Monday, May 25, 2020

What the Covid Lockdown Taught a Loner

by Winter Ross

published in Medium.com

I have read article after article on how devastating pandemic isolation is. The agony of being alone! All the “undiscovered” ways people have found to cope with this problem. Never has extroversion been so debilitating! And personally, I am puzzled; sympathetic, but puzzled. I know there are untold numbers of us introverts, agoraphobics, hemits, HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) and misanthropes whose lives haven’t changed much in these so-called unprecedented times — or even whose lives have become more comfortable in the silence and peace of their places.

It’s a subject for another essay, but I use the term “places” because plenty of people don’t have homes. Every reporter seems to assume that staying “home” is a basic inconvenience rather than a privilege. As a retired woman “Traveller” (British spelling), I get by as a house sitter/pet sitter/artist-in-residence, camping in between gigs. I became a Traveller briefly in my twenties before jobs and kids slowed me down. I picked up the lifestyle again when rent became more than my social security check. Although I live alone, the name fits a lifestyle I refuse to apologize for. The road keeps me sane. There’s something about the neither-here-nor-there escape from stress that keeps me going. But I lack community. I’m often in places where I don’t know anyone. Once, I spent five winter months caring for a house and two cats, binge-watching Netflix because I couldn’t let the wood stove go out in one of the coldest towns in the country. I was glad when spring arrived but it was no big deal. I hadn’t had a television in years so I caught up on this strange culture while I worked on a sci-fi novel. It was a lonely but ok winter, when I look back on it

I must have inherited my loner temperament (please don’t call it a condition) from the grandfather I barely knew. Within 10 minutes of my family’s yearly visit, he’d have escaped upstairs to his study where high-pitched childish voices were muted. He was always kind: teaching me to play checkers on a rainy afternoon, quietly putting together a few pieces of a puzzle with me in the evening. But I saw little of him. Like Grampa, I seem to wear my nervous system on the outside of my skin. Overwhelm has always defined my life. A book he sent me for my thirteenth birthday on alien abduction seemed to explain it. Most of my teenage summer nights were spent writing anguished poetry, looking up at the stars and trying to call in the Mother Ship to please come take me home.

I personally locked down on March 6, in a friend’s second home, two weeks before the state mandated it. The plan had been to assist my friend when she came through, to take care of her dogs when she traveled. But I found myself there alone actually glorying in the opportunity to simply Be somewhere.

At the beginning, the next door neighbor would stop in with two of his toddlers to chat, escaping briefly the new baby, the constant cartoon network noise and the boredom of no work. His kids drove me crazy. I spent the short time of their visits snatching small antique objects from their hands and locking doors before they could reach the handles. I finally came up with an excuse to end the visits by announcing that there were pins and needles all over the floor from my sewing projects and the place was a child hazard. It was a relief when the neighbor got the hint.

The town never did close down completely, I think. I’m not sure: I only left the house for the early elder-hour grocery shopping and stocked up for weeks, when I did. I made a game of eaking out the leftovers and cutting down to one meal a day if possible. Anything to keep from opening that front door. I realized my introversion was blooming into full-fledged agoraphobia. I made myself go on daily walks on back roads bordering cattle pastures; sewed masks and modeling one myself, forced myself to drive to the Post Office and mail them to far-flung friends on the Navajo Nation. I dragged a ladder out of the garage and painted the trim on my camper red and gold. I’ve spent much of the time fascinated by the news and learning to freelance. Indeed, the neighbor has hired me to write copy for the disinfecting business he’s starting.

Now, eight weeks later, it’s obvious that the sweet confinement in a house to myself, is coming to an end. The dogs have been dropped off here now, so I have company — annoying company that wants me to play with it all the time, smears its wet noses on my freshly showered skin, literally dogs me from room to room and sheds all over the area where I used to do morning yoga. That I can be irritated by a couple obedient, sweet labradors surprises even me. I have become keenly aware of how much humans bother me, too. When walking the dogs, I speed away from lonely people out for a bit of sun, who ask to pet them. I feel guilty, but the call of sanctuary is stronger

I’ve been as influenced as everyone else to indulge in the opportunity for self study and inner awareness that the covid lockdown has provided. But the motivational videos promising to help me change me or help me be me, have finally become tedious. That crap was for my youth when I really cared about why I wasn’t the Pollyanna-Barbie my parents and partners always wanted and a career demanded.

