I Have Become Irreverent. I mean, irrelevant. Yes, irrelevant. (Emotional Rant)

It doesn’t matter that you recognize me, that you know my stories, have heard of my reputation. It doesn’t matter that I’ve gone to great lengths to carve out a little corner of this mad world to share my ideas and my sick sense of humor. I received no badges nor awards for helping others feel less alone with their self-made stories of suffering and loneliness. As I have less and less to write about a world quickly becoming more foreign every day, my meaningfulness and perhaps my very existence becomes the business of a small few. The ones who can’t bear to see me slink away in the night. But that’s not what really happened.

I’ve been forced to dive into almost a decade of emails, chats, notes, cards, etc, starting from when I only got teaching gigs because I was part of SMS – although as I have watched that group evolve, I don’t really think I ever really belonged. But through moxy and chutzpah and all those other odd sounds we relate to stupid confidence we have permission to both hold awe and laughter at the same time, I got some wonderful chances to live in the rarified air of a “commUNITY” (or my preferred “demoGRAPHIC”) where I did really feel that although I was never a size 8, would never be a bastion of femininity nor masculinity, that what got me hard sounds illegal to people outside of our dildo-shaped ivory tower, I did hit a ceiling.

Del the hypocrite. Blasting Pagans in ever increasing rantypants blog vomitous that our community values lay persons as much as clergy, elders, leaders, and mystics, crying for real because an event organizer I went to great lengths for threw me away before he even knew what it was that I was actually doing at his beloved events. Oh, it was never official – no one would dare admit out loud that I had overreached when I pointed out exactly how many volunteer hours doing things I did not find enjoyable nor did I do them “for the experience” nor the “exposure”, oh no. We never say anything untoward to the person we’re dissing; we wait for the prerequisite fifteen seconds after you leave to collectively feel better because at least it wasn’t happening to me…yet.

I have decided that I’m semi-retired. I haven’t actually taught at one of the East Coast circuit of events in about a year. (I do not count Catalyst Con among that, because it’s a very different thing. You can start by thinking of a certain idyllic camp ground that I haven’t been to for two years.) Yes, it’s been that long. Sure, it’s easy to chalk it up to my spiraling health, but that isn’t all the tuna in that can. I just don’t feel it anymore. In almost a literal sense.

Love and sex have become poison to me. When I can even summon the energy and the arousal for a good wank, I usually stop halfway through because I’m already imagining what excuse I’m going to hear about how this was fun and all, but they don’t want to be around for the other stuff. I’ve had some really energetically-destroying break ups in the last five years, and as I’ve confided to some, I am physically unable to even imagine having sex. Not “I can’t find a good fantasy to wank to”, but “If someone were to propose a romp with me, I would have just about no idea as to what they meant”. Also not that I’ve forgotten how to do it (and have been told I do it well), but that when I allow myself the briefest of moments to actually feel pleasure at the mere idea, the entire weight of my rapidly collapsing sense of self immediately floods my hormone channels with a hundred different reasons that sex is poison, and not even a sweet-tasting one at that.

It’s probably ironic in the Alanis Morissette way  that the one time someone has accused me of become a sex-positive professional (as in, getting paid enough to sustain my existence and expenses doing just that), it was in a court of law to prove what a secretly duplicitous person I am. Yup, it is now writ in the American Court “permanent record” that I am a professional something or other, and it’s used to hurt me. That just about sums up how I feel about desperately wanting to suck someone’s cock and knowing at the same time that there isn’t a soul who would trust me with their junk between my teeth. (Which is a goddamn shame, because I get compliments from the gay menz about my fellatio capacity.) When I dismiss those lovely compliments, I’m not doing it as some sort of egoless dodge or a invented humility: I literally think you are incorrect, that somehow you have been deceived.

At Yule, my lovely Kindred did a very moving ritual where we had to sacrifice something we felt was holding us back from our true passions. It was the first time I let anyone other than Rave see what has happened to my lower abdomen due to the ravages of 2013-14, when my body was changing radically and the doctors were wrong, and then more wrong, for a whole year they were wrong until it got so loud and brash that it was finally posted on a billboard across the street from the posh offices of my world-renown-hospital specialists. And the damage was done, and cannot be fixed unless I’m willing to risk my life. Which I am not. At least, not for that.

