wip The Hermit

The Hermit

This person is holding up a light for those lost on the mountain, and possibly offering hospitality, although I don’t see how hospitality is possible, when she’s obviously standing on a patch of ice the size of a dinner platter. This is a card for the non-conforming person, the non-neurotypical person, who may in their own way be sociable but just not immediately, or not in the same room with you.

For people who don’t enjoy being touched; for people who are so easily made angry, or frightened, or despairing, that they avoid contact with other human beings. For people who are sociable but whose mode of being causes discomfort to the inhumane.

Aesthetic aside: The Hermit gives away Colman’s training as a backdrop painter. There is not a breath of wind; therefore one possible interpretation is that we are on a metaphorical stage, a different level of existence.

Or else we’re very high.

(Alan Tudyk K2SO voice: Very, very high.)

Yes, this is the weed card. (If you want to read Judaism into it because of the Star of David hidden in the lamp, you can, but the longer iconographic tradition for Judaism is the menorah, which has the distinct advantage of not being associated with various genocides; sadly there’s nothing like it in the Rider Waite tarot illustrations, unless you squint very hard at the 5 of Pentacles.)

Close examination of the image yields a starting discovery; that is not an old man. It is a non-binary person wearing a prop beard. Don’t believe me? Check out the Ten of Pentacles. Colman knew how to paint old with a few telling lines. This is not an oversight. The Tarot is full of casual gender-swapping. If you really think you know what’s underneath those clothes, you may be wrong.

Isolation because you’re not the same as other people. This is a person holding up the light of their own truth. This is also a card for actors, who wear the skin of someone they are not, and scale heights of emotion in challenging ways.

one massive ball

Part of genocide is thinking that one Indigenous person from x point in Canada is like an Indigenous person from y point.

After all these years CBC still thinks that ‘the Indigenous community’ is a convenient monolithic block. It speaks with one voice, sees with one eye, dances with one foot, etc etc. Please don’t roll up Indigenous communities in one mass for your own convenience.

This is me in response to the CBC talking about ‘the Indigenous community’ response to finding 215 murdered children in Kamloops.

The Four of Swords WIP from Tarot for Atheists

Four of Swords

How do you make a sword invisible?  Let a coward wear it!  (thank you, Lawrence Schoonover). Or you beat it into a plowshare, or bury it.  After a long spell of war – this is a peace near death. This card is for people recovering from wars, civil unrest, long imprisonment, every kind of harassment. It may also refer to recuperation after mental and physical illness, agoraphobia, escape from a cult.  Also ugly divorces, separation from traumatizing families, being a refugee and finally arriving somewhere you will not be forced to leave. It may signify a voluntary retreat from the world (yoga, meditation, building a cabin, hiking the West Coast trail, setting up a research camp in the Arctic, even a few hours stolen from ‘real life’ to work in your garden), retirement from active duty, or being relieved of duty.  This card may in its most literal sense be a request from the universe for you to stop and mourn your kin and friends, or to be thankful for surviving some horrible life event, and to mourn those who didn’t make it.

If death and rest are not what is represented, perhaps it is the emptiness, or feeling of internal dislocation, that sometimes follows after working your ass off for years, and reaching your goal.

It may represent a pause in life when you may think about writing your memoirs. You may be contemplating the people you’ve been loyal to, and why; the stained glass shows the young knight swearing fealty.

There is another, non-literal, interpretation of the card: climate instability; this card shows a tomb, the brevity of a human life, compared to the stone the tomb is hewn from. Geological time scales. The slow groan of the earth. The light from a star slowed by glass.

I think this is a migraine

I think I’m having another emotional migraine, and knowing what is going on is helping. I went to bed and slept at least some of those chemicals off but I’ll be careful with myself over the next couple of days.

I don’t feel dissociative but my sensory homunculus is not reliable at the moment and the Alice in Wonderland syndrome is really bad. I’ve had it as long as I can remember so it’s hard to get worried about it now. Lots and lots of sparklies in the visual field in the last couple of days. I can’t look at a screen another instant, back to sleep AGAIN today.

Sad tidings

Finding hundreds of children’s bodies at the Kamloops residential school ground was a ghastly piece of news to get yesterday.