I don’t know what will happen next. Who does? But soon, I’m going to have to pack up, open the front door and drive off in my gypsy camper into the scary world again. I tell myself it will be interesting. Because I’ve made it all the way to old age and I’ve learned to cope with who I truly am. That Mother Ship is probably never going to show up. And I’m ok with that, too.

Winter Ross is probably not the only writer with a listing on Housecarers.com. She gets mail in Colorado, taught writing in New Mexico and after working at a retreat center in Hawai’i, is spending lockdown in Nevada. She is a National Association of Press Women award-winning short story writer and Darkhouse Books author. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Walking the Edge of Cultural Appropriation


Published in the March 2020 online journal of the Society of  Shamanic Practitioners

The young man was goth-like, pale and pimply, dressed in a long black coat and lecturing to a circle of listeners at an Earth First! gathering in the western wilderness. The subject of his talk was the cultural appropriation of earth-based spiritual traditions. He had embraced his Wiccan ancestral roots, he raged, and anyone white who strayed into indigenous spirituality was simply politically incorrect, if not morally indefensible. 



With the arrogance of youth and the disrespect to elders that the predominate culture is known for, he had no patience for any of us who had walked the Good Red Road for decades without having checked our “23 and Me”. We were the worst example, he informed us, of oppression, colonialism, appropriation, etc. Guilt descended upon us as he rained the lexicon of radical philosophy down on our heads.

Certainly the lecture started me thinking about why and how, after long spiritual seeking, I had found Great Mystery and the Goddess while sitting on dusty blankets in a dark sweat lodge or peyote meeting. I came up with some answers that he had no interest in hearing, so I turned to another elder for some pleasantly surprising confirmation of my thoughts.

Genetically, as far as I know, I'm mostly Scottish. My last name, from the Viking word for horse, is common among both the Sioux and Cherokee. Because I'm female, there's no way of knowing if I'm related to John Ross, the first elected Cherokee chief after the Trail of Tears, although I did grow up in his Appalachian neighborhood. The English side of my family probably killed the Scottish side as well as the Massachusetts tribes they encountered after sailing into Plymouth. Who knows? We've been here awhile. All I know is that I love the desert, my theory being that my ancestors suffered too long in rain-drenched kilts. I cringe at the sound of bagpipes. I crave the smell of sage. Sometimes I think about past lives: Wise Women of The Burning Times; the scorned Gypsy fortune teller; the prophecy of Indian souls returning in bodies of The Rainbow Warriors.

To me, “earth-based spirituality” means the actual earth that's been in my teeth and up my nose for most of my adult life even if my ancestor's bones aren't ground into it. It's the land I live on that speaks its spirit to me. And who better to learn the language of that spirit from than those humans who have lived with it for thousands of years? I am grateful, humbled and blessed that the Lakota have been generous with their teaching and invited so many of us Wasichu into the Inipi.
And I am careful, especially in these days of renewed racial hatred and backlash, to stay near the back of any gathering and keep my mouth shut. Yet when I joined the pipe ceremony, unwrapping my own Sundance pipe one dawn at Standing Rock, nobody glared, lectured or gave any indication that I hadn't earned the sacred instrument in my hands. 


