Driving through Wyoming last week drove home how much I had missed the land I grew up in. At a rest stop I collected sprigs of sagebrush. The familiar scent of Russian olive trees hung heavy in the air. The wind sung to me through the aspens. I left Wyoming twenty-two years ago and it was calling me home.
My longing is tempered by years of learning about social justice topics; especially colonialism and this country’s horrifying treatment of indigenous people. The knowledge that I live on stolen land colors my dreams of the future.
As we drove, Charlotte pointed out places to build a castle. “That’s part of the Wind River Reservation,” I told her. “I don’t think the Shoshone or Arapaho would appreciate us building there.” The entire trip back I was aware of all the reservations we drove through, all the casinos we passed, all the roads and creeks and passes we crossed that had “Indian” in their names. I come from a place that has herded various tribes onto parcels of land and monetized their very identities.
If I am allowed to move back to Wyoming, how do I, as a witch, practice without adding to the harm already done. The question is especially tricky as I have no cultural heritage of my own to fall back on. My sister did the Ancestry.com test a year ago. Genetically, we’re a mix of Irish, Western European and British. That knowledge doesn’t give me any real answers, though. In the same way that I don’t feel part of football culture just because I am American, I don’t feel any more connected to those cultures just because of my DNA.
So where does that leave me? I can make sure that I don’t appropriate any Native American spiritual practices, something I strive to do anyway. But I don’t know if that is enough. Do no harm doesn’t delineate levels of injury. I feel a responsibility to go beyond, to do more than just the bare minimum.
I’m not quite sure what that will involve, or how it will look. As I figure it out, I’ll write about it here.
“I used to think money had to come in a certain ‘valid’ way: for example, make money each day, save up, have a budget, etc. But I discovered that there is another way that is just as valid, and maybe even more accurate which I think of as lush, feminine wealth. My income comes in chunks—I lived the freelance lifestyle, and there’s nothing steady about it. A chunk here or a chunk there. I also receive abundance in a lot of different ways—places to stay, artistic patronage, etc. It looks different from the ‘traditional’ way of earning money, I know, but this difference isn’t a problem, it’s an asset. When I started embracing the different kinds of wealth that come to me—some that comes in W9s and money, some that comes in other forms like inspiration, kind words, support—I feel, and I am, rich.” — DIY Rules for a WTF World, Krista Suh, p. 160
Charlotte and I pulled into Bolingbrook just before midnight last night. It was the end of a 2,400 mile journey that took us to Wyoming and back again. With the exception of the 2 1/2 hours we sat in traffic due to construction and accidents it was a good trip. We drove out to Laramie to drop off my husband, son and the cats.
My husband, Stephan, has a new job in Laramie and we’ve signed a lease on a house. After a day of getting them settled, Charlotte and I loaded back into the Jeep and headed out on the road again. We swung up through Worland to visit my grandmother. That added half a day to our trip, but I hadn’t seen Grandma since 2008 and I wasn’t about to skip a chance to see her.
Driving through Wyoming I got to show my daughter all the things I loved about my home state. I wasn’t trying to convince her to want to move there, I just wanted to give her an insight into where her mother came from. Charlotte kept pointing out places where we could set the castle I plan to build one day.
The drive also gave me a lot of time to process what’s been going on. Where I grew up is not an easy place to love. You have to look for its beauty and if you can’t find it, the land doesn’t care. I watched the landscape roll past us, desolate but dotted with life determined to thrive. I thought about how I had been raised to know that life isn’t easy and won’t hand anything to you. With that in mind, I was taught, I was supposed to be grateful for anything life gave me and not complain. Never ask for anything more, was the prevailing wisdom. It took thirty plus years for me to unlearn that second lesson. Life might not be easy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fight for what I want.
I’ve got two more weeks before I get an idea of whether or not my relocation petition will be granted. I’ve spent almost six thousand dollars on this fight, and I will spend thousands more to finish it. I am not trying to take Charlotte from her dad, I’ve been adamant from the beginning of this legal battle. I’ve stated that I would work with him to make sure they have time together. But I can’t let him have full custody of her.
