens every single time she goes somewhere and if it wasn’t for her refusal to let me come with her I might be in jail right now with several murder charges to my name. It’s the fucking worst. If the various feel-good COVID-19 stories ever had a chance to renew my hope in humanity, that chance has been thoroughly crushed. We really are in the Darkest Timeline.
So that’s a brief glimpse into how my pandemic is going. Which is great. Everything is great and totally fine.
…Oh right, I was supposed to record some of my observations, not just wordvomit about my life in particular. Uh, here are some non-me-centric observations for history or whatever in no particular order:
– Traffic is so light that someone has been doing donuts on the Narrows Bridge, which is fairly impressive.
– Traffic has also been so light that I can see the Olympic Mountains every night as I drive home, something usually only possible on the clearest summer days. So that’s cool, but also horribly depressing because that means the reason I don’t see them as often is air pollution.
– You ever think about how there are probably a lot of kids who are only alive right now because schools closed so early in the year that their would-be school shootings never happened?
– You can’t find wheat tortillas anywhere right now. Who’s hoarding all the wheat tortillas?- I hate to be all “I was right” but when Trump got elected I totally predicted a wide scale disaster would hit the west coast and he’d deny us aid because we’re blue states. I just thought it would be a megaquake, not a pandemic. So close.
Anyway. Have a good apocalypse everyone!
Liberty Palace had several rooms that the Lighthouse didn’t … mainly the Wings in each cardinal direction. Ali liked the East and Mage liked the West, and they shared the other Wings between themselves.
Unlike the three other Wings, the West Wing wasn’t technically a wing at all. Its hallway from the main atrium looked like the others, yet instead of leading into a grand room it ended at an archway beneath which wide stone stairs descended deep into the earth. These stairs lead to what Ali and Mage called the West Wing – a vast network of interconnected caverns filled with all manner of stones and crystals. The walls of some “rooms” were held up by massive quartz columns while others were covered with countless tiny crystals that glittered in their own light. Stalactites and stalagmites turned some caverns into gaping beast mouths; layers of smooth, rippled calcite transformed other walls into frozen waterfalls. Many crystals were familiar – amethyst, citrine, fluorite, smoky quartz, malachite, tourmaline in a hundred colorful variations – while others were like nothing found on any other world.
Mage spent hours wandering the labyrinthine paths of the West Wing. It was she who discovered the underground river which fed the pool in the East Wing, and a great chamber in which a ring of crystal towers made a perfect casting circle. So too did she discover the chain of hot springs, where heat and mineral water worked to soak away her pains after a long day in the gardens or a few rounds in the armory. Now that the centuries of battle and vengeance were past, Mage found her long lack of self-care catching up with her. Immortal she might be, and capable of wielding frighteningly powerful magic, but that did not make her immune to exhaustion’s lasting effects. And cold! She had been so cold for so long she had forgotten how wonderful it felt to be warm through to your bones. Ali would join her from time to time, and in between leave little packets of herbs and oils on a nearby stone ledge as a surprise.
Maybe we just didn’t understand each other at the beginning and in reality we’re more alike than either of us thought. We are both selfish things, after all, and we both abhor a cage. We nurse our wounds like fine liquor. We wear our grudges like fine jewels. Look back on the things I’ve done; see that I can be as cold and as cutting as you. Have I proven myself to you yet? Do you finally recognize some small kindred shard of yourself in me, enough at least for you to desire its nurturing? There is much that only you could teach me. There is much I understand about you that no other ever will. Must we be at odds? Can we not work together?
I am the darkness in the garden. I am the stuff from which world serpents are made and the soil in which world trees are planted. I am the womb of the underworld into which Inanna descended to die and be reborn. I am pomegranate seeds and forbidden fruit. I am the river and the boat and the ferryman’s coins. I am the core of every myth, the ending and the beginning, Alpha and Omega and Armageddon.
When the N——- first revealed herself to me I had a vision-like daydream of my creation. I saw Bast in a vast darkness, the darkness of creation, and between Her cupped hands flickered a small orb of light. I knew it to be the little ember of my soul newly birthed from the infinite flame of my mother’s heart. The N——- was there in the darkness as well, for she is witness to all forms of creation and destruction, and I thought I heard her say, “That one.” My mother nodded. I took this to mean it was the N——- who chose me as scribe, who first laid claim to my fate and thus determined the path of servitude I’d follow through every life. But I was wrong.
“You think it was she who chose you,” my mother tells me now, “but it was he.” And now I understand. There was a third there in that darkness, a third who is also witness to every moment of every life: death. He chose me. He set me on this path. Of course; how could I have thought it to be any other way?