A Native American artist I know is so passionate about non-Indian artists making a profit from depicting cultural items in their work, a pot here, a rattle there, the ubiquitous dream catcher sold in every western gas station convenience store, that he got himself kicked out of a gallery for his confrontational complaints. Artists and their romantic attraction to all things Indian is a horse that left the barn a couple hundred years ago. If he was going to be such a purist, I reminded him, then he should stop wearing jeans (invented by a Jew named Levi during the gold rush), stop wearing cowboy boots invented by a white cobbler to fit stirrups on the saddles of horses brought in by the Spanish, not to mention his (the metalwork also a Spanish import) silver Navajo jewelry. French trader's glass beads replaced quill work in the Plains Indian's clothing, jingle dresses wouldn't be the same without tin can lids to curl into jingles, the Pacific Northwest button capes would look pretty different, the Pendleton blanket, the Morning Star quilt, called Star of Bethlehem and Texas Star by it's original colonizing seamstresses. And how could there be Seminole patchwork without sewing machines and cotton cloth? The forged iron pipe tomahawk prized by warriors who had no knowledge of metalworking...I think I wore him down by proving that the creativity of Indian culture incorporated a wonderful ability to appropriate from the oppressor!

Once I tried hard to suss out, to really connect with my ancestral spirituality. I went to Glastonbury (the Sedona of England, I discovered). Although awesome, Stonehenge, Avebury, the Burrows and Tor felt like archeological sites. I shivered with the ambiance of the White Spring but discovered it to be touted as “a tourist attraction in a Victorian pump house.” I can only describe the energy as an amputated limb, cut off long ago by the Church. Despite the attempt at to resuscitate paganism, that's what it felt like: a non-breathing beautiful corpse. Nothing has transfixed me quite like the breath of wind shimmering the leaves of the Sundance Tree.

In my work as a shamanic counselor trained in the very universalist philosophy of the Foundation of Shamanic Studies, I try to avoid using living Native American rituals I've participated in. I'd never consider “pouring a lodge” for instance, or singing spiritual songs outside the ceremonies for which they were meant. But little things creep in: tobacco ties wreath a client for protection; on my altar lies the eagle feather given when I joined the Native American Church; a rattle from Peru; lava from the throat of Pele; clap sticks from Australia,;a small Maori drum; a copy of an Alaskan Yupik spirit catcher...Ancestral tools appear too: candles, a pendulum with Celtic designs, a rune stone. Sometimes “Aho” and “Blessed Be” slip from my lips one after the other during prayer.

As Casteneda's Yaqui sorcerer, Don Juan, told us “All paths are the same: they lead nowhere...Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good.” I'm not going to apologize for my politically incorrect spirituality. When it comes down to it, it's just the “stuff” of religion and dogma – a structure we've invented to try to figure out what we're doing here on Earth, with Life. Our beliefs and rituals are merely an expression of homo sapien's “god gene”. Celebrating diversity, striving for sovereignty are important, but sharing the beauty of our paradigms with each other is more important. That's Aloha, Namaste, Love. Which we all need a lot more of in these shifting days. 


Monday, February 3, 2020

In bookstores soon: What We Talk About When We Talk About It: Variations on the theme of Love. "She Who Hears the Cries of the World", a short story by Winter Ross, appears in this anthology from Dark House Books.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Beating the Beast of Block!


     Winter offers creative coaching for both visual artists and writers. Her next workshop, “Beating the Beast of Block” will be at the Gunnison, Colorado Art Center during the Gunnison Valley Literary Festival Aug. 9-10, 2019. Need to nudge the muse? Join us; contact Winter (CeremonialVisions.com) for your event; or schedule a personal session. Her approach is unique,  incorporating the shamanic paradigm as a pathway to successful creative action.
     
     
     Winter Ross's short stories, essays, and articles have been published in various art, environmental and literary journals. 4 Warnings: Shamanic Journeys, a chapbook of visionary prose, is her first book. Her work has appeared in: Pilgrimage: Story, Place, Spirit,Witness; Messages From Hidden Lake; EarthFirst! Journal; ArtWorks: a publication of the West Virginia Division of Arts and Humanities; Selki, an Alaskan feminist zine; The Gentle Traveler; EPIC Magazine; Messages From the Hidden Lake and the anthology What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, from Darkhouse Press. She was awarded first place in 2015 by both the New Mexico Press Women's Association, and the National Federation of Press Women for the short story Orienting Heaven. 4Warnings: Shamanic Journeys, her first book, is a prose chapbook illustrated with original etchings and may be found on Amazon or her website: www.CeremonialVisions.com. Bruce Nygren, President Emeritis of the Center for Nondual Awareness says: "Through her visionary stories Ms. Ross leads us on a journey encompassing the spiritual and physical realms which lie hidden within our psyches, to truths we know but don't know we know and sometimes wish we didn't.”