My ex-husband is a homophobe who has not supported our daughter since she came out as a lesbian last year. He hasn’t taken her mental health issues seriously, ignoring and denying her repeated requests for help for months until I intervened and got her into therapy and on medication. In the past he preyed on an underage girl, chatting with her about masturbation and being “friends with benefits”. The list of reasons why he can’t have her full time goes on and on and on. Charlotte needs to have a relationship with her father. She also needs to be protected from him.
Life isn’t easy. Neither are the decisions I have to make. If the relocation isn’t approved I will remain in Illinois. I’ll get a studio apartment for me and Charlotte. My husband will remain in Laramie. His new job pays more than his previous one. There are opportunities for advancement there and he will be enrolling in the Masters program for Health and Kinesiology at the University of Wyoming. My friends and family in Laramie have already set to making my guys feel welcome and loved.
This will be an extreme hardship on all of us. I’m going to suffer financially. Charlotte will still have to deal with a move as we won’t be able to stay in the surrounding area. My son will not have his mother. My husband will have to be a single father. My daughter is worth fighting for, though. She is worth suffering for. I’ll be beside her, looking for the beauty in the bleak scenery for as long as she needs me.
I’ve been reading blog posts the last couple months about packing up to move: tips on box size, labels, if you are using a moving company, if you aren’t, lists to make, things to do, ways to pickup your life in one place and shift it to another location.
Those posts don’t cover things like how to deal with the unexpected emotional fallout when you realize you have to leave your plants behind. There’s no advice in how to fend off a feeling of panic when you have to break up the set of glassware you got from your great grandmother, packing the glasses in one box and the bottles in another. I have yet to find any tips on how to decide what to pack and what to get rid of when you don’t know how long your belongings will be in storage.
The consent judgement will be entered into record on June 12. That is our vacate date. I learned it yesterday. There was, not a sense of relief, but a recognition and determination that filled me when I read the e-mail. After months of not knowing when I had to leave my house, now I had a date. Now I can shut down utilities and start packing in earnest. Now I have one less “I don’t know” hanging over my head.
Now I know when I become officially homeless.
It’s not that we don’t have a plan. We will be driving out to Laramie, where I have family and my husband has a job offer. He and our son and our cats will be staying with my cousin and his family until they can move into a house we’ll be leasing from a friend. After they’ve been dropped off, my daughter and I turn around and head back to Illinois. That’s where it gets complicated.
My petition to relocate hasn’t been approved. The pre-trial hearing is scheduled for the end of June, with the actual hearing following in mid-July. And so I have to stay in Illinois with my daughter until I find out if I will be able to take her to Laramie with me. The plan is for us to crash with friends, stay in hotels and camp. It sounds all very adventurous, but I will admit to being anxious about the whole thing.
There is still the possibility that my relocation request will be denied. In that case we have to head back to Wyoming to get my son and husband and cats and bring them back to Illinois and find a place to live. Seeing how the idea is to move to a place where the cost of living is cheaper and there is a support structure, staying in Illinois sees me stuck in the same situation I have been over the past year.
There is no alternative, however. I will not live someplace where I can’t have my daughter with me.
So I keep packing boxes, hoping to get everything packed up in time so I can finish the reshoot of pictures for Sew Witchy. I will continue to run the 50% off sale over at my Etsy store until the 9th of June. Then I’ll shut it all down. I will try to stay so busy that my Jerk Brain doesn’t have time to work its way back into existence.
If anyone had told me in March that my new best friend would be a bag of rice, I wouldn’t have believed them. But after my marathon photo session for Sew Witchy I’m ready to name that bag Wilson and get matching tattoos.
The thing is, I’m a writer, not a photographer. That didn’t stop me from saying, “Yes, of course,” when Llewellyn asked if I could supply the step-by-step and finished project photos for the book. I’d snapped pictures for this blog and Instagram before with my phone. How hard could it be?