I tell people that I am the target of a large amount of slander, libel, threats of violence up to and including death threats. There has been a small escalation as of late, where I am pretty sure some incidents that have happened to and around our home were not coincidences. Another one of those times when I want to pick up a person desperately trying to be a shaman for Gods-know-what-reason and shake them and show them the notes on the windshield, the noisy investigations, the blog posts they don’t think I not only read but curate collections of. And no, I’m not talking about the obvious, because no. Oh, soon, I will have permission to loose my lips on some shit that has gone down, in a desperate attempt to have me die sooner, and with as much suffering as possible.

And I’m not making that up, either.

Am I depressed? Fuck, wouldn’t you be? I answer this the same way every time my primary care doctor asks. And she ups my antidepressants and asks about the last time I spoke to my counselor. I have regular meetings with the local Hospice palliative care nurse, at my house. I have a nurse who comes to give me meds and take labs.  I’m not exactly the life of the party I once was. And the pressure on and in my head that screams I just wish we could skip to the good part, and I’m absolutely okay if that good part is a remission of symptoms as much as any other outcome. Just right now, this, this quicksand of shit and rotted meat and broken oaths and broken windows and having to paw through decades of memories as though they hold no emotional sway, mere pieces of evidence of what a wretched human being I am for thinking that lying to me several, several times from the day we met until the day you decided this was too hard for you and completely abrogated the only thing you had to say to me as we officially parted ways.

I want to be clear. This is NOT just about my divorce. In fact, most of the time that’s a good source for a chuckle and a snappy comeback. It has something to do with the ridiculous amounts of completely irrelevant reams of paper that no one will actually read – but I’m happy to supply it. Because what is most appropriate for me right now is large amounts of paperwork as though Catbert were at the head of this thing.

This is about the role of the dying man – because we’re all dying, every single day. We play these elaborate games lest we remember that no one reading this in 2015 will live to see 2100, at least not in the living meatbag sacks we are today. (And please, this is not the appropriate time or place to discuss human life longevity or uploading your soul into a computer, okay nerds?) But I don’t share this early morning rant written on day three with absolutely no sleep because side effects, on the blog where it might seem most apropo. No, because this part of my job is directly related to the dehumanization that one experiences once you cross a line from virile to senile. From full of energy and life to barely being able to clothe yourself without a nap afterward. From remembering every embarrassing thing I’ve done in your presence to forgetting to close your garage or turn off the stove.

I don’t feel relevant anymore. I only have fleeting moments of feeling like lifeblood isn’t just pooling into my legs, cementing me in front of my computer even when I have friends waiting in my living room in hopes I can gain a spoon to share with them. I look at my class list and think, “When was the last time you actually did that, y’know, for fun?”

I never know how to end these cathartic blog posts. I just run until I hit empty, and then press the button. The rest of it is up to you.

For the Last Time: Mental Illnesses Are Not Adjectives

Del:

Ugh. I know I’ve ranted about this before, and I’ll likely do it again. Being tidy and deriving enjoyment out of deep cleaning or organizing is not “OCD”. Having unpredictable mood swings is not “bipolar” (unless these “mood swings” cause you to engage in harmful behavior or rob your ability to function). Being in mourning after a loved one dies or one learns of a terminal illness isn’t the same as Major Depressive Disorder. And really, really wishing you had seven imaginary friends, including your first D&D character and someone from Harry Potter, doesn’t give you Dissociative Identity Disorder.

What separates people who experience average emotional peaks and valleys and those who are mentally ill is the ability to function through, or in spite of, these emotional states. Secretly, I’m not 100% sold on the idea that mental illness necessarily have a neurologically centered chemical imbalance, but I do think that some medications can be helpful. However, no amount of medicine can cure you from what is honestly “being a human being with emotions”.

But please, for me, stop using these diagnoses as adjectives.

Originally posted on Let's Queer Things Up!:

Ugh. So let’s talk about this mess:

ratiochristi Pictured above is a flyer that reads, “IS THE BIBLE’S GOD BIPOLAR?” in a large font. It includes the name of an organization, “Ratio Christi,” in a stylized text below.

It’s been said before, and it should be common knowledge by now, but apparently it isn’t.

So here’s a fun fact: Mental illnesses are not adjectives.

I’m angry. I’m angry because this isn’t the first time I’ve seen “bipolar” used in such a frivolous, insensitive way, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Do people honestly think that bipolar disorder is just a happy/sad rollercoaster of fun times? Because I’m pretty sure the word you’re looking for is “moody” or “dramatic” or maybe “volatile,” none of which are synonyms for “bipolar.”

