Friday, May 31, 2019

Bicentennial Birthday

Two hundred years ago today, a son was born to a struggling carpenter living on Long Island. The oldest child in a large family, he was sent to work at an early age in a printing shop. But he longed to write, so he pursued a career in journalism, wandering here and there, keeping his observations in little notebooks he stored in his pockets or travel bag. He wrote about everything and anything: spiders, grass, slavery, working people, ferryboats, the beach, the Gods, the jealous God, the spirit, the soul, the passion of lovers, science, family, politics, war, and this country, America. Eventually he turned all these observations into poetry. And then he became our national poet.

This is the bridge that bears his name today. He would be flabbergasted.

When I despair about this country, when I think it cannot get any worse, I remember that he saw worse. He worked in an Army hospital during the Civil War. He wrote about it, too. And yet he kept his optimism about America, about love, about the soul, and about the body and its place in the world.

I feel his spirit in Camden, the city where he chose to be buried. I stopped to see his tomb today, and it was open.

His work is timeless. If you want to see its latest iteration, try this. It's amazing.

Happy birthday, Walt Whitman! Prop us up here! Keep America singing -- its varied carols, for all of us.

"Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness,

All seems beautiful to me."

--Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Helen Dishaw Is Living My Dream

Hello and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," your highway to hilarity in a world of woe! I'm Anne Johnson, denizen of this nuthouse garden, and you're very welcome to stop on by. Just don't stain the furniture. I'm very picky about my upholstery.

My regular visitors will recall that, last month, I took a real, live vacation to Salt Lake City to meet a fabulous condor named Andy who lives in a posh aviary there. But I was also keenly interested in meeting Andy's friend, Helen.

This is Helen with the aviary's black vulture, Chewie.

Helen is the reason Andy has become an international celebribirdy. Before she arrived in his life, he lived in a cave-like enclosure by himself (his sister died of cancer). Helen coaxed Andy out, and now he takes a daily stroll with her, in order to meet eccentric buzzard-lovers such as myself.

Helen has trained other birds in the aviary as well -- you should see Chewie with her. A vulture acting like a puppy! She and her crew also have shows featuring spoonbills, toucans, hawks, a turkey vulture, and an owl. 

The most impressive of Helen's accomplishments is that the birds in her care all seem so happy. Can birds be happy? If you have to ask, you've never had a meaningful relationship with a bird.

Someone at the aviary told me that Helen takes birds home with her when she is trying to bond with them. I'm sure she didn't do that with Andy, but he positively dotes on her. She coaxed him out for his birthday even though he had to go past some bright, flapping fabric and lots and lots of people. She calmly said, "You've got this, Andy." And he did.

Lots of people ask Helen how she got her job, and she demurs. She's not a university-trained bird person. Like so many folks who are really, really good at what they do, she's just been able to put her dreams into reality. She is very motivated.

As would I be, if every day began with a jovial stroll, just me and my Andean condor.

Helen's job isn't stress-free. Birds are touchy, and they can bite, so she needs to be vigilant without seeming so. She was pretty tense on Andy's birthday, because the aviary was so crowded. But all in all, she's clearly loving her work. I don't think I could prevail upon her to switch careers with me.

Imagine getting up every day to go see a veritable aviary full of cheery birds, who you will walk with, talk about, and perform with for people of all ages! No profession is a total bowl of cherries, but I'll bet working with Andy is at least a bowl of craisins.

All hail Helen, the lovely bird-whisperer of Salt Lake City! Helen is living my dream.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Geezer Wasteland

So I was driving to work one pre-dawn morning, and I heard an advertisement on the radio for a Who concert at Citizens Bank Park in Philly. "Whoa, that might be fun," I thought. Mind you, I had not had my morning caffeine at the time.

But even after the caffeine was restoring my neural tissues, the idea persisted that a Who concert might be a fun Saturday evening, especially in a ballpark where you could count on some affordable tickets. I asked The Fair if she wanted to go, she said yes, and I flung some ducats at a pair of seats in the nosebleed region of the structure.

The Who has always been my favorite rock band -- with apologies to Bruce Springsteen, who I also adore. I just go back farther with The Who.