Oh ho! Let me tell you: I was woefully unprepared for how hard it was. And while I think the final photos turned out all right, I have no desire to do this again. (Famous last words, I know. Although they’re easy to write now as I don’t have any ideas for another craft book.)
I went into my photographical journey thinking that the hardest part would be how much longer it would take to complete each project. I figured it would take twice as long so that’s what I planned for. Instead, I quickly realized it was taking more like three to four times as long. I was photographing each step, even if I didn’t think it needed to be documented because the book was meant to be accessible to new sewists.
As an aside can I just talk about what a trip it is to write a book about sewing book when you are self-taught? Several times I would stop in mid-stitch and question if my technique was “proper”. Was this the sort of thing a beginner should start with? I had to look up terms to make sure they meant what I thought they meant. At every step I had to stop and make sure that I had adequately explained what to do. Just writing instructions and then photographing the various stitches used in the book was a process that took days.
So, back to the pictures. I had sent sample photos to the art director months before and was told I needed to use a tripod and provide photos in both horizontal and vertical shots. My local library had tripods I could check out which addressed the first issue. The second was a bit trickier. The tripod couldn’t hold the camera vertical leaving me at a loss of what to do. I came up with the brilliant idea to shoot step-by-step photos on a white piece of foam board. I’d take one shot and then rotate the foam board 90° and take another “vertical” shot.
I only got through the first day of that when my friend Randy, who does photo art layout and design for a living, kindly told me that my brilliant idea wasn’t really. He’s the one who clued me in to the bag of rice trick. (Actually he suggested a bag of beans but I’m more of a canned beans kind of witch, so I instead filled a sandwich baggie full of rice.) I would take the horizontal pictures, then balance the camera on its side on top of the rice, which was balanced on the tripod. This added to the time each picture took, but it meant that there weren’t as many pictures that looked like I had taken them during an earthquake.
As difficult as all the above was, getting shots of the finished wearables was an experience on a whole ‘nother level. The sample robe was modeled by my son Benjamin. He is a ball of chaotic energy, rarely able to stay still for even a microsecond. A good 99% of the photos I took were blurry. Eventually Ben ran out of patience and refused to pose any longer, leaving me with exactly two pictures I could use. To all the child photographers out there, you have my utmost respect.
In the end I took over 1000 pictures. (Not counting the pictures I lost one day when I returned the camera to the library without transferring the day’s photos over to my computer. Fun times.) Of those, about 350 were sent on to the art director. By the end my everything hurt: back, legs, feet, head and hands. My house looked like a tornado had hit a craft store and dumped the debris all over it. Dishes didn’t get washed. Floors had gone unvacuumed. Cats had not been pet. If my husband hadn’t stepped in to take care of things while I toiled the family would have been wandering around hungry and disheveled.
I’ve always been the type of person who learned by diving in the deep end. This is no exception. And I did learn. The pictures I took at the end are world’s better than those I took at the beginning. I’m in no hurry to put my newfound skills to use, though. I’m going back to amateur camera phone photos.
UPDATE: After writing this post, I got word from my editor that I need to reshoot all of the finished project shots. I sort of took their comments on my first sample shots a bit too far and ended up with very sterile shots. Fortunately, the editorial team sent me a document with notes for each shot. And, a friend offered me the use of a tripod that can do both horizontal and vertical shots. So my best friend will be retired and I’ll be able to get the pictures done faster.
I am lucky in that I get to work with so many lovely clients. Justine is a friend from my LARP days, and an honest-to-goodness mermaid. And I mean mermaid in the old-fashioned way; the kind that would sink your ship while painting her nails.
I’ve made a few pieces for Justine over the years, including two corsets and a bustle. She approached me a couple of months ago about making her some dresses for an upcoming vacation. Her specifications were: skater dress with a ballerina neckline and pockets out of knit fabric.