Have you considered that maybe God is just really irrational? Because if anything, I think the more accurate description…

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A Handy Form For Your Next Blogwar, Pagans and Polytheists!

One of the many reasons I haven’t been posting much here is the absolute exhaustion with the “butthurt of the week” crap that happens among resident bloggers of WordPress and/or Tumblr. So until I am ready to return, I give you this:

Butthurt report form@0

Sometimes You Just Gotta Open Your Mouth

It’s been a harrowing summer-into-autumn for me. Things great and small happened, from teaching on the West Coast for the first time to being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I now have the responsibility of running a brand new Northern Tradition Kindred named Wardenheart, which both excites and scares the hell out of me. But every time I sit down and think “You know, you haven’t written anything publicly for quite a while there, kiddo”, my brain freezes up and demands more stupid reality television. On more than one occasion when faced with complete writer’s block, Loki has given me the same advice – “Just open your mouth and see what happens.” So as I write this entry, I have no great plan, no secret outline, not even sure where it will go or if it will be worth reading – but I will publish it, because at this point anything is better than silence.

A big part of my spiritual journey these past few months has been experiencing the stark reality of a prediction/oracular message I was given four years ago. It has become almost commonplace parlance for me and my friends/lovers/family to talk about the fact that I don’t have much longer on this side of the veil. Even in starting the Kindred, a big portion of what I feel is my responsibility is to do everything within my power to make each and every member as proficient as they want to be, so that at no time does the group’s vitality rest solely on my shoulders. I have much practice at this, having to simultaneously make real plans for the future while leaving enough wiggle room that should I fall ill, the world will not end. But now, knowing that I have stage three of a four stage disease, that sense that I won’t be around for much longer feels much more real. The prognosis for someone like me with CHF is right around 50% after five years; I have enough co-morbidities that my doctors have been pretty frank with me which side of the coin my destiny likely is.

To be super clear, I am not chucking in any proverbial towels. If anything, I am spending a great deal of time thinking very seriously about what things I feel I must accomplish, or at least try to accomplish, with a limited amount of time and even more limited amount of energy. One of the most crippling symptoms I am dealing with is fatigue; I honestly can sleep 18 hours a day and be ready for a nap shortly after waking. It’s a kind of tired that you can’t really understand until you’re in it. I’ve actually started falling asleep sitting up and then falling or bonking my head when I go cataplectic.

But as Hel reminds me more and more these days, this is the year of Dedication. (I know that some of you don’t read my other blog, in which I detail my work with Hel more often. Starting with 2013, which was the year of Contemplation, I have been given a different “activity” with which I am to frame how I spend my time.) It means that I still have to get up and put on my big shaman pants and do The Work. I can’t just close up shop and spend the rest of my days keeping comfortable – if that was the plan, I would have just checked out when I was given the chance. But I chose to stick it out, and I don’t regret that decision.

The “easier” part of Dedication was just looking at the different commitments I have been running on autopilot – events I have been going to for years, hosting parties for certain events or rituals for holidays, traveling to see friends and loved ones – and start culling those that don’t fit into whatever Grand Plan I’m still trying to figure out. Some of those decisions were made for me – I became persona non grata at Dark Odyssey events, for example, which has disappointed many folks who depended on those events as times they could do deep work in person. I also decided not to force Free Spirit Gathering into my schedule this year, for both personal and professional reasons. I don’t know what the future holds for these or any of the other time/energy investments; I just know that skipping them this year was good for me.

bearopenmouth

But at the same time, there are commitments I did make that I have dropped the ball on. I owe a few people readings. There is a lot of email unanswered or unsent or plain ol’ unwritten. I started out some client relationships that didn’t blossom the way I had hoped – one leaving because I was too unavailable, another for disappointing them in some way they didn’t really explain. I am still working on essays for the subscription service, essays that have sat half composed since June or July. I try to make a pilgrimage to Cauldron Farm every year, and this year it just wasn’t in the cards.

I have likely written about this before, but it has come up ever so strongly as part of my lessons in Dedication – that sometimes the Work doesn’t care if I’m in pain, or exhausted, or even in the hospital. I conceptually understood that by choosing to Work on this side of the veil meant that even mundane parts of the Job were going to get more difficult as my body betrays my intentions at almost every turn. A night when I was in incredible pain did not change that I promised to be there when my friend passed away, and so I went to his bedside when it was clear he didn’t have much time left. (He died about an hour after I arrived.) There have been many times when my home became a refuge, a psychic hospital, a temporary landing pad, an occult school, an overnight orgy, a ritual space for Gods to speak: and none of these were on my calendar until they were happening.