As I plunked down $45 for two seats, I fondly recalled such seminal Who lyrics as "Hope I die before I grow old" and "We won't get fooled again." Classic anthems of rebellious youth, those.

With the Fair's schedule being what it is, inevitably she baled on the invite. This left me with two tickets to see The Who and only one person who wanted to go. I turned to poor Mr. J, who firmly feels that ballparks should be used to play ball -- but that hard-working wives need to be humored sometimes. He agreed to tag along.

Do you believe in magick? Sometimes it's hard to be skeptical.

The Fair came over for Concert Day even though she couldn't stay until evening. We went to the thrift store. Mr. J went too, and there he found, among the men's clothing, a t-shirt that said "Pinball Wizard." Never before has there been anything remotely Who-related in that store, because I would have bought it. This seemed like just the omen I needed to strengthen my resolve to actually attend the event.

Evening fell, and Mr. J was snoozing on the couch while I, pencil in hand, assayed the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. Before we knew it, the clock said 8:00 and we hadn't even printed out the tickets. More reason to bag. But we persisted, because hey ... I remember the 1970s ... there's always a warm-up band, and the main attraction doesn't even take the stage until 10:00, and they play three encores. Plenty of time to get to The Who portion of the show.

We took the train into Philly and changed onto SEPTA. It was now 9:15. We waited awhile for the south-bound train, idly watching the rats scurry along the tracks.

By the time we got to the ballpark, it was 9:45. The ticket-taker said, "You're kind of late." (I guess so, no one else was ticketing in.) The Who had been performing since 9:00. Can you imagine, fellow people-of-a-certain-age?

Well, we entered at the concourse level and couldn't even find a ramp to ascend to the rafters. And at about that moment, the place rocked up with "Join Together." Being who I am, I just started dancing on the concourse. The fact that I was the only one dancing did not daunt me. Mr. J suggested that we just stay on the concourse and not even try to find our seats.

And after some trial and error, we found ourselves standing just behind a rail with a decent (albeit remote) view of the stage and a better view of the jumbo-tron.

It was at first bittersweet and even humorous, because to hear these two men sing "We won't get fooled again" is a great relief. Getting fooled again at their age would be humiliating, don't you think?


When I bought the tickets and saw the price range, I thought to myself, "The only way I would buy some of these high-end tix are if the entire evening was 'Quadrophenia' from end to end."

 It was "Quadrophenia" that bonded me to The Who back in the day. I was an angry teenager, living with a mentally ill, abusive mother in a dead-end small town. I got bullied in school and at home, and much of the responsibility for managing day to day household tasks fell upon me, along with my school work. Someone actually gave me my first copy of "Quadrophenia" (released in 1973). I wore that one out and bought another. The rage in that album, the sense of loneliness and isolation, parental disapproval and the solace of nature just spoke to my alienated soul. I'll bet I've listed to "Quadrophenia" over 500 times, if you count all the years I used it to exercise to as well. I know most of the lyrics, more or less, adjusting for accents and colloquialisms.

Back to the narrative: Mr. J and I had missed fully 45 minutes of the show. But what we didn't miss was a 30-minute run exclusively of songs from "Quadrophenia." Daltrey and Townsend tucked into this challenge the moment I got a place at the rail.

Reader (if you've even gotten this far in this opus), I stood there and cried. And of course, sang along.

Mr. J had never heard "Quadrophenia." Neither, apparently, had the drunken millennial Sad Boys sitting in the high end seats in front of the rail. But deeper down in the crowd, other people my age were as passionate as me.

Sometimes when I describe my childhood, people ask how I came out of it without being badly bent myself. Well, I do have scars that have affected my life, and make no mistake about it. But I credit The Who, and most especially "Quadrophenia," for keeping me sane when the world was burning down around me. I wasn't angry and alienated alone. It made all the difference.

So it was very, very special to re-visit "Quadrophenia" live in the open air, on a beautiful night in Philly, surrounded mostly by people my own age or older. It was like, "You know what? I survived, by all the Gods, and this is what saved me."

The "Quadrophenia" segment was so lengthy that after it ended, there was only time for one more song: "Teenage Wasteland." Which Townsend and Daltrey sang without a hint of irony. (They must laugh some other time, offstage.) Then they said goodnight, thanks for coming, Philly.