There are many burial places like it. More horror.

I’m just sad about it. Indigenous people on twitter have asked white people to just be still for a while and not make it about them.

Get the babies home. That’s all I can say.

WIP More Tarot for Atheists

The Devil

What a cobbled-together fellow the Devil of the Rider-Waite deck is! With bat wings, his right hand raised in a Mr. Spock salute, in itself half of a priestly blessing from Judaism, his left hand holding a flaming torch pointed at the ground, sporting goat horns, a bestial face, the furred legs of Pan and oddly flaccid talons, he’s seated or perched on a bollard, to which two humans, the Lovers (it appears), are bound.  The chains around their necks can be lifted as they wish but, for some reason, they don’t wish.  Why might this be?

Aesthetic and cultural aside: The original drawing this is based on comes from the work of the nineteenth century’s truly astonishing oddballs – a French socialist/magician/proto-feminist/philosopher/illustrator who preferred to go by the name Éliphas Lévi, although his parents baptized him Alphonse Louis Constant. His drawing, which you may view at Lévi’s wikipedia page, differs in some interesting ways from Colman’s painting; the feminized breasts (placing the Devil along the gender range), for example, and the feathered, as opposed to bat-like, wings of this Tarot card.

Lies, in particular self-deception, are the Devil’s main territory on earth.  His human slaves, who don’t even raise a hand to their chains, have tails, bearing fire (associated with anger and lust) on the man, and the grapes which become wine (standing in for all of temptation and addiction) on the woman.  The full range of human sin is binding them, and they hardly look concerned, because it is apathy in the face of evil that is most excoriated in this card.

The Devil represents the capacity of humans to deceive themselves.  Depending on where the cards are, they point to self deceit about family members and friends, one’s own abilities, one’s frailties. In almost every case the fault comes from within, but as humans it’s our obligation to make the evil in us come forth so we can deal with it in the context of our needs and our obligations to others.

Better by far to acknowledge the darkness and not be used by it to hurt others. This card calls you on your lies, and your inaction in the face of them. Whether you address them in contemplation and private very much depends on you.

Excerpt from a short story ‘the pilgrim trail’

Walking the trail is a many stranded thing.

Some sing as they walk, the cheerful filthy songs of the schoolyard, or pop hits, or hymns from various traditions. Some go alone, some in silence.

A few are carried. There are portions of the trail where a chair will go, but not everyone’s that lucky, to have someone to help. Babies and toddlers go in slings, all the time. Then, by tradition, they need feel no pressure, as adults, to walk the trail. It’s a strange combination of infant and adult baptism, as a Christian explained it to me. I never understood baptism except as the delight taken in overwriting the expulsion from water that marks the creation of a human, not-breathing to breathing. This water is more important than that water, it opens a gate to heaven.

I will take the trail, for it is life. There is water there, a dozen icy springs where you can replenish your bags, and you can collect the rain that falls in the grim half of the year when the sun hides and only comes out once in a while to pick through its reflection in puddles.

Old people go when they’re told they’ll die soon. Some get better; some are carried off feet first.

The guides and the search and rescue people are, for the most part, worthy of the trust we put in them. The rangers who care for the trail, and collect a share of the take from the trail and the park that sits at the southern end, are a quixotic, taciturn bunch.

I’ve been told they are mostly ex-military. One of them is the largest properly formed man I ever saw. I could not claim to have met him, for we never spoke. Walkers later say, ah, him, the huge one, but not one of us has an anecdote or a witticism. He was silent, and let his companion do what talking was needed. Some say he can’t speak, but I doubt that. I think he has found congenial work, which matches his desire not to speak.

I met only one who’d speak for any length of time, but I have walked the trail more than once, so I’ve had more conversations than most. This will be my sixth attempt. I broke an ankle the last time. I am choosing a more popular time of year now; I am taking a radio.

The attendants and rangers go up and down the trail as need calls. Walkers start in the south and go north, and we all come back by boat, sometimes gaily drinking on deck, sometimes grimly puking below. This is true whether we do a half trail and get off at Corso Bay, or get off at the traditional end point, Rashid Inlet.