Because really – if I stopped doing the Work, what the fuck else would I be doing?

openmouthglitter

The lack of a romantic relationship, and really any kind of intimate connection beyond Rave, has been a bitter pill to swallow now and again. I am still verboten from even the mere appearance of looking for love or even just a fuck (a theory I tested twice and was rightfully smacked). Please don’t think I am devaluing Rave’s role in my life – she damn well knows how important she is to me – but a big part of why I am poly is because it isn’t fair to expect one person to be all the things you want or need in your life. I know I still have lessons to learn in this arena, so I assume the prohibition is likely to stick around. (I’m not quite celibate. It’s just that I can’t spend time finding or nurturing any kind of relationship. If someone shows up and wants to play, I am certainly allowed to do that within limits.) It doesn’t help that my physical challenges have made it very difficult to love my body in the ways it needs, nor has it given me any sort of self-esteem I rely on to turn on the red light, so to speak. I have hopes – little ones, for now – but I have a strong sense that this is one of those things that will not happen on my timeline, so I might as well just surrender and keep my head down until I hear the All Clear siren.

Samhain approaches. It’s my favorite time of the year. Heck, I just celebrated my 40th birthday (in the hospital, alas. But Rave brought decorations and secret cupcakes and did it up as much as we could). In a strange way, I have been looking forward to speaking with my beloved Dead this year. I have specifically not reached out for my mother more than once or twice for my own reasons, but I do plan on making her offerings and catching her up on how my life is going. And I get to eat macaroni and cheese with cut up hotdogs, which has become part of my tradition in honor of Jon. This year, I get to spend the holiday with the new Kindred, which feels right and good. (It is, however, open to non-members. It’s this Sunday, starting at 5pm, in Hagerstown MD. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to awesome.del at gmail dot com by Friday.)

I am planning on doing some personal ritual over the weekend to help clarify my vision and re-engage my spirit. Things have been so rooted in the earthly plain as I learn to modify my life around my illness, that I have been lacking in even the merest upkeep of my own spirituality. I can’t be a good Godhi/Priest/Shaman if I neglect my astral health and spiritual growth, and my Kindred deserves the best I can give them.

So there is what came out when I opened my mouth. I have a lot more to share, but not today.

openmouth2

Why Internet Pseudonyms Are Important and Necessary (And Legal!)

From the moment I stumbled onto the Internet, back when it was an information dirt road, I did not use my legal name. Back then, it was considered dangerous to do so, as it might allow a stranger online to find out who you really were and possibly do scary and/or illegal things.

I mean, how many people used their birth name as their AIM handle?

Their Livejournal user name?

Their Geocities URL?

In fact, one of the arguments in favor of allowing pseudonym usage on social media is that for some of us, our online handle has been connected to our identity for so long people don’t even remember (if they ever knew) your real name. Or some, like me, decided to change their name legally because their user name became a more personal statement of personage than the name I was given as a child.

I am also willing to wager that celebrities like Ice-T and Madonna are NOT being kickbanned from social media for using what is clearly not their natally assigned identity. So is this a class issue, wherein there is an imaginary line where your pseudonym becomes acceptable once you’ve reached a certain level of fame, or once you’ve made a certain level of wealth?

For example, a well-known tattoo artist who has been using the name Mulysa Mayhem as her professional name for more than a decade was recently hammered by Facebook for not using the legal name listed on her driver’s license. And the only reason Facebook even knew about it was that a disgruntled person ratted her out. Here is her community page focused on changing Facebook’s policy. She has even contacted the ACLU on the matter, so it might be interesting to see where it goes. There is also a change.org petition that you can sign.

I think the piece that Facebook is actively avoiding is that for some people, using an online pseudonym is a professional necessity. Many of my fellow sex/kink educators have monikers that range from the “obviously invented” such as “Master So-n-So” (one of my favorites), to the “completely under the radar” names that sound like natally assigned names but are not the person’s legal identity. There have been many debates over whether using a more traditional sounding nom de plume nets you better gigs (what college professor is ready to introduce “Shadow Song*” to their comparative religions class?) or having a sexy sounding nickname will attract more students (I’d certainly go to an oral sex class taught by someone named “Deep Throat”!).