Next was fabric. Justine provided me with two “must have” choices from Spoonflower, and then a list of other choices from JoAnn Fabrics and told me to choose one for a total of three dresses.
The Kitschy Coo pattern is as easy to put together as advertised, however it doesn’t give you much margin of error. I learned this quickly when I cut out the first dress and found myself without a large enough section to cut the front and back bodice pieces. It was my fault for not laying everything out ahead of time, a mistake born from overconfidence.
I dealt with that mistake by redrafting the two pieces. I added princess seams to the front and added a center back seam to the back, which allowed me to use the fabric left after cutting out the skirt and other parts. I made sure that when the new pieces were basted together they matched the size of the original bodice piece. I also reinforced all the seams.
These changes led to a slight complication when the dress was finished. There was an ugly gap at the back. A quick pin and seam fixed that.
The other alteration I made was to the neckline. Justine wanted it just a little wider. This involved not only adjusting the bodice pieces at the neck, but also making sure the facing was the right length.
Despite figuring out the issue of laying out the pattern, the other two dresses had their own challenges. The fabric for both was a one way design, which meant making sure I was placing the pieces in a way that the designs looked good when sewn together. This isn’t a major issue, it just means slowing down and taking care. The whole project was a needed reminder that even seasoned pros need to remember the basics when working.
Adding the pockets meant altering the sewing instructions as well. Instead of one long seam from arm hole to skirt edge, I had to sew the top and bottom separately and then sew them together. If I had been using just my regular sewing machine, Kenny, I could have done the continuous side seam. But with my serger, Sergei, that wasn’t an option. This didn’t affect the look or fit of the dress in any way.
The most important part of all of this is that I created three dresses that fit Justine’s specifications. She has worn them several times since I made them last Summer and gets compliments wherever she goes.
Ever come across a book where you make satisfied “mmm” noises as you read? Ever read a book that feels like a conversation between like-minded friends? How about one that makes you feel a sense of comfort? That’s how I felt when I read The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff. When I got to the acknowledgements and saw my editor, Elysia Gallo, mentioned I was over the moon. I immediately sent her an e-mail telling her how much I enjoyed the book and how it was just the sort of book that I wanted to write.
The Witch’s Cauldron is part of The Witch’s Tools Series from Llewellyn, which covers various tools used by witches throughout history, and deals with, as the title suggests, cauldrons. What immediately resonated with me was Zakroff’s pragmatic approach to the subject. Early on in the book she writes, “In dangerous times, it was safer to have a commonplace item that could double for a person’s spiritual needs while not outing them to those who might wish to cause them harm.” This is the magick I’m here for, the mundane made magickal because “special” tools could be used as evidence against the witch. This isn’t candle color or crystal magick that—while it might have a place in modern magick—didn’t have a place in historical witchcraft.
That pragmatism continues as Zakroff explores non-traditional cauldrons like crock pots, encourages supporting local businesses, and even cautions the reader to be aware of local laws with regard to collecting feathers and animals/animal parts. That last bit is a particular pet peeve of mine, as so many pagan books will offer up correspondences for feathers, shells, and other fauna with no such caution. Laws about this are meant to protect animals from harm and ignoring them is not being a good steward of the earth.
What really impressed me, however, was Zakroff’s recognition of non-binary practitioners and her address of cisgendered heteronormativity of the Great Rite. Having worked with non-binary clients and having a several trans friends, it was gratifying to see witchcraft being addressed in such an inclusive manner. I’ve been seeing more of this over the last year or so, but only online. To see the topic come up in a book from a pagan publisher is encouraging.
I will be checking out the other books in the series, with the hope that they are as intelligently and thoughtfully written as The Witch’s Cauldron.