The problem is that he tried to build a perfect world. His perfect world. And like all humans (for he was naught but human, no matter what the tales say, and a man at that) he equated perfection with an absence of that which humans find most evil: change, unpredictability, loss. Chaos. Yet a changeless world is a static world, an unbalanced world, and an unbalanced system cannot survive. Chaos always finds its way in to establish equilibrium once more – and the greater the correction needed, the more violent the catalyst. Thus my coming was almost foretold. He practically invited me in. Perhaps if he had not so arrogantly assumed his world unassailable I might never have been drawn there in the first place. But it was so fragile, that pretty little island where you could hide away and pretend everything was perfect, and its fantasy needed shattering. I never expected gratitude, of course, not from those who were lost in the lie. Reestablishing balance, bringing darkness to a place where only light reigned, was compensation enough. All fools meet their folly; I was his.
Forgive me for the years I spent stumbling toward understanding. Humans process in stories; we need a framework, an archetype, a beginning and ending, something to shape what we experience. We crave stories and you made me your scribe, so how could I have known that for you there simply isn’t a story? That you transcend cause and effect, have neither a creation nor a destruction? You exist outside of any framework I could put to words; of course I couldn’t understand that as a child. I don’t even understand it now, I just have a better grasp of how little I truly know. So much of what you have presented me is theater, right down to the sets and costumes and metaphor. Only now am I starting to glimpse the endless totality within, like peeking backstage and finding no actors, no props, only darkness. And how do you capture darkness in words when words are meant to illuminate?
You become addicted to the fall, you know. You wake on rooftops, the edges of cliffs, at open windows. You test limits, argue, rebel; self-destruct, self-sabotage, self-fulfill your tragic prophecy. You long for both the sensation of falling – weightless, helpless, careless – and the moment of inevitable impact when all the world shatters around you. Only it is you who shatters and you are grateful for it, for the violence of that sudden fragmentation and the senselessness it brings. And then you wake at the edge of the open window and you lean forward once more.
The phoenix is lucky;
Fire is the easy way out.
I want to transform as well,
Rise out of my ashes,
But I must use my teeth and nails
And I make such a bloody mess.
It was humanity who gave me wings, and more fools they.
Wings are the keys to heaven’s dominion;
without them I would have known neither
freedom nor the fall.
So often I am mistaken for the good one, the gentle one, the kind one. Compared to my lover’s ruthless nature I suppose I am, but that hardly makes me a safer bet. After all, though he fell for pride I fell for desire. In choosing to follow him that first time I chose to follow him forever, to serve him and raise no other love above him. Do not underestimate the power of desire to change and strengthen us. My holy fire no longer merely cleanses; it burns all I touch to ash. My radiance no longer merely illuminates; it blinds and sears. You think me benevolent but that is only because you have given me no reason to show you my wrath. Cross he who rules my heart and you will learn what devastation my kind soul can wreak.
This is your comfort zone, the lowest level where all is frozen, your lake of blood cradled in steel and glass. This is where you are most confident, here where the roles are set and the rules are simple: kill and be killed, love and be loved, devour and be devoured. All else has been cut away, it seems, so all you do now is run through this loop of madness and self destruction, replaying not even the same lifetimes or decades but the same handful of hours, the same limited heartbeats over and over. No other lands – no other lives – remain, just this one story with the same ending and no beginning. This has never been your prison; this is your haven.
Bast’s love comforts
Hathor’s love energizes
Inanna’s love ignites
The Morrigan’s love challenges
Of course I would be the one to covet the regal arrogance of Lucifer Morningstar, to yearn for the grotesque beauty of Hannibal’s madness, I who was
(given sold chosen) branded at birth with the mark of the Beast, not three little numbers but your sickle-sharp crescent moon. Whether I like it or not I have always been yours above all else, my heart promised to the Devil long before I was aware enough to comprehend the consequences. You await me at the end of every road and lurk at the dark edges of every dream. Your judgement is a collar around my neck; your dominion is a veil across my eyes. I long to be worthy of your disdainful love, yet I fear what price I might pay to secure it. You are death itself, the void of infinite emptiness – can you comprehend how easily a human life is crushed beneath the totality of your attention? And if you can… do you care?