Some people make the choice of juggling multiple social media accounts so they can safely stay in touch with both their alternative lifestyle friends as well as their family. As someone who tried to do this, it was a lot of work for very little return. My family complained that I was “never on Facebook”, and there were times I forgot which account I was signed into. I made the (radical?) decision to be up front with my family about who I am and what I post and gave them the opt in/out decision.

On the other hand, some social media accounts these days are little more than linkdumps and meme posts. Does it really matter if Jane Smith or Dragon Moonbeam posts the video of the piano cat?

But like most divisive topics, in the end I can only support the side that allows for the most freedom. After all, Google+ went through the same bullshit only to give in and allow pseudonyms as long as they weren’t profane. And my FB friends list is chock full of people using names that range from “pretty obviously not on their bank account” to “could only be something a mother would choose” and in between.

I faced a similar dilemma before I changed my name, only in a different arena. Many events require you to share your legal name with them on their paperwork, even if you have a different name on your namebadge and other materials. It is 100% legal** to use a pseudonym in most situations unless you are specifically using it to commit fraud. Yes, this means I signed many event forms as “Del Tashlin” or earlier versions thereof, before my driver’s license reflected that name. I have a co-worker early in my working life who received paychecks in a different name for personal reasons, and although everyone in the office unofficially knew she was using a fake name we never brought it up.

I encourage you to support those fighting Facebook’s policy if for no other reason than the knowledge that one day, you or someone you know will rely on the safety of a moniker for one of a dozen reasons.

(As always, I leave footnote markers and forget the actual footnotes.)

*Shadow Song was a name I went by briefly. Yes, you may laugh at me now.
**I am obviously not a lawyer, but I have done quite a bit of reading on laws applying to pseudonym use. However, your mileage may vary due to the laws of your city, state, country, etc.

a random thought floats by

Those who stop staring out all the windows of their house, go on to look through other windows into different realms. They do it because they are bored, or expect a show, or think it makes them a more interesting guest for tea.

Those who can never stop staring out all of the windows of their home are considered slow, easily amused, afraid of confrontation.

But one is celebrated for the looking while we never ask them what it is that they really see. The other is celebrated for looking so closely to detail that the smallest omen is never missed.

A task is not over just because you lack the imagination or dedication to continue. It is over when the work is done and you are strong enough in your knowledge of the task that you can reproduce it at will, whenever that skill is needed.

-Laufey (In a conversation with author, 2014)

Religious Terrorism meets Religious Liberalism

Originally posted on And the stones shall cry:

This past Sunday, something pretty scary happened at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (First UUNO).  Operation Save America, a fundamentalist anti-abortion organization that is known for descending upon abortion clinics and making life a living hell for anyone coming or going, chose to land in one of our congregations.  Several members of OSA showed up at First UUNO as if there to attend worship, and during the service stood up and began verbally accosting the worshippers and pushing anti-abortion pamphlets into their hands.

I don’t think they were prepared for what followed.  That Sunday, First UUNO was commissioning the College of Social Justice youth leaders who had been gathering all week.  The youth leaders immediately circled in and began singing.  Rev. De Vandiver, a New Orleans-based Community Minister who was leading worship that morning, asked the protesters to please respect the worship space and if they couldn’t…

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Teaching Adults About Sensitive Topics: Tips and Pits

Many of you reading this blog are doing so because you attended a class I taught at one point in time. It is a major part of my shamanic work, which to some can be confusing. Why would Loki want me to teach adults about sex, gender identity, leather history, and kinky stuff? Without going into a long explanation, here are a few reasons:

  • Because I don’t look like a porn star. I have no issues with porn stars who want to teach, and if they use their looks as a gimmick to get people in the seats, more power to them. For me, I want to be a startling visual that there is no appearance-based barrier for entry when it comes to things like sex magic or fucking in public. In fact, my gateway into sex-positive demographics was because I couldn’t find porn with people who looked like me (unless they were being degraded for their size). Even though I only teach one class that specifically relates to being fat (BDSM For Bigger Bodies), I feel that I teach about fat sex, as well as trans* sex and disabled sex (etc) just by teaching anything at all in that realm.
  • Because I’ve been there. I’m teaching the classes I do because in one way or another, I have gone from knowing very little about something other than the fact that it turns me on or that it intrigues me; to having studied how people do it; to people seeing me do it and asking me to show them how. I’ve made terrible mistakes and had accidental success. And I don’t pretend I am the be-all, end-all; I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I haven’t tried that” and I usually share stories about my fuck-ups as much as my glories.
  • Because I talk about subjects that few others are. I tell a lot of people who are interested in becoming a presenter like me, the best advice I have to give is this – look at the classes being taught at a few events. Then look for the topics no one else is addressing, especially if it’s a topic you feel passionate about. Now go fill that hole! My “Adaptive Kink” class was born after I had attended too many Disability and Kink classes that were focused on different kinds of disabilities one may encounter in the scene, or focused on access issues that PWDs face. But in the five minutes at the end of the class, all of the questions would be from PWDs asking how they can do their kind of sex/play without the disability getting in the way! So the rest of my classes’ title is “What We Do What It Is That We Do With What We Have To Do It With”.