There are a handful few who walk, and climb, and crawl, across Hell’s Head, the most northern tip of the Island; it’s an excruciating, narrow trail, so dangerous that there are portions guides will not work. There are much easier paths set back from the ocean, but the oceanside affords views and camping not matched anywhere else in the world, to match the agony of getting situated; during the solstice one feels as if one was ‘hanging in the sunset for an eternity before dark finally steals across the ocean’. Or so says the man asked to say it by a camping equipment company.

Many people refuse to walk the trail, even though in some ways it has become an unsubtle badge of, if not citizenship, then civic participation. We must have more in common than being human, apparently, to feel some kinship. If we choose to plant our commonality in an activity that those who feel a horror for nature, its fecund rot and indifference to human scale, will shun, we state what we’re about.
This is a strange world, and we’re trying to make it into home. The trail is beautiful and its vistas, lookouts, waterfalls, outcrops of jagged rock, caves and hot springs are a string of precious gems along a prosaic string of, in spots, difficult hiking.

The first steep incline is called the Grampskiller. My grandson told me not to die on it. I told him I wouldn’t dream of it. I go alone to think, to breathe, to plan, to grieve. I go to find something I lost, meet someone I miss, perhaps meet the being which has shadowed me since I first walked the trail.

two teefs

My second filling is now done – funny how I can remember the health care I’m getting CHARGED FOR – and I’m waiting on the endodontist for an appointment for that back tooth and to look at some other teeth as well. Got Indian food on the walk home. Desi Turka continues to make exceptional mango lassis. Wore my mask outside even. Got home and Jeff had picked up chicken from 7-11 but I think the naan was more of a hit lol. We do love our naan.

I’m not writing at all and I’m not practicing much so it is startling me how much I feel filled with music at the moment. The continuing loop of new songs and old ones is going hard.

Hope everyone is enjoying me going into the vaults for prose and poetry! Please note the tune is now up for “I am glad”.

a darkness

Darkness of self-satisfaction
Extends further than my small hand can grasp, or warm
I feel beyond the veil of my misunderstanding
Not one possibility but six hundred and more, dampened
and stifled
and scuffed but nowhere near dead

Like a cat with poor vision, twisting its head
Around and from side to side
I try to fix eyes stark as coloured glass
On the correct impressions

My spirits, various and needy
fly about with tarot faces
Or lie about, complaining of misogyny
There is no medicine in the argument

I’m tired of hearing about it he says
I’m tired of hearing about it he says

Did he hear it once
was it all he did

I need to clean my ears
Close my mouth

Of the nations splintered when Columbus came
He says but they enslaved
An NDN voice’s response on social media
-Angry- Cite your sources, you stupid white man
Of the nations pummelled back from the coast
He says but what are they doing now
And I say language revitalization
And he says where is their standing army
Can’t have a nation without a standing army
And I’m literally reading the Icelandic sagas
And not only did the Icelanders have their own goddamned country
They did it without an executive branch AND no standing army
And produced the greatest literature of medieval Europe
So go fuck yourself on that point
Of the nations who never ceded land
He says how do they expect to take it back
And I think to myself
O love your tower of books is now a prison

Words boil up, the well-loved face goes hard

They, they, they, and not
we, we, we.

I have responses, gleaned
From a longhouse and a glass pipe
Buried in the ground,
Right through the bones of dead Indians
How ‘nice’
Academics and dancers
They have told me what to say
But I said nothing.
I don’t want the fun of my visit to go away

There’s no such thing as race he says.

If you’re smart
You don’t say that when you’re white
And that pulls down more ire

I dreamed a grandmother, wizened
Wearing a blanket and street clothes
Came into the house
(Which the bank, independent of
the Musqueam and Sto:lo
said that I never owned)
And asked me
Am I not welcome here

Dreams are full of muffled silences

You can’t know how long they’ll last

And genocides, if no one calls them by name
Are best distributed; a little death here
A little dislocation there; days in the skookum house
And nights with fentanyl, hiding in the hit.