I’m getting accustomed to the unknown. I have no idea when the bank will kick me out of my house. I e-mail my contact there and don’t get any response. My most conservative estimate is June 1. But it may be a little later. I don’t know when things will be settled between my ex-husband and myself. We are arguing over where our daughter will live once I have to leave my house. He’s also petitioned the court to throw me into jail and fine me for losing my home. The legal wrangling has no end in sight. I don’t know when I am going to be allowed to start the new chapter of my life, one where I am living back in the mountains, back on familiar territory, with my family.
With all that uncertainty around me, I am tackling the things I do have control over. I’ve begun the process of packing up the house. I am assigning my possessions to bins and boxes and piles labelled “Keep”, “Sell”, “Donate”. I have gone back to the library for research material, this time on book promotion. And I’ve spent the last two days listing every bit of inventory I have on Etsy and marking it down 50% in a sale that is meant to raise money for moving and legal fees as well as to help pare down what I will be taking with me.
So should you be in the market for a bag or skirt with pockets, some jewelry or a pencil roll, head to my Etsy store and you can find everything there 50%, no coupon necessary.
The first months of 2018 have been the busiest that I can remember. January was taken up by finishing the Sew Witchy book manuscript for a February 1 deadline. And then February and March saw me:
Sewing up a box of projects from the book to get out to my publisher for a cover photo shoot (deadline April 1)
Editing the manuscript per editorial input (deadline April 2)
Prepping to vend at C2E2 (deadline April 6)
Taking photos for the book (deadline April 16)
At one point I was awake and working for 48 hours to meet the photo deadline. And in between my professional obligations I had to fit in being present for my family, dealing with the loss of my house, and defending myself in court (along with the custody issue, my ex is petitioning the court to punish me for losing the house, including asking for me to be incarcerated). Fun times.
Now, after meeting my last deadline, I have found myself suffering from temporal whiplash. As soon as I uploaded the photos we climbed into the Jeep and headed to a camper owned by friends for a weekend of campfires and whiskey. I spent a lot of time Saturday and Sunday just sleeping.
Come Monday morning, after I had gotten Charlotte off to school, I found myself at sort of a loss of what to do. I cleaned the kitchen and family room. I did the dishes and made dinner. I spent a lot of time thinking about all the stuff I had to do and realizing that I had plenty of time to do it in. The rest of the week has been the same. I have stuff to do. But there is no urgency.
It’s a strange position to be in. In fact it weirds me out not to have a deadline constantly pushing at me. I don’t have to rush my kids through bedtime so that I can get back to work. I’m not staying up until three in the morning sewing. Right now my To Do list is full of items like “make dinner” and “pack up one shelf of books”.
A friend posted a link to the article “This is the Reason So Many Unbound Women Fear They’re Lazy” on Facebook the other day. Reading through it, I found myself nodding in agreement. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to fill my every waking hour to justify my existence, especially once I stopped working outside of the house. Shifting to a focus more on what I and my family need done to serve our lives is a big, scary step. Many times throughout these first few days I have found myself sitting down with nothing that needs my immediate attention. My busy brain would kick into gear those times, trying to kickstart anxiety over the fact that I was just sitting there.
I am working to reconcile my busyness with this lack of deadlines. I am trying to actively enjoy, rather than making a show of tolerating, this less frantic pace. I still have a move thousands of miles away to arrange. I still have legal wrangling to deal with. I still have a book and family that needs my attention. That is more than enough right now.
I am an example of the saying “There’s no road map to success.” I posted earlier about how I wrote the proposal for my book Sew Witchy. It was accepted by the first publisher I submitted to. That’s not the way it usually works out and I found myself caught off guard. Once I got over the surprise of Llewellyn Worldwide‘s acceptance, I realized I needed to get started on finding an agent.
I have experience with publishing contracts, but I wasn’t under any illusion that I would be able to negotiate a contract on my own. Also, I want to have a writing career, and having an agent will help with that. Finding an agent now would help with both those issues. And, I figured, having a contract in hand would make it much easier to attract an agent. So, much sooner than I had expected, I found myself once again engaging in caffeine-fueled Google searching. Continue reading Sew Witchy: Finding an Agent