But what I really want to talk about, and get real contributions and comments about, is techniques, gimmicks, pedagogy, or strategies that you have found to work well when teaching sensitive subjects to adults. You don’t need to be a presenter or teacher to play, either; maybe you attended a class that did something to hook your attention or really answer your questions. I’ve studied books on everything from adult teaching techniques to how our brains learn and taken collegiate level classes on these sorts of things. But I’m always looking for new and different ways to make my classes fun and engaging, but also memorable enough that people actually learn something, rather than just being entertained for 90 minutes.

I’ll go first. I don’t make any claims that I came up with these things on my own; these are just techniques I have found useful and/or have received compliments about.

  • How To Handle Handouts. Handouts are actually a very divisive topic among presenters. Some swear by them, and compile 20 page workbooks that carry most of the factual information and use the class time to discuss specific issues and answer questions. Others hate them, citing that nothing is more demoralizing than looking out upon a sea of “page face”, where everyone is reading the handout and no one is listening or watching the teacher. I used to be one of them, but I’ve learned that for some people it is vital to have something to read along with or they won’t retain any information. My tip: I print out a very small number of handouts – maybe 5. These are formatted to be “fill in the blank”, so they have my major points but none of the details. Before class starts, I explain that I have only 5 handouts in hard copy, but if you give my assistant your email address, she will send you an electronic copy. This saves trees, increases the chances the student will keep the handout, gives you a place to add your URL or social media information, and eliminates “page face”. (I’m actually experimenting with follow-alongs that are cloud-based, kinda like powerpoint slides that the student reads on their mobile device and can access whenever they want to reference it.)
  • How To Talk About Potentially Triggery Subjects. For some, their biggest kink is something they feel a lot of shame about. Or it may be something they’re trying to heal from their past through framing it as “play”. Whatever the reason, it’s not impossible to teach a class that takes those sorts of concerns into play. For example, I teach a class called “Non Parental Age Play”, which includes role-play from the overindulging babysitter to the malintentioned kidnapper. In order to go as deep as I feel is necessary without freaking people out, I present the class in three sections. The first is mostly about lighthearted stuff like Sibling Pillow Fights or when a Little Tops a Nanny. Then I announce that the next section includes more sexual content, and therefore we’re taking a “get water and pee” break. When the class goes into adding BDSM into the mix, there’s another short break. That way, people can leave when they’ve reached their comfort zone without feeling like they’re being rude by walking out, or worse, feeling pressured to stay even though it isn’t a good idea. I announce this structure at the top of the class, and I’ve even had people go get friends who were reticent because now they could stay for what they wanted.
  • When <3 is not a heart. I know very few presenters who have never encountered the “small group” phenomenon – where less than 3 people arrive for your class. It could be because you got a bad time slot (like 9am on Saturday, or opposed to a very popular or famous presenter), because your topic has a specific audience, or because it’s raining and few people braved the walk to your space. It messes with most presenter’s plans, because when we write a class and class activities, we’re usually assuming we’ll get somewhere between 10-20 people (depending on the subject matter). This problem can sometimes be compounded when the people who show up are peers or even someone who knows more about the subject than you! (like the time I was asked to teach Leather Traditions to two title holders! Sheesh!) So what do you do? I usually start the same, introducing me and my qualifications, but then I turn it into a coaching session of sorts. I ask questions about the people, what they were interested in and what they want to learn. I might even do an impromptu demo if that’s what someone would like. I basically throw out my structure and talk about why I wanted to teach the class, tell stories about my experiences, and then at the end give my outline (hard or electronic) so they can glean from that too. I almost always give out my email address and tell them they can ask me questions whenever.

And then there are the things that I have learned to avoid. Sometimes I learned the hard and painy way.