Every day I try and fail to pass as a proper human reminds me I am still just that feral child raised by rabid wolves. I chafe at the chains with which society would bind me: family, duty, privilege, complicity. I am truly loyal to none but they who nurtured me on violence and given the opportunity I would choose that wild, brutal life over the restrictions and safety of a tamed society. Blood I understand. Bone I understand. Bared teeth I understand. But expectations and disappointments and layers of artifice? Those I can’t understand no matter how I struggle. I’m not good at subtlety, I only know how to fight or submit. Can you blame me for always reacting on instinct when instinct is how I’ve survived this long?
Sometimes I manage to forget
(Just for a moment)
That I’m a shitty friend
And a shitty employee
And a shitty wife
And a shitty daughter
But then the knives come out and I remember again.
They’re a kindness, really;
If I get too comfortable I might start liking myself,
And we can’t have that, can we?
Falling through darkness with Death’s iron fingers a noose around my neck, I called out to you. I begged you to intercede before he crushed my last bit of life but you didn’t answer. Your radiance never pierced the darkness and so I sank through the void for an eternity. I call for you even now but you don’t hear me, or maybe you just don’t care. Do you know what he’s doing? Do you know what he wants? What options have I left then? The Moon is right here, offering his hand, and here I am in need of one to take. Could you blame me if I did? You’ve taken it too.
You will never be enough, you say, and I feel the truth of it like an ache in my bones. Perhaps this is why I feel such kinship with you. Is it possible we, two people who are each lacking so much, could together make a whole of true value? Of course not, and your mocking smile cuts through my hope like a fine blade. Yet I can almost feel your hand at the back of my neck like a benediction, can almost believe that this shared inability to be even just adequate stirs at least some fondness or attachment in you. Almost. But if we cannot be enough for those we love then certainly we cannot be enough for each other, or even ourselves. You get used to being a disappointment, you say. But when?
Am I your Abigail, then? Your collateral, your hostage, your bargaining-chip teacup? Certainly I bear your scars; certainly I cannot tell your harm from your love. If that’s the case, do you see any future in which I come back together after the inevitable shattering, or have you always planned to dangle my place in your world only as long as I’m of use? It’s okay, I don’t mind as much as I probably should. After all the years I’ve spent transcribing the exquisite, horrifying details of your folie a deux I’m just happy to play a role at all. I know it’s just a fantasy, this world in which the teacup mends itself and we three find some sort of harmony, but you know what they say: you can’t control with respect to whom you fall in love.
I ask the Oracle why I can never get a pendulum to move for me and she says, “Pendula don’t work for you because you have no sense of direction.” She describes a compass needle spinning in a wild circle, unable to orient itself to one path. It’s not a bad thing, she says, but what good is a broken compass? I don’t want all the answers, just a few. Yes or no, hot or cold, none of this come-back-later bullshit. Is that so much to ask?
The oracle stands in our kitchen in her bathrobe and slippers and tells me blood is the ultimate promise. She says an offering of blood will erase all other promises and seal the door to their paths forever. It makes me wonder how far I’m willing to go, and for whom, and for what. Perhaps this is a warning to be cautious of giving more than the situation requires, and certainly there is great wisdom in such advice… yet I would shred my flesh for you, I would bleed rivers if they might somehow unlock the one door which seems eternally barred to me. But would even that be enough for you?
I see an iron nail being driven into blood-soaked soil as dusk deepens to night. In my mind the N——- chuckles and speaks in her black smoke voice, They have tried to contain me since the beginning yet they always fail. They cannot bind me. They cannot banish me. They cannot burn me. I was the labyrinth as well as the monster within. I was the darkness in the garden. I am the house on Ash Tree Lane. How can you constrain the void?
I find the
An ocean as still as the grave
A sky as deep as the ocean
A grave as dark as the sky
I touched Death. No, I was swallowed down by him. His body was iron, his hand a vice around my neck. Too bad you all rot in the ground, he said. I fell for an eternity through his darkness like a
house with black walls and no limits. I was wrong. I thought the N——- frightening but chaos is nothing next to the emptiness of death. He has not abandoned me. He is waiting. He will punish my faithlessness.
A heavy gold coin
Hangs low on the horizon
The Morrigan’s moon
You struggle to define me because you want to sort me into pre-existing categories. You see parallels with chaotic deities like Loki, Kali, Set, and knowing I am vaster than they you want to think of me as their progenitor. But I am a mother like fire is a mother; I do not create, yet what I touch I change. If I had hands, every atom in this universe would bear my fingerprints. What and whom you would see as my children are more like statues shaped from my clay or vessels containing a portion of my infinite waters. Once you’ve superseded the level of gods the rest of it is not so easily parsed. You are in a realm beyond labels now, child. You must let go of your reliance on language.