I turned to Mr. J and said, "They will play an encore." This is what happens at rock concerts.

They didn't. The entire light bank of Citizens Bank Park came roaring to life, and 28,000 gray Boomers and 2,000 bleary-eyed Sad Boys headed for the exits.

Bruce Springsteen has aged gracefully, turning his rocking tunes into mournful, slow ballads that he croons over a minimalist acoustic guitar. And I have to say there's something noble about that. It's easy to mock The Who for belting out their teenage angst anthems with all the theatrical moves and blasting drums of yesteryear. But you know what? It never hurts to switch off the internal clock for an evening and re-immerse yourself in your teenage experiences. And how illuminating it is to see them brought to you by someone who looks as world-weary as you feel yourself. Damn. We survived, and we won't get fooled again!


We're all wasted!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Cat Blogging Keeps Me Sane

Now there's an innovative blog post title, don't you think???

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that so many state legislatures have so many white men who can make laws that literally rob people of their essential bodily freedom. But pish tosh! What, me worry? Not when there are cats, cats, and more cats!

On Sunday morning I went to see my daughter The Fair. She lives in Philadelphia in a nice little row house with several roommates. And four cats.


Like me, she is painfully aware that the only way to survive the Trump onslaught is to be surrounded by cats.

A few months ago, Fair adopted her first stand-alone cat. Her cat's name is Bijoux, and she is a pretty little thing! She's very tiny. And quite friendly. Even though Bijoux hardly knows me, she greeted me warmly.


Bijoux has a housemate named Fitz. Truth be told, I dig Fitz. He's very chill, a real bro, and also friendly to everyone. He and Bijoux exist in a kind of suspended warfare ... you know how cats are.


But the cats who really pull on my heartstrings at The Fair's residence are The Boys. Their names are X and XXX (I mean, who knows?), but we call them Rollo and Don Gato. These two rounders are what you would call neighborhood moochers. And it's their fault they don't have a cushy indoor gig, because The Fair tried bringing them indoors, and they went absolutely nuts. Their ears are snipped, which means they've been neutered by someone. For awhile, Rollo had on a collar with a little tag that said "Adopt Me." But he must have ditched it, because he just is an outdoor kinda guy.

Don Gato has one fang, which I guess is why he's so thin. It's painful to watch him eat. But he's one of those vocal fellows who will sing you an aria. I like that in a feline.


These two sure don't look like they've got a tough life, do they?

As it turns out, Fair was propping them up pretty good for awhile, but she discovered they have a feeding station in the neighborhood. I guess this is why they don't want to make the leap to rowhouse living. But when they hear Fair in her yard, they come strolling in, looking for a hand-out. She can pet them, but they were wary of me.

It's nice to see my Fair surrounded with cats. Somehow they seem like a bulwark against all the madness raining from the sky. There are Goddesses aplenty who look out for cat-lovers, and I can only hope that one or many of those deities are protecting my Fair.

To conclude this sermon, I would like to say farewell to Grumpy Cat. May she have found the Summer Lands. I won't miss her, because she will live forever in meme land.


Thank Goddess for cats!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Smoke Screens

In my favorite movie, Matewan, by John Sayles, striking miners confront union organizer Joe Kinnehan about being a conscientious objector during World War I. The miners can't understand why Joe, an able-bodied man, would rather be in jail than fighting for his country.

Joe had an easy answer: "It was just workers murdering workers."

In these days of technology and unbridled ownership, it's oh-so-easy to pit workers against workers.

Mind you, I am absolutely appalled by these draconian abortion laws being passed by state legislatures. And I am sure the lawmakers are looking with hopeful eyes to the Supreme Court to remove a woman's right to the autonomy of her own body.

But that's not why those conservative justices are sitting there. Sure, they may overturn Roe. But abortion is a "worker vs. worker" issue.