  • “Ask Me Anything” is for Reddit only. Whether it’s a room full of people or a single client, you’d think that sharing where your expertise lies and what you have to share would encourage people to ask all sorts of questions. More so when you’re regarded as a well-respected presenter in that field. But alas and alack, this has always led to failure. In fact, my most spectacular failure of a class was a combination of a totally unresponsive and ineloquent demo bottom, trying to teach in a large warehouse-type space where people were playing (and in specific, long whips were being cracked), and I was running on empty mentally and physically because of the frantic pace of the event. I literally begged people to ask questions, because my brain was totally fried and I felt terrible. This is also what used to happen with the ‘less than three’ problem; I’d encourage them to ask questions but without structure or guidance they feel lost.
  • Don’t assume you’re the only expert in the room. And especiallydon’t ACT like you’re the only expert in the room. This was something I learned early on from attending someone else’s classes. I was really excited about a particular class, but felt deflated when the presenter in question (really) kept repeating “I don’t know how anyone couldn’t figure this out on their own”. They had also brought a cheerleading section of either fans or lovers (or both, who knows) that she would “ask questions” to, only so they could slobber on about how smart she was and how well she was able to handle the subject in question. It was one of those times I reminded myself, “You always learn something. It just might not be what you had hoped or expected.” I am always interested if others in the room have different experiences or points of view to share. I also believe that this is a key difference between teaching children and adults. You should always remember that people attending your classes have decades of life experience to draw from. In a way, it also makes it easier to teach, because if you can relate a point to another life experience (like needing different kinds of aftercare depending on the situation, like the difference between how friends can help after a surgery, versus how they can help after a divorce.)
  • Be subtle if you’re using the class to promote other work, like books.. Because events pay a pittance to presenters (if they pay at all), many of us are finding ways to turn our classes into a gateway to other potential income sources. The most well known is writing a book – in fact, if you have a book on the subject, sometimes that’s all it takes to get an event to pay you more! But don’t turn your class into a 90 minute infomercial about your other products. A story I tell often to new presenters: I once attended a class that touted itself to be about alternative forms of energy healing for intermediate students. I was excited because it specifically said it wasn’t about reiki (I am allergic), and it wasn’t a 101 class. But after ten minutes, it became all too clear I had been hoodwinked – he would ask us to do an exercise, and then report back to the class. After we shared what we observed, he would tell us which page in his new book that would explain what it meant. And we did this over and over again, for an hour. There are subtle ways of doing this, from leaving a few copies of your book on a table in your space, or mentioning that if people want more information they can find your book at X booth in the vendor’s hall.
  • Don’t practice medicine, law, or any other illegal things. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a mistake I have made personally. Here’s the story: I really wanted to teach a class about power dynamics and mental illness. I knew I had a lot to say on the subject, and I was frequently sought out for my opinions and advice. So I started doing a class about submission and mental illness. All three times I taught it, no matter what I did or didn’t do, it turned into group therapy. Not only was that not my intent, but it usually ended badly because someone shared something sensitive and another attendee would share a very harsh opinion or assumption about them. After the third time, I realized I had come very close to posing as a therapist (which I am not), so I took the class off my list. Nowadays, when a professional topic like medicine or law is brought up, I make sure to give the “I am not a lawyer, but” disclaimer, and I also make sure that the discussion is kept short and sweet.

So there. I’ve shared some tips and pits about teaching adults. What works for you? Was there ever a teacher that really got you excited or interested in the material? What was your biggest screw-up? Please don’t be afraid to share – I really would like this essay to become a resource for up and coming presenters. It doesn’t matter what subjects you teach, unless you have suggestions that specifically relate to teaching sensitive subjects like spirituality, sex, or psychology. If you want to post anonymously, you can email me at awesome.del at gmail.com and I will post it for you.

Disciplining Discernment

Originally posted on Thracian Exodus:

There is often a great deal of resistance in Pagan, Polytheist and (in general) “independent religious or spiritual tradition” discourse to the idea that religion or spirituality are disciplines which require discipline to perform. The word “discipline” carries with it an inherent meaning of submission to instruction and process. In the context of describing a field or topic (e.g. “divination by runes is a discipline”) it refers to branch of specialized knowledge and skills which were obtained generally through the submission to a disciplined approach of learning and training. This is why fields of medicine are referred to as “disciplines”, and why academic avenues of study which draw from different platforms or lenses of examination and intent are referred to as “interdisciplinary studies”. A “field of discipline”, or merely “a discipline” for short, is an area of pursuit covering a breadth of knowledge and performance-based skill which are…

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Feb 23: Starting a New Kindred

I apologize this notice is being posted so late; I had some due diligence issues on my end that kept me from posting this before now.