WIP excerpt from the Preface of ‘Tarot for Atheists’

If we take as an opening and basic assumption that we have no free will, it does not mean that we can’t make meaningful choices.  Learning that we don’t, at bottom, have free will, both as a consequence of the way the universe is currently constructed, and as a consequence of how we evolved in it, is no reason to bail on ethics, morality, law, virtue, character, curiosity, contract and manners.

These are all things that have been sieved out of the free will gold pan. Up in the sifter remain the fundamental laws of physics and the probabilistic realities of our own bodies and brains.  What comes gently dusting down is what’s left after we remove free will from the equation, and there’s plenty to work with in there, culturally, morally, creatively. The wonderful thing about learning that nobody really has free will is that it is liberating.  It is another way, yet another way, that all human beings are in this life and learning experience together.  To what extent can we acknowledge how we are constrained? Can we with humility and love and a sense of humour acknowledge biases, fight against the strictures of our physical beings, challenge the siftings of a hundred thousand lifetimes; how can we reorder our understanding of ourselves so that we may absorb the reality that free will ain’t free?

To look at it another way, our lack of free will makes perfect sense.  If we are products of the laws of physics, everything about us belongs to that sphere.  Inside that set of rules, we can run our own little fractal programs, dense and layered and deep and startling; some days boring and some days very busy.  If you enter +1 at the beginning the results will be completely different that if you entered −1, but the rules don’t change.  They play out without reference to their initiators. That initial number is a tiny input that makes a huge difference. We are all enmeshed in a reticulation of the still-playing-out consequences of those initial inputs, and that entanglement prevents us from having truly free will.  The web itself is immense and complex and encompasses virtually all we can see, and we move inside and along it, some of us faring better than others at describing its status and makeup and scale.  It is this web we are all stuck to.  The best among us makes the conceptual leap of standing outside the web to observe it, and within minutes or hours, the sticky concepts and words and folkways which bind us to the web reassert themselves inside our minds, and we’re back, stuck on the web again.

The ways we don’t have free will are myriad.  They are shot fractally through the entire fabric of life.

I am glad


I am glad that I am older
because when I was younger
I thought fireworks were friendly fun
But carrying a baby while John shot that roman candle at me *
made me think
maybe I’m wrong
It’s one idea, among them all
but if I have to call it right or good
this is not the one

*it was not deliberate and I had agency over my distance.

I am glad that I am older
thanks to some crucial luck
at birth ‘n every year come since
I lived long enough to come to understand that all this luck
is held up
by a thing
called white supremacy
and now I have to come up with some proof
that I give a fuck

I am glad that I am older
and my loved ones help pay for my time
to think about how to heal this hurt
I lived long enough to look at it as a lot of work
a lot of
fucking work
Like more than I could do in one small lifetime
but I know
what is owed
Don’t want to be a jerk


So I started writing this after eleven and it just banged the noon gong. There is a very powerful melody for this and apart from additional voices, one trombone and two french horns I can’t hear any orchestration and I’m basically okay with it being solo voice. I should record a scratch track. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS THING RIGHT NOW.

I will however continue to sing it through until the tune quits wriggling around quite so hard.


Clouds have heft in this town, no-one thinks
they’re insubstantial, however they hover,
dance, slide by each other at different speeds
each one as heavy as an elephant

In the weeks of our cloudless summer
We gaze above our toothed horizons in puzzlement

The herds that graze the sky have all migrated.

New song 6

A new song bubbled up today. It is called Glue, and I have no lyrics. It’s just a weird little song; when I started trying to write lyrics I started weeping. So I stopped and did something else. I came back to it just before bed. It’s a very neo-Indie song and so I’m going to have to make the lyrics meltingly sincere on one level and either hilarious or horrific on another. Not hard to think of suitable commentary on that subject. The subject being how much in need of the right kind of glue we all are at the moment.

The Heritage Grill burned down. If you want to see all my posts that mention it search on Heritage Grill. I don’t know what else to say. Eating wings on the patio with Mr. Keary. Eating there with lots of people I love at different times.

I’m sad about it. Good people are out a lot of money and good people are out of jobs.

Life’s short and a function space with many fond memories just burned down. Poets and singers and philosophers have lost a place to meet where they can drink and hear themselves.

What a fucking loss.