Saturday, June 8, 2019

Offering a 2 hr. workshop on "The Beast of Block: dealing with writers' block and cures for procrastination." Lecture, discussion and some surprising exercises to nudge the Muse. Aug. 9-10 in Gunnison, Colorado. I'll also be reading from my book, "4 Warnings: Shamanic Journeys". times TBA.
GUNNISONARTSCENTER.ORG
START: 08/09/2019 DURATION: August 9 - 10 Categories Literary Arts A celebration of beautiful language, powerful stories, and compelling ideas held annually in the Gunnison Valley. This lively festival features workshops, panel discussions, readings, storytelling, and other dynamic and spontaneous l...

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Selkie Zine publishes The Tattoo

Alaskan artist Ellie Schmidt (whom I met in residence at Elsewhere)is one of the publishers of this zine. One of my pieces is in this issue. Try it, you'll like it:
BLURB.COM
In this Selkie Zine we ask our contributors to tell us about the tools they use for finding their way in the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Calling Them In (excerpt)

 
 Published in "Messages from Hidden Lake. Vol. 8" Alamosa Public Library Literary & Art Collection, Dec. 2016


     “Honey...?”
     “I gotta tell you something.” He rocked forward, standing to accentuate the message. “something happened last night while you guys were sleeping.”
     “What?”
     “There was a bright light right outside the window, there by the bed - it woke me up. I couldn't see anything out the window but light, because the source was over the house. So I went out on the deck to look. There was a brilliant white ball...” He stretched out his arms to indicate the size, “...and it was hovering right over the bedroom!”
     “Oh, my god! What did you do?”
     “Nothing! I was petrified. I could only stand there and watch it! Beams of light, four, I think, came out of it and one shone on me. It raised up a little, then shot straight up and disappeared! I came back inside with you guys and have been sitting here awake ever since. But it hasn't come back.”
     “Should we call someone?”
     “What would be the point? People see crazy stuff all the time. But I gotta say, I've never seen anything like this. It scared me silly.”
     “That explains why I had that weird feeling of being watched all last evening.”
     “Yeah. What if it comes back?”
     “What if it's after the baby?”
     “I'm staying awake tonight, or sleeping in the living room.”
     “Good. I probably won't sleep either. I want to talk to someone though. I'll ask the neighbors if they saw anything.”
     “That'd be alright. You don't have to go into detail.”
     “What time did it happen?”
     “Between two and three a.m., I think.”
     “No one up then, but it won't hurt to ask around. I'm gonna call Mama, too. She'll have an idea.”
     Crazy as my Mama is, she always seemed to know what was happening, especially if it was in a galaxy far far away. The morning air was clear and clean and typical. I felt good. The uneasiness had vanished like a nightmare in the sunlight. Only excitement remained. I checked with the neighbors; everyone had been asleep; no reports of strange lights. So we decided to stow the story away to be retold around a campfire. Then we called Mama on speaker phone.
     “So Krishna, you didn't get the rifle and shoot it down?” she asked. That, of course, would have been her first instinct.
     “Hell, no, Mom. You don't go and attack something like that! What if it returned fire?” Funny, you'd think with all his video game practice he'd have taken the gun outside with him. I'm glad my husband can keep his head.
     “I guess you're right, son. Well, there is someone you should tell. I'm sure they'd like to know. The SETI conference is in your town all week. You didn't know?”
     “No, Mama,” I sighed. “I don't pay attention to all the weirdos who come through here.”
      Mama would have known, of course. She was up on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. “There must be intelligent life somewhere,” she'd say, “cause there ain't none on this planet.”