On February 23, 2013, there will be a meeting in my home in Hagerstown, MD with the intent of forming a new Kindred/Spiritual Group. It is open to any who might be interested, who meet the following criteria:

1. Must be able to attend at least 2 rituals or other gatherings a year in person. This is not a “virtual” group; our focus will primarily be on hosting and performing rituals in meatspace. Many of the potential members travel over 2-3 hours to attend functions, and we expect a few who will be traveling as far as 4 or 5. We will not be adding people to our online spaces who are not able to live up to our attendance requirements.

2. Our group will be hosting both public and private rituals; it is preferred that our members be comfortable attending/leading rituals where the public is invited. Usage of “Craft names” or other pseudonyms is fine as long as it’s consistent. Although it’s possible for a member to choose to attend only the private functions, we consider providing ritual to the public in a variety of settings a foundational part of our identity.

Our goal is to offer up to 8 public rituals a year, based on the “Wheel of the Year”. (It is unlikely we will offer all 8, especially in the first year.) Further, there will be smaller semi-private or private rituals that will be for members only (and in some cases, their invited guests). The private rituals will sometimes include “controversial” content, such as ordeals, possessions, blood magic, etc. Obviously, you can always opt-out of a ritual that does not feel right to you, but we’re really looking for members who are able to push their boundaries and at least try new things before they decide not to attend.

3. You must be actively interested in creating and maintaining the Kindred. This is not a thing you show up to and expect to be catered to or entertained. Although the group will have a Godhi/Priest and an Associate Godhi/Gythia/Priest/Priestess, as a group we are all equally committed to making the group function. It is likely that when members proclaim their intent to join, they will be asked to list a number of skills/talents/knowledges that they are willing to contribute to the Kindred. It is our ideology that good ritual is created collaboratively, and that no one person should feel obligated to give more than anyone else.

4. One of the things that ties the current group (heretofore referred to as the “proto-Kindred”) is a shared spiritual focus. Although we may separately identify differently, the group’s identity is Northern Tradition Paganism. We are polytheists. We believe in the usefulness of UPG/PCPG, as well as the established Lore. We believe the Gods are imminent and worthy of worship and respect. Many of us have personal relationships with Deities and/or Spirits, both within the Norse Pantheon and without – but this is by no means a requirement for all members. As we are still learning about each other, we are committed to a curious disposition about other people’s practices and beliefs. We are (obviously?) Lokean friendly.

5. This group is open to people of all genders and identities, of all sexual orientations and practices (including BDSM and power dynamic relationships). The proto-Kindred tends to be pretty open about discussing sex and sexuality, so even if you aren’t personally comfortable discussing what you do with your bits, it is probably best if you are okay hearing what other people do with theirs. And when I say all genders, I heartily include cis gendered folks; when I say all sexual orientations, I heartily include “vanilla” heterosexuals. It is not a requirement to have an encyclopedic knowledge about other people’s identities, but it is also not a requirement for members to educate others about theirs. (in other words, Google is your friend). Some members may not be public about these things, and we expect members to be considerate of those who see this group as a safe space who may not want to be “outed” in other situations.

This also means we are open to people from all different socio-economic status; it is my express wish that money never be a deterrent. When donations are asked for, there will always be non-monetary options – but please understand, not being able to pay does not mean you get to come “for free”; we will expect you to contribute via other means, including administrative work, physical labor, etc.

As of right now, our ritual locations are mostly handicap accessible. If you require accommodation, we will do our best to find a way to make it happen. This includes providing quiet spaces for those who need to de-stim/take a break and other atypical accommodations. We are open to persons with physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges – we want this to be a space and time where you feel comfortable and connected. Although we understand that by their nature some rituals may be less accessible than others, and that there will be accommodations we just can’t provide.

So that all being said, here are the details:

Sunday, February 23rd, 2013
Arrive at 3:00pm, Meeting starts at 3:30pm.
Estimated Meeting Length: 4 hours
Light snacks/drink provided; group may decide to go out to dinner afterward
Please bring:
Some way to take notes (notebooks, laptops, recorders, etc)
At least one solid idea of what you would want out of such a group
At least three treasures/talent/time offerings you can make

If you would like to attend, you can RSVP to delandrave at gmail dot com to get the address.