And compared to the losses of the pandemic it’s really nothing.


Current Preface to my WIP “The Book of Kind Words”

This is a book that attempts to help you say the right thing when you have no time and no ideas.

There’s no right way to use this book. The book itself does not represent 100% correct responses to frequent puzzling situations, merely my take on an attempt to be humane and respond. These responses to human events were written in the spirit of the American books of manners, popular during the late Victorian era, which counselled the anxious and socially sensitive on what to say in a letter, whether you need to decline an offer of marriage or chide a friend for missing an appointment. The writers of those works humbly submitted their words for your use. If you didn’t like what was there, you could adapt it, without having to spend too much time on a first draft.
Not everyone is eloquent. Most people either want to be, or think they already are – until such time as they are confronted with writing a sympathy note and realize that a dove grey card with a fake-handwriting font – in and of itself – won’t be much comfort to your friend.

With the advent of the internet, the act of writing anything by hand or assistive device, and sending or giving it as a physical object to someone, is on the path to becoming a radical act. Letters are the first kind of self-publishing there ever was, if you think about it, one mind to another mind, or more. I know that in my family, in centuries past, letters, once they had been scanned for anything young ears should not hear, were often read aloud for the whole family – and were re-read often – as an acceptable family entertainment.
Anything hand-written is personal – and a small, comforting foxhole during our continued bombardment by advertising and screen-delivered content. The technology supporting screen-delivered content is powerful and useful in helping everyone, and especially marginalized individuals and colonized peoples, giving them a chance to communicate their practical, cultural and emotional truths – but there is something wonderful about getting a real note, letter or card in the mail.
The advancement of women into the workplace has diminished the time available for adults to write notes. There are men who carry out voluminous correspondences, but for social communications, it’s not the way to bet. You can, if you’re a man, dodge one of the worst bits of the gender binary by sending people letters more often than you do now.
We make time for the things that are important, and if social media is how we balance our social books and keep in touch with people, so be it. If a fascist regime were to shut down Facebook (as of 2021, a large social media company with more than a billion individual accounts), which sounds like a quaint thing to say given the contortionate bends the company has put itself through to support organizations hostile to democracy and civil rights, we’d all be forced back into handwritten notes. Were that to occur, they’d be normative again, which I find grimly amusing. Knowing that, I also know that this book may become relevant at any time.

When someone you love has experienced something good, bad, unusual or surprising, you might want to write a note but have no clear idea what to say. So you don’t say anything.
We fear to give offence less than we fear looking stupid, as I judge things, but both come into play when we don’t write the small, kind note. Another act of civility, solidarity and humanity, something we’ve had as a species for nigh 5,000 years, vanishes into the ether.
A friend or loved one may be facing circumstances that demand acknowledgement and some permanent sign that they were loved and witnessed during a non-trivial moment – whether it was one of elated triumph or terrible loss. You will not likely be holding that Facebook page in your hand in twenty years’ time. People may have responded with kindness to your distress in their comments, but if you don’t print that out (at some cost), there’s no guarantee it will be there when you’re having a bad day. Whether you’re sending or receiving, notes are good.
You may be a person who keeps the handwritten letters you received, because they are precious. Paper burns, and feeds silverfish, but it also lasts. Ask the people you love for their mailing addresses. It makes me uneasy how many people do not have alternate means of finding each other except via Facebook. If the internet ails or crashes for any length of time, as it may, you’ll need to know where your friends are, and keep that info close to hand. Most of us don’t do it; not a wise state of affairs.
I hope I’ve put you in a mind to shift that task closer to the top of the list.
This book is the pair of glasses you keep to find your real glasses, your belt in case you broke your suspenders, your friendly nudge to sit with remembering your friends when you’re stuck in one place, to reach out to them. I would like this book to be yours so you are reminded to think: which of my friends could use a kind word?
Then the hard part, assembling the address book (a physical one), the pen, the cleared surface, the words, an envelope, a stamp. If we’re close by, then popping it under a door. My advice is to keep all that stuff in one place, your satchel if you have one, the junk drawer if you don’t.
Keep this book in a junk drawer. It won’t mind. Close to the stamps is good.