The Supreme Court was carefully constituted by men who serve the needs of the wealthiest members of the global elite. While the spotlight is on abortion, this court has ruled against class action lawsuits and has overturned a decision that required people who were receiving the benefits of a union to pay a fair share fee for those benefits. This is the court that gave us Citizens United. Remember, the Constitution was written by wealthy aristocrats, so it's not a particularly difficult reach for "originalists" to look out for the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

The people in the highest levels of our government are doing the bidding of the moneyed elites. Abortion is a smokescreen issue that allows Congress and the courts (and, needless to say, the president) to undermine our democracy and make us all weaker, poorer, and powerless.

If I have to open my home to out-of-state women seeking health care in my state, I will do it, because it's worker helping worker. But that won't make me feel any more capable of shaping the laws of this land in a way that favors working people.

Oh, and by the way. The moneyed elite don't care about climate change, either. It won't affect them, except to undermine their profit margins if people begin to care about it.

Worker! Stop fighting other workers! Fight the owners. Forget the unborn, let's make this nation safe, equitable, and fair for everyone.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

When Good Luck Looks Like New Jersey

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Did you see that the U.S., Russia, and China are squabbling over the new shipping lanes opened up in the Arctic Sea? Well, they had better tread lightly, because Sedna has gotten wind of it, and She is pissed to the plimsol line. I personally hope She smites the politicians first and the ship captains second, but I don't particularly care what order She chooses. Transporting crude oil across seas that are thawed because of the burning of crude oil is just ... oh, for the love of fruit flies. How bad can it get?

You go, Goddess! Feed them all to the polar bears!

Well, that first little bit is not my main sermon of the day. I just read about it on page 10 in the New York Times and thought it was a new low, even for the Orange Menace and his minions.

My sermon is about appreciating the great good luck I have had to live in the post-industrial-apocalyptic-and-climate-change-inducing state of New Jersey.

Last fall I took yet another foray to an event called FaerieCon, hoping I would like it better this time. I didn't. There was even a notable Pagan speaker there, and I attended her workshop, but the whole thing still smelled like Teen Spirit to me.

Anyway, I was sitting in the Pagan workshop, thinking to myself, "Can there be any less hospitable place for a Pagan workshop than a conference room in a Marriott?" when the woman next to me turned to me and said, "Oh, isn't this wonderful? I drove all the way from Ohio to attend this! I'm so happy! No one where I live understands me at all."

Imagine that. I had driven a whopping 100 miles to the event. I even resented that distance. Imagine needing to drive several hundred miles just to lay eyes on a group of Pagans! I'm sure I would throw up my hands and return to the Christian fold, grumbling all the way. Okay well, maybe not.

My point is that over this past weekend, I got together with a few dozen crazy faerie-loving Spoutwood people, and wowsa, we meshed well!

How well, you ask?

Try this: Instead of looking at me sideways when they heard I had flown to Salt Lake City to meet an Andean Condor in an aviary, they all wanted to see pictures!

Speaking of pictures, here I am with my party program and #1 Andy Fan party hat on the day of!

Yes, the sun shone bright on Salt Lake City that day.

What I'm telling myself is this: I grew up in the mountains and miss them every day. But where I live now gives me wonderful opportunities to find people who won't judge me harshly. Yes indeed, I have heard many a comment in the vein of, "Why the hell would you fly all that way just to see a bird?" But not from my friends. Not. From. My. Friends.

I have found the mother lode of eccentric people, all well within driving distance ... and for that I thank all the Gods and Goddesses of multiple pantheons, known and forgotten by history.

If you're that poor gal from Ohio, have faith! It took me a long time to wind my way to the weird. Keep at it. The race is to the steady, not the swift.

Artwork by the incomparable Thalia Took.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Charming Chain of Command

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," and today just call me Miss Bliss! Here I have just returned from one swell getaway, and I'm fixing to take another tomorrow! Wowsa.

So today I'm going to share a series of posts by author Chas Clifton. It has been a few months since he contacted me about a problem with pesky pixies. What I loved about the subsequent correspondence was that, when I couldn't help him, I suggested walking his issues up the chain of command to a more experienced practitioner, and then he sought the advice of yet another expert we both know, and between all of us, a plan was crafted.

This is what I love about the Pagan community. It's still so small that one can easily meet or correspond with published authors in many paths. I have never found any of these authors to be anything but kindly and helpful.

You can find Chas's pixie adventure here.

It's a short read, and it sure gave me the